Margaret Ewing

  • Hans Haacke in Frankfurt, 1976

    IN ADVANCE of federal elections, the interior ministers of the West German states, in cooperation with Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was fighting to be reelected, issued a Radikalenerlass (Decree Against Radicals) in January 1972 as part of an anticommunist agenda to root out security risks. With the country in political crisis, the law made civil-service applicants the targets of domestic intelligence investigation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) and was the latest official move to counter fears inflamed by increasingly violent

  • picks February 28, 2013

    Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt

    In 1968, drag queen Ethel Dull started leading tours of a sparkling fairyland crafted in an apartment-cum-studio on the Lower East Side of New York. Inspired by power collector Ethel Scull, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s alter ego gave entrée to a private world brilliantly fashioned from dime store materials—glitter, plastic wrap, tinsel, and foil—a world where being gay and Catholic need not be in conflict. This survey exhibition, Lanigan-Schmidt’s largest to date, offers collages and installations in a sanctuary-like display dominated by vivid color and fanciful ornamentation. Remade in 2012, The

  • picks November 05, 2012

    “Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life”

    Some twenty years after apartheid’s unraveling, Okwui Enwezor’s latest curatorial offering proposes a reassessment of the photography of apartheid and explores its key role in the resistance movement. Highlighting the work of South African photographers, the show presents not only familiar scenes of violent oppression (though these remain among the most affecting) but also examines less acute images of the struggle, including early nonviolent street protests as well as the pervasion of race-based separation and inequality in every aspect of South African society.

    With almost five hundred photographs,

  • picks March 07, 2012

    Alec Soth

    Alec Soth’s first show at Sean Kelly following his departure last year from Gagosian presents about half of the fifty photographs that make up “Broken Manual,” 2006–10, a series that originated in Soth’s preoccupation with the idea of escape. It is, as he puts it, “about the desire to run away and the knowledge that you can’t.” The “Manual” of the series’ title, a volume supposedly penned by Soth’s alter ego and available as a limited edition catalogue, is a homemade-looking primer on how to disappear and includes instructions ranging from disguise techniques (long hair is preferred) to how to

  • Phil Collins

    What if the humdrum schlock of home-shopping programs were replaced with offers to participate in actual experiences? What if, for the “special introductory offer” price of 9.99, you could buy a role in a fantasy sequence on live television? Leaving the isolated comfort of your living room, you would travel to Berlin (transportation and accommodation included) to star in one of three scenes: Stasi-style interrogation, queer Victorian-era porno play, or lying in your own hospital deathbed surrounded by family members, whom you tell once and for all how much you really hate them. So went the

  • Larissa Fassler

    Produced in the wake of Nicolas Sarkozy’s scandalous move in July 2010 to “clean up” France by closing down Roma camps and orchestrating large-scale deportations, Larissa Fassler’s recent exhibition explored inequities in Parisian life by asking how and how freely individuals may navigate public spaces, and investigating the politics of failed urban planning. Sarkozy’s policy was evidence, even before the mass killings in Norway this summer, that Europe is again burdened with xenophobia-tinged questions of national identity. With drawings and sculptures, Fassler foregrounded perspectives on the

  • Dor Guez

    Coming days after the Israeli cabinet’s vote to require non-Jews seeking citizenship to affirm Israel as a Jewish state, Dor Guez’s artist’s talk on the occasion of his first major European exhibition proved critical to understanding the significance of his work. Even as the Jerusalem-born artist declared his video- and photography-based project to be more historical than political, the audience’s impassioned engagement with questions of identity politics that evening confirmed that a part of this work’s power lies in its capacity to stir conversation and debate. In tracing a narrative of the

  • picks August 26, 2010

    “Who Knows Tomorrow”

    In the competition for a place in public memory, Berlin’s colonial history has lost out to the cold war and the Holocaust. While the city is seasoned in displaying certain shards of its fraught twentieth century, this exhibition of contemporary African art exposes the continual absence of visual traces of Berlin’s colonial ties. Extending across four branches of Berlin’s sweeping museum network, “Who Knows Tomorrow” foregrounds commercial paths between Europe and Africa, with works inspired by the very products of these exchanges.

    Yinka Shonibare’s Scramble for Africa, 2003, reenacts the 1884–85

  • picks May 21, 2010

    Ellen Harvey

    Taking its title from William Gilpin’s late-eighteenth-century philosophy of the landscape, Ellen Harvey’s exhibition “Picturesque Pictures” cleverly demonstrates that the now ubiquitous tangle between representation and reality has quite a long history indeed. Gilpin’s measure of beauty—rooted in the tradition of landscape painting—was based on how closely a scene correlated to established landscape conceits, thereby positing preexisting images as the grounds for aesthetic appraisal of the natural world.

    Gilpin’s ideas find new life in Harvey’s parodic Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque

  • picks February 22, 2010

    “Auto-Kino!”

