Jeff Kelley

  • the Rockbund Art Museum and Cai Guo-Qiang

    IN HIS RECENT EXHIBITION at Shanghai’s new Rockbund Art Museum, Cai Guo-Qiang included, in addition to a few works of his own, the folk contraptions and bittersweet narratives of nine Chinese countryside inventors, or, as he calls them, “Peasant da Vincis.” Since 2005, the artist has collected the homemade submarines and cobbled-together flying machines of these amateur engineers, and, as the collector, curator, and ranking artist of “Peasant da Vincis,” he deployed their inventions throughout the newly renovated spaces of the museum in his customarily expansive and spectacular manner. Mostly

  • Ai Weiwei

    AS AI WEIWEI CAN TELL YOU, the Chinese government, whenever it feels unduly criticized, has a tendency to protest that the critic is “hurting the feelings of the people.” Ai’s mega-exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, titled “So Sorry,” was a fearless, if sometimes grandiose, rejoinder to this feeble remonstrance—more or less the equivalent of the artist’s infamous art-world motto, “Fuck off.” That this spectacular exhibition, which was timed to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, took place in what was once Hitler’s official museum

  • Ai Weiwei

    SINCE NOVEMBER 2005, artist Ai Weiwei has maintained a blog devoted to political commentary and artworld documentation, his entries driven by serial streams of photographs that not only represent but also enact—and even help negotiate, via the seduction, intimidation, and matter-of-factness of the camera—the encounters, formalities, distances, and intimacies with whomever or whatever comes within range of Ai’s critical regard. Whether he is in his Beijing studio or traveling abroad, if you want to see what Ai is seeing on a given day, click on that date on his site (

  • Allan Kaprow

    In addition to the re-creation of environments, sound pieces, and happenings, including the seminal 18 Happenings in Six Parts, 1959, the show comprises collages, assemblages, and paintings as well as scores, texts, activity booklets, and correspondence.

    Museums may always struggle with how to exhibit or reinvent the works of Allan Kaprow, especially since his death last May. The irreconcilability of museum settings and works intended to be enacted in the everyday world remains central to Kaprow’s example. The Haus der Kunst and the Van Abbemuseum, in an ambitious retrospective of the artist’s career and an examination of his influence, will practice both display and enactment. In addition to the re-creation of environments, sound pieces, and happenings, including the seminal 18 Happenings in


    Allan Kaprow’s death this spring at age seventy-eight, a profound loss by any measure, is all the more impropitious given the recent upsurge of interest in his work and the growing awareness of his contemporary relevance. While his happenings gained widespread notoriety in artistic circles and mass culture alike during the ’60s and ’70s, his evolving critical writings and activities both then and in later years resonate strongly within the context of today’s vital considerations of performance and spectatorship, aesthetics and politics, and private experience in an age of spectacularized commerce.

  • Jeff Kelley

    IN THE SPRING of 1999, Allan Kaprow, then seventy-one years old, conducted a workshop for about twenty graduate students at Mills College in Oakland, California. By that time, workshops—in which Kaprow and his students undertook roughly a dozen or so activities designed for partners and then talked about their experiences—had become his preferred mode of staging what had once been known as happenings.

    Typically, these sessions began with proposals to do something: Keep a smile (or a frown) on your face for a long time; give your partner some money (or a kiss) on demand (and then demand it back);

  • Larry and Kelly Sultan

    “I would like to be a lawyer. I would like to have a dog. I would like to see my sister again. She is still in El Salvador.” So ends the story of an anonymous fourth grader who immigrated illegally to the U.S. several years ago to see his mother. Printed on a brown grocery bag in a blue New Century Schoolbook typeface, the story is superimposed across a low-resolution photograph of a boy’s face, itself half covered with his own hand to protect his identity. Modeled after the milk cartons on which the faces of lost children are reproduced, four images to be printed on grocery bags were designed

  • Armando Rascón

    Armando Rascón, who grew up in Calexico, remembers the border between California and Mexico as a place of benign transition; his mother often sent him to Mexico to buy tortillas. Today, of course, crossing the border is like going to the moon: steel grates used during the Gulf War as portable desert landing strips have been installed upright to form a fence. A piece of that fence, a module of the military mindset, hung on a wall in Rascón’s installation, Occupied Aztlán, 1994, next to a small video monitor playing Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil, 1958. Made in and around Calexico—and starring a

  • Rob Craigie

    With “Sublime Air Clot,” 1993, an installation of ten sculptural wall ensembles that hold various fluids, foods, and gases percolating through a system of laborataory jars, surgical tubes, and beeswax replicas of such objects as basketballs and aortalike heart valves, Rob Craigie achieves a brilliant synthesis of energy and entropy, effectively blurring the distinction between open and closed systems.

