Ara Osterweil

  • Daïchi Saïto, earthearthearth, 2021, 35 mm, color, sound, 30 minutes.


    WE BEGIN IN THE BLACK, as the film exhales. Slowly, a jagged horizon appears against the darkly glowing empyrean. It flickers out, then returns. Another ragged lip of earth teethes a lambent sky: an awakening. Shot on 16 mm in 2015 in the Atacama Desert spanning the border between Chile and Argentina, and later blown up to a magisterial 35 mm, Daïchi Saïto’s thirty-minute experimental film earthearthearth (2021) is an optical acid trip in which the boundaries between terra firma and yawning firmament dissolve in a hallucinatory explosion of color and light.

    Like Ronald Johnson’s ARK (1996), the

  • Alice Neel, Nancy and Olivia, 1967, oil on canvas, 39 × 36". © The Estate of Alice Neel.

    Staged Mothers

    IN A 1978 INTERVIEW, Alice Neel recalled that an acquaintance once approvingly told her she painted “like a man,” but the artist herself rejected the very notion of gendered painting. “I don’t feel that there is definite female painting,” she said. “I don’t feel that you could tell a man’s painting from a woman’s painting.” Transcending any essentialist approach to gender, her portraits of mothers register a complex ambivalence that resonates poignantly with anyone who has ever experienced the terror of keeping another being alive. In spite of her resistance to gendering the creative process,

  • Wanda Koop, Barcode Face, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 60".

    Wanda Koop and Oli Epp

    It’s hard to tell if Wanda Koop’s paintings are deceptively—or disturbingly—simple. Rectilinear portals, Xs, and bar codes float on watery horizons limned with light. These symbols don’t so much beckon us into the gloaming but get in the way, reminding us that the enigmatic shorelines over which they hover are too flat for us to enter. Captured between dusk and eventide, Koop’s lakeshores duet between graphic figures and idyllic grounds. Waves lap silently along placid embankments in these images, yet the artist incorporates subtle reminders of our destruction of them. But how to object to such

  • Antonietta Grassi, Linkers No. 1, 2020, oil and ink on Belgian linen, 48 x 60".
    picks November 09, 2020

    Antonietta Grassi

    Overlaying candy-colored, geometric prisms with glimmering networks of lines that weave through and around them, painter Antonietta Grassi could easily be taken for the love child of Josef and Anni Albers. Yet while underscoring the contiguity of modernist composition and traditional craft, her exquisite abstractions also demonstrate the visual similarities between loom work and computer code. These are not idle comparisons, as this exhibition of her most recent paintings makes explicit: Nineteenth-century polymath Charles Babbage developed the prototype for the world’s first computer, the

  • Ronnie Landfield, Coming Home, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 46 × 51".

    Ronnie Landfield

    His may not yet be a household name, but Ronnie Landfield is one of the best abstract painters in America. Since the late 1960s, Landfield’s paintings have been defined by billowing stains of color, poured and loosely brushed onto canvases of monumental size. Although nearly all of his images invoke the metaphysical, his approach nonetheless extends the vital dialogue between landscape and abstraction explored by midcentury pioneers such as Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell. Filtered through Landfield’s optical unconscious, translucent swaths of color layered upon or

  • Janet Werner, Untitled (Curtain), 2016, oil on canvas, 74 × 60 1⁄4".

    Janet Werner

    Through painterly and conceptual ingenuity, Janet Werner has created a visual language to explore the multiplicity of the self. Her portraits revel in their provenance, explicitly referencing both fashion magazines and a range of precursors, including Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet, Alice Neel, Francis Picabia, and the sculptor Allen Jones. Werner, who attended the MFA program at Yale in the late 1980s with John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage, is a far more expressive painter than either, although she, too, strains the female figure through the sieve of popular culture, yielding a burlesque of

  • Sam Gilliam, Double Merge, 1968, acrylic on canvas. Installation view, Dia:Beacon, NY, 2019. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio.

    Sam Gilliam

    LIKE A PAIR OF ENORMOUS PAINT-SOAKED WINGS, Sam Gilliam’s Double Merge, 1968, beckons viewers to enter into the fold. Consisting of two monumental swaths of raw canvas that have been stained, dyed, splattered, and encrusted with paint in a brilliant range of hues and then suspended from ceiling beams in an undulating, contiguous form, Double Merge is at once painting and sculpture, performance and installation, act and artifact. It is also an example of how Gilliam, a pioneer of postwar abstraction associated with the Washington Color School, expanded painting’s rectilinear frame and put pressure


    OF THE MORE THAN EIGHTY moving-image works that Barbara Hammer created, her 1974 film Dyketactics remains her most iconic. A four-minute paean to lesbian sexuality, Dyketactics publicly announced Hammer’s blossoming sexual identity after the end of her heterosexual marriage and testified to the visionary power of a woman with a movie camera. The film is a revolutionary call for recognition, a how-to guide to sensuality, and a reflection of the utopian spirit that animated a generation of women in search of sexual pleasure and empowerment beyond heterosexuality. It is also one of the most joyful


    COMPRISING NEARLY seven hundred miles of sand and felsic lava trapped in the twin rain shadows of the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range, the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth. It is also one of the most surreal. Within the larger geography of the Andean Altiplano—a massive plateau that reaches elevations of thirteen thousand feet—volcanic craters, salt flats, and lakes the color of blood stretch as far as the eye can see. It is no wonder that cinematographers and NASA scientists alike have used the region as a proxy for Mars.

    In her 2018 film ALTIPLANO, the Chilean-born,

  • Lava Thomas, Mugshot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Alberta J. James, 2018, graphite and conté pencil on paper, 48 1⁄4 × 34 1⁄2".

    Lava Thomas

    As is well known, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott began on December 5, 1955, four days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in a premeditated act of civil disobedience. The boycott lasted more than a year, until a federal court’s mandate that the state’s bus system be desegregated. Although celebrated as an icon of the movement, Parks was hardly the only African American woman to become a leader in the struggle against segregation, racial discrimination, and the injustices of Jim Crow. In spite of the focus on male leadership in sanctioned histories, women of

  • View of “John Heward and Jean-François Lauda,” 2018. All works Jean-François Lauda, Untitled, 2018. Photo: Maxime Boisvert.

    John Heward and Jean-François Lauda

    The only mark I can vividly recall from Jean-François Lauda’s exhibition of nine identically sized paintings is a glare of canary-yellow paint scraped over a moody pink-hued stain. Like a mechanical wing, it artificially lifts the elegiac tone of the room, interrupting the intensity of Lauda’s more understated works. Though the work containing this mark is not the strongest painting in this series of untitled works, it is the loudest. Its afterimage overwhelms the elusive beauty of the other eight, whose quiet reckoning with the void stirred me in ways that most face-to-face encounters with

  • Bharti Kher, Mother and Child, 2014, resin, wood, wax, fur, 58 1⁄4 × 24 × 70 7⁄8".

    Bharti Kher

    In 1993, Bharti Kher weighed moving to New Delhi versus moving to New York. For an artist born and raised in England, she chose the road less traveled and relocated to India. As her recent show attests, Kher’s decision has made all the difference in her choice of materials and motifs. In a series of sculptures made between 2012 and 2016, heavily lacquered saris draped on cast-concrete plinths create portraits of the absent bodies they reference. In The night she left, 2011, saris twist up and around an overturned chair on a set of reclaimed wooden stairs that dead-end into a wall. Who is “she,”