reviews

  • James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting over a Pickled Herring, 1891, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 8 1/2".

    James Ensor

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    AMONG THE FOUNDERS of modern Western art, James Ensor created work that stands out as an indictment of bourgeois society—to a point of scathing derision. While many advanced artists kept their distance from the subject of the tawdry capitalist present, he took it on. This was in the Belgian seaside resort of Ostend, in the 1880s, where Ensor painted in a studio above his family’s curiosity shop. There—still in his twenties—he developed an insolence of pictorial statement comparable to his anarchist sympathies in politics. Figures of authority were his special bêtes noires, while

    Read more
  • David Goldblatt

    New Museum

    SERENADING THE QUOTIDIAN has always been David Goldblatt’s forte. He pries away the surface of the ordinary and pushes his audience to do the same. Dissatisfied with the spuriousness of easy conclusions—and having thus long eschewed the didactic aesthetics of South Africa’s resistance-era documentary tradition—Goldblatt refuses the drama of the clash for the stifled pain of its aftermath. And it is the toxic residues of apartheid that linger in his ongoing Intersections project: a corpus of large-format color photographs from the past decade that probe crosscurrents of peoples, values, and ideas.

    Read more
  • Magnus Plessen

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    Almost all of the nine canvases in Magnus Plessen’s recent show include the form of a hand, frequently in multiple: a squat, glovelike shape, often truncated at the knuckles or just before the wrist, usually out of proportion to and floating free from the paintings’ human figures. As symbols go, it’s an obvious one, represented in accordingly clumsy fashion as a simplified glyph of unmodulated color or in white silhouette. Spiel (Game), 2009, pictures two people seated at a small table on which are stacked three such palms, proposing the body part as food, game, or currency.

    The press release

    Read more
  • Tom Burr

    Bortolami Gallery

    There was no single work in Tom Burr’s recent exhibition “sentence” that was truly emblematic of the whole, but one pair at least came close. The two sculptures his personal effects (White) and (Natural) (both 2009) demonstrate a bold juxtaposition of randomness and precision and a fascination with the aura of ephemeral objects that united all the pieces here. Enclosing two pairs of worn-out sneakers in Plexiglas cases—one per shoe—and placing them atop wooden pedestals of differing heights colored according to the works’ subtitles, the New York– and Norfolk, Connecticut–based artist seems to

    Read more
  • Kehinde Wiley

    Deitch Projects

    “The master’s tools,” wrote the poet Audre Lorde, “will never dismantle the master’s house.” “Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” asked Andy Warhol. If the master’s tools are portraits of kings, saints, and ornamental women garbed in the ermine and satin of their class; and if the corridors of power link the master’s house to the museum, where grand white men are shown making decisions and alluring white women signify the things decided; and if those portraits are repeated with young black men from the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn standing in the place of

    Read more
  • Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

    Haunch of Venison

    The experience of the “nexus between corporeality, representation and technology” promised by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s recent show began well before visitors entered the galleries in which the Mexican-born, Canada-based artist’s work was installed. In fact it started in earnest about two hundred feet below them, in the brass and marble lobby of the midtown Manhattan office building whose penthouse Haunch of Venison comfortably, if rather anomalously, inhabits.

    Here on the outskirts of Rockefeller Center, as in most big-city skyscrapers these days, one trades the nominal physical autonomy of the

    Read more
  • Troy Brauntuch

    Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

    Coming on the heels of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent “Pictures Generation, 1974–1984,” Friedrich Petzel’s retrospective—for that is what it was—dramatically underscored (often with intense poignancy) the thirty-year remove between Troy Brauntuch’s hesitant emergence among the original five artists in Douglas Crimp’s seminal 1977 “Pictures” show and his more recently attained master status. Indeed, this exhibition made clear that Brauntuch’s hand, if not his oblique sense of what constitutes a proper subject, has over the years grown suppler, suaver, and more capacious.

