Colby Chamberlain

  • picks July 01, 2011

    Lawrence Weiner

    Venturing into the periodical stacks, we find in the summer 1974 issue of Art-Rite a questionnaire asking artists to make a political statement. Lawrence Weiner responds with a variation on his Statement of Intent from 1968: “1) An artist may construct an art, 2) An art may be fabricated, 3) An art need not to be constructed.” This minor article, hard to find without recourse to microfilm, bolsters the argument that the core tenets of Weiner’s language-based practice were conceived as a Vietnam-era affront to power. That said, it also betrays a hint of self-satisfaction, a presumption that this

  • picks November 28, 2010

    Matthew Day Jackson, Jamie Isenstein, “The Original Copy”

    Tired of confronting his own effigy in The Tomb, 1967, Paul Thek complained, “Imagine having to bury yourself over and over.” This was precisely the underlying strategy of two compelling solo exhibitions this year. Matthew Day Jackson’s “In Search of” at Peter Blum Chelsea was riddled with allusions to his own demise, including a fabricated account of his disappearance after a cross-country road trip. Jackson introduced the conceit in a faux-documentary video that shared its title with the exhibition—a nod to both a 1970s television program of the same name and Bas Jan Ader’s In Search of the

  • picks November 17, 2010

    “179 Canal / Anyways”

    If your memory still reaches back farther than your last Facebook login, recall the sizable crowd that attended “Recessional Aesthetics” at X Initiative in March 2009. Why such a turnout? Chalk it up to the tongue-in-cheek title, which intimated that—post–Lehman Brothers, post-Inauguration—a departure from business as usual was imminent. Something could crack open. But where? One viable answer presented itself that May, when 179 Canal inaugurated its remarkable run with “Nobodies New York.” As a month-to-month beneficiary of a soft real estate market, the gallery was inevitably short-lived, but

  • picks September 22, 2010

    Melvin Edwards

    To say what’s timely about a Melvin Edwards survey in 2010, go back to 1958. That June, Clement Greenberg published “Sculpture in Our Time,” which pronounced a change in direction for the medium. Brancusi, the argument went, had effectively capped off the Renaissance tradition of sculpture as a solid, monolithic form––so much so that no one subsequently could add anything further. With that lineage exhausted, the new relevant precedents were Picasso’s Cubist guitar constructions and the welded-steel assemblies of Julio González. The standard-bearer became David Smith, who joined sheets of metal

  • picks August 06, 2010

    “Today I Made Nothing”

    Alejandro Cesarco’s print Why Work?, 2008, imagines the table of contents to a book that doesn’t exist. Along with his unwritten introduction, “Arguments for the Leisure Society,” Cesarco lists several classic critiques of labor, such as Paul Lafargue’s “The Right to be Lazy” (1883) and Raoul Vaneigem’s “The Decline and Fall of Work” (1967). Cesarco thus stockpiles justifications for refusing to work—and, to an extent, acts on them as well: He gestures toward the possibility of a book but shirks the effort involved in actually producing one. That said, Why Work? is undoubtedly itself the outcome

  • picks February 16, 2010

    Gareth Long

    A summer 2007 New Yorker cover captures it: Atop a double-decker tourist bus, a gaggle of plump passengers snap photos of Radio City Music Hall. Seated at a distance, a teenager instead peers into a slim white book bearing a few diagonal stripes on its upper-left corner. The spare cover design and the girl’s sullen expression confirm instantly that she’s reading the work of the late J. D. Salinger.

