Julia Bryan-Wilson

  • “Outliers and American Vanguard Art”

    THERE HAVE BEEN long-standing troubles with the ways in which we categorize artists. Folk, outsider, visionary, self-taught, naive, grassroots: These words, by turns deployed, debated, rejected, and qualified, are weighed down by so much more than they delimit. Since the advent of modernism, such labels have been attached to various American artists who did not emerge via fine-art institutional pedigrees, and to diverse forms of artmaking that have been deemed peripheral to the prevailing aesthetics trafficked by the decidedly metropolitan, market-dominated centers of the self-proclaimed “art

  • Merce Cunningham

    MERCE CUNNINGHAM, one of the most celebrated and influential choreographers of the twentieth century, died at the age of ninety in 2009. In 2011, the Walker Art Center acquired his dance company’s collection of sets, costumes, and theatrical props, and in 2012, after a tour of farewell performances, the company was officially dismantled. Both the acquisition and the dissolution followed the scrupulous guidelines laid out in Cunningham’s groundbreaking eighty-nine-page Legacy Plan, which was publicly announced just weeks before his death. Keenly attuned to the paradoxes involved in preserving

  • Joanie 4 Jackie

    THE GETTY RESEARCH INSTITUTE in Los Angeles recently acquired the archives of Joanie 4 Jackie (J4J), the feminist video “chain letter” begun by artist, filmmaker, and writer Miranda July in 1995. Art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson, who worked on the project in its early years, spoke with July to reflect on its history, this accession, and the launch of joanie4jackie.com.

    JULIA BRYAN-WILSON: What was the motivation behind Joanie 4 Jackie?

    MIRANDA JULY: J4J was an underground network for circulating videos. I invited self-identified girls and women to make and send me short movies, and I would send

  • autonomous sensory meridian response

    THE THIRTY-FOUR-MINUTE VIDEO opens with a tight shot of rings embedded in a velvet display case. As a softly accented voice describes them one by one, a white woman’s manicured fingers stroke the black fabric of the case and tap gently on the metal bands and stones. The voice and hands belong to Maria, who is not selling these rings but rather providing a specific experience for her viewers known as ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response. A Russian-born expat now residing in the US, Maria is perhaps the most popular practitioner of the growing online phenomenon of ASMR videos; almost

  • Susan E. Cahan’s Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power

    Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power, by Susan E. Cahan.Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. 360 pages.

    WHEN THE EXHIBITION “Art AIDS America” was on view last winter at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington, black activists decried the paltry number of black artists in the show: five out of 107, a low percentage that registered as wildly incommensurate to the disproportionately high rate of HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths among African Americans. On December 17, the Tacoma Action Collective staged a die-in: Protesters lay down on the ground in the museum, red

  • Sophie Calle

    In 1988, the French artist Sophie Calle, whose work has long plumbed the vicissitudes of power, purportedly received a promising overture. “An American bank invited me to do a project,” she states. “Their ATMs were equipped with video cameras that filmed clients as they went unsuspectingly about their business.” The surveillance tapes show miens of worry, boredom, and calm as the subjects perform the mundane task of withdrawing or depositing bills. For the past sixteen years, Calle has grappled with this footage in various contexts, trying to give shape to the prodigious quantity of the material

  • Zoe Leonard

    In Zoe Leonard’s “Sun Photographs,” 2010–, the artist sets out to depict some of the paradoxes of light. The series, selections from which were on view at Anthony Meier this past spring, features emanations from the sun captured in gelatin silver prints. A few of the images are anchored at their bottom edge by urban landscapes—buildings, antennae, branches—while others are centered on the glare itself as it dissolves into abstraction. Together they comprise a meditative encounter with the dualities that structure both vision and photography, as Leonard points her camera at the thing

  • “Agitprop!”

    Titles with exclamation points can come off like they’re trying too hard. This exhibition, however, might merit such enthusiasm, as its innovative premise connects past and present through a consideration of shifting definitions of propaganda. Twenty recent art and activist practices such as those of Chto Delat, Marina Naprushkina, and Dyke Action Machine will be placed alongside five case studies from earlier in the twentieth century, including considerations of the NAACP’s campaign against lynching and of Soviet

  • OPENINGS: ROBERT HODGE

    STAND YOUR GROUND. The words have been seared into the outermost layers of a thickly matted accumulation of reclaimed paper; brown scorch marks, residue of the burning process, radiate from the edges of the letters. This sobering piece by Houston-based artist Robert Hodge was made during the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman, who was charged but ultimately acquitted in the shooting death of African American teenager Trayvon Martin. Commanding a wall in Hodge’s first solo museum exhibition, at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston last year, the work did double duty, both invoking the controversial

  • Juan Muñoz

    Over the past decade, high-profile exhibitions in major venues, including Tate Modern, London, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, have kept Spanish artist Juan Muñoz on the radar. His oeuvre has aged unevenly: The figurative work now appears somewhat overwrought, while the ambiguous architectural pieces have retained their currency. Though Muñoz’s significance may lie in how he “returned the human figure to contemporary sculpture” (as suggested by HangarBicocca’s press materials), it is valuable to reconsider other facets of his practice. All the

  • “EZTV: Video Transfer”

