reviews

  • Spencer Finch

    Postmasters

    Henry David Thoreau famously admonished that we too often lead lives of “quiet desperation.” His remedy was to live deeply and reflexively, sucking life’s “marrow,” and, if need be, communing with the Walden woods in the relative seclusion of meditative if quixotic faux isolation (he was literally a stone’s throw from his nearest neighbors). For Emily Dickinson, another archetypal American recluse, a purposeful and startlingly conscious life was to be found within the walls of her Amherst, Massachusetts, birthplace. In fifty-five years she rarely ventured out, communicating chiefly by means of

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  • On Kawara

    David Zwirner | 537 West 20th Street

    In 1954, when he was barely 7,500 days old, On Kawara exhibited, in Tokyo, a series of drawings of scarred, dismembered bodies. Coming only two years after US-imposed censorship laws were lifted in Japan and a mere nine after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the drawings—empathetic, dramatic, grotesque—were everything that Kawara’s later Conceptualist work is, apparently, not.

    The nebulous link between Kawara’s early and mature work, often thought of as unexpressive and detached, was clarified in “Paintings of 40 Years,” even though the show contained only the latter. Three panels hung alone

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  • David Altmejd

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    Opulent, complex, and evocatively incongruous, David Altmejd’s sculptural scenarios have, in a relatively short time, insinuated themselves into the contemporary art world’s collective consciousness. Of course, his idiosyncratic formal vocabulary—quasi-modernist display environments sexed up with mirrored surfaces, theatrical lighting, and costume jewelry, all orchestrated to create sprawling disco sarcophagi for broken werewolf corpses—is already a riot of psychological tropes. Death and desire, the self and the other, decay and transformation: All are explicit in the forms and contexts of

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  • Ellen Gallagher

    Gagosian Gallery (21)

    Ellen Gallagher’s art has always involved insinuating content into modernist formats once cherished for emptying content out—for transcending the world’s mess. An apparently abstract line, for example, may in her hands break up into a row of tiny lips or eyes, their shapes close to racist caricature. Gallagher’s earlier work relied on the tension between the deliberately problematic comedy of these miniaturized and therefore surreptitious infiltrators and the overall elegance of her objects, often luxurious in scale and surface. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as Julie Andrews

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  • Paul Chan

    Greene Naftali Gallery

    Act I. A country road. A tree. Evening. Act II. Next day. Same time. Same place.

    Anyone familiar with the sparse setting of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (his 1948 “tragicomedy in two acts”) likely recognized it as the skeleton upon which Paul Chan hung cacophonous skin for his debut solo show. Yet Chan—who previously has paired such seemingly incongruous aesthetics and philosophies as those of Charles Fourier and Henry Darger—here added a blast of hellfire from the book of Leviticus and peopled his Beckettian stage with, among others, the digital likenesses of the late rapper Biggie Smalls

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  • Richard Kern

    Feature Inc.

    Before becoming known as a photographer, Richard Kern was a director of short “death-punk” films, pioneering a post-Warholian B-porn aesthetic that made itself at home on Sonic Youth album covers and in East Village basement screening rooms at a time when it was still possible to call such production “underground.” In the meantime, Kern’s photographs have been widely published in books and magazines as various as Purple and Barely Legal. Kern does porn, art, and fashion photography, sometimes all in one day, but his singularity does not reside in this crossover potential so much as in the way

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  • Ricci Albenda

    Andrew Kreps Gallery

    The loose-knit French literary/mathematical collective OULIPO (l’Ouvroir de la littérature potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature) applied a variety of constraints to the composition of poetry, drama, and fiction in an effort to investigate the outer limits of language. Among the bizarre products of their rigorous approach are cofounder Raymond Queneau’s book Cent mille milliards de poèmes (1961)—which contains ten pages each split into fourteen strips, one for each line of text, that allow the reader (in theory at least) to construct the hundred trillion poems of the title—and

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  • Saint Clair Cemin

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    In his theory of creativity as bisociation, Arthur Koestler wrote: “When two independent matrices of perception or reasoning interact with each other the result . . . is either a collision ending in laughter, or their fusion in a new intellectual synthesis, or their confrontation in an aesthetic experience.” He adds that such “comic, tragic, or intellectually challenging effects” can occur simultaneously—and this is precisely what happens in Saint Clair Cemin’s droll sculptures.

    The collision of a multicolored female figure and a white polyhedron in A Shard of Glass (all works 2004)—the figure

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  • Jessica Rankin

    The Project

    Jessica Rankin’s first solo show in New York was titled “The Pale Cast of Thoughts,” and it’s worth considering what this reference might mean. “And thus,” says Hamlet, “the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” He is berating himself for not doing anything about his father’s murder when his soliloquy is interrupted by his virginal female foil, the dutiful daughter and future suicide. “Soft you now,” he murmurs, “The fair Ophelia. – Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins remembered.” Ophelia is fair, just as thought is pale, and she thinks too much; her

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  • Katharina Sieverding

    MoMA PS1

    German artist Katharina Sieverding is oddly little known, or at least little shown, in the United States. In organizing the first comprehensive survey of her work in this country, curator Alanna Heiss—assisted by Amy Smith Stewart and Daniel Marzona—has focused on the artist’s photo- and film-based self-portraits, which comprise an oeuvre within an oeuvre that underpins Sieverding’s broader interrogations of the subject as a node of potential resistance within political, sexual, and cultural matrices.

    At P.S. 1, serial groupings of photos, film stills, and slide projections relentlessly present

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  • Tim Davis

    Bohen Foundation

    It has been argued that all artists are political: They either fight the system (the art establishment, the government, the structure of society) explicitly in their work, or support it implicitly by remaining voiceless. Tim Davis presents a third possibility. Traveling the country like Robert Frank did in the 1950s (a conservative era that’s become a touchstone for our own), he photographed objects and people in a variety of settings: a gun show at a mall, a communist summer camp, political rallies. Titling the series “My Life in Politics” (2002–), he places himself as an observer rather than

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