    Gareth Long’s first New York solo exhibition explores that curiously easy identification—overtly in regard to the book’s cover design and more fundamentally, I’ll argue, when it comes to that adolescent’s

  • picks December 10, 2009

    “Besides, With, Against, and Yet: Abstraction and the Ready-Made Gesture”

    “Besides, With, Against, and Yet: Abstraction and the Ready-Made Gesture” makes an important proposition. It goes like this: Arguably the two key artistic inventions of the twentieth century are abstraction and the readymade. Abstraction was by turns utopian and expressive, purporting to withdraw from painting the burdens of history or to channel a pure emotional charge. The readymade smuggled the everyday into art, a stealth move that illuminated and unsettled its linguistic, legal, and institutional supports. The two inventions have on occasion converged—see: Johns, Jasper—but like oil and

  • picks November 03, 2009

    Robert Morris

    Robert Morris’s Site, 1964, originated as a dance piece performed with Carolee Schneemann. Dressed in white workman’s clothes and a papier-mâché mask, Morris moved two eight-by-four-foot plywood sheets to reveal a tableau of Schneemann powdered white and posed as Manet’s Olympia, 1863. Morris then performed a sort of minuet with the plywood, flipping a sheet over his back and lofting it into the air, before again blocking Schneemann from view. Stan VanDerBeek later filmed Site and included it in Aspen’s 1967 double issue, on the same 8-mm reel as Hans Richter’s Constructivist animation Rhythm

  • picks June 04, 2009

    Frank Magnotta

    At first glance, Frank Magnotta’s work is reminiscent of Paul Noble’s, consisting of monumentally scaled graphite drawings that depict surreal architectural structures, rendered with an attention to detail that’s both fastidious and witty. But if Noble’s lewdly tumescent constructions suggest a landscape of barely contained libidinal impulses, then Magnotta’s speak to an alternative, perhaps truer American unconscious––the hallucinatory rush of corporate logos that daily crowd our vision. In preparing his drawings, Magnotta reimagines familiar emblems as three-dimensional objects with volume,

  • picks March 24, 2009

    Mungo Thomson

    Today there are more 16-mm projectors in New York’s galleries than in its movie theaters, and it’s common to blame this profusion of celluloid on a nostalgia-fueled vogue for obsolete technologies. Two 16-mm pieces at the core of Mungo Thomson’s solo exhibition suggest a more compelling possibility: that only now, at analog’s twilight, can we appreciate its heretofore unnoticed quirks. In the digital era, transposition––the twisting of one medium into another––comes easily; the zeros and ones move fluidly from one format to the next. Thomson’s films demonstrate that transposition among analog

  • picks February 11, 2009

    Tim Knowles, Pe Lang + Zimoun

    Chance often comes off as a cheat. Consider Hans Arp’s Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance), 1916–17: The composition is too balanced to accept without question that the work’s elements fell from Arp’s hand into such a harmonious arrangement without a nudge or two. Chance is an influential aspect of Dada and Surrealism’s legacy, but early examples such as Arp’s cast doubt on artists’ claims of having rigorously followed chance’s lead. The suggestion of chance, it would seem, is sufficient, and a little after-the-fact fiddling is just fine. An exhibition by

  • picks September 29, 2008

    Zoe Beloff

    Call it a paranoid period piece, of the Pynchonesque variety: At the turn of the last century, hysteria seizes Paris, not as a condition but as a craze. Psychiatrists at the renowned Salpêtrière hospital diagnose the maladjusted (and fetching) young ladies in their charge as hysterics; in an apparent conflation of professional and prurient interests, they devote greater resources to recording their patients’ wild gesticulations with the newfangled technologies of photography and film than to devising effective treatments. Dissemination of these records outside scientific channels ushers in a

  • picks September 16, 2008

    Yevgeniy Fiks

    In 2001, Slavoj Žižek’s decision to organize a conference on Leninism invited general bewilderment, but the philosophe provacateur had his reasons: Marxism, he and his collaborators argued, had grown too comfortably ensconced within cultural studies and other academic culs-de-sac; Leninism, by contrast, still offered the tools and temperament for radical critique. Drawing on Leninism would involve glancing past its considerable demerits—the gulag and all that—to relocate, or reload, its original potential: “To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin did, but what he failed to do, his missed

  • picks July 03, 2008

    “The Future as Disruption”

