reviews

  • Fritz Haeg, Sundown Schoolhouse: Animal Lessons, 2008. Performance view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Photo: James Ewing.

    the Whitney Biennial

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    IN AMY GRANAT AND DREW HEITZLER’S 2007 double-screen film, T.S.O.Y.W., on view in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, a motorcyclist travels from Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, on the banks of the Great Salt Lake, to the Mojave Desert. But the primary sense of movement is in the back-and-forth between the two projections: Sometimes the images on the screens are just slightly off-register, as if Granat and Heitzler were shooting standing next to each other; sometimes they’re completely divergent. The lateral dynamic cuts across and impedes the linear momentum of the journey, as does the intermittent

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  • Bruce Nauman

    Sperone Westwater

    Janet Kraynak on Bruce Nauman

    Bruce Nauman’s recent exhibition at Sperone Westwater was introduced by Untitled (Study for Slow Angle Walk [Beckett Walk]), 1968–69, a small, diagrammatic pencil drawing in which lines and arcs of various densities are interspersed with arrows, circles, and x’s. While modest, the work nonetheless succinctly embodies the conceptual conflict at the heart of the artist’s drawing production (and thus the exhibition as well): namely, what exactly are Nauman’s drawings? The answer may seem obvious; the majority of them are graphite, charcoal, or crayon works on paper.

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  • Lucas Samaras

    Pace Wildenstein

    Self-proclaimed “urban hermit” Lucas Samaras is well known for his innumerable self-portraits. Some of these are photographs, most are paintings, but perhaps the most famous is his series “Photo Transformations,” 1973–76, which was made by manipulating the emulsion of Polaroid photographs as they self-developed. The strategy evokes the “desire to interfere” that Salvador Dalí proposed as a key element of Surrealism. It also extends Max Ernst’s frottage technique into new, hallucinatory territory. Further, it is an example of what André Breton called “paranoiac-critical activity,” a “spontaneous

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  • Ashley Bickerton

    Lehmann Maupin

    Ashley Bickerton’s art has always operated within a dialectic of moralism and depravity. His paintings of open-shirted, liquor-swilling Caucasian tourists partying with voluptuous hula girls read as explicit—even dogmatic—condemnations of excess, and this was the case well before Bickerton’s relocation in 1993 from New York to the Indonesian island of Bali. More of a proselytizer than his contemporary Jeff Koons, Bickerton broke out in the mid-1980s with “self-portraits” that took the form of amalgams of corporate logos. What followed was a series of brilliant, exquisitely fabricated, utterly

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  • Katy Moran

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    Katy Moran’s solo debut at Andrea Rosen Gallery proved as “riveting” as the press release trumpeted, despite the fact that nobody could quite agree on what her abstract paintings are about, where they come from, or what they finally depict. Brushed and smeared in a romantic palette of muted olives and ochres, supported by fleshy peach or flecked with vital red, and relieved by occasional daubs of turquoise and crisp neutrals, Moran’s diminutive, domestic-size canvases can read as landscapes, seascapes, portraits, or anything but. Indeed, they seemingly bait critical appraisal while embarrassing

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  • Eleanor Antin

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    That Helen of Troy had a face beautiful enough to launch a thousand ships is a myth so often reiterated that it may as well be true. Interpretations of the rest of her story are more divergent: She was a true innocent, abducted by Paris against her will, for instance, or she was an immoral whore who jumped at the chance to leave behind husband and children to indulge in adulterous pleasures with no regard for the havoc she would wreak. It’s not unusual, of course, for such opposing intents to be ascribed to women, who so often serve as protagonists for thinly veiled (but overtly gendered) morality

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  • Martha Wilson

    Mitchell Algus Gallery

    Martha Wilson is best known as the founding director of Franklin Furnace, the archive and performance institution that has been a necessary part of the New York art world since 1976. Considerably less familiar is her work as a Conceptual artist in the early 1970s, when she was teaching English at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in Halifax. This work has been exhibited only occasionally over the years, even though, as Jayne Wark wrote in 1991, in an essay reprinted in the catalogue for the present show, it has acquired a certain profile through the writing of Lucy Lippard. The Algus

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  • Carroll Dunham

    Skarstedt Gallery | New York

    Carroll Dunham would have been accorded serious consideration for membership in the first Postminimalist generation on the basis of the remarkable paintings in this recent revisitation were it not for the fact of his youth—or his seeming youth—since, in 1982, when this body of work began, the artist, already in his thirties, looked to be scarcely out of his teens. Without apology or false shame, Dunham had, at the time, taken up an impenitent range of transgressive images—comedic hard-ons for example, transcribed as if outlined upon a table or desk and outrageously striped or colored. Add scrotal

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  • Floriano Vecchi

    Casa Italiana, Columbia University

    The name Floriano Vecchi is less than familiar these days, yet he played an intriguing and significant role in the evolution of Abstract Expressionism and, even more unexpectedly, in that of Pop art as well. In 1953, Vecchi partnered with Richard Miller to found the Tiber Press, printing artwork for such figures as Helen Frankenthaler, Michael Goldberg, Alfred Leslie, and Joan Mitchell. Joined by poet Daisy Aldan, the friends went on to found Folder, a magazine produced under the careful scrutiny of Vecchi, an academically trained artist who originally came from Pianuro, near Bologna. Using hand

