reviews

  • Kara Walker, Levee, 2011, still from a color video, 1 minute 50 seconds.

    Kara Walker

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    There are things one expects in a Kara Walker show: rape, lynching, dismemberment. Trees against stark sky, pert breasts, petticoats, high cravats. Women black or white with snaky tresses, field hands with huge erections, hatchet-faced overseers, little kids engaged in unspeakable acts. All the grotesquerie of Walker’s antebellum hells remained on hand in a recent pair of concurrent exhibitions. Yet there also appeared a slew of things one wouldn’t have thought to look for, such as an enraged intergalactic nude prophesying in go-go boots (Muckraking Prophet from the 21st C. Foretells Coming Doom

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  • Jasper Johns, Fragment of a Letter, 2009, bronze, 38 5/8 x 24 3/8 x 1/2".

    Jasper Johns

    Matthew Marks Gallery

    Despite my effervescing anticipation, Jasper Johns’s “New Sculpture and Works on Paper” inspired but a cool response. This owed, no doubt, to the academicism that has crept into Johns’s work over several decades now—that is, if we think of academicism as the preservation of the model, the paradigm case, rather than its overthrow. But let me quickly add that even the most conservative of Johns’s works still overshadows the larger field of players.

    My quasi detachment from these reliefs—they are much more reliefs than sculpture—is heightened by the memory of the blinding enthusiasm

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  • Richard Long, River Avon Mud Crescent, 2011, paint and River Avon mud, 27 x 27'.

    Richard Long

    Sperone Westwater

    With River Avon Mud Crescent, 2011, Richard Long achieves the unlikely effect of making the twenty-nine-foot-high ground-floor gallery of Sperone Westwater’s young Bowery outpost seem cramped. A disc of black acrylic gesso overlain by a waxing moon form created with hand-applied squiggles of mud, the work nearly covers the double-height wall; runoff sludge splatters the floor and ceiling. Even with the perspective afforded by the mezzanine, the view is no less awesome—seeing it was like having a front-row seat at some sort of primitive planetarium. Though this was the most striking instance,

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  • Subodh Gupta, Untitled, 2011, bronze, 55 x 55 x 13".

    Subodh Gupta

    Hauser & Wirth | West 18th Street

    Over the past twenty-some years, Indian artist Subodh Gupta’s work has been characterized by the use of stainless steel. He has employed the shiny metal—a material Jeff Koons has called “proletariat silver”—to create replicas of Indian kitchenware, formally arranging the utensils into spectacular, large-scale installations.

    In the context of such installations, these glittering objects take on powerful meanings. Culturally specific, the cups, thali pans, and tiffins underscore difference: Western spectators may view the kitchenware as exotic, while Indian audiences might find the items

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  • Alan Shields, Dance Bag, 1985, acrylic, canvas, glass beads, thread, aluminum tubing, mirror, 40 x 48 x 48".

    Alan Shields

    Van Doren Waxter | 23 East 73rd Street

    Luckily for him, and happily for me, Alan Shields doesn’t fit into any neat category. He’s been linked with the so-called post-Minimalists, even as he traces his own heritage back to Kandinsky and Klee. Like both those artists’ oeuvres—the touchstones of his aesthetic—Shields’s work is sensuously dazzling, intricately constructed, and mystically vital. But it is also distinguished by considerable material diversity. Shields utilizes, among other media, thread, cotton, and beads.

    Consequently, pieces such as Dance Bag, 1985 (one of fifteen works in this show), may be read as both painting

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  • View of “Louise Lawler,” 2011. From left: Life Expectancy (adjusted to fit), 2010–11; Plexi (adjusted to fit), 2010–11.

    Louise Lawler

    Metro Pictures

    By photographing artworks in situ, wherever that situ may be—collector’s home, museum hall, warehouse—and framing her photos to include careful slices of the surrounding environment, Louise Lawler has made a practice of severing art from the aesthetic and intellectual lineages in which artist, critics, historians, and certainly the dealers and auctioneers who sell the stuff fondly like to place it, and tying it firmly instead to places, passages, and existential circumstances that arguably act on its meaning. In doing so, we often say, she has established a critique of the artwork’s

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  • Mark Grotjahn, Untitled (Distinguished Multiple V’s Late Monet Face 41.34), 2010, oil on cardboard mounted on linen, 119 3/8 x 84 3/8".

