Natasha Degen

  • picks December 21, 2014

    “The Contract”

    As Congress considers a bill that would introduce artists’ resale rights, also known as droit de suite, to the United States, the timely group show “The Contract” promotes the bill’s underlying notion that artists should benefit from the price appreciation of their work. By requiring all sales of work on view here be subject to the 1971 Projansky contract—which stipulates that artists receive resale royalties—this exhibition suggests that, given the frenzied pitch of the contemporary art market (in which access is highly coveted), artists may now have sufficient power to demand resale royalties

  • picks August 27, 2012

    Olivia Plender

    Olivia Plender’s historically grounded, stagelike installations draw attention to the ideological dimension of the objects and institutions that shape our subjectivity—among them games, education, architecture, and design. Empire City—The World on One Street, 2009, presents a model of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, whose attractions ranged from a Maori hut to palaces of industry, arts, and engineering. It is twinned with another model, The Truth Itself Speaks Through Me, 2012, which depicts a scene from John Bunyan’s 1678 book The Pilgrim’s Progress. One of the most widely read books

  • picks August 06, 2012

    Natascha Sadr Haghighian

    Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s debut solo exhibition in London presents a mini-retrospective of her work from 1998 to 2012, revealing strong affinities. In one installation, Empire of the Senseless Part I, 2006, a series of floodlights along a stairwell flick on one after another, triggered by motion detectors. These bursts of light charge a text written in phosphorescent paint at the foot of the stairs. Its words—an excerpt from Kathy Acker’s 1994 book Empire of the Senseless—are only briefly legible before disappearing into darkness. The work is situated near Vice/Virtue, 2001, an animated video

  • picks February 16, 2010

    Pierre Soulages

    To see the Pompidou’s Pierre Soulages retrospective, spanning more than sixty years of artistic output, is to process the evolution of an idea, to experience a panoramic progression toward formal purity. Of the two modes of artistic creativity identified by the Chicago economist David Galenson—Old Masters, who develop their work gradually through years of trial and error, and Young Geniuses, who upend convention in a flash of inspired certitude—Soulages, age ninety, is firmly situated in the former camp.

    The narrative begins with Soulages’s innovative walnut-stain works from the late 1940s. Almost

  • picks August 11, 2009

    Patrizio Di Massimo

    Patrizio Di Massimo’s Oae, 2009, takes its title from the Phoenician name for Tripoli, an allusion to Libya’s long history of colonial rule. In this thirteen-minute video, the Italian-born artist travels to Libya to examine the legacy of nearly thirty years of Italian dominion, from 1911 to 1940, and uncover an eradicated past, a history scorned and forgotten. It begins with the authoritative voice and documentary gaze of the newsreel. As the narrator decries Italy’s colonial ambitions, a line of soldiers fires at Libyan resisters, who immediately fall to the ground. Though ostensibly authentic,

  • picks April 15, 2009

    Thomas Helbig

    By combining found objects atop a decorative capital, Thomas Helbig creates a kind of liminal being: Two arms, a scaly fragment, and a snakelike form with diamond-patterned skin are melded in a composite sculpture, titled Eden (all works 2008–2009). Scoured from flea markets and thrift stores, these objects, like vestiges of a vanished era, have an antiquated, baroque quality. Yet Helbig covers his amalgamation in spray paint and polyurethane so it appears at once charred and fossilized, coagulated and tactile, sleek and glossy—both baroque and Giger-esque. Eden’s contrasting textures and

  • picks April 05, 2009

    Hussein Chalayan

    It may be fashion, but this is not frivolous fodder: Hussein Chalayan, the subject of a midcareer retrospective at the Design Museum, uses fashion design as a means of probing topical and multidisciplinary themes—from climate change to women’s roles in Islamic culture to celebrity worship. His 2000 “After Words” collection, for instance, was inspired by the idea of refugees fleeing and reflected his Turkish-Cypriot heritage (while perhaps alluding to the double meaning of prêt-à-porter—“ready to wear” or “to carry”). A stark modernist living room, which models walked through and ultimately

  • picks January 11, 2009

    Mamma Andersson

    Mamma Andersson’s most recognizable images layer neat, well-appointed interiors with abstract, bleeding landscapes, improbably and enigmatically conflating nature and artifice. Following on the heels of the Swedish painter’s recent midcareer retrospective, “Cry” separates the domestic interior from the desolate exterior. Gone are the spectral figures, the overt art-historical quotations, and the ghostly black auras hovering in the picture plane; Andersson’s new work is more straightforward yet remains haunting and portentous: in a word, chilly.

    Among the nine new paintings are barren winter

  • Glenn Brown

    Working from Auerbach, Dalí, and Rembrandt reproductions, English artist Glenn Brown wildly distorts the scale and coloration of his source material, rendering the familiar strange.

    Working from Auerbach, Dalí, and Rembrandt reproductions, English artist Glenn Brown wildly distorts the scale and coloration of his source material, rendering the familiar strange. His appropriations, extensions of Sherrie Levine’s early challenges to authorship and aura, replace thick brushwork with a Photorealist finish; Brown flattens the paint’s surface, yet gives the illusion of texture with a trompe l’oeil palpability. The result—works with the glossy, glassy surfaces of mechanically reproduced images—sterilizes and negates the painterly

  • picks December 05, 2008

    “Material Presence"

    In “Material Presence,” seven artists consecrate the mundane and the discarded, using prefabricated and industrial objects to create installations and sculptures. For some, the use of such materials is central to their work: In the Ukrainian artist Alexej Meschtschanow’s Dämonen benutzen geschlossene Türen (Demons Use Closed Doors), 2007, for example, spidery forms made from metal pieces encircle a door and hoist it at an angle, like ants looting a giant morsel. But for other artists in the show, preoccupations rest in their arsenals of resources: Found and industrial components are treated no

  • picks October 14, 2008

    Charles Avery

    For the past four years, Scottish artist Charles Avery has “inhabited” an imaginary island; his observations form “The Islanders: An Introduction.” Like an ethnographer or a colonial officer reporting from the field, Avery provides exhaustive documentation of this dreamed-up world in the form of text, drawings, installations, and sculptures. The project is well situated in the genre of fabulist accounts of the strange and exotic, indebted to literary works such as Gulliver’s Travels and Borges’s “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” Avery’s tone, however, is obscure and philosophical rather than whimsical.

  • picks August 12, 2008

    Lin Tianmiao

    “Mother’s!!!,” Lin Tianmiao’s latest exhibition, is not an adoring tribute or sentimental homage, but a damning depiction of aging and motherhood. Yet there is beauty amid the bleakness. Lin, one of China’s most eminent female artists, has transformed the gallery into a cavernous passage and covered its curved surfaces in swathes of silk. Warm lighting, soft textures, and organic lines save the all-white show from the stark sterility of the prototypical white cube. The scale of Lin’s work is remarkably intimate, the space a sort of womb.

    The installation features a series of diminutive sculptures,

  • picks July 10, 2008

    “Far West”

    With the much-heralded ascent of China’s economy and the continued robustness of the art market (even in the face of global economic queasiness), Arnolfini’s current exhibition, “Far West,” could hardly be more timely. An “interactive shopping experience,” the show addresses the commodification of culture inherent to globalization with a series of works that simulate the dynamics of the marketplace by demanding participation and exchange. Liu Ding’s installation Products, 2005, consists of a room appointed with furniture, fake peonies, and porcelain dogs. Its deep-red walls are crowded with