Johanna Burton

  • Guy de Cointet

    Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous Course in General Linguistics (published posthumously in 1916) defines language as “a system of pure values which are determined by nothing except the momentary arrangements of its terms.” Such a characterization—a radical proposition in its day—has over the years become largely taken for granted. Most people, it seems, would admit that words are tethered somewhat arbitrarily to what they signify (“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”), but however well-established the idea might be, we rarely see this premise of instability in action. For the most part,

  • Nayland Blake

    The OED tells us that the word behave derives from the Middle English “be + haven”—“to have” or, slightly differently, “to hold”—and that behavior, then, designates the manner in which one holds oneself. But though the dictionary doesn’t ascribe any inherent judgment to the term (one could behave very badly or with utter propriety or in any manner in between) there is built into its everyday use an assumption of the worst. One rarely brings up behavior if it’s good (unless as a way to reduce jail time!); and though ostensibly describing an individual’s actions, the word always serves to point

  • Kelley Walker

    For his third solo show at Paula Cooper, Kelley Walker presented a number of large-scale “paintings” across which march silk-screened images of scanned bricks and cinder blocks. Quasi-photographic in nature and blushed with unnatural hues, the resulting “stacks” flicker between illusionism and flatness, rendering each composition at once another depiction of a wall (or barricade) and another variation on the theme of minimal, nonreferential grids. On close inspection, however, the “mortar” ostensibly holding steady each of these hybrid feats adds—quite literally—another unexpected layer. Hand-cut,

  • Babette Mangolte

    For “Collision,” her second solo show at Broadway 1602, avant-garde filmmaker and documentary photographer Babette Mangolte opted, as the title suggests, to bring together the many materials, methods, and periods of her production. Mangolte is, of course, known by now—the woman behind the lens, producing images of so many of the most germinal performances of the 1970s and beyond; without her, we would have much less of the still scant “proof” of events by Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Whitman, and Richard Foreman, to name just a few. But although Mangolte’s complicated position as “

  • Lorraine O’Grady

    In 1980, at Just Above Midtown Gallery in New York, Lorraine O’Grady presented her first official (which is to say first invited) public performance piece, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline. The work followed closely on the heels of the artist’s more (in her words) “hit-and-run” foray into performance, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire—in which she showed up at New York art openings as the title character, unannounced and uninvited, calling attention to those deeply raced, gendered, and classed environments—and likewise concerned itself with issues of representation.

    But Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline made unapologetic

  • Moyra Davey

    “WELL, I’LL BE DAMNED!” Standing at the entrance to “Long Life Cool White: Photographs by Moyra Davey”— a survey of the artist’s photographs from the past two decades (and her first museum show), curated by Helen Molesworth—was a fifty-something man in khakis, hands on hips, shaking his head vigorously, grinning, clearly in the pleasurable throes of realizing he had been duped. It seemed that he had just read the wall label for a group of one hundred eight-by-ten C-prints, each placed under Plexiglas and all hung in a neat grid. A lesson in infinitely subtle comparison, every photograph depicts

  • Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor

    It appeared when one entered Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor’s exhibition (the Romanian artists’ first in the United States) at Lombard-Freid that a lecture had just taken place or would take place very soon. Rows of folding wooden chairs were arranged in neat diagonal rows in front of a stark wooden lectern with a microphone. Yet, though nobody was situated at the podium—and the day I visited I was the only person in the space—a single voice, enunciating crisply with moderated pitch, rang through the room. The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels’s influential 1848 screed, was being read in

  • Jack Goldstein

    Jack Goldstein’s move into painting in the late 1970s was driven, in part, by truly damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t decision making. “I didn’t want to be this guy who did performances and films when all these other guys were painters,” he admitted during a 2001 conversation with Meg Cranston, noting the pressure he felt to adapt not only to the “other guys” (i.e., David Salle, Troy Brauntuch, Robert Longo, et al.) but also to the wave of new commercial galleries and withering of alternative spaces. Yet, he goes on to say in the same breath, “It was a difficult thing to go back to painting.

