reviews

  • the Whitney Biennial

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    DANIEL BIRNBAUM

    JUTTA, A CHARACTER in the Bernadette Corporation’s exquisite-corpse novel Reena Spaulings (2004), has learned how to sidestep the pitfalls of selfhood, turning her own body into a kind of assemblage: “Books, ideas, movements, figures, photos, data, other lives,” Reena, the book’s protagonist, observes. “I can almost tell the place on her body where she has digested Artaud, Rimbaud.” This elusive, recombinant concept of the self seems close to what Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne had in mind when curating this year’s Whitney Biennial, “Day for Night” (titled after the 1973 François

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  • David Hammons

    Zwirner & Wirth

    Everyone I asked about the Miles Davis painting that was included in this year’s Whitney Biennial, a lively Basquiatesque oil on canvas from 1991 titled RU Legal, immediately assured me that it was actually “by” or an “intervention of” David Hammons, as if this “solved” how or why this painting came to be displayed. While I have no interest in refuting the contention that the painting appeared at Hammons’s behest, I have a lot of interest in what such an appearance and its attendant obfuscation might mean. Hammons’s name is not listed in any museum materials or in the Biennial catalogue. Described

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  • Agnes Martin

    PaceWildenstein 22

    It’s rare indeed to see twenty-two works by the late Agnes Martin in the same place at the same time, but a recent show at PaceWildenstein Gallery was also unusual in juxtaposing very early works with works from the last four years of her life. After moving to New York from New Mexico in 1957, Martin began to paint abstractly and rose to prominence. But in 1967, she abruptly put her practice on hold, gave away all her tools and materials, and drove out of town. Her subsequent nomadic hiatus lasted over a year, until, as she told it, she had a vision that compelled her to return to New Mexico,

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  • Kelley Walker

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 534 West 21st Street

    In 1967, advertising guru George Lois launched a famous print and television campaign for Braniff Airlines in which celebrity odd couples (Bennett Cerf and Ethel Merman; Sonny Liston and Andy Warhol; Rex Reed and Mickey Rooney) chatted while perched on the airline’s fashionably upholstered seats. In his recent show at Paula Cooper, Kelley Walker appropriated imagery from the campaign for a series of digital prints and a take-away poster. The prints feature the slightly off-register layering of imagery that inevitably recalls Warhol silk screens, but with a difference: Each Braniff photo appeared

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  • Phil Collins

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    In the nearly two decades since the Smiths broke up, the band’s music seems to have become a lingua franca for teens the world over who suspect that life is one big hatful of hollow. Photographer and video artist Phil Collins can attest that fans may be found in locales as far-flung as Bogotá, Istanbul, and Jakarta—the sites of a multi-phase project for which Collins invites local adolescents to perform karaoke renditions of Smiths songs, capturing their moves and vocal stylings on video. The results thus far have been two exceedingly engaging (and unusually danceable) video installations: el

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  • John Pilson

    Nicole Klagsbrun

    “You guys ready for some action?” It’s a question that buzzes with edgy excitement, but when the “action” in question turns out to refer to a nightlong game of Dungeons and Dragons, it becomes abundantly clear that the five men who gather around a boardroom table in John Pilson’s video Wisdom and Charisma, 2006, aren’t about to launch into a bacchanal or a desperate fight to the death (though they might imagine them with the help of pencils, paper, and twelve-sided dice). Instead, the Dungeon Master leads them in a densely technical conversation in which alarming revelations such as “Your spies

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  • Rachel Whiteread

    Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

    “Poignant,” promised the press release, “an exploration of the human traces left on everyday objects.” “Poetic,” I heard the dealer opine. Sadly, Rachel Whiteread’s recent exhibition of plaster casts of the insides of cardboard boxes was nothing of the sort. Rather, these new sculptures are a decadent fusion of geometrical abstraction and Pop art, two equally retardataire modernist modes. Where Andy Warhol’s boxes are characterized by the dull flatness of their silk-screened surfaces, Whiteread’s are distinguished by the dead tone of dusty plaster.

