Michelle Grabner

  • picks February 27, 2008

    Jason Meadows

    Beckoning visitors from the back wall of Jason Meadows’s exhibition are several stenciled disembodied heads resembling the iconic farmer’s wife in Grant Wood’s American Gothic, which stare gauntly from their canvas support into a gallery annexed by four brawny and bizarre sculptures. The only painting in the exhibition, Hysteria (all works 2008), summons the same nineteenth-century Middle American values as the four emblematic objects. A family of hogs, a baseball player, a supersize old-fashioned microscope, and a weather vane are what Meadows has fastidiously fashioned out of old and new

  • picks January 16, 2008

    Richard Hawkins

    It makes sense that an institution in Amsterdam originated Richard Hawkins’s first retrospective. The liberal beliefs, social tolerance, and general promiscuity that characterize popular images of the city likewise distinguish the Los Angeles–based artist’s own permissive practice, which swings from abstract paintings to collages and from haunted-house sculptures to a series of narrative paintings depicting sexually ambiguous men whom Hawkins refers to as “hallucinations from a Viagra overdose.” With the exception of the collages, which impeccably convey the fluidness of his imagination and

  • picks January 03, 2008

    Blinky Palermo

    In 1962, Peter Heisterkamp came to Düsseldorf to study at the Kunstakademie. It was there, under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys, that Heisterkamp became Blinky Palermo, supposedly on account of his resemblance to the American boxing manager of the same name. Given that the lore of the academy looms large in Düsseldorf, organizing a comprehensive overview of the work of one of its famed students in order to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the city’s Kunsthalle and Kunstverein at their Grabbeplatz location seems only natural. Comprising a significant selection of works that includes paintings

  • picks November 06, 2007

    “I Am Eyebeam”

    Although not on the checklist, James Welling, Dara Birnbaum, Silvia Kolbowski, Louise Lawler, and Victor Burgin are palpably present in “I Am Eyebeam,” curated by Melanie Schiff and Lorelei Stewart. While it is difficult to detect “Pictures”-style representational critique in the work amassed here, the twelve participating artists seem aesthetically drawn to their Conceptualist forebears. This strong collection of work displays the artists’ preference for the darkroom over the computer desktop, appropriation over subjective narrative, and a constructivist visual language over transcendental

  • picks October 25, 2007

    Tim Laun

    Wisconsinites bleed Green Bay Packers green and gold, so an exhibition extolling the football team’s legendary quarterback Brett Favre is a foregone curatorial decision for Madison’s contemporary-art venue. The oldest name in the NFL and the only franchise that is publicly owned, the Packers inspirit a fan base that is loyal and devout. Artist Tim Laun is an indisputable Packer devotee, yet his exhibition, comprising five framed lithographs, a thirty-three-foot-long graphic mural, and a large-scale model of a cyclorama accompanied by a digital photograph, deploys a rarified visual vocabulary

  • picks October 06, 2007

    Peter Schuyff

    Peter Schuyff is more than a contemporary surrealist—the psychological discomfiture that ensues when he shamelessly superimposes his now-archetypal abstract ideograms over a distinct visual field or genre-painting image is only a humorous subtext. His practice—comprising preposterous visual juxtapositions—is grounded in critical strategies of interference. Perhaps out of favor in today’s more sentimental cultural milieu, poststructuralism and its deferral of meaning remain salient topics for many artists. Still, an analysis of Schuyff’s work in terms of surrealism is not erroneous. Addressing

  • picks October 01, 2007

    Jimmy and Jill Baker

    For this project, artist Jimmy Baker and architect Jill Baker sorted through recondite bits of Internet data detailing the building of what is to be the largest and most structurally complex US embassy in the world. This American fortress just happens to be located on a 104-acre parcel of Baghdad’s Green Zone. According to their research, the project’s $592 million budget is being squeezed from US emergency funding. Their investigation also reveals that the embassy will have its own electrical and water-treatment plants.

