reviews

  • View of “Ben Kinmont,” 2011.

    Ben Kinmont

    Fales Library & Special Collecitons

    In the late 1980s, Ben Kinmont began to make “project art.” Through a strain of Conceptualism more closely aligned with the feminist “maintenance artist” Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who cleaned art galleries in the 1970s as performance, than with Joseph Beuys (though Kinmont did call his early works “social sculpture”), he executed such actions as inviting strangers to his New York home for waffle breakfasts (Waffles for an opening, 1991–) and sending five bouquets of flowers to the Houston nonprofit art center DiverseWorks, one for each week of a group show (Congratulations, 1995–). Kinmont devised

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  • Matthew Barney, Secret Name, 2008–11, cast lead, polycaprolactone, copper, zinc, 21 3/4“ x 14' 11” x 10' 8 1/2".

    Matthew Barney

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    Reviewing Norman Mailer’s ill-fated “Egyptian novel” Ancient Evenings in the New York Times back in 1983, critic Benjamin DeMott judged the mytho-historical epic a product of “a powerful imagination . . . working with stunning intensity,” but one fatally compromised by the “preoccupations and obsessions of a late 20th-century mind.” Mailer’s book provides the broad conceptual framework (as well as the title) for Matthew Barney’s newest project cycle, a gargantuan multipart “site-specific opera” created with the artist’s regular collaborator, the composer Jonathan Bepler. The most recent act—a

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  • Alex Katz, Ulla, 2010, oil on linen, 80 x 84".

    Alex Katz

    Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

    In considering Alex Katz’s exhibition at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, one might almost be forgiven for ignoring the paintings actually on view; it’s hard to concentrate on the work, strong as it is, amid the chatter about its new location and the details of the artist’s decampment from Pace. In Katz’s very public retellings, Brown emerges as a well-intentioned enthusiast: To the artist’s approval, Brown claims that Katz’s art lies in picturing “the immediacy of light,” which plays against figures and landscapes that, in this reading, serve as pretexts for the articulation of form. Indeed, the

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  • View of “Mickalene Thomas,” 2011. Clockwise from top left: Interior: Green and White Couch, 2011; Portrait of Tiffona, 2008; La Maison de Monet, 2011; Sandra: She’s a Beauty, 2009.

    Mickalene Thomas

    Lehmann Maupin

    “We respond to beauty, its seduction and attraction, yet what that has done culturally to people that are subject to universal codes of beauty has been devastating.” So said Mickalene Thomas earlier this year, interviewed by the artist Sean Landers for Bomb magazine. She was talking about “codes of beauty” as they apply to people—to whether or not people are found beautiful, in their bodies, in their styles—but her remark seemed also to touch on a divide in American thinking about art, one that has played out quite virulently over the past thirty years. Should art be beautiful? Is its

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  • Haim Steinbach, western hills, 2011, plastic-laminated wood shelf, ceramic cookie jar, aluminum garbage can, wooden stacking toy, 41 x 21 1/2 x 62 1/4".

    Haim Steinbach

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    In an interview published in Artforum’s April 2003 issue, Haim Steinbach discussed what he saw as the ideal system for pricing what he made: “I devised a formula by which there would be a price for the work—plus the price of the objects. Let’s say a shelf has three cornflakes boxes and six ceramic ghosts on it. If the ceramic ghosts are $10 apiece, that’s $60; the boxes, at $2 each, would make $6, bringing the total of the objects to $66. So if the price of a given work is $12,000, that’s $12,066.”

    The artist’s mode of reaching a price point is worth remarking on, because it lays the foundation

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  • Jenny Saville, The Mothers, 2011, oil on canvas, 106 3/8 x 86 5/8".

    Jenny Saville

    Gagosian | 522 West 21st Street

    Jenny Saville’s “Continuum,” a presentation of eight drawings and five paintings, demonstrates the pull and power of the past—indeed, the inescapability of art history. The inclusion of the word pentimenti in several titles makes the point clearly: Pentimenti are compositional elements that an artist has painted over, yet still remain visible—they are the return of the repressed. From Saville’s The Mothers, 2011—a depiction of a seated mother holding two children—emerges Leonardo’s drawing The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the Infant Saint John, ca. 1499–1500, owned

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  • Carrie Moyer, Stroboscopic Painting #1, 2011, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 60 x 72".

