Johanna Fateman

  • 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.

    1

    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

  • Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, ca. 1967–72, photomontage, 17 3⁄8 × 23 3⁄4". From the series “House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home,” ca. 1967–72.

    Johanna Fateman

    Johanna Fateman is a writer, a musician, and a co-owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She writes art criticism regularly for 4Columns and the New Yorker and is a Contributing Editor of Artforum. She is a 2019 Creative Capital Awardee and is currently at work on a novel.



    MARTHA ROSLER (JEWISH MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY DARSIE ALEXANDER WITH SHIRA BACKER)

    Rosler’s unmatched ability to wield consumer culture’s opulence against itself made for a visually festive retrospective. But sober critique unites the Semiotics of the Kitchen star’s half century of uninhibited Conceptualism; her early

  • Hannah Black, Beginning, End, None, 2017/2019, three-channel video installation, color, sound, 10 minutes 22 seconds. Installation view. Photo: Da Ping Luo.

    Hannah Black

    The five large screens of Hannah Black’s video installation Beginning, End, None—a new iteration of a work from 2017—were suspended from the ceiling of the long, darkened gallery. They formed an austere procession of loosely edited montages, assembled from images of motes, slowly churning like stardust: ghostly computer-generated architectural renderings, scientific illustrations, a scorpion illuminated by a UV flashlight, and other found or casually shot material. While the configuration lent the space a hallowed ambience and gave the fragmented work a sense of order, it also had a disquieting

  • WHITNEY BIENNIAL 2019

    Curated by Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta

    THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL, always a flash point for controversy, is front-loaded with it this year. As we witness the rapid consolidation of America’s oligarchy, art institutions flush with its cash have become subject to fresh activist scrutiny. Whitney-board vice chair Warren B. Kanders’s ownership of Safariland—the maker of tear-gas canisters used by border agents against migrants this past November—is a high-profile, hard-to-swallow fact, even if it is only the tip of the iceberg. But the show must go on, and fortunately, among the seventy-five artists

  • WISE GUYS

    ONE MORNING IN FEBRUARY, Nicole Eisenman introduces me to the enormous plaster guys in her studio. Guys is her word; she clarifies right away that she means it in a gender-neutral sense. The first one we look at sits sideways, legs crossed at the ankle, on the back of another who’s on all fours, head down, hands and knees planted resolutely to form a stable seat. The sitting guy’s big palms are outstretched in a beatific pose; they (singular) have a diamond-shaped thatch of wormlike hair growing from their flat chest, and nothing definitive at their crotch. But the uneventful meeting place of

  • Johanna Fateman

    1 GARY INDIANA, VILE DAYS: THE VILLAGE VOICE ART COLUMNS, 1985–1988 (SEMIOTEXT[E]; EDITED BY BRUCE HAINLEY) Intellectually generous and casually eviscerating, Gary Indiana, in his three years as an art columnist, embraced the pretension and debasement inherent to the weekly gig. This demi-doorstop of uncensored observations, high compliments, and serious shade reads like Bleak House as much as it does a collection of criticism—it’d make a great Christmas gift for someone who loves the former and wishes they could make it through the latter, as well as for those mourning the Voice (may it