Pamela M. Lee

  • Pamela M. Lee

    How to model kinship when Jim Crow demands otherwise? What constitutes intimacy for the legatees of race slavery and social death? The “revolution in a minor key” of Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Stories of Social Upheaval (W. W. Norton) is not led by the proper names of history—traditionally a mythomaniacal retread of a heroic actor across the world’s stage. Instead, Hartman elaborates a counternarrative centered on young black women and genderqueers living in New York and Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century and forging their errant paths. For

  • “Carissa Rodriguez: The Maid”

    Biographies of New York–based artist Carissa Rodriguez tend toward descriptions of an itinerant practice  encompassing the roles of writer, artist, and gallerist and moving from an early solo show at American Fine Arts (1996) and a stint at the Whitney Independent Study Program (2002) to Rodriguez’s position as director of Reena Spaulings Fine Art from 2004 to 2015. But just as “Reena” serves as the collective nom de plume of the artist’s close colleagues—who engage in a stealth interrogation of the terms of artistic identity—Rodriguez insistently reflects on the


    In “Dispersion,” his influential open-ended essay begun in 2002, Seth Price poses a question animating his long- standing preoccupations with technology, digital culture, and the rituals of consumerism: “Suppose an artist were to release the work directly into a system that depends on reproduction and distribution for its sustenance, a model that encourages contamination, borrowing, stealing, and horizontal blur?” Featuring more than 150 works produced between 2000 and the present, Price’s Stedelijk retrospective will showcase the

  • Pamela M. Lee

    This past year may well have been the annus mirabilis of the woman-in-rock memoir, with brilliant takes by the likes of Kim Gordon and Patti Smith appearing almost as fast as we can read them. (As of this writing, Carrie Brownstein’s much-anticipated book has yet to be released; Chrissie Hynde’s contribution, on the other hand, has garnered all the wrong kinds of attention). But my favorite of the genre by far is Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys Boys, Boys (Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press). As the guitarist for the Slits, the emblematic, all-woman band


    IF THE WORD retrospective suggests a certain nostalgia, then it’s fitting that JOAN JONAS, in her celebrated showing at this summer’s Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale, has rejected the retrospective principle entirely. Her exhibition of new work in the US pavilion is not a career summation but a distillation of the tactics and sensibility that have made her a touchstone for generations of artists. Jonas’s amalgam of installation, drawings, video, and performance immerses the viewer in incantatory visual and sonic rhythms and specular fragmentations of space—an environment in which oppositions, whether between form and content or between humanity and its others, emerge as complex interrelations. Here, art historian PAMELA M. LEE considers the full breadth of a practice best understood not through retrospection but via the concept of revision, while critic JOHANNA FATEMAN zeros in on Jonas’s feminist fracturing of the closed circuit of self-surveillance.

    ON THE OCCASION of Joan Jonas’s 1980 retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum in California, Douglas Crimp wrote what would prove to be the most influential statement on an artist whose manifold practices—video, performance, installation, drawing—had long defied summation. Crimp identified a “single strategy, paradigmatic in this respect, [that] informs all of Jonas’s work.”

    “That strategy,” he asserted, “is de-synchronization, usually in conjunction with fragmentation and repetition.”1 Crimp cited Jonas’s early outdoor performances as signal examples of this tendency. He noted that

  • “On Kawara—Silence”

    From 1966 until shortly before his death last summer, On Kawara produced his best-known work, the unwaveringly steadfast “Today” series. The Japanese-born, New York–based artist rendered the date each canvas was painted in flat, uninflected type, following the graphic conventions of the place where he was working at the time. The relationship between time and place animates the entirety of Kawara’s itinerant career, which, if steeped in histories of ’60s Conceptualism, also suggests the emerging cultures of globalization. “On Kawara—Silence,” the

  • Pamela M. Lee

    In the beginning there was no earth, no water—nothing. There was a single hill called Nunne Chaha. In the beginning everything was dead. In the beginning there was nothing; nothing at all. No light, no life, no movement, no breath. In the beginning there was an immense unit of energy. . . .

