Joshua Decter

  • Yael Bartana, Kings of the Hill, 2003, still from a color video, 7 minutes 30 seconds.

    Yael Bartana

    DISPUTATIOUS CLAIMS of belonging and emplacement; boundaries and flows; communication and misunderstanding; historical narratives in contradiction: These are the preoccupations of Yael Bartana’s postdocumentary, allegorical practice. Born in Israel in 1970, Bartana makes work that delivers resonant poetic-political reflections on the cultural, political, geographic, psychological, and religious irreconcilabilities of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, who seem incapable, in their mutually reinforcing fears and misunderstandings and their reciprocal—indeed, at this point, ritualistic—gestures

  • Kay Rosen

    Is it possible to communicate with phrases, words, and letters in a postlinguistic way? Is the act of reading, per se, a visual, cognitive, linguistic, or other type of experience? Such are the questions elicited by Kay Rosen’s exquisitely calibrated language-based works. She can be linked to that foundational generation of Conceptualists from the 1960s, including Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry, and Joseph Kosuth, who utilized linguistic systems (not merely text) as a ground of philosophical and perceptual inquiry and, arguably, the basis of a new aesthetic.

    In “Scareful!,” an exhibition made up

  • Jonathan Horowitz

    On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency. That night, an election returns party was held within Jonathan Horowitz’s opportunistically timed and oddly entertaining “Obama ’08” exhibition. Horowitz irreverently and wittily appropriates items from American lowbrow and middlebrow culture, converting an already-reified pop vernacular into a pastiche of itself, and reveling in the tragicomic dimensions of postmodern life. His practice is cynical, hopeful, soulful, empty, celebratory, critical, complicit, engaged, fatalistic, satirical, stupid, and thoughtful.

    “Obama ’08” might be understood

  • Gary Simmons

    In this exhibition, titled “Night of the Fires,” Gary Simmons evokes a period in which Los Angeles was burning, in the racial, social, and economic fires that culminated in the Watts riots in 1965: a watershed moment that came to emblematize urban strife throughout the nation, and whose reverberations eclipse perhaps even the Rodney King paroxysms of 1992. Simmons stages real history through the looking glass of pop history (and vice versa), having culled the works’ iconography from a lowbrow cultural source: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the 1972 sci-fi B movie whose account of enslaved

  • Matthew Buckingham

    How to become a radical? Find yourself in the midst of a campus anti-war demonstration, mix in some law enforcement violence against your fellow students, and you have a recipe for political transfiguration. In a rather subtle, well-timed gesture of deft historical analogizing (to the issue of student activism and the Iraq war), Matthew Buckingham conscientiously excavated a seldom-recalled episode of ’60s anti-Vietnam activism: On October 18, 1967, a group of University of Wisconsin–Madison students staged a peaceful sit-in against Dow Chemical’s on-campus recruiting, protesting the company

  • Liam Gillick

    “The state itself becomes a super whatnot”—whatever! I so want to believe in Liam Gillick’s post-Fordist cosmology of poeticized socioeconomic rhetoric. Alas, the elegant array of new works grouped here under the aforementioned title phrase merely reconstitutes Gillick’s ongoing project: the instrumentalization of codes of (neo)Minimalism and (neo)Conceptualism, inflected by rather soft, ingratiating contextual/situational tactics. His enterprise engenders a variant of intellectual ventriloquism: Decorative object-structures are deployed to give voice to a broader ideational framework (supplemented

  • Yael Bartana, Trembling Time, 2001, still from a color video, 2 minutes.

    Yael Bartana

    This fall, New York audiences will have their first opportunity to view an important grouping of five video works produced by Yael Bartana between 2001 and 2007. This presentation marks a welcome stateside showing for an artist who has been a standout internationally in large group exhibitions.

    Yael Bartana delivers resonant poetic reflections on Israeli society, involving bold imagistic and metaphoric forays into the vicissitudes—both human and geographic—of the Palestinian-Israeli territorial debacle. This fall, New York audiences will have their first opportunity to view an important grouping of five video works produced between 2001 and 2007. This presentation and its accompanying catalogue, which includes an essay by Sergio Edelsztein, director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv, marks a welcome stateside showing for an artist who has been

