Rachel Churner


    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,


    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, Boy & Boy Continued (detail), 2017, ink-jet prints, two sheets, 6 x 9“ and 7 x 5” (depicted).

    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, Storm Preparations, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 x 90".

    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, Double Strength, 1978, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 14 minutes 38 seconds.

    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

  • Ja’Tovia Gary, An Ecstatic Experience, 2015, 16 mm film transferred to HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes. From “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017.”

    “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, Untitled, 2017, overhead projector, soccer goal, spray paint, powder-coated steel mesh, PVC board, film gels, metal chain, plastic chain, hooks, speaker mesh. Installation view.

    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, Government Cut Freestyle, 1998, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, silent, 9 minutes 20 seconds.


    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


    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, Vanity, 2017, vanity mirror and lighting, mirrored vanity table, photo-etched vanity mirror, digital ink-jet print, movie scripts. Installation view. Photo: Max Yawney.

    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, Trial by Fire, 1992–93, Cibachrome, lacquered wood frame, 41 1/4 × 33 1/2". From the series “Natural Magic,” 1992–93. © The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth.

    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, Mother Drum, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 33 seconds.

    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 (