Sasha Frere-Jones

  • Tiril Hasselknippe

    The New York–based Norwegian artist Tiril Hasselknippe channeled the apocalyptic doom that pervades our awful present in “Braut” (Bride), her solo exhibition at Magenta Plains. Two hulking sculptures—which looked like salvaged monuments to lost causes, or chunks of destroyed architecture rescued from fallen cities—suggested that the past, present, and future all collapsed into the space we were standing in. Hasselknippe’s ruins listen, remember, and speak.

    The show radiated lost urban optimism—the kind of broken spirit that’s palpable in a place such as New York, where three centuries of misery

  • music January 17, 2020

    Private Label

    IN 2019, WARP RECORDS TURNED THIRTY AND EDITIONS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC (ECM) HIT FIFTY. The connection felt superficial, and then it didn’t, though I couldn’t immediately figure out why. Both of these independent labels have seeded the air for decades. They didn’t cash in, scale up, and abandon what made them good, like Atlantic and Def Jam and other indies before them. ECM and Warp both stuck to the daily grind of personal relationships, careful record-making, and consistent business practices. This isn’t to say that the two present as similar: ECM generally puts out albums created in real time

  • music December 15, 2019

    Pyre Festival

    WHAT IS A MUSIC FESTIVAL? Is it like a label, an overarching and visible marker of taste? Is it like group therapy, a way to guide and protect fellow souls? Is it a big money laundering scheme? The Kraków-based, internationally present Unsound offers some answers.

    Amazon is trying to artwash its hegemonic skid marks by funding a new festival called Intersect, slated to launch in Las Vegas this December with Beck, Kacey Musgraves, and dozens of other acts. Coachella soldiers on in the California desert every April, providing ever-shifting backdrops for TikTok tutorials and impromptu influencer

  • Key Hiraga

    In the work of Key Hiraga (1936–2000), which slid from black line drawings into barking Day-Glo paintings, the human body is the key. Hiraga, who was raised outside of Tokyo, might have been under Dubuffet’s sway—particularly in how the Frenchman rendered his famous tomato-splat heads and bodies of the 1950s. By the mid-’60s, Hiraga’s paintings became less illustrative. And in 1967, he developed a character: a small man with a bowler hat and Brobdingnagian penis who often appears floating around worlds dominated by ecstatic colors and patterns. The figure is like a Japanese analogue to cartoonist

  • “MAD”

    “MAD,” a group exhibition at Assembly Room that featured the work of women artists, cohered around anger, or at least the idea of it. Per Angela Conant, who organized the show, anger “spreads easily from one susceptible entity to another,” like fire. The gallery is run by women and holds monthly meetings to bring female-identifying curators together. Yet the disparate works in the tiny Henry Street space weren’t only chosen according to theme; they were united by a low and reliable force: more blood than flame.

    In all three of Haley Hughes’s oil paintings, fire was both a character and a force.

  • David Hockney and James Scott

    In 1966, only four years out of the Royal College of Art in London, David Hockney was already a star. James Scott, a contemporary of Hockney’s, had received acclaim for short films he’d made with actors such as Drewe Henley and Anthony Hopkins. Scott wanted to make a documentary, something with an artist, so he asked Hockney, who agreed. Scott’s twenty-seven-minute film, Love’s Presentation, 1966, was the centerpiece of this exhibition at the Anita Rogers Gallery; the show also featured Hockney’s “Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy,” 1966, the etchings at the core of Scott’s

  • music September 23, 2019

    Standard Deviation

    HOW WOULD YOU SING, if you wanted to sing? Would you want to sound alluring, get the kids to swooning? Patty Waters, at the age of seventy-three, has her own answers to these questions, and few of them are immediately apparent. Dubbed “Priestess of the Avant-Garde” by JazzTimes, Waters grew up in Iowa, then moved, while in her teens, to San Francisco and eventually to New York, all to pursue her singing career. She now lives in California, as she has for decades.

    Waters is best known for two albums released on ESP-Disk in 1966—Sings, a studio album, and College Tour, a compilation of live

  • music May 06, 2019

    Story of O)))

    EARLIER THIS YEAR, the French composer and artist Éliane Radigue published an essay called “Time Is of No Importance” in a collection called Spectres. In it, she writes: “Like plants, immobile but always growing, my music is never stable. It is ever changing. But the changes are so slight that they are almost imperceptible, and only become apparent after the fact.” The music of SUNN O))) lives in a similar balance, alive and immobile, exceptionally loud but not cruel.

    For their show at Brooklyn Steel on April 25, the core duo of guitarists Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson were joined by Tim

  • music April 19, 2019

    Master Blaster

    WHEN APHEX TWIN played Brooklyn’s Avant Gardner earlier this month, it was his first New York appearance in at least twenty-two years. From day one, Richard D. James has used live appearances as DJing opportunities, focusing heavily on the ragey, detailed tracks he and his cohort favor. But these tracks are, and have always been, a fairly narrow tranche cut from his larger body of work. Don’t flip out if you miss his recent shows and are a lifelong fan of Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)—that show can happen any time, in your house.

    The sound was clear and not too loud. The big ass, windy

  • Marlon Mullen

    Marlon Mullen begins by painting words, performing an act that neither comes from nor returns to reading. The artist has autistic spectrum disorder and suffers from expressive aphasia; he rarely uses spoken or written language to communicate. His voice, though, is coherent and glorious. This was Mullen’s third solo show at JTT.

    In the late 1960s, California governor Ronald Reagan deinstitutionalized many of those diagnosed with mental illness; as US president, he continued in this vein and shifted responsibility for the mentally ill to the states, leaving thousands with limited options. In

  • THE INVISIBLE VILLAGE

    WRITING ABOUT JOHN ZORN and his music feels like an act of cartography as much as an opportunity for critique. Zorn’s recorded appearances in the past forty-odd years—as improviser, composer, or both—number somewhere near seven hundred. That hallucinatory number represents the constant creation of music, sure, but it also indicates the borders of a psychic space radiating out of and above New York’s East Village. Zorn’s work has helped sustain a cohort of artists and workers that has wound its way through the downtown experimental-theater circles of the 1960s, the loft jazz scene of the ’70s,

  • Aura Satz

    In Aura Satz’s numinous exhibition “Listen, Recalibrate” at Fridman Gallery, pieces exploring generations of sound-making women—such as Delia Derbyshire, Pauline Oliveros, and Éliane Radigue—resonated profoundly, while elsewhere in the show the trauma of living with state-sponsored sonic warfare ominously hummed. The works, though unshowy, were rigorously conceived and continued to unfold weeks after viewing.

    The Wail That Was Warning, 2018, was a handsome, hand-cranked siren: a stainless-steel barrel laid horizontally on a stand shaped like an inverted V. I turned it at an unhurried pace, not