    As metaphors for the body and its functions—including digestion, elimination, and even memory storage (or loss)—Craigie’s sculptures generate energy as a by-product of entropy. A drying “potato

  • Drew Beattie & Daniel Davidson

    By collaborating on 100 small drawings over a one-and-a-half year period, Drew Beattie and Daniel Davidson opened up an odd, quasi-memorial space between them. In that space, over the course of their collaborative enterprise, a kind of notational, childhood presence emerged: a lone, male character who represents an eerie amalgamation of both artists’ identities. More a psychic presence or an emotional tone than a drawn figure per se, this character dons various guises. In terms of style, it fluctuates between a Rorschach blot, a kind of adolescent cartoonlike scrawl, and an almost medieval

  • Remember, Re-member

    IN IRELAND, THE PLACE always comes with a name, and with the name a story. One such place is Teampall Dumhach Mhór, or “Church of the great sandbank,” a sandy mound held together by an admixture of rocks and human bones. The rocks were first stacked there around 650 A.D., by Saint Colman, as a small church out on County Mayo’s west coast. The bones were added later, during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. Today, the mound sits on a strand, the land having been eroded by countless tides. Though its mass and shape change constantly, with rocks sliding, sand shifting, and new bones revealing

  • Border Art

    THE SOCCER FIELD IS the barren expanse of ground behind Tijuana’s oldest neighborhood, Colonia Liberdad, where would-be migrants wait in small groups to catch the economic tides that drift back and forth across the Americas. Each day, about an hour before sunset, these indocumentados filter down through the neighborhood to gather in the Soccer Field, where they eat, drink, trade information, and await the coli to move out beyond the farthest plateau and into the deepest canyon, into a surreal gamescape of fading sunlight and brilliant searchlights, of hovering aircraft, waiting authorities, and

  • John Mason

    Known as one of the Los Angeles artists who, in the ’50s, pushed clay beyond crafts and into the Abstract Expressionist arena, John Mason set clay aside in the mid ’70s and soon began stacking firebricks on museum floors (the “Hudson River Series,” 1978) and installing site-specific environmental sculptures. Now, for the first time in over ten years, Mason has returned to ceramic objects.

    The new works are of three modular types: vessels, plates, and freestanding forms such as triangles, squares, and rectangles. Most are glazed in geometric patterns that both reinforce and contradict their shapes,

  • Robert Morrison

    River Thrum, 1985, by Robert Morrison, is a sound sculpture: a sequence, or phrase, of standing steel plates aligned on a tracklike armature of channel iron and wood. It sits on the south bank of the Truckee River, behind the Sierra Nevada Museum of Art, and looks, at various turns, like a futuristic sailing device, a stand of winter trees in a place Walter Van Tilburg Clark once called the “city of trembling leaves,” and a mechanical, even instrumental, equivalent of the river itself.

    The sound River Thrum makes is implied in its title—a twitching, crusty, distant metallic sound that resonates

  • “Pit: 39°, 30’N, 118°, 65W: Site 1”

    About 70 miles east of Reno, near the small farming and ranching community of Fallon, is a site known as the “dead-animal dump.” A necessary feature of the local economy, the dump is the place where dead cows, horses, sheep, coyotes, and family pets are disposed of. Such places are rare now, but were once common throughout the West. Since the late ’60s a network of trenches has been dug and filled in a small sandy mound in this high desert valley of northern Nevada. You drive your pickup onto the mound and dump your dead animal. A single trench is always open. In summer, the stench is thick as

  • “Since Vietnam: The War and Its Aftermath”

    For most of us the Vietnam War ended a decade ago, but it is still the subject of much recent art. “Since Vietnam: The War and Its Aftermath,” an exhibition of work by 17 artists, curated by Richard Turner, provided a kind of sanctuary for images and objects inflected by various degrees of pain and inflated by various levels of rhetoric. Modes of response by these artists, some of them Vietnam veterans, to the subject of America’s longest war include gestures of confession, outrage, solemnity, and a certain pathetic humor. But gesture is either qualified or muffled by the gallery space.


  • William Wiley

    William Wiley’s sensibility has always had what might be called a ragged edge. It can be seen in his work as a web of cardiographic lines that pervades an image and peels away its veneer. This edge is an expression of consciousness, but not of continuity. Like a perceptual trip-wire, it affirms the vitality of each succeeding moment. There are no points A to Z, just islands of imagery lost among rivers of interstices. All of Wiley’s art is assembled from the shards of a consciousness that dies and regenerates with each stroke of the pen.

    With these 13 steel assemblages, Wiley has upped the voltage

  • Michael Heizer

    Since the late ’60s Michael Heizer has “cut,” “dragged,” “elevated,” “isolated,” “compressed,” “levitated,” and “collapsed” objects in relation to their sites, revealing each as tensive situations. The word “tensive” is significant: with its root, the verb form “tense,” and like the words “dragged” or “isolated,” it can express a passive state of matter or an action. Heizer’s droll one-liners precisely describe certain physical conditions of sculpture, as well as the procedures by which those conditions are exposed. A boulder cut is a cut boulder. Indeed, Heizer’s work is typified by a state of

  • Jim Lawrence

    Perhaps with an axe, Jim Lawrence hacks fir-wood figures, and paints them with an ugly brush. Then, according to precise inner bearings, he groups them about the past, carving from its airs an atmosphere charged with social relevance. Recent series have been inspired by the medieval European plagues, Richard Wagner, and August Sander’s pre-World War II photographs of typical Germans. Lawrence’s most recent work, “The Dutch/Japanese Series,” includes 30 wooden figures, two painted backdrops, and a boat; its premise is a 17th-century encounter between the two cultures. Such an encounter, of course,

  • “California Bookworks: The Last Five Years”

    There were over 230 artists’ books in “California Bookworks: The Last Five Years,” curated by critic and former Otis librarian Joan Hugo. In general, the books were of four types: fine-press publications, folios of prints, sculptures that abstract and extend the book structure, and handmade artifacts that cling to a craft esthetic. In this latter category, the rhetoric of materials was deafening. Fabricated from lace, scroll paper, tree bark, steel, and even other books, many of these book works were exemplars of what Frances Butler, who contributed to the catalogue, calls “craft literacy.”