    Founded in 1979 in West Hollywood by queer screenwriter John Dorr, EZTV was one of the first of its kind: a showcase and incubator dedicated solely to video makers. EZTV inhabited several locations before settling into a space on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1983, where it thrived as a nationally recognized center for independent video, featuring an on-site production facility, an art gallery, and a lively schedule packed with screenings, performances, and music. After Dorr (its major champion, front man, and director) died of HIV-related causes in 1993, EZTV gradually fell into obscurity, and its

  • Women and Work

    NOW CELEBRATED as a milestone of Conceptual art, Margaret Harrison, Kay Hunt, and Mary Kelly’s Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour in Industry 1973–1975 entered the historical record unassumingly. The minutes of the March 19, 1973, meeting of the Women’s Workshop, a feminist group within London’s Artists’ Union, note that Harrison, Hunt, and Kelly formed a minicollective in order to examine conditions faced by women workers at a local factory. The decidedly activist bent of this quasi-sociological study was clear: According to the minutes, the trio aimed for the project to “seek

  • “A Queer History of Fashion”

    DURING MY TEENAGE YEARS thrift-shopping in Houston, the gay mecca of the South, I would often come upon T-shirts emblazoned with slogans of local HIV/AIDS organizations, each cast-off garment evoking the loss of a friend or a father or a lover. This special ability of clothes to register the presence of queer lives, as well as their historical repression, is thematized in the sweeping survey “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk,” curated by Fred Dennis and Valerie Steele, with exhibition design by Joel Sanders, at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New

  • the Museum of Non Participation

    IT’S APRIL 19, four days after the Boston Marathon bombings, and I’m on my way from the Minneapolis airport to my hotel. As the radio broadcasts news of the search for the Tsarnaev brothers, my taxi driver comments on the ironies of the phrase criminal justice. I’m in Minneapolis to attend the opening of the Museum of Non Participation’s exhibition at the Walker Art Center, “The New Deal,” which focuses on questions of political speech, the grammar of rights, and discourses of protest.

    Created by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler in 2007, when the two were living in Pakistan, the

  • Abraham Cruzvillegas

    In his first midcareer retrospective, Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas demonstrates a distinct flair for affective accretion. Ingeniously clustering diverse items such as knives, umbrellas, fabric, paint, plants, wood, and cardboard into dynamic sculptures, he pursues a logic of accrual that often brings disparate objects both familiar and rarefied into direct confrontation. This aesthetic, though it resonates with the work of figures such as Isa Genzken, is place-based and specific, for Cruzvillegas finds inspiration in the improvised architecture—autoconstrucción—in which he grew

  • “Peter Schumann: The Shatterer”

    Since 1963, the Bread and Puppet Theater has been a visible part of protest culture in the US, with its large-scale handmade puppets enlivening demonstrations against everything from the Vietnam War to the World Trade Organization. “The Shatterer” is the first one-person show dedicated to the group’s founder and director, German émigré Peter Schumann; it also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Vermont-based collective and will inaugurate the new expansion of the Queens Museum. The exhibition will delve into Schumann’s little-known individual

  • “Farewell to Surrealism: The Dyn Circle in Mexico”

    Dyn was a little-known journal published in Mexico City between 1942 and 1944 by a group of émigré artists, thinkers, and poets previously affiliated with Surrealism. As the Getty Research Institute’s recent small but absorbing show demonstrated, the artists associated with the publication shared a fascination with the precontact cultures of the Americas as well as with advances in physics, and, through their work, sought a meaningful language with which to animate their disparate sources of inspiration, from ancient petroglyphs to modern science. Taking its name from the Greek dynaton, meaning

  • “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent”

    Few could claim as many seemingly irreconcilable labels as Corita Kent: activist, commercially successful printmaker, teacher, Catholic nun.

    Few could claim as many seemingly irreconcilable labels as Corita Kent: activist, commercially successful printmaker, teacher, Catholic nun. Sister Corita (as she was known) gave the practice of Pop art a distinctively religious and political spin, turning the visual language of advertising into eye-catching statements confronting racism, sexism, issues of faith, and the war in Vietnam. In this, the first major survey of Kent’s influential work, Berry and Duncan bring together more than two hundred items spanning her career (beginning in 1951), including

  • “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974”

    GIVEN THE SEISMIC SHIFTS that rocked Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art over the summer, wandering through “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974” felt a bit uncanny. The exhibition showcases intellectually voracious curating at its best; here the titular ends functions as a triple entendre, signifying at once artistic means of making, remoteness, and obliteration, with the show’s ambitious international scope enabling a comprehensive exploration of all three. Whatever one might make of the sometimes unsettling parallels between recent upheavals at the hosting institution and the show’s

  • Cheryl Dunye’s Mommy Is Coming

    “BLACK FEMALE FILMMAKER” might be the most obvious label with which to describe Cheryl Dunye, but it fails to capture the way in which she explodes categorical pieties, not only regarding medium but also in terms of sexual and racial politics. In the early 1990s, Dunye became known for experimental videos that frankly and humorously addressed black lesbian sexuality, such as She Don’t Fade, 1991, and The Potluck and the Passion, 1993. These short videos were shown in art contexts (including the Whitney Biennial) and played in queer film festivals around the world. Dunye’s breakthrough mock