COLUMNS

  • “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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • “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

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  • “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

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  • George Segal

    I WAS TWICE A MODEL for the sculptor George Segal. In 1978, I posed as a man standing next to a hot dog stand. In 1991, I was a down-and-outer in a moody Depression breadline. Both were firsthand experiences of George’s literal shaping of bodies: Much more so than other artists characterized under the rubric of Pop, George was always deeply interested in human physicality (as evidenced in the current traveling survey of his work). But his literalism went far beyond mere description. Hot Dog Stand conveys detachment, noncommunication, and anonymity; Depression Bread Line projects the isolation

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  • Jorge Pardo’s exhibition design at LACMA

    IN THE AFTERMATH of the 1521 conquest of central Mexico, a Spanish Franciscan working in New Spain asked his Aztec informants about a place they called Oztotl, which in their language translates as “cave.” The friar’s sources replied that Oztotl was a place where “our mothers, our fathers have gone; they have gone to rest in the water, in the cave, the place of no openings, the place of no smoke hole, the place of the dead.” The Aztecs believed that upon death they would be swallowed up by the earth, which was envisioned as a giant amphibian floating in an all-encompassing ocean. Through cavernous

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  • “Black Is, Black Ain’t”

    AS EVER IN CHICAGO, there is no dearth of tragedy where racial politics are concerned: ongoing revelations about city hall’s involvement in covering up police torture of black suspects; a recent 18 percent increase in the homicide rate that disproportionately affects black youth; and the threat of further black disenfranchisement for the sake of the 2016 Olympic bid. For the past several months, however, conversations about race in the Black Metropolis, as elsewhere in the United States, have turned to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He too is a marked man, at once targeted for

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  • Service Aesthetics

    THE ATTITUDES AND TECHNIQUES of artists have clearly buckled and changed many times over the past century, as industrialism became postindustrialism and first-world enterprise shifted from goods to services while manual production was shunted to outlying zones of cheap labor. The significance of these shifts is a central focus of Helen Molesworth’s 2003 essay “Work Ethic,” in which she describes how artists—in their working ethos, methods, and social legitimacy in relation to other workers—are strapped to the twin engines of the economy and the technologies that drive it. Art historian

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  • the Rococo

    AROUND 1720, the French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau painted a signboard for his dealer’s shop that depicted an idealized view of the gallery on Paris’s Pont Notre-Dame. Downplaying its commercial status, Watteau portrayed the shop as a setting for elite sociability, while heralding the new aesthetics of the Rococo, then known as le style moderne. At the signboard’s right, a trio of elegant customers ignore the old-master paintings on the walls and politely converse with a gallery assistant about a gilded table mirror and other objets d’art. Behind them, two visitors, one a man and the other a

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