Matt Saunders

  • the Best of 2015


    Silicone snake, West 42nd and Broadway, New York, July 29, 2015.

    This picture was taken along the waterfront in San Francisco’s Mission Bay area. This area is extremely scenic, with old battleships and boats. I go there frequently to walk my dog, relax, and enjoy the fantastic views. The pier is used to store various components for seasonal parades or events. This grouping of floats for the Pride

  • Matt Saunders

    I'M EVER FATED to recall a bizarre marquee: BASQUIAT VS. MARTIN. Granted, it makes little sense as a choice or proper bout. Yet it was a formative happy accident, visiting New York from Baltimore with all of seventeen years behind me, to find those two artists’ retrospectives facing off in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s fall 1992 lineup. Jean-Michel Basquiat had the compelling whiff of 1980s Gotham cool, a party I’d never get to attend. But Agnes Martin was an artist I thought I knew. I thought I “got” it, and I confess that with all the idiot swagger of youth, I almost skipped her show,

  • Agnes Martin

    What is it we talk about when we talk about Agnes Martin? I wondered this recently at the Hirshhorn Museum, as I watched several couples blissfully gravitate to the same stately painting, exclaiming: “An Agnes Martin!” A towering figure, Martin honed a practice that is instantly recognizable and widely revered—though neither condition is necessarily good for deep consideration. This expansive survey promises a compelling overview of fifty years of production (1954–2004) and occasions a thorough catalogue addressing the full range of

  • George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, 2013, oil on board, approx 20 x 18".

    the paintings of George W. Bush

    We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content
    ourselves with a joy-ride in a paint box. And for this
    audacity is the only ticket.

    —Winston Churchill, “Painting as a Pastime”

    AS I WRITE THIS REVIEW, the New York Times is running a feature on Metro Meteor, a retired racing champion who’s reinvented himself as a painter. Assistants tape his brushes so that they don’t splinter when he holds them in his mouth. He paints only one color a day so that the marks don’t smear. Presumably, he paints by feel—after all, a horse’s eyes are on the side of its head.

    I don’t bring up Meteor to equate

  • View of “Amy Sillman: one lump or two,” 2013–14. From left: Psychology Today, 2006; Untitled, 1999; A Bird in the Hand, 2006; Them, 2006. Photo: Charles Mayer.

    Amy Sillman

    SO, IT TURNS OUT that Amy Sillman is indispensable. This expansive traveling survey, “one lump or two,” makes a pretty good case for her garrulous vision of painting as an elastic and ambitious pursuit. As a model of persistent picture-based engagement, it is something to account for.

    But if you’re not going to buy it, that’s OK, too. Sillman can take the lumps. In fact, she happily invites them. Her work’s willingness to expose its unguarded flank is enshrined by her and others as a serious virtue. In some ways it is one. Personally, I’m not often won over by the charm of the sad sack, nor blown

  • Albert Oehlen, Untitled, 2011, oil and paper on canvas, 8' x 10' 2".

    “Albert Oehlen: Malerei”

    Albert Oehlen’s paintings want to be hard to love. Or do they? Often framed by double-edged terms such as bad taste, irony, or contamination, Oehlen’s work slides deftly from the abject to the impressive. Its vulnerabilities and strengths are at one in its sheer permissiveness. By all measures, this German artist’s shadow is long, so some goodly anticipation surrounds what will be his first career survey in Austria. Organized by Achim Hochdörfer (who is no less able an interrogator of painting’s current potential) and couched largely in terms of confrontations among

  • Martin Kippenberger painting at his family’s home in Essen, Germany, 1960. Photo: Ilse Pässler.

    Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families

    Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families, by Susanne Kippenberger, translated by Damion Searls. Atlanta: J&L Books, 2012. 592 pages.

    ON ONE OF MY FIRST VISITS TO COLOGNE, over supper and Kölsch, an older friend told me how he once reverentially brought Martin Kippenberger a bottle of liquor as a gift. And how did Kippenberger like it? No, my friend explained, he didn’t go meet him. Perhaps he didn’t dare. He put the booze in a locker at the train station, and mailed Herr Kippenberger the key.

    True or embellished, this tale has stuck with me for something it typifies about my generation’s relation

  • Katharina Grosse, George, 2009, (on view during Embrace!, Nov. 14. 2009- Apr. 4, 2010), acrylic paint on wall.

    Katharina Grosse

    Though bombastic, Katharina Grosse’s outing last year at Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin polarized opinion with its relative reticence, as Grosse seemed to retreat from her signature style of Day-Glo despoilment—loops and nebulae of dense, electric color sprayed directly onto museum walls, her own bedroom in Düsseldorf, and the lawn and facade of a New Orleans bungalow. Though bombastic, Katharina Grosse’s outing last year at Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin polarized opinion with its relative reticence, as Grosse seemed to retreat from her signature style of Day-Glo despoilment—loops

  • “Notation”

    “YOU DON’T MISS YOUR WATER,” the saying goes, “till your well runs dry.” True, I never thought I’d miss Hanne Darboven so much. That was my initial reaction to “Notation,” a vastly ambitious show on view last fall at Berlin’s Akademie der Künste that travels next month to the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany. Organized by image theoretician Hubertus von Amelunxen along with artists Dieter Appelt and Peter Weibel, the exhibition is billed as a broad overview of “sign systems [in] literature, music, painting, choreography, architecture, photography, film, and media

  • Berlin Alexanderplatz

    “I DON’T THROW BOMBS. I make films”—or so Rainer Werner Fassbinder proclaimed on posters for The Third Generation, his 1979 spoof on terrorism. Well, tell it to the Kulturminister. And to the rest of the gala crowd that turned up at Berlin’s Admiralspalast last February for the premiere of the restored version of an even more audacious film: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), the director’s fifteen-and-a-half-hour made-for-TV epic. If Fassbinder’s proclamation deliberately reads two ways, it underscores his place in the history of postwar German filmmaking—at once its most consummate craftsman and

  • Matt Saunders

    MY YEAR CAME INTO FOCUS in someone else’s flashback. At a summer party in a socialist-era tower on Karl-Marx-Allee, the British artist Mark Wallinger reminisced about one of his performances at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie the previous October: It’s sometime after midnight, and he’s shuffling about inside Mies van der Rohe’s iconic structure in a mangy bear suit, his sight framed by a snarling mouth (which is the only family resemblance between this creature and its intended cousin, Berlin’s mascot, ursus rampant). The suit is sweltering, and Wallinger pauses his performance for clandestine

  •  Jonathan Meese, Jonathan Meese ist Mutter Parzival (Jonathan Meese Is Mother Parsifal), 2005. Performance view, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, 2005. Photo: Jan Bauer.

    Matt Saunders on Jonathan Meese’s Mother Parsifal

    AT THE END of John Boorman’s 1974 cult film Zardoz, Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling sit in a cave and age quickly through the rest of their lives while Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony booms. The cuts move with the music, so each new phrase of orchestral high Kultur seems to bury them deeper under campy pancake and latex. As pretentious tableau, it pits lifetime against geological time, and as eccentric comedy, it transforms the two sex symbols into Pirate’s Cove theme-park skeletons. From Jonathan Meese, I expected something of the same.

    Jonathan Meese Is Mother Parsifal set the young artist