Michael Lobel

  • Diego Rivera, Vaccination, 1932–33, fresco, 101 1/2 × 84''. From the north wall of the mural “Detroit Industry,” 1932–33. Photo: Detroit Institute of Arts.
    slant June 02, 2022

    Viral Content

    OVER THE COURSE of the past couple of years, I’ve kept coming back to the image of Diego Rivera’s Vaccination. I can’t get it out of my head. The primary reason should be fairly obvious: This is arguably the most iconic and widely recognized artistic treatment of a subject that many of us have been reading, talking, and thinking about incessantly during the pandemic. But there’s more to it than that. If conventional accounts would lead us to expect mural art to be direct, didactic, and declarative, Rivera’s image is anything but. Its effect is subtly disquieting; it gets under your skin. Measured

  • Battle Lines

    SO AS NOT TO BURY THE LEDE, as the old journalistic saying goes, I’ll make things perfectly clear right from the outset: It’s very likely that this 1936 black-and-white photo of a protest in Brooklyn captures two hitherto unknown paintings by Romare Bearden, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated African American artists. If that’s the case, these would be among the earliest, if not the earliest, painted works by Bearden on record. And, in their depiction of lynchings, they would help illuminate an important yet little discussed period in the artist’s career, when he created intensely

  • Jasper Johns, Flag Study, 1959, watercolor and graphite on found paper envelope, 4 1/8 × 9 1/2". © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.


    IN LATE 1993, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, opened the one-person exhibition “To Disembark,” by Glenn Ligon. It included what would come to be some of the artist’s most recognizable efforts, including wall drawings featuring stenciled texts and a suite of lithographs borrowing imagery from nineteenth-century fugitive-slave handbills. Alongside these two-dimensional pieces, Ligon activated the exhibition space with a grouping of wooden forms constructed to look like packing boxes, each emitting a different snippet of recorded sound from within. Though an observer

  • View of Frederick Wellington Ruckstull’s Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Baltimore covered in red paint, August 14, 2017. Photo: Jerry Jackson/Getty.
    slant June 27, 2020

    American Degeneracy

    SOME HAVE BEEN INCLINED to view the recent removal of Civil War monuments as a turn away from the past. To many of us, however, it is a prompt not for less but rather for more history—which is to say more clear-eyed, more unflinching, more detailed historical inquiry—that would help us better understand the circumstances under which those markers were erected in the first place, often decades after the war’s end.

    This is just one of many stories comprising that history, one that I think should be better known.

    In 1916, a new monthly magazine appeared on the US art scene. Published in New York,

  • John Singer Sargent, Gassed (detail), 1918–19, oil on canvas, 7' 7'' x 20'. Imperial War Museums, London.
    slant April 21, 2020

    Close Contact

    OVER THE COURSE OF SEVERAL RECENT MONTHS, a fiery debate raged in the pages of UK art publications The Burlington Magazine and The Art Newspaper, and inevitably migrated online as well. It revolved around a simple question: Who was the true author of the radical 1917 work Fountain, the porcelain urinal submitted to the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York under the pseudonym R. Mutt? On one side are those who accept the long-held and near-universal identification of Marcel Duchamp as the work’s creator; on the other are those who argue fiercely that authorship should

  • Iconic Encounter

    EVEN NOW, decades later, it retains the power to mesmerize. Spare and emblematic, the image has the concision of a single-verse hymn: a woman, standing at center, mop and broom on either side of her; a few pieces of office equipment appearing at left and right; an American flag hanging in the background. Yet there is just enough ambiguity to elicit closer attention. Note the woman’s gaze: Some have described her as staring straight into the camera, while others assert she is looking down and to the side. I believe it’s the latter, but the angle of her eyeglasses, along with that sliver of shadow


    Now that we’re all living in the uncanny valley pretty much 24/7, Laurie Simmons’s work is timelier than ever. For decades, she’s been exploring the myriad ways we humanize objects and objectify the human. Opening at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and then moving on to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, this show will include about 130 pieces—primarily photographs, as well as some sculptural objects and films—spanning from the beginning of the artist’s career in the mid-1970s to images made this year. This assembly of such a comprehensive body of Simmons’s work

  • James Rosenquist, Cologne, 1972. Photo: Angelika Platen.

