Martha Schwendener

  • picks February 06, 2005

    Henry Taylor

    Henry Taylor's current show calls to mind the epic African-American history paintings of Kerry James Marshall, though the people and events Taylor depicts are more prosaic and mundane than Marshall's, and his political content is more muted. His clear crisp drawing and flat color friskily evoke the work of Alex Katz or David Hockney, but in brighter primary and secondary hues. Most of the canvases (or, in one case, a worn cutting board used as a panel) feature friends and family sitting in relaxed, casual poses. Race is only one of the ostensible subjects, and cultural stereotypes are presented

  • Benjamin Edwards

    Benjamin Edwards works in the tradition of Piranesi, Etienne-Louis Boullée, and Archigram, creating two-dimensional images of fantasy architecture. But instead of prisons or space pods, Edwards’s touchstones are exurban subdivisions, the corporate landscape of big-box stores, surveillance, and— most significant—the computer.

    Two walls of eight-inch-square digital inkjet prints on canvas arranged in grids greeted viewers at the entrance to Edwards’s recent show at Greenberg Van Doren. One featured sixty examples from the 2004 series “Anti-Icon,” which reworks the logos of large companies (Target,

  • Julianne Swartz

    PVC is one of those wonder materials, a plastic widely used in the building trade (though outlawed in New York State, perhaps because of its toxicity, its vulnerability to rats, or a union issue that rewards the Steam Pipe Fitters). It has also increasingly begun to appear in sculpture. Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas installation in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in 2002 used a giant PVC membrane, but emerging artists tend to employ it raw, with the manufacturer’s markings still visible.

    One of the most celebrated recent examples of this was Somewhere Harmony, 2003–2004, Julianne Swartz’s work in the

  • picks January 20, 2005

    “Handmade”

    Tim Davis follows up last fall’s stellar exhibition of photographs at the Bohen Foundation—in which he documented the American political landscape with off-kilter acuity—with a curatorial effort that delves into some of the formal issues confronting photography these days. The show’s title is at once tongue-in-cheek and sincere, nodding to the fact that all of the photographs have been manipulated in one way or another. Marco Breuer is well known for scratching, rubbing, and otherwise interacting with photographic paper to create abstract compositions in which the camera never comes into

  • Tim Davis

    It has been argued that all artists are political: They either fight the system (the art establishment, the government, the structure of society) explicitly in their work, or support it implicitly by remaining voiceless. Tim Davis presents a third possibility. Traveling the country like Robert Frank did in the 1950s (a conservative era that’s become a touchstone for our own), he photographed objects and people in a variety of settings: a gun show at a mall, a communist summer camp, political rallies. Titling the series “My Life in Politics” (2002–), he places himself as an observer rather than

  • picks December 22, 2004

    David Adjaye

    David Adjaye’s London architectural firm, Adjaye/Associates, is currently working on designs for the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. If they’re anything like his installation Asymmetric Chamber, they should capture the ethos of a structure meant to promulgate peace. Asymmetric Chamber is essentially a mini-maze made of plywood, with narrow back-lit fiberglass panels installed along the perimeter on the floor. What makes the work captivating is the minimalist soundtrack composed by the artist’s brother, Peter Adjaye, which both draws viewers into the work and serves as a sonic center, like an aural

  • picks December 17, 2004

    Bruce Conner

    Like a good bottle of wine or scotch, a batch of photographs stashed away for twenty or thirty years will often age nicely. Such is the case with Bruce Conner’s photographs of punk subculture in San Francisco. Taken mostly at the Mabuhay Gardens club in 1978, the photos document bands like Devo, D.O.A., and Negative Trend onstage along with the fans, groupies, and miscellaneous scenesters hanging around the venue (and sometimes from the rafters). Following the true punk ethos, there is little difference between audience and musicians; everyone is dressed up (or down, depending on your perspective)

  • picks December 17, 2004

    Kathe Burkhart

    A selection of Kathe Burkhart's “Torture Paintings” (1992–2001) are on view at Schroeder Romero in Brooklyn, but if you want a primer on Burkhart's aesthetic and invective, this is the place to start. The bulk of the works feature Liz Taylor, who serves as both a post-feminist icon and the artist's alter ego. Rather than the typical vision of a progressive feminist, Burkhart offers Taylor—she of the multiple marriages, plastic surgeries, and religions—as her own model of the modern woman: a gorgeous, fucked-up, diva mess. Crudely drawn scenes of Liz cribbed from cinema classics like

  • Matt Mullican

    Most artists would argue that their work is on some level about consciousness, but few could make the claim as literally as Matt Mullican. Over the past thirty years, Mullican has intermittently created “trance” performances in which he undergoes hypnosis, either self-induced or prompted by a hypnotist. For the next hour or so he experiences (or, depending on your faith in the process, acts out) a range of tasks, emotions, and impulses: pacing, talking to himself, painting, singing, regressing to childish behavior, and occasionally becoming enraged. One particularly notorious incident occurred

  • picks November 24, 2004

    Hans-Peter Feldmann

    The sly simplicity of Broodthaers and Duchamp is echoed in Hans-Peter Feldmann’s sculptures, watercolors, and photos, which turn the familiar into something curious and new. An arrow made of eggs arranged on a bed of sand recalls the Belgian master, while an overturned chair resting on a fiberboard box, titled Remembering my days as a waiter, 2004, makes reference to Duchamp (and, of course, to Minimalism). Elsewhere—as in watercolors of Holbein portraits, washing machines, and a zebra hide—the resemblances to Duchamp’s and Broodthaers’s work is almost subliminal, manifesting itself

