Helen Molesworth

  • Lari Pittman, Thanksgiving, 1985, oil and synthetic polymer on wood, 80 x 82 1/8".

    “Lari Pittman: A Decorated Chronology”

    Lari Pittman’s paintings are notoriously difficult to describe. Intricate layers of foreground and background combined with a dazzling array of mark-making (spray painting, sign painting, precise curlicues applied like spun sugar, and the list goes on) defy single-point perspective, monocular camera vision, and abstraction. Pittman shows us what the world looks like when hierarchy is banished and everything is equal. It’s no coincidence that looking at his paintings feels like being in a car—objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, a moving landscape

  • View of “Blues for Smoke,” 2012–13. From left: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta, 1983; Kori Newkirk, Yall (detail), 2012; Kira Lynn Harris, But not the kind that’s Blue (detail), 2012; Richard Pryor, Richard Pryor Live in Concert, 1979; Beauford Delaney, Portrait of a Young Musician, n.d. Photo: Brian Forrest.

    “Blues for Smoke”

    STANDING AT THE THRESHOLD of “Blues for Smoke,” one could see the following, reading from foreground to background: a video monitor playing Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1979); a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat; portraits of Jean Genet, Charlie Parker, and James Baldwin by Beauford Delaney; a row of fifty-one old-fashioned hard-top blue suitcases arranged by Zoe Leonard; a black-and-maroonish abstraction by Jack Whitten; a wall drawing by Kira Lynn Harris; and, hovering off to the left, a wall of Glenn Ligon’s black-on-gold Richard Pryor paintings, all inscribed with the same joke: “I was a

  • Nicole Eisenman, Untitled, 2011, monotype on paper, 25 x 20". From the 76th Whitney Biennial.

    Helen Molesworth

    1 Alina Szapocznikow (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; curated by Elena Filipovic and Joanna Mytkowska) This was one of the most exciting bodies of work I’ve seen in a long time. Mouths, boobs, lightbulbs, limbs, marble, plastic—the exhibition, organized here by Allegra Pesenti, proceeded from a classic post–World War II account of the human form, shot through with existentialism and horror, to something darkly playful, a sculptural reckoning with the exigencies and absurdities of survival. The Polish artist, who died of cancer in 1973 at the age of forty-seven, made visible the ways in which

  • Klara Lidén, Paralyzed, 2003, still from a color video, 3 minutes 5 seconds.


    IN EARLY JUNE 2000, I visited Art Basel for the first time. I was naive, which meant that I was subsequently shocked and dismayed. The convention hall was filled with stalls, many of which were displaying objects I knew and loved (works by Piero Manzoni, Marcel Broodthaers), pieces made by people I admired from afar (Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham) or by artists of great historical merit (Piet Mondrian, Ed Ruscha). Then there were pieces by artists I knew personally. All of this gave me a charge of recognition mixed with a creeping sense of sadness; by the time I reached my hotel, unironically called

  • Helen Molesworth

    1 Sharon Hayes, Parole (Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) This haunting video, projected on multiple screens, presents a fragmented Godardian narrative—literary scholar Lauren Berlant discusses intimacy’s philosophical implications, someone reads a love letter, and so on. The redheaded protagonist performs empathy while remaining mute and listens to it all via omnipresent sound equipment. When the red-haired attempts to capture the sounds emanating from a dancer’s body, we know we are at the limit of our sensorium and at the threshold of a new kind of knowledge.


  • Helen Molesworth

    FOR ME, THE CORE DILEMMA FOR MUSEUMS TODAY is the sheer scale and scope of artistic production. At no other time has the world generated so many people who identify themselves as artists, who make so many things that people can buy, and who have so many places to exhibit. The production and distribution system is so vast that anything like consensus—which I still romantically hold on to as a notion—is at the threshold of impossibility. And if consensus is not quite possible, but one is suspicious, as I am, of one’s personal taste—be it connoisseurship or the whole notion of the “I”—then how does


    You’re my favorite work of art . . .”

    AS YOU MAKE YOUR WAY toward Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you walk down a long hallway with Paul Cézanne’s Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Large Bathers), 1906, squarely in your sight line. For all its iconic status, it is a bizarre canvas. Its scale is monstrous and not particularly in keeping with its ostensible subject matter: nudes at play in a pastoral landscape. The nudes (or shall we call them women?) proliferate, seated and standing; they arch toward one another like so many windswept trees, forming parentheses around

  • Ree Morton, Pink Numbers, 1971, mixed media on paper, 8 1/2 x 11".

    Ree Morton

    As we watch the dust of the feminist revolution settle, Ree Morton may turn out to be the artist we need most.

    Ree Morton’s line is offhand and kooky, her sense of color winsome, her use of materials such as glitter, wallpaper, doilies, and wood downright goofy. But what’s most interesting is her expedient passage through Minimalism into the more affective registers of joy and melancholy. Her oeuvre celebrates the banishment of irony—hence, following her death, at age forty, in 1977, she was pretty much ignored for most of the ’80s and under-recognized through the ’90s. But Morton’s number has finally come up: Her inclusion in 2007 in “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” was

  • Catherine Opie and “theanyspacewhatever”

    MUSEUMS ARE MACHINES of amelioration. A Frank Stella on one wall, a Morris Louis on the other; it’s all good. Even though the scholarship of the past thirty years has argued that aesthetic choices are not mere evidence of the progression of style but have ethical implications—whether you pool paint on canvas or paint stripes the width of a store-bought brush means something—museums still prefer to disregard the philosophical discomfort of such tensions. The exhibition “The Desire of the Museum,” mounted in New York in 1989 by the Whitney Independent Study Program, suggested that it was not

  • Richard Serra and André Cadere

    IT WASN’T TOO LONG AGO that this magazine reviewed Richard Serra’s quasi-retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York [Artforum, October 2007]. It was clear that critic David Joselit was less than enthusiastic. For Joselit, the jump from the post-Minimalist prop pieces on the museum’s sixth floor to Serra’s most recent torqued ellipses on the second meant a calculated leap over the period when Serra’s works were considered “controversial and dangerous.” Joselit compared this elision with the Bush administration’s suppression of the danger and controversy of its ongoing, deeply


    PHIL COLLINS AND KARAOKE were both born in the 1970s, the decade during which, according to the novelist Michael Cunningham, dreams of revolution faded and people began to dance. And dancing is at the center of the project that is probably Collins’s best known to date, the seven-hour double-screen video projection of a dance marathon, called they shoot horses, 2004. This work lays out all the basic parameters of Collins’s practice: The British, Glasgow-based artist goes somewhere (in this case, Ramallah) that is not his home and that is politically volatile and vaguely suggestive of the biennial

  • Robert Gober

    Robert Gober’s outsize ambition has thus far been matched only by the commitment of the institutions that have worked with him. Remember when the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles ripped up its floor so that Gober could make an indoor waterfall pour down an illuminated staircase? Hats off to Dia Art Foundation, the American Pavilion in Venice, and Matthew Marks Gallery as well. But the real kudos goes to the Schaulager, which is presenting eight large Gober installations at once, together with some forty other works. Perhaps the critical emphasis on the artist’s