reviews

  • Keith Tyson

    PaceWildenstein

    “Fractal Dice,” British artist Keith Tyson’s recent exhibition at PaceWildenstein, was the result of a game—one that, like any game, came with a set of rules. Reproduced for visitors on sheets of graph paper, these rules indexed a system by which rolls of a die determined the sizes, shapes, and colors of sculptures. Following in the footsteps of Jean Arp, John Cage, and Luke Rhinehart (author of the 1971 cult novel The Dice Man), Tyson allowed chance to steer the decisions made en route to his works’ final appearances. And, as befit the hands-off approach, he played no part in the making of the

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  • Vik Muniz

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    Vik Muniz’s work of the past two decades is an art-historical hit parade, the subjects of his photographic series often famous images reconfigured in ordinary, humble materials—Leonardo’s Last Supper in chocolate syrup, Caravaggio’s Narcissus in junkyard flotsam, Monet’s water lilies in hole-punched paper circles. Until recently, one would never have confused his simulations with the real deal. “I don’t want the viewer to believe in my images,” he has said before, avowing an aspiration to produce “the worst possible illusion.” The duplicity in Muniz’s latest exhibition, however, was thoroughgoing,

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  • Giorgio Morandi

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    This exhibition of some 110 of Giorgio Morandi’s works—mostly paintings, but also a fair share of watercolors and etchings—is simply beautiful. But how such bliss was achieved is not quite so beautifully simple.

    Morandi (1890–1964) lived quietly in Bologna, painting humble, seemingly generic still lifes and landscapes over the course of decades, despite the turbulent shifts taking place just beyond his calm purview. To be sure, such single-mindedness may reflect contempt for or ignorance of contemporaneous “avant-garde” developments, a willed insularity perhaps not unwarranted. Of course,

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  • “Abstract Expressionism: A World Elsewhere”

    Haunch of Venison

    This sweeping show of Abstract Expressionism, organized by the British art historian and critic David Anfam, was long on firsthand pleasures, and offered room to reflect on what abstract meant initially and what it means now—not simply “a world elsewhere,” but worlds that seem a trillion miles apart.

    There were sixty-two works on view by AbEx’s main protagonists and a handful of artists that Anfam meant to wedge into the canon. In place of a strict historical narrative, his exhibition was propelled by his sheer visual confidence, beginning with starker works and opening out into loosely syncopated

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  • Gary Simmons

    Metro Pictures

    In this exhibition, titled “Night of the Fires,” Gary Simmons evokes a period in which Los Angeles was burning, in the racial, social, and economic fires that culminated in the Watts riots in 1965: a watershed moment that came to emblematize urban strife throughout the nation, and whose reverberations eclipse perhaps even the Rodney King paroxysms of 1992. Simmons stages real history through the looking glass of pop history (and vice versa), having culled the works’ iconography from a lowbrow cultural source: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the 1972 sci-fi B movie whose account of enslaved

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  • Matthew Day Jackson

    Nicole Klagsbrun/Peter Blum

    Any exhibition that name-checks Jorge Luis Borges while explicitly quoting a list of artists including Goya, Bierstadt, Brancusi, Buckminster Fuller, Bruce Nauman, and Charles Ray would seem all but fated to read as a hopelessly derivative muddle. Yet Matthew Day Jackson’s recent project rarely felt like simple epigonism. (And make no mistake: While it was split into two independently titled shows, each in its own Chelsea gallery, this was unmistakably one project.) In fact, it rarely felt like simple anything—rummaging through the histories of culture and society, looking for fungible commodities

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  • Cosima von Bonin

    Friedrich Petzel Gallery

    As the diminutive ending of its title, “The Pierres at the Petzellette,” made clear, Cosima von Bonin’s third solo show at Petzel was meant to be intimate. Encountered in the anteroom of the gallery space, the forlorn twenty-inch-high Doorstop (Concrete Mushroom #1), 2007, which also resembles an enlarged pincushion, further emphasized this deliberate scaling down of mise-en-scène, since it signaled that the toadstool, one of the artist’s enduring sculptural motifs, might be less prominent in the exhibition. The encounter proved a striking counterbalance to the artist’s last outing at the gallery,

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  • Chris Johanson

    Deitch Projects

    Comprising paintings and one large installation, Chris Johanson’s second solo exhibition at this gallery was equal parts cryptic and clear-cut, lighthearted and sarcastic, comic and tragic. Most of the artist’s new works employ a Crayola palette and are composed of wood he gathered from Brooklyn Dumpsters and discarded art-shipping crates. While recycling and revitalization were evidenced throughout the show, Johanson did not apply such strategies to his own output. Indeed, the elements that one might most readily associate with the artist’s earlier work (cartoon thought bubbles, copious

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  • Betty Parsons

    Spanierman Modern

    The biographies of New York School artists are often sprinkled liberally with the name of Betty Parsons, who is acclaimed for staging groundbreaking shows of their work at her Fifty-seventh Street gallery. She is less well known as an artist in her own right, or rather, while the fact that she was an artist is quickly learned by those interested, the chance to see her work in depth remains rare. This show was accordingly welcome.

