John Kelsey

  • Sylvère Lotringer, Los Angeles, April 2016. Photo: Mark Seliger.

    SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER (1938–2021)

    No one did theory like Sylvère Lotringer. Many recall his role in staging the watershed 1975 Schizo-Culture conference at Columbia University in New York, marking the arrival of that perverse chimera, “French theory,” on American shores. (Speaking at the symposium, Michel Foucault—then a young scholar largely unknown in the States—famously called Schizo-Culture “the end of the ’60s.”) He also presented the similarly outrageous Nova Convention in 1978, which made William S. Burroughs its cynosure. But mostly Lotringer, who died November 8 in Baja California, is remembered as the legendary instigator

  • Cover of Sylvère Lotringer’s Overexposed: Treating Sexual Perversion in America (Pantheon Books, 1988).


    ONCE, AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY in the early 1980s, Sylvère showed up to class with blood dripping from a freshly shaved head. Laughing, he explained how on his way uptown he was sliced by a shaky-handed subway barber at Forty-Second Street. I remember his MEN AT WORK T-shirt under a leather jacket and his lithe, slightly limping shuffle through the classroom door—how his presence always shifted the energy. In class, Sylvère took us on a collective trip to the edge of what it seemed possible to think in school, to a point where theory threatened to lose its distinction from science fiction, poetry,

  • Albert Pinkham Ryder, Jonah (detail), ca. 1885–95, oil on canvas mounted on fiberboard, 27 1⁄4 × 34 3⁄8".

    BEST SHOWS OF 2021

    THE NEW BEDFORD WHALING MUSEUM was a funny place to find a painting exhibition as momentous as “A Wild Note of Longing: Albert Pinkham Ryder and a Century of American Art,” which brought together twenty-four works by the early-modern poet-painter of emotionally charged marine pictures. It was a compact presentation, packed into a single gallery of an institution visited mainly for its local history of the booming, bloody industry that briefly made this coastal town the financial capital of nineteenth-century America. But while New Bedford, Massachusetts, was Ryder’s childhood home, it was only

  • Mercer Street, New York, March 26, 2020. Photo: John Kelsey.


    IT’S ONLY A FEW DAYS into lockdown when a friend invites you to join a Buddhist “retreat” on Zoom. Not only is this your first experience with group meditation but it’s your first time on the Zoom platform, where so much of our social life will be conjured away in the weeks to come. It’s an eye-opener: You see 179 other participants, each sitting in their own personal quarantine, organized like Hollywood Squares contestants within the grid of the interface, a digitally constructed hive of many solitudes streaming together in real time. You don’t even bother to meditate; you’re too mesmerized by

  • Jana Euler

    Curated by Jay Sanders and Jamie Stevens

    In a field as overrun as figurative painting is today, Jana Euler stands apart with a practice that performs and troubles its own entanglement with existing power structures. This is ambitiously ambivalent art, where painterly virtuosity teams with situational irony. Having recently upped her work’s scale, punch, and comedy with paintings of phallic sharks, Euler now turns her attention to the newly relocated Artists Space in TriBeCa. Having followed the institution’s renovation and building process for many months, the artist will present new paintings

  • Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Les Hasards heureux de l’escarpolette (The Swing), 1767, oil on canvas, 31 7/8 × 25 1/4".


    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

  • Steve McQueen, Shame, 2011, 35 mm, color, 101 minutes. Brandon (Michael Fassbender).


    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

  • View of “Baton Sinister,” 2011, an exhibition by Bjarne Melgaard and students, Palazzo Contarini Corfù, Venice. Photo: Guilio Squillacciotti.


    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

  • Cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore.


    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, Alice in Wonderland, 2010, still from a color video converted to 3-D, 108 minutes. The Cheshire Cat (voice by Stephen Fry).

    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, Untitled (Study in Red) Dirk Schaper Studio, Berlin, April 30th, 2009, color photograph, 28 x 25 1/4".

    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

  • View of “Quicktake: Rodarte,” 2010, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York. Photo: Carmel Wilson.


    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