  • Katharina Fritsch

    That there is something patently ugly about much—if not all—of Katharina Fritsch’s work is too little remarked upon. Perhaps this has to do with the way it is ugly: not at all in the conventional sense of wandering afield from some aesthetic “ideal,” or even in presenting for abject delectation the long-hidden, seamy underbelly of something we thought we knew. Indeed, Fritsch’s objects court another kind of ugliness; they take their forms as perfect, smoothly contoured icons that rebuff the eye through a kind of affectlessness or, perhaps better said, through a kind of aloofness.

    This particular


    JUST WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS? Poised in front of Wade Guyton’s work, admirers and detractors alike often find themselves asking the same question. It’s not so much a query regarding the artist’s character—though of course it’s partially that, too—but rather the expression of a genuine quandary, one that can feel so basic that it’s hard to find the way to frame it. Where is he coming from? is another way to put it, and it may be a little closer to the mark. But the real question is rather, and perhaps simply: How are we to understand Guyton’s relationship to what he makes? And following from

  • Eleanor Antin

    That Helen of Troy had a face beautiful enough to launch a thousand ships is a myth so often reiterated that it may as well be true. Interpretations of the rest of her story are more divergent: She was a true innocent, abducted by Paris against her will, for instance, or she was an immoral whore who jumped at the chance to leave behind husband and children to indulge in adulterous pleasures with no regard for the havoc she would wreak. It’s not unusual, of course, for such opposing intents to be ascribed to women, who so often serve as protagonists for thinly veiled (but overtly gendered) morality

  • “Polaroids: Mapplethorpe”

    Bringing together roughly one hundred Polaroids produced between 1970 and 1975 (many being shown for the first time), this selective survey evidences Robert Mapplethorpe in the making.

    In her essay for the publication accompanying the Whitney's upcoming presentation of Robert Mapplethorpe's Polaroid work, curator Sylvia Wolf illuminates the infamous artist's “lifelong passion for using the camera to penetrate appearances.” If the metaphor seems too perfect, given Mapplethorpe's best-known, hypersexual subject matter and allusions, its valences nonetheless acquire unexpected subtlety in this exhibition, which focuses on an underexamined early body of work. Bringing together roughly one hundred Polaroids produced between 1970 and 1975 (many being shown for

  • Christopher Williams

    Looking at a Christopher Williams show can be a nerve-racking activity. For all the pleasure offered by Williams’s stark/lush photographs, there is in every one of his installations the threat of an intellectual aptitude test. Why else would so many of the writings on his work begin with seemingly casual questions that sound nonetheless like riddles? “What relationship is there between a French car from the ’60s, a Japanese student posing for a fashion photo in 1993, papayas (of the Carica papaya Linné sort), and a dishwasher tray filled with brightly colored plates?” asked Jean-Pierre Criqui


    IN THE CONTEXT of an issue concerned with the color of money, it might nevertheless be productive to consider a wider plethora of hues. Or so it would seem given the questions raised by “Color Chart,” an exhibition recently opened at New York's Museum of Modern Art and organized by curator Ann Temkin.
    Spanning works by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Dan Graham, Jennifer Bartlett, André Cadere, and Liz Deschenes, Temkin’s show focuses on the role played by standardized and mass-produced color in the shaping of art production since 1950, and proposes the “readymade” hue as a common, if unstable, thread running through the work of several generations of modern and contemporary practitioners. The aforementioned artists, and nearly forty more, variously press pigment, courting its residual appeals to pure emotion even while emphasizing its modern, coolly detached commercialization.
    And yet Temkin suggests that “Color Chart” also provides a jumping-off point for considerations of institutional politics, historical narratives, and the place of critical discourse within a glutted economy. Indeed, the provocative (and timely) subtext of her show is one of larger tensions between critical and curatorial concerns and between institutional and market imperatives. For while the artists constituting Temkin’s narrative ostensibly share a “conceptual” bent, they also offer an embarrassment of tactile riches. And museums, for their part, stand at the crossroads of vetting such histories: one part symbolic value; one part cold, hard cash. (Perhaps this attribution and status is especially pertinent when it comes to the example of MoMA, given its status as a sort of ur-museum in our time.) And so, Temkin argues, although the ways in which artistic objects and genealogies are constructed, received, and eventually consumed is a subject interrogated often enough, the nature of other presumed tensions—between the market and the critical endeavor, between the institution and critical practice—might itself be due for some reevaluation. In the interview that follows, conducted while “Color Chart” was still being installed, Temkin discusses a show that proffers a history of artists who cut their teeth on the stuff of modernist inquiry, and yet proposes a reconsideration of the museum’s role in taming and safely contextualizing what were once anti-aesthetic—or in some cases über-aesthetic—acts. A provocative tallying of contemporary concerns comes via a history lesson.

