Jason Farago

  • picks May 01, 2015

    “America Is Hard to See”

    If you saw the Whitney’s recent cycle of permanent collection shows uptown, notably Carter Foster’s “Real/Surreal” and Donna de Salvo and Scott Rothkopf’s “Sinister Pop,” you’ll be well primed for the shrewd, unpretentious, and often winningly provincial exhibition that inaugurates the museum’s on-the-money new home. The show’s early galleries think past boundaries of media—Imogen Cunningham’s double-exposed portrait of Martha Graham hangs next to a Charles Burchfield sunburst—and of race and gender, most persuasively via the juxtaposition of a blah abstract totem by Robert Laurent with a better

  • diary April 19, 2015

    Speaking in Tongues

    WAIT FOR THE BEGINNING and the end will have already come. Once, the art world’s more social participants only needed to get in for previews. Now even the previews are too late. The Whitney, officially opening May 1, has already had multiple parties in its new building. At the various Basels the dinner circuit can start a whole week before opening day. As for Venice: Mi dispiace, but I’ve already been and gone.

    Nearly a month before the vernissage of Okwui Enwezor’s biennial, I bounced into the Most Serene Republic with much of the Paris art mafia for the openings of two new exhibitions organized

  • picks April 17, 2015

    Caleb Considine

    In Gustave Flaubert’s novel Salammbô (1862), the cannonballs that fall on Carthage have been engraved with insults (“swine,” “vermin”) or else bitchy witticisms (“catch!”), and the victims they strike down have the abuses imprinted on their flesh. Hence the jagged backward writing carved on a cannonball in Caleb Considine’s small but riveting Painting for Salammbô, 2015, reads “I have thoroughly earned it.” The work depicts the piece of artillery in his Brooklyn studio next to a ratty sofa and a crumpled winter jacket. The couch, a Craigslist hand-me-down of woven brown and beige, seems undisturbed

  • picks April 17, 2015

    Wolfgang Tillmans

    The 450 photographs that comprise Wolfgang Tillmans’s slideshow Book for Architects, 2014, first seen last year in Rem Koolhaas’s Venice architecture biennale, pull off a neat trick: They turn down objectivity and subjectivity at once. Shot with no specialized equipment, his photos dissent from the pristine midcentury architecture photography of Ezra Stoller or Julius Shulman, but Tillmans muffles his own voice through spontaneous cropping, unmediated lighting, and indifference to scale. Many of the images come from London—and few artists since Hogarth have made that city look as vile as Tillmans,

  • picks March 27, 2015

    Laurie Simmons

    There is the problem of eyelashes. The six unnerving photographs that Laurie Simmons displays here feature interchangeable models against perky colored backgrounds: vapid, prosaic images from a fashion world where Vogue is no longer distinct from twelve-year-olds’ makeup lessons on YouTube. But the eyelashes: Overpainted on the upper lid, much too thick on the lower one. It takes a few seconds to notice—compliments to the dexterity of this maker’s hand—that the models’ eyes are actually clamped shut, and irises and pupils have been painted over their lids. What gives the game away are the

  • picks March 20, 2015

    Marwa Arsanios

    The showstopper of “Here and Elsewhere,” last summer’s exhibition of contemporary Arab art at the New Museum, was this Lebanese artist’s Have You Ever Killed a Bear? Or Becoming Jamila, 2014, a knotty consideration of the interwoven terrain of cinema and politics. Becoming Jamila has its roots in back issues of the pan-Arab culture magazine Al-Hilal—which, during the Algerian War, frequently praised the revolutionary Djamila Bouhired as a model of Arab womanhood. Bouhired became a character in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film The Battle of Algiers, and the actress in Arsanios’s video is preparing