    With information from their furtive archive, the Bakers built a modestly

  • picks September 04, 2007

    Erik van Lieshout

    “She’s a fuck, fuck, fucking cow, me mum,” rants Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout in his video UP!, 2005. A distressing albeit humorous chronicle of van Lieshout’s emotional life, this piece documents his real-life struggles with sex, anger, work, family, and love. In a tender moment, the camera shows him having “a good cry” after an argument with his mother. At another point, he confesses to the camera that the best sex he has ever experienced was with a man; another juncture shows him in a fit of rage recklessly swinging a fan around by its electrical cord. The most laughable moment in the video

  • picks September 03, 2007

    “Pedagogical Factory”

    Proposing radical pedagogies is at the heart of Chicago artist and educator Jim Duignan’s practice. Ten years ago, he founded the Stockyard Institute in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Since that time, Duignan and his program have offered alternative concepts for shaping the learning experiences of youths living in the shadowed zones of Chicagoland. The venerable Hyde Park Art Center—still getting comfortable within the new walls of its retrofitted factory building—has a long-standing commitment to arts education, making it a smart amplifier of Duignan’s efforts. “Pedagogical Factory,”

  • picks August 15, 2007

    “Made in Germany”

    “Made in Germany” does not seek to illuminate “Germanness.” Thirty-eight of the show’s fifty-two artists live and work in Berlin, which is now a hodgepodge of expats seeking cheap rent; indeed, twenty-two included here are not German-born. The exhibition is an equivalent to the Whitney Biennial, albeit with fewer artists and more real estate for each contribution. And because it is in context with the conceptually weighty and thematic Skulptur Projekte Münster and Documenta 12, the pressure to be all things to all people is lessened, resulting in a rare survey show that is just that: an exhibition

  • David Lieske

    “As a term, pluralism signifies no art specifically. Rather, it is a situation that grants a kind of equivalence; art of many sorts is made to seem more or less equal—equally (un)important. Art becomes an arena not of dialectical dialogue but of vested interests.” In his 1985 essay “Against Pluralism,” Hal Foster aligned the ideology of pluralism with the function of market forces. Today, that correspondence is an all-pervasive reality, clearly evident—colored by varying degrees of self-awareness—in the work of such artists as the young German David Lieske.

    Lieske recently enjoyed his first US

  • Andrew Guenther

    Primitive motifs have seeped back into painting of late as a method of denoting, if not embodying, “pure” subjectivity: Katherine Bernhardt’s Neue Wilde–esque figures and Mark Grotjahn’s cardboard mask constructions are two examples among many. This revival should come as no surprise—the impulse to establish and communicate sovereign selfhood remains fundamental, and the currently fatted marketplace only encourages its indulgence, since the fear of commercial failure still often trumps the desire to avoid played-out tropes.

    In the paintings of Andrew Guenther, the primitive reappears in signifiers

  • Cecilia Edefalk

    Seven years ago, Swedish artist Cecilia Edefalk visited London and embarked on a quasi-mystical journey that began at Tate Britain. Purchasing a drink in the museum’s cafeteria, she noticed that it was stamped with an unusually precise expiration date and time—May 6, 2000, 15:33—which led her to wonder what she would be doing at that very moment. It so happened that she found herself back in London on the date in question. Having retraced her steps and revisited the museum, she attended a dinner in a private garden in Chelsea, where she saw a dazzling blue flash and a mysterious silhouette.

  • Ashley Macomber

    Ashley Macomber uses paint to suggest the contours of skin and fur with a precision of line more commonly associated with engraving. Her portraits of human-animal hybrids have a stiffness reminiscent of early New England portraiture, and her muted palette is accentuated by the choice of gouache and acrylic in preference to oil. Macomber proves herself technically proficient—she’s particularly adept at balancing warm and cool colors—but falls down when it comes to her work’s conceptual underpinnings. Though her application is seductive in its exactitude, the work’s raison d’être is on shakier

  • “Cut: Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video”

    In 1919–20, Hannah Höch juxtaposed figures and text sourced from popular print media to critique the male-dominated culture of Weimar Germany in her photomontage Schnitt mit dem Kuchenmesser Dada durch die letze weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany). Half a century later, Conceptual artists adapted cut-and-paste techniques to the deconstruction of authorship and authenticity. And in the ’80s, appropriations from mass media by Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, and others became associated with a