    But despite the effacement of the brand names

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  • Kara Walker

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    Narrative, as Toni Morrison pointed out at the height of pomo metafiction, might be an exhausted concept for white male writers who regard formal experimentation as a higher calling. But the unmediated African-American female voice is a newer entity both in fiction and in contemporary art, and one for whom narrative is still far from used up. There’s a narrative somewhere in Kara Walker’s second film, Eight Possible Beginnings Or: The Creation of African-America, Parts 1–8, A Moving Picture By: Kara E. Walker, 2005, though it’s resolutely nonlinear, continually wandering off and fetching up at

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  • Les Rogers

    Leo Koenig Inc. | 541 West 23rd

    What happens to the artist-model relationship when the model isn’t there? The subject of seven new works by Les Rogers is a photogenic eighteen-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, named Lindsey, who Rogers did not meet until after the portraits were complete. He made her acquaintance through the networking website MySpace and painted from the photographs she posted there. One does wonder what a man pushing forty was doing on a website whose average user is two decades younger, but this electronic connection yielded no Law and Order fodder—just a suite of large, whimsically decent paintings.

    The

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  • Lucky DeBellevue

    Feature Inc.

    While it’s usually considered bad form to begin a review of an exhibition by contemplating something so ostensibly insignificant as the artist’s name, it’s irresistible when that name is Lucky DeBellevue. We all know the common definition of the word, yet, as a noun, “lucky” has, for centuries, if far less usually today, functioned as an affectionate term for an older woman, particularly one of the grandmotherly sort. Given that the artist’s surname translates, loosely, to “of beautiful sight,” we can imagine Lucky DeBellevue as a matriarch with a good eye.

    DeBellevue’s work initially underscores

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  • Alfredo Jaar

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    Previously, Alfredo Jaar has often shown us difficult images by employing various degrees of indirectness that signal a certain distrust in the ability of those images to tell us anything at all. In Real Pictures, 1995, for example, he sealed photographs of the Rwandan genocide in archival boxes, exhibiting them with written descriptions of the images. Lament of the Images, 2002, also featured text, here describing three paradoxical situations involving sight and blindness, representation and censorship, including the storage deep underground of the Bettman Archives of historical stock photography.

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  • Scott Treleaven

    John Connelly Presents

    Scott Treleaven’s first New York solo exhibition, “The Best Kind of Friends Are Like Iron Sharpening Iron,” was a charged romantic vision of young bohemian gay male life. In the small mixed-media photo-montage Grotto, 2005, for example, a half-nude man squats, blue jeans unbuttoned, in the center of a pentagram inscribed in a circle, gently holding the handle of a knife stuck in the ground. It’s an allegory of the artist as lover and mystic, summoning from the sacred confines of his magical arena the elemental forces necessary to understand a precarious existence.

    In Desire Armed, 2005, a nude

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  • Barbara Probst

    Murray Guy

    On January 7, 2000, at 10:37 pm, Munich- and New York–based photographer Barbara Probst first employed a technique that remains unique among contemporary artists. Using a remote-control device, she simultaneously triggered the shutters of twelve cameras strategically positioned around a New York City rooftop, and the resultant set of poster-size prints—in which Probst, her cameras and tripods, and the noirish urban scene all figure equally as subjects—anchored her last solo show at Murray Guy in 2004. The Rashomon-like multiplicity of perspectives synthetically prolongs the cameras’ “decisive

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  • Felix Gonzalez-Torres

    El Museo del Barrio

    At El Museo del Barrio, encased in a small vitrine amid newspaper clippings and ephemera crowned by a monitor screening early video projects (including the autoerotic New York, New York!, 1979, and the self-consciously narcissistic Autorretrato número 3 [Self Portrait Number 3], 1979) was a letter written by Ron Clark in support of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities. Dated April 20, 1983, it is unabashed in its enthusiasm for its subject, who had recently participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program. Gonzalez-Torres, Clark avows, is

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  • Jon Kessler

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

    In the twilight of empire, in the spider hole where the masters of the universe have gone to ground with their simulacral weapons, reality gives way to violent phantasmagoria. This is not news. But it was the scenario described by Jon Kessler’s multiroom installation at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, The Palace at 4 A.M., 2005, and it packed a wallop, its physically overwhelming formal properties synced tightly with the simple, lonely rage that was its subject.

    Kessler’s first solo museum show in New York was also his largest show to date, filling a high-ceilinged hall and its side galleries.

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  • Pawel Wojtasik

    Alona Kagan Gallery

    The statistics that inspired Pawel Wojtasik’s twenty-two-minute video, The Aquarium, 2006, according to gallery literature, are so predictably depressing that they might seem to barely warrant repeating: The normal life span of a beluga whale in the wild is between twenty-five and thirty years while in captivity it is a mere seven; Rincon Beach, in Santa Barbara, is frequently closed due to elevated levels of bacteria from sewage and “urban runoff”; 65 percent of the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico have been destroyed. But as climate change increasingly makes headlines, and scientists warn

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