Colby Chamberlain

  • 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

  • picks November 01, 2007

    Spencer Finch

    Peculiar chandeliers adorn the entrance to Spencer Finch’s midcareer survey at MASS MoCA: incandescent bulbs of alternating size emerge from rods and joints at odd angles. The setting is sparkling yet obscure, and only with time will visitors recognize shapes and forms reminiscent of their high school chemistry classes. This arrangement of 401 bulbs, at first seemingly erratic, is in fact the atomic structure of the pigments Finch used to match the color of the night sky over the Arizona desert. Translating and reshaping source material has become increasingly prevalent as more information moves

  • picks September 19, 2007

    Jamie Isenstein

    “Wood, sheet metal blades, copper hardware, WILL RETURN sign, human body without head, patent leather tuxedo shoes, step stool.” For her exhibition “Acéphal Magic” (acephal meaning “headless”), Jamie Isenstein turns a checklist into deadpan legerdemain. The piece these materials describe, Saw the Lady, 2007, is a variation on the classic woman-sawn-in-half routine perfected by Horace Goldin in the 1920s: a coffinlike case cut in two and punctuated by a pair of squirming ankles. Whether this is the aforementioned decapitation victim or Isenstein herself is subject to speculation. These elements

  • picks August 02, 2007

    “1950s–1960s Kinetic Abstraction”

    At a distance, Hartmut Böhm’s HF 10, 1965, would pass for an oil painting were it not for the power cord emerging from its frame. The cord is twisted and yellowed, with an on/off switch typical to lamps bought at swap meets, and it tethers the work to that moment in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Kinetic Abstraction gained traction as an international (albeit mostly European) art movement. Like Op art, the movement was briefly a media darling and is now deserving of critical reappraisal, the groundwork for which may be this commendable exhibition. Organized in consultation with German

  • picks July 12, 2007

    Jill Magid

    Wrapped in a red trench coat, eyes closed shut amid a milling crowd, Jill Magid might be the ingenue lead of a New Wave film, only the city is not Paris but Liverpool, the jerky cinematography not that of Raoul Coutard but the video-surveillance program Citywatch, and the offhand narrator an officer stationed at a closed-circuit television who directs her safely through the streets by means of a radio nestled in her ear. Whether it be this trust exercise mediated by a security camera or, as in another piece, a consent form redrafted as a love letter, Jill Magid’s beguiling work plays along the

  • picks July 11, 2007

    “New Economy”

    A ceiling fan, sewing machines, Spanish-language radio, middle-aged women who smile cordially as you come to grips with your sudden and unexpected entry into a sweatshop: Kader Attia’s installation at Artists Space is both provocation and production facility, the barbed anchor of an intelligent group exhibition concerned with the strategies of critique available to artists in a “New Economy” of immaterial labor, information exchange, and commodified social relations. The artists selected by curator João Ribas engage with this political economy not just for material support but for subject matter,

  • picks June 20, 2007

    “Thoreau Revisited” and “Three for Society”

    Henry David Thoreau's best-remembered writing emerges from two rooms: the Concord prison cell where an overnight incarceration inspired “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” and the ten-by-fifteen cabin he built for himself at Walden Pond. The enclosure and enforced solitude of these spaces shaped his singular contribution to literature, precise and practical observations crafted into a convincing (if sometimes contradictory) social conscience. Two exhibitions taking cues from Thoreau’s work rehearse his practice of deep introspection that reverberates outward. At 303 Gallery, “Three for Society,”

  • picks May 10, 2007

    “Come One, Come All”

    “Come One, Come All” is a variegated reminder that joining the circus once served the current function of BFA programs and that art shows themselves share considerable common ground with the state fairs, rodeos, and big-top spectaculars that persist as the United States’ predominant forms of exhibition. Organized by Summer Guthery and Sophie Landres, the exhibition first celebrates the circus’s tattered edges, with Lisa Kereszi’s photograph of a harlequin tent’s faded cloth and Meredith Allen’s Popsicle portraits, which grant a certain dignity to candied eyes (even as they melt). The show hits

  • picks May 09, 2007

    Adam Putnam

    Prior to bankrolling a Gothic Revival masterpiece, Fonthill Abbey, William Beckford penned Vathek (1782), the tale of a caliph dabbling in the supernatural. Vathek’s holdings include the expected panoply of Orientalist pleasures: the Eternal or Unsatiating Banquet, the Palace of Perfumes, and the Delight of the Eyes, where “a well-managed perspective attracted the sight . . . [and] the magic of optics agreeably deceived it.” This collision of the Gothic, the erotic, and the optic is central to Adam Putnam’s current solo show. Like one of its preoccupying motifs, corners, the exhibition is the