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  • Susan Philipsz

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    Many artists who use appropriation do so as a strategy for ironic commentary, parody, or critical reflection. Susan Philipsz is not among them. The reason has to do with her medium as much as her attitude: The forty-three-year-old Scottish artist is known for her a cappella renditions of well-known songs, recordings of which she typically installs in unfurnished, sometimes outdoor, locales. (She has played her “reinterpretations” of songs by such bands as Echo & the Bunnymen in the emptied galleries of the Malmö Konsthall, and a barcarole from the opera The Tales of Hoffman under a bridge in

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  • Heimo Zobernig

    Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

    Heimo Zobernig’s recent exhibition at Friedrich Petzel Gallery was his solo debut there, but it was not the first time that the Austrian artist had paraded his naked body about: His 1996 show at the Renaissance Society in Chicago featured Nr. 12, 1996, a deadpan video intervention that appeared to show Zobernig walking, in his birthday suit, through the streets of the Windy City (blue-screen technology was used to create the effect, as it was actually shot inside the building). This injection of “naked” urbanism into the not-so-naked frame of the gallery suggested the stripped-down figure of

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  • Angelo Filomeno

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    Opulent symbolism does not equal erudition, but in the world of contemporary art we sometimes let things slide. We allow baroque excess to stand in for meaning, symbols to become trademarks that suggest generic “significance.” A diamond-encrusted skull becomes shorthand for violence, for excess, and, most of all, for Damien Hirst.

    Angelo Filomeno’s embroideries run the risk of inviting such facile reception. Lavishly sewn with metallic threads on silk stretched over canvas and often appliquéd with crystals and semiprecious stones, the works boast a sheer luxury matched only by the overdetermination

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  • Muzi Quawson

    Yossi Milo Gallery

    From the recent blockbusters Knocked Up and Juno to the media hounding of Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise, America seems to be in the grip of a strange obsession with young mothers. Muzi Quawson’s first solo show in New York invoked this fascination through a voyeuristic look into the life of a twentysomething folk musician and mother, Amanda Jo Williams. In twelve large photographic light boxes, Quawson documents the daily lives of Williams and her twin toddlers, who reside in Woodstock, New York. But while the photographs are effective depictions of domestic motherhood, Quawson’s work is more

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  • Louis Camnitzer

    Alexander Grey Associates

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has made public the last words of all death row inmates executed since 1982. The statements are published, with a chilling evocation of social networking sites, in the online profile of each offender. Generally, they are brief, emphasizing love for family members and forgiveness for executioners, and offering testimonials to the innocence of fellow death row inmates. To read them is to be a voyeur in the first degree—albeit one that humanizes an otherwise unseen other. It is this apparently paradoxical duality that informs Louis Camnitzer’s most compelling

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  • Massimo Vitali

    Benrubi Gallery

    In an 1867 letter to a friend, Eugène Boudin bemoaned an influx of vacationers to his native Normandy coast, writing, “This beach at Trouville which used to be my delight, now . . . seems like a frightful masquerade. One would have to be a genius to make something of this bunch of do-nothing poseurs.” A solution was found in selective attention: “Fortunately, dear friend, the Creator has spread out everywhere his splendid and warming light, and it is less this society that we reproduce than the element which envelops it.” Figures turn up, yet as in many Impressionist representations of recreation,

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  • Blake Rayne

    Miguel Abreu Gallery | Orchard Street

    In planning the Blue Tower, a luxury-condominium complex on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Bernard Tschumi Architects faced, according to the firm’s website, a particular challenge: “to create an original architectural statement while simultaneously maximizing the zoning envelope.” To meet this challenge, the architects designed the structure to cantilever over the commercial space to the south so that its upper floors are larger than its footprint but within its sanctioned “envelope.” The Blue Tower thereby redefines a squat tenement-building skyline by pushing up against its confines. In Blake

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  • Susan MacWilliam

    Jack the Pelican Presents

    Artists who employ inherently intriguing subject matter set themselves a knotty challenge: how to avoid that fascination becoming the be-all and end-all of their work, leaving any individual twist looking superficial or superfluous next to its inspiration. The difficulty is most clearly discernable in “research art”—work made in direct response to its maker’s wonderstruck immersion in some (always colorful, frequently obscure, often historical) cultural artifact, incident, character, or site. The practice emerged concurrently with Conceptual art, but gained momentum in the bookish art of the

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  • Mark Van Yetter and Matt Hoyt

    DISPATCH

    Dispatch, a small Chinatown gallery established in 2007 by regular collaborators Howie Chen and Gabrielle Giattino, presents itself with formidable seriousness: “Dispatch offers a model for curatorial production: an office for receiving and originating exhibitions, projects, and concepts treated as time-sensitive transmissions. The activities of Dispatch reflect the independent ability to mobilize with tactical urgency, editorial decisiveness, and critical rigor.” That Dispatch’s most recent “time-sensitive transmission” was one of the quietest little exhibitions imaginable, intriguing and

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  • Brian Jungen

    Casey Kaplan

    What separates true artistic development from mere rehashing? At what point should we expect established artists to move beyond the ideas that brought them their initial success? Brian Jungen’s second solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery prompted these and related questions. For nearly a decade, Jungen, a member of the indigenous Dane-Zaa Nation of Northern British Columbia, has explored the intersection of traditional cultures and first-world consumer economies. His breakout exhibition, at Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver in 1999, featured the first of a series of sculptures made by

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