Ken Okiishi

  • Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Pyramidal cell of the human motor cortex, 1899, ink and pencil on paper, 8 5⁄8 × 6 7⁄8".


    IF THINGS NAMED ARTWORKS exist primarily to stuff the void of being rich with interchangeable forms of reactionary narcissism, then some of us have to look elsewhere if we want to experience or make anything resembling an exhibition. And by exhibition, I mean a sequence of material encounters or a set of sequential arrangements that ignite questions in our brains about multiple possibilities of affecting the existing state of things—a category of encounter that things named artworks seem unable to spark, given the current confluence of flimsy vested interests and our reliance on social media’s

  • Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimis, 1950–51, oil on canvas. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2019. Photo: Robert Gerhardt.

    Logical Revolts

    IN “GLOBALIZED” PARTS OF THE WORLD where neofascists have gained previously unimaginable levels of mainstream control, many people who hoped to discover effective modes of resistance are finding their cognitive abilities totally blasted out. Others have neoliberalized resistance, drawing fuel from a vision of protest and political struggle as fundraising, advertising, and career-building strategies. These social actors often unconsciously have more to gain from the continued presence of neofascists than from their removal—and only the willfully naive would deny that at least some of these

  • Ken Okiishi

    SOME ARTISTS become more interesting the more you talk about them. Bruce Nauman is not one of those artists. His retrospective, on view earlier this year at the Schaulager in Basel and opening this month at the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York, is a master class in producing art, and in curating an exhibition, that confounds the impulse to make coherent statements about it. The more you try to explain its force, the more elusive its power becomes. In my case, the task of coming up with cogent propositions is especially daunting: When I was a teenager in the 1990s, Nauman, along


    Rei Kawakubo remains the most rigorous of the designers who first incited deconstruction in fashion. For nearly four decades, she has intervened on every level of production and distribution, sabotaging fabric by loosening the screws of mechanical looms, deploying consistently oblique methods of advertising, radically deforming the shape of clothes, even selling absolutely abstruse ideas of what a perfume can be. This spring, she is being given the rarest honor: a monographic show at the Met, the first for a living fashion designer since Yves Saint Laurent’s in 1983. The

  • Pierre Boulez, 2008. Photo: Sonja².
    passages July 08, 2016

    Pierre Boulez (1925–2016)

    A CONVERSATION I HAD about Pierre Boulez right before his death ended with the perplexing question, from an otherwise culturally literate person, “What, exactly, does a conductor do?” At the time, I dismissed this query as further support for the conclusion that I have often drawn in the art world: Never discuss music. But then this invitation came from Artforum to write a tribute to Pierre Boulez, and, well, we have to start somewhere—perhaps a discussion of music’s relation to contemporary art might be productive after all. Actually, Boulez, who created IRCAM in the 1970s (the legendary

  • View of “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals,” 2014–15, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. From left: Panel One (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Two (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Three (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962. As seen with colored digital projection. Photo: Kate Lacey. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


    WHEN IS A PAINTING not a painting anymore?
    In 1962, Mark Rothko created the Harvard Murals, a set of six monumental paintings, five of which were displayed in the penthouse dining room of the university’s Holyoke Center, a windowed perch with stunning views. Deeply and delicately hued expanses, the canvases ranged in color from searing orange-red to light pink to dark purple. But in the decade that followed, continual exposure to daylight drastically changed the works, fading them so that some areas lightened to near white while others turned a dull black. Languishing in storage for many years, the works were thought to be beyond repair. But recently, a team of conservators and scientists made a new and unprecedented attempt to restore the pictures—not with pigment or chemicals but with light: For each canvas, they devised a highly complex colored-light projection that, when shone on the work, returns it to its original coloration. What we see is what was meant to be seen, ostensibly. But what are the risks of such an approach? Does the use of light open the door to virtual reality, to smoke and mirrors, turning the paintings into something else altogether? Or does it constitute a brilliant way of making the paintings viewable again, without so much as touching a thread of canvas?
    Conservator CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO, who worked on the project; curators HARRY COOPER and JEFFREY WEISS; art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS; Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO; and artists LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON, DAVID REED, KEN OKIISHI, and R. H. QUAYTMAN peer into the void.

    CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO: Rothko’s Harvard Murals were installed in 1964, but after suffering differential damage, they were put in storage in 1979. They were included in a few exhibitions, two at Harvard and one traveling exhibition, but basically they hadn’t been seen or studied for decades.

    The murals are one of only three commissions that Rothko made. Scholars studied the Seagram paintings, and they studied the Rothko Chapel, but they largely skipped the Harvard Murals because hardly anyone had seen them. Most only knew the story about their fading and being removed from view. The works

  • Carlo Scarpa, restoration of Museo di Castelvecchio, 1958–75, Verona, Italy. Photo: Farrell Nilton/Flickr.

    Ken Okiishi

    A STRANGE TECHNOLOGICAL RUPTURE occurs as one proceeds through the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. In line with contemporary educational efforts, the museum has installed a computer screen that, prompted by an awkward touchscreen mounted below it, displays images of Carlo Scarpa’s ravishing, intensely overlaid drawings of the design for the building compound’s 1958–75 renovation and newly conceived and realized exhibition display. This, in itself, wouldn’t be particularly jarring, but the ad hoc placement of a surveillance monitor next to the first screen, showing deliriously oversaturated

  • View of “Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years,” 2012. Photo: Daniel Perez.

    Ken Okiishi

    ONE OF THE MOST PUZZLING THINGS about Bernadette Corporation is that it never became truly commercially viable in either the fashion or the art system—unlike many of its peers in the 1990s and 2000s, who were able to capitalize on the interface of those very systems. BC’s hesitation, or perhaps just disorganization, could be seen as a lived resistance to market permeation, both inside the bodies of its various “corporate” members and within the networks of “cool” it activated. And it could also be part of the reason why its work (including its “new” work) continues to look fresh, unlike,

  • Forrest Bess, Untitled (No. 12 A), 1957, oil on canvas, 12 x 18".

    Forrest Bess

    THE CONTINUED mythic, outsider status of Forrest Bess is a testament to the sheer anxiety he sparks around hierarchies of vision and social organization—hierarchies that are central to how we legitimate works of art. It is no small feat for an artist who showed regularly during the peak years of Betty Parsons Gallery (that epicenter of the development and promotion of Abstract Expressionism) to continually reemerge as a holy grail of glimmering and elusive marginality. Since Bess’s death in 1977, his work has made cameo appearances in discourses as varied as an essay in Art Journal griping

  • Interior of the Leopard at des Artistes, New York, 2011. Photo: Melissa Hom.

    the Leopard at des Artistes

    PART OF THE AESTHETIC SINGULARITY of dining uptown, until very recently, included zebras prancing on bright red wallpaper, drop ceilings with weird stains, dirty pink carpets and matching tablecloths, fake flowers mixed with real ones, that weird moldy smell, bartenders who were probably actually vampires, a very large display of fresh but unremarkable supermarket vegetables in a basically empty restaurant, and extraordinary prices for terrible food. All of this seemed like it would soon be over when New York’s Café des Artistes (located, since it opened in 1917, at One West Sixty-Seventh Street)

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson, World’s Fair, Brussels, Belgium, 1958, black-and-white photograph, 12 x 8 1/8". © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.


    To take stock of the past year, Artforum contacted an international group of artists to find out which exhibitions and events were, in their eyes, the very best of 2010.


    Jean-Pascal Flavien, No Drama House (Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin) Constructed in the gallery’s garden, Flavien’s house starts with a series of unsolvable problems—no center, too many corridors, too narrow—and then allows other things to happily get in the way. There’s a basement, but it’s aboveground outside. There’s a front door, but it’s on the second floor. Is there a garage? Who forgot the kitchen? There’s