Rachel Churner

  • Zoe Leonard

    THE TITLE of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Survey,” immediately positions both her practice and this presentation as elusive and defiant. Even the word itself freely slips between noun and verb. Organized by Bennett Simpson with Rebecca Matalon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and debuting at the Whitney under the guidance of Elisabeth Sherman, the show is billed as the “first large-scale overview of the artist’s work in an American museum.” In both its austerity and its refusal of chronological order, the installation suggests that this is not

  • “For Us”

    Years ago, when I first moved to Brooklyn, my downstairs neighbor told me he was having a party. I was welcome to come, he said, but I should understand that if no one engaged me, it wouldn’t be personal. “The party’s for us,”was how he put it. I never forgot the precision of his message: As a white woman in a predominantly African American neighborhood, I wouldn’t be excluded, but my inclusion wasn’t a priority. I remembered this as I walked into “For Us,” a group show of eight female artists of color under thirty, curated by Kiara Ventura at BronxArtSpace. And while the particulars of who

  • Pam Lins

    Three years ago, Pam Lins exhibited a series of sculptures made after photos of sculptures, including a group of ceramics based on late-1920s images of spatial models by students at the Vkhutemas (Higher State Artistic and Technical Studios) in Moscow. It was a conceptual conceit well suited to her rigorous explorations of the ways in which reproduction tends to dominate our experience of objects. More specifically, those works addressed how we often perceive sculptures as flat and frontal, even when we know full well they are dimensional, and how we prioritize their contours at the expense of

  •  “Chloë Bass: The Book of  Everyday Instruction”

    Like the social-practice equivalent of Charles and Ray Eames’s 1977 film Powers of Ten, the work of artist Chloë Bass conceptualizes a steady pan outward from the individual (The Bureau of Self-Recognition, 2011–13) to the pair (The Book of Everyday Instruction, 2015–17) to the family (Obligation to Others Holds Me in My Place, 2018–). At Knockdown Center, her eight-part study of one-on-one interactions will be shown in its entirety for the first time. Through photographs, videos, installations, and interviews at sites across the US, Bass has documented what she

  • O PIONEER!

    TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN was a milestone year for the irrepressible Barbara Hammer. In October, the seventy-eight-year-old pioneer of experimental queer cinema, who has produced almost ninety films over the course of her five-decade career, was the “first living lesbian” to receive a retrospective at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York. Titled “Evidentiary Bodies,” the exhibition was a testament to the singular combination of sincerity and irreverent humor that characterizes her sex-positive feminism. Featuring an impressive range of films and videos, early drawings,

  • Carissa Rodriguez

    The production quality of Carissa Rodriguez’s twelve-minute 4K video The Maid, 2018, is as impeccable as its main characters—Sherrie Levine’s crystal and black-glass “Newborns,”1993–95. Commissioned for Rodriguez’s first solo exhibition at a New York museum and projected onto a screen suspended at a tasteful diagonal in the center of SculptureCenter’s cavernous main gallery, The Maid tracks Levine’s sculptures over the course of a day, with brooding shots of the works in several upscale homes. In one scene, white-gloved attendants delicately remove a pristine, protective cloth from the

  • UP THE ANTI

    Dada: Art and Anti-Art, by Hans Richter, introduced and annotated by Michael White. London: Thames & Hudson, 2016. 376 pages.

    IN HIS INTRODUCTION to Dada: Art and Anti-Art (1964), a book that fifty years later still frames much of our understanding of the movement, Hans Richter claims that without a few vigilant ants among the “carefree grasshoppers” who constituted most of Dada’s main characters, proof of its uninhibited provocations might not exist. Richter’s allusion to the classic fable suggests at least some respect for the diligent ants, and perhaps even—contra Aesop—a rapprochement

  • Maryam Jafri

    I confess I’ve always secretly lusted after the giant, wall-hung crossword puzzles sold by such estimable purveyors as SkyMall and Hammacher Schlemmer. Measuring seven by seven feet and containing tens of thousands of squares, this is the kind of crossword that would require true commitment and would provide an unrivaled source of procrastination. Imagine my delight, then, upon seeing Maryam Jafri’s crossword installation Where We’re At (all works cited, 2017). Built within a one hundred-inch-square wooden frame in collaboration with New York Times puzzle maker Ben Tausig, Jafri’s thirty-six-clue

  • Anna Conway

    With their brooding tones, stark settings, and elusive narratives, Anna Conway’s paintings are the visual equivalents of spy novels. Like the best works in the genre (books by John le Carré, for example), Conway’s oils on canvas are marked by the abundance and clarity of their details—and by the thrill of trying to decipher which details are significant and which are merely mundane. Every object—from river-rock-paneled trash can to Castiglioni Arco lamp to safety-orange extension cord—is rendered with such precision that it can be difficult to figure out where the meaning resides.