  • picks November 24, 2004

    Martha Rosler

    The scope of Martha Rosler’s concerns as an artist are summed up in almost four decades of her photomontages. The earliest works focus on representations of women—homemaking, marrying, hawking products, or crammed into huge tableaux, as in the nude-fest of Hot House, or Harem, 1972. When the Vietnam War kicked in, Rosler shifted her focus, contrasting the carnage in Southeast Asia with the prosperity in the US. More recently, she’s revived the logic of those compositions and remade them to address the war in Iraq. What hasn’t changed is her strategy of juxtaposing stark photojournalism with the

  • picks November 19, 2004

    Lars Arrhenius

    Lars Arrhenius’s closest progenitor would have to be Matt Mullican—both dig into the world of graphics, signs, and symbols and imagine that these ciphers live in an analogous world of life, death, violence, and spirituality. Arrhenius’s The Man without Qualities, 2001, amusingly proposes the universal “man” sign that graces restrooms around the world as the embodiment of Robert Musil’s existential blank slate. In a series of laminated metallic C-prints that wrap around three walls, our generic hero is put through the paces of a birth-to-death narrative that recalls Mullican’s forays into

  • picks November 12, 2004

    Adam McEwen

    One of the weirder aspects of newspaper journalism is the phenomenon of composing obituaries for famous and important people who are still alive. Age, of course, is a factor in determining who gets written up in advance of their demise, but so is lifestyle: The music critic Neil Strauss reported being assigned an obit for Courtney Love. For his first New York solo show, British artist Adam McEwen borrows the concept of the posthumous sum-up penned before the fact, treating his famous subjects—among them Jeff Koons, Nicole Kidman, Malcom McLaren, Bill Clinton, and Macaulay Culkin—as if they were

  • picks November 03, 2004

    Paul Chan

    Paul Chan is on a roll right now, with this solo show following on the heels of The People’s Guide to the Republican National Convention, a map he designed in conjunction with the collective Friends of William Blake that displayed not only convention sites, but companies profiting from Bush policies, major Republican Party donors, adult entertainment complexes (which expected a spike in business), and medical and legal resources for protestors. My birds. . . trash. . . the future, 2004, a large double-sided digital projection, is decidedly more oblique in its politics—and meanings—but more in

  • Elaine Reichek

    Writing in the 1880s, William Morris lamented that what he called the intellectual arts had been separated by “the sharpest lines of demarcation” from the decorative arts, and he exhorted craftsmen to create a “noble, popular art” guided by nature and history. Elaine Reichek has been working for over two decades in one such discipline: embroidery. But where her earlier output was a highly charged feminist appropriation of “women’s work,” she recently seems more closely guided by Morris’s exhortation.

    One reason for this may be that Reichek has directed her gaze back to the nineteenth century.

  • picks October 21, 2004

    Oona Ratcliffe

    Oona Ratcliffe’s paintings are like contemporary Kandinskys: big, symphonic orchestrations of color and line that seem rooted in landscape, but skirt any concrete representation. Their colors are appropriately updated to reflect myriad palettes, from Neo-Geo’s bold, clear primaries to the recent reincarnation of New Wave’s neon squiggles and flourishes. Ratcliffe's compositions look computer-generated, recalling the work of contemporary painters who use digital technologies as sketchpads. Her titles—Drench Revelation, Intimacy Accompaniment, In the Blue of Its Eyes, I Can Be the River (all

  • picks October 05, 2004

    Lutz Bacher

    In 1987, when Lutz Bacher paired captions from a 1970s joke book with black and white photos of politicians and entertainment figures, there was no way to foresee how pertinent the strategy would seem in the midst of the increasingly dirty Campaign 2004. Michael Moore has made similar use of words and images to create parodic portraits of power, and Dick Cheney inadvertently followed suit when he profanely told off Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The works on view here include a photo of John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater with the caption, “So you want this fucking job?” and one of Jimmy

  • picks September 19, 2004

    Kirsten Hassenfeld

    Think of everything that makes a solid traditional sculpture. Now imagine the opposite, and you’ll have a good picture of Kirsten Hassenfeld’s show. Rather than working in bronze or stone—emblems of permanence and stability—she works in paper. Rather than sculpting something “heroic,” like the human figure, she focuses on detail, crafting objects with obsessive fussiness. And rather than skirting historically “feminine” practices—needlework, silhouettes, dollhouses, cameos—in favor of more “serious” and “masculine” forms, she celebrates abject kitsch, cramming as many references as possible into

  • picks September 19, 2004

    “Building the Unthinkable”

    The end of the Cold War was supposed to signal the end of the arms race, but as nuclear activity—or rumors of it—heats up in Libya, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea, curator Christian Stayner has aptly declared that “the bomb is back.” Paul Virilio’s 1975 text Bunker Archaeology—Building the Unthinkable provides a title, as well as a framework, for exploring how nuclear weapons have shaped space since the first atomic bomb test on July 16, 1945. An interactive mapping program, prepared by The Center for Land Use Interpretation, provides a chilling excavation of nuclear testing in the Nevada

  • Howardena Pindell

    Howardena Pindell tells a story about how, traveling through northern Kentucky and southern Ohio in the ’40s, she and her family were offered root beer mugs that had large red circles drawn on the bottom. When she asked her father what the circles meant, he told her that they denoted those mugs that African-Americans were allowed to drink from. Obviously affected by this experience, Pindell later recalled how, even though she was “weak” in math and started using numbers in her work only after an Ohio gallerist wondered how many “points or circles” appeared therein, she employed statistics in