Colby Chamberlain

  • 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

  • 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,”