Martin Herbert

  • View of “John Coplans and Michael Schmidt: The Lingering Drama of the Body,” 2020–21. From left: John Coplans, Self Portrait, Frieze No. 5, 1994; Michael Schmidt, works from the series “Frauen” (Women), 1997–99. Photo: Gerhard Kassner.

    John Coplans and Michael Schmidt

    The photographic practices of John Coplans and Michael Schmidt have never been juxtaposed in an exhibition before, but the two artists admired each other’s work, and it’s not hard to see why. In the commingled monochrome images in “The Lingering Drama of the Body,” extracted from much larger cycles of work, both artists explore how the human body is imprinted by time. For the British-born Coplans—a founding editor of this magazine as well as an artist, writer, and curator—that meant the aging process. For Schmidt, a long-term chronicler of cultural change in Germany (and in Berlin in particular),

  • Esteban Jefferson, Tarifs Réduits, 2020, oil on linen, 72 × 108".

    Esteban Jefferson

    If you encountered Esteban Jefferson’s paintings in Paris, in the Petit Palais, whose rotunda provides the setting for the scenes depicted in the five canvases in the New York–based artist’s recent show “Petit Palais”—you’d likely think them uncompleted, and to some extent you’d be right. In Entrée, 2020, for example, we can discern the museum’s ticket desk, employees behind it, and guests ascending a short staircase into the halls. But all of this appears only in the form of ghostly penciled outlines on brown-stained linen, the only element fully and attentively painted being a marble bust,

  • Catherine Biocca, Red, 2020, industrial marker on hand-sewn terry cloth, cotton filling, cotton, 66 7/8 × 41 × 2".

    Catherine Biocca

    Catherine Biocca’s recent show “Milky Seas” took its name from an effect of bioluminescence created when bacteria in seawater cause large tracts of the ocean to glow blue at night. In the Italian artist’s hands, this reference torqued into metaphor, but so obliquely that the viewer stood in genuine need of the recent interview with the art magazine Monopol, in which the artist explains her interest in the phenomenon—luckily, a printout was available by the door. In the context of her exhibition, apparently, the artist related the luminescence produced by marine microorganisms to the toxic

  • Sophie Reinhold, Das kann das leben kosten (That Could Cost You Your Life), 2020, oil on marble powder on jute, 55 × 43 1⁄4".

    Sophie Reinhold

    The title of one of Sophie Reinhold’s paintings here, Gewöhne dich nicht daran, 2019—referencing an anti-drug addiction slogan of the German Democratic Republic and translating as “Don’t get used to it”—might also apply to her purposely elliptical practice. The Berlin-based artist frequently works up pale paintings on a ground of jute and marble dust, with pieces of canvas cut out and stitched onto their surfaces to create ghostly figurations, like shallow reliefs on a facade. In this show, “Das kann das Leben kosten” (That Could Cost You Your Life), the chimerical expanse of the opening painting,

  • Maria Loboda, Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

    Maria Loboda

    There are exhibitions for which an accompanying text is helpful, and then there was Maria Loboda’s “Woman observing the Alpha Persei Cluster,” which would have been impenetrable without one. Unless, that is, the viewer happened to be equally versed in French modernist interiors, English Bronze Age antiquities, Swiss utopian movements, Egyptian royalty, old science-fiction comics, astronomy, and more. Heavily researched and encoded art is nothing new, of course, but the Polish artist’s installation, a mix of wall drawing and sculpture, was among the most multilayered examples I’ve seen, and

  • Ryan Mosley, Evening interval, 2019, oil on canvas, 59 × 47 1⁄4".

    Ryan Mosley

    It makes sense that Ryan Mosley shares a gallery with Neo Rauch, since both the British painter and his older German colleague use deliberate narrative lacunae and patched-together compositions to suggest the collapse of former certainties. In Rauch’s case, the world he limned was, at least initially, the post-Communist one. Mosley, over the dozen-odd years since he left London’s Royal College of Art, has fashioned colorful, instinctive-feeling, uneasy carnivalesques full of Picassian harlequin patterning, James Ensor–ish skulls, cacti, animals, and, often, men in stovepipe or bowler hats and

  • Roman Ondak, Aeon, 2019, wood, metal, paint, 10' 8“ × 2' 7 1⁄2” × 2' 7 1⁄2".

