Keith Seward

  • “Putt-Modernism”

    When 18 artists design holes for a putt-putt golf course, do you simply rent a putter and check your high-falutin’ esthetics at the door? Or do you search for deeper meanings here—a critique of art as leisure activity, a meditation on the putter as phallus or on the hole as lack? Faced with determining whether this was just summer fun or a serious exhibit, your intrepid reviewer gathered the opinions of a number of different putters and presents a selection of their views in lieu of his own.

    Hole 4: Mel Chin, Shelter (par 2). Popularly called the “Gulf War Hole.” You putted into a blown-out bunker

  • “The Interactive Show”

    Was the notion that the viewer completes the artwork ever much more than a rhetorical proposition? For the artists in this show it ceased to be merely rhetorical and actually became a functional proposition. The medium was not a material but, rather, a connection or a conjunction, a medium in the etymological sense of the word, something that happened between a work and a viewer.

    How many times have you gone to an art gallery and wished you could take a few whacks at something with a hammer? Matthew Schlanger’s Lumpy Banger, 1991, invited you to pound a few nails into a block of wood wired for

  • Zoe Leonard

    In a recent interview about her AIDS activism in Texte zur Kunst, Zoe Leonard was asked whether she really thought it was possible, given the contradictions of capitalism, to bring about change in society. “I don’t know,” she replied, “if we can change ‘the immanent antagonistic character’ of society. Am I cynical? Yes. Am I simultaneously hopeful? Yes.” This ambivalence about the effectiveness of activism provides a conceptual framework for her most recent work.

    In most of these black and white photographs, Leonard strives for critical effect, often in the form of an institutional critique à la

  • Matt Heckert

    Matt Heckert’s Mechanical Sound Orchestra, 1989-92, bears about the same relation to music as the shrieks emitted from the Brazen Bull, an ancient torture device in which a victim was roasted alive. (The screams emitted from this brass effigy of a bull were meant to approximate the beast’s bellowing.) Heckert’s two-hour performance was not necessarily unenjoyable, though by the end of it I found myself grinding my teeth.

    Heckert—a former member of Survival Research Laboratories, the techno-terrorist art gang that staged war-game spectacles of killer automata—controls his “instruments” from the

  • “Through the Looking Glass”

    To technological illiterati, virtual reality enthusiasts must seem as hermetic as a group of Masons, with their esoteric lingo and their rendezvous in cyberspace—hence the misperceptions, the suspicions, and the necessity for an exhibition such as “Through the Looking Glass: Artists’ First Encounters with Virtual Reality.” The parameters of virtual reality were broadly defined to include interactivity, computer-generated models, virtual imaging, 3-D spatial environments, artificial realities, and cyberpunk esthetics in general. Accordingly, there was a diverse selection of works, ranging from

  • “Psycho”

    When did the Bates Motel supersede Bellevue as the locus classicus of madness in America? Is this a paradigm shift? Has the Romantic cult of madness gone pop? If so, did curator Christian Leigh capitalize on this pop madness when he organized a show around Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? “It was my thought,” says Leigh, “that if people come to an exhibition thinking it is about something they already know, then, even if they reject that information, they still have to come up with an alternate reading that is subjective as opposed to a purely formalist one.” In the past, Leigh has used films such as

  • Barbara Ess

    Certain photographic traditions cannot be found in Beaumont Newhall’s canonical The History of Photography. Those odd spiritualist photographers who thought that the camera was the perfect medium for capturing supernatural phenomena are conspicuously absent. Apparently, Newhall found their images of floating heads and ectoplasmic emissions too gimicky to warrant a position in history, for his work did much to define photography in the positivist and modernist terms in which we speak of it today. Yet, if you had to fit the work of Barbara Ess into a tradition, it would lie somewhere between

  • Komar & Melamid

    In Komar and Melamid’s current show, “SearstyleTM with Psalms,” the artists aim their barbs at the latest adventure in utopia: the New World Order, as buttressed by the Bible belt and old-fashioned American consumerism. In Komar & Melamid’s POLCOM, 1992, a video that drones on continuously like the TVs in Sears’ electronics department, the artists have made a “pol-com” (like a sit-com, but political) by adding a jacked-up laugh track to the recent State of the Union address. Mirth erupts not just after the president’s pathetic jokes about Barbara and vomiting, but during every pause. Could the

  • Arman

    Arman seems to have striven throughout his career to reduce the artistic process to two simple operations: plus/minus, add/ subtract, accumulate/annihilate. These three exhibitions (the Brooklyn retrospective is Arman’s first major exhibition in a U.S. museum since 1974) make these two poles of his production clear: in series like the “accumulations” and the “poubelles” (trashcans), Arman’s assemblages are made by amassing and hoarding different objects of various worth; in series like the “colères” (tantrums) and the “combustions,” they are made, respectively, by smashing and burning objects.

  • William Eggleston

    Judging from the selection of photographs in “First Color, 1967–1973,” you would think that William Eggleston had been sent out to document the results of some sort of nuclear fallout that obliterated everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line. With the exception of one picture of a boy pushing some grocery carts, there is no sign of human life in any of these small, Ektacolor prints. Instead, there are decrepit roadside cafés, automobile junkyards, rusty or even bullet-riddled signs. Untitled, 1972, shows a defunct yellow car, impaled like a sucker on a stick, rising into the sky above a parking

  • Megan Williams

    In the Talmud, the righteous, by variously combining the letters that comprise the ineffable names of God, attempt to find the divine Word that creates a living being. The Cabalists, it is said, succeeded in finding this mystical word and thus created a man. Golem, which literally means “shapeless mass,” is the name given to this man. Megan Williams has revived this Jewish legend in one of a group of pastel-and-watercolor pieces that tend to look like apocalyptic versions of Mighty Mouse cartoons (she worked for many years in effects animation). One image, entitled Golems, 1992, in which three

  • Ilse Bing

    Ilse Bing was not born with a camera in her hands. She was not a childhood devotee, like Jacques-Henri Lartigue. She enrolled at the University of Frankfurt to study mathematics, but eventually switched to art history. Bing only seriously picked up the camera in the late ’20s, when she needed research photographs for her dissertation on the 18th-century architect Friedrich Gilly. Soon though, she was publishing photographs in the Frankfurter Illustrierte Zeitung, and in 1930 she moved to Paris, where she spent the next ten years achieving success as both an artist and a commercial photographer.