reviews

  • “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult”

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    On first and second sight, “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a very weird show. I wouldn’t call it fabulous—too many of the photographs in it are revolting little things—but it is fascinating. And it is puzzling on a number of fronts. How were these things made? The wall texts and catalogue do not always tell us, unless we are meant to suspend disbelief and give some credit to occult concepts like “vital fluid” and ectoplasm. The caption for one plate in the catalogue matter-of-factly claims that photographer Frederick Hudson “probably

    Read more
  • Sue Williams

    303 Gallery

    In 2000, the New Yorker congratulated Sue Williams on her metamorphosis from “the angriest woman in the art world” to a “sort of blissed-out innocent,” a feminist turned formalist (as if these terms were mutually exclusive) who nonetheless was still resigned to playing “Ginger Rogers” to Willem de Kooning’s “Fred Astaire.” Now, five years later, such insidiously sycophantic gender politics are all but displaced, even if it is hard to see Williams’s recent work apart from her earlier agitprop exercises in aggressive desublimation. But perhaps that’s the point. Here as elsewhere, Williams’s work

    Read more
  • Sam Durant

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, has been roundly maligned since it opened last fall, and the sheer range of critical charges—from insufficient scholarly contextualization and scattershot exhibitions to annoying electronic touch displays and too many gift shops—testifies to the difficulty of addressing Native American history in the nation’s capital. In Proposal for White and Indian Dead Monument Transpositions, Washington, DC, 2005, shown recently at Paula Cooper Gallery, Sam Durant offers an alternative commemoration of this traumatic past.

    The project

    Read more
  • Laurie Anderson

    Sean Kelly Gallery

    Arguably the most spectacular cinematic dream sequence of all time, Salvador Dalí’s contribution to Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) featured a Surrealist stage set par excellence. Replete with a hallucinogenic landscape, it included morphing objects, a faceless man, and—above all—lots and lots of enormous, blinking, staring eyes. Dalí seems to contend that in dreams, despite—or perhaps because of—our eyes being closed, ocularity takes on a heightened, anxious role: We are able to see things normally deemed invisible or impossible. Most disturbingly, we often see ourselves

    Read more
  • Joel Sternfeld

    Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

    The circumstances surrounding Joel Sternfeld’s last show, in 2004, were almost as sensational as the photographs themselves. Defecting from Pace/MacGill Gallery to the same gallery as Gregory Crewdson (a Sternfeld champion who makes work that bears a striking resemblance to the senior artist’s), his “American Prospects” photographs, shot in the late 1970s and mid-’80s, were printed nearly twice the size of earlier editions. It was a controversial move that seemed both market- and art-historically driven, a selfconscious update for the post-Gurksy age aimed at positioning him as an overlooked

    Read more
  • Krzysztof Wodiczko

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    Memorial art is inherently site-specific, as contingent on place as it is on the events that occasion its production. Its evocative power is predicated not only on the acknowledgment of loss but also on the idea of resistance: We will not forget the victims; we will not forget the violence; we will not be silent; we will not go gently into the night. This fusion of politics and passion also appears in the art of Krzysztof Wodiczko, which eulogizes the living, particularly those who are disadvantaged or who suffer at the hands of authority.

    Wodiczko is perhaps best known for works designed for

    Read more
  • Paloma Varga Weisz

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    Paloma Varga Weisz has a name almost too good to be true: Teutonic and Northern in one part, Latin and Southern in the others—the novels of Thomas Mann in one person. Fun with people’s names is just fun, of course, but Weisz’s work does have the schizoid tension this particular game implies. At first glance her sculpture looks somber and conjures the sacred, and the works shown here, in an exhibition titled “Chor ” (Choir)—her first US solo appearance—explicitly address the psychic space and physical furniture of the church: Weisz’s carved busts, and their limewood medium, recall

    Read more
  • Gareth James

    Elizabeth Dee Gallery

    Despite the rise of computer animation, many of the special effects we see in movies and on television are created using an old technique in which subjects are shot in front of a featureless blue screen that is later replaced by a different background. When used skillfully, blue-screen imaging lends perceptual credence to fantasy; when used poorly (as it frequently is in basic-cable talk shows, corporate motivational videos, and local-news weather reports) it gives rise to a grab bag of optical anomalies—absence of parallax, actors with halos around their bodies—that add up to a uniquely

