Marcus Civin

  • picks December 17, 2019

    Ramiro Gomez

    One installation in Ramiro Gomez’s exhibition “Here, for a Moment” includes a street-side construction scene and a William Carlos Williams poem, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (1960), written in marker on a large piece of worn cardboard. In the poem, itself a reading of a painting attributed to Bruegel, a farmer plows his field, oblivious to Icarus’s fall. Gomez’s Icarus has fallen as well: There he is, splayed out on the rocks next to Williams’s poem. Nearby, construction workers are setting up for their day. Before he died, Icarus might have imagined flying off to a good life. Now, the

  • picks August 12, 2019

    Justin Favela

    In a field of golden corn, a crucified figure tips to the left, as if he might fall; resembling Jesus, this is likely the maize god, central to Olmec, Maya, and Aztec belief systems. Butterflies surround another patriarch, perhaps Jesus on a good day: He extends his huge orange-brown arms, offering an embrace. Between these two figures, a green creature surrounded by streaks of orange and yellow hovers over a fire as she delivers a child. Such is the scene in Justin Favela’s temporary piñata-style mural, made of tissue paper glued to cardboard, installed on the walls of an upstairs gallery at

  • interviews April 15, 2019

    Patty Chang

    Well known for her fearless performances and wildly inventive narratives, the Los Angeles–based artist Patty Chang recently began listing her fears. This led to her soliciting other people’s lists of fears as well, which are related to other lists: One explores the range of a mother’s heightened sense of empathy; another imagines useful mechanisms designed to address, among other things, mental illness, existential distress, fear, and individual agency. These lists set the parameters for a new project that departs from Chang’s solo exhibition “The Wandering Lake, 2009–2017,” which was originally

  • picks April 12, 2019

    Agnes Pelton

    You can nearly hear the clean, spirited chime of the lemon-yellow bell at the top right corner of Agnes Pelton’s roughly three-by-two-foot painting Voyaging, 1931. That bell might be calling to a lighter yellow chain to the left, attached like a lure to what loosely resembles the wisp of a plant. All of this hovers above a dark-blue opening in the foaming green waters of some kind of supernatural tide pool. Or is it a mountain range? Return, 1940, shows a giant ghostly primordial bird contemplating its reflection in a shimmering mirage-like pond. The creature is magnetic, pulling in a wayward

  • picks December 05, 2018

    Bahc Yiso

    Bahc Yiso, the late Korean-born installation artist, arts organizer, writer, and teacher who spent his formative years under the name Mo Bahc as an art student at Pratt Institute and as the owner of the alternative space Minor Injury in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, appears deliberate and hopeful in this retrospective. Bahc died in 2004 at forty-six in South Korea, leaving behind mountains of notes, syllabi, press clippings, proposals, drawings, and sculptures that make the impossible seem less daunting if not achievable.

    For Honesty-2, 1996, created a year after he moved back to Korea, Bahc recorded

  • picks November 09, 2018

    “Being Here with You/Estando aquí contigo: 42 Artists from San Diego and Tijuana”

    In 1988, one hundred guests witnessed the wedding-cum-performance of artists Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Emily Hicks. Gomez-Pena, standing on the south side of the US-Mexico border, and Hicks, standing on the north, held hands across the barrier to dramatize the symbolic potential of such a union. Thirty years later, a similar spirit is evoked in this exhibition, which feels consequential and geographically specific in its pairing of a group of forty-two artists from both sides of the border.

