Carroll Dunham

  • THE MARSHALL PLAN: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL’S “MASTRY”

    IT IS AS PLAIN as the nose on one’s face—and, for many, equally impossible to see—that the history of Euro-American painting has been created by and for white people. Kerry James Marshall has recounted his childhood realization of this distorted condition while wandering in museums, and as an adult he made it his stated artistic mission to create representations of the black figure that would be ratified in the halls of our institutions. With the large survey exhibition “Mastry”—which traveled this fall from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art to the Met Breuer in New York, where

  • Chris Ofili

    CHRIS OFILI is one of a tiny handful of living artists whose work has, however briefly, entered what passes in this country for “political discourse.” In the more than fifteen years since the tempest in a teapot initiated by Rudolph Giuliani’s “outrage” at the inclusion of Ofili’s painting The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996, in the 1999 exhibition “Sensation” at the Brooklyn Museum, no other artist has been framed for such blasphemy. Meanwhile, Ofili’s approach to painting and his philosophical agenda have been quietly evolving, encompassing both more personal and more historical areas of association.

  • Carroll Dunham

    Extreme-sports memoirs don’t interest me much, and James Nestor’s Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) would seem to be just that: a lengthy investigation of the sport known as free diving, an extreme activity if ever there was one, in which humans dive unprotected and unassisted to remarkable underwater depths and (mostly) come back to tell us about it. But this book is much more than that . . . much deeper. Woven around hair-raising tales of this sport’s elite and their psychology are the author’s fascinating ruminations

  • CLOSE-UP:

    WHEN I WALKED INTO the first gallery of the “Abstract Expressionist New York” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, I was stopped in my tracks by a green dwarf, waving to me from the back corner of the room. Actually it was a painting of a green dwarf—Dwarf, 1947, by William Baziotes (1912–1963)—looking like a bit of a freak among the various Surrealist- and automatist-inspired works that filled the gallery and that are conventionally understood to be the precursors of the New York School classics that were to follow. The museum’s long-established narrative of that period

  • “Late Renoir”

    ONE THING A FAMOUS, elderly, or dead artist’s work can never be is too late. There has been widespread interest in “late” shows lately—the mesmerizing late interiors of Bonnard, Picasso’s musketeers, Monet’s late water lilies, and the confusing last efforts of Warhol and Dalí have all recently been presented for reconsideration. Central to this trend is the exhibition “Late Renoir,” on view this summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which examined the surprisingly divisive output of this ubiquitous artist’s final years.

    The Philadelphia exhibition covered roughly the period from 1890 until

  • Otto Dix

    OTTO DIX IS A KEY FIGURE, but he has never been held in as high regard in America as his contemporaries, such as Max Beckmann and George Grosz. The German artist played no part in the fertilization of the New York art world by European refugees during World War II (Dix was in a French POW camp at the time), nor have we ever seen enough of his work here to understand his role in his own day. In 2006–2007, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York mounted its incredible “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s,” which did much to contextualize Dix, suggesting he was a deeper and more

  • Pablo Picasso

    PABLO PICASSO CAN BE EXHAUSTING to think about. He seems to occupy a slightly unnatural amount of space in the scheme of things. When he died in 1973, he had been the most famous artist in the world for well over half a century, but virtually no one was thinking seriously about what he’d been doing lately. Despite the almost eerie diversity of his output, Picasso’s part in the development of Cubism remained, for many, his most significant contribution (one that he spent the remainder of his life attempting both to own exclusively and to destroy). Many of his midlife innovations and stylistic

  • HIGH-WIRE ACT: ALEXANDER CALDER IN PARIS, 1926–1933

    IT’S DIFFICULT TO KNOW WHAT TO MAKE OF ALEXANDER CALDER. He is solidly positioned within the pantheon of twentieth-century sculpture but doesn’t quite fit the conventional academic narrative that runs from Picasso’s Guitar through David Smith to Minimalism and beyond. He is arguably one of the most beloved and readily identifiable artists of his time, but it can be tough to take him completely seriously. Even if he’s given a free pass for painting Braniff airplanes (a commercial undertaking that seems almost prescient in light of the until very recently expanding appetite for spectacle in the

  • “Jasper Johns: Gray”

    JASPER JOHNS has been the subject of so many career surveys, narrowly conceived museum exhibitions, and critical/theoretical writings that one might be forgiven for some initial skepticism regarding the need for a big show focusing on his use of the color gray. The premise seemed symptomatic of a curatorial compulsion to occupy niches perhaps not crying to be filled. But the show’s reality obviated such ungenerous concerns: “Jasper Johns: Gray” operates as a kind of shadow retrospective, illuminating in a necrotic light a narrative underbelly that even his most attentive enthusiasts might have

  • FILM NOIR: THE FILMS OF KARA WALKER

    Kara Walker’s work seems to have always brought out the worst in her. Sadomasochistic, drunken, sexist, child-molesting racial profiles from some dawn time of rococo premodernism mingle and cavort, locked in unaffirmative action. One wonders if even she initially grasped the range of pictorial and associative possibilities in her signature resuscitation of the eighteenth-century silhouette portrait nearly fifteen years ago. What began as a way to paint without painting evolved quickly through the reciprocal feedback of process and subject into a Rorschach typology of horrible and seductive master

