PRINT December 2017

Matthew Higgs

1 JOCHEN LEMPERT (IZU PHOTO MUSEUM, NAGAIZUMI, JAPAN; CURATED BY YOSHIE KUNITA) The Izu Photo Museum, set among the foothills of Mount Fuji, with interior spaces and surrounding gardens designed by the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, was an apposite and empathetic setting for Lempert’s closely observed images of the natural world. Printed in the darkroom by the artist and installed directly on the gallery’s walls without any form of framing, Lempert’s deceptively modest pictures of birds, insects, plants, and the open sea—some no more than a few inches wide—were, like nature itself, things of wonder.

Co-organized with the German Embassy, Tokyo.

Jochen Lempert, Un voyage en mer du Nord (Voyage on the North Sea) (detail), 2009, six gelatin silver prints, each 40 × 32 5/8".

2 “THINGS ARE WHAT WE ENCOUNTER: DR. CHARLES SMITH + HEATHER HART” (JOHN MICHAEL KOHLER ARTS CENTER, SHEBOYGAN, WI; CURATED BY KAREN PATTERSON) Since 1986, Dr. Charles Smith, a self-taught artist and Vietnam veteran, has worked on the African American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archive, his extraordinary and continually expanding universe of figurative sculptures that chronicle African American lives, culture, and history. At the Kohler Arts Center, artist Heather Hart presented a group of the Hammond, Louisiana–based artist’s sculptures in an ingenious and open-ended architectural framework, establishing a stage set of sorts—a performative mise-en-scène—on which Dr. Smith’s art and the museum’s visitors acted out their respective roles.

On view through January 21, 2018.

Dr. Charles Smith, Serpent, ca. 1985–99, concrete, paint, mixed media, 21 3/4 × 19 × 19".

3 LOUISE LAWLER (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ROXANA MARCOCI WITH KELLY SIDLEY) Lawler’s retrospective deftly eluded the kind of closure that often accompanies such career-defining enterprises. Eschewing strict chronologies, and underscored by her work’s mordant humor, the exhibition was divided into two discrete presentations: The first focused on her now-signature images of other artists’ works, photographed in situ, and the second on her long-standing engagement with printed matter—matchbooks, postcards, letterheads, posters, and the like. Together, these two interconnected aspects of Lawler’s practice amplified her persistent interest in, and questioning of, the nature of art and the systems that condition art’s production, commodification, distribution, and display.

View of “Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now,” 2017, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Wall: Produced in 1988, Purchased in 1989; Produced in 1989, Purchased in 1993 (adjusted to fit), 1995/2010. Photo: Martin Seck.

4 ROB PRUITT (GAVIN BROWN’S ENTERPRISE, NEW YORK) On each day of Barack Obama’s two-term presidency, Pruitt created a twenty-four-inch-square portrait of the president based on imagery drawn from that day’s news (his process would eventually result in 2,922 individual paintings). Ten days after Donald Trump’s (still shocking) election win, Pruitt presented more than twenty-five hundred of these works at the Lower East Side outpost of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. The artist’s nearly decade-long investment in this simple idea read as a powerful paean to Obama’s achievements, and his plaintive exhibition felt like a wake for a more optimistic time in recent American history.

Martin Beck, Last Night, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 1 13 hours 29 minutes.

5 MARTIN BECK, LAST NIGHT (THE KITCHEN, NEW YORK, MARCH 22–25) Over thirteen hours long, Beck’s Last Night, 2016, is an immersive and exquisitely shot film that documents the 118 songs, via on-screen playback on a vintage turntable, that David Mancuso (1944–2016) played on June 2, 1984, on one of the final nights of his influential, by-invitation-only dance party at the Loft at its 99 Prince Street location. Beck’s poignant film speaks not only to Mancuso’s far-sighted and wide-ranging musical vision, but also to the sense of community that the Loft engendered over almost five decades of music, friendship, and dancing.

Martin Beck, Last Night, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 1 13 hours 29 minutes.

