Jon Bywater

  • picks April 22, 2013

    Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter

    The stilted scenarios in Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter’s videos match stupidity, vanity, and cruelty with dull interiors, cheap clothes, and blemished skin, pairing moral and physical ugliness. In the selection screened within this retrospective—part one of an exhibition that will continue next year at Kunsthalle Wien—slouching, fumbling, and gaping live actors in Ten Weyngaert, 2007; Der Schlamm von Branst (The Clay from Branst), 2008; and The Friagte, 2009, give way to stiff, pock-marked polystyrene heads with push pin eyes and bad wigs in Das Loch (The Hole), 2010, and Les Énigmes de Saarlouis

  • Alicia Frankovich

    The performance Jumping Guy, 2011/2012, added a carnival touch to the summer-evening opening of Berlin-based New Zealander Alicia Frankovich’s exhibition “Bodies and Situations.” The darkened gallery, filled with bustling, chatting viewers, was further animated by the presence of a male performer in exercise gear who bounced on the spot, seeming not so much athletic as just exuberant. The continuously looped digital projection Volution, 2011, was the main light source in this room; it showed other performers in a sunny Berlin street, circling one another and jostling in a pantomime of someone

  • Michael Stevenson

    David Hume on the problem of induction is one of several sources Michael Stevenson integrates into the narration of On How Things Behave, 2010, his most recent video work, which prominently includes tracking shots of a seawall in northern Spain that has been decorated by a hermit using paints washed up by the tide. In the measured, German-accented voice-over, the eighteenth-century philosopher’s arguments sound at once prosaic and arcane, curiously patient and unreasonable. The abstract question of how we can speak about the universal when all we experience is specific could—in this very

  • 4th Auckland Triennial

    New Zealand recently made an appearance in the world media as the source of a novelty news item when a kakapo, a critically endangered flightless parrot, attempted to mate with the head of a presenter on the BBC television show Last Chance to See. The tension in such a rare, perhaps vanishing opportunity is offered as a “condition for viewing” by curator Natasha Conland in her Auckland Triennial, a thematic exhibition that is the country’s smaller, much younger relative of the Biennale of Sydney. Conland inflects her themes of “risk and adventure” with the title “Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon,”

  • Billy Apple

    In 1962, the British rock ’n’ roll singer Billy Fury had a box-office hit with his film debut as struggling musician Billy Universe in Play It Cool. The same year, David Hockney caused a stir by wearing a rock-star-worthy gold lamé jacket onstage to receive the Royal College of Art’s Gold Medal. He had also come back to London from a trip to New York the previous year with bleached hair, citing a contemporary Clairol commercial to the effect that “blonds have more fun.” Later that year, in a moment immortalized by the photograph Billy Apple Bleaching with Lady Clairol Instant Crème Whip, November

  • Michael Harrison

    Michael Harrison’s painting ventures an unfashionable mode of generalization, in which archetypes risk dismissal as stereotypes, deep truths as clichés. This tension is given force by the unusually restricted focus of the artist’s investigation, which has confined itself for three decades to the medium of dilute acrylic, mostly on paper (one work here was on canvas). Of the pieces in this exhibition, “Sun Square Saturn,” all completed in 2009, two were started in the past few years, four others have been in the works since between 1996 and 1998, and three are dated starting 1989. One of the

  • Dan Arps

    Taped to the gallery door was a note in agitated ballpoint capitals: DARREN, it warns, THIS PLACE IS UNDER POLICE SERVAILANCE ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL. Curiously, though, the anonymous author of this misspelled welcome continues: HOPFULLY ILL BE HERE WE CAN TALK. The found text provides a vivid cue to a scenographic presentation typical of Arps’s recent shows, in which exhibition spaces have been cast, in part through their titles, as bunker, dungeon, and ranch. Here in “Explaining Things,” the windows in the exhibition space were boarded up, and some battered outdoor furniture alluded obliquely

  • Layla Rudneva-Mackay

    “Cinematic” suggests too great a distance from the everyday to characterize accurately the kinds of simple tableaux photographed by Layla Rudneva-Mackay. That her scenarios—portraits of people whose faces we cannot see, for example—are directed constructs is evident, though. Many of the large C-prints in the Auckland-based artist’s new exhibition, “Tell yourself you’re ok,” display gestures, but without showing us the people who make them. Most actors are hidden behind cloth, emphasizing something not simply conventional but still general in their poses. In this way, the images communicate an

  • Eve Armstrong

    The joke about Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) being a Power Point presentation rather than a documentary may only begin to fathom the crudeness of the aesthetic strategies—or complicity with boardroom vocabulary—required to precipitate what he calls a political “tipping point on climate change.” And yet, at the same time, audiences for contemporary art are likely already inured to pleas for the urgency of acting to avoid impending ecological catastrophe. What kind of meaningful intervention is left, then, to an individual artist—especially one not funded at the level of

  • David Hatcher

    David Hatcher’s approaches to abstraction have consistently played up the ridiculousness of even the most thoroughgoing attempts to communicate through the “purely” visual. Treating philosophical diagrams and corporate logos with equal acerbity, his high-key wall paintings have dosed these sober figures in such a way as to highlight their endless ambiguity and rootedness in cultural context. The blanket promise of this recent exhibition, “Semantic Bliss”—the title echoing the connotations of unrealistic optimism and probable disappointment in the phrase “wedded bliss”—underscored the banal but

  • Saskia Leek

    Marcel Duchamp’s Pharmacie, 1914, Asger Jorn’s détournements, and Jim Shaw’s “Thrift Store Paintings” form just one quick route through an age in which artists have taken up Sunday still lifes and commercial prints to all manner of ends; to interrogate the status of art, they have mechanically reproduced the mechanically reproduced, prodded cultural hierarchies of taste, and adopted stock subjects to challenge the logic of the new. Quotation, appropriation, and overpainting have expressed everything from scorn to irony to nostalgia for generic popular painting.

    Rendered with compelling sincerity

  • “Mediarena”

    Since the ’90s successes of Mariko Mori’s flawless digital fantasies of technofemininity and Takashi Murakami’s anime-derived subjects, the Japanese art most widely exhibited abroad has conformed to two easily generalized types: high-tech and neo-Pop. Carefully weighted against the expectations produced by this export history, “Mediarena: Contemporary Art from Japan,” a survey of current practice from the Kanto and Kansai regions (centered on Tokyo and Osaka), energetically displayed a more complex spectrum of media and artistic modes, partly by locating recent work in a lineage of action-based