Ara Osterweil

  • CLOSE-UP: LA TIERRA TIEMBLA

    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,”

  • AT WIT’S END

    LIKE A SCARECROW, Adrian Norvid abhors a match. That’s because everything the British Canadian artist creates is made of paper. But if you are thinking Thomas Demand, think again: Norvid indulges his material of choice to celebrate the lowbrow history of everyday detritus with operatic gusto. From his dilapidated “knocking shop” to his shit-splattered outhouse, Norvid’s 3-D installations evince his faith in minimal means of production; these homely structures are supported by little more than handmade paper tabs and interlocking beams. With the exception of the biscuit tins, rubber chickens,

  • Scott McFarland, Untitled #9 (Sky Leaks), 2017, transmounted C print, LED lightbox, 50 x 40".

    Scott McFarland

    Toronto-based artist Scott McFarland doesn’t represent reality—he cultivates it. He is best known for creating dense composite landscapes—often gardens—that conflate the temporal and spatial coordinates of the not-quite-natural world. McFarland’s images hinge on artificiality—or at least assemblage—as do the photographs of Jeff Wall, for whom he worked as an assistant. And like many post-Conceptualist artists nostalgic for modernism, McFarland probes the specific properties of his media, although the media in question make for a decidedly unmodernist mélange that includes

  • Nadia Myre, Pipe, 2017, ink-jet print, 48 x 72".

    Nadia Myre

    Entering a dark gallery, one encounters a handful of objects, or— as the French title of Nadia Myre’s show, “Tout ce qui reste,” suggests—“all that remains.” They are not so much scattered as deliberately placed, as if to evoke a sacred ritual. All are deeply symbolic: Whether offerings for trade or shrines to remember, each has undergone a meticulous process of handicraft that sanctifies or effaces it.

    The atmosphere is one of quiet contemplation, but the histories of the indigenous peoples that these objects reference are violent. An oversize woven basket—large enough to contain

  • “Before Projection: Video Sculpture 1974–1995”

    In our current age of portable microscreens and flat-screen TVs, it is hard to recall the stubborn materiality of the midcentury television set. Yet before large-screen projection became enshrined in museum and gallery spaces, a generation of Conceptual artists seeking alternatives to both experimental cinema and Minimalist sculpture seized on the availability of inexpensive consumer video technology as a new frontier. These artists did not explore television exclusively as a window onto an ideological world but as a three-dimensional object that might be moved from

  • Janet Werner, Sorcerer, 2016, oil on canvas, 75 x 60".

    Janet Werner

    Janet Werner is known for her fun house of female figures. Bending source material from fashion magazines and other forms of popular culture to her imagination, Werner typically distorts both classical and corporate ideals of beauty. Yet what prevents even her quirkiest compositions from becoming mere kitsch is the Canadian painter’s virtuosic technique. Having mastered the medium, Werner seems to have tasked herself with a new imperative: to avoid making her work too gorgeous. This can be difficult when your primary subjects are pretty girls.

    The works on view in “Sticky Pictures” were a bold

  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), 1974, 35 mm, color, sound, 93 minutes. Eugen (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and Emmi Kurowski (Brigitte Mira). Photo: the Criterion Collection.

    SONS, MOTHERS, AND LOVERS:

    IN NO HOME MOVIE (2015), Chantal Akerman records the decline of her mother, a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor, in what would turn out to be the last few years of both of their lives. The videography is amateur and the interactions between the two women quotidian: The film includes recordings of Skype sessions in which mother and daughter cannot think of much more to say to each other than “I love you.” Yet in spite of the time they spend together, the unspeakable remains so, and the traumas of history resist revelation. For a film in which “nothing happens,” the intimacy is staggering.

    Akerman

  • Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #54, 1972, oil and charcoal on canvas, 100 x 81". © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

    “Matisse/Diebenkorn”

    It is no wonder that Richard Diebenkorn is known as a “painter’s painter.” His devotion to the medium is evidenced not only in his lush handling of paint but in his constant experimentation and his refusal to be constrained. By moving fluidly between abstraction and representation, as many prewar modernists had, Diebenkorn undermined the hard distinction between the two that circulated among midcentury polemicists. In doing so, he shaped an artistic trajectory that would come to be considered as among the most extraordinary of the post war period. Throughout Diebenkorn’s fifty-year journey from

  • Kenneth Anger, Fireworks, 1947, 16 mm, black-and-white, sound, 15 minutes. United States Navy sailors.

    CLOSE UP: AMERICA YEAR ZERO

    THIS YEAR marks the seventieth anniversary of Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks, widely considered the ur-film of American queer cinema. In the pages that follow, artist and film scholar Ara Osterweil reexamines the seminal short as a response to profound social tensions—racial, sexual, and nationalistic—that came to a head in the aftermath of World War II.

    THE INAUGURAL FILM of postwar queer cinema and a watershed event in the history of the American avant-garde, Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks of 1947 is an autobiographical account of the awakening of desire. Shot when the filmmaker was only seventeen years old,1 the film is the sadomasochistic fantasy of a young man, played by the teenage Anger, who dreams he is sexually assaulted by a gang of sailors. Like its young author, the film was precocious. Made in the immediate aftermath of World War II, just as the United States was entering the Cold War, in which it imagined itself to be the policeman of