Emily Speers Mears

  • Alan Kane and Humphrey Spender

    As “In the Face of History,” an exhibition of twentieth-century European documentary photography, was closing down the road at the Barbican, Ancient and Modern was doing its bit to represent Great Britain’s contribution to the genre, in the work of Alan Kane and Humphrey Spender. The style’s British proponents are often seen to have started off valiantly if a little bit dully, only for their sociological intent to get lost in the shiny, grotesque netherworld of Martin Parr, but this exhibition offered a worthwhile second look.

    Spender, who died in 2005, was one of Britain’s great black-and-white

  • Jennifer Bornstein

    On first viewing, Jennifer Bornstein’s careful, sober intaglio prints look like slightly bland cartoons. Bornstein is a bit of an anti-artist: Her choice of the apparently backward technique of copperplate etching—a kind of “slow art”—is an intentional deskilling, and her output is fairly small. Perhaps as a result, the exhibition at greengrassi has a crystalline, almost icy precision, while paradoxically projecting an obtuse, diffident air. However, the works contain just enough slyly funny moments to suggest that braving their conceptual rigor may be rewarding after all.

    Bornstein’s figurehead

  • Paulina Olowska

    “Hello to You Too” seemed an appropriately coy title for an exhibition that knowingly offered a come-on while making it seem as though the advance had been on the part of the viewer. Paulina Olowska’s chic, tightly constructed show consisted of nine paintings, all of which prominently foregrounded a female figure, in many cases a variation on an archetypal attractive European female artist. In one, her trim silhouette, right shoulder forward, looms out of a ripped-up mess of old advertising posters (Mieszkanie 629-83-36, 2006); in another, a woman looks out of the painting from under arched

  • Mark Leckey

    Around the same time Mark Leckey’s show “Gorgeousness and Gorgeosity” opened in Frankfurt, tabloids in the UK were in a frenzy about the new laws permitting around-the-clock liquor sales and the prospect of an ugly rise in binge drinking in Britain. This made Leckey’s fifty-five-minute DVD installation Drunken Bakers, 2005, seem a satisfyingly blunt two fingers up at the ridiculous piety of it all, the hypocritical mourning of a lost innocence that never was: It consists of a series of frames from Barney Farmer and Lee Healey’s comic strip Drunken Bakers, to which Leckey and fellow artist Steve

  • Carl Michael von Hausswolf

    The steady but almost imperceptible pulse of the sound track and the uncanny images of Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s film Hashima, Japan (made with Thomas Nordanstad), 2002, spark the same quickening of adrenaline and awareness as when you’re finding your way in the dark. The film is a tour of an abandoned island off the coast of Japan that for years was the site of intensive coal mining; at its peak it had a higher population density than Manhattan. Now, seen in straightforward still shots that fade into one another, the island looks as if abandoned in a rush: The camera catches deteriorated

  • Lucia Nogueira

    Lucia Nogueira’s quietly confident drawings occupy the twilight in which reality loosens its hold on the everyday. Many appear to be straightforward experiments in color incorporating elements of Nogueira’s sculptures: gray test tubes, a funnel framed by a smooth ocher brushstroke, a row of colored lines, abstract scribbles, or an ink-soaked page with a thick drip of enamel near its top. As a result, the works’ occasional strangeness takes you by surprise. One column of five yellow blobs has a cartoonish helicopter landing at its top (Untitled, 1995); elsewhere, pearly teeth loom out of the

  • picks March 15, 2005

    Unica Zürn

    Despite her impressive body of literary and artistic work, Unica Zürn, like so many other great women, long seemed condemned to history’s dead-crazy-girlfriend dustbin: Hans Bellmer’s lover, she committed suicide in 1970 after her mental health deteriorated. This exhibition, a selection of her experiments with automatic drawing, starts to set the record straight. Disembodied lips and eyes float within intense, sprawling dreamscapes, and make up larger faces and figures as well. Leftover space within the drawings’ boundaries is carefully filled in with abstract but methodical patterns of scallops,

  • picks February 18, 2005

    Sarah Lucas

    The sculptures that make up “God is Dad,” Sarah Lucas’s latest show at Barbara Gladstone, play out the immanent violence of sexualized relations and excavate the humor therein. Nylon tights hang flaccidly from mangled coat hangers and are stretched between concrete shoes. Rusty old bedsprings slump against freestanding walls whilst cast-concrete army boots nod to a wider arena of violence. But every so often amidst this wasteland of exhausted domesticity, like a brief moment of tenderness in an abusive relationship, hilarity prevails. The nudge-nudge, wink-wink undercurrent almost bubbles over

  • picks December 12, 2004

    Morgan Fisher

    Morgan Fisher presents an odd homage to Hollywood deeply imbued with the tradition (of which he is part) of West Coast avant-garde filmmaking. Nine mirrors line the walls of Greene Naftali’s main room: Allegorizing Hollywood history, they are to-scale exemplars of various film formats, which have grown steadily bigger since the early twentieth century. Their titles, neatly encapsulating the expansion (from SILENT 1.33:1 to ULTRA PANAVISION 2.40:1), are etched in the bottom left-hand corners. Resembling both the sample mirrors displayed in design showrooms and monochromatic paintings, the works

