Tobi Haslett

  • Peter Hujar, Fran Lebowitz [at Home in Morristown], 1974, vintage gelatin silver print, 17 x 13 1/2".
    picks February 05, 2016

    Peter Hujar

    It’s been stamped on the collective retina: a reclining Susan Sontag, 1975, sheathed in a turtleneck, her hands stuffed in her hair, her face crowned with that smirk of effortless intellection. She looks like a sleek, belletristic otter floating on its back. This is Sontag as we’ve always thought of her—sly, a little wistful, possessed of a dark, delicate intelligence that pitches its gaze at something just beyond the frame. Embalmed in her persona, served like some pickled exotic fruit.

    But that embalmment—the aspect that has haunted both the practice and the theory of photography—gathers a

  • Tyler Dobson, Lana Del Rey, 2015, oil on canvas, artists frame, 21 1/4 x 25 1/4".
    picks October 16, 2015

    Tyler Dobson

    Tyler Dobson’s paintings and cotton tapestries smile maddeningly with an uncanny blink—what are they? Each made on portrait-painting.com and personalthrows.com, Dobson—at a safe distance and with the help of invisible labor—has converted digital images into physical objets d’art, pinned like Lepidoptera for the bland contemporary gaze.

    These confected pieces curdle into kitsch, and that’s part of the point. A huge cloth tapestry (Big Baby [all works 2015]) has the word “BABY” inscribed in its center, true to the formal infantilism of its geometry and cloying colors. Folksiness puffs and flakes

  • Trevor Paglen, Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1)
NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable
Atlantic Ocean, 2015, C-print, 60 x 48".
    picks October 02, 2015

    Trevor Paglen

    A fiber-optic cable snakes along the ocean floor somewhere in the Caribbean, strangled by algae. This is one of four photographs in Trevor Paglen’s show, which swirls around the recent NSA scandal and our clicking, buzzing surveillance state. The picture’s title tells us that this cable has been tapped.

    There are four images of the cable and three landscape photographs, all opaquely picturesque. The city seen from the harbor in NSA-Tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site, New York City, New York, United States, 2014, is a quaint little skyline scrawled upon the dimming horizon. A map of that same

  • Abigail DeVille, Haarlem Tower of Babel, 2012, reclaimed lumber, accumulated debris, family heirlooms, 72“ x 72” x 16'.
    picks July 17, 2015

    “From the Ruins”

    Abigail DeVille’s Haarlem Tower of Babel, 2012, is a steel tower that has had the top lopped off. It’s in two pieces, both of them choked by rusting metals, broken branches, and bits of cloth and paper that seem to shed like snakeskin. Babel is the centerpiece of a group show curated by Jane Ursula Harris, and DeVille's motifs—assemblage, foliage, the growl of defunct technologies—seep outward like nuclear waste until each piece glows with green-grey apocalypticism. Doom registers in the punch-click of Luther Price’s Light Fracture, 2013, an old-school slide projector casting images of smashed

  • View of “These Are Not My Horses,” 2015.
    picks June 19, 2015

    “These Are Not My Horses”

    It’s a mirthless irony of our time that the demise of civilization lies in the hands of a few puttering functionaries. So there’s something procedural, something grimly determinate, about the patent insanity of this show. Rochelle Goldberg’s glazed clay fragments sit like clenched guts on a strip of white carpeting, smeared with crude oil and chia seeds, the latter spread evenly on surfaces, mapped methodically on the white fuzz. Chaos inheres within structure and shoots to allegorical heights with Robert Bittenbender’s Broadway Nights, 2015, a lattice of twine, cheap bracelets, and chintzy

  • View of “Rey Akdogan: Crash Rail,” 2015.
    picks May 22, 2015

    Rey Akdogan

    When Richard Serra erected his seventy-three-ton wall outside New York’s Federal Building in 1981, it was a gash in public space, a twelve-foot-high insult that seared the hide of civic respectability. By contrast, Rey Akdogan’s sculptures hang low to the floor in sharp aluminum stripes, signs of a frosty rapprochement between minimalism and the late-capitalist office. Akdogan’s crash rails, bars that line the blanched spaces through which we so passively pass (hallways, elevators, corners), are painted black or white, some striped with red or orange, some cut with a neat bevel. Behold that

  • Lucy Dodd, Mantis, 2015, found lamp on Garth Hudson chair frame, broken eye glass and ceramic hands, 22 x 35 x 23".
    picks May 08, 2015

    “The Story of O(OO)”

    Strapped, whipped, and yanked along, this show is a bridled beast, and like its namesake—Anne Desclos’s 1954 S-M novel The Story of O—it gasps with exquisite agony. Jared Madere’s untitled installation is a battered monument to binding and constraint: Branches are stuffed into a hippie dress and topped with a wig, making a psychotic mannequin, a wretched anthropomorphism of fabric and bark. Behind it (her?), Madere has strung up what looks like sagging sails, streaked with blue and patched with cracked mirrors, a picture both glittering and strangely soft—but the whole thing is bolted to the

  • View of “The thirty-six sets do not constitute a sequence,” 2015.
    picks April 24, 2015

    Martin Beck

    In the photographs that compose Martin Beck’s Flowers (set 4) and Flowers (set 5) (both 2015), a bouquet sits in various states of completion, quite corporate in its prim pose, housed in a clear vase and floating in a field of black: This is the empty dream-space of stock photography, where portraits twinkle like Platonic ideals. At first, the arrangement is a bustle of white blooms (the better to slice against the black), while later stages burst into yellow, bloodred, and pink. These are not pictures of flowers but of cleanliness, of bureaucratic pleasantness, of the sanitized cheer kept up

  • Hito Steyerl, Liquidity, Inc., 2014, HD video, sound, thirty minutes.
    picks April 03, 2015

    Hito Steyerl

    If barbarism is shoved deep into art, it sits snug as a gun in its holster. Let’s call Hito Steyerl’s work an epistemology of the holster. This survey of her videos since 2004 betrays a preoccupation with casings, coverings, capsules: that is, the thin membrane of criticality stretched taut over so much art discourse. Steyerl’s filmed lectures tickle the art world’s left-ish pieties, as we see her—speaking with pedagogical placidity as she gets all political—deliver the eagerly anticipated theoretical assault. And the artist lecture is itself a kind of casing or effluvium, a foam that forms on