Hal Foster

  • CLOSE-UP: YOUR LOSS

    HOW MANY OF US, when we speak with our parents, feel like stock characters, as though we were simulations of ourselves? In The Worm, 2021, the centerpiece of “Get Life/Love’s Work,” his recent show at the New Museum in New York, the English artist Ed Atkins presents a telephone call with his mother in this very manner. In the roughly thirteen-minute animation, his mum is heard but not seen, while Atkins is rendered, by way of performance-capture technology, as a digital avatar who listens attentively, mumbling in agreement, sympathy, or surprise, asking a question only when her narrative falters.

  • Barbara Kruger, Untitled (We will no longer be seen and not heard), 1985, silk screen and lithography on paper, nine parts, each 20 3/4 × 20 5/8".

    Seriality, Sociability, Silence

    HOW TO UNDERSTAND the sudden shift in social life from the lockdowns in March to the demonstrations in June? Models like spectacle and surveillance capture little of the experience of either isolation at home or solidarity in the streets, and they confront only some of the power dynamics in play over the past year. Although these concepts are hardly outmoded, they date to changes in capitalism and governmentality that became urgent in the 1960s and ’70s. Yet the model that seems more salient now is older still. In Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), Sartre argued that the fundamental

  • View of “Judd,” 2020, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar. © Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    OBJECT LESSONS

    SEVERAL DECADES ON, the art of Donald Judd is still stunning. In the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that opened March 1, smartly curated by Ann Temkin, Yasmil Raymond, Tamar Margalit, and Erica Cooke, all the work looks fresh (kudos to the conservators), but the early paintings and objects are especially vivid. The intensity of the cadmium red, often made tactile by roughened surfaces of board and wood. The physicality of the specific shapes, such as a yellow oval affixed to the support or a tin pan embedded there. The first tentative move into actual space with a painting whose aluminum

  • Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2012, colored pencil on paper, 19 × 24".

    SMART OBJECTS

    IMAGINE THAT ANDY WARHOL and Eva Hesse had a secret tryst in 1966 and Rachel Harrison was the love child that resulted. With its canny use of both Pop signs and funky materials, her rambunctious sculpture points to such an unlikely lineage. Smartly curated by Elisabeth Sussman and David Joselit, “Rachel Harrison Life Hack,” the midcareer survey of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is roughly chronological: It guides us easily from an installation improvised out of cheap paneling, casual photographs, and canned peas in the mid-1990s to a large circle of totemic sculptures gathered

  • Paul Chan, Pentasophia (or Le bonheur de vivre dans la catastrophe du monde occidental) (detail), 2016, nylon, metal, concrete, shoes, fans, paper. Installation view, 2017. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

    Hal Foster

    FOR PAUL CHAN, “art is a lawless proposition.” “The telos of artistic form,” he argues, is a “spirit of irreconcilability.”1 As Chan well knows, this principle runs counter to traditional ideas of art as the mastering of composition and composure. He wants this irreconcilability because it keeps artistic form open and dynamic, and because this making and unmaking of the object might inspire a similar movement in the subject. Or so Chan believes: A lawless proposition is also a hopeful one.

    Chan placed open and dynamic forms throughout Greene Naftali in March, a month when the Trump catastrophe

  • Victor Burgin, Possession, 1976, duotone lithograph, 46 3/4 × 33 1/8".

    REAL FICTIONS: ALTERNATIVES TO ALTERNATIVE FACTS

    1. DESPITE RUMORS OF ITS DISAPPEARANCE, the real remains with us. The labor of its production is “obstinate,” Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt argue; it persists in the overlooked furniture of our everyday lives. The real is as intractable as history, Fredric Jameson adds; neither can be transcended. If these formulations seem right, then the question of the real is not a matter of its presence but of its position—where it is located, how, by whom, and for what reasons. One way to come to terms with some criticism, art, and literature is through these framings.1

    2. We say that modern critique

  • Walter Ohlson, Bridge Over Troubled Waters (detail), ca. 1960, poster, 30 × 40". From “The Hidden World,” in “Jim Shaw: The End is Here.”

