In its first several rooms, “Secondhand” appears to embody a diligent curatorial argument about notable trends in contemporary photographic practices surrounding found images, with by canonical work from Richard Prince and John Baldessari, as well as Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s Evidence (1977), the groundbreaking conceptual book culled from massive police and science archives. The show quickly moves to a noteworthy group of recent photographers working with Photoshopped, decontextualized, vernacular images—in particular Matt Lipps’s collaged archive from the now-extinct magazine Horizons and Erik Kessels’s inexhaustible compilations of found snapshots, which have gone beyond his famous Flickr repositories into more intimate documentations of personal lives, the work’s sentiment and sheer volume both anchoring the show.
But what makes “Secondhand” remarkable is the range of vernacular photographs from numerous other collections and archives: shrewd counterpoints to the more manifest practices on display. The first show at Pier 24 to feature a majority of works on loan, “Secondhand” includes grease-marked minor-league baseball pictures (showing crop-marks, pre-Photoshop) and lowbrow postcards, exquisitely embroidered by hand. Perhaps most moving of all are the deeply subtle interventions by Melissa Catanese, who has arranged a series of found snapshots into a free-associative timeline along one wall. In contrast to these quieter creations of narrative order out of chaos, the wild abundance of the more dramatic work feels impersonal by comparison.
The paranormal romance genre thrives on selling teenagers fantasies of transformation in which lonely outsiders only find their true selves and true loves by becoming something monstrous and strange. Saturated with a jittery mood of adolescent anxiety, this exhibition, curated by Hamza Walker, explores variations on these themes of mutability and self-creation.
The sculptural works on view have deep affection for marginal materials that range from thrift-store discards to near-trash. Guyton\Walker’s mattresses printed with colorful abstract digital images lean like soft monoliths, and Chris Bradley’s Grease Face, 2011, meticulously replicates a stained pizza box, in bronze, aluminum, and spray paint, overlaid with a circle and two dots that suggest an outlined cartoon head. Bradley’s work jokingly toys with teen anxiety over potentially blemished skin, and Jack Lavender’s sculptures similarly depict faces as unruly and ill-shaped conglomerations cobbled together from junk food remnants and other found objects. With adolescent visages and bodies being such unreliable things, the search for acceptance is sometimes anchored elsewhere, in social rituals such as taking the perfect hit from a beer bong—as depicted in Jill Frank’s Bong (Shawn), 2014—or in performances for others, like the face-to-face confrontation between two fenced-in walls displaying graffitied bear heads in Kathryn Andrews’s Friends and Lovers, 2010.
The dark heart of the exhibition is Ed Atkins’s giddy and bleak Even Pricks, 2013, an exemplary slice of Dada teen spirit packaged into a commercial montage narrated by a digitally rendered chimpanzee, featuring a wayward, intermittently erectile thumb with a habit of penetrating navels, ears, and eyes. Even in this uncanny, high-definition world, there is no escape from our chaotic, monstrous bodies.
“Jasper Johns: Picture Puzzles” presents a focused look at the artist’s output from between 1960 and 2010, pointing to a sense of inwardness not generally associated with his practice. It is immediately clear that something more complex is occurring in this group of prints. Johns harkens back to the ethos of “A Name for All,” a poem by his frequent inspiration Hart Crane: “Moonmoth and grasshopper that flee our page / and still wing on untarnished of the name / we pinion to your bodies to assuage / our envy of your freedom.” The lithograph Pinion, 1963–66, exhibits a similar urge to come up for air, to find a means of self-expression. Impressions of Johns’s body are submerged under the flotsam and jetsam of color—a simultaneous aesthetic and physical drowning. The same exploration of something underneath both the medium and the body occurs in Johns’s prints of layered crosshatches or overlapping numbers. Johns invests in his work’s capacity for unveiling and erasure, an operation akin to our own daily self-fashioning of gender and sexuality.
Like Glenn Ligon, who uses text to emphasize the erasure of bodies and legacies, Johns stacks digits on top of each other and makes allusions to a queer voice taken far too soon—all in an effort to illustrate the multiplicity of meanings that can be derived from work that could be described unitarily as quintessential Pop imagery. It could be, in fact, that the “puzzle” has nothing to do with images or numbers or disembodied limbs. Rather, this exhibition considers the puzzle of identity, a constantly shifting process of legibility and illegibility, mutability and fixity.
Richly sensorial, “A Proximity of Consciousness,” curated by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller, explores glancing moments of intersection between social practice and the natural elements. How social practice ought to be exhibited has been a bone of contention among supporters and critics alike, due in large measure to the fact that what is essential to the genre, what is lived and experienced, has not always been easily translatable into the syntax of gallery displays. If the curatorial rhetoric around this show resists defining social practice, one is nevertheless left considering alternate notions of its artistic usage.