  • Carroll Dunham

    Robert Rauschenberg’s career took off with a chapter of shock and awe followed by a forty-year-and-counting campaign for the hearts and minds of the largest possible audience. Perceptions of him evolved quickly, from the Oedipal assassin of his New York School elders to the Golden Lion of Venice and poster boy for a new kind of art-world success. After an extraordinarily productive decade, by 1965 he had begun to steer his work away from painting toward more technologically and socially engaged forms of art, and while the fruits of his increasingly collaborative labors may have left the jury of

  • SHAPES OF THINGS TO COME: THE ART OF ELIZABETH MURRAY

    PAINTING IN NEW YORK during the second half of the 1970s was a mess. The self-analytical, radically empty work of artists like Jo Baer, Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, and Robert Mangold, which had been the main chance in the not-yet-fully-played-out arc of modernist painting, was proving generative primarily for those artists and a tight phalanx of sympathetic curators and critics, while its implications of closure made its absorption by a generation of enraptured younger artists quite problematic. The art schools and galleries were loaded with mannered attempts to thread some needle of original

  • Max Ernst

    Locating and mapping the human unconscious was a primary plotline within the braided narratives of modernism, and it fell to the Surrealist painters to represent the inchoate structures and unverbalized agendas of this newly explored dark continent. The texture of the twentieth century is fading in our memory, as the talking cure listens to Prozac and the end of history scrambles not to become the history of the end—but the fortuitously timed Max Ernst retrospective reminded us that conditions of epic urgency surround us and that art is allowed to claim them as its contextual domain.

    If

  • BLACK WHOLE: THE ART OF BARRY LE VA

    BARRY LE VA’S ART OF THE LATE 1960s SO PERFECTLY typified the advanced aesthetic strategies of that turbulent moment that one almost feels he would have to have been invented if he didn’t already exist. His sculptures represented a heightened, take-no-prisoners distillation of ideas drifting in the air, which in relative isolation and with almost telepathic clairvoyance he synthesized in an extremely original way. In November 1968, the completely unknown, twenty-seven-year-old California artist appeared on the cover of Artforum, with an image of a large stretch of wooden floor, scattered with

  • JOE ZUCKER’S FIBER OPTICS

    The history of the New York art world in the 1970s is assumed to be clear but is actually not well understood. So many subsequent developments had roots, precursors, or strange John the Baptist–like harbingers that seemed to dissolve and fade but in fact opened the way for much more widely noted phenomena. The centrality and longevity of the key artists classified as post-Minimalist are not questioned, but major figures of so-called Photorealism, Pattern and Decoration, New Image, and Bad Painting have not been coherently slotted into the narrative of the recent past. The explosion of the art

  • THICK AND THIN: A ROUNDTABLE

    As the 1970s gave way to the ’80s, the slogan “return to painting” was as often heard in the discussion around contemporary art as the counter-mantra, the “death of painting.” In the last issue of Artforum, a group comprising mostly critics and art historians opened our two-part examination of painting in the ’80s and beyond with a look back at the death-of-painting debate that raged at the beginning of the decade. For this month’s pendant discussion introduced by ROBERT STORR, we assembled a second panel, largely made up of painters and curators—and asked them to tell us where painting has

  • ARTISTS CURATE: ROAD FOOD

    LIVING ARTISTS HAVE LONG MADE for conflicted subjects of museum retrospectives, as Ed Ruscha's drawing I Don't Want No Retro Spective testified on the cover of his first retrospective catalogue, in 1982. Institutional laurels can lend an eerie historicity to a career in full bloom (and the newly popular euphemism “major survey” isn't fooling anyone). But the historical perspective can be a boon to artists too, offering them a singular opportunity to consider the development of their work—and their changing relationship to the work of others. With a twenty-year “survey” of his paintings opening

  • Peter Cain

    PETER CAIN DIED on January 5, 1997, at the age of thirty-seven. He had a cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep, lingered in a coma for a few days, and was gone.

    His work was widely seen but not too widely known. He’d had five one-person exhibitions in New York and California since 1990. He was in the 1993 and 1995 Whitney Biennials, so he had “respect,” and a lot of warm bodies had passed in front of his work, but his serious audience remained small—small enough that we mostly knew who each other were. His paintings and drawings are odd and special, and they’ve always polarized people.

    An occasional

  • CREATURES OF THE PLANE

    AT THIS WRITING four vertical paintings, one tondo, and one large horizontal painting by Carroll Dunham are in varying stages of restless completion. The vertical paintings are the ones that pose the “real dilemma.”1 Dunham has always forged a shifting symbiosis of formal discipline and intuitive permissiveness; becoming ever more pronounced, the latter has now propelled something “more figurative” to the fore in his work. With the intimation of a figure comes the possibility of a literary, even narrative reading that would be alien to an artist so totally committed to a purely visual, nonverbal

  • The Appeal of the Head Onion Peel

    IN THE LATE ’70s I had a job a few blocks from the Modern, and I would go there often during my lunch hour. I was drawn more and more to Miró’s The Birth of the World, 1925, which was in the permanent collection. It spoke directly to problems I was encountering in my own painting, and it became my point of access to his work.

    The position of The Birth of the World in the artist’s growth becomes much clearer in this exhibition. I take the title at face value, and I think the genesis to which it refers is both cosmic and personal. Beginning around 1924 Miró gradually cut himself free from most of