Carol Armstrong

  • “Diane Arbus: In the Beginning”

    We know Diane Arbus for her square-format photographs of “freaks” and “normals,” taken in the 1960s, with which she created an inimitable style of personal confrontation with her subjects, markedly different from that of her “new-document,” street-photographing contemporaries. What we know less about are her beginnings, after she worked as a stylist for her fashion-photographer husband Allan Arbus, who gave her a camera when she was just eighteen. More than one hundred of the photographs she took with a 35-mm camera between 1956—when she numbered a roll of such

  • Carlito Carvalhosa’s Waiting Room

    AT FIRST GLANCE, it looked as if something terrible had happened: an environmental disaster, a result of global discombobulation. As if a whole forest of trees had been uprooted by the force of winds and dropped pell-mell into the newly renovated building, which would therefore require another round of reconstruction. As if Mother Nature, in her fury, had submitted Father Culture to the wrecking ball, delivering a reply to arrogant Architecture thus: If you model the columns of your hall on the trees of my forest, I will use those trees against you and level your hall with them; if you think

  • “Adriana Varejão: Histories at the Margins”

    The first major survey of Adriana Varejão’s career will encompass some forty works made between 1991 and the present, including a new large-scale polyptych.

    The first major survey of Adriana Varejão’s career will encompass some forty works made between 1991 and the present, including a new large-scale polyptych. The modernist and the neo-Baroque, the wavering of boundaries and the fluidity of ostensibly categorical distinctions, the erotics of an alternate femininity, the history of colonialism from the perspective of the colonized, the backstory and continental drift of globalization: These are the themes that intertwine within Varejão’s paintings and multimedia installations, a body of work that has made her one of the

  • FLUID DYNAMICS: THE ART OF ADRIANA VAREJÃO

    THE CHURCH OF SÃO FRANCISCO in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, beautifully exemplifies both the early globalism and the warped chronology of the Brazilian Baroque. Its eighteenth-century interior is a classic example of the entirely gilt igreja dourada, or “golden church,” which sings its Gloria Dei in a profusion of swirling columns, irrational volutes, angels, birds, clouds, and other bulging, swelling, inverting, and extroverting folds and protuberances, all in exaggerated sync with the high Jesuit moment of the Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Baroque. The facade of

  • Diane Arbus

    Now that the years have passed and photography has become something else, it is time that Arbus’s peculiar, uncomfortable genius be recognized in France.

    She died too young, she lived too off-kilter, and her work was too sensationalized. From the beginning, Diane Arbus (1923–1971) made images that became as well known for what they depicted as for the controversy her acts of depiction inspired—debates about the “ethics” of photographing others so apparently other. But why shouldn’t we take interest in others, and they in us? Why not stare in wonderment, as Arbus did, at the human freak show by which we’re surrounded, indeed that also includes us? Now that the years have passed and photography has become something

  • Paul Cézanne

    BACK IN 1990, in an essay for the Oxford Art Journal, Griselda Pollock asked the question “What Can We Say About Cézanne These Days?” Her answers—regarding the contributions that could be made through socio-historical, psychoanalytic, and feminist interventions—were rather more generous than that given in the London Review of Books this past December by T. J. Clark. In the opening of his review of the Courtauld Gallery in London’s recent exhibition dedicated to the artist’s “Card Players” series, 1890–96, Clark flatly declared: “Cézanne . . . cannot be written about any more.” When

  • “On Line”

    WHAT IS A LINE? I used to think that a “line” was a pure mathematical concept, something that did not exist in nature. I also used to think about line in terms of its meaning within a linked series of oppositions: the linear versus the coloristic, the draftsmanly versus the painterly, the “essence” versus the “difference,” the “masculine” versus the “feminine” of pictorial art. And of course, there is linear versus nonlinear thought. But now, having seen the fabulous exhibition “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curated by Catherine de Zegher

  • Craigie Horsfield and Tapestry

    LOCATED JUST OUTSIDE GHENT in Belgium, oil painting’s Northern Renaissance site of origin and, coincidentally, one of the prime centers of modern machine-made carpet production, there is a place called Flanders Tapestries that specializes in weaving jacquard tapestries from photographs: scanning ambitious photographs by contemporary artists and creating digital files that guide the weaving of large modern wall hangings that are then exhibited as artworks in galleries or museums, rather as medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque tapestries used to adorn palace walls, combining the function of

  • Identity Aesthetics

    CAN ELEGANCE COEXIST WITH CRITIQUE? Aesthetics with politics? Material and formal intensiveness with sociocultural inquiry? My own answer would be a resounding “Yes.” But much contemporary art seems to answer “No.” Indeed, some recent shows appear to be wedded to the idea that intensive aesthetic labor undermines political intent—especially in work by minorities. The Brooklyn Museum’s recent exhibition “Global Feminisms,” for example, foregrounded contemporary work by women artists of all colors, ethnicities, and nationalities that emphasizes the reductive, the dystopian, the aesthetically

  • “Global Feminisms” and “WACK!”