  • Barbara Hammer

    “How are you feeling?” asks the clear, sweet voice, almost certainly from behind a broad smile. I heard the question from across the room just as I was about to touch a silicone model of a breast, my fingers searching for a node that would activate a video on the monitor before me. Barbara Hammer’s question was, of course, not directed at me but at the character in Double Strength, her 1978 film tracing the arc of a relationship. It was nonetheless apposite, seeming to evoke a doctor/patient relationship as I began my figurative search for a cancerous lump. This iteration of 8 in 8, a modified

  • “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017”

    Ja’Tovia Gary’s An Ecstatic Experience, 2015, is modestly tucked in the final room of “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017,” which was organized by the museum’s David Breslin, Jennie Goldstein, and Rujeko Hockley. But even before you see the video screen, you hear the steady beat of its a cappella version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This six-minute video—one of the most genuinely moving artworks I’ve seen in recent years—intercuts footage from the “Slavery” segment of a nine-episode 1965 television miniseries called The History

  • John Williams

    The overhead projector—that forgotten castaway of middle-school math class—assumes center stage in Los Angeles–based artist John Williams’s most recent works. With its bulky frame, clamorous cooling fan, and characteristic distortion of the square of its backlit surface into a top-heavy trapezoid that appears on the wall, the overhead holds little of the nostalgic allure of the 16-mm projector, or even the slide carousel. It’s a little too utilitarian, a little too pedagogic to sustain the sexy sheen of the retro. In this exhibition of five new works, Williams, to his credit, didn’t

  • “DARA FRIEDMAN: PERFECT STRANGER”

    In one of her earliest films, Friedman slowly and systematically trashes a room, shattering plates, smashing chairs, and stomping dresser drawers. The Super 8 footage of Total, 1997, was printed in reverse, however, so what we see instead is a lurching, mystical return to order. As in many of the films to follow, from the two-channel 16-mm Bim Bam, 1999, to the cacophonous multiscreen Dichter (Poet, 2017), Friedman uses structural film techniques—looping, flicker effects, color fields, and asynchronicity of image and sound—to highly emotive ends. Though her films

  • “LAURE PROUVOST: THEY ARE WAITING FOR YOU”

    The great seduction of Laure Prouvost’s work is rooted in the slippage of language, amid the perils and joys of communication and misunderstanding. Her lush and bewildering films distort conventional narrative to such a degree that they can be hard to follow, but the intensity of her voice-overs and the wit of her directives compel us to keep trying. Take the fictional story of the French artist’s grandfather––an overlooked Conceptual artist and close friend of Kurt Schwitters’s––that has proved to be a golden thread from which she has spun a number

  • Barbara Bloom

    A few days after seeing Barbara Bloom’s exhibition “A Picture, a Thousand Words”—a collection of seven sculptures that tenderly activate her familiar techniques of framing and doubling, of looking and being looked at—I unexpectedly found myself in a sunbaked, middle-of-nowhere town for the burial of my grandmother. It just so happened, of course, that the cool gray of her coffin was the same as that of Bloom’s walls. And it just so happened that I had spent much of the night before staring at old photos, fantasizing about why she had been seated on that porch, on his knee, in those

  • Sarah Charlesworth

    In 1993, Sarah Charlesworth completed “Natural Magic,” her first series of photographs made entirely in the studio. By that time, she had spent almost two decades collaging found images to expose and manipulate the ideological structures that underpinned photography, crafting series such as “Modern History,” 1977–79, for which she excised the text from the front pages of newspapers so that the size and position of the remaining images—of statesmen or a solar eclipse or a masked Sandinista guerrilla—laid bare a visual grammar of power. Likewise, in “Objects of Desire,” 1983–88, Charlesworth

  • Dara Friedman

    The question of ownership lurks at the edges of Dara Friedman’s new three-channel HD video, Mother Drum, 2016. The work seems to ask: To whom does this land, this neighborhood, this building belong? Having begun the project after the 2014 discovery of an ancient Tequesta Indian village not far from her home in downtown Miami, Friedman traveled to several American Indian reservations in the Northwest to film dancers and drummers. Mother Drum may not explicitly address the connections between its origin (the unearthing of sacred ground at a high-rise construction site) and its screening room (

  • “CAROL RAMA: ANTIBODIES”

    Just two months after the widely traveled European retrospective “The Passion According to Carol Rama” closed in Turin, the first New York survey of the late Italian artist’s work opened at the New Museum. While it’s a shame “The Passion” didn’t cross the Atlantic, “Antibodies”—which features 175 works and an accompanying catalogue with essays by Italian writer and curator Lea Vergine and LA-based critic Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer—more than makes up for the loss. Spanning seven decades, the exhibition covers the full range of Rama’s

  • Jenny Perlin

    The Child of the Cavern, or Strange Doings Underground is one of more than fifty novels in Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages series from the late nineteenth century. In the story, a miner discovers a young woman in a pit and takes her to the earth’s surface for the first time. Despite her wonder at the world above, she returns happily to her subterranean home, astutely declaring that darkness is as beautiful as light. Artist Jenny Perlin named Verne’s book as the point of departure for her exhibition “The Long Sleepers,” but it was clearly more than that: Like a spirit guide, the narrative

  • On the Eve of the Future

    MIT PRESS has just published On the Eve of the Future, a collection of essays on film written by scholar Annette Michelson over the course of three decades. Art historian Rachel Churner, the editor of the volume, spoke with Michelson to reflect on the development of this body of writing, from Michelson’s early encounters with avant-garde cinema in Paris in the 1950s and ’60s to her pioneering work establishing film as a subject of criticism and scholarship in America, first at Artforum and then as a founding editor of October.

    RACHEL CHURNER: On the Eve of the Future is a collection of essays