Jeffrey Weiss

  • Bruce Nauman’s His Mark, 2021, six-channel 4K video 3D projection, color, sound, indefinite duration. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


    THE IMAGE IN HIS MARK, 2021, should be familiar to observers of Bruce Nauman’s work: the artist’s disembodied hands performing a mechanical task. We have encountered it in several multichannel-video installations over the past twelve years, including For Beginners (all the combinations of thumb and fingers), 2010, in which each hand individually demonstrates finger positions for the performance of a series of piano exercises by Béla Bartók, and Thumb Start, 2013, with fingers, now on both hands at once, extended in combinations that represent a set of basic counting procedures. In turn, these

  • Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in the Desert, ca. 1476–78, oil on panel. Installation view, Frick Madison, New York, 2021. Photo: Joe Coscia.


    THE ART MUSEUM is represented by many metaphors: the palace, the temple, and the mausoleum; the theme park and the shopping mall; the cabinet of curiosities and the chamber of dreams. Its purposes, largely those of preservation and display, seem precise enough to need no explanation, but the questions provoked by the museum are legion. What values guide the amassing of the museum’s contents, the artworks or artifacts that are assembled, cared for, and shown, and whom do those values represent? Since the museum, as an institution, belongs to history as much as the objects it contains, can its

  • Mel Bochner, Exasperations, Column A, 2017–19, four panels, oil on velvet, overall 15' 3 5⁄8“ × 7' 5 1⁄2”.

    Mel Bochner

    Many of the paintings in this exhibition were emblazoned with phrases that Mel Bochner calls “exasperations” (which was also the title of the show): Among these were LOOK WHO’S TALKING and I’VE HAD IT UP TO HERE, along with the familiar Bochnerian BLAH BLAH BLAH. In the press release, Bochner invoked the “politics of language.” His chosen expressions are meant to reflect, alternately, the rage and the disingenuousness of public speech in these dire times. The artist has a gift for identifying platitudes or expostulations that, in being isolated, become transformed—ambiguous or strange. For


    ROBERT MORRIS has said that his work is a form of “investigation.” During the 1960s and ’70s, the period of Minimal, post-Minimal, and Conceptual art, he devoted attention to processes of mind and body—to making, perceiving, and knowing. He sometimes turned to models from science and technology, although he explained that his efforts were born of a desire to disprove rather than prove: to push systems in ways that exposed their lies. In his critical writing, he examined new developments in sculpture with clinical precision. Later, drawing from his early work even as he appeared to reject it,

  • Bruce Nauman, Contrapposto Studies, i through vii, 2015–16, seven-channel HD video projection, color, sound, indefinite duration. Installation view, Sperone Westwater, New York, 2016. Study i and Study ii. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Jeffrey Weiss

    THERE ARE WORKS OF ART, though rare, that stop us cold. Bruce Nauman’s installation Contrapposto Studies, i through vii, 2015–16, is one of them. On view at Sperone Westwater gallery this past fall, it was displayed in three rooms on the first and third floors. (A second version, Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, ran concurrently and remains on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through January 8, 2017.)The work, a sequence of seven HD-video projections, is an adaptation of Walk with Contrapposto, a one-hour video Nauman made in 1968. In the early video, the artist, hands clasped behind

  • Nam June Paik, Zen for Film, 1962–64, 16-mm film, looped. Installation view, Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York, 2015. Photo: Bruce White. © Nam June Paik Estate.

    “Revisions—Zen for Film

    DEMATERIALIZATION. In an important text of 1968, Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler chose that word to describe the presumed disappearance of the aesthetic object in the context of Conceptual art. Dematerialization proved to be a useful myth: useful in that the term was convenient shorthand for the decline of the conventional art object (a painting or sculpture handmade by the artist-author); a myth in that so much advanced work of the period yielded a decidedly material proliferation of paperwork—handwritten or typed texts, contracts of ownership and certificates of authenticity, photographic

  • Richard Serra, Splashing, 1968, lead. Installation view, Castelli Warehouse, New York. From “9 at Leo Castelli.” Photo: Peter Moore/VAGA. © Richard Serra/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


    SPEAKING OF HIS EARLY PRACTICE, Richard Serra makes a succinct claim: “This is this. This is not that.”1 His works from the mid to late 1960s were intended to express the actions of “process.” In so doing, they demonstrate the deployment of basic procedures that activate the primary qualities of media derived from construction and industrial fabrication, such as fiberglass and vulcanized rubber. Produced from molten lead, the works known as “splashings” or “castings” (or sometimes both) are chief examples of this category of work. Indeed, in their case, the role of process is deepened by the

