Frances Richard

  • View of “Sanford Biggers: Cosmic Voodoo Circus,” 2011. Foreground: Constellation 6.0, 2011. Background, from left: Cheshire (On Tilt), 2010–11; A Jóia Do Orixá (To the Jewel of the Orixa), 2011.

    Sanford Biggers

    Sanford Biggers’s art fixates on recurring symbols—trees, carnival, musicians, and a bodiless smile that is part minstrel, part Cheshire cat, and part logo for a conglomerate whose name might be “history.” Two concurrent exhibitions with works spanning 2002 to the present explored these emblems vis-à-vis legacies of violence that constrain the powers and desires of black men. At times, Biggers’s ruminations sit uneasily inside a glamorized stagecraft. At best, grim knowledge makes his magic potent.

    Biggers framed his Brooklyn Museum show not quite as a retrospective—it is titled “Sweet

  • Sterling Ruby, Basin Theology/Double Basin, 2011, ceramic, 8 x 37 x 38". From the series “Basin Theology,” 2009–.

    Sterling Ruby and Lucio Fontana

    In a 2006 article on his work (which earned attention while he was still a student), Sterling Ruby speaks to the author regarding his abiding interest in “the idea of something malleable being stopped.” In Ruby’s terms, this means manipulations in materials that start out molten or flowing and then set, such as bronze and ceramic, urethane and nail polish. Male sexuality is implicated, as is the rhetoric of power: Is it most impressive to be unyielding? Or does potency inhere in a gushiness that morphs rather than shatters? The juxtaposition of Ruby’s sculpture with that of Lucio Fontana (

  • Gego, Untitled, 1970, ink and silk screen on paper, 13 x 19".


    The maverick modernist Gego was born Gertrud Goldschmidt in 1912, into a Jewish banking family in Hamburg. She trained as an architect, then fled in 1939 to Venezuela, where she taught and made art for the rest of her life. At the time of her death in 1994, Gego was respected as a sculptor in Latin America but uncelebrated elsewhere, despite a stint in the early ’60s when she was represented by the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York and hobnobbed with Naum Gabo and Josef and Anni Albers. Important fine-art presses (including Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles) produced her prints, and

  • Kara Walker, Levee, 2011, still from a color video, 1 minute 50 seconds.

    Kara Walker

    There are things one expects in a Kara Walker show: rape, lynching, dismemberment. Trees against stark sky, pert breasts, petticoats, high cravats. Women black or white with snaky tresses, field hands with huge erections, hatchet-faced overseers, little kids engaged in unspeakable acts. All the grotesquerie of Walker’s antebellum hells remained on hand in a recent pair of concurrent exhibitions. Yet there also appeared a slew of things one wouldn’t have thought to look for, such as an enraged intergalactic nude prophesying in go-go boots (Muckraking Prophet from the 21st C. Foretells Coming Doom

  • Alvin Baltrop, Untitled, 1969–72, black-and-white photograph.

    Alvin Baltrop

    Alvin Baltrop is that unsurprising wonder: an unsupported artist fully in touch with the preoccupations of his time. When he died of cancer at age fifty-five, in 2004, he had shown sporadically, at such places as the gay arts nonprofit the Glines, and the Bar, a dive on the Lower East Side. In a brief piece after his death, the New York Times profiled him as a neighborhood character, referring to his photographs of sunbathers, cruisers, and homeless kids on the West Side piers—but the paper did not, of course, reproduce riskier images of pulchritudinous booty, sex acts in progress, or

  • Dennis Oppenheim, Aging, 1974, wood, steel, infrared heat lamps, electric cord, cast wax figure, 2 x 4 x 16'.

    Dennis Oppenheim

    When Dennis Oppenheim died in January at the age of seventy-two, he was working on a light-based installation to be projected onto the facade of the Musée d’Art Moderne as the coup de théâtre crowning his forthcoming retrospective.