  • Heimo Zobernig

    Heimo Zobernig’s recent exhibition at Friedrich Petzel Gallery was his solo debut there, but it was not the first time that the Austrian artist had paraded his naked body about: His 1996 show at the Renaissance Society in Chicago featured Nr. 12, 1996, a deadpan video intervention that appeared to show Zobernig walking, in his birthday suit, through the streets of the Windy City (blue-screen technology was used to create the effect, as it was actually shot inside the building). This injection of “naked” urbanism into the not-so-naked frame of the gallery suggested the stripped-down figure of

  • Michel Gondry

    Why should we have cared about “Be Kind Rewind,” film director Michel Gondry’s second exhibition at Deitch Projects? Were we starved for a marketing tie-in to the nearly simultaneous release of the movie of the same title? Or were we concerned that Gondry was not being taken sufficiently seriously as an artist? Well, neither. Gondry is an inventive, indie neoauteur, who crafted a poignant tale in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). But he is hardly a revolutionary filmmaker, and this charmingly participatory, bricks-and-mortar rearticulation of his new cinematic effort was enjoyable,

  • Marjetica Potrč

    It’s an irony that should be lost on no one: Ljubljana-based artist Marjetica Potrč, best known for community-driven interventions in urban and rural areas within the developing world, has recently turned her attention to a US city: New Orleans. “Future Talk Now: The Great Republic of New Orleans,” Potrč’s third exhibition at Max Protetch Gallery, indexed her recent engagement with this traumatized place as she continues to apply her deft fusion of architectural and sculptural language to the project of finding solutions to problems afflicting territories in economic and ecological crisis and

  • Tom Burr, Deep Purple, 2000, wood, steel, and paint, 8' 2 1/2“ x 82' x 1' 6”.