  • View of “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals,” 2014–15, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. From left: Panel One (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Two (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Three (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962. As seen with colored digital projection. Photo: Kate Lacey. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


    WHEN IS A PAINTING not a painting anymore?
    In 1962, Mark Rothko created the Harvard Murals, a set of six monumental paintings, five of which were displayed in the penthouse dining room of the university’s Holyoke Center, a windowed perch with stunning views. Deeply and delicately hued expanses, the canvases ranged in color from searing orange-red to light pink to dark purple. But in the decade that followed, continual exposure to daylight drastically changed the works, fading them so that some areas lightened to near white while others turned a dull black. Languishing in storage for many years, the works were thought to be beyond repair. But recently, a team of conservators and scientists made a new and unprecedented attempt to restore the pictures—not with pigment or chemicals but with light: For each canvas, they devised a highly complex colored-light projection that, when shone on the work, returns it to its original coloration. What we see is what was meant to be seen, ostensibly. But what are the risks of such an approach? Does the use of light open the door to virtual reality, to smoke and mirrors, turning the paintings into something else altogether? Or does it constitute a brilliant way of making the paintings viewable again, without so much as touching a thread of canvas?
    Conservator CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO, who worked on the project; curators HARRY COOPER and JEFFREY WEISS; art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS; Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO; and artists LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON, DAVID REED, KEN OKIISHI, and R. H. QUAYTMAN peer into the void.

    CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO: Rothko’s Harvard Murals were installed in 1964, but after suffering differential damage, they were put in storage in 1979. They were included in a few exhibitions, two at Harvard and one traveling exhibition, but basically they hadn’t been seen or studied for decades.

    The murals are one of only three commissions that Rothko made. Scholars studied the Seagram paintings, and they studied the Rothko Chapel, but they largely skipped the Harvard Murals because hardly anyone had seen them. Most only knew the story about their fading and being removed from view. The works

  • passages September 03, 2014

    On Kawara (1933–2014)

    TO SPEAK OF THE WORK OF On Kawara is, in certain respects, to speak of the life—and now, of the death. The artist’s passing deepens an absence that some might say was already there, for he spent the last half century strategically avoiding the public eye. The nature of his art is fairly well known, although it is generally seen in small, refined doses, and its visibility comes and goes: But for an ongoing installation of paintings at Dia:Beacon, the work is shown sporadically in galleries and museums and otherwise can be hard to find.

    Kawara was a young star of the postwar Tokyo avant-garde, but

  • Mel Bochner, Kvetch, Kvetch, Kvetch, 2010, oil and acrylic on canvas, 22 x 38".

    “Mel Bochner: Strong Language”

    A good deal of attention has been paid in the past decade to the work of Mel Bochner, with exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and London’s Whitechapel Gallery, among other venues. Yet in New York, Bochner’s home for close to fifty years, the artist has, bizarrely, never received a museum survey. This welcome exhibition, though not the full-scale retrospective Bochner so richly deserves, will include more than seventy works—paintings, drawings, and prints from 1966 to the present—in which Bochner


    FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS, Robert Morris has been producing new work that is, in unexpected ways, explicitly derived from old work. So far, the new objects are fifteen in number. They have been produced by a craftsman, Josh Finn, from a variety of hardwoods: walnut, maple, oak, cherry, mahogany, ash, alder, birch, poplar, and European beech. The techniques of fabrication are often those of cabinetry. Each work was made to stand alone, but Morris thinks of the entire group as a “family” of related objects. Four of them are variants—almost exact replicas—of works in plywood or fir previously

  • Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1977, Quemado, New Mexico. Photo: John Cliett.

    Walter De Maria

    MYTHS THRIVE on an absence of information. It would be unfair to say that Walter De Maria was given to self-mythologizing, but he was an elusive, at times even evasive, figure. He has certainly been the least visible public personality among his contemporaries. Does this partly account for the peculiar fact that,despite its obvious significance—and its inclusion in such landmark exhibitions as “Primary Structures” at New York’s Jewish Museum in 1966 and “When Attitudes Become Form” at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969—his art can almost be described as obscure? Given that certain works by De