    Carrie Moyer

    CANADA

    After receiving her BFA in painting from the Pratt Institute in 1985, Carrie Moyer became somewhat disenchanted with her chosen medium. She supported herself as a graphic designer, and her art practice, in turn, became increasingly design-oriented: She put her talents to use creating agitprop for such groups as act up, Queer Nation, and Dyke Action Machine! (which she cofounded with Sue Schaffner in 1991). All the while, she studied the historical nexuses of art, politics, and design, from Constructivism to the visual production of the ’60s counterculture. Only in the early 1990s did she begin

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  • Marc Hundley, A Woman Under the Influence, 2011, ink on paper, 12 1/2 x 16 1/2".

    Marc Hundley

    Team Gallery | Grand Street

    Marc Hundley’s works are as compactly evocative as a concert flyer and as cryptic as a yearbook quote; some are carefully made to resemble the DIY concert posters often found stapled to telephone poles on city streets. For “Joan Baez Is Alive,” his show at Team Gallery, the sheets of paper with band names, snippets of lyrics, quotes from books were given lots of room to breathe on the gallery wall, with stern but generous white benches in front for repose and contemplation. That the benches resembled pews seemed deliberate: We were invited to consider something we only partially understood, akin

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  • Nicholas Krushenick, Son of King Kong, 1966, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72".

    Nicholas Krushenick

    Gary Snyder Gallery

    How to explain the fact that Nicholas Krushenick’s art has flown below the radar for so long, despite recurrent attempts to revive interest his work, and despite the fact that it not only is in itself excellent but self-evidently fills a niche that needs to be filled—namely that of the missing link between hard-edge abstraction and Pop art? Alas, he is that cursed thing, an artist’s artist. I was reminded of this again last year when I saw a piece of his in “The Jewel Thief” (2010), a remarkable exhibition curated by Jessica Stockholder (with Ian Berry) at the Frances Young Tang Teaching

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  • Jordan Kantor, Untitled (113590 rev 2), 2011, oil on linen, 21 x 28".

    Jordan Kantor

    Churner and Churner

    The purring and ticking of a 16-mm projector in the first room of Jordan Kantor’s latest exhibition signaled a certain quaintness. That the film takes Monet’s haystack paintings—or rather, photographic reproductions of them—as its subject only underscored that sentiment (but not, in the event, an unselfconscious sentimentality). As some of the more widely circulated images from the latter half of the last century, the Impressionist master’s Les Meules, 1890–91—studies of the most fleeting atmospheric conditions—now bear all the permanence of the commonplace. That ready-made

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  • Şerban Savu, New Road, 2011, oil on canvas, 11 7/8 x 15 3/4".

    Şerban Savu

    David Nolan Gallery

    Şerban Savu belongs to a loose-knit group of young Romanian painters based in Cluj-Napoca, a Transylvanian college town some eighty miles from Hungary. His subject is blue-collar work and leisure in contemporary Romania, and he portrays this quotidian reality with cool, masterly restraint. This focus draws on a range of precedents, from Bruegel to Millet—whom he has directly and indirectly invoked. But I always think of Edward Hopper. Like Hopper’s nighthawks and lonely women, Savu’s brick-factory workers and roadside bathers are kept at a strange distance, their bodies frozen in a melancholic

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  • Robert Rauschenberg, Portfolio 1 (detail), 1952, seven black- and-white photographs mounted on rag board, each 5 5/8 x 3 1/4".

