Martha Schwendener

  • picks March 10, 2004

    Guy Walker

    Extending—or perhaps capitalizing on—art-world nostalgia for the '60s, Guy Walker has created an homage to the summer of 2003, which he imagines as a latter-day Summer of Love. A colony of stalagmite forms made of plaster and blown glass stands in the center of the tiny, dimly lit gallery, while films Walker made while traveling through towns with an artistic history (Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Marsden Hartley painted; Frederic Church’s Olana, New York) are projected from behind. On one wall, a young man frolics nude in a sunlit forest, while on the other wall images are layered to create

  • picks March 10, 2004

    Francis Cape

    Francis Cape’s talents lie in the woodworking arts—something most people in New York encounter only if they stumble upon the Met’s famed Studiolo, a fifteenth-century ducal chamber lined with expertly carved cabinets. Cape updates the concept of precision carpentry with a sculptural installation that looks, at first glance, like a tall minimalist sculpture painted Yves Klein blue. Walk around it, however, and you’ll see a little bench built into an unpainted crook, like a hidden confessional. Two white pilasters on opposite walls of the gallery almost escape detection. Next to them are

  • John Wesley

    John Wesley has always been hard to pin down. Linda Norden, curator of a recent exhibition of his work at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, has described him as a “not-quite-pop, faux-primitive Californian” as well as the “Henri Rousseau of his generation.” In these pages in October 2000, Dave Hickey opined that his “penchant for erotic narrative . . . defines Wesley as more an eighteenth-century fabulist.” We can at least agree that the artist started to mine popular culture for imagery in the early ’60s and used it to sexier and more eccentric ends than his fellow painters Warhol, Rosenquist, and

  • Anne Chu

    Amid the sea of slick objects in West Chelsea, Anne Chu’s larger-than-life puppet sculptures come across as shockingly raw and old-fashioned. But craftsmen of the past would never have constructed objects in this way, leaving things slightly unfinished and full of clues as to their making. Pure anachronism, you might think—but their fluidity of reference implies a global and chronological breadth that’s very contemporary. These figures function like fissures between historical epochs and aesthetic categories, a mechanism fundamental to the way they work.

    In the eight sculptures on view, Chu

  • picks January 16, 2004

    Olaf Breuning

    Olaf Breuning’s dual-screen video installation Home, 2003, features a skinny young actor playing both a yarn-spinning storyteller and a wandering adventurer. In the black-and-white video on the right, our hero lounges around a rococo-kitsch hotel room recounting dreams or stories “a friend” told him, while in the color video on the left he and his minions travel the globe, meeting new people, and, generally, attacking them, using weapons ranging from golf clubs to a Peruvian bull mask. Like a contemporary Dorothy, the character is simultaneously at home (in black and white) and in Oz (in garish

  • Maria Elena González

    When a home becomes inaccessible or is destroyed, remembering it can be a poignant exercise. Such an act of memory is a fact of life for much of humanity, given the magnitude of contemporary immigration and displacement. Maria Elena González’s understated, post-Minimalist work often references her own biography; like Eva Hesse and Roni Horn, she interlards the vocabulary of Minimalism with personal detail and uses media that purposely avoid the sanctity of the “specific object.” Loss clings to her work (an earlier sculpture of two tiled stools referenced her deceased parents), and her materials

  • Miguel Calderón

    Who can blame Mexico City’s artists for making a habit of investigating their hometown in their work? At twenty million people and counting, theirs—as many an exhibition press release has stated—is a megalopolis of extremes, characterized by vast disparities in wealth, the aftereffects of colonialism, and changes wrought by NAFTA.

    In Miguel Calderón’s “Forcing the Forces of Nature,” the hometown connection was less striking than in his earlier work, but it’s visible nonetheless. Calderón’s “Chapultepec” photo series (all works 2003) features picnickers in the eponymous park whom he

  • picks November 05, 2003

    Nancy Spero

    Nancy Spero's war drawings were made in response to Vietnam, and with the term “quagmire” being bandied about so freely these days, they're due for a comeback. Reconstructing the carnage of battle—explosions of fire, heat, smoke, gas, and bodily fluids—in ink and gouache on paper, she offers a graphic essay complete with the pull-out-the-stops rhetoric of a good polemic. Drawings like Female Bomb, 1966, or The Great Mother Victim, 1968, remind us of Spero's seminal feminist work, while others—like an image of penis-shaped weapons emblazoned with the letters F-U-C-K—make the

  • picks November 04, 2003

    Isaac Julien

    Featuring veteran actor/director Melvin Van Peebles in hot pursuit of an “Afro Cyborg” played by Vanessa Myrie, Isaac Julien’s three-screen film installation follows its characters through a diverse set of Baltimore institutions: the Walters Art Museum, Johns Hopkins’s Peabody Library, and the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Baltimore, 2003, quotes from flying kung-fu choreography and the sound track to Van Peebles's iconic 1971 blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, but also casts its eye further back, into a perspectival study of Rome by an anonymous sixteenth-century painter.

