Thomas Lawson

  • David Diao

    David Diao’s working life as a painter is a model for us all: a serious and tumultuous fifty-year engagement with the unreliable certainties of art. In the 1970s, he took to the formalist ramparts against post-Minimal informality but was then sideswiped by Pictures and neo-expressionism. Irked by this turn of events, he started reading then-current theories of institutional critique, gender, and identity politics, and in 1984, with the work Glissement, he reinvented his practice as a droll examination of shifting realities in art, history, and personal experience. This

  • Made in L.A. 2014

    TWO YEARS AGO, Los Angeles’s hometown biennial launched with a presentation that, in terms of sheer sprawl, aptly mirrored its host city. Installed at three venues, the exhibition featured sixty artists and was received as a representative, if cumbersome, cross section of several generations of artistic production in the region. Made in L.A. 2014 cut the roster nearly in half, with thirty-five individuals or teams, and confined itself to one site, the Hammer Museum. But if the show was smaller than its predecessor, it was no less ambitious. It was clear that what was on offer was an established,

  • Jack Goldstein

    WHEN IT WAS FIRST ANNOUNCED that curator Philipp Kaiser would be mounting an assessment of Jack Goldstein’s career at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, there was an instant buzz about it. Goldstein has always been a charged presence, and the show was seen as complementing the upcoming celebration of LA art under the banner of “Pacific Standard Time,” rounding out the story of the growing interdependence of New York and LA as incubators of significant new art in the 1970s and ’80s. A small scandal erupted when LA MoCA’s management canceled the exhibition in response to the fiscal

  • “Jack Goldstein x 10,000”

    Here’s the shorthand: Jack Goldstein brought a rigorous pictorial formalism to bear on Los Angeles Conceptualism of the late 1960s and early ’70s and so ushered in what we now call the Pictures generation.

    Here’s the shorthand: Jack Goldstein brought a rigorous pictorial formalism to bear on Los Angeles Conceptualism of the late 1960s and early ’70s and so ushered in what we now call the Pictures generation. Here’s the backstory: This much-anticipated first American retrospective, covering the artist’s full output until his death in 2003, was originally slated for LA MoCA, got canceled during that museum’s financial crisis, and is now being given second life by OCMA. Encompassing twenty-one short films, an early sculpture, a selection of vinyl records with listening

  • Michael Hurson

    THE PHONE RANG early, usually the harbinger of some sort of trouble from New York or London. I paused before answering, uncertain if I was ready, without a cup of coffee for comfort, for whatever it was that wanted my attention so badly. I picked up the phone and unexpectedly heard the voice of an old friend. “Michael died—yesterday, of a heart attack,” she said, before launching into a needlessly guilt-ridden account of signs missed, opportunities not taken. Michael Hurson was a sweetly funny man, a quick-minded friend as well as a remarkable, if too little appreciated, artist whose loss this

  • Thomas Lawson

    1 Ian Hamilton Finlay, Little Sparta (Dunsyre, Scotland) Finlay’s death this spring was a profound loss. But his garden remains a thoughtfully poetic legacy continuing to fl ourish in the high moorland country of southern Scotland. You can get lost in the intricacies of a mind contemplating the riddles of civilization in this studiously unkempt riff on the idea of a labyrinth. It is a carefully choreographed space, with the planting and the paths weaving through it bringing fragments of sculpture and language into and out of view. One moment you are in an intimate place contemplating a verse by


    LUCY MCKENZIE GREW UP in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1980s and early ’90s, an era that saw the dismantling of much of the United Kingdom’s welfare state in service to Margaret Thatcher’s idea that “there is no such thing as society”—only striving, self-interested individuals who should be given every encouragement to make their own way in the world. This philosophy was widely understood as a sick joke in old industrial cities like Glasgow, whose economies had been all but destroyed by the forces of global capital. In response, in Glasgow at least, the political and intellectual classes began to

  • “Los Angeles 1955–1985”

    NOW THAT LOS ANGELES has been recognized as a major center of contemporary art production, inquiring minds want to know how the city’s art world accounts for itself. We might start by asking what it has to offer in the way of an originating myth. The answer is the Ferus Gallery, which mutated from Beat collective in the late ’50s to high-powered commercial enterprise a decade later and is accorded mythic status not because of the history of its programming but because it happened to stage the first exhibition of the Pop art of Andy Warhol. Thus the conventional art history of Los Angeles owes

  • Jean Prouvé

    FINDING MYSELF IN NEW HAVEN last spring, I dropped by the strangely brooding Art and Architecture Building to see how it was holding up. Paul Rudolph’s concrete castle still looks fabulously imposing from the street; the interior, once I found the steep and narow stairs to the entrance, was the dark, cold cave I remembered from a visit to Yale twenty years ago. But here I discovered something quite delightful: a brightly lit shelter made of pale taupe and green enameled sheet metal perforated with blue glass portholes. The shape, color, and substance of the structure gave it the look of an

