reviews

  • View of “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present,” 2016. Photo: David Heald. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

    László Moholy-Nagy

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    “MOHOLY-NAGY: FUTURE PRESENT” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the artist’s first major American retrospective in nearly half a century and surely among the most stunning ever presented, compels us to ask a once-unthinkable question: Is László Moholy-Nagy the most important artist of the twentieth century? His accepted biography is less exceptional than it is emblematic of artists of his generation. An assimilated Jew from Central Europe forced into exile after the short-lived Communist regime in Hungary, Moholy relocated to Berlin as the city became a capital of the avant-garde.

    Read more
  • A. R. Penck, Untitled (System Painting), 1966, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 × 37 1/2". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

    A. R. Penck

    Michael Werner | New York

    With some sixty years of artmaking behind him and impressive honors to show for it, A. R. Penck nonetheless remains a somewhat misunderstood figure. Self-taught, and a relatively late émigré from what was then still the German Democratic Republic in 1980—contemporaries such as Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter had moved west as early as 1957 and 1961, respectively (in Richter’s case just before the Berlin Wall went up that year)—Penck emerged at a tangent to the Western neo-avant-gardes even as he remained untouched by the traditional representational criteria taught by the East German

    Read more
  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Marionette Maker, 2014, caravan, marionettes, robotics, lighting, audio (14 minutes), mixed media, 15' 4“ × 18' 6” × 10' 10".

    Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

    Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

    A group of inanimate objects endowed with uncanny life, someone at work designing them, a nod to the unconscious, an object whose age introduces the principle of memory: The Marionette Maker, 2014, seems to me to be a parable of artmaking, in more ways than the obvious one that it is named after a maker of sculptural figures. We enter a darkish room holding a familiar but old-fashioned object, a nearly eleven-foot-long caravan, that endearing predecessor, somehow both clunky and flimsy, of today’s hulking RVs. This one is already strange in that it’s topped by a large pair of rotating, megaphone-type

    Read more
  • Diane Arbus, Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959, gelatin silver print, 9 3/4 × 5 7/8". © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

    Diane Arbus

    The Met Breuer

    In one of those hard-to-believe-now anecdotes, Diane Arbus had trouble selling an editioned portfolio of her photographs in 1971; Richard Avedon bought two of the four she managed to sell for $1,000 each. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s elegant exhibition of Arbus’s early, mostly unseen work, “In the Beginning,” curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim at the Met Breuer, includes the contents of one of Avedon’s boxes in a side room: a well-trafficked coda to the show’s new discoveries. This is Arbus at the (all-too-soon) end (she would die just a few months later at forty-eight), and demonstrates the

    Read more
  • Bas Jan Ader, Studies for Broken fall (geometric), 1971, two C-prints, each 3 1/2 × 3 1/2". © Estate of Bas Jan Ader/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Bas Jan Ader

    Metro Pictures

    Vito Acconci followed people on New York City streets and Bas Jan Ader fell off the roof of his house in Claremont, California—all in the name of art. This past summer offered the opportunity to compare the divergent flavors of Conceptual art cooked up by this East Coast/West Coast odd couple, in the form of MoMA PS1’s formidable survey of early works by Acconci, and Metro Pictures’ two-room mini-survey of Ader’s career, which tragically ended with the Dutch artist’s fabled disappearance at sea in 1975 while navigating alone across the North Atlantic for In Search of the Miraculous. The

    Read more
  • John Akomfrah, The Airport, 2016, three-channel HD video installation, color, sound, 53 minutes.

    John Akomfrah

    Lisson Gallery

    In 1982, Ghana-born, London-based artist John Akomfrah cofounded the Black Audio Film Collective with fellow students at Portsmouth Polytechnic, aiming to kick-start a specifically black culture of politically and theoretically attuned moving-image work in the UK. The group’s landmark 1986 film Handsworth Songs, which Akomfrah directed, employs a characteristic mix of broadcast news footage, still photography, and audio montage to deconstruct the riots that had taken place in Birmingham, UK, and London the previous year. BAFC disbanded in 1998, but Akomfrah has continued to collaborate with

    Read more
  • Martí Cormand, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, picture of a woman/Adolf Ziegler, study of Hertha, 2016, diptych, graphite on paper, each 12 × 8 1/2".

    Martí Cormand

    Josée Bienvenu Gallery

    In 2010, workers beginning the construction of a new subway station in front of Berlin’s city hall made a series of unexpected discoveries. First, they came across the remains of the city’s original hall, dating back to 1290. Then they found something more recent but equally extraordinary: eleven early-twentieth-century sculptures missing since World War II. All the works, by artists including Otto Freundlich, Naum Slutzky, and Marg Moll, were on the Nazis’ “un-German” blacklist; several had also been included in “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art), the notorious 1937 touring exhibition commissioned

    Read more
  • View of “Martha Rosler,” 2016. Photo: Christopher Burke.

