John Kelsey

  • GREAT HASTE: ROBERT WALSER’S WRITINGS ON ART

    ONCE A STUDENT at an academy for butlers, and another time employed as an inventor’s assistant, Robert Walser (1878–1956) approached writing as a kind of butler or assistant too. “To be small and stay small” was an antiambition Walser shared with Jakob von Gunten, the eponymous hero of his great 1909 autofiction-cum-bildungsroman about getting ahead in a school for servants. Walser’s late microscripts—uncategorizable prose pieces written in a hand so infinitesimal that it was long thought to be meaningless scratching—pack prolixity into the confines of the minuscule; his novel The

  • NEXT-LEVEL SPLEEN

    FOR MOST ARTISTS TODAY, the laptop and phone have already supplanted the studio as primary sites of production. Early signs of this shift were evident in what became known as relational aesthetics, which, in retrospect, seems wrongly defined as a practice in which communal experience became the medium. It is more properly understood, rather, as a capitalist-realist adaptation of art to the experience economy, obviously, but also to the new productive imperative to go mobile, as a body and a practice. In other words, community declared itself a medium at the very moment that it was laying itself

  • JOHN KELSEY

    DID THE VERSION OF THE “OPEN WORK” we inherited from relational aesthetics ever suspect that it was already infected with a pathological possibility, that the office without walls and the convivial zone of the project could also be spaces of violence and death? If the installation was the aesthetic form best suited to a spreading, cybercapitalist nowhere, it probably shared Empire’s inability to spatialize otherness as anything but an avenging, antiproductive suicide from beyond or to invent intimacies besides the socially scripted, always already mediated encounters of the laptop screen. It

  • THE YEAR IN TELEVISION

    THIS YEAR we watched even more television at work, usually in the form of YouTube clips—if we weren’t streaming entire episodes on Netflix, Hulu, or sites operated by the networks themselves. Such moments of pseudosabotage of the traditional working day now merge seamlessly with that other engine of post-Fordist productivity: gossip. “Did you see Tina Fey’s ‘Brownie Husband’ sketch on SNL last night? Here, watch!” Or, “Did you hear Jeffrey Deitch got trampled at his own opening? Check it out!” TV is a weaker, less concentrated, and at the same time more dispersed and omnipresent signal than

  • Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

    WHEN THE CHESHIRE CAT’S disembodied head comes unmoored from the picture plane and, like a ball in oil, begins to roll in our RealD glasses, it asks through its floating grin whether Alice is really the Alice. We are actually watching two movies when we watch 3-D, thanks to a “circularly polarizing” technology that involves splitting the projected light into two series of rapidly alternating images—a right-eye image that circles clockwise, like the cat’s head, and a left-eye image that circles counterclockwise; 3-D glasses with oppositely circularly polarized lenses ensure that each eye

  • Christopher Williams

    So, one more time, with feeling: The plastic corncobs, the shower girls, the jellyfish, the Kiev 88 camera—all appropriate the codes of advertising, ethnographic, and architectural photography.

    This summer, the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden will present “Program. For Example: Dix-Huit Leçons Sur La Société Industrielle (Revision 11),” a large-scale survey of recent work by the Conceptual artist Christopher Williams. Sound familiar? This is because Williams has been re-presenting variations on the same core set of photographs in successive shows and catalogues since 2005, always recycling the same exhibition title. But each instance of his “Program” is a fresh revision of the material, usually supplemented with one or two new images, often drastically reorganized

  • Rodarte

    THE HALLUCINATION that haunts an America in ruins is as mythic as ever: From these singed, frayed, distressed fragments, something emerges again, if not in life then as a sort of glamorous undeath, at least for a season. For the fashion-design team Rodarte, devastation always precedes construction. Informed by the postinferno landscapes of Southern California and the dilapidated, foreclosed properties along the 110 freeway connecting LA to Pasadena, by echoes of the Dust Bowl and the horror films they won’t stop watching, Kate and Laura Mulleavy are drawn to the ruins of the present, or to the

  • The Runaways

    RED IS THE COLOR of teen menstrual blood splashing the pavement outside a Hollywood “Pup ’n’ Fries” drive-thru: ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! The screen goes red again when Joan Jett (played by teen idol Kristen Stewart) locks lips with a very stoned Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) after a concert in a roller rink. We know by the vintage styling of the two lead actresses that this is 1975, the year the all-girl punk band the Runaways was formed. Stewart and Fanning weren’t even born yet, but studious imitation of Runaways concert footage—and training with microphones, guitars, and platform shoes—has

  • “theanyspacewhatever”

