Martin Herbert

  • “Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns”

    The Donald Rumsfeld Scale of epistemology, established post-9/11, famously stretches from “known knowns” to “unknown unknowns.” “Known unknowns,” however, occupy the median zone of well-founded anxiety brought on not by being “in possession of all the facts”—the condition of paranoia as wryly defined by William S. Burroughs—but by having enough of them to extrapolate that grim details have yet to emerge about, say, “black ops,” human-rights violations, illegal extradition, and human trafficking. Here, thirteen artists and collaboratives (including Taryn Simon,

  • “Simon Starling: Metamorphology”

    Metamorphology, a term borrowed from Goethe’s protoevolutionary theory, is a persuasive catchall for Simon Starling’s practice, which is postmedium—and multimedia—yet full of research-heavy, labor-intensive, material transformations. This first major museum survey in the US will include, among eleven ambitious works from the past decade, a propped two-ton slab of Romanian steel titled after Brancusi’s 1923 Bird in Space, which Duchamp had likewise shepherded through US customs, duty-free, some eighty years earlier—but only after a

  • Ed Atkins

    Few young artists so instinctively grasp the zeitgeist as does Ed Atkins. In his films, computer-rendered avatars overflow with emotional monologues, and a virtuoso digital aesthetic is undercut by a fixation on flesh—death and decay are recurrent subjects. Staging near-simultaneous shows in London and Paris, the prolific British artist is set to present new works at the Serpentine alongside Ribbons, which debuted in Zurich this spring. The three-channel installation will also be the main event at the Palais de Tokyo. And yet the work

  • Mike Nelson

    Mike Nelson evidently can’t forget the Amnesiacs, the biker-gang-esque posse (lacking the chromed hogs) whose mythology he created and who since 1996 have ghosted the artist’s fiction-rich installations. Two recent works included here are linked to that narrative: Gang of Seven, 2013, came from sessions of Canadian beachcombing, and Eighty Circles Through Canada (The Last Possessions of an Orcadian Mountain Man), 2013, includes 35-mm slides shot on jaunts through British Columbia. Quiver of Arrows, 2010, meanwhile, features midcentury Airstream trailers filled with Charlton

  • OPENINGS: ALISTAIR FROST

    IF YOU HAVE ANY FAMILIARITY with Apple’s aesthetic, Alistair Frost’s painting Out of Office Auto Reply, 2012, will click immediately. It features the side-on speaker of the Mac OS volume icon, muted by an overlaid black cross whose faux-ragged “expressive” edging suggests—like much of the London-based artist’s Google-powered work—clip art. The immediate feel, then, is of a symbol dragged and dropped; the implicit definition of painting is as something lacking a voice, and the title proposes that not only was this nonstatement generated without human interaction but that the artist is

  • “Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing”

    “Curiosity” is a sobriquet that suggests the recondite and faintly déclassé: qualities, no doubt, that recommend it to the arcana-loving, culturally omnivorous New York–based magazine Cabinet and to its UK editor Brian Dillon, who’s curated this bursting Wunderkammer of an exhibition. Spanning contemporary art, anatomy, criminology, Cold War secrets, voyeurism, old-master drawings, and more, “Curiosity” is set to provide a bracingly broad definition of the value—and gratifications—of uncovered knowledge, its centuries-spanning time line hitching past ambitions

  • “Gerard Byrne: A State of Neutral Pleasure”

    Gerard Byrne’s practice is a gently vertiginous one: We construe the present, the Irish artist suggests, in relation to a past we know only via suspect representations.

