Critics’ Picks

View of “Anti-Establishment” 2012.



Bard Center for Curatorial Studies
Bard College PO Box 5000
June 23–December 21

“Anti-Establishment,” curated expertly by Johanna Burton, is a group exhibition dedicated to those whose artistic practices playfully interrogate, reinterpret, and reinvent the notion of “the institution.” Comprising video, painting, installation, sculpture, text, and performance, this show, with its cacophony of opinion, provides a pleasurable, and often surprising, journey through the thought processes of thirteen twenty-first-century artists and groups, and their struggle to hold their space in a fluctuating landscape of outmoded institutions and their discontents.

The most overt and extreme of these institutional critiques is the seemingly glib, but delightfully and horrifically informative, installation by Brooklyn art collective and pseudo nail salon H.E.N.S. (Hanns Eisler Nail Salon). Titled Alternative Pedagogy and New Left Daycare II, consisting of: H.E.N.S. World-Historical Sock-Tragic Puppet Drama, Marxist Baby Buggy Bouncers, Pragmatic Piscine-Pedicure Program; Showing the Subject’s Passage from Vulgar Individualism to Agonic Pluralism, 2012, this “total-immersion artwork” invites the viewer to sit inside one of two adult-size baby bouncer sculptures, don headphones, and suck on a juice box plucked from a neighboring juice pyramid, while watching a television spouting tales of the New Left—as told by sock puppets. On screen, puppets cavort through landscapes and communicate with Garra rufa fish chomping on pedicured feet, reinterpreting the Red Riding Hood tale (among others) with a deliciously Marxist twist. Day care humor has never been so bleak.

Other works tackle the idea of the institution with impressive subtlety. Jacqueline Humphries’s “Black Light Paintings,” 2005, are an aesthetic triumph, but they also give the viewer uncommon pause to consider the studio conditions that allow such paintings to exist. To make this series, Humphries spent several months working exclusively with fluorescent paint, visible only under ultraviolet light, and she blocked out all the windows in her studio to create a perpetual artificial darkness. If the institution of the museum erases the life cycles of production around its artifacts, then Humphries’s black light paintings are an act of reintegration, holding the walls while perpetually reminding the viewer of their genesis in neon-cloistered production.