For Seven Thousand Cords (After Beuys) (all works 2014), Ińigo Manglano-Ovalle carries out the intimate activity of splitting wood with invited guests. Culminating in stacked firewood piles possessed of a high-modernist veneer, the work lends the exhibition a redolent air of autumnal potential. To dizzying and poignant effect, Michael Rakowitz’s Every Weapon is a Tool if You Hold it Right shares the history (and served up a meal) of masgouf: the national dish of Iraq, made of Asian carp, a fish that is considered an invasive species in the US. In Rakowitz’s work, the masgouf becomes heart-wrenching synecdoche for the ongoing conflicts in Iraq. Laurie Jo Reynolds’s self-termed “legislative art” tackles the (in)human aspects of the carceral. Her replica of a living room represents one site of her collaboration with the Tamms Year Ten coalition—activists who managed to shut down the supermax prison in Illinois in 2013. In some instances, it is better when art answers more questions than it raises.
I had an epiphany about Sabina Ott’s sculptures while riding a rollercoaster. Sliding through the Swiss Alps on Disneyland’s Matterhorn, beneath the Southern California sun, I saw it: pastel lights glowing on faux snow. Ott’s similarly garish, mystical mist of neon spray enamel on carved polystyrene and spray foam is an environment-design technique she may have smuggled from Los Angeles’s happiness industry during her tenure there in the 1990s. “Here and there pink melon joy” is her sensational debut large-scale solo exhibition in Chicago.
Ott’s vision of candy-hued icicles as hanging lamps is a welcome reverie in a city with so much dirty snow. The sculptures on view are embedded with round mirrors, dead clocks, exposed light bulbs, plastic and real houseplants, drums, and drum music composed by artist Joe Jeffers, whose rhythm echoes the ticktock beats of the bucket drummers on the adjacent Michigan Avenue. Like a funhouse, “here and there pink melon joy” takes visitors on a momentary journey; in three galleries Ott leads us through her versions of hell, purgatory, and paradise in a nod to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The show culminates with the video installation to perceive the invisible in you, 2012, a swirling tangle of ecstatic love poems by Rumi, William Blake, and Gertrude Stein among others projected on four walls.
Ott succeeds in building her own sort of Fantasyland. It’s a place where, like a Disney movie, objects might come alive to play with and protect you. But this dream is no escape from reality; Ott builds the type of world she wants us to live in.
Spend a day in silence. Descend a hill blindfolded. Build a village out of driftwood. Such were the sense-expanding (if common-sense confounding) activities that the dauntless young dancers and designers who attended Anna and Lawrence Halprin’s late-1960s cross-disciplinary workshops in the San Francisco Bay area could expect—if one could ever really have known what to expect from a curriculum “scored” for maximum kinesthetic effect by the pioneering choreographer and her landscape architect husband. The Halprins were standouts in their respective fields, and this exhibition highlights the vital but overlooked collaborative inquiries into movement awareness, participatory techniques, and process-oriented pedagogy that emerged from their recognition of the environment as a common medium: both a support for works of art and a portal to untrammeled perceptual territories.
Organized with the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, the delightfully mounted presentation brings together materials—scores, schedules, letters, applications, notebooks, photographs, posters, rosters, announcements, films—related to three such workshops with detailed architectural documentation of two of the spring-summer workshops’ primary sites: the Halprins’ cliffside Sea Ranch cabin and wooded Mount Tamalpais residence, home to their famed tree-trunk punctured “dance deck.” Seen against today’s carbon credit–counting ecological consciousness, these open-ended forays alert us as much to the gauntness of our compulsory environmental “awareness” as to the Halprins’ immeasurable and estimable faith in art’s capacity to imagine other, more collective and creative worlds through tactile explorations of everyday life. Take a final lesson from City Map Score, 1968: “Imagine yourself in a place of fantasies and act accordingly.”
In 1968, Amiri Baraka’s harsh sentencing for purportedly inciting civil unrest in Newark, New Jersey, was symptomatic of the racial discrimination that led to the riots. He was guilty of “formulating a plot”—the judge’s words that inspired the subtitle of Haitian-born Adler Guerrier’s first solo museum exhibition. While themes of racial iniquity loom large in his exhibition, truth and fiction are blurred, preventing the work from becoming didactic.
For instance, the mixed-media installation Untitled (BLCK-We Wear the Mask), 2007–2008, is a collection of artifacts from a fictional artist collective BLCK based in Liberty City, a predominantly African American neighborhood of Miami, that Guerrier imagined to be in solidarity with other radical Black movements across the country in the 1960s. The assemblage includes monochromatic photographs, black text on black protest signs, and prints with half-obscured urban scenes.