    Mark Grotjahn

    Anton Kern Gallery

    Anyone walking into Anton Kern Gallery and expecting to see a suite of Mark Grotjahn’s ubiquitous Butterfly paintings would have been taken aback. Myself included. For instead of the those well-known abstractions, in which monochromatic spokes in various hues radiate from a vertical midline, there were riotous paint fields manipulated by a palette knife, coalescing into eyes and entire heads. Yet the panels in Grotjahn’s “Nine Faces” follow from his preceding efforts, both in structure and, perhaps, in their development via an additive process, meaning that although the show represents a

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  • Diana Shpungin, I Especially Love You When You Are Sleeping, 2011, graphite pencil, citrus tree, citrus leaves, medical tape, newspaper obituaries, 24 x 36 x 68".

    Diana Shpungin

    Stephan Stoyanov Gallery

    It is perhaps axiomatic that many of the qualities of grief that make it an enticing subject for artistic exploration—the intensity of feeling it provokes, its inextricable ties with memory, the way its specifics are totally intimate yet its contours immediately understandable to all—are precisely those that make it such a problematic one to work with. Harnessing that intensity without squelching it; teasing out the memories in a way that makes them translatable; unpacking the details without feeling a need to wrestle every last one of them into some kind of larger symbol: These are

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  • Zofia Rydet, Landscapes, ca. 1975, black-and-white photograph, 10 1/2 x 9". From the series “The World of Feelings and Imagination.”

    Zofia Rydet

    BROADWAY 1602 | Uptown

    If she is now remembered at all, Polish photographer Zofia Rydet (1911–97) is probably best known for “Zapis Socjologiczny” (Sociological Record), 1978–88. This epic cycle of images—her last—consists of more than thirty thousand negatives and documents the humble realities of Polish village life, focusing in particular on ordinary people at home. The black-and-white shots, though predictably gritty, aren’t quite as dry as their censuslike title suggests; many celebrate a surprising flair for interior decoration on the part of their otherwise unassuming subjects. “The World of Feelings

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  • Chris Kraus, How to Shoot a Crime, 1987, still from a Super 8 film transferred to DVD, 28 minutes.

    Chris Kraus

    Real Fine Arts

    Over the past decade, writer and cultural critic Chris Kraus has gone to great lengths to distance herself from her earliest works, a handful of experimental films made between 1981 and 1996. In a recent lecture, she described them by turns as “unwatchable” and “pathetic.” (They are neither.) Her public disdain for her films, as well as her more veiled contempt for them in her novels (including the brilliant, semiautobiographical I Love Dick [1997], narrated by a “failed filmmaker”), might be less an earnest expression of private feelings than a witty ploy to pique our interest, to get the works

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  • View of “Matt Keegan,” 2011.

    Matt Keegan

    D’Amelio Terras

    Titling his recent exhibition for Milton Glaser’s iconic I♥NY logo but replacing the original’s stylized heart with a stylized apple, Matt Keegan framed the show as a tribute—albeit a periodically ambivalent one—to the city. In an interview that takes the place of a press release, Keegan grills the veteran designer about, among other things, his negotiation of the myriad changes that New York has undergone in the course of Glaser’s lengthy career. The designer is philosophical, admitting that times are still tough for many, but finally sides with his hometown: “It’s hard for me to

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  • Catalina Parra, Diario de Vida (Diary of Life), 1977, El Mercurio newspapers, thread, Plexiglas, metal bolts, metal nuts, 12 x 6 x 16".

    Catalina Parra

    MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38

    During its exurban heyday of the early 1970s, Land art wasn’t known for political critique. But by the 1980s, artists such as Agnes Denes and Maya Lin were tracing a different trajectory of its co-option of Minimalism’s formal simplicity, understanding that Land art’s monumental scale and extreme geometricization occupied an uneasy relationship to memorialization, histories of territorial dispossession, and the unequal distribution of natural resources among global populations. Like Denes—and also of the same generation as artists such as James Turrell, Robert Smithson, and Walter De

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  • Gillian Wearing, Secrets and Lies, 2009, still from a color video, 53 minutes 16 seconds.

    Gillian Wearing

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    Long before Facebook, Gillian Wearing was pulling apart the conflicted, mediated relationship between our real selves and those we present to the world. Whether photographing strangers on the street holding signs that state what they’re thinking (“Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say,” 1992–93), or documenting herself dancing wildly in a public place (Dancing in Peckham, 1994), or filming adults as they lip-synch to recordings of children speaking (10–16, 1997), she mixes and matches the elements of identity—those elements that

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