Richard Meyer

  • Photo: Brian Green

    Svetlana Alpers’s Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch

    The first 143 pages of Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch (Princeton), Svetlana Alpers’s new book, are given over to full-page reproductions of Evans’s photographs. No preface, set of acknowledgments, or copyright page precedes or interrupts the pictures. Even captions have been swept off the page. (They appear in list form after the plates.) Alpers asks us, quite literally, to look before we read. Her book’s layout mirrors that of American Photographs (1938) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), but it also embodies her commitment to the primacy of photographic looking and making.



    IN MY FINAL YEAR AT COLLEGE, I wrote a “senior essay” on AIDS and contemporary art supervised by the visiting critic Craig Owens. When I met with Craig (we were not permitted to call him Professor Owens) during office hours, he told me that I needed to talk to Douglas Crimp, who was at the time editing a special issue of October on AIDS, activism, and cultural theory. I asked for Douglas’s address so I could write a letter of introduction (needless to say, this was years before email). “Don’t be silly,” Craig said. “We’ll just call him.” He picked up the phone and started dialing. I was terrified.

  • “William N. Copley: The World According to CPLY”

    “The World According to CPLY” offers the first comprehensive exhibition in the US of the self-taught artist known as CPLY (pronounced “SEE-ply”). A painter of bawdy, cartoonish, and often politically barbed scenes, Copley was also one of the most important collectors of Surrealist art and, briefly, a dealer in it: In 1948, he opened a Beverly Hills gallery with his brother-in-law, which, financially unsuccessful, closed after six months. Two decades later, Copley launched S.M.S. (Shit Must Stop), a periodical consisting of prints, multiples, and sound

  • View of “Reimagining Modernism: 1900–1950,” 2014–. On wall, from left: Willem de Kooning, Woman, 1944. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.; Alice Neel, Portrait of Dick Bagley, 1946; Walt Kuhn, Clown with a Black Wig, 1930. On platform, from left: Gerrit Rietveld, Zig Zag Stoel, ca. 1937–40; Koloman Moser, armchair, 1903; Alvar Aalto, 31 armchair, 1931–32; Charles Eames, LCW side chair, ca. 1946. Photo: Chandra Glick.

    “Reimagining Modernism” at the Met

    A CURATOR FRIEND once asked me what I thought of her proposal for an exhibition of two painters who had never met or known of each other’s work. I was skeptical: Why bring together artists who have no demonstrable connection beyond the fact they shared the planet for a time? “Curating,” my friend replied, “is about creating a visual conversation.” And the conversation that mattered, as she saw it, was among the objects on display rather than among the artists who made them. Instead of retrieving an episode from the art-historical past, the curator might spark a new moment of aesthetic possibility

  • View of “America Is Hard to See,” Whitney Museum of American Art, 2015. Wallpaper: Donald Moffett, He Kills Me, 1987. On wall: David Salle, Splinter Man, 1982. © David Salle/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Chandra Glick.

    “America Is Hard to See”

    TO MARK ITS MUCH-ANTICIPATED MOVE from Marcel Breuer’s uptown edifice to the Renzo Piano–designed building at the base of the High Line in the Meatpacking District, the Whitney Museum of American Art will present a banner exhibition of some six hundred artworks from the permanent collection, spanning from 1900 to today. Proposing a revised history of American art, “America Is Hard to See” mixes perennial favorites (Alexander Calder’s Circus, 1926–31; Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning, 1930) with rarely seen works, such as an antilynching print José Clemente Orozco made while visiting the US

  • Catherine Opie, Mary, 2012, ink-jet print, 50 × 38 3/8".

    “Catherine Opie: Portraits and Landscapes”

    From leather dykes and surfer dudes to LA freeways and Minnesota icehouses, the photography of Catherine Opie has long engaged in a dialogue between the genres of portraiture and landscape. The Wexner offers a new lens through which to understand that discourse by focusing on two of Opie’s most recent bodies of work: a series of color portraits of friends, family members, and fellow artists and a collection of quasi-abstract landscape photographs. Opie pushes the lush color and formal stature of her portraits even further, sometimes presenting these works in oval formats

  • Catherine Opie, Andy Warhol to Elizabeth (Self-Portrait Artist), 2010–11, ink-jet print.