“Untitled (Overtown North),” 2006, is a photographic series of nondescript locations, largely of empty lots and streets at night that are lit by the eerie effulgence of lampposts. The title is instructive: It points to the Miami neighborhood Overtown, as well as to Wynwood, directly north. The work simultaneously evokes in mood the recent past of Wynwood—an abandoned warehouse turned gentrified arts district—as much as the recent present of Overtown—a center of urban decay that was once a bustling economic center for African Americans. As in much of Guerrier’s work, politics and poetics are held in tension—in this exhibition, by nimbly blurring past and present, here and there.
“A Hatchet to Kill Old Ugly” is a three-part exhibition in the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s storefront project space that comprises a Shaker-inspired domestic interior, a dim crawl space, and a back-room atelier swarming with colored light. It is the fifth and most collaborative dual show for Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck (a married couple), both professional museum preparators. They each present new works—Feasley’s are acid-hued landscape and still-life paintings; Swenbeck’s are jagged-edged, plant-inspired ceramics—in environments they built, which contain constellations of objects with distinct ontologies, such as historical artifacts, handmade replicas, and magician’s materials. With an auto-curatorial approach reminiscent of shows like “Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos” (2012–13), this is an essayistic exhibition-as-interpretive-text on the artists’ work.
In the austere domestic interior, replicas of a Shaker willow-branch broom and taupe felt cloak hang on wooden pegs alongside Feasley’s painting of a butterfly in a four-leaf-clover field. Crawling through a faux brick hearth, one enters a low, dark, mirrored closet in which a mechanized mobile—made up of turned wood, tiny bells, and twisted metal—clangs eerily. Seen from here through the storefront window, the outside world seems freakishly ordinary. The third room, in contrast, reveals the exhibition’s seams. The sink and the closet’s raw plywood exterior jostle with magical objects including primary-colored dowsing apparatuses. Taken as a whole, the show celebrates the illusionistic craft of exhibition making, while placing the artists’ individual works in conversation with their referents.
Salvatore Scarpitta, ever fascinated by the drug of extreme risk, spent many of his eighty-eight years testing the outer limits of mortality as a speed racer. His obsession with the mechanics of speed, and the emotional intensity it inspires, links the varied selections within this survey, which include race cars, sleds, and sculptural paintings. Though small, the show is comprehensive, beginning with Scarpitta’s wrapped and overlapping canvases. Swathes of fabric are woven in crude layers, each stretched so tightly along its weft that it curls along its warp—or vice versa. The suppleness of the fabric structure contrasts with the hardened patina of resin that burnishes it as if congealing once-elastic skin into a fixed, immovable surface.
Scarpitta’s oeuvre combines the material grit of Arte Povera, the postmodern physicality of works by John Chamberlain and Eva Hesse, and Andy Warhol’s Pop allusions to commercial marketing. Elements of sensuality, implicit violence, and physical constriction are magnified in Scarpitta’s sleds, built from wooden skis and rusted metal pieces, which he wrapped with canvas strips, as though bandaging wounds or preserving relics. Alluding to his later-life return to a focus on classical formal sculpture, they stand in striking opposition to his race cars—shiny, quick-looking but only occasionally functional vehicles, presented here as a high-gloss midpoint of the exhibition and branded by colorful sponsor logos. Scarpitta famously founded a speed-racing league (and convinced Leo Castelli to sponsor it), and his race cars are among his more accessible pieces on view. Sleekly interlocking art with the sense-heightening eroticism of a nearness to death, Scarpitta’s automobiles—as well as his painting-sculpture hybrids—capture the daring adventure and inherently affirming beauty of our elemental impulses.
Though the means of documenting conflict have changed dramatically between the Crimean War and present battles in the Middle East, editorial challenges remain remarkably similar. Whether photographers have used collodion-plate photographs or high-res digital images, they consistently still struggle to capture violence, chaos, and tragedy in a manner that is both intelligent and affective. With this in mind, curator Thierry Gervais has expertly assembled “Dispatch: War Photographs in Print, 1854–2008,” an exhibition that studies the formal construction and conventions of war photography, tracing a trajectory of negotiations between aesthetic and reportorial demands.
“Dispatch” investigates the proximity of the viewer to the subject—comparing the distance to that between the photographer and the subject—as well as the discrepancies between the original print and the published reproduction. The exhibition considers the tropes that have evolved from Robert Capa’s famous photograph of the Allied forces’ D-Day landing on Omaha Beach—an unforgettable image that couples the aesthetics of instantaneity with the intensity of war. References to this shot crop up strikingly in a New York Times photograph by Francois Sully on August 26, 1963, depicting South Vietnamese soldiers running through wetland rice fields, in which the grain appears to be cresting waves. The inclusion of numerous compelling works ranging from Roger Fenton’s Omar Pacha, 1855, to Luc Delahaye’s image of a dead Taliban soldier further evidence the tremendous research and thought invested in this curatorial project. “Dispatch” reframes the alacrity of press photography and the paroxysms of conflict, while chronicling the changing meanings of war photography.