Ed Hill

  • CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

    AMONG SÖREN KIERKEGAARD'S divers prescriptive parables there is one, “The Critical Apparatus,” that might profit our attention on this reflective occasion, or, at the least, allow us an opportunity for critical play.

    Kierkegaard directs his readers to imagine a country in which a “royal command” has been issued “to all the office-bearers and subjects, in short, to the whole population.” What follows is something of a remarkable transformation in which the royal subjects respond by becoming interpreters of the decree-as-text. “The office-bearers become authors,” and proceed to produce a learned

  • MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA

    When light penetrates

    into the dark corners

    of the so complicated

    mechanism of silence, it

    remains motionless before

    the beauty of indifference

    turned stupid in the

    madness of this age.

    —Jindřich Heisler
    , On the Needles of These Days, 1941

    THE 1980S ENDED in Czechoslovakia with thousands of street demonstrators jingling house keys, poignantly announcing the advent of unimaginable political reforms after 41 years of absolute communist rule. Because this heterogeneous nation is so firmly rooted within the ancient history of Central Europe, and Prague in so many ways represents the quintessential

  • DARK WONDER

    There is nothing so mighty or so marvelous that the wonder it evokes does not tend to diminish in time.

    —Lucretius

    THE DESIGNATION OF WONDERS—like that of miracles—is a popularizing and promotional strategy raising its object to some rarefied acme of recognition. Sites of wonders, like those of miracles, attract: the seven wonders of the ancient world (a phrase familiar to all, although few can name them) were powerful creations that drew entrepreneurs, thieves, vandals, historians, and eventually archaeologists to their locations around the rim of the eastern Mediterranean. This tradition has

  • Sharon Kopriva

    Sharon Kopriva’s visceral, frequently macabre paintings and sculptures provoke strong reactions—or, at the least, discomfort. With their grim symbolism, fragile identity, and illusory authenticity, the sculptures in particular press their excessive materiality rather insistently against our perceptual consciousness. Are these sometimes Christian, more often pagan, reliclike forms referring to archaeological artifacts, or are they signaling pure effect?

    Death is the constant factor in Kopriva’s work. It is confronted as a question of the phenomenology and transcendence of the spirit. Kopriva treats

  • James Drake

    Events along the U.S.-Mexican border are part of the daily psychic undertow in the Southwest, even for middle-class Anglos, who have come to believe that the traffic—day laborers, political refugees, drug smugglers, and the anticipated menace of killer bees—crosses overwhelmingly in one direction. James Drake has resolutely stationed his art at the border in a double sense: by working there—in El Paso, Texas for the last 22 years—and by focusing on the pathos of that sovereign boundary as the subject of his recent drawings and sculpture installations.

    In this group of seven works Drake attempts

  • Leon Golub

    An odd thought: the sphinx as off-road vehicle. Such is its apparent function in Leon Golub’s recent departure from his familiar inquiries into the realms of power and abuse. The sphinx serves, by all appearance, as his temporary transport into the adjacent terrain of the enigmatic, paradoxical, and pataphysical. According to Robert Graves, mythology’s most famous riddler asked, “What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?” The answer, as depicted in three of Golub’s current paintings, is the sphinx itself. The

  • K. Packlick

    In the bright and tidy world of K. Packlick, subjectivity has been thoroughly erased—except for the artist’s curious practice of dating each work to commemorate the precise day of its completion. The things that inhabit these smallish, mixed-media collages—women, men, children, birds, flowers, and fruit—are identified reflexively; they are mere cultural furniture, embodying moralizing lessons in the esthetics of social instruction. The image material is derived mostly from popular magazines of the’50s. What appears at first to be nostalgic reference, however, finds skillful, calculated purpose

  • Nic Nicosia

    Since the start of the decade, Nic Nicosia has made the garish artifice or staginess of his constructed photographs overt and central to the viewer’s experience. In these set pieces, suburban melodramas are typically caricatured as comic tableaux—chaotic scenes of upwardly mobile, middle-class life out of control. The culminating series in this buffo mode is “Near Modern Disasters,” 1983; in “The Cast,” 1985, the actors/entertainers/performers become the subjects (as played by “real” people) of his photographs. The latter series takes a further step in the presentation of reality as pure theater

  • Diane Arbus

    Is it true that the only track open for critical assessment of Diane Arbus’ photographs is to trace the history of their reception? Before taking up this question, we should mention that the Arbus exhibition was part of Houston’s month-long, international celebration of photography, “FotoFest ’88,” which in total (83 exhibitions) represented a diversity of current camera practices and a variety of historical perspectives with a slight bias in both categories toward “documentary” traditions. Given the widespread familiarity and surprising popularity of Arbus’ photographs, the heavy critical

  • BORROWED SHOES

    These shoes are hallucinogens.

    —Jacques Derrida

    Extensions of his being, they image the qualities and conditions necessary for his health of mind.

    —Meyer Schapiro

    The peasant woman, on the other hand, simply wears them.

    —Martin Heidegger

    DURING THE SECOND HALF of 1886, while working in Paris, Vincent van Gogh borrowed a couple of shoes (or several pairs?) for the express purpose of painting them. From whom they were borrowed is unknown, although it has commonly been assumed that he borrowed them from his own peripatetic feet, giving them, as it were, secondary employment in art. We imagine the

  • Joel Sternfeld

    “American Prospects,” the title of Joel Sternfeld’s retrospective, invites three readings of work that represents nine years of itinerant photographic practice. Prospects are first of all views, usually commanding views that extend from a particular outlook to the horizon. Sternfeld’s handsome color photographs are typically of this sort. He most often positions his large-format (8-by-10-inch) view camera at sites that survey certain segments of contemporary American landscape, those that tend to lie along the margins of our postindustrial, urban culture where signs of a different sort of prospect

  • Robert Levers

    In Austin, which is the privileged seat of power in Texas, Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas campus is the principal monument to spectacle. Legendary scene of many historic struggles in Southwestern football, this beloved colossus seems to have become the preferred site and subject of Robert Levers’ art ever since he painted The Destruction of Memorial Stadium, 1983, in which he imagined the effects of a catastrophic explosion. To his credit, Levers has concentrated his attention away from the game and its players, choosing instead to exploit with unrestrained imagination the satiric