    Grosse Fatigue, 2013

    IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE DESKTOP. So commences Grosse Fatigue, Camille Henrot’s thirteen-minute video based on her residency at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, a place in which the imperial claims of scientific knowledge find diverse expression in the world’s

  • the 11th Havana Biennial

    “REVOLUTION IN RETREAT.” So blared the cover of the March 24 issue of The Economist, a “special report” on Cuba and the dawning capitalist prospects of the only Communist state in the Western Hemisphere. With Fidel Castro’s health in precipitous decline, the progressive lifting of travel restrictions between the United States and the island nation, and some 313 new economic “guidelines” approved by the Communist Party last year, there’s little wonder that the article described Cuba’s path to capitalism as all but “irreversible,” if with the inevitable provisos regarding the old-guard faithful


    THOUGH IT MAY LOOK LIKE an abstract play of shadows, the image on the cover of Artforum’s 1962 debut issue is, in fact, a kinetic sculpture—a jittery, vaguely anthropomorphic contraption of springs and spare parts—by the Swiss artist-provocateur Jean Tinguely. Why would the editors of an ambitious new art magazine choose an image of crepuscular ambiguity when the occasion seemed to call for perspicuous assertion? Considering this question, art historian Pamela M. Lee proposes that ambiguity may have been the point. Tinguely’s automatons spoke to the rise of a hybrid technological media,


    With its blurry photocopied type, its rubber-stamped admonitions—CLASSIFIED, it may say, or SUPPRESSED—and its thick lines of black marker obliterating everything we really want to know, the redacted document is a paradox, an iconic representation of that which is withheld from view. As such, it embodies what Pamela M. Lee terms the open secret: a visible invisibility, an essentially aesthetic phenomenon that functions less to reveal than to declare the prerogatives of those who conceal. Suggesting that the transparency of the WikiLeaks era is illusory, Lee proposes that it is the open secret that actually governs the politics of information today. Here, she looks at the practices of two artists, Jill Magid and Trevor Paglen, who, in very different ways, explore the workings of the open secret, and locates the roots of their strategies well beyond the pale of art. It is in the cold-war think tank, secrecy’s ostensibly impregnable redoubt, Lee argues, that we find the template for Magid’s and Paglen’s subtlety and stealth, their oscillations between the seen and the unseen, and their tactical elisions of fiction and fact.


    Daniel Ellsberg may be forgiven for anointing Julian Assange his heir apparent—as he did in December 2010, when he defended Assange against accusations of treason and terrorism and explicitly compared himself to the WikiLeaks impresario. As the catalyst behind the 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department’s highly classified “secret history” of the Vietnam War, Ellsberg is renowned as a staunch crusader for the freedom of information, so it stands to reason that he would view Assange as a kindred spirit, the standard-bearer for a


    AT THE CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF DEVELOPING SOCIETIES, an independent research institution located in a leafy neighborhood in North Delhi, a clock with a curious face hangs on the wall of the library, portending an uncertain future as it presides over the reading room. Its numbers have been switched out for a list of emotions oscillating among the disquieting, the banal, and the revelatory: ANXIETY, DUTY, GUILT, INDIFFERENCE, AWE, FATIGUE, NOSTALGIA, ECSTASY, FEAR, PANIC, REMORSE, EPIPHANY, reads the litany.

    Established in 1963, the center supports collaborative and interdisciplinary research

  • Sharjah Biennial 9

    “PROVISIONS FOR THE FUTURE,” the ninth edition of the Sharjah Biennial, raised a host of unsettling if necessary questions typically repressed by the protocols of the global biennial circuit—though in light of the stated ambitions for the show, this might not at first appear to be the case. Organized by artistic director Jack Persekian and chief curator Isabel Carlos, “Provisions for the Future” seemingly mined familiar thematic terrain, and with a deceptively optimistic inflection. “The pursuit of happiness,” Carlos writes in the rainbow-colored tome that is the catalogue, “is an important




    The financial crisis of fall 2008 is one symptom of a transition in the nature and form of global order. The most important question this transition raises is what new possibilities it is opening up; but before asking that, one has to understand also what the transition is closing down. Two of the best books I have read in the past year, Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (Verso) and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador),

  • Gordon Matta-Clark

    One of the most comprehensive Matta-Clark surveys ever to be staged in Europe, this exhibition aims to rescue the artist from the tendency to “musealize” his practice, according to the curators.