  • picks March 13, 2015

    Charline von Heyl

    Now that the Met’s presentation of Leonard Lauder’s Cubism collection has come down, we can safely say that the most vital collision of forms currently on view in New York takes place in Untitled (3/95, I), 1995, a firecracker from this German artist’s early days. Charline von Heyl paints a seafoam easy chair from the side, its feet resting at the bottom of the composition, its right face scored with dark-blue hatches and white crosshatches, the latter as smothering as a fisherman’s net. Overtaking the top half of the canvas is a painter’s palette, the thumbhole cloned twice over. Unlike the

  • picks February 20, 2015

    “Watching You, Watching Me”

    The only way to understand the full extent of the revelations of Edward Snowden—the disregard for law, the imbrication of governmental and corporate power, the simultaneously awesome and pointless data harvesting—is to put your own grievances to one side and look from the position of the surveillant. For more than two years, the German artist Simon Menner combed through the archives of the Ministry for State Security and unearthed disturbing, at times bitterly comic photographs of Stasi agents trying on disguises (mustaches, hairpieces, fur coats with flared collars) and practicing hand signals:

  • picks February 20, 2015

    David Tudor

    In 1968, commissioned by Merce Cunningham to write the score for the dance work RainForest—which also featured flying Mylar balloons by Andy Warhol—the composer David Tudor hooked up everyday objects to homemade transducers. Rather than “playing” the objects, Tudor allowed them to emit their own resonances, which sounded like birdsong, cicada chirps, and ambient ringing.

    That critical reversal in electronic music, using speakers not as a mechanism for amplification but as the source of the musical signal, retains its thrill a decade after Tudor’s death in 1996. Rainforest V, 2015, credited here

  • picks February 13, 2015

    “Lenin: Icebreaker Revisited”

    Is an art of climate change as beyond our reach as a politics of climate change, too large and too comprehensive for the brains of our little ecocidal species? Not for the Bay Area artist Amy Balkin—one of the nine artists in this exhibition curated by Olga Kopenkina—whom visitors to the last Documenta will recall for her effort to list the earth’s atmosphere as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and who has spent the last three years collecting ephemera from sites worldwide where environmental disaster is already dreadfully fathomable. The array of objects that constitute her essential A People’s

  • picks February 06, 2015

    Jesús Rafael Soto

    Of all the postwar tendencies that have been rejuvenated, kinetic art seemed the least likely to return to favor. Yet in recent years, and most notably with the Guggenheim’s retrospective of the ZERO group, the genre is getting another eye-twisting look. The work of Jesús Rafael Soto, seen in that exhibition and now the subject of this bracing miniretrospective, refuses the easy pleasures of Op art. His three-dimensional painted grids and immersive environments of painted rods sit more comfortably among sculptures by his Nouveau Réaliste and ZERO contemporaries—and not only because this output

  • picks February 06, 2015

    “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade’ ”

    This large and important exhibition, first seen at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University and including more than six dozen drawings, prints, and photographs, shows that artists of the 1930s were just as uncertain as we are of how to depict inequality and how to fight it. Instead of the regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton or of Grant Wood, artists on view here, all members of the left-wing John Reed Clubs (a Communist Party organ that later founded the Partisan Review) favored bold, often indignant imagery that veered in some cases to agitprop, in others to bizarre mysticism. Naming

  • picks January 23, 2015

    Duane Zaloudek

    Six sex-soaked abstract paintings from the 1960s make up Duane Zaloudek’s first New York exhibition in twenty years, and they fulfill a promise of art that is not always met: to move past beauty to desire, and to imbue form with the hot, sticky breath of life. Unlike his later, sparer paintings, which stamp down on sensory pleasure, these early works, painted in Portland and rhyming somewhat with the West Coast abstraction of Billy Al Bengston or Paul Jenkins, use circuitously erotic forms—solid shafts and bifurcated ovals, whose erogenous charge is compounded by a palette of cadmium red and