6 MCDERMOTT & MCGOUGH (THE CHURCH OF THE VILLAGE, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ALISON GINGERAS) McDermott & McGough’s Oscar Wilde Temple, located in the basement of downtown’s progressive Church of the Village, is a functional, secular space created not only to honor and celebrate Wilde’s life and work, but to acknowledge the “centuries-long struggle for gay liberation” and the universal “fight for equality.” Known for their embrace of earlier, outmoded styles and manners, McDermott & McGough furnished the room in appropriately Wildean nineteenth-century décor, with low lighting, ornate moldings, draped curtains, and a stained-glass window. But given the current hostile social and political climate in the United States (and indeed elsewhere), Temple couldn’t feel more timely.

On view through December 2, 2017.

View of “McDermott & McGough: Oscar Wilde Temple,” 2017, Russell Chapel, Church of the Village, New York. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

7 “ALICE NEEL, UPTOWN” (DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK; CURATED BY HILTON ALS) Curated by Als, the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and theater critic for the New Yorker, “Uptown” was a revelatory exhibition that was also notable for having the best wall texts I have ever encountered in a gallery. Structured around the denizens of Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side, the two Manhattan neighborhoods where Alice Neel lived and worked for nearly fifty years, “Uptown” focused on Neel’s portraits of people of color and served to underscore Als’s astute observation that Neel was “attracted to a world of difference and painted that.”

Alice Neel, Ballet Dancer, 1950, oil on canvas, 20 1/8 × 42 1/8".

8 MARK LECKEY (MOMA PS1; CURATED BY PETER ELEEY AND STUART COMER WITH JOCELYN MILLER AND OLIVER SHULTZ) Leckey’s work, with its melancholic form of retrofuturism, might well be the most influential art practice of the twenty-first century. This exhaustive—but never exhausting—midcareer retrospective, titled “Containers and Their Drivers,” after a song by the stubborn English band the Fall, delineated the elastic boundaries of Leckey’s wistful imagination. Like Mike Kelley’s before him, Leckey’s art is driven by an investment in the autobiographical, evidenced here by the exhumation of his adolescence and early adulthood in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s, an era that continues to haunt his worldview.

Mark Leckey, Concrete Vache, 2010, video, color, sound,
17 minutes 41 seconds.

9 THE MEOW, LOS ANGELES The Meow is a shed in the backyard of the Los Angeles home belonging to artists Lisa Anne Auerbach and Joel Kyack. Over the past year and a half, Auerbach and Kyack have invited independent, artist-run businesses, including a tattoo parlor and a psychic, to temporarily set up shop at the Meow, rent-free, to provide goods and services to a public made up of friends, neighbors, and strangers. On my visit, Dave Muller and Ethan Swan had established P&B Records, a fully operational record store selling used vinyl, CDs, cassettes, and music-related books. Offering an alternative to the algorithmic efficiency of online marketplaces, the Meow makes a straightforward case for a return to a more personable form of social and commercial exchange.

View of the Meow, Los Angeles, February 26, 2017. Photo: Lisa Anne Auerbach.

10 JESSICA VAUGHN, AFTER WILLIS (RUBBED, USED, AND MOVED) #005 (MARTOS GALLERY, NEW YORK) The single artwork that has stayed most in my thoughts this past year is Jessica Vaughn’s After Willis (rubbed, used, and moved) #005, 2017. Presented in “Invisible Man,” a group exhibition curated by Martos Gallery director Ebony L. Hayes, Vaughn’s work consists of a wall-mounted grid of thirty-six used seats and seatbacks from a Chicago transit train. Each section of upholstered fiberglass displays traces of its former life, the accumulated impressions made by the bodies of innumerable passengers. Vaughn’s work was a rich meditation on the passage of time, the movement of people, and, quite literally, the journey of life.

Jessica Vaughn, After Willis (rubbed, used, and moved) #005, 2017, thirty-six Chicago Transit Authority train seats c a. 1998–2011, 8' 2“ × 18' 9” × 2 3/4".

Matthew Higgs is the director of White Columns, New York’s oldest alternative art space, and a regular contributor to Artforum. In spring 2018, White Columns will relocate to a new home at 91 Horatio Street in New York’s meatpacking district.