Johanna Fateman

  • Yvonne Rainer, Hellzapoppin’: What about the bees?, 2022. Performance view, New York Live Arts, October 5, 2022. Brittany Engel-Adams. Photo: Maria Baranova.

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    Johanna Fateman is a writer, art critic, and musician in New York. She is a contributing editor of Artforum and writes art reviews regularly for the New Yorker and 4Columns. After a seventeen-year hiatus, her band Le Tigre will tour in 2023.

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    YVONNE RAINER, HELLZAPOPPIN’: WHAT ABOUT THE BEES? (NEW YORK LIVE ARTS/PERFORMA, NEW YORK)

    At the core of this self-implicating inquiry into anti-Black racism was a choreographic unpiecing of a dance performed by Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in a 1941 movie. Rainer announced Hellzapoppin’ as her last work, but the radical antivirtuoso refused the fanfare of a

  • Barbara Kruger, Your body is a battleground, 1990, billboard. Installation view, Columbus, OH.

    BATTLEGROUNDS

    FORTY-EIGHT HOURS after I got off the phone with Barbara Kruger—we talked about her work, power, politics, social media, and TV—I was in Washington Square Park, watching her most famous image make its way through a throng of protesters. Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989, appeared on a stricken teen’s T-shirt: a new purchase, it seemed, unfaded, the shoulder seams still creased. On another day, it might have registered as a cultural statement on a par with Nirvana’s X-eyed smiley face, but this was the sultry evening of June 24, the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

    Kruger’s

  • H. R. Giger, Gebärmaschine (Birth Machine), 1969, silk screen on aluminum, 51 1⁄8 × 37 1⁄8.

    H. R. Giger

    The sci-fi hellscapes of H. R. Giger (1940–2014) are curiously placid, as contemplative as they are ominous in their ashen airbrushed desolation. The Swiss artist, perhaps most famous for his creation of the ambushing parasite predator in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, did not—in his own work—favor fast action. The subjects of his portraiture often appear embalmed or asleep. Other compositions represent his bleak futurism via cropped views of sinister circuitry and coital hydraulics—the lubricated machinery of a sexed-up totalitarian posthuman world, either on pause or running with grim

  • Jacqueline Humphries, Untitled, 2019, pigmented epoxy resin, 26 × 30".

    “Looking Back: The 12th White Columns Annual”

    THE WHITE COLUMNS ANNUAL is a local thing, a super-subjective précis of the previous year curated by an interesting person or group. It risks, by virtue of its premise, the appearance of an insider-y take on the New York scene, but the context of its host institution—the city’s oldest surviving alternative space, whose eclectic programming is indifferent to the market and the mainstream—and the open sensibilities of those tapped to organize the show reliably save “Looking Back” from that fate. Initiated by White Columns director Matthew Higgs in 2006, it returns after a four-year pause; this

  • New Museum union action, New Museum, New York, June 25, 2019. Photo: Eddie Panta.

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    Johanna Fateman is a writer, an art critic, and a co-owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She is a contributing editor of Artforum.

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    UNIONIZING

    “Against Artsploitation,” Dana Kopel’s widely circulated article published in September by The Baffler, is the most granular account of art workers unionizing I’ve read. Kopel, a former New Museum employee, describes the gulf between the institution’s progressive programming and its internal labor conditions, the 2018–19 union drive, contract negotiations, and a meeting with Hans Haacke at a Le Pain Quotidien. With last summer’s news that workers at New

  • Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, and Per Olof Ultvedt, Hon—en katedral (She—a Cathedral), 1966, mixed media. Installation view, Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Photo: Hans Hammarskiöld. © Hans Hammarskiöld Heritage.

    SELF MADE

    “IF TODAY I CONSIDER MYSELF almost the only poet, the only sculptor capable of creating something poetic, it’s precisely because I’m a woman,” the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle announced to Vogue Paris in 1965. “Men with their rockets, their atomic bomb, and all that filth they’ve dumped on us . . . they’ve sterilized themselves.” It was a pivotal year in her career. She had become something of a sensation with her Tirs (Shooting Paintings), a group of works initiated in 1961 for which she fired a rifle at canvases or at low reliefs resembling altars or effigies. They became

  • Marsha Pels, Fallout Necklace, 2018, patinaed cast aluminum, patinaed steel, flame-worked glass, powder-printed glass, 7 × 10 × 15". From the series “Trophies of Abuse,” 2013–19. Photo: Charles Benton.