    Gerard Byrne’s practice is a gently vertiginous one: We construe the present, the Irish artist suggests, in relation to a past we know only via suspect representations. Accentuating this—sometimes through his actors’ inappropriate accents—Byrne engineers video installations that wonkily restage conversations pulled from broadcasting and magazine archives. He brings Brechtian unraveling and tangled temporality to bear on historical evidence that has been, to some degree, theatricalized or mediated at its source: an acted version of a future-predicting 1963 Playboy

  • UNDVIDED ATTENTION: THE ART OF LUKE FOWLER

    LUKE FOWLER’S All Divided Selves, 2011, a ninety-minute film centering on the once-notorious “antipsychiatrist” R. D. Laing, divides documentary filmmaking against itself. Assembling archival footage of Laing, his critics, and his freewheeling treatment sessions, the Glasgow-based artist offers an intricate composite of clashing opinions and incompatible filmic registers, weights and counterweights. For seemingly every clip of Laing calmly unpacking his thoughts on, say, schizophrenia and the military-industrial complex to a (typically hostile) interviewer, there’s a fusty mainstream psychiatrist

  • “Goshka Macuga: Exhibit, A”

    Goshka Macuga’s category-confounding strategies of playing artist-as-curator, unearthing an institution’s history, and displaying otherwise concealed information reflect her upbringing in Communist Poland— a politics of exposure, she’s said.

    Goshka Macuga’s category-confounding strategies of playing artist-as-curator, unearthing an institution’s history, and displaying otherwise concealed information reflect her upbringing in Communist Poland— a politics of exposure, she’s said, directs her research-based practice. In 2011, Macuga installed Family—a remake of a censored Oscar Bony sculpture—in the spot in Warsaw’s Zache˛ta National Gallery of Art where Maurizio Cattelan once exhibited his meteorite-struck pope. For The Nature of the Beast, 2009, Macuga set up a meeting space for political

  • AFTER EFFECTS: THE ART OF ANJA KIRSCHNER AND DAVID PANOS

    ALTHOUGH ANJA KIRSCHNER AND DAVID PANOS’S 2009 video The Last Days of Jack Sheppard is set in the early 1720s, its chaotic mise-en-scène is a familiar one. We are in London in the wake of a financial boom fueled by contagious speculation. Fortunes have been made virtually overnight, although a subsequent stock market crash has just as speedily vaporized them. Inequality in the distribution of wealth is extreme, but social mobility is also, for a few, increasing—controversial celebrities transfix the public, their antics popularized in part by new technologies that circulate information at

  • “Jimmy Robert: Vis-à-Vis”

    Gear-shifting between photography, film, video, and performance, and powered by quietly interrelated thematics—bodies, ephemerality, gesture, theatricality—Jimmy Robert’s mercurial practice resists speedy parsing.

    Gear-shifting between photography, film, video, and performance, and powered by quietly interrelated thematics—bodies, ephemerality, gesture, theatricality—Jimmy Robert’s mercurial practice resists speedy parsing. But the forty-five works in this show—the artist’s first major US exhibi- tion, spanning 2004 to 2012—should lay out Robert’s main concerns. For now, countenance that what connects the Guadeloupe-born artist’s photographic-sculptural hybrids (folded, bent, curling, or collaged images of people, with faces frequently obscured) and performances

  • OPENINGS: ED ATKINS

    ONE WAY OF UNDERSTANDING high-definition digital video is via statistics: If the pixels-per-image count is anywhere above 920,000, it’s high-def. But a more nuanced characterization, and one less likely to be repurposed for advertising copy, appears in Ed Atkins’s unpublished 2011 text “Some Notes on High Definition with Apologies to M. Blanchot.” “High Definition (HD) has surpassed what we tamely imagined to be the zenith of representational affectivity within the moving image,” the twenty-nine-year-old London-based artist writes, “presenting us with lucid, liquid images that are at once both

  • Zarina Bhimji

    Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2007, filmmaker, photographer, and installation artist Zarina Bhimji nevertheless remains a hazily contoured creative presence.

    Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2007, filmmaker, photographer, and installation artist Zarina Bhimji nevertheless remains a hazily contoured creative presence. That’s perhaps due to the delicacy of her work, which dusts for traces of human occupation in landscape and architecture: Her film of a verdant Ugandan vista, Out of the Blue, 2002, for example, countersigns its imagery with the nondiegetic sounds of voices and crackling fire, hitching together the story of Idi Amin’s 1972 expulsion of his country’s Asian citizens—the artist among them—and the

  • “Le Silence. Une Fiction”

    At last, curators are admitting that their concepts are artifices, frameworks for imposing specific readings on multivalent works of art.