    WHY ARE WOMEN so angry? What do women want? Why can’t a woman be more like a man? Can a man be a feminist? Why have there been no great women artists? Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? What is feminism? What is art? Is feminist art “art”? Is feminist art great art? Is art by women artists feminist art? Is feminist art women’s art? How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Do feminists have a sense of humor? Can women be funny? (No, but we can be hysterical.) Do we have permanent PMS? Is a woman born, or is she made? Is she nature, or is she culture? Is she a victim of the species

  • “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution”

    On both coasts of the nation this March, there is to be a revival of the category of feminist art.

    On both coasts of the nation this March, there is to be a revival of the category of feminist art. At the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles there will be an exhibition titled “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” organized by Connie Butler (formerly a curator at MoCA and now with the Museum of Modern Art in New York). At the Brooklyn Museum, timed to coincide with the institution’s inauguration of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, there will be an international survey of contemporary art called “Global Feminisms,”

  • “Global Feminisms”

    On both coasts of the nation this March, there is to be a revival of the category of feminist art.

    On both coasts of the nation this March, there is to be a revival of the category of feminist art. At the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles there will be an exhibition titled “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” organized by Connie Butler (formerly a curator at MoCA and now with the Museum of Modern Art in New York). At the Brooklyn Museum, timed to coincide with the institution’s inauguration of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, there will be an international survey of contemporary art called “Global

  • Carol Armstrong

    IT MIGHT SEEM THAT “From Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde,” the superb show currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is all about modern art dealing. Indeed, some say this exhibition, which concentrates on the sales, shows, commissions, and purchases of the latenineteenth-, early-twentieth-century Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard, predicts the current art market, the contemporary art scene, and the world of art dealing in present-day New York. Not so.

    Though “From Cézanne to Picasso” takes its motive from Vollard’s dealership, and though

  • the Whitney Museum and Tate Modern Collections

    WE LIVE IN an art-historical moment in which the canon has been deconstructed, destroyed, blown to bits; and yet, at the same time, the canon has been expanded to infinity, to include anything and everything, to let every comer in. Either way, the canon becomes a nonsense, its categories baseless, while the exercise of aesthetic judgment has been ruled a thing of the past and/or a matter of indefensible personal taste without any common cultural basis. These attitudes are found nowhere more so than in that beast called contemporary art, which has from the start taken canon-busting as one of its

  • Hiroshi Sugimoto

    OF ALL OF HIROSHI SUGIMOTO’S photographs, some 120 of which were recently on view in a retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, I like best the blankest and emptiest of them, the seascapes and the movie screens. Paradoxically, these are also the least photographic of his photographs, at least as I understand the photographic: as a field of indexically registered, automatic detail, which tends toward a chaos principle of frozen momentariness and punctal oddity. There is none of that anywhere in Sugimoto’s work, but least of all in these flat seas and glowing

  • Catherine de Zegher

    IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, Charles Baudelaire said art criticism should be “passionate, partisan, and political.” For the poet and critic, these three words were synonymous—“political” meant “partisan” and “partisan” meant “passionate”—and without them there would be no point to modern, secular art. In this sphere, in other words, the safe space of neutrality, “objectivity” and dispassionate judgment has no place. Take a stand and get behind it: So should art do, and so shall this essay, concerning Catherine de Zegher’s recent departure from New York’s Drawing Center, where she had been director

  • “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult”

    On first and second sight, “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a very weird show. I wouldn’t call it fabulous—too many of the photographs in it are revolting little things—but it is fascinating. And it is puzzling on a number of fronts. How were these things made? The wall texts and catalogue do not always tell us, unless we are meant to suspend disbelief and give some credit to occult concepts like “vital fluid” and ectoplasm. The caption for one plate in the catalogue matter-of-factly claims that photographer Frederick Hudson “probably

  • Lee Friedlander

    Walking with a friend through the Lee Friedlander retrospective at MOMA, I noticed that the two of us each had a different way of looking at almost every early street photograph on view: One of us saw the photograph a certain way right off the bat and couldn’t easily see it otherwise, while the other noticed everything else in the photo and could only see the “hook” after having it pointed out. What in one viewing looked like Americanized pieces of Cartier-Bresson poetic doubling in another couldn’t be disentangled from a set of densely stratified spatial and perceptual conundrums that at once

  • the Barnes Foundation

    “QUIRKY.” “ORIGINAL.” “Idiosyncratic.” “Weird and glorious.” “Fabulous.” “Eccentric.” These are a few of the adjectives that have made their way into press accounts of the controversy over the moving of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’s collection from Merion, a Philadelphia suburb, to a new building on the city’s Museum Mile. To those descriptors of Barnes’s wonderfully odd assortment of objects and his contradiction-ridden plans for them I could add some of my own. Slightly lunatic. A bit delusional. Wildly unrealistic. Quixotic. Cockeyed. Raving mad, and just as maddening. But three cheers for such

  • Carol Armstrong

    Manet was an artist who cared a great deal about how his art was exhibited; who, indeed, thought of his own studio as an exhibition space, painting and pairing pictures so that they could talk to each other across that space, and to the memories of pictures from the history of art that they invoked in that space. He was just as adamant about where and how he did not show his art, famously refusing to join his friends Monet and Degas and the others in the Impressionist exhibitions. For as much as he may have been considered a modern by those friends, their critics, and their public, he himself