    Misael Diaz and Amy Sanchez Arteaga, based in Santa Ana and Tijuana and working together as Cog•nate

  • picks May 31, 2018

    Jack Whitten

    “Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017” is a muscular first effort to assess the sculpture of an artist primarily known for his painting. During summer retreats in Crete, Whitten dedicated himself to sculpture. Two Central African Kongo nkisi figures—one from the nineteenth century, the other from the early twentieth—accompany this survey, along with a dozen other African and Greek referents the artist chose before his death earlier this year. In the Kongo tradition, nails driven into wooden nkisi figures—made to activate mystical forces—record disputes and treaties. Whitten embattled his

  • picks June 09, 2017

    Hein Koh

    By the front window in Hein Koh’s parlor-room exhibition is Three Lonely Hearts, 2017, consisting of lumpy, heart-shaped, spandex cyclopes’ heads cocked to the side, woebegone and piteous. From open-zippered orifices, the heads seem to have emitted glittery, puke-like, bubblegum-pink columns that have since hardened to hold them up. Nearby, The Triangle Twins, 2016, shows two gold creatures, each equipped with two dicks and pointy fingers emerging from shiny wall-bound pillows that read as portals. Two of the four floppy dicks are knotted together on the outside, as if this bond will provide

  • picks May 25, 2017

    Adam Pendleton

    In Baltimore—the southernmost northern city and the northernmost southern city, as some call it—Adam Pendleton evokes Malcolm X, who in his 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet rallied black people to resist the comprehensive conspiracy of American racism. “We haven’t benefited from America’s democracy,” he said. “Stop talking about the South. As long as you south of the Canadian border, you South.”

    As seen in one of Pendleton’s various floor-to-ceiling wall works, a reproduction of a historical installation of paintings by Holocaust escapee Marc Chagall appears to be disintegrating or reforming,

  • picks March 09, 2017

    Antoni Muntadas

    Spanish artist and retired MIT professor Antoni Muntadas’s show, “Activating Artifacts,” includes two three-channel video projections, About Academia I, 2011, and About Academia II, 2017, that index the conditions of higher education in the United States through quotations from educational theorists, snippets of interviews conducted in 2011 and 2017 with liberal professors and students, and looping scenes of campus life—lecture halls full of empty chairs, a closed door with a sign that reads “Computational Materials Meditation Room,” and students in sweatshirts walking to class in the rain. A

  • picks November 14, 2016

    Ragnar Kjartansson

    Ragnar Kjartansson’s mid-career survey is on tour. Following a first showing at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, this US venue adds to the mix Woman in E, 2016, a daily performance originally conceived for a different show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. The titular woman wears a gold dress and stands on a round gold platform and rotates slowly, repeatedly strumming melancholic chords on an electric guitar. At the opening of the exhibit, the performer looked regal but stiff, constrained by her dress and pedestal that seemed to send up American triumphalism and mourn the continuing

  • diary October 28, 2016

    Balcony Scene

    TAKING A LATE FLIGHT from Baltimore to Canada, I read an English translation of Jean Genet’s 1956 play Le Balcon (The Balcony). I read Carmen recalling one of her clients’ infatuation with the color blue: “I was a Madonna to whom a Spaniard might have prayed and sworn an oath. He hymned me, fusing me with his beloved color, and when he carried me to bed, it was into the blue that he penetrated.”

    I read of sex workers and clients performing elaborate fantasies, playing within a play, pretending to be religious and political figures. I read the revolutionary upheaval that interrupted them.

    The next

  • picks October 23, 2016

    Ann Hamilton

    Ann Hamilton’s Philadelphia miniretrospective was accompanied by a here-and-then-gone waterfront installation of pulley- and wind-activated Tyvek curtains, but the crux of the matter is on the eighth floor of this museum—a materialization of the nerve center from which springs Hamilton’s tender and spectacular whimsy. On the right side of the gallery, twenty-four steel carts function as museum cases. They look like four-post bed frames from an infirmary; instead of mattresses, though, they hold sample books overstuffed with all manner of swatches, from goat hair to lace. There, too, are