    James Rosenquist

    JAMES ROSENQUIST helped define an era—even as he undid its imagery from within. His cool handling of advertising and media made him one of the key figures of the Pop movement in the US and contributed to the distinctive look of American art in the 1960s; he depicted motifs redolent of the postwar period, from Marilyn Monroe and JFK to automobiles and processed foodstuffs. But while many are inclined to view Pop as an art that unequivocally celebrated the new, Rosenquist took a more nuanced stance by playing with time and history from the very start. In fact, his signature paintings employed

  • Robert Rauschenberg holding a blueprint by Susan Weil and himself in their West Ninety-Fifth Street apartment, New York, 1951. Photo: Wallace Kirkland/Wallace Kirkland papers, [0062_0L11C_0004], Special Collections and University Archives, University of Illinois at Chicago. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. © Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.


    WRITING IN THESE PAGES IN 1972, the critic Leo Steinberg famously heralded the radical rupture instigated by ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG’s art. Rauschenberg’s “picture planes,” dense accumulations of things and images, dispensed with the transcendent weightlessness of modernist painting and instead evoked the quotidian material of studio floors and detritus, streams of data and imprinted information. As art historian Branden W. Joseph would later write, this is work that “views history in terms of an archive.”
    And so scholar MICHAEL LOBEL’s recent discovery of a cache of photographic negatives from 1951 in the University of Illinois at Chicago library archive provides an apt sequel to the story: Published here in Artforum for the very first time, these images feature Rauschenberg and his then wife and collaborator, SUSAN WEIL, demonstrating their process of making the legendary blueprints—direct cyanotype impressions of bodies and things—on the floor of the one-room apartment they shared in New York. Lobel explores this seminal episode in the young artists’ lives and its striking implications for their future work, teasing a rich history out of the smallest details of these “lost”—and newly found—pictures.

    IT IS AN UNFORGETTABLE PORTRAIT of the artist as a young man: A tousle-haired Robert Rauschenberg, in rolled-up shirtsleeves and paint-spattered jeans, stands barefoot amid a body of work, selections from a group of blueprints—primitive photograms—that he and Susan Weil, then his wife, produced collaboratively from about 1949 to 1951. The photograph captures myriad details that speak to the couple’s creative process and ambitions in their early years living in New York and foreshadows artistic breakthroughs yet to come. Although the picture was taken more than six decades ago and

  • “Vincent Fecteau: You Have Did The Right Thing When You Put That Skylight In”

    If San Francisco–based artist Vincent Fecteau is known for his meticulous approach to sculptural form, then this exhibition of some twenty pieces spanning the past fifteen years promises to highlight the broader range of his work: its engagement with architectural space, its consistent embrace of a collage aesthetic, and its wicked sense of humor. These qualities are evident in a recent series of diorama-like units—more than a dozen will be on view—that may (helpfully) torpedo the artist’s reputation as a restrained and tasteful abstract sculptor. The new

  • View of “Haim Steinbach,” 2013.

    Haim Steinbach

    Like most artists, Haim Steinbach has been subject to the tyranny of the label, the easily identifiable category—a boon for critics, curators, and collectors (and for students cramming for art-history exams), but a practice that risks reducing our understanding of the artist to a few salient characteristics and a slot in a movement or historical period. For Steinbach, this has resulted in his being defined primarily through his signature shelf works of the 1980s, groupings of objects that helped position him alongside neo-geo artists such as Ashley Bickerton and Jeff Koons, whose work was

  • Vincent van Gogh, The Blute-fin Mill, 1886, oil on canvas, 21 3/4 x 15".

    “Becoming Van Gogh”

    Vincent van Gogh’s last years—which witnessed the production of such canvases as The Starry Night, 1889, and Wheatfield with Crows, 1890; the ear episode; and his untimely demise—exert an inexorable pull, often serving to define the Post-Impressionist’s career as a whole. In some ways, this isn’t surprising, considering the relative brevity of van Gogh’s active period (barely ten years) and the lurid fascination with his decline, at least in the popular imagination. But it isn’t the public alone who have privileged van Gogh’s late period: In the catalogue for a 1984 show at New York’s