    Marsha Pels

    Frankly, I was a little taken aback by “Solace,” New York sculptor Marsha Pels’s solo exhibition at Lubov. Previously unfamiliar with her career—her sprawling welded site-specific pieces made of discarded steel from the 1980s, her decades-long practice of transforming found objects through casting, and her tradition of severe visual metaphor—I arrived unprepared for such brazenly melodramatic work. The two pieces on display, created twenty years apart, were united by the artist’s gauche yet supremely polished strain of brute symbolism, stark political commentary, and untempered emotion. It was

  • Johanna Fateman’s top ten highlights of 2020

    Johanna Fateman is a writer, an art critic, and a co-owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She is a contributing editor of Artforum.

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    K8 HARDY (REENA SPAULINGS FINE ART, NEW YORK)

    While the “Best of 2020” sounds like a grim joke (the ten best catastrophes?), the year wasn’t without absurdist bright spots, such as Hardy’s ten-foot-long pigment-soaked maxi pad (her show’s sole work). Which is not to say the “canvas”—an old-fashioned Color Field painting in a sour-power palette—was played for laughs. For me, it was the indelible gesture of the New York fall openings. Greedily absorbent, radiant with

  • Lisa Alvarado, Thalweg (Traditional Object), 2020, acrylic, fabric, wood, 76 × 82". From the series “Traditional Object,” 2010–.

    Lisa Alvarado

    Lisa Alvarado’s series titled “Thalweg (Traditional Object)” features brightly inscrutable two-sided paintings on fabric or canvas, edged with metallic passementerie or floral embroidered trim—delicate finishing touches for bold abstractions. There were nine such exacting works (all 2020) suspended from the ceiling at various angles in “Thalweg,” her airy solo exhibition this past summer at Bridget Donahue. Some, bearing graphic stepped shapes, prismatic compositions, snaking or zigzagging patterns, and glyph-like forms in electric palettes, seemed informed by Mayan textiles; others, built from

  • Chloë Bass, The unparalleled mix of emotions when someone who loves you calls to say: “rest. I see what you’re doing, and the world needs you to be well.” Joy, sorrow, and a relief so profound it’s almost bitter., 2019, laser-engraved aluminum. Installation view.

    Chloë Bass

    I’ve gotten to know Wayfinding well. Every day I walk by some, if not all, of the twenty-four signs that compose Chloë Bass’s meditative, ever-unfolding, treasure hunt–like installation in Harlem’s St. Nicholas Park. (It has taken months for me to spot them all.) The project, commissioned by the Studio Museum in Harlem and curated by Legacy Russell, appeared last fall as part of the institution’s series of off-site community programming, which continues while its new building is under construction.

    The Conceptual artist, who grew up in New York City, has placed most of her messages along a

  • Juanita McNeely, Is It Real? Yes It Is, 1969, nine panels, oil on linen, overall 12 × 12'.

    Juanita McNeely

    The wailing wreckage of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937, the necrotic wrist stump in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915, and the hellscapes of Otto Dix’s series “Der Krieg” (The War), 1924, all echo in Juanita McNeely’s pained visions. For her exhibition at James Fuentes, presented in collaboration with Mitchell Algus Gallery, the eighty-four-year-old artist showed two epic multipanel paintings from previous decades of her career, rendered in a sui generis expressionist style. The shell-shocked tricks of European modernism find new life in these complex works, depicting the

  • Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Frankfurt Kitchen from the Ginnheim-Höhenblick Housing Estate, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1926–27, mixed media, 8' 9“ × 12' 10” × 6' 10". Photo, above: Heidi Bohnenkamp.

    SO DIFFERENT, SO APPEALING

    NOTHING CAPTURES the imagination quite like a period room. At the Museum of Modern Art, you can’t hope to stumble on anything with the transporting, cinematic force and decorative ferocity of, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Bedroom from the Sagredo Palace, of course. But it’s a heart-quickening surprise to encounter, in the refreshed and reshuffled fifth-floor collection galleries, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen. The alluring time capsule appears as a freestanding lemon-chiffon bunker, its neatly drab, graphite-gray interior beckoning through a sliding-door aperture. You