    At last, curators are admitting that their concepts are artifices, frameworks for imposing specific readings on multivalent works of art. How else to explain the recent flurry of exhibitions themed—with sweet-natured playfulness—around fictions? Sci-fi, that most imaginative of modes, has been particularly popular, and in this show, the backstory involves an uninhabitable planet (our own, of course) and a failed attempt by its tenants to colonize another one. What supposedly remains of the extinct civilization is seen here: sixty-some

  • “Museum Show”

    How do you fit several dozen museums into one medium-size art institution? It helps if they’re all at least semifictional and manageably scaled, as in this forty- artist survey of museological mimicries

    How do you fit several dozen museums into one medium-size art institution? It helps if they’re all at least semifictional and manageably scaled, as in this forty- artist survey of museological mimicries. The reflexive finale of the Arnolfini’s year of fiftieth birthday celebrations, the show collates the continuum from Marcel Duchamp’s 1943 monographic trove in a suitcase, the Bôite-en-valise, to Marcel Broodthaers’s grand upending of taxonomic categories, to quixotic present-day examples such as Bill Burns’s Museum of Safety Gear for Small Animals. (Plus, expect turns by Stuart

  • Artangel’s twentieth anniversary

    IF YOU’VE PAID ATTENTION to contemporary art in Britain since the early 1990s, the chances are good that Artangel—the exemplary, catalytic, London-based arts trust currently marking its twentieth anniversary—has gifted you with some indelible memories. Numerous spikes in the graph of my own spectatorship correspond to site-specific projects that codirectors James Lingwood and Michael Morris have commissioned, financed, and helped conceptualize. 1993: Rachel Whiteread’s House, a spectral plaster cast of the interior of an East London house, last survivor of a demolished terrace and

  • Susan Hiller

    IN 1974, following several years in which she ritually renounced painting––chopping old canvases into little rectangles and stitching them together into tomblike blocks, preserving the ashes of burned works in vials––Susan Hiller found her enduring subject with Dream Mapping. Articulated via dream diaries (seen at Tate Britain in vitrines) kept by seven people sleeping within “fairy rings” of mushrooms in a supposedly enchanted Hampshire field, this lasting topic was the stubborn, abyssal irrationality of the human mind. On the evidence of Tate Britain’s forty-year survey, curated by Ann Gallagher

  • “Secret Societies”

    From Yale’s president-spawning Skull and Bones to that mythical “invisible world government” the Illuminati, secret societies exert a powerful grip on the imagination.

    From Yale’s president-spawning Skull and Bones to that mythical “invisible world government” the Illuminati, secret societies exert a powerful grip on the imagination. The Schirn Kunsthalle’s show isn’t an exposé, though. Rather, it proposes contemporary art itself as a seedbed for clandestine coteries, exacting codes of behavior, and diverse methods of evasion and exclusion. Here, within an appositely labyrinthine display designed by Fabian Marti, more than one hundred works by nearly fifty artists—including Kenneth Anger, Joachim Koester,

  • Simon Starling

    FOUR TIMES SINCE 2005, Camden Arts Centre has crossed its fingers and handed the curatorial reins to an artist. After Tacita Dean, Steven Claydon, and Paulina Olowska, most recently it was Simon Starling’s turn, and it was notable and apposite that this marked the first occasion when the neophyte curator’s name surged above his or her chosen title, because “Never the Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts)”—mounted almost exactly a decade after Starling’s own solo show here—was especially consonant with its selector’s artistic practice: that of resituating and reanimating objects

  • John Stezaker

    After forty years of sifting through antique photographs from thrift shops and flea markets—and then cropping and conjoining them to crowbar open their meanings—John Stezaker is finally being recognized at home.

    After forty years of sifting through antique photographs from thrift shops and flea markets—and then cropping and conjoining them to crowbar open their meanings—John Stezaker is finally being recognized at home. The ninety-plus works in his first UK retrospective should appear as a singularly unified whole, for the sexagenarian artist (who is still augmenting series he initiated three decades ago) hasn’t so much evolved as finessed his aptitude for the uncanny. As Stezaker dramatizes the irrational hold that particular images exert on him by, say, a virtuoso