    Hal Foster

    THERE IS SO MUCH about the political culture of this country that, as a pointy-headed intellectual, I don’t get. During this election year, then, the two best shows for me—best as in most instructive—were Jim Shaw’s “The End Is Here” at the New Museum and Tony Oursler’s “The Imponderable Archive” at Bard College. (Imponderable is the title of a related book and film; the latter is screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York through April 16, 2017.) Each exhibition was a wild ride through the fringe worlds of weird belief, occult practice, and conspiracy theory—fringe worlds

  • View of “Picasso Sculpture,” 2015–16, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2015. The Bathers, 1956. Photo: Chandra Glick. All works by Pablo Picasso © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Hal Foster

    “PICASSO SCULPTURE” is both amazing and appalling. With 141 objects in eleven galleries, the presentation is lucid, stately, almost grand, and the work is inventive in the extreme. Yet there are times when all this creativity betrays a manic energy—I can’t help myself!—as well as an aggressive defiance: I can trump anyone! What else, you say, is new about Picasso?

    The master made circa seven hundred objects, which is a lot, but not when compared with roughly forty-five hundred paintings. As the curators Ann Temkin and Anne Umland demonstrate, his engagement with sculpture was episodic:

  • George Grosz, Der Regisseur (The Boss), 1922, photolithograph on paper, 22 3/4 × 16 3/4". © Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

    THE REAL THING: “NEW OBJECTIVITY: MODERN GERMAN ART IN THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC 1919–1933”

    FOR A LONG TIME, Neue Sachlichkeit, the dominant tendency in German art of the 1920s, was seen as a return to order in general and as a reaction against Expressionism and Dada in particular, despite the fact that some neusachlich artists—Max Beckmann, for example—were involved in Expressionism and others, such as George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Christian Schad, were central to Dada. Neue Sachlichkeit was framed in this way by its earliest proponents, Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, who staged the first show on the subject, “Neue Sachlichkeit: Deutsche Malerei seit dem Expressionismus” (New

  • Summer Reading

    HAL FOSTER

    Whither photo history and theory? A growth field in universities and museums a generation ago, it seems endangered today. For young people, photography is so last-century; for the rest of us, it is both everywhere and nowhere in a way that is very difficult to grasp. On the one hand, the great modernist accounts, such as the technophilic utopia of Benjamin and the traumatophilic pathos of Barthes, appear outdated; on the other hand, distinguished voices from somewhat outside the field feel empowered to tell us “why photography matters as never before.” (Answer 1: Its digital pictoriality

  • View of “Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,” 2014–15. Foreground: Untitled, 1990. Background: Forest, 1991. Photo: Thomas Griesel.

    Robert Gober

    FROM THE BEGINNING, the art of Robert Gober was distinctive, as if it had emerged full-blown from his forehead; and, in fact, an early work, Slides of a Changing Painting, 1982–83, a slide show of eighty-nine photographs of a single painting altered again and again, has served as a source for many pieces ever since. (The template of this painting, the torso, is a leitmotif of his work as a whole.) Right away, Gober announced metamorphosis as a central concern—metamorphosis not only from image to image but also from medium to medium, above all from the pictorial to the sculptural and the

  • Hal Foster

    AT A MOMENT when almost everything is collage and montage—with cut-and-paste the most basic operation on computers and image appropriation and object juxtaposition the most common procedures in art—it is a pleasure to reencounter the modernist origins of these devices. This is to be reminded of the subversive force they once had, especially in expert hands such as those of Hannah Höch (1889–1978), who wielded a kitchen knife with an acuity, at once aesthetic and political, like that of no other artist of her time (save perhaps John Heartfield) or since (except maybe Barbara Kruger).