    “Black Mountain College and Its Legacy”

    Loretta Howard Gallery

    Despite the close confines of a Chelsea gallery, this survey of 120 works by thirty-five painters, sculptors, poets, photographers, potters, and weavers vividly conveyed the achievements of the Black Mountain crowd—work seemingly stronger today, when most of the school’s storied participants are gone. Founded in North Carolina in 1933, Black Mountain College was a manifestation of the period’s romanticization of the avant-garde; the school shut down in 1957 for want of bucks. Fascism’s glory years had forced many of Germany’s leading artists and intellectuals into exile, among them the

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  • Aïda Ruilova, Goner, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 11 minutes 35 seconds.

    Aïda Ruilova

    Salon 94 | Bowery

    From the early Oh no, 1999, to Meet the Eye, 2009, Aïda Ruilova’s fast-art reflections on filmic constructions of women have progressed from schooled DIY antiaesthetic to polished commercial appearance (the latter work features 1970s B-movie queen Karen Black). In their synthesis of formal and stylistic elements from experimental filmmaking, avant-garde video, and mainstream psychological thrillers and horror flicks, Ruilova’s works conjure a condition of endless, narrativeless suspense: Women—her protagonists are usually female—confront existential and corporeal jeopardy, often

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  • Keren Cytter, Video Art Manual, 2011, still from a color HD video, 14 minutes 42 seconds.

    Keren Cytter

    Feuer/Messler

    Keren Cytter’s Video Art Manual, 2011, begins with the self-deluding slickness of an infomercial. From behind a glass-topped table in a generic office, a bearded man in a suit confidently addresses the viewer. He explains that new technologies enable the production of user-generated content, and that Cytter’s video will “reveal the utopian anxieties of the common man.” Midway through his portentous speech, the sound track switches from synched sound to a bad, hollow-sounding postproduction dub: His voice fails to match the movements of his mouth and becomes inexplicably loud and echoey. The man

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  • Richard Benson, Puerto Rico, 2007, color photograph, 20 x 13 3/8".

    Richard Benson

    Pace/MacGill Gallery

    Puerto Rico, 2007, despite being one of only two photographs in this large exhibition to have been made outside the continental United States, is emblematic of photographer Richard Benson’s series “North South East West,” 2005–11. The image’s subject, an isolated tropical tree at the edge of a parking lot, is representative in its humbleness and outdoor, out-of-the-way location. The sky behind it, as in many of the show’s photographs, is a rich cerulean, the clouds near the horizon puffy and white; shadows are nonexistent. The tree’s visual similarity to a peacock’s tail feathers metaphorically

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  • Ian Pedigo, The Trails of Animals and Other Inanimate Things, 2011, found metal electrical conduit, driftwood, white paint, black paint, black granite, ferrous slate, white chalk, yellow chalk, cable, hardware, 120 x 45 x 48".

    Ian Pedigo

    Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery

    An Article from Distant Memory, A Necklace of Broken Windows, Skeleton: The titles of Ian Pedigo’s new sculptures and photographs—not to mention his use of shattered glass, driftwood, and bone—lent the artist’s fourth solo appearance at this gallery an elegiac and slightly eerie mood. The artifacts and images that populated “Dawn Goes by Round the Neck” (the title is adapted from Surrealist poet Paul Éluard) have been altered via a series of offbeat formal tweaks and pairings that suggest a quietly experimental, performative approach to object making. But while the artist recasts his

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  • View of “Sanford Biggers: Cosmic Voodoo Circus,” 2011. Foreground: Constellation 6.0, 2011. Background, from left: Cheshire (On Tilt), 2010–11; A Jóia Do Orixá (To the Jewel of the Orixa), 2011.

    Sanford Biggers

    Brooklyn Museum/ScuptureCenter

    Sanford Biggers’s art fixates on recurring symbols—trees, carnival, musicians, and a bodiless smile that is part minstrel, part Cheshire cat, and part logo for a conglomerate whose name might be “history.” Two concurrent exhibitions with works spanning 2002 to the present explored these emblems vis-à-vis legacies of violence that constrain the powers and desires of black men. At times, Biggers’s ruminations sit uneasily inside a glamorized stagecraft. At best, grim knowledge makes his magic potent.

    Biggers framed his Brooklyn Museum show not quite as a retrospective—it is titled “Sweet

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