    A broad array of

    Read more
  • “The Female Gaze”

    Cheim & Read

    The republication this year of Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (in a second edition of Visual and Other Pleasures) is long overdue: In spite of the article’s canonical status, Mulvey’s fine-tuned concepts have too often been rendered vague, gestured to merely as a way of getting at blurry notions of “pleasure” and “the gaze.” Cheim & Read’s summer show, “The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women,” was a case in point. Assembled here was an extensive array of artworks, all of them executed by women, all of them taking the female form as subject. The show’s purview

    Read more
  • James Lee Byars

    Michael Werner Gallery

    Shaman, charlatan, oddball, dandy—James Lee Byars carried off all these roles with flair, uniting them without contradiction. Like Yves Klein, whom he in many ways resembled, he brought to art a group of self-taught extracurricular ideas that set him somewhat beyond the grasp of art historians and critics (with the notable exception of Thomas McEvilley, one of the most convincing explicators of both men’s work). As with Klein, his thought lay as close to religion as to aesthetics, though if Klein was influenced by readings in Rosicrucianism, for Byars the deepest impression seems to have been

    Read more
  • “6 Works, 6 Rooms”

    David Zwirner | 525 & 533 West 19th Street

    Six works in six rooms. A totally simple and modest curatorial idea, yet also a vainglorious one when the six works are by Dan Flavin, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, John McCracken, Fred Sandback, and Richard Serra and the six rooms are sufficiently immense (David Zwirner’s cavalcade of Nineteenth Street galleries, here put to perfectly minimal use). And though the language of the show’s press materials stressed the experiential possibilities afforded by such sequestering—“the individual works in the exhibition uniquely activate the spaces in which they are installed . . . through light (Flavin);

    Read more
  • “The Fantastic Tavern”

    Casey Kaplan

    This summer’s “Fantastic Tavern: The Tbilisi Avant-Garde” made the case for Tbilisi to be known as one of the principal enclaves of the early-twentieth-century avant-garde. It focused on the cultural energy of Georgia’s capital city in its independent, postrevolutionary, pre-Bolshevik period (1918–21), though it spanned from documentary photographs of the city at the beginning of the twentieth century to set designs and films made there in the 1920s and ’30s.

    You’d imagine finding this kind of exhibition at an artist-run space like its curator Daniel Baumann’s own New Jerseyy in Basel, if not at

    Read more
  • Tris Vonna-Michell

    X Initiative

    If I were Tris Vonna-Michell, I might be tempted to use this occasion to embark upon an abridged, extemporaneous ramble about the convoluted path to my first New York solo exhibition, at X Initiative, with sashays through the New Museum’s “Younger Than Jesus,” the Third Yokohama Triennale, and the Fifth Berlin Biennial. (I’d probably go a little over word count.) I might write it all down and, in a Burroughsian frenzy, rip it up and reassemble the bits into a collagist narrative. This is not an entirely unappealing proposition for a review, and in fact the ambling, backward-looking, and partial

    Read more
  • “Character Generator”

    11R

    For this group exhibition, Matthew Lyons, a curator from the Kitchen in New York, gathered a collection of nearly all black-and-white works by nine artists undertaking a range of poetic and political challenges to the orderly system of language—what Roland Barthes saw as its inherent fascism. Exploring terrain connected to that charted by figures such as Mel Bochner and Robert Barry in the 1960s, several artists here examined moments in which communication seems too rigid or fixed in its meaning, or where it otherwise breaks down and exposes its own flaws. A few pieces appeared hostile to the

    Read more
  • “Maurizio Cattelan Is Dead”

    Triple Candie

    “Maurizio Cattelan Is Dead: Life and Work, 1960–2009” was the most recent of a series of unauthorized homages organized by the Harlem gallery Triple Candie. In a general sense, these exhibitions investigate the ways in which an entity on the sidelines of the art world—one presumably without the right connections or very much money, and definitely without permission—might elbow its way toward the center or, at the very least, force a confrontation with art-world systems of status and access. More specifically, they seem to poke fun at certain key characteristics of the artists they present. Two

    Read more
  • “Plot09”

    Creative Time at Governors Island

    A mile of water is all that separates Governors Island from downtown New York, but the metropolis’s jackhammers and careening cabs couldn’t feel any more distant. For all its past—as a US Army and then Coast Guard base before it started to be developed into a public park in 2003—in 2009 Governors Island feels like a site without an identity. You get the sense that when the nineteen artworks in “PLOT09: This World & Nearer Ones,” Creative Time’s inaugural “public art quadrennial,” are removed, either ghostly silence will envelop the island or it will become a bland commemoration of military

    Read more
  • Francis Bacon

    Metropolitan Museum of Art

    With photographs of and information about his two long-term lovers and various statements about his abusive parents supplementing the “twisted” relationship of the perversely intertwined figures in many of his triptychs and his use of “universal” Christian iconography, above all the crucifixion, this exhibition offered a good deal of evidence to support the idea of Francis Bacon as a homosexual, sadomasochist “outlaw,” someone obsessed with violence and suffering, his own and humanity’s in general.

    Bacon was certainly one of the great artist-explorers of the psyche’s murky depths, yet to

    Read more