    In his essay “Entropy and the New Monuments” (1966), Robert Smithson diagnoses his contemporaries with an addiction to B movies: “The movies give a ritual pattern to the lives of many artists, and this induces a kind of ‘low-budget’ mysticism, which keeps them in a perpetual trance. The ‘blood and guts’ of horror movies provides for their ‘organic needs,’ while the ‘cold steel’ of Sci-fic movies provides for their ‘inorganic needs.’” One can certainly catch in the titanium (or tinfoil) of midcentury sci-fi schlock the first gleam of a “Juddian ‘specific object’” (Smithson’s coinage). But what

  • picks May 21, 2008

    Center for Land Use Interpretation

    After its GM plant closes, North Tarrytown becomes Sleepy Hollow, an alluring name for weekend visitors. (Washington Irving, evidently, still casts a spell.) The citizens of Cementon vote against the principal remaining vestige of the area's once-prominent role in the concrete industry and revert to their town's nineteenth-century name, Smith’s Landing. A quarry operation cuts into its parcel of land ruthlessly but, to skirt the ire of the opposite bank’s residents, many wealthy, takes care to keep the excavation invisible from the vantage of the river. Local activists rally support to preserve

  • picks April 09, 2008

    Rainer Ganahl

    “The undersigned, Robert Morris, being the maker of the metal construction entitled Litanies . . . hereby withdraws from said construction all esthetic quality and content.” When confronting problems collecting on the purchase of his piece Litanies, 1963, Morris produced Document, 1963, a notarized statement voiding the earlier work’s status as a piece of art. The delinquent collector (actually the architect Philip Johnson) responded by purchasing Document as well, subsequently donating both pieces to MoMA. Currently, they share a wall on the museum’s fourth floor, where the legalese of the

  • picks January 29, 2008

    Harun Farocki

    At CalArts, the film director Alexander Mackendrick often screened a peculiar teaching resource: the Watergate hearings. The live testimonies were “directed,” Mackendrick argued, by broadcasters fluent enough in film’s grammar to edit in real time. Mackendrick analyzed their methods to instruct would-be auteurs in telling stories with images; the exercise is of equal value to those with a critical interest in understanding how the decisions of a few figures off-camera shape perception and establish truths. In Deep Play, 2007, artist and filmmaker Harun Farocki reverses that strategy, not dissecting

  • picks January 21, 2008

    Donelle Woolford

    The ragpicker, Baudelaire tells us, is a poet well versed in waste and apt to discover in refuse a city’s discarded riches. This penchant for transforming castoffs can also be found in the figure of Donelle Woolford, who collects leftovers from the floor of the New Haven lumber-reclamation plant where she rents studio space. She takes these scraps—roughly hewn, splintered, variously textured, half-painted—and arranges them with glue and ingenuity into dense, planar compositions that in their forms, effects, and even titles allude to the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso and George Braque. There

  • picks November 28, 2007

    Eric Anglès and Matt Sheridan Smith

    “Do you use these letter types because you like them or because that’s how the stencils come?” “But that’s what I like about them, that they come that way.” In a (however unintentionally) hilarious back-and-forth in Other Criteria, an exasperated Leo Steinberg prods Jasper Johns to concede a single instance of intentionality in his work, without success. For Johns, it would seem, there are no choices, only received forms. This performance of arch indifference came to mind at the current dual exhibition of Eric Anglès and Matt Sheridan Smith, who have taken as their stencils the conventions of

  • picks November 05, 2007

    “Panoramas of the Moving Image”

    In Ernie Gehr’s film Serene Velocity (1970), the image of an institutional corridor darkens, jumps forward, brightens, and jerks back, eventually breaking down into a pulsing sequence of rectangles and jittery diagonals. Generating these effects by adjusting the zoom lens of a stationary camera, Gehr makes a persuasive and vivid argument for his definition of film as “a variable intensity of light.” The subject of an ongoing film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, Gehr might at first be perfunctorily placed in the category of nonnarrative experimental filmmakers who emerged in the 1960s