COLUMNS

  • “Hide/Seek”

    THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY’S “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” is an exhibition whose time has finally come. Or so I wrote several weeks ago, before events in Washington—just days before we go to press—came to lend my words a bitterly ironic cast. Gays and lesbians have become acceptable, as characters and as actors, on television shows (Queer as Folk, Will & Grace, The L Word) and in major films (Philadelphia, The Crying Game, Brokeback Mountain), as well as in popular music (Elton John, Ricky Martin, Lady Gaga), and the Internet has made every facet of

    Read more
  • Marlene McCarty

    STARTING IN THE LATE 1980S, New York–based artist Marlene McCarty signaled her rejection of modernist abstraction by heat-transferring onto canvas the freighted verbiage that fueled and undermined struggles for women’s and gay rights. With texts such as I MAY NOT GO DOWN IN HISTORY BUT I MAY GO DOWN ON YOUR LITTLE SISTER rendered horizontally in a diminutive font across a canvas, a perverse reorientation of a Barnett Newman “zip”; or SHOOT A WOMAN SAVE A JOB curling in whorls like Kenneth Noland targets on two canvases hung at what McCarty calls “tit height” and quoting the message now familiar

    Read more
  • “Who Knows Tomorrow”

    PRITA MEIER

    THE LANGUAGE OF GEOGRAPHY—Africa, Europe, the West, the periphery, local, global—inevitably drives exhibitions that critique Eurocentric paradigms. “Who Knows Tomorrow,” a multivenue exhibition on view this summer in Berlin, marked an attempt to move beyond this cartographic model by focusing on temporal interconnections. “Africa” and “Germany” were not considered spatial or conceptual opposites, but rather were signposts of a specific historical moment when discrete spaces such as nation and continent became operative for the modern management of “global” power. The texts accompanying

    Read more
  • Stephen Kaltenbach

    “BECOME A LEGEND.” It was a command. But it was also a crazy dream to live by—a stunning credo Stephen Kaltenbach issued to himself and each of the thousands of readers of this magazine in the summer of ’69. This was the eighth of twelve anonymous ads the now seventy-year-old artist placed in Artforum between November 1968 and December 1969. It is still, more than forty years later, the tightest, most thrilling “micro-manifesto” (his term) you could ever read. I want to put an exclamation mark at the end of it, but the original better reflects Kaltenbach’s own decision, made long beforehand,

    Read more
  • the women of Pop

    OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, the generative investigation of the practices of women artists has yielded plenty of surprises—enough, certainly, to have an enormous impact on how we think about the past and make art in the present. One of the most recent revelations is among the most startling: To find the proximate origins of the feminist art movement, it seems, we need to look to Pop art. That’s right, Pop, the rubric under which Allen Jones’s seminude woman–as–coffee table is filed, the last blazing bastion of culturally sanctioned misogynistic art. This, at least, is the conclusion strongly

    Read more
  • “ACT UP New York”

    ACT UP DID POLITICS with an urgent Pop splash. Comic-book chromatics and rage tweaked Reagan’s eyes pink and his face bright green; AZT, the first effective (and massively overpriced) AIDS drug to land on the market, got a Coca-Cola treatment in a red poster that urged us cheerily to ENJOY it. In the recent exhibition “ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987–1993” at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, one’s eyes grazed over an entire wall of posters—most in bold caps—full of information and accusations directed both to the half-awake people in the street

    Read more
  • Hans Haacke’s “Weather, or Not”

    THE NAME HANS HAACKE has become synonymous with institutional critique. And with good reason—Haacke pioneered a singularly acute practice in which the economic and political conditions of art’s marketing and display function as an aesthetic medium. In this regard, his MoMA Poll of 1970 is exemplary: The artist asked museum visitors whether “the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon’s Indochina policy [would] be a reason for you not voting for him in November.” The question was far from innocent, given the Rockefeller family’s prominent role as founders and patrons of

    Read more
  • the Creative Time Summit

    WITH THE CLEAR-CUT CLASHES OF THE BUSH YEARS giving way to the increasingly ponderous political atmosphere of Obama, it might seem rather belated to hold a conference dedicated to the blurring of activism, art, and advocacy—a field variously called relational, tactical, dialogic, or community-based. Yet critical discourse around these practices has largely stagnated, and fresh thinking is needed, given the shifting antagonisms, conciliations, and polarizations that attend the current administration. It was with acute awareness of this situation that Nato Thompson organized “The Creative Time

    Read more
  • Piero Manzoni at Gagosian

    PIERO MANZONI HAS APPEARED in only a small handful of shows in the US over the past two decades, among them the grand “Italian Metamorphosis, 1943–1968” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1994, curated by Germano Celant, and “Minimalia: An Italian Vision in 20th Century Art” at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in 1999, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva. Both positioned Manzoni’s work as an enigmatic last gasp of modernist painting, and just one example among many of a proliferation of artistic brilliance and productivity in Italy in the 1950s and ’60s. Yet “Piero Manzoni: A

    Read more
  • Catherine Opie and “theanyspacewhatever”

    MUSEUMS ARE MACHINES of amelioration. A Frank Stella on one wall, a Morris Louis on the other; it’s all good. Even though the scholarship of the past thirty years has argued that aesthetic choices are not mere evidence of the progression of style but have ethical implications—whether you pool paint on canvas or paint stripes the width of a store-bought brush means something—museums still prefer to disregard the philosophical discomfort of such tensions. The exhibition “The Desire of the Museum,” mounted in New York in 1989 by the Whitney Independent Study Program, suggested that it was not

    Read more
  • “Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?”

    IN ONE OF THE MANY VITRINES of books and ephemera installed at Oslo’s Office for Contemporary Art Norway during the recent exhibition “Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?” was a magazine open to Susan Sontag’s essay “Against Interpretation.” The text—which famously closes with the argument that “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art”—had been selected as sample reading from a 1964 copy of the Evergreen Review, the American journal famous not only for its illustrious contributors (from Jorge Luis Borges to Malcolm X), but also for its confrontational frankness regarding matters

    Read more
  • “Universal Archive”

    THE OLD DREAM OF DOCUMENTARY—namely, that its socially enabled and technologically fortified realism would change the world—has been out of reach for some time now. In place of such a starry-eyed promise, pledged in Progressive-era photojournalistic muckraking and exposés, for example, and in most any run-of-the-mill image of machines from the 1920s and of workers from the ’30s, or in the humanistic gush of the camera-toting one-worlders of the ’40s and the UN crusaders of the ’50s, documentary has lately been given an alternative function, one equally freighted with longing and equally tied to

    Read more