    Martha Rosler

    Mitchell-Innes & Nash | Chelsea

    The inescapable feeling of weariness that permeated my visit to Martha Rosler’s packed exhibition was likely intensified by the summer’s political climate, in particular the improbable, disgusting rise of Donald Trump. With row upon row of protest posters, photographs, maps, videos, archival material, and artworks by more than forty-five contributors, “If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, Mo-o-ove!!” comprised an unwieldy exhibition and series of town-hall meetings organized by Rosler and the shadowy Temporary Office of Urban Disturbances. As a reprise of her monumental three-part exhibition “If

    Read more
  • Mathis Altmann, Histoire de la merde, 2016, wood, miniatures, lightbulb, cloth, plastic, metal, paper, 34 3/4 × 11 1/2 × 8 1/2".

    Mathis Altmann

    Swiss Institute / CONTEMPORARY ART

    I had seen a few of Mathis Altmann’s works online—spooky things hanging in darkened rooms, made out of lots of junk and schmutz, nothing if not weird—so I went to the Swiss Institute prepared to see some grody riff on Halloween aesthetics by an artist in Zurich who had gone deep inside his head. (As the art world gets ever more globalized, meshing more and more with corporate culture, a surprising number of artists are responding by plumbing the depths of “interiority.”) Lined up in the basement gallery were eight little models of architectural spaces, more or less hung at eye level;

    Read more
  • Ydessa Hendeles, Partners (The Teddy Bear Project), 2002, mixed media, dimensions variable. From “The Keeper.” Photo: Maris Hutchinson.

    “The Keeper”

    New Museum

    A sprawling installation, the exhibition “The Keeper” at the New Museum in New York was really a collection of collections, covering three floors (plus the museum’s lobby gallery) and comprising some four thousand objects—scrapbooks and drawings, toys and quilts, paintings and whittled carvings, snowflakes and butterflies—all arranged into discrete archives collated by some thirty artists, scholars, and tinkerers. These “keepers” included, for example, a famous novelist who preferred to chase butterflies, a French philosopher who coveted polished stones, a folk-music aficionado who

    Read more
  • Paul Outerbridge, The Kitchen Table: A Study in Ellipses, 1921, platinum print, 4 1/2 × 3 1/2".

    Paul Outerbridge

    Bruce Silverstein Gallery

    The forty-one images in this survey of Paul Outerbridge’s photographs—the largest show of his works since a J. Paul Getty Musuem retrospective in 2009—included still lifes, advertising images, and erotic nudes, though the distinctions among these categories was often far from clear. In many of the still lifes, geometric form is seemingly more important than the familiar, ordinary objects Outerbridge takes as his ostensible subject matter; The Kitchen Table: A Study in Ellipses, 1921—an arrangement of three eggs, a bowl of milk, and a milk bottle—is exemplary. In some of these,

    Read more
  • Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes 53 seconds.

    Rosalind Nashashibi

    Murray Guy

    “To remember, one must imagine,” art historian Georges Didi-Huberman once wrote. Rosalind Nashashibi’s films task the viewer with considering this inescapable problem of memory: The recollection of an event is always corrupted by the mind that calls it forth. She often exaggerates or otherwise lays bare the unreliable mechanisms of imaginative reconstitution, interjecting documentary footage with staged elements (Jack Straw’s Castle, 2009) or restaging scenes of others’ work (The Prisoner, 2008; Carlo’s Vision, 2011). At times, she points up the tainted products of memory; at others, she provides

    Read more
  • Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Cunt, 2016, phosphorescent pigment and acrylic on paper, 8 1/2 × 11". Installation view. Photo: Kirsten Kilponen.

    Natascha Sadr Haghighian

    Kai Matsumiya

    “Reason . . . always homogenizes and reduces, represses and unifies phenomena or actuality into what can be perceived and so controlled,” observes Abhor, the “part robot,” “part black” protagonist of Kathy Acker’s 1988 novel Empire of the Senseless. “The subjects, us, are now stable and socializable.” Along with her co-narrator and partner Thivai, Abhor navigates an alternate-reality Paris where Algerians have staged an anticolonial revolt. Here she reflects on how patriarchal violence begins with the assignment of identities. “Literature,” she argues, “is that which denounces and slashes apart

    Read more
  • View of “Yanyan Huang,” 2016.

    Yanyan Huang

    Tomorrow

    Some seventy or so years after its heroic American heyday, Abstract Expressionism has seen a lot, having been debased, parodied, subverted, enshrined, disavowed, mocked, and reinvented a thousand times by as many artists to as many different ends. An indelible metonym for modernism, it is, as they say, overdetermined, so much so that to make a gestural mark today is to court a certain generic quality—and the nagging sense that whatever you’re doing has, regrettably, been done before.

    Which is not to say the weight of history dooms gestural abstraction to cliché; to the contrary, its legacy

    Read more