Martha Schwendener

  • picks January 26, 2006

    Jóhannes Atli Hinriksson

    New York–based Icelandic artist Jóhannes Atli Hinriksson cites a seventeenth-century legend by Brynjolfur Fra Minnanupi about two talking ships as an aesthetic touchstone for his show. Knowing that bad weather is approaching, the ships attempt to stay in port until the captain of one vessel invokes the devil and the ship sets sail, naturally getting lost at sea. It's the nihilism and brutality of this narrative that Hinriksson seems to connect with, rather than the nautical motifs. The show includes, among other grotesque creations, motorcycle helmets smeared with paint and festooned with horns;

  • Louise Bourgeois

    Included in this 120-work retrospective are fifteen paintings from 1936 to 1945 that have never been shown, as well as Fillette (Sweeter Version), 1968/1999, a latex-covered phallus based on the original Fillette, and the famous Destruction of the Father, 1974, a spore-covered altar she created a year after her husband’s death.

    Louise Bourgeois has spent the better part of a century riffing off a cast of characters she’s mostly outlived: her family. Space, memory, and the body are incorporated in her notion of family romance and summed up in the term “femme maison,” the housed or trapped body. Bourgeois’s initial “Femme Maison,” a series of drawings fusing architecture and the female figure, appeared in the mid-’40s, and since then she has successfully straddled time periods and absorbed everything from Freudian Surrealism to process art and feminism. Included in this 120-work retrospective

  • Chris Ware

    “Ruin Your Life. Draw Cartoons! And Doom Yourself To Decades of Grinding Isolation, Solipsism, and Utter Social Disregard.” This uninviting come-on heads a recent issue of Chris Ware’s comic book series “The Acme Novelty Library,” 1993–. Such self-deprecation is a mainstay of Ware’s oeuvre, and reminds us that cartoonists have until recently occupied a position previously associated with avant-garde artists of other genres: He (the cartoonist is, like painters in the age of Picasso and Matisse, rarely a “she”) has traditionally been a marginalized, misunderstood provocateur.

    But while it’s true

  • picks December 05, 2005

    Mark Dion

    Mark Dion’s latest excursion into the labyrinth of museology takes the form of a modest gray-shingled structure with a homey porch, crammed to the rafters with all manner of junk: crumbling books, rusted gardening tools, statuettes, toys, and so on. The Curiosity Shop, 2005, recalls both a rural museum devoted to the idiosyncratic quirks of its curator and some earlier forms of organized collecting, namely the cabinet of curiosities and the wunderkammer. For Dion, whose specialty is applying Foucauldian concepts of archeology in examining the practices of collecting and exhibiting, the nature

  • picks December 02, 2005

    Pam Lins

    Pam Lins's sculpture, Win Me Free, 2005, meshes perfectly with its location, a dank nook of a gallery located in a charming dead end alley: Trastevere via the Lower East Side. The diminutive dirt-and-sand floor part of the sculpture nods to Ana Mendieta and Walter De Maria, but the real draw is the live mushrooms incorporated in several other areas. Fungi crawl out of white boxes stacked against a brick wall that looks like it is growing a few spores itself. The piece, a recreation of Lins's accommodation in an artists’ colony in Upstate New York, also incorporates a small shack that rests on

  • picks December 01, 2005

    “Looking at Words”

    With over 300 works installed, not just salon style, but with horror vacui density, “Looking at Words” defies the impulse of overstimulated Chelsea viewers to take “just a quick peek” at the show. Yet quantity does not preclude quality. Even though there are works on paper by everyone from Man Ray to Mel Bochner to Mark Lombardi, the objects are arranged according to loose formal criteria so that they complement and converse with one another rather than compete for attention (although the ones near the top get a bit lost in the crowd). Text appears in a variety of ways: the Cubist and Dadaist

