Brian Dillon

  • slant August 16, 2016

    Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–1979

    Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–1979

    Tate Britain, London

    April 12–August 29, 2016

    IN AUGUST 1966, the British artist John Latham, then a tutor at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, borrowed Clement Greenberg’s Art & Culture (1961) from the college library. He invited colleagues and students to his home, where they tore pages from the book, chewed them, and spat them into a flask. The resulting mulch was dissolved in acid solution, then distilled, and a phial of liquid returned to the library. Latham’s teaching contract was not renewed.

    A scurrilous piece animating the Tate exhibition’s otherwise

  • OPENINGS: YAN XING

    “THE PROCESS IS LIKE WRITING A NOVEL”: This is how the Chinese artist Yan Xing describes his work and the disparate elements—sculpture, video, photography, performance, and an array of art-historical reference points—that he subtly convolves. Writing has long been part of his wider practice: He is also a prolific blogger. But although much of Yan’s art of the past half decade seems poised at the edge of fiction, he’s quick to disclaim any fundamental urge to fabulate. When he invokes the novel, it’s to say that the work requires—on the artist’s part and ours—a constant parley

  • Wayne Koestenbaum’s Pink Trance Notebooks

    The Pink Trance Notebooks, by Wayne Koestenbaum. New York: Nightboat Books, 2015. 416 pages.

    IN A 2010 ESSAY essay on Frank O’Hara, Wayne Koestenbaum hymns what he calls the poet’s “excited devotion to the state of excitement itself.” It’s an apt description of Koestenbaum’s own modus as critic, poet, and essayist; his writing tends to verbal excess, to unabashed confessions of shame or humiliation (he has even written a book on the latter subject), and evinces an exorbitant urge toward meaning-making. “We commit a cruelty against existence if we do not interpret it to death,” he writes in The

  • “Pliure: Prologue (La part du Feu)”

    IN HIS COOLLY PRESCIENT 1964 essay “The Book as Object,” the French novelist Michel Butor surveys the architecture of the modern printed page: an ordered space wherein we continually rehearse a repertoire of gestures, generally without giving a thought to the codes and hierarchies that structure our experience. The reading eye swivels and scans along ordained perpendiculars, but intermittently conducts tangential assays of headings, page numbers, and marginalia. Hand and mind flit back and forth between pages, turning their flat sequence into a delicately twitching time machine. And at the

  • Rossella Biscotti

    “YOU MUST ACT; YOU MUST HIT; YOU MUST STRIKE FASCISM IN EVERY CASE AND BY ALL MEANS!” Thus reads one of the statements Rossella Biscotti repurposed for The Anarchists Do Not Archive, 2010, a work that draws from the records of early-twentieth-century Italian radicals. The texts are set in movable lead type—monumentalized and readied to print in the same sculptural gesture. It’s one of the artist’s greatest strengths, this compacting of fraught political histories and their archival afterlives into a dense objecthood. A new version of this work and four other

  • Anne Collier

    Anne Collier’s photographs court frankly affective content: album covers showing a fragile Marilyn Monroe or a narcissistic Jean Marais in Cocteau’s Orphée; self-help cassettes containing advice about coping with anger, guilt, and despair; twin snapshots of azure ocean where her parents’ ashes were scattered. But Collier’s treatment of such artifacts is dead calm and distanced—a matter of flat planes, empty grounds, images rephotographed and repurposed to analytic ends. Her “Woman with a Camera” series, 2006–, depicts magazine photographs of celebrities (Faye

  • “Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris”

    On the streets of 1860s Paris, the appearance of Charles Marville and his camera signaled one thing: There goes the quartier. The French photographer was point man for Baron Haussmann, the “demolition artist” who erased the old Paris and confected, as the Goncourt brothers put it, “a Babylon of the future.” Marville recorded picturesque, doomed intersections and new boulevards that stretch vacantly to the horizon like desert highways. The impression of a city rising into ruin is not retrospective fancy: Critics of the time called Haussmann “the Attila of the straight line.”

  • CLOSE-UP: ALL THAT IS SOLID

    IN A COMMERCIAL for Weber’s bread from the late 1960s, Linus, the stripe-shirted boy from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, instructs Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, who has forgotten to bring an object to school for show-and-tell, simply to present her lunch: a peanut-butter sandwich. After all, notes Linus: “There is something interesting to be said for everything around us.” And, he adds, the sandwich in question contains enough energy to run four miles. Sally triumphs at show-and-tell, then tears off toward the horizon.

    Given its seemingly obvious title, it took me an unconscionably long

  • OPENINGS: OLIVIA PLENDER

    OLIVIA PLENDER IS A CONNOISSEUR of a certain mystical or spiritual Englishness. And mysticism, in England as in the United States, has frequently been inseparable from politics. Much of the London-born, Berlin-based artist’s work has mined the territory between ancient or resuscitated belief systems and the imperial, communitarian, or utopian ideologies that have invoked them. Plender’s drawings, videos, installations, and performances have been concerned with such narratives as the fraudulent beginnings of Modern Spiritualism, the mystical-socialist movements of the early twentieth century,

  • Gerard Byrne

    IMAGES OR SHADOWS OF DIVINE THINGS, an installation comprising black-and-white photographs that Gerard Byrne has been making since 2005, limns the specific sense of anachronism one sees so frequently in the Irish artist’s work and served as an enigmatic introduction to this solo exhibition. Here is an America seemingly stranded in limbo between the mid-1960s and the present-day, an array of images at once familiar in terms of styles and subjects and vexed by a subtle disequilibrium. Street scenes worthy of Lee Friedlander or Saul Leiter abut shopwindows out of late Walker Evans and figures

  • “Modernologies”

    A SPECTER HAUNTS CONTEMPORARY ART—the specter of modernism. For some years now, artists and institutions have been invoking the disparate shades of the modern in terms that vary from the melancholic to the hortatory, from what sometimes seems a relapse into ruin aesthetics to the urgent call for a newly expanded, even universal, avant-garde. As an instance of the former we might adduce the ubiquity of work that treats of the architectural remains of modernism and the Eastern bloc; as an example of the latter, the renewed question of what comes “after” (surely a question-begging preposition)