  • slant January 17, 2015

    Image Conscious

    AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, in a gallery devoted to Persian and Central Asian art of the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, is a small painting on paper from Uzbekistan that depicts the Mi’raj, or the ascent of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven. The prophet, wearing a blue tunic and a turban, his eyes narrow, with a beatific smile, sits astride al-Buraq, a steed with a human face. The angel Gabriel guides Muhammad from Jerusalem, in whose mosque a Qu’ran sits in a ring of fire, up to a paradise of golden clouds. Sensitive, intricate, alive with spiritual conviction, the miniature has been

  • picks December 28, 2014

    “Assenting Voices”

    With the massive hack of Sony’s e-mail servers this month and the canceled release of The Interview, a bro comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the threat and the mania of North Korea has once again entered the terrain of culture. This timely exhibition of propaganda and fine art (the distinction here is meaningless) from the world’s most terrifying country therefore deserves scrutiny: Look hard, think hard, and don’t write these images off. The dozens of posters here, dating from the 1960s to today, have none of the formal innovation of Soviet propaganda, though many replicate Soviet

  • picks December 22, 2014

    Samuel Fosso

    Throughout the late 1970s, Samuel Fosso—born in Cameroon and now based in the troubled Central African Republic—used leftover film from his day job as a studio portraitist to shoot his then-teenage self posing awkwardly in white briefs or sporting oversize sunglasses with hearts on the lenses or dolled up in bell-bottoms and ready to boogie. These images were not meant for public circulation (he sent them to his grandmother), and they came as the monstrous dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa—who appears on a printed tank top in one 1976–77 self-portrait—crowned himself emperor. By day, things were bad.

  • picks December 22, 2014

    Thomas Struth

    This vest-pocket exhibition of two dozen photographs offers a valuable opportunity to see how quickly the terms of image perception are changing: how the period eye must now be measured not in centuries but in years. See the artist’s early, excellent black-and-white New York photographs—a predesecration 2 Columbus Circle (58th Street at 7th Avenue, Midtown, New York, 1978) and then West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York, 1978, which depicts a pre-gallery neighborhood full of low-slung Chevrolets. During the Met’s last outing of Struth in 2003, you still might have been happy to see the grit go,

  • slant December 18, 2014

    Jason Farago

    “WITNESS: ART AND CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE SIXTIES,” at the Brooklyn Museum (March 7, 2014 to July 13, 2014) did nothing less than rewrite 1960s American art history—refashioning the decade as a rollicking, ultrahigh-stakes showdown and privileging racial diversity and stylistic multiplicity over any confected avant-garde. Underexposed painters such as Emma Amos and Barkley Hendricks were revalorized, while artists too long considered in purely formal terms were reinscribed into the conflicts of the age: a Frank Stella black painting eulogized Malcolm X, and Mark di Suvero was represented by a

  • picks November 14, 2014

    Ann Lislegaard

    “The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk,” Hegel wrote in 1820, which is to say, before the world ends, no critique is possible. There is no flight to be seen in Ann Lislegaard’s cool, enigmatic 3D animation of animatronic owls, their faceted white feathers in glistening high definition, and not much Minervan clarity either. The birds in Oracles, Owls . . . Some Animals Never Sleep, 2014, seen earlier this year at the Nineteenth Biennale of Sydney, are antiprophets who speak simultaneously in indecipherable bursts that are interrupted with sonic glitches. A few

  • picks November 14, 2014

    Sigmar Polke

    Kathy Halbreich’s world-shaking MoMA retrospective of the slipperiest artist of the postwar era contained no less than 265 works. They’re all in London right now, and yet somehow there are still enough Polkes around to fill three simultaneous New York gallery shows: a photography showcase at Paul Kasmin, photocopier works at Fergus McCaffrey, and this nine-painting exhibition focusing on the artist’s use of fabric. In the 1980s, Polke delighted in ugly wallpaper (think of the floral-print Seeing Things As They Are, 1991, the anchor for Halbreich’s show), and several paintings here feature bisected