    1000 WORDS: TOM BURR

    THE WORLD ACCORDING TO TOM BURR is defined by the beauty of contingent things. Places, identities, bodies, histories, subjectivities, and aesthetic forms are destabilized via processes of construction and reconstruction. Burr problematizes the autonomy of the sculptural object by referring beyond it, yet he returns us to its material substrate as a precondition of meaning. He expands the conjugation of sculptural practice so as to stage a tightly controlled interplay between object-oriented autonomy and situational emplacement, manifesting precariousness with exceptional grace. The object becomes a platform—virtually theatrical, deceptively allegorical—for the display of its own tenuous existence and of the hovering identity, or authorial status, of its maker. Burr’s work has evolved organically over the past two decades, with the artist engaging in a lively and erudite reconsideration of the historical conventions of site-specificity; the politics of public and private domains; the architecture of social space; the aesthetics of design and fashion; Minimalist and post-Minimalist legacies; and the paradoxical nature of the postmodernist critique of originality (particularly as it comes into friction with the impulse to make things anew). It seems appropriate to trace that evolution on the occasion of “Addict-Love,” the artist’s current exhibition at New York’s SculptureCenter. A “constellation,” as Burr describes it, of interlinked object constructions, the show is the artist’s first solo stateside appearance in five years.
    My own initial encounter with Burr’s approach to tactics of place-specificity occurred in the summer of 1993, when I came upon his contribution to “Project Unité,” a group exhibition that examined the social space of a partially inhabited Le Corbusier apartment building in Firminy, France. With Storage Project, he engaged the spare, utilitarian, and somewhat dysfunctional space of a Corbu apartment by constructing a storage system that played with the languages of architectural modernism, Minimalism, and design in a coyly functional gesture of completing, so to speak, Le Corbusier’s vacant domestic interior. During that same summer, Burr produced An American Garden for the Sonsbeek 93 exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Installed in a park, Burr’s “garden” was in fact a displacement/reconstruction of the Ramble, a zone of New York’s Central Park with a complex history as a lover’s lane, a gay cruising ground, a bird-watching area, etc.
    Throughout the 1990s, Burr rethought the relation between site and non-site as a symbolic extrapolation or reframing of specific urban social territories. In the 1995 project “Forty-second Street Structures,” he produced model-like distillations of the built environment of Times Square (e.g., Video Booths). A couple of years later, with Movie Theater Seat in a Box, he mirrored and reframed the movie seat as ready-made device, a poignant fragment of a constructed environment of spectatorship and mediated interaction characterized by ambiguity between privacy and publicness. Works like Black Box, 1998, and Black Pavilion, 1999, issued forth an elegantly reductive cross-pollination of nonobjective minimal(ist) structures, furniture design, and architectural elements to suggest disturbing and uncanny spatial situations. The cagelike structures that constituted the multicomponent Put Out, 2003, were perhaps the most ominous of all, suggesting a nearly carceral, subtly sadomasochistic atmosphere of space “arrested” by regimes of bodily control. More playful and more poignant, Deep Purple, 2000, remade Richard Serra’s 1981 Tilted Arc into a purple mirror of itself (or the idea of itself). An allegorical social sculpture that was presented in multiple contexts—indoor and outdoor, institutional and noninstitutional—Deep Purple ironically reinforced strictures of site-specificity as it unpacked them.
    Significantly, Burr recently produced a new articulation of The Storage Project at New York’s Swiss Institute, here filling the storage structures, which resemble closets and armoires, with his own clothing. He also inscribed articles of his Helmut Lang clothing as ready-made artifacts into certain works within his 2007 exhibition “Moods” at the Wiener Secession. Such gestures seem intended to reconstruct and update the tropes of Burr’s own history of artistic practice; at the same time, they propose a framework for autobiographical reference, for the display and indexing of desires and tastes.
    In these works and others made over the past few years, Burr has been developing a sculptural language wherein abstraction subtly morphs into a figurative condition and infrastructure appears to be on the verge of entropic collapse. It’s what might be described as a poetics of dilapidation and incompletion—qualities evident in his recent “white-railing pieces,” in which Home Depot–style decorative balustrades are presented with some of their posts removed: A proverbial design aesthetic is literally and symbolically derailed. In other efforts, Burr recovers an assemblage method wherein readymades are appended to sculptural armatures. One can locate the emergence of this new language in the unsentimental yet mournful antimemorial Black Out Bar, 2003, which comprises outsize Warholian black vinyl flowers strewn among dirty glasses, ashtrays, and topsy-turvy bar stools, or in the coolly longing atmosphere of Worn (For Mr. Capote), 2005, a meta-archaeological display of haberdashery—a Panama hat, a fan, a tie—that proposes the impossibility of biographical portraiture. In related pieces, such as Christmas Collapse, 2005, and Recline II, 2005, Truman Capote, a fugitive site of preoccupation for Burr, exists as pop-cultural trace or historical reverberation, a media confection, a mere composite of trademark appurtenances. Another work from 2005, Unhinged, says everything and nothing about Burr’s relationship to this historical figure: It is a sequence of cantilevered white rectangles, their silhouettes suggesting generic lounge chairs as well as reclining figures, on which have been laid a red phone (off the hook) and a copy of the famous 1959 book Observations (words by Capote, photos by Richard Avedon, and design by Alexey Brodovitch). What, exactly, has become unhinged here: meaning, history, the subject, the object, authorship? Perhaps Burr’s subjectivity ends with the reconstruction of Capote’s imaginary presence—which is, paradoxically, where the artist also resurfaces.
    The aforementioned interplays abound in “Addict-Love,” even as Burr continues to test the limits of sculptural autonomy in relation to the social frame of institutional space. Scenes of interpenetrating biographical, autobiographical, and historical allusions, replete with recontextualized artifacts, are staged by indirection, and we are presented with a compendium of framed moments of vicarious identification—with New York School poet Frank O’Hara (from whom Burr borrowed the show’s provocative title) and the obscure yet influential midcentury curator Chick Austin, among others. Within this delicately theatrical, suavely off-kilter tableau of props, surrogates, and decoys, Burr at once discloses and withholds desire for a set of imaginary encounters with other histories, other places, and other incorporeal identities. —JOSHUA DECTER

    THE WORKS IN “ADDICT-LOVE” suggest a push and pull of personae, types, and stylistic movements from throughout the twentieth century, and also my “curatorial” approach to appropriated materials. A number of characters populate the installation. I jump from the 1930s to the ’50s, and reference the ’70s and ’80s, like a rock skipping across the century. Chicks, 2008, is a large work comprising six white-railing pieces (as well as a circular smoked Plexiglas mirror, a vintage turntable, a vinyl recording of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts, and a ’70s Chanel dress)

  • “Apocalypse Now: The Theater of War”

    “Apocalypse Now: The Theater of War” was an erudite and inventive, yet ultimately misguided, group exhibition. Cocurators Jens Hoffmann and artist duo Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla gathered a selection of artworks, literary works, films, documents, and other cultural materials from a deep reservoir of sources—including Leonardo da Vinci, Mark Twain, John Heartfield, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Goebbels, Alain Resnais, Francis Ford Coppola, Richard Serra, Francisco de Goya, and Martha Rosler—in an “art attack” on war. In an exhibition designed around a series of bunkerlike structures and