Nell McClister

  • Sonya Clark

    NEARLY A DECADE AGO, during a research fellowship at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, Sonya Clark noticed a small object that has preoccupied her ever since: a portion of a humble dishcloth, displayed in the same exhibition as Abraham Lincoln’s top hat at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, that had been offered in surrender at Appomattox, a crucial final battle of the Civil War. Clark recognized the potential of this emblem of peace in an increasingly polarized nation and set out to “amplify” it during a two-year residency at the Fabric Workshop

  • “Ruffneck Constructivists”

    The wall of reeking bologna at the entrance sets the tone for guest curator Kara Walker’s exhibition “Ruffneck Constructivists,” on view through August 17: Simply confrontational at first glance, the show hugely rewards a long, thoughtful look. In her text for the exhibition Walker describes its eleven artists as “defiant shapers of environments . . . [who] build themselves into the world one assault at a time.” The title’s clashing references to “Ruffneck”—female rapper MC Lyte’s 1993 ode to the streetwise “dude with attitude”—and the revolutionary Russian avant-garde likewise suggest

  • Zoe Strauss

    The photographs in Zoe Strauss’s recent retrospective read like a photo-essay without the text. Her portrait subjects—glaring or shy, rail thin or obese, scarred or bleeding, partying or parading—are mostly from around Philadelphia. Her landscapes offer up empty parking lots, terse signage, insulting graffiti, and glimpses of the Gulf Coast region after Katrina and the BP–Deepwater Horizon spill. Other images are lyrical abstractions or sweeps of some allover pattern found in nature or in the city.

    At first glance, Strauss’s images seem to fall headlong into every trap that the history

  • Ann Agee

    Ann Agee has intricately painted the inside of a toilet, made ceramic dildos (one even doubles as a napkin ring), and slaughtered a chicken on video. In comparison to those works, her recent show, “Rules of the Pattern,” felt tame, but it exposed the heart of her provocative thirty-year practice. On opposite walls of the gallery, huge paintings on scrolls of mulberry paper unfurled to the floor, bracketing the solemn exhibition space with the illusion of a colorful, unpopulated kitchen and living room, part Maira Kalman, part van Gogh. On adjacent walls, blue-and-white porcelain serving dishes

  • picks July 21, 2010

    John J. O’Connor

    John O’Connor gets back to basics in his Philadelphia debut, confirming his commitment to the conceptual fundamentals of his project over and above the trademark hallucinatory style he has developed. For the past decade, the Brooklyn-based artist has been visualizing simple statistics in ever larger and more polished drawings, steadily carving a niche between ego-driven mark-making and straightforward recording of information. Characteristically, each of his new large-scale drawings originates with some curious preoccupation—the fluctuations of the Dow; the phases of hypnosis; an asteroid’s

  • Cai Guo-Qiang

    At sunset on December 11, 2009, before a freezing crowd and hundreds of commuters passing by, Cai Guo-Qiang ignited a fifty-foot-tall flower made from a gunpowder fuse that he had suspended on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s columned facade. With a swarm of bright explosions, then a minute of sparklers streaming and smoking in the wind (while flames rose from tar paper protecting the sandstone steps, and men sprinted up with extinguishers), followed by a few deafening booms, Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project, 2009, provided a moment of communal distraction—and a surprisingly poetic rumination

  • John Latham

    If you live in the United States, John Latham may be the most important artist whose work you’ve never seen. In the ’50s, he became the first Brit to put spray paint to canvas, an innovative response to American action painting and European Pop. He was prominent in the influential Destruction in Art Symposium in London in 1966. And it was Latham who, that same year, borrowed Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture from the library at St. Martin’s School of Art and served it to a few delighted students for dinner. Returning the masticated pulp to the library got him fi red, but later earned him a place

  • Merlin James

    It has often been observed that Merlin James’s solo shows look like group shows, and this twenty-year survey proved the point, with a full range of painterly genres—seascape, landscape, portrait, erotic, interior, still life—on display, as well as variations in style ranging from dark impasto on misshapen, detritus-strewn canvases to smoother, Fauvish studies. James’s imagery is so calculatedly disparate as to deny not only the coherence lent by shared authorship but the very possibility of narrative. Indeed, his work, perhaps inadvertently, conveys more than a hint of the problematics of meaning

  • Stephen Bush

    Imagine a monastic hut from a Sung dynasty scroll transplanted onto a slab of molten lime bubble gum with a pea soup base, a riotous aurora borealis behind, and a magenta abyss in front. What was quiet and meditative becomes shrieking and ominous, the sublime depiction of majestic topography twisted into garish chemical goo. In the blackness beyond the hut’s open doorway might lurk a psychopath, a monster, a vengeful ghost—or only the darkest projections of one’s own unconscious.

    Stephen Bush’s new landscape paintings are a luridly unorthodox contribution to the genre, but they nonetheless share

  • Uta Barth

    In her latest body of work, Uta Barth has turned away from the peripheral spaces that she spent the last fifteen years photographing: a patch of sun scored by the shadow of a windowpane; the blurred corner of a room; a nondescript fragment of landscape viewed from inside. Here she surprises with deliberate, colorful foci: vases of flowers, each placed near a shaded window on a counter inscribed with the dark outline of a square. The images suggest domesticity yet feel coolly Minimalist, juxtaposing the organic and the geometric, the kitsch associations of still life and the pristine plainness

  • Michael Rakowitz

    Architectural modernism is often said to have breathed its last with the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in Saint Louis. Constructed in the 1950s as a monument to shared space and racial integration, Minoru Yamasaki’s Corbusier-like vision of a utopian urban community deteriorated into a vast slum and was knocked down in 1972. This front-page event was attended by a transfixed mob (including many former Pruitt-Igoe residents) that reportedly let out a dull roar as the buildings fell—and it is this spectacle of collective catharsis, more than the simple fact of the buildings’ demise,

  • Jason Middlebrook

    Known for his half-solemn, half-whimsical approach to the human-wrought decline of the natural world, Jason Middlebrook is less an environmentalist than a critic of hubris. His site-specific installation at New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001–2003, which consisted of miniaturized layers of rock, soil, and plants, and his recent show at Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles, which featured paintings of a postapocalyptic animal uprising, attested to the artist’s misgivings about the advances of human society at the expense of nature. In his latest exhibition, “The Provider,” Middlebrook