PRINT December 2014

Wayne Koestenbaum

Maria Lassnig, Prothesenselbstporträt (Prosthesis Self-Portrait), 2000, oil on canvas, 49 1/2 × 39 3/8".

1 MARIA LASSNIG (MoMA PS1, NEW YORK; CURATED BY PETER ELEEY WITH JOCELYN MILLER) Lassnig meets my eye’s hunger by offering the entire banquet of “body,” rendered with expressionistic ease and candor, as if the Blue Rider had ridden straight over patriarchy and found itself in a post-apocalyptic world where virtuosity doesn’t shun the messy, the morbid, or the pugilistic. Swift, unforced lines and impossibly up-front colors limn bodies exploding with a joyful anger that elucidates rather than shatters.

Co-organized with the Neue Galerie Graz, Austria.

2 TONY FEHER (BRONX MUSEUM OF THE ARTS, NEW YORK; CURATED BY CLAUDIA SCHMUCKLI) For years, I’ve felt Feher’s assemblages of found objects—domestic, utilitarian, cute—to be the most viscerally satisfying sculptures in this or any town. He collects and arranges his colorful foundlings with custodial precision—a kinky rigor that restores the dignity of those who overly cathect to household flotsam. Feher’s patterns reassure; he seems a model-maker, constructing maquettes of villages and bundled communities that imagine utopia by seceding from usefulness into gridded whimsy.

Organized by the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston.

3 AMY SILLMAN (HESSEL MUSEUM OF ART, ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NEW YORK; CURATED BY HELEN MOLESWORTH) Sillman is a raucously inventive and passionate painter whose colors and lines make me tumble over with giddy pleasure. She plunges into her comfortingly grounded and peopled tableaux (they take place on earth and draw on human emotion and embodiment) with a hand as bold as it is refined. People sometimes mention Guston. Maybe; I’d want to bring up Einstein, or Stein, or other time/space necromancers. Sillman loves her materials, and they return the love in equal measure.

Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

4 MARCO BREUER (YOSSI MILO GALLERY, NEW YORK) Returning photography to its complicated beginnings, Breuer fastidiously—with his hands and with weird tools, like turn-tables and razor blades—submits paper to tactile martyrdom. Photography is paper, he suggests. And paper was born to receive scratches and other intricate marks, stigmata of a nonreferential image’s slow and difficult evolution. Abstraction, in Breuer’s masterful specimens, seems a climb up a transcendental mountain (Mont Blanc?), a journey undergone with a stick-to-it-iveness that suggests the virtues of a renegade fetishist and a Faustian pilgrim.

5 KATHERINE BERNHARDT (CANADA, NEW YORK) I fell in love with Bernhardt’s paintings at first sight: their workaday subject matter, their no-nonsense execution, their prodigal colors, their goofy regularity, their amphitheatrical size. Bernhardt engages in painterly play, animated by a combination of economical reticence (not too many gestures) and lavish hospitality (throw as many dishes on the table as possible).

Martina Kubelk, untitled, 1988–95, Polaroid, 4 1/8 × 4 1/8". From the series “Martina Kubelk. Kleider – Unterwaesche” (Martina Kubelk. Dresses – Lingerie), 1988–95. © Collection Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne.

6 RACHEL MASON (ENVOY ENTERPRISES, NEW YORK) Mason’s queer little doll-size sculptures of various starry women creators (Beyoncé, Maya Deren, Etta James, Alice Neel) form a glittering and shard-faceted cosmology. Perched on rude plinths that loom purposively, like outcroppings of Valkyrie rock, these extraterrestrial creatures give valuable lessons in how to be tiny, how to be strange, how to ignore the living, and how to be a reflective artist who runs away from the expected and the readily comprehensible.

7 MARTINA KUBELK (GALERIE SUSANNE ZANDER, COLOGNE) Some unsung and unknown Cindy Sherman named Martina Kubelk—a German who was probably a man, whatever it means to be a man—dressed up in women’s clothes and captured “his” image with self-timed Polaroids. These images of tart glamour and failed sublimity are beyond the valley of any fashion intervention this planet has ever seen, and are too true, and too spiritually pedagogical, to be shuffled into any file, except perhaps one that Andy Warhol and Henry Darger occupy together.

8 THOMAS EGGERER (PETZEL GALLERY, NEW YORK) With finesse and stream-washed clarity, like a Boy Scout manual dipped in Ingres’s bathtub, Eggerer constructs dreamy landscapes of vividly realized figures cast in loose color fields that neutralize his dramatic personae’s earnest tasks into a narcotic haze that beguiles my eye and relaxes my body; any repetitive, compelled motions that his protagonists endure are granted the reprieve of a boundaryless horizon. Color’s only purpose here is to tranquilize and console; the figure, which Eggerer handles with sketchy precision, lands like a cutout doll in a misty pasture where work is play, and all is eros.

9 DAVID ROBILLIARD (INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS, LONDON; CURATED BY GREGOR MUIR) Robilliard, a poet and painter, died of AIDS in 1988, at thirty-six years old. His simple, droll paintings pair block-lettered aphorisms (too many cocks spoil the breath) with line drawings of cartoonish figures, portraits, feel-good heads without avowed depth or inwardness. Hardly paintings, these basic word/image presentations have a Chaplinesque charm; their spareness—their witty near-nothingness—cuts through the phlegmy and the lachrymose with the keenness of newly won sobriety.

10 STURTEVANT AND LEE LOZANO, AS RE-EMBODIED IN TWO BOOKS: BRUCE HAINLEY’S UNDER THE SIGN OF [SIC]: STURTEVANT’S VOLTE-FACE (SEMIOTEXT[E]) AND SARAH LEHRER-GRAIWER’S LEE LOZANO: DROPOUT PIECE (AFTERALL BOOKS) Two brilliant critics give new life to two late artists, difficult and visibility-shirking, whose disappearance-oriented works require writerly ventriloquism for full realization and enactment. Of course all art speaks for itself, if we’ll let it. But some artists turn away from what can be seen and what can be said; Hainley and Lehrer-Graiwer dredge their subjects—Sturtevant, Lozano, those ornery chameleons—into the limelight, in prose that pays sufficient attention to itself and therefore can pay sufficient attention to the art it honors and revives.

Wayne Koestenbaum—poet, critic, artist—has published sixteen books, most recently My 1980s & Other Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013). He is a Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center and has been writing for Artforum since 1994.