    If exhibitions on Gordon Matta-Clark seem a bit thick on the ground these days, at least the inaugural outing at the Palazzo delle Papesse–Centro Arte Contemporanea's new home promises a different approache. One of the most comprehensive Matta-Clark surveys ever to be staged in Europe—showcasing roughly seventy sculptures, photographs, drawings, video, and films from 1969 to 1978 as well as re-creations of some of the artist's best-known interventions—the exhibition at the Santa Maria della Scala, a renovated, thirteenth-century hospital, aims to rescue


    OVER THE COURSE OF THEIR COLLABORATION, Dutch artists Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij produced a highly reflective and elliptical body of work tracing the recursive economy of the image: its affective power, its capacity to seduce and organize perception, and its mediation of time and subjectivity. In 16- and 35-mm films, as well as in photographs, objects, and installations, de Rijke/de Rooij—who worked in tandem from 1994 until de Rijke’s untimely death, at the age of thirty-five, in 2006—methodically parsed the mechanics of the image, deploying a wealth of radically heterogeneous sources


    WHERE QUESTIONS OF MEDIUM and making are concerned, most art criticism seems patently uninterested in (if not fundamentally incapable of) dealing with issues of production. Why obsess over the stuff of MFA curricula and fabrication trade manuals, goes the rationale, when more urgent issues are at stake? Given the choice between a meditation on aesthetics and politics, say, or on the latest shoptalk about rapid-prototyping technology, the decision seems made in advance.

    Perhaps it’s a decision worth reconsidering. We should hardly need convincing that questions of production are continuous with

  • Jeroen de Rijke–Willem de Rooij

    Dutch duo de Rijke/de Rooij (sadly divided by the untimely death of Jeroen de Rijke last year) gained acclaim for their 16- and 35-mm films—intensely concentrated studies of landscapes, interiors, and human interactions, as crystalline in their focus as they are nearly static in their presentation. These decisively non-narrative films, which might take a church interior, a graveyard, or a nineteenth-century carpet as their putative subject matter, offer slow-mo reflections on the role of filmic and photographic images in contemporary culture.

  • “Bruce Nauman in the 1960s”

    SOME FORTY-ODD YEARS after Bruce Nauman began tweaking the conventions of studio practice and the hallowed persona of the artist-as-seer, his station in postwar art history rests secure. His influence—whether through his affectless, task-based performances, his sculptural castings of negative space, or his intermedia mash-ups of language, video, and noise—is everywhere apparent in contemporary art. Nauman’s reputation is, in short, not at issue today; what remains unsettled is the specific nature of his contribution. Recent scholarship has made significant developments in complicating

  • Christian Philipp Müller

    Since the mid-1980s, Christian Philipp Müller has produced mixed-media work indebted in various ways to the site-specific art of the ’60s and ’70s.

    Since the mid-1980s, Christian Philipp Müller has produced mixed-media work indebted in various ways to the site-specific art of the ’60s and ’70s. His well-known 1993 piece Green Border, for instance—consisting of illegal border crossings into all the countries surrounding Austria—recalled the performance-driven practices of Land art while invoking more recent geopolitical themes. This midcareer retrospective documents Müller’s work from 1986 to the present. It also features an extensive project, developed specifically for this exhibition—an exploration of Basel’s St.

  • the 2006 Singapore Biennale and the 6th Gwangju Biennale

    IF THERE IS ONE THING more predictable than the inexorable expansion of the global biennial circuit, it’s the litany of complaints that trails in its wake. Whether in Berlin or São Paulo, so the refrain goes, these exhibitions routinely suffer from a fatal bout of sameness: same high-profile curators, same artists, same blather about the “world-class” status of the host city, same jaded audiences. Critics have ample reason for their disaffection, no doubt. With biennials serving as yet more layovers in the ever-lengthening itinerary of the international art market, it has become increasingly