    MAYBE WE’VE FINALLY GIVEN UP on the “old realism of places,” as Gilles Deleuze put it. In his book Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (1983), he used the term éspace quelconque—“whatever-space” or “any-space-whatever”—to describe the cinematic image of undone space that, however shattered or blurred it may be, is also a space of pure potential. It could be a wasted urban void or a shaky zoom into the luminous screen of a Macintosh. It is a postwar feeling of lost coordinates, a certain anonymous emptiness. It is a space that could be “extracted” from the familiar state of things embodied in

  • John Kelsey

    PLAYING WITH DOLLS is a pastime for sissies and shut-ins, and, as artists from Hans Bellmer to Todd Haynes have shown, it is also a hands-on means of objectifying the terrors and traumas of one’s time, whether in psychotherapy or in the gallery. Indeed, as the credit crunch hits the headlines and now the city, the moment seems right for this series of hilariously downsized allegories of subjective and economic crisis, and what genre more fitting than schlock horror? In his first solo exhibition in Gotham, “Bohemian Monsters,” at Broadway 1602, Daniel McDonald peopled miniature yet epic tableaux

  • 1000 WORDS: CHARLINE VON HEYL

    LIKE HER PRACTICE, Charline von Heyl’s studio is split in two: One room is for painting and the other for works on paper. In this second room, by the door that leads to the other side, is a large-format Epson ink-jet printer, one of the many machines the artist has enlisted in her recent experiments with printmaking and collage. Although she is known primarily as a painter, von Heyl has been spending more and more time devising unexpected encounters between digital reproduction and archaic precursors such as hand-carved woodcuts, stencils, lithographs, and screenprints. Paper functions as a carrier for many techniques, each layered on top of the other in unorthodox sequences and mixtures. As relentlessly abstract as her canvases, von Heyl’s works on paper are like travel posters for unpicturable, exploded destinations; they are pages of chaos. Sabotage, a book to be published next month by Xn Éditions and Christophe Daviet-Thery, in a limited edition of three hundred, is the latest project to emerge from the nonpainting side of von Heyl’s studio.
     
    Rejecting both written language and illustration, Sabotage is a sort of image-text that gets straight to one of the book format’s most abstract possibilities: the material production of a sort of counterspace that exists beyond meaning. Interspersing transparent (Mylar) and opaque (paper) pages—a selection of the latter have been reconceived for publication here—Sabotage exploits the optical effects of superimposition while riveting the attention of its reader to the basic activity of turning pages. Isn’t this every book’s most intimate desire—to be ransacked and explored by fingers and eyes? Each turned page makes and unmakes the next, and the book remains in a state of constant optical transformation.
     
    Stéphane Mallarmé, too, was fascinated by the fact that a book is above all an optical device—he even addressed the way a volume poses in the glamorous space of a shopwindow. With Sabotage, von Heyl invents something strange and ultimately unknowable with the purely material and energetic qualities of the book: surface and movement, ink and action. She lures the viewer into a readerly relation with her two-sided images. Frequently appropriating fragments of vintage comic books, found photographs, and other ready-made visuals, von Heyl layers and attacks these in such a way that they lose any illustrative function. Sabotage thus pursues a notion of abstraction as a process that resists representation, but that is also cunning and ironic enough to be able to picture itself—rampantly quoting aesthetic histories and styles, striking poses on the page. It is formalism exploiting its own power to leap from one content to another, reprogramming the book as a machine for producing surfaces.
     
    Sabotage is a book that amplifies and activates everything in itself that would normally be suppressed by the dominance of text. Happily illiterate, it provokes backward and forward movement while engaging the physical presence of the reader, who is immediately implicated in von Heyl’s creative, rhythmic notion of sabotage. —JOHN KELSEY

    THE BOOK IS CALLED SABOTAGE for several reasons. I like that it is the same word in several languages, and that it is, like desire, a generic, overused nonword that almost works like an image but actually stands for something simple and raw. It is also what I’m doing in my own work, always sabotaging my own concepts and approaches, my own linear advancement, my own visual expectations.

    Sabotage is always a kind of violent change, the “sabot”—a wooden clog—thrown into the machinery, creating a new situation through disruption or destruction. It describes what happens in the book while

  • John Kelsey

    JOHN KELSEY

    1 Décor: A Conquest by Marcel Broodthaers, 1975/2007 Seminal, groundbreaking, and important are words typically used to describe this two-room artwork by Belgian ex-poet Broodthaers, which was presented for the first time in New York this past summer at Michael Werner Gallery. Dust off the nineteenth-century cannons and stuffed python, unpack the twentieth-century pistols and patio furniture, and see what Mike Kelley was talking about in 1995, when he called Broodthaers’s approach “hokey and obvious,” yet admirable in its way of being so “sincere and insincere at the same time.” The

  • John Kelsey

    THAT SCHOOL FOR HER WAS THE LOCAL BOOKSTORE and bartending in a city without an academy, serving people like Martin Kippenberger and Rosemarie Trockel, may be one reason why Cosima von Bonin is so singularly attuned to the dynamics by which artists emerge and become recognized as actors in their field. As the story goes, her own career begins with the moment she suddenly insists that her friends and customers in Cologne thenceforth refer to her as “the artist” Cosima von Bonin. Ever since, her practice has been an elaboration of the notion that the artist is information transmitted and received.