    IN THE MID-1990s, Catherine Opie created a series of photographs, titled “Houses,” that showed the facades of mansions in Bel Air and Beverly Hills. Seemingly devoid of inhabitants, the homes in these images—with their locked wrought-iron gates and ARMED PATROL lawn signs—manage to look vaguely forbidding despite verdant landscaping and bright Southern California sun. Opie was fully aware of the barricaded privacy and sense of social exclusion the pictures conveyed: “Many of these house photographs are about the closed door,” she has said. “We never really know what’s behind those

  • Joan Semmel, Knees Together, 2003, oil on canvas, 60 x 48". From the series “With Camera,” 2001–2006.


    OVER THE PAST HALF CENTURY, JOAN SEMMEL has pursued a painterly enterprise that brings extraordinary wit and acumen to representations of the body—most often the artist’s own. And this oeuvre has grown increasingly visible in recent years, thanks to a series of institutional exhibitions such as Semmel’s solo show at the Bronx Museum of the Arts this past spring. Yet a key moment in the artist’s early work, marked by a complex engagement with photography and sexuality, remains relatively little known. Here, art historian RICHARD MEYER considers this period in Semmel’s career and traces its

  • View of “Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp,” 2012–13, Philadelphia Museum of Art. From left: Robert Rauschenberg, set for Tantric Geography, 1977; Jasper Johns, set for Walkaround Time, 1968. Photo: Constance Mensh.

    “Intimate Collaborations”

    SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I tried to persuade the artist Barbara Kruger to participate in an event I was organizing at the University of Southern California called “Contemporary Conversations.” Seeking to move beyond the staid format of most academic conferences, the event featured a series of unscripted dialogues among artists, critics, and curators. Kruger was reluctant to participate, telling me she was more interested in “the moments between or before” conference presentations—the things said backstage, shared among the audience, or discussed at the reception afterward—than in the

  • Diane Arbus, untitled black-and-white photograph of Anita Steckel, New York, ca. 1970.

    Anita Steckel


    I’VE MET ONLY ONE ARTIST who wrote dirty limericks, founded an anticensorship collective, dated Marlon Brando, worked on a cargo ship, and won the Mambo Queen of Southern California contest. Her name was Anita Steckel—and she was a pip.

    IN HER WORK of the early 1960s, Steckel overpainted vintage photographs to summon wildly unexpected associations and narrative possibilities. The Impostor, 1963, is a revamped portrait of a priest in a church, outfitted by Steckel in sunglasses, panty hose, and high heels. The lower half of the father’s white satin robes have been cut away to

  • Judson Powell and Noah Purifoy, Barrel and Plow, 1966, beer barrel and plow mounted on table. Documentary photograph of the work with Darcy Robinson and Judson Powell, Los Angeles, 1966. Barrel and Plow was one of fifty works included in the 1966 exhibition “66 Signs of Neon.” Photo: Harry Drinkwater.


    To better survey the manifold sites of postwar art in Los Angeles, Artforum invited art historians THOMAS CROW and ANDREW PERCHUK, curators MAURICE TUCHMAN and ALI SUBOTNICK, and gallerist HELENE WINER to join in conversation with artists JOHN BALDESSARI, HARRY GAMBOA JR., and LIZ LARNER—a group whose experiences span five decades and some of the most vibrant, vital scenes in the city. Critic and scholar RICHARD MEYER and Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO moderate.

    Michelle Kuo: We all know the myth: “The Cool School,” coined by Philip Leider himself in these pages [Summer 1964]. Leider was speaking of a “new distance,” a remove, which he saw manifested in the adamantine surfaces of the work of the Ferus Gallery artists and which came to stand for LA culture as a whole. But how might we attend to art in LA now, without reducing it to the same clichés about regional or even outsider production that persist, rather astonishingly, in many exhibitions, in much of the literature, and certainly in the market?

    How might we attend to the relationship—if any—between


    All good art is an indiscretion. —Tennessee Williams

    IN 1977, THE NEW ORLEANS MUSEUM OF ART organized an exhibition titled “Five from Louisiana.” The show featured a handful of artists from the state who had, as the exhibition catalogue put it, “gained national and international reputations, and have received honor and distinction on the contemporary art scene today.” The post-Minimal sculptor Lynda Benglis (a Port Charles, Louisiana, native living by then in New York City) was among them. Five authors were engaged to write essays or conduct interviews for the catalogue, each on or with a different