    Roman Ondak

    Many of Roman Ondak’s artworks over the past two decades have relied, explicitly or implicitly, on the help of his audience. Think of Measuring the Universe, 2007, in which visitors mark their height on a gallery wall, or Good Feelings in Good Times, 2003, a performative, volunteer-filled queue. But the Slovak artist has also alternated such ephemeral proposals with sculptures, installations, photographs, and films, and his first show with Esther Schipper—a commercial powerhouse on the Berlin art scene—was on the face of it a full pivot to objecthood, as well as a reminder that the heyday of

  • Heike Kabisch, Hour of Devour, 2019, ink-jet print on paper, resin, mineral crystals, fabric, 84 7⁄8 × 59 1⁄4 × 9".

    Heike Kabisch

    To manifest real disquiet in a gallery is not easy, but Heike Kabisch’s “frothing, you and I” got close. The main room in Berlin gallery ChertLüdde’s modest Kreuzberg space, half-lit by murky pink strip lights above a wall-size image of guileless rhododendrons, grew darker in every sense as you looked down. On the floor were blackened ceramic sculptures of desperately scrawny legs poking out from various kinds of covering, numbered as a series of “poses,” 2019–, and collectively titled I told you to be more passionate . . . (all works 2019). Left of the door, a coital scene was unfolding, heads

  • “LUBAINA HIMID: WORK FROM UNDERNEATH”

    Curated by Natalie Bell

    The title of Lubaina Himid’s first solo museum show in the US—taken from the directive language of health-and-safety manuals—has a double resonance. The Tanzania-born artist, primarily a painter, has long given high-chroma form to occluded histories of black Britons and the ugly reverbs of colonialism and the slave trade; for this she won the Turner Prize in 2017, at the age of sixty-three. Unfreedom is also countered in formal terms: Himid’s codified groupings of black figures, arranged formally as in eighteenth-century English paintings (think William Hogarth), manifest

  • Steve Bishop, Deliquescing (detail), 2018, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: Frank Sperling.

    Steve Bishop

    Steve Bishop’s installation Deliquescing, 2018, greeted viewers who entered from the left staircase with a cloud of mist, both literal and metaphorical. The real haze was rising from a pair of ultrasonic humidifiers, which, like the rest of this five-part excursion, registered as part of a nebulous clinical environment constructed from false walls—wooden frames shrouded in semiopaque polyethylene tarp—and divided up by PVC crash doors. The drifting vapor’s import was hinted at straightaway by a scrolling text, in all caps, on a wall-mounted monitor. The text recounted its narrator’s difficulties

  • PROJECT: JESSE DARLING

    EASILY TORN, ephemeral, evocative—the magazine page is an appropriate second home for Jesse Darling’s work. In recent years, the artist has honed a spindly, pragmatic mode of assemblage, hospitable to bent metal tubing, hoodies, medical gear, fluttering plastic bags. When combined, these unassuming materials tend to sketchily conjure bodies. In this way, Darling’s approach to representation gravitates toward deliberate weakness, manifest damage, and evocations of mutual aid, as if to anticipate and then repudiate a context of toxic masculinity and wrathful white heteronormativity. In their

  • Rodney Graham, Halcion Sleep, 1994, video, black-and-white, silent, 26 minutes.

    RODNEY GRAHAM

    Rodney Graham has long repudiated endings in favor of reverie-like ingresses to the past; this midcareer sampling of his work, dating from 1993 to 2017, will be a dream, almost. In the video Halcion Sleep, 1994, while drugged in the back of a car, the artist revisits both childhood memories of somnolent travel and Warhol’s Sleep. In Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, 2003, a 1961 Italian projector screens artificial snow falling on a pristine 1930s German typewriter—defunct technologies pairing to fabricate ethereality. Since 2007, in scrupulously mocked-up, hugely appealing light-box