    Read more
  • Gardar Eide Einarsson

    Team Gallery | Grand Street

    . . . and then your wages, your blankets, and your right to suck cocks won’t do you any good, because we’ll all drown. The absurdly extended parenthetical subtitle of an otherwise deadpan sculpture by Norwegian artist Gardar Eide Einarsson, an irregular stack of thirty-nine dark wool blankets exhibited recently at Team Gallery along with a selection of other works from the past year, hints at a distinctly provocative, possibly nihilistic worldview. The fact that the line is borrowed from Ship of Fools, a play written by Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, does little to discourage this

    Read more
  • Laura Larson

    Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

    “Who am I?” André Breton demanded in the opening lines of his novel Nadja (1928). “Perhaps,” he suggested by way of an answer, “everything would amount to knowing whom I ‘haunt.’” The same could be said of the notoriously elusive medium of photography, which, like Breton, stubbornly resists all attempts at categorization. “I am whom I haunt”: This is clearly the definition of photography at which Roland Barthes arrived in Camera Lucida (1980), his quest to discover the medium’s noeme or essence through its ability to summon the spirit of his dead mother by offering an indexical trace of her once

    Read more
  • Robert Melee

    Andrew Kreps Gallery

    Channeling the spirits of Jackson Pollock and Martha Stewart, so he claims, Robert Melee drips and spatters enamel onto a variety of surfaces, usually linoleum, but sometimes the naked body of his mother. One of the more interesting artists to emerge from “Greater New York 2005” at P. S. 1 Contemporary Art Center and “Make it Now” at SculptureCenter, Melee is best known for trashily glamorous installations. At P. S. 1, he built an entertainment center out of faux wood paneling and old television sets, each of which showed a different video. In one, Marbleization of Mommy, 2002, Melee is shown

    Read more
  • Jules Olitski

    Knoedler & Company

    “Jules Olitski—Matter Embraced: Paintings 1950s and Now” was a fascinating pairing of some of the artist’s early “Matter” paintings with examples of his ongoing “Embraced” series. The former, which were made between 1957 and 1959, situate abstracted figures on atmospheric grounds, sometimes almost merging the two. The latter, from 2004 and 2005, are mostly abstracted landscapes and seem to hold cosmic significance. “Embraced” here has multiple meanings and associations: the enclosure of the landscapes depicted by squiggly painted inner frames; the erotic energy of the compositions; and

    Read more
  • Omer Fast

    Postmasters

    The interviewees who appear in Berlin-based artist Omer Fast’s new two-channel video installation Godville, 2005, are actors who inhabit Colonial Williamsburg, an eighteenth-century town turned theme park that’s known in trade parlance as a “living-history museum.” Fast began each interview as if questioning the historical character—militiaman, mother, slave—and then led each subject gradually toward the present, toward reflection on the act of inhabiting a character from an earlier time.

    This would be rumination enough for some filmmakers, but Fast intensifies the project by cutting

    Read more
  • Ian Burns

    Spencer Brownstone Gallery

    With an engineer’s flair for coaxing unexpected function from unlikely materials—and a Conceptualist’s penchant for seeking ingenious ways to deploy that function—Ian Burns conceived his recent show as a series of exaggeratedly low-tech viewing stations. Burns stood out in P. S. 1 Contemporary Art Center’s “Greater New York 2005” with The Epic Tour, 2005, a room-size kinetic sculpture that had viewers riding a goofy trainlike vehicle past an array of colorful shadow boxes. Here again, he squeezed a ramshackle charm out of jerry-rigged apparatus—this time involving more shadow

    Read more
  • Ryan Gander

    Artists Space Exhibitions

    Both works in London-based artist Ryan Gander’s New York debut make productive use of a disconnect between sound and image. In The First Grand National, 2003, a small monitor facing the wall illuminates an empty, black-carpeted room. A color-bar test pattern on the screen casts a gently moving rainbow on the wall as an elderly Englishwoman holds forth on various methods of high-speed typing, perfume, and, predominantly, the BBC Radio 4 programming—plays, the news, the shipping forecast, Women’s Hour—that is her daily companion. A quaver in her voice, buttressed by our understanding

    Read more