  • Joel Sternfeld

    The circumstances surrounding Joel Sternfeld’s last show, in 2004, were almost as sensational as the photographs themselves. Defecting from Pace/MacGill Gallery to the same gallery as Gregory Crewdson (a Sternfeld champion who makes work that bears a striking resemblance to the senior artist’s), his “American Prospects” photographs, shot in the late 1970s and mid-’80s, were printed nearly twice the size of earlier editions. It was a controversial move that seemed both market- and art-historically driven, a selfconscious update for the post-Gurksy age aimed at positioning him as an overlooked

  • picks November 15, 2005

    Fred Eerdekens

    The idea that hidden messages are embedded in objects is a mainstay of both art and mysticism, from Netherlandish altarpieces to ancient shamans examining the entrails of sheep for omens. Belgian artist Fred Eerdekens's sculptures do most of the divining for viewers, rather than making them sift through iconography or intestines. Light shines through a fake tree, projecting the word “Still” onto the wall. Curly bits of mounted copper that look entirely abstract reveal the phrase “A very short story with a lot of fiction in the middle and something real in the end” when light is cast upon them.

  • “Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing”

    Artists are an opinionated bunch, so one often wonders what those included in group exhibitions think of the context in which their work has been placed. Sometimes I imagine they feel lucky; on other occasions dismayed. “Remote Viewing” triggered the latter suspicion. For while the venue was distinguished and each artist was afforded adequate space, the show’s close focus on certain traits in contemporary painting made some of the artists look more like trendy copyists than unique practitioners. Curator Elisabeth Sussman strove to identify several symptoms in recent practice: abstraction with

  • picks October 23, 2005

    Luis Gispert and Jeffrey Reed

    Luis Gispert and Jeffrey Reed’s one-off collaboration Stereomongrel, 2005, is a neo-psychedelic film in the vein of Isaac Julien, complete with a hallucinogenic trip through a museum (as in Julien’s Baltimore, 2003, which took a spin through the Peabody). Here, the museum is the Whitney, tricked out with blue-chip objects, cyber-geishas posing as curators, and security guards doubling as DJs and crooners. While sections of the film’s narrative feel as hackneyed as the stilted dialogue in a bad music video, the idea of the artist as DJ, remixing culture, still works, particularly as Gispert and

  • picks October 06, 2005

    Candice Breitz

    Candice Breitz’s video installation Mother + Father, 2005, which was shown at the recent Venice Biennale, consists of two adjacent rooms, each with six monitors. They feature synchronized videos in which the artist has blacked-out everything but individual actors and edited iconic performances (e.g., Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest or Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer) into a kind of sample/scratch version of the original “texts.” Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1976, is the monophonic antecedent to Breitz’s polyphonic fugue, but where Birnbaum’s video

  • picks October 04, 2005

    Negativland

    Sandwiched between ‘70s agitators like Ant Farm and more recent groups like the Yes Men, Negativland has been going strong for twenty-five years, an anniversary commemorated by this retrospective of their work. Among their best-known culture jamming exploits is their album U2, which includes liberal sampling from U2's album Joshua Tree (prompting a landmark 1991 intellectual property case in which U2's record label, Island Records, sued Negativland and SST). In addition to a listening station playing U2 is “U2 v. Negativland iPod,” a one-hour program of video from the last seven years; photographic

  • Charles Sandison

    It has always seemed that more artists should have followed Jenny Holzer’s lead, illuminating and animating words in order to address the complex variety of ways in which kinetic texts address us in everyday life. Charles Sandison is one of the few to have done so, and he accomplishes it by unbridling Holzer’s structure and uniformity, unleashing it in installations governed by an abstraction that is both visual and syntactic.