    Parsons trained in painting and sculpture in the Paris of the 1920s, and the show included both media, though the paintings were out-numbered by reliefs—wall-mounted

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  • Lorraine O’Grady

    Alexander Gray Associates

    In 1980, at Just Above Midtown Gallery in New York, Lorraine O’Grady presented her first official (which is to say first invited) public performance piece, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline. The work followed closely on the heels of the artist’s more (in her words) “hit-and-run” foray into performance, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire—in which she showed up at New York art openings as the title character, unannounced and uninvited, calling attention to those deeply raced, gendered, and classed environments—and likewise concerned itself with issues of representation.

    But Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline made unapologetic

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  • Jane Hammond

    Galerie Lelong

    We are the willing and unwilling recipients of so many altered images over the course of a day that assessing their truth content no longer seems important. As a result, the eeriness of photographic manipulation is largely lost to us. Jane Hammond brings it back, in photo-montages in which the rupture inherent to collage is held in tension with the smoothness of fact. On a neon-lit street, a car with two dead deer atop it—laid nose to nose, in the manner of a crest—stops next to two ecclesiastical figures standing with their backs to the camera, almost out of the frame, in magnificently embroidered

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  • Kay Hassan

    Jack Shainman Gallery

    Johannesburg-based artist Kay Hassan’s New York solo debut may have signaled a departure to viewers familiar with his large-scale figu- rative collages, composed of torn billboard advertisements, his found- object sculptures, and his room-size installations, one of which re-creates a miner’s shabby living quarters. Those works have received significant attention from museum curators in Europe and South Africa (a midcareer survey was recently held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery), and have also been included in prominent exhibitions of contemporary African art that have toured the United States.

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  • Diana Al-Hadid

    Perry Rubenstein Gallery

    Diana Al-Hadid’s sculptures read as folkloric, narrative, even literary. Deftly handmade amalgamations of materials (including polystyrene, steel, cardboard, and wax), these hulking, unfinished-looking towers masquerade equally as medium-scale models for monumental contemporary buildings and as timeless, placeless ruins. While always sufficiently finessed, Al-Hadid’s work is curiously antiaesthetic. Learning that her impressively menacing sculptures are intended as references (to the Tower of Babel, for example, or the Chartres Cathedral) saps a little of their magic; it would be astounding if

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  • Olav Westphalen

    Maccarone

    A onetime comedy writer and political cartoonist known for his absurdist disruptions—e.g., presenting the props from a remote-controlled dirigible race as an art installation—Olav Westphalen should be an artist we can count on in such harrowingly benumbing days as these. And, indeed, his brand of low-tech gallows humor was recently on view at Maccarone, in the form of two related series (both 2007–2008): “Waiting for the Barbarians”—whose title, presumably appropriated from J. M. Coetzee’s 1980 novel, was also shared by the exhibition itself—and “One Day.” Although dubbed a “twinned elegy for

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  • Ronnie Bass

    1-20 Gallery

    Ronnie Bass’s solo debut at I-20 Gallery featured all the conventions of an epic story but none of the connective tissue. The recondite, messianic narrative—involving, it seemed, a boy, his band, intergalactic travel, and a vague accident featuring an industrial-grade spiral dough hook—was told across two video installations, sculptures, oil paintings, and a small photograph printed on canvas. The overall effect was compellingly dreamy and fragmented, but also at times murky and uneven—the ingredients for an aesthetic vision rather than a coherent statement.

    Bass’s videos are often set in a

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  • Bram Bogart

    Jacobson Howard Gallery

    Bram Bogart offers platters of painterliness, one might say, served up raw yet uncannily refined, even in such turbulent works as Geen twijfel (No Doubt), 2005. But it’s not that simple, even if one regards Bogart’s strikingly material paint, often alive with primary color—as it is in the passionately red Een kleur (One Color), 2005, and Rode Rouge (Red Red), 2008—as the bizarre conclusion of what began with the intense brushwork of his countryman Vincent van Gogh. Intensity has become intimidation in Bogart’s paintings: Van Gogh’s painterliness looks restrained compared to Bogart’s, which

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  • Carlos Cruz-Diez

    Americas Society

    In his systematic experiments with color—influenced, like much Venezuelan work of the 1950s and ’60s, by the practices of geometric abstraction then being reconsidered in postwar Paris—Carlos Cruz-Diez betrays the meticulousness of a scientist or a technician. Cruz-Diez’s work from that time was part of a generational break with earlier Venezuelan pictorial models, which favored tradition, craft, and narrative. The young antagonists pitted precision, clarity, and rigor against the expressionism and subjectivity valued by these past representational styles, and against the informalist and Surrealist

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