  • picks June 08, 2016

    Hasan Elahi

    In 2002, Hasan Elahi became the subject of an FBI investigation. After six months, he was cleared. Since then, he has continued to share his activities with the FBI as well as the public, ostensibly working through the trauma of the investigation while, in the process, creating a continuous alibi and a prolonged satire of surveillance. In this solo exhibition, titled “Datamine,” tens of thousands of photographs document and abstract his choices of food and diet beverages; the toilets he’s used and the planes he’s boarded; the stairs he’s climbed and the plazas he’s visited. And so many photographed

  • picks March 21, 2016

    Xavier Cha

    In Xavier Cha’s film abduct, 2015, the footage follows, frames, and cuts together close-ups of actors performing an unsentimental, discordant series of engrossing gestures and facial expressions. Seven slick-muscled virtuosos in stylish white underwear and undershirts appear interchangeably one at a time in front of the kind of plastic curtain used in places such as slaughterhouses to modulate temperature or block noxious sprays. Heavy static and intermittent droning vibrations fill the room. The actors perform apparently purposeless but ultimately unnerving wide-eyed stares. They’re like aliens

  • slant December 11, 2015

    On the Ground: Baltimore

    THE PAST SIX MONTHS IN BALTIMORE have been traumatic. Last April and May saw top-down violence from police and destruction by citizens amid simultaneously peaceful protest. Addressing the uprising that began after city police officers murdered Freddie Gray—an innocent twenty-five-year-old black man—Baltimore columnist D. Watkins wrote in the New York Times, “Some people might ask, ‘Why Baltimore?’ But the real question is, ‘Why did it take so long?’” Many, particularly those in East and West Baltimore, suffer from brutal policing, a school-to-prison pipeline, massive incarceration rates, crumbling

  • interviews October 27, 2015

    Shana Lutker

    Los Angeles–based artist and 2014 Smithsonian artist research fellow Shana Lutker here speaks about “Le ‘NEW’ Monocle: Chapters 1–3,” her exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, which runs from October 29, 2015, to February 15, 2016. The show includes a performance, The Average Mysterious and the Shirt off Its Back, 2015, on Thursday, October 29, at 6:30 PM.

    OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS I’ve been creating a body of work titled Le “NEW” Monocle. There will be eight chapters when it is complete. At the Hirshhorn, chapters one to three will be on view. The subject of

  • picks July 13, 2015

    “Something Else Entirely”

    An image from a promotional photo shoot for Ray Johnson’s book The Paper Snake (1965) shows the famed artist blithely holding up the real thing. It’s a compelling portrait in this exhibition, which shares a wealth of Johnson’s original and related materials for the project; throughout, the snake is a master of riddles and a phallic symbol.

    Fluxus pioneer Dick Higgins divined The Paper Snake from Johnson’s assorted mailings and in 1965 printed the fifty-page book in cyans, browns, and brick reds for his fledgling Something Else Press. The volume includes rubbings that suggest snakes slithering,

  • picks January 22, 2015

    Dario Robleto

    Looking like a cabinet of sea curiosities and feeling like a ballad, Dario Robleto’s exhibition reveals a burning heart. The packed gallery displays photographs, collages, and sculptural amalgamations made with materials like black swan vertebrae, glitter, semiprecious stones, and whale ear fossils. One of these works, Melancholy Matters Because of You, 2012, is composed of three cast and carved hands that resemble bones but are actually a mingling of bone calcium, resin, dust, pigment, and melted vinyl record collections that belonged to three generations of Robleto’s family.

    For Setlists for

  • picks December 29, 2014

    “In __ We Trust: Art and Money”

    “In We Trust: Art and Money” is a sprawling survey, resonant where the collective spirit of the work is a churning mishmash of the absurd, earnest, sharp, and self-defeating. Curator Tyler Cann includes twenty-six artists and collectives. Leaving a blank space in the exhibition title where the word God might appear, Cann doesn’t so much criticize belief in God as show money godless and unbridled. The collective Claire Fontaine’s Gateway to Freedom, 2005, for example, makes common currency into pocket weaponry; two US quarters come equipped with small scythe blades, looking like somber militia