  • Lyle Ashton Harris

    Over the course of his career, Lyle Ashton Harris has moved among installation, video, and photography, often combining the three. His most recent show found him focusing on a single medium, however, and his favorite subject: himself. The twelve large-format Polaroid photographs on view (all works 2002) were all titled “Memoirs of Hadrian,” after a novel by Marguerite Yourcenar that takes the form of a letter from Emperor Hadrian to Marcus Aurelius. In eight of the photographs, Harris poses as a pugilist, bruised and bloodied, wearing boxing gloves and a white jockstrap. (Signifiers of imperial

  • picks October 02, 2003

    Rineke Dijkstra

    Plenty has been written about Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs of a young French foreign legion enlistee, but this is the moment to see them. After three years, Dijkstra’s project has reached its denouement: The teenager, Olivier, has become a man and a soldier. Dijkstra’s original strategy of photographing individuals in transition—into motherhood, adulthood, or naturalized citizenship—has evolved; she has introduced a chronological element by documenting the transitions over time. As you examine the photos for the subtle variations among them, the relationship of part to whole, of picture to

  • Carol Bove

    The 1960s—by which we usually mean the late ’60s and early ’70s—have been mythologized in a number of ways; exploited by conservatives, who have adopted the insurrectionary tactics originally developed by the Left; eulogized by the popular-music industry; and skewered by writers like Michel Houellebecq, whose novels explore the fallout of the sexual revolution. Artist Carol Bove was raised in Berkeley, California, the place bearing the most vivid date stamp from that era, and has said her interest in this period stems from a need to “think about” her family. Here, rather than assess the triumphs

  • Meredith Danluck

    Two arty scientists served as inspirations for this exhibition. One, Robert Moog, designed electronic music synthesizers and uttered the words that served as an epigraph for the show: “Musical instruments provide the most efficient and refined interface between man and machine of anything we know.” The other, Buckminster Fuller, was a multidisciplinary inventor and practical philosopher best known for developing the light, strong, and cost-efficient geodesic dome.

    A formal geometry—fundamental to both the geodesic dome and the mathematically generated sound waves of the analog synthesizer—underlies

  • picks September 16, 2003

    Eddo Stern

    Between Langlands & Bell at Henry Urbach and Eddo Stern at Postmasters, art modeled on war-themed video games seems to have reached critical mass. Of the two exhibitions, Stern’s is the more authoritative—and not just because he served in the Israeli army. Stern elevates video games above the status of gallery novelty act, making viable sculpture out of bulky mainframes and combining the (still) surprisingly stilted imagery of Playstation bestsellers with music that is evocative and laughably low-tech (i.e., the tinkly arcade renditions of classic-rock songs in his DVD Vietnam Romance, 2003).

  • picks September 09, 2003

    Kelly Heaton

    Visitors to this show are greeted by a huge blow-up of an article from the New York Times that describes a run on Tickle Me Elmo dolls; nearby is Live Pelt Archives, a display case filled with antique artifacts of the fur trade. Both objects are touchstones for Heaton’s project, an absurdist stunt that involves a collection of used Elmo dolls, a prototype “Elmo fur” coat, and a working “fur studio” set up in the gallery. Linking the fur trade—which to a great extent determined early relations between Europeans and Indians in North America—to contemporary trade routes (all the dolls were

  • picks August 17, 2003

    “Knockabout”

    “Knockabout” presents works by seven artists who manipulate and reconfigure commonplace objects. It’s not the most original concept, but that doesn’t really matter once you see the stellar group of works collected by curator Mark Orange. Mathieu Mercier, winner of the 2003 Prix Marcel Duchamp (France’s Turner Prize) presents primary-colored plastics arranged in Mondrian grids. Oli Watt’s school desks are radically transformed, one by wads of bubblegum covering every inch of its surface, the other by an intricate desktop carving that reads LIZ-N-OLI. Cornelia Parker mines her signature

  • picks August 13, 2003

    “This Is Lagos”

    This is the summer of Afrobeat—a fusion of jazz, funk, big band, and Yoruba music—and of paying homage to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938–97), the charismatic practitioner who coined the term. “Black President” at the New Museum devotes itself to Fela’s “art and legacy” with works by thirty-four international artists. “This Is Lagos,” meanwhile, offers a more intimate view of the musician-revolutionary who made seventy-seven albums, appeared in court more than two hundred times, had twenty-seven wives, declared his compound in Lagos a sovereign state, and ultimately died of AIDS. The most revealing

  • picks August 03, 2003

    Tomoko Sawada

    Like Nikki S. Lee or Yasumasa Morimura, Tomoko Sawada will inevitably be compared to Cindy Sherman because she creates photographic portraits of herself in various costumes. But unlike Sherman, Sawada doesn't actually click the shutter: Half the works in her show at Zabriskie were created in a photo booth, and the other half were taken by professional portrait photographers. Digging deep into her culture, the way Sherman has scrutinized American movie stereotypes or, more recently, middle-aged So-Cal women, Sawada offers a twist on traditional Japanese portraits of candidates for arranged

  • picks July 22, 2003

    “Regarding Amy”

    Craft, imagination, intuition, nostalgia, and a “celebration of the idiosyncratic rather than the academic” are the ostensible links among the works in this show. It might sound like an overly general theme, but the exhibition hangs together, partly because the work is good, and partly because curator Carol Greene makes her case for the resurgence of nostalgic-utopian leanings among young artists (a tendency they might not have identified in themselves). Paul Chan’s digital animation installation Happiness (finally) after 35,000 years, 2000–2003, conflates the imagery of Henry Darger and the

  • picks July 09, 2003

    Jean-Luc Mylayne

    Jean-Luc Mylayne’s photographs of birds call to mind the links between photography and hunting: “shooting”; the “snapshot”; silently lying in wait for one’s subject. But reductive comparisons don’t really do justice to the elegant complexities of Mylayne’s photographs. Taken over the course of two decades, they are like Proustian meditations on a place (northern France), the change of seasons, and, especially, the passage of time: Each photograph is the end result of a months-long process of patient ornithological observation. In a modest back yard or through a sliding glass door, birds are