    When Dennis Oppenheim died in January at the age of seventy-two, he was working on a light-based installation to be projected onto the facade of the Musée d’Art Moderne as the coup de théâtre crowning his forthcoming retrospective. While this commission will, for now, remain unrealized, the rest of the exhibition will go forward; plans call for representative works chosen from the promiscuously various modes the American post-Minimalist explored during the forty-some years of his career, including architectural constructions, body works, performance, and puppetry. Three

  • Larry Rivers, Pyrography: Poem and Portrait of John Ashbery II, 1977, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 58".

    “Painters & Poets”

    In 1950, Hungarian émigré Tibor de Nagy and American impresario John Bernard Myers announced their new gallery. “Not only will painting and sculpture be here,” they declared, “but also anything that an astonished or adoring eye might select instantaneously from the cinema of life. . . . [Visitors] will be objets trouvés among objets trouvés, beheld by one another in joy.” Much of the venerable gallery’s ethos is predicted here, from the tone of amused overripeness, to the accent on instantaneity and life as cinematic. What Myers and de Nagy didn’t anticipate was that the “objects” joyously found

  • David Hammons, Untitled, 2010, mixed media, 92 x 72".

    David Hammons

    In 2007, David Hammons made a show at L & M Arts on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Collaborating with his wife, Chie Hammons, he installed six fur coats on dressmaker’s dummies; each fur looked fine from the front, but was grotesquely charred or glopped with paint or plaster at the back. For this recent exhibition—his first since then—Hammons returned to L & M’s neo-Georgian town house with another not-subtle, not-simple caricature of luxury goods and fetishism. If the coats were conceived as post-Duchampian sculpture, their burns and drips the Hammonses’ R. Mutt in quotation marks, then

  • Gordon Matta-Clark, Open House, 1972, still from a film in 16 mm transferred to DVD, 41 minutes. From “112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970–1974).

    “112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970–1974)”

    112 Greene Street helped catalyze SoHo in the 1970s. The artist-run gallery occupied a building owned by Jeffrey Lew, with Gordon Matta-Clark as resident imp and impresario; artists and dancers working there comprised a friendship circle that was also a post-Minimal Who’s Who. Like that of any legend, the history of this wild incubator—where site-specific, collaborative artmaking bloomed—poses curatorial problems now. Whose memories get sanctioned? How can re-created objects, archived ephemera, and grainy video in commercial white cubes capture what participants loved: no-holds-barred

  • Adrian Piper, Decide Who You Are #22: Field Work, 1992, triptych, photo-text collage, overall 11' 1/2“ x 6' 7”.

    Adrian Piper

    Adrian Piper’s exhibition “Past Time: Selected Works 1973–1995” was a compact survey comprising photo-text panels, installations, and a loop of wall-projected videos collectively given the fiercely immodest title The 20th Century Video Set, 1973–90. Grids and human figures, mostly in photographic grayscale and often flecked with red headlines, typified the look of hard-edged 1980s and early-’90s Conceptualism; documentation was on hand, too, of Piper’s wilder though still highly conceptual performances—such as The Mythic Being, 1973, in which she cruised public places sporting “threatening”

  • Sarah Sze

    Five years have passed since Sarah Sze’s last New York gallery show, and she took her most recent exhibition as an opportunity to fill Tanya Bonakdar’s bilevel space, including the stairwell, office, and foyer. Her nine installations (all works 2010) were titled separately but fit together to create the laboratory-playhouse-boutique-archive of commodity that we expect from her, incorporating, among other items, a bottle of Windex, plastic fans, live plants, C-clamps, balsa wood, white gift boxes, water bottles, clip lights, paint chips, plastic buckets, twigs, yarn, blue painter’s tape, a pair

  • Thomas Struth

    Thomas Struth’s exhibition of new photographs opened with a C-print of a rocky coastline under a cloudy sky. A streak of bottle green marks the horizon in Donghae City, South Korea, 2007; in the foreground, outcrops of ancient-looking stone align to form orthogonals that plunge through foam to a romantic distance. It takes a while to notice the cast-concrete barrier units stockpiled at the picture’s far left edge. Fake reef? Military emplacement? Dump? We never discover, but in the fifteen images that follow, a related man-made plethora expands to fill every frame. Since 2007, Struth has been