COLUMNS

  • Beyond Repair

    Regarding torture at the Berlin Biennale

    IN THE TWELFTH BERLIN BIENNALE, images of Iraqi torture and sexual abuse victims have been blown up and arranged into a maze of crude entrapment. The walls of this maze reproduce the photos taken by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and leaked in 2004, one year after the US-led invasion of Iraq. This edition of the Biennale is said to be centered on decolonial engagement, to offer “repair . . . as a form of agency” and “a starting point . . . for critical conversation, in order to find ways together to care for the now.” Yet the Biennale made the decision to commodify photos of unlawfully

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  • Shark Tale

    Resurfacing Winslow Homer’s most elusive painting

    WINSLOW HOMER loved a good repoussoir: Locking the foreground and background into a taut tug-of-war charged his small paintings with titanic vigor. Rocks, waves, boats, and leaping fish bound toward the viewer, while some kind of natural force draws the eye back into the painting. That push-and-pull is emotional as well as compositional: We do not know whether to sympathize with or ridicule his subjects.

    What, then, are we to make of the repoussoir in Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream, 1899: a dark, red-flecked wave swelling in the foreground and teeming with criss-crossing sharks? Based on sketches

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  • 26 Planned Parenthoods

    A quiet chronicle of Ohio’s human rights battleground

    IN 2015, there were twenty-six Planned Parenthoods in Ohio, and Jared Thorne photographed each one. Over dozens of weekends, the artist drove to every corner of the state, setting up a large-format camera and using 4x5 chromogenic film to create his spare, desaturated images. Many were made on Sunday mornings, the only time that anti-choice protesters would leave the site, presumably to attend church services.

    Without context, it’s difficult to know what one is seeing, which is the point: Planned Parenthood buildings are not designed to stand out, to make themselves a target. You’ve surely walked

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  • Happy Trails

    The High Desert Test Sites biennial rides into the sunset

    “THE SEARCHERS” marked the final iteration of High Desert Test Sites’ sun-scorched biennial in Southern California’s arid Morongo Basin. Since 2002, the nonprofit has worked with over four hundred and fifty artists on a dozen biennials, twenty-five solo projects, and countless events. Primarily, programming occurs around the rapidly growing cities of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Wonder Valley. HDTS 2015, though, absconded to Green River, Utah, and the edition I participated in, HDTS 2013, stretched seven hundred miles, with sixty projects from Joshua Tree to Albuquerque. Guest curator Iwona

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  • Sight Unseen

    Jarod Lew’s portraits of loss and love beyond the lens

    ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO, the photographer Jarod Lew uncovered details of his mother’s past that revealed something about his immediate family. From a text message sent accidentally by an older cousin, Lew learned that his mother once knew a person named Vincent Chin over thirty years ago. Lew Googled the name, immediately finding a 1982 article from the Detroit Free Press under the headline: “Slaying Ends Couple’s Dream.” Looking at the grainy photograph that accompanied the front-page story, Lew at once recognized the woman identified as Chin’s fiancé. The revelation was shocking as much for what

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  • Point Blank

    The gun and the readymade

    IT IS GUNS.

    Such is the common refrain of gun safety advocates in the wake of these constant horrors. I started drafting this piece following the racist massacre of ten Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York. Then, nineteen children and two of their teachers were murdered in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. As I revised, at least four were killed at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, followed by more carnage the following weekend. Beyond these widely covered mass shootings, the steady drumbeat of gun-related death continues to claim hundreds of lives each day in the United States. While

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  • Ethereal Presence

    NFTs and the theater of risk

    At the round earths imagin’d corners, blow

    Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise

    From death, you numberlesse infinities

    Of soules, and to your scattred bodies goe,

    All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,

    All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,

    Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,

    Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe.

    But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,

    For, if above all these, my sinnes abound

    ’Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,

    When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,

    Teach mee how to repent; for that’s as good

    As if thou’hadst seal’d

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  • Get Out

    Tehching Hsieh’s art of survival in America

    ON A STOOP IN TRIBECA just south of Houston, Tehching Hsieh was drinking tea. It was February 1982. Six months had elapsed since the artist embarked on his third One Year Performance, for which he declared he would “stay outdoors for one year” and refuse to enter any “building, subway, train, car, airplane, ship, cave, tent.” A record-breakingly cold winter expelled even the memory of warmth from the city, and Hsieh had allowed his hair, normally kept at a military buzz, to grow into an untidy mane. Together with his sleeping bag and weathered backpack (where he stowed his camera), he must have

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  • Viral Content

    The unnerving resonance of Diego Rivera’s Vaccination

    OVER THE COURSE of the past couple of years, I’ve kept coming back to the image of Diego Rivera’s Vaccination. I can’t get it out of my head. The primary reason should be fairly obvious: This is arguably the most iconic and widely recognized artistic treatment of a subject that many of us have been reading, talking, and thinking about incessantly during the pandemic. But there’s more to it than that. If conventional accounts would lead us to expect mural art to be direct, didactic, and declarative, Rivera’s image is anything but. Its effect is subtly disquieting; it gets under your skin. Measured

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  • FOOD FOR THOUGHT

    Colby Chamberlain on Alison Knowles

    FEW TITLES ENCAPSULATE an exhibition’s argument as succinctly as “by Alison Knowles: A Retrospective (1960–2022).” Curator Karen Moss borrows that “by” from a slim volume of the same name, a collection of the artist’s compositions issued through the “Great Bear” pamphlet series of Something Else Press in 1965. The preposition’s pliability is the point. Most obviously, “by” denotes authorship, as in a corpus of texts written by Alison Knowles, yet it also suggests facilitation, a process brought about by means of Alison Knowles, or proximity, i.e., close by Alison Knowles. In a work by Alison

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  • A LANDSCAPE WE ALL HELP TO MAKE

    Barry Schwabsky on Rackstraw Downes

    WHATEVER YOU THINK realism means, Rackstraw Downes is certainly some kind of realist—and, moreover, one whose elective subject matter is landscape. That in itself suggests a quixotic temperament in an artist born in 1939 whose immediate contemporaries include any number of abstract, Conceptual, and performance artists but few realists—at least of his stature.

    And even among painters pursuing realism in his generation, Downes looks like an outsider. Despite the fact that he edited a valuable collection of Fairfield Porter’s writings, there’s nothing in his work of the intimism and subjectivity of

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  • LUST FOR LIFE

    Hannah Stamler on Suzanne Valadon

    A SELF-PORTRAIT from 1911 shows Suzanne Valadon at work, presumably creating the image before us. Holding a paint-streaked palette, she turns slightly to the right with lips pursed and eyes narrowed, likely scrutinizing her reflection in a mirror beyond the frame. When Valadon made the portrait, at age forty-six, she would have been quite accustomed to holding a pose. Raised by a single mother in Montmartre, heady epicenter of the Parisian avant-garde, she began working as an artist’s model at the age of fifteen, sitting for the likes of Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, her friend and lover, who

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