    In earlier installations such as male & female, 2002, words, generated by a computer and projected onto walls, clustered together to form figures. In the works in this

  • picks September 22, 2005

    Kota Ezawa

    The kid-friendly feeling of animation clings to Kota Ezawa’s remakes of “serious” video works and documents. Take, for instance, his current installation: A simple arrangement of three projections placed side-by-side with audio bubbles for listening hung from the ceiling. The projection on the left remakes archival footage of a press conference during John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous Amsterdam “Bed In” for peace in 1969. The center animation recreates Susan Sontag lecturing at Columbia in 2001. The third is a take on Joseph Beuys’ 1974 talk at the New School in New York, where he discussed his

  • Victor Burgin

    In Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes) (2002), Hal Foster argues that design has taken over every aspect of industrialized society. Yet Victor Burgin’s recent video, The Little House, 2005, points out that even in earlier eras design was linked to everything from natural urges and social constructs to sexual desire to the creation of narrative.

    At Christine Burgin Gallery, a large box functioned as a small theater for viewing Burgin’s work, which is based on a panning shot of the interior and garden of a 1922 Rudolph Schindler house in Los Angeles. The images are accompanied by narration

  • picks July 24, 2005

    Bill Owens

    Occupying the territory between Lee Friedlander’s formal elegance and Gregory Crewdson’s over-the-top American Gothic, Bill Owens has been using photography to pry into the American psyche for almost four decades. This show includes work from his best known series—“Suburbia,” 1972, “Our Kind of People,” 1976, “Working, I do it for the money,” 1978, and “Leisure,” 2004—as well as unpublished photographs from the late ‘60s that point toward Larry Clark’s vision of debauched American youth. An untitled work from “Suburbia” that looks down on a cul-de-sac block party conjures Crewdson’s later

  • picks July 15, 2005

    Liu Zheng

    Zheng’s photos of China during the political and economic upheavals of the last decade are a combination of the over-familiar and the strange. Stylistically, they suggest an amalgam of August Sander, Diane Arbus, and Nan Goldin: Flash-lit, centered subjects and black-and-white prints; alluring yet uncomfortable intimacy; typologies of occupations and phyla of “freaks.” But while Zheng’s style is derivative, the world he uncovers is rich and varied. From the gruesome Waxwork in the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, 2000, to Actors in a Film about the War Against the Japanese, 2000, to the hulking

  • picks July 15, 2005

    Mike Bouchet

    In true classic-Conceptual style, it’s the information accompanying the objects in this show that “make” the work. The New York Dirty Room (all works 2005) looks an awful lot like Walter De Maria’s famous New York Earth Room, 1977, but this one, according to the press release, “is composed of 50,000 pounds of topsoil from Home Depot and 25,000 pounds of compost from Rikers Island, the world’s largest penal colony.” Top Cruise, 2005, includes “1,000 sculptures” of Tom Cruise’s head (actually closer to one hundred; the rest are on their way) fabricated from “3,520 pounds of clay from Mexico.” And

  • picks July 15, 2005

    “Life and Limb”

    The parallels between art and life—namely, between artists’ depictions of conflict and contemporary events—are obvious but subtle in this show, running through it like an undercurrent rather than overshadowing it. John Bock’s video of an absurdist boxing match, Joe Andoe’s diptych of two young dudes itching for a brawl, and Karen Yasinsky’s DVD animation of boys punching each other seem oddly muted in a climate overrun with media images of bombings, beheadings, and hasty burials. Curated by David Humphrey, the exhibition showcases the work of older (or deceased) artists to demonstrate

  • picks July 01, 2005

    “This Side Toward Screen”

    The click-chunk sound of slides dropping takes you back to art history class, to the pre-digital age when carousels and projectors (and all the malfunctions that went with them) were the technological filter through which you learned about Giotto, Guernica, and Spiral Jetty. The work that hews most closely to the slide lecture format is Kota Ezawa’s On Photography, 2004, which takes its title from Sontag’s seminal text, paired with digitized versions of iconic photos (Evans, Weegee, Arbus, Sherman, Goldin), creating something new out of the old and familiar. Corey McCorkle’s Selections for