  • picks December 12, 2004

    Keith Mayerson

    The suite of 105 paintings in Keith Mayerson’s current show depict subjects ranging from Jesus and John Lennon to the first monkey in space, the founding fathers, and the current American president; the undercurrent of homoeroticism comes to the surface in paintings of Keanu and River (circa My Own Private Idaho). Four years in the making, the work crowds the gallery with the kind of cluttered installation found in old European churches, while Mayerson’s muddy palette makes the paintings look as if they’re tinged with incense smoke. Two abstractions are painted on hanging panes of glass, visually

  • picks October 29, 2004

    Anri Sala

    Roping Homi Bhabha into a collaboration is no mean feat, but Anri Sala, who is showing four recent videos and a group of photographs at Marian Goodman, has prevailed upon the cultural theorist to help fine-tune American English translations for the many words for shades of light and dark that exist in the African language Wolof. In Sala’s video Làkkat, 2004, Senegalese children fidget against a gloomy background, reciting the Wolof words for “light-skinned,” “pitch-black,” and so on. The video exists in three other versions, with subtitles in British English, German, and French, each translated

  • picks October 12, 2004

    Miroslaw Balka

    In this exhibition of new works, Miroslaw Balka removes the line dividing public and private experience, creating a space in which the humble materials of domesticity and the “unforgettable” events of history rub up against each other like uneasy neighbors who once fought on opposing sides of a war. In the dim gallery, flickering rings of gas are projected downwards onto shallow steel troughs full of salt—a material that, for Balka, represents the body. The implicit allusion to the Holocaust clashes effectively with the work's simplicity. Black-and-white film projections are accompanied by

  • picks October 05, 2004

    “Mystery Achievement”

    The artists in “Mystery Achievement” are all master showmen. As indicated by the exhibition's title, the four pieces on display are deceptive: Through impressive feats of sleight of hand, they make complexity look easy. Frank Benson's contribution, a life-size sculpture of a mutant Galapagos turtle, has a plaster-colored softness and a slight, seasick tilt. In place of flippers and head, casts of the artist's hands protrude from under the shell, gesturing with a poignant expressiveness that makes the absence of realistic limbs even more abject. Daniel Lefcourt offers up a gorgeous painting of

  • picks June 29, 2004

    “Power, Corruption and Lies”

    Like the 1983 New Order album from which its title is borrowed, “Power, Corruption and Lies” throbs with staccato anger. Each work has been selected by its curators, Adam McEwen and Neville Wakefield, with a precision that reinforces this sense of contained rage. A Rudolf Stingel wall-to-wall carpet introduces the show: Oil-slick black and spiky, it covers the entire floor and aggressively unbalances the room’s otherwise refined atmosphere. Similarly taut critiques reverberate throughout. In Nobuyoshi Araki's Untitled (The Imperial Family), 1973, the portrait is mottled as though directly

  • picks June 09, 2004

    John Giorno

    John Giorno’s short, brilliant trip of a poem for the Swiss Institute’s latest answering-machine "exhibition” evokes a strong sense of place—which is impressive, considering the disembodied nature of the work. The novelty of these telephonic shows (this is part two of an ongoing SI series) hasn’t worn off since Giorno came up with the concept of Dial-a-Poem in the '70s, and the convenience of not having to leave your home/office/beach house to hear his latest is as enormously appreciated as ever. But wherever you’re calling from, Giorno’s glorious, broad Noo Yoik accent places you smack-bang in

  • picks June 04, 2004

    Felix Gmelin

    While his distinctive methods of questioning historicity are already well established in Europe, this is Felix Gmelin's first exhibition in New York. His video installation Farbtest, Die Rote Fahne II (Color Test, the Red Flag II), 2002, shown to great acclaim at the last Venice Biennale, is now on view at Maccarone, Inc. alongside newer, equally thoughtful works. In one, Gmelin projects two found films—a 1974 propagandist documentary about Maoist education and a 1967 hippie celebration of the positive effects of drug use—but switches their soundtracks, conflating the two narratives

  • picks May 25, 2004

    Ashley Bickerton

    Defining for itself a singular existence on the borders between sculpture and painting, and between narrative and its disruption, Ashley Bickerton’s startling recent work is made on wooden pallets that curve away from the wall and are carved with holes that allude to the perforated ozone layer and suggest the work's own potential disintegration. Bickerton binds worn objects found on the beach—flip-flops, Budweiser cans, a Johnson’s baby powder container—to these painting/sculpture combines. Nature’s more gracious creations—driftwood and skulls—creep through the holes. These things,

  • picks May 04, 2004

    Josh Smith

    For years, Josh Smith has been making abstract paintings on which he emblazons his own name, and while this conceit may seem conceited, the effect is the opposite. Rather than coming across as aggressive self-advertisements, his canvases are relaxed to the point of messiness. In the best work here—New Swamp Thing, 2004—his name is partially obscured by a patch of red checkers that seems to grow out of the bottom-left corner of the canvas; elsewhere, the calligraphic curves of his lettering appear to be on the verge of breaking down into scribbles. His palette is nicely murky, as if