    Responding to the psychic drain of Berlin’s unremitting winter, Phil Collins’s latest project, “Auto-Kino!,” transforms the Temporäre Kunsthalle into a playful drive-in cinema for which viewers reserve spots by the hour via a telephone hotline. The dusky gallery’s spectacular installation—fifteen vehicles facing a screen, complete with refreshment stand in the corner—lures visitors into a participatory realm only to permit an immediate withdrawal into the relative privacy of individual cars. The show is not all surface, however. In collaboration with Siniša Mitrović (his partner in the production

  • picks November 23, 2009

    “Berlin 89/09: Art Between Traces of the Past and Utopian Futures”

    In Berlin, where the past is omnipresent, and the assimilation of the city’s many histories is still very much in play, this year’s twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall begs for widespread reassessment. Surveying art in and about Berlin over the past two decades, this exhibition affirms the electrifying tension between history’s tenacious grip and the city’s constant regeneration.

    Efforts to preserve material traces of these early post-wall years emerge as a recurring strategy, whether realized through the relics themselves or through their representation. Fred Rubin’s light-fixture

  • picks September 28, 2009

    Danica Phelps

    Best known for works like Walking Amsterdam 9–5, 2003, a salon-style installation combining lists of the artist’s daily activities, understated illustrations, and her code for tracking personal finances through green and red stripes, Danica Phelps has built a practice on the tangled relationship between the public display of private experience and the framing conditions of the market. In her first Berlin exhibition, this and other stripe works of recent years provide a meaningful context for new drawings, sculptures, and stop-motion animations.

    In much the same way that a 2003 show at New York’s

  • picks July 01, 2009

    Clemens von Wedemeyer

    In 1971, the “discovery” of a Stone Age–style society living on the Philippine island of Mindanao triggered an international media buzz. Purportedly, the Tasaday people existed untouched by technological advances. Fifteen years later, they were found to be living in far more modern conditions than first reported, which led to still unresolved accusations of a locally orchestrated hoax. This is the starting point for Clemens von Wedemeyer’s new commission by the Barbican, which, in a series of eight films of both original and appropriated materials, embeds the fascinating mystery of the Tasaday

  • picks May 23, 2009

    “Several Silences”

    The famously unsilent silence of John Cage’s 4'33", 1952, is the clear starting point for several works in this show. In a play between turning in and opening out, some pieces embrace their surroundings to incorporate input from the immediate environment, while others posit a more self-contained silence. Bearing direct relation to Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 “White Paintings” (themselves inspiration for Cage’s piece), Harold Mendez’s tandem works, Nothing Prevents Anything and Better off then than when life was babble? (both 2007), are white bulletin boards excised from a university’s hallways.

  • picks February 12, 2009

    Robert Mapplethorpe

    Now two decades since the culture wars co-opted Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, it feels possible to view his work without a knee-jerk defense against philistinism. Indeed, the intimate scale of these black-and-white Polaroids offers an experience very different from the larger format and crisp formality of the artist’s later work. But though these works of 1970–75—ninety-two selected from some fifteen hundred that were made—are among his earliest in the medium, they evidence the heights to which this relatively simple technology could be raised. Mapplethorpe’s is not the Polaroid of the

  • picks October 27, 2008

    “Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery & Lincoln Park”

    In one corner of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, an imposing gated tomb bears the name Couch. Close to the road and surrounded by grassy fields and popular footpaths, this disused family vault belongs to another time. Such a disjunction between monument and environs combined with the new online availability of the Chicago Tribune, dating back to 1849, moved Pamela Bannos to embark on an exhaustive research project into the park’s history. She discovered that from 1843 to 1859, the Chicago City Cemetery, the site of all official burials during the city’s first decades, occupied this land. Amassing hundreds

  • picks July 23, 2008

    “The Immediate Touch: German, Austrian, and Swiss Drawings from Saint Louis Collections, 1946–2007”

    Beginning with the Second World War’s end, “The Immediate Touch” sets out to challenge national boundaries by posing a tenuous linguistic unification of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. But the distinctly different realities of the war and its aftermath led to divergent visual expression. Though attempting to balance the precedence given to German postwar art production, the exhibition works against itself by largely arranging artists by national origin and therefore misses the opportunity to create dialogues through unexpected juxtapositions.

    The show’s strongest moments are still German. In

  • picks June 06, 2008

    “Imaginary Coordinates”

    In the second exhibition presented in its new building, the Spertus Museum courts controversy by exploring the loaded question of how the land of Israel and Palestine is defined, both historically and in the present. The organizing framework is a dialogue between maps of the region dating from the sixteenth century to the present and contemporary art by nine Israeli and Palestinian women artists, but while the recent works successfully negotiate the reality of life’s precariousness there, the maps—though visually absorbing—add little to a furthered understanding. Moreover, the near-exclusive