Catherine Damman

  • HOW DO YOU KNOW?

    “A MAN DRIVES A PICKUP into a Chelsea gallery” could be the start of a bad joke; instead, it’s the beginning of a Richard Maxwell play. The truck is a white Chevy with a licked finish, the gallery is Greene Naftali, and the massive windows, edged in weathering steel, are vertical blades, rudders pivoted by two guys I worry about in the cold, their irradiated safety hoodies thick but perhaps not enough.

    Addressed to Dante’s Divine Comedy and borrowing the title from his third canticle, Paradiso foregrounds existential questions: What is our purpose? Where will we find salvation? But Maxwell’s

  • performance December 20, 2016

    Hotel California

    YOU ARE MEETING A STRANGER AT THE HOTEL BAR. This is not your regular watering hole: velvet curtains, coffered ceilings, outstretched columns that hold up nothing. Everything is in the style of a ruin that doesn’t know it’s a ruin yet. You finger the thin straw plunged in a gin and tonic, unsure. Are you waiting to be found, or are you supposed to be looking?

    On the eighth floor, the room is dark. Shuffling in, you glimpse the outline of a recumbent figure. When the lights come up, a man is lying naked on one of two beds, phone in hand. You wait for him to speak first.

    His nakedness is not surprising

  • picks October 10, 2016

    “Dissent: What They Fear Is the Light”

    In 1987, a body’s arrival at LACE was caught by electronic infrared, heat-seeking intrusion detectors. Rather than a protective mechanism installed to ensure the safety of the gallery’s contents, this device was an artwork by Julia Scher. Upon approach, one tripped flashing lights and ringing alarms. Scher’s work was part of the pivotal exhibition “Surveillance,” the historical precedent for a new group show organized by Shoghig Halajian and Thomas Lawson. If the earlier moment was preoccupied with technologies of observation and their infrastructure—it was subtitled “An Exhibition of Video,

  • picks April 07, 2016

    Samara Golden

    Approach and peer down into an abyss. Wreathed in matte white—a tech-world fetish color—the parapet begs to be bent over. Do so and dive into an aerial view of eighteen chambers, neatly parceled into three rows of six. Each chamber contains a rectangular couch oriented toward a large window—or is it a screen?

    This compressed, airless cosmos is Samara Golden’s A Trap in Soft Division, 2016. For her largest installation to date, the artist showcases the antiseptic, adolescent bravado of minimalist lifestyle porn. The first row of rooms is punctuated by blouses shrugged off, laptops abandoned, and

  • performance February 09, 2016

    Syms’s City

    QUEEN LATIFAH looks at the camera, smiling with lips lined, hair pressed, blazer on. A headshot from her days starring as Khadijah James in the 1990s FOX sitcom Living Single, the image’s caption betrays an earlier, discarded title for the show: “My Girls.”

    To whom, in fact, do these girls belong? The artist Martine Syms calls photos like this—purchased on eBay and at flea markets—a type of “prosthetic memory,” a means of claiming a past that is not, conventionally speaking, your own. Speaking to an audience at The Broad in Los Angeles, Syms tells us that the term (from cultural historian Alison

  • performance July 01, 2015

    Flight of the Mosquito

    MAKE WAY FOR AKI SASAMOTO. Like her monologues, the artist’s body ricochets through the three-story townhouse that is Luxembourg & Dayan. She squeezes through narrow spaces, hangs from sculptures, and gallops across the building’s length. Occasionally Sasamoto pauses to accommodate shuffling gallery patrons; in other moments, she barrels through them.

    Narrative is here also a thing to be gnarled and made nimble: Are you following along? Perched on the stairs, she begins with a lively discussion about mosquitos. Her affable, self-deprecating charisma—the bedside manner of a stand-up comedian—turns

  • performance June 25, 2015

    Sleeper Hit

    THE FLOOR, like the walls, is bright white. Rectangular floodlights line its perimeter on three sides, angled upward in the manner of expectant faces. This eagerness is mirrored by the audience; tickets sold out quickly and seats filled up fast.

    None of this surprises me. Neither am I surprised that we are given a reading assignment of sorts (typeface Cambria, the default for Microsoft Office), handed out alongside the “official” programs. I read dutifully.

    We are here to see Yvonne Rainer, after all. She holds court in a chair on stage right: wiry glasses, hair in a modest French twist, striped

  • performance May 20, 2015

    Murder on the Dance Floor

    I’VE SEEN (or rather, tried to see) performances by Yve Laris Cohen at The Kitchen three times now. The first time, I didn’t see anything at all. Unaware that viewers of Seth, 2013, had already been chosen, I was turned away at the door. For Thomas, 2013, four of us restlessly shifted on the floor of a disheveled third-story administrative office. In the dark, we listened to the even tick of a metronome and the rain hitting something metallic on the roof, illuminated only by an orange bulb flickering in the artist’s lap. That time, the audience was self-selected; volunteering meant missing all

  • picks May 15, 2015

    Julia Heyward

    “Who needs bondage? Isolation will do.” Julia Heyward (also known as Duka Delight) is a master at talking dirty. Her words are seductive, to be sure, but more so unctuous and often defiled. In performances and videos made between 1971 and 1984—the purview of her first monographic survey, curated by Jamie Stevens—she lends an incantatory cadence to skeins of metonymy, rhyme, and alliteration. Buoyed by her southern drawl, language revels in its own slipperiness, a fish the artist is quick to gut.

    Heyward’s penchant for volte-face is also visual. After all, she pioneered the genre we now call music

  • performance February 09, 2015

    Out of the Box

    THERE IS A PARTICULAR LOW, sustained rumble that is used in films to build suspense. Unlike the discordant stabs of a piano or frenetic strings that mark terror, this tone alerts us to danger’s nearness, lurking but not immediate.

    In Ligia Lewis’s Minor Matter, which recently premiered at Human Resources LA, this sound announced performer Kenneth Nicholson’s rise from the floor.

    Like the best science fiction, Lewis’s work is most successful in its insistence that the spare can be made spectacular. Nicholson began with a monologue delivered supine. Reporting on his view under the astringent gallery

  • performance November 05, 2014

    Now You See Me

    RUSHING FROM BROOKLYN, the subways are slow and I don’t catch the right train up to Beacon to see Steve Paxton’s not-a-retrospective. The work of the virtuoso Cunningham dancer, Judson pioneer, Grand Union collaborator, and Contact Improvisation creator is precisely about awareness of one’s body and so as a distraction I try to pay attention to mine. Pacing on the platform is a kind of magical thinking, I realize, an impotent attempt to speed up trains or slow down time, as if my internal velocity could exert some force outside its own envelope. It is impossible not to make metaphors of this.

  • performance April 20, 2014

    Moon Struck

    AN EXPERIMENT: Love someone deeply and for a long time. End it, abruptly. Start fucking someone new. Be surprised—dismayed even—when your body follows a certain choreography as if automatically: a preprogrammed sequence, an anticipation of certain gestures, a procession of amenities customized for one person and perhaps not suited (or even pleasurable) to the new.

    It seems terrible to think we are so rote, mechanized in those moments where we imagine a pliable, attentive body. We want to believe ourselves always capable of change; we want our art to be always running after the new. So much of