Johanna Burton

  • Tracey Emin

    Tracey Emin claims not to have been reading much lately, but it’s obvious that she remains invested in the poignancy and poison of words. In 2005, she published a memoir of sorts with the self-mythologizing title Strangeland, and she has also taken to writing her own weekly column in an English newspaper, The Independent. Just days before her November opening at Lehmann Maupin, her entry from abroad bore the subtitle “When I’m miles from home I sometimes have a clear view—and God, my life’s a mess.” The refrain is a familiar one from this artist who came to prominence during the ’90s YBA explosion.

  • Marina Abramovic, Seven Easy Pieces, 2005. View of Abramovic performing Valie Export's Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1969, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, November 11, 2005. Photo: Kathryn Carr.

    Marina Abramovic

    SITTING SQUARELY BETWEEN Jack Nicholson’s five and Bartók’s ten, Marina Abramovic’s Seven Easy Pieces occasioned a week of nightly pilgrimages to New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum last November. There she presented a different performance each evening, beginning at 5 PM and culminating at midnight. Yet the performances, save for the final two, weren’t actually her own—at least, not in the conventional sense. Rather, the artist had chosen five works from the 1960s and ’70s that she deemed pivotal (and for which she pointedly obtained permissions and agreed to pay copyright fees). These

  • Mary Kelly

    A diverse group of people—mostly, but not all, women—link arms in sodality to form a human barricade. They are clad in the sort of androgynous late-’60s and early-’70s accoutrements that now boast a certain second-generation vogue. Low-slung belted pants and peasant tunics abound, though there’s not a skirt in sight. The proceedings have a discernible gravity: One woman’s mouth is open in a yell while her associates stand by stoically. A sign held by another of the participants sets the scene: UNITE FOR WOMAN'S EMANCIPATION, its hand-lettered words read, accompanied by three vehement slashes of

  • Laurie Anderson

    Arguably the most spectacular cinematic dream sequence of all time, Salvador Dalí’s contribution to Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) featured a Surrealist stage set par excellence. Replete with a hallucinogenic landscape, it included morphing objects, a faceless man, and—above all—lots and lots of enormous, blinking, staring eyes. Dalí seems to contend that in dreams, despite—or perhaps because of—our eyes being closed, ocularity takes on a heightened, anxious role: We are able to see things normally deemed invisible or impossible. Most disturbingly, we often see ourselves

  • John McCracken

    It’s a truism that the simplest problems are the toughest to crack, and a question posed some forty years ago by the artist John McCracken is no exception: “If a piece is blue, what color is the space around it?” Scrawled into the pages of a notebook, the riddle has a slightly Wittgensteinian flavor. (It was the author of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [1921] who wrote, “This space I can imagine as empty, but I cannot imagine the thing without the space.”) Yet McCracken has spent decades pondering relationships between things and the spaces they inhabit, less as a purely cerebral exercise and

  • William Eggleston

    “Avoid prettiness—the word looks much like pettiness, and there is but little difference between them.” With these words, Peter Henry Emerson raged against fluffy concoctions of sublimity and romance in his 1889 treatise Naturalistic Photography for Students of the Art, which made the case that some photography should be accorded artistic (rather than scientific or commercial) status. While there’s now little question as to the medium’s creative viability, one need only reflect on the career of William Eggleston, whose landmark exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 unmistakably marked

  • Sophie Calle

    There’s nothing in the world like the pain that accompanies the end of a great love affair. In his Fragments d’un discours amoureux (A Lover’s Discourse, 1977), Roland Barthes isolates the way in which this piercing sorrow greets the spurned subject most cruelly in the blurry, semiconscious moments when he or she is roused from sleep. Making reference to the impotent protagonist of Stendhal’s Armance (1827), Barthes lists various manifestations of this unwelcome, if banal, daily return to suffering: “Modes of waking: sad, wracked (with tenderness), affectless, innocent, panic-stricken (Octave

  • Rosemarie Trockel

    COGITO, ERGO SUM. So reads a 1988 machine-knit wool-on-linen picture by Rosemarie Trockel, stitched in a rendition of childish cursive. The artist’s appropriation of Descartes’s famous dictum unravels its linear logic, recasting the rational subject as dreamy doodler. For the past twenty-odd years, Trockel has similarly undermined hallowed ideologies and confused recourse to easy meaning, employing sculpture, installation, drawing, and video. This comprehensive survey—which includes 131 works and is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Silvia Eiblmayr, Gregory

  • Tracy + the Plastics

    IT WAS UNCLEAR just when the show officially started. Nikki was the first band member to arrive. While the audience got settled, she was busy alternately drinking from a teacup and attempting the apparently vexing art of getting both arms into her jacket. Eventually Tracy and Cola showed up, visibly peeved and wanting to know why Nikki had missed band practice earlier in the day. She’d been practicing, Nikki replied a little haughtily: busy “practicing drinking tea like a lesbian,” “practicing putting on my coat like a lesbian,” “practicing standing next to a stranger like a lesbian.” The list

  • Rachel Feinstein

    The announcement for Rachel Feinstein’s second solo exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery featured neither the artist’s trademark brummagem-Baroque sculptures nor her lesser-known paintings. Rather, the oversize folded mailer reproduced a photograph that, though not included in the show, clearly informed it. A very old woman, wearing a pristine fur coat and enormous, lilac-tinted, bug-eye shades beams at us. Her getup is impeccable: A crisp white cuff peeks from beneath the fur, and she sports an enormous ring with a squarish aqua gem that covers the breadth of two fingers. Dark red lipstick

  • Mary Heilmann

    Bertolt Brecht was no fan of abstraction. Worthless as a radical political tool, non-figurative art was, in the Marxist playwright’s eyes, little more than aesthetic scaffolding supporting upper-class pleasures. An abstract composition might as well be a blank screen for psychological projection, eliciting unearned emotional responses. “You paint . . . an indeterminate red; and some cry at the sight of this indeterminate red because they think of a rose, and others because they think of a child lacerated by bombs and streaming with blood,” Brecht wrote in his Notebooks (1935–39). And yet, while

  • View of model ship the Grey Ghost, from Paul McCarthy’s “The Pirate Project,” 2003. Photo: Ann-Marie Rounkle.

    Paul McCarthy

    Too often referred to simply as “the ketchup guy,” Paul McCarthy has, over some three and a half decades, constructed a complicated, multifaceted oeuvre. By testing the limits of sculpture, painting, and performance, he inaugurated a strain of West Coast art-making deeply rooted in the messy terrain of abjection and cultural critique. McCarthy’s appearance in the vast Haus der Kunst marks his largest European appearance to date; in addition to two new installations focused on cowboys and pirates, the exhibition includes more than one hundred videos, drawings, and