  • ART OF THE POSSIBLE: AN INTERVIEW WITH JACQUES RANCIÈRE

    FULVIA CARNEVALE: Your work has taken a very particular trajectory. It starts with archival research on workers’ struggles and the utopias of the nineteenth century and ends up in the field of contemporary art, aesthetics, and cinema. Do you see ruptures or continuity on your philosophical path?

    JACQUES RANCIÈRE: I’m not a philosopher who has gone from politics to aesthetics, from liberation movements of the past to contemporary art. I have always sought to contest globalizing thought that relies on the presupposition of a historical necessity. In the 1970s I conducted research in early-nineteenth-century

  • Jean-Luc Godard at the Centre Pompidou

    Last spring, after months of controversy, Paris witnessed the opening of a complete retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard, accompanied by the filmmaker’s first foray into multimedia installation. Artforum dispatched film scholar James Quandt and artist-critic John Kelsey to the Centre Pompidou to assess Godard’s much-anticipated exhibition.

    JAMES QUANDT

    Everything in life is like that—unfinished.

    —Viveca Lindfors in Joseph Losey’s The Damned

    THE JEAN-LUC GODARD EXHIBITION in Paris is a shambles, a ruin. A seemingly haphazard assemblage of hastily gathered and cursorily installed

  • Steven Parrino

    This retrospective includes more than two hundred works, ranging from paintings, drawings, and photographs that date from the artist’s student years and his involvement with the Nature Morte gallery in the East Village to the collaborative film and music projects that preceded his fatal motorcycle accident in 2005.

    For Steven Parrino, the making of art in New York was—like life in the city itself—an unremitting, unsentimental negotiation between production and destruction. Taking as many cues from Warhol as he did from experimental music, this post-painter wrenched canvases off their stretchers, twisting them into glossy vortexes, and pummeled smooth Sheetrock panels with a sledgehammer. What’s most American in Parrino’s work are its automatic procedures, its blackouts, and its conceptual relationship with B-horror movies, underground comics, and noise. This retrospective includes

  • John Kelsey

    1 HURRICANE KATRINA Ask Stockhausen. As if timed for the opening of the Whitney’s Robert Smithson retrospective, this was arguably less a natural disaster than a case of Land art gone horribly wrong. An environmental and political tragedy of Spielbergian proportions, Katrina produced images of the sort of “naked life” we’d previously only identified with non-sites like Iraq. The drowned ghetto, the shooting of homeless looters, the police suicides, the forced evacuations, the superdomes filled with refugees—these are visions we can only try to erase. For some reason it was impossible not

  • John Kelsey

    “Gaps are my starting point. My impotence is my origin.”

    —Paul Valéry, Monsieur Teste

    Some say Michael Krebber doesn’t translate to New York, but a painter who “prefers not to” isn’t exactly going to meet the demands of a city powered by big dumb painting head on. All the paint in Krebber’s last two shows here couldn’t fill one small canvas by Dana Schutz or John Currin. With “Flaggs (Against Nature)” and then, only six months later, “Here it is: The Painting Machine” (both at Greene Naftali in 2003), Krebber demonstrated here and here again that the proof is not in the paint job but in the idea

  • MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES: THE ART OF MICHAEL KREBBER

    From empty galleries and appropriated objects to paintings on canvas and artist’s books, MICHAEL KREBBER’s multifarious artistic output confounds easy understanding—let alone description. This elusiveness may in part explain why the Cologne-based artist has for many observers remained a mysterious, even cultish figure despite having participated in nearly one hundred exhibitions over the past twenty years. Following Krebber’s recent solo outing at Vienna’s Secession and a surge of interest in his work among a younger generation of artists, curators, and critics, Artforum asked DANIEL BIRNBAUM,

  • Guyton\Walker

    Dear Ketel One Drinker: Here is the recipe for our signature art show. Take one part Wade Guyton and one part Kelley Walker, add nothing, and get a “third artist” with two last names and twice the power of either one. Guyton\Walker is like a corporate merger between two solo artists, whose qualities and ambitions are neither sacrificed nor confused but rather pooled and integrated to produce one super-double-artist. Guyton\Walker’s Chelsea debut, “The Failever of Judgement Part III,” was a sort of hypothetical pavilion, a convincing proposal for an installation just like this one designed and