    JOHANNA BURTON: It’s safe to say, I think, that there is often a murmur of discontent in the art world about the stupendous coming together of wealth and cultural production today. But perhaps a more significant problem is that no one is really willing—or able—to suggest any truly viable alternative. Instead, many of us hold up what are likely romanticized—or at the very least simplified—ideas of historical moments that seem less structured by, or for, distribution and codification. Now, I say this because you’ve described “Color Chart” as a rejoinder of sorts, in terms both of contemporary

  • Mai-Thu Perret

    For an artist whose work is peopled only by women and thus clearly seems in some way to be “about” gender, Mai-Thu Perret nonetheless confounds attempts to understand its function in her practice. To some critics, Perret’s variations on the theme of “All women, all the time” add up to a clear investment in and contribution to “feminism, as a distinct tradition of self-empowerment.” But such an assessment (this one made by Hamza Walker in 2006) and others like it are just as often refuted. In the pages of this magazine, for instance, in an essay detailing the work of the Geneva-based artist,

  • Eric Wesley

    That Eric Wesley has distanced himself from institutional critique (characterizing it as “way too serious and noncommittal at the same time”) should come as no surprise. Born in 1973, the LA-based artist belongs to a generation that tends toward extremes when it comes to narrativizing their relationships to artistic legacies, whether by way of fetishization or refusal. Many of these accounts amount to little more than cliché; Wesley has elaborated on his “way too serious” comment by dismissing institutional critique as capable of “no humor, no comedy,” a characterization that hardly matches up

  • Alina Szapozcinikow

    “Ontological poverty” is a phrase Alina Szapozcnikow once used to describe the immanent instabilities of the human body. A single example of impermanence in the world, for Szapozcnikow, it was nonetheless human composition—flesh, blood, and bone—that was “the most fragile” site. But such delicate constitution, as the artist saw it, allowed for a complex range of emotions and experiences. For while (or better, because) ontologically impoverished, the body was consequently “the only source of all joy, of all pain and of all truth.”

    Szapozcnikow was no stranger to such radical antinomies and body/mind

  • Francis Alÿs

    From September 2007 to April 2008, the North Building Galleries of the Hispanic Society—dimly lit, mahogany-paneled rooms usually set aside for nineteenth-century holdings—are being occupied by a rogue collection. At a glance, the works assembled don’t look so very out of place, save for the relentless repetition of their subject matter. The myriad pictures on display—created by many hands and culled from locales around the globe—all show a crimson-veiled woman, her face in profile. The image feels generically iconic—the attendant whiff of religiosity tempered (or perhaps

  • Johanna Burton

    A MINISURVEY of Sherrie Levine’s work, organized jointly by London’s Simon Lee Gallery and New York’s Nyehaus, was exhibited during the summer months in the UK before crossing the pond in time to usher in the fall. I saw the exhibition at its second venue, whose location, in a converted apartment within the rambling National Arts Club on Gramercy Park South, somehow remains just far enough off the beaten track to feel clandestine. (The day I went with a friend, we had the good fortune to be the only visitors for the duration of our stay.) Nyehaus intentionally courts what might be called a kind

  • Hannah Wilke

    Fifteen years after Hannah Wilke’s death, her oeuvre still confounds the desire to find in it a purely critical impulse. Though now firmly installed in the feminist canon (however oxymoronic such a concept may be), Wilke doesn’t rest easily there. Some still argue that she developed a practice whose bedrock—though veined with resistant acumen—consisted primarily of whatever was necessary to sustain its own gaze-baiting operations. But it is less Wilke’s detractors than her advocates who, in some ways, continue to register the clearest anxiety about her work. Indeed, those that most