  • Gretchen Bender

    WHEN DAVID ROBBINS made his signature 1986 piece Talent, a lineup of eighteen black-and-white head shots of very fresh-faced artists of a certain notoriety at that time in New York, he presented a giddily ironic vision of unbounded optimism. The photographs were taken—staged and lit, processed and retouched—by a professional portrait studio off Times Square. They were not made in the style of actor’s publicity shots; they were the real thing. It was the artists who were faking it. (As one of the subjects, I remember the experience well, feeling too imperfect, too corporeal somehow, before the

  • Robert Rauschenberg

    Rauschenberg is the most populist of the Pop artists, the one most interested in bringing all aspects of life and politics into his art. He is also the most experimental, always messing around with innovative ways to adhere images to various surfaces. Printmaking has long been an important arena for his experiments and also a means of turning out relatively low-cost objects for the public. At the extreme end of such production comes the mass-edition yet technically complex poster. This exhibition, organized by prints and drawings curator Carter Foster, brings together

  • “Infotainment”

    When Artforum called to propose looking back at “Infotainment,” a 1985 touring exhibition of young, media-smart East Village artists, I had just returned from London, where I saw Tate Britain’s “Art and the 60s: This Was Tomorrow.” As I thought back to New York in the mid-’80s, it struck me that there might be a parallel to draw between that strange time when artists seemed mesmerized by the power of mass media and the earlier moment in British Pop. Both “Infotainment” and “Art and the 60s” were about responses to American mass culture, and both groups of artists, though separated by twenty


    HISTORY IS FASCINATING, it beguiles with endless possibilities of meaning. So much can be read into the patterning of its ebb and flow, of its gyrations and stillnesses, that dreamers and speculators of all kinds seek to read their fortune there. And since everyone wants the security of certain interpretation (or the security of its denial), phantasms of stability are built up or torn down with astonishing regularity. These illusions of stopped time feed on a desire for completion. Here, instead, is a roundabout story, a story with neither end nor beginning.

    Today, a visit to either of the two

  • Toward Another Laocoön, or, the Snake Pit

    TAKE BASQUIAT. FIVE YEARS AGO, he didn’t have a place to live. He slept on the couch of one friend after another. He lacked money to buy art supplies. Now, at 24, he is making paintings that sell for $10,000 to $25,000. They are reproduced in art magazines and also as part of fashion layouts, or in photographs of chic private homes in House & Garden. They are in the collections of the publisher S.I. Newhouse, Richard Gere, Paul Simon, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

    When Jean Michel Basquiat walks into Mr. Chow’s on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the waiters all greet him as a favorite


    IN PREPARATION FOR THIS short article I read through a tremendous bulk of the art criticism produced by Hilton Kramer over the last twenty-five years. What a task. I remember occasionally enjoying one of his more outrageous diatribes against Modern art or one of its presenting institutions while nursing a hangover on a Sunday morning. But it is one thing to enjoy a sour laugh when you have a sore head, and The New York Times, Kramer’s old forum, is the only entertainment to hand; quite another to go methodically through the collected works. Suffering through such relentless pettiness masquerading


    THE POWERFUL, AND PROBLEMATIC, generator of European culture was its progressivism, its belief that history moved on, that things improved. This was the ideology of the modern that propelled the European idea to its ultimate expression in America. Now, as American power has consolidated, this linear belief system has begun to fade, its practicality replaced by a more effectively repressive concept of progress as eternal return, the cyclic time of myth in which culture no longer evolves but simply revolves. In this “post-Modern” world, history is no longer a tool of self-identification, and

  • Nancy Chunn

    Nancy Chunn rarely paints a likable picture, but she produces many that command a respect much more impressive than likability. At their best, Chunn’s paintings work through a system of contradiction to attain a balance of discomfort. Unassuming of aspect, they are almost domineering in scale. The dry, thin appearance of their surfaces is belied by the exactness with which colors are worked. On direct inspection they appear to tell us something easy, unambiguous, but a closer, longer look disabuses us of this illusion, and we are left with a much more complex statement, one refusing simple

  • How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War

    IT OFTEN SEEMS AS THOUGH art historians want to reduce the practice of art to something like their own business, a business in which a major piece of news is most often a squabble over a minor piece of information. Art historians like to worry about provenance, to argue about priority, about who did what first; they like to organize artists into schools and parties and to demonstrate similarities. They seem especially fond of this last activity, working hard to deny the particularity of artworks, their relations to the conditions that helped create them, presenting instead a rather disinterested

  • Group Material

    One aspect of recent painting that has not yet been much discussed is its obsession with collecting, and with the display of such activity. It is not simply that the work is collectible, but that in its very structure it is concerned with collecting, with amassing a fortune of detail and information with which to dazzle us. Images and styles, materials and methods, clichés and quotations are piled dazzlingly on top of piles. These great collections are then spread across a great deal of space, and in as many galleries as can be arranged at once, so that we may admire their accumulated power. On

  • James Brown

    These paintings are so deliciously ripe that there’s a danger they’ll turn rotten. A perfect match of European touch and American brut, they reek of high fashion, and indeed, since this successful show, James Brown’s disdainful masks have peered at us from the pages of many a fashion spread. The decadence is palpable as once again the genuine life forces of the Other are tamed within the confined area of fine painting. This time primitive rhythms are spiced with street jive as the white boy steals something from black culture (again), and renders it piss elegant in the “sensitive” manner of the