Trisha Brown’s choreography is notoriously difficult to capture, with its swift turns and continuous transitional phrases. In early works such as Roof Piece, 1971, seen through the able lens of Babette Mangolte, multiple dancers transmit simple movements to one another across New York City rooftops, invoking both the performers’ and viewer’s capacities for recall. With each performance, Brown anticipated the way her work would be seen, questioning the disappearance so often ascribed to dance. The photographs, short films, videos, and ephemera that comprise this exhibition record Brown’s performances for posterity, in turn influencing Brown’s own practice. Mangolte’s exhilarating film Watermotor, 1978, shows Brown performing the eponymous dance in real time. It’s then slowed down by half—perhaps best evidencing what Craig Owens once called “mechanical inscription,” or the multiple perspectives and temporal freeze/flow of film and photography registered in the dancing.
Since the 1970s, Brown and her company have investigated the terrain of lower Manhattan—whose buildings, seen from the windows of the space, provide an apropos backdrop and real-time reminder of context. Curated by Alex Fialho and Melissa Levin, and conceived by Sam Miller, this deceptively compact show foregrounds the conflation of site and sight, particularly in the “Equipment Pieces.” Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, 1970, uses gravity to defamiliarize ordinary movement: rigged to a harness, a performer descends down the facade of 80 Wooster Street. Photographed from below by Peter Moore, the figure is dwarfed by the architectural surface, whose pictorial flatness causes the vertical surface to appear nearly horizontal—“site-specificity” might here extend to the event’s relationship with its documentation. An iteration of Man Walking forty years later is included in a grid of color photographs documenting the company’s reperformances—yet Brown’s symbiotic relation to reproductive media, and her photographers’ collaborative voices, become lost to the digital, high-resolution ennui of contemporary image-making. In this survey of her practice, Brown’s play with the fugitive nature of movement is strongest when the process of seeing dance itself is illuminated.
Allan McCollum’s “The Shapes Project,” which began in 2005, was designed to create a unique sculpture for every person in the world, with an objective of producing over thirty-one billion different shapes. His latest iteration presents an explosion of color and dissimilarity that evoke ethnographic associations, emphasizing the impossibility of containing the profusion of difference that exists in American society.
McCollum presents pairings of multicolored shapes: Each has been attached to its own discrete wood panel and stacked with the others on the gallery wall. The result are several large grids that have been assembled for this exhibition; while the shapes are hung in specific compositions, later iterations can be organized in a variety of ways. While the arrangements invoke critiques of the grid and the monochrome, more crucial is the way the color and cut of the wood forms comment on gender and sexuality. With each unique twosome, always amorphous but oddly complimentary, there is a resistance to categorization and a deliberate rejection of the categorizing impulse of the eye. For McCollum, vision’s role as the foundation of difference is unseated and open to queer reformulations.
And yet it is melancholy that overruns the exhibition: Each couple is caught in time, forever sealed within a single, immobilizing box. If McCollum’s project seems initially about unity, his appeal here seems driven by anxiety: What would it take to fully break the normative ties that visually and culturally bind these figures together?
At a moment when social-media fatigue may be finally tempering the ebullient narcissism of practically a decade of “status updates,” Brian Calvin’s new works crystallize the inevitable malaise of an acutely self-aware population. His clever and luminous paintings—rendered in the Day-Glo colors of overexposed photographs—depict hyperexposed pretty young things casually mugging for an unseen observer, their faces flattened (visually and figuratively) with the stylized ennui of Modigliani’s oblong portraits. In Reflect, 2014, a nude woman gazes at herself in a makeup mirror, and alongside her we study her mildly uneven breasts. In other works, he zeroes in even further: the same pair of sensually parted glossed lips reappear throughout the show, and he often tightens the frame to reveal gap teeth and a dormant tongue.
Emotionally distant and elusively cool, Calvin’s characters convey the banality of selfie culture, and, like selfies, they evade any narrative arc. A California-raised artist, Calvin is occasionally compared to David Hockney, whose colors and subject matter equally evoke the ominously easy life of a sun-bleached suburbia, and to the New Yorker Alex Katz, whose graphic, flat compositions are visual siblings of Calvin’s, but whose paintings tend to suggest backstories and aftermath. Calvin takes a more existential approach to portraiture, treating the human face or body as a self-contained landscape, and in these new pictures he has both tightened and expanded his focus. Where his earlier works tend to portray the awkwardness of casual interactions between people, these breviloquent scenes close in on an epidemic of self-awareness: The objective filter of a close-up may magnify the physical, but it also protectively hides the soul.
Seven abstract monochrome canvases are displayed between unframed black-and-white photographs in Joshua Smith’s solo exhibition “The Blue Album,” some of which document a day trip to the beach that the artist took with two friends. Liz at the Beach, 2014, depicts one of his companions sunbathing along a calm ocean shore as she scrutinizes the screen of an iPhone. A large untitled arched canvas painted bubblegum-pink is positioned to the image’s right—its vertical orientation conjures a malformed Roman letter. The intimate proximity of Smith’s camera to his leisurely subject adds a tender air against the stark, sharply executed color field paintings that recall the abstractions of Ellsworth Kelly. Other untitled acrylic works assume forms that range from a crooked greater-than sign to a serif-like cane in maroon and jet-black, respectively. Upstairs, mounted within the flower shop above this artist-run basement gallery, is a cluster encompassing napkin drawings, old party photos, scenic snapshots, and monochrome studies with canvas shreds or Polaroid film exposure.
The insertion of tender, youthful, or domestic scenes amidst the historically onerous tradition of color-field painting suggests the artist holds minimalism as a space not solely for material rigor, but also for humor and affection. Only two untitled canvases adopt a customary rectangular form and, mounted beside each other, they evoke the scale of Felix Gonzalez Torres’s 1988 monochrome quadrytpic Forbidden Colors. With that work, the late artist sought to challenge the “divine dogma of modernism” and stressed the response to his abstractions would be factored by political contexts and biases. Smith might agree here, adding nostalgia and intimacy to the mix.
Opening after a mostly boring New York Fashion Week, K8 Hardy’s “Fashionfashion, 2002–2006” continues the artist’s ongoing fashion revanche with four large-scale zines, each blown up from originals the artist produced in the 2000s. Consisting mostly of self-portraits and handwritten text about ghosts, the zines fleer magazine beauty by staging the artist and some friends (dressed up, dressed down) in thrifty editorials. Part avant couture, part “riot grrrlesque,” Fashionfashion resituates the fashion image (“for the opposition,” one page reads), stripping it of its slickness to reveal its feminist, wry, DIY potential. Literalizing the idea of the spread, for example, Hardy opens her legs in one photograph to reveal bloodstained, dollar-sign-patterned underwear, what Hardy calls her “money shot.”
“The essence of fashion might be optimism, a malleability that makes it possible for misery and ugliness to be transubstantiated,” writes Ariana Reines in a Bomb interview with Hardy. In Fashionfashion, as in her popular Instagram feed, the transubstantiation of the body (mostly Hardy’s) across its presentational spectrum does something much of this year’s NYFW failed to do: It reveals, rather than conceals, the body’s expressive differences. Hardy’s text also considers the eerier, spectral life of our bodies’ images, reminding us that the self-portrait is a static likeness that continues to haunt (and influence) its subject even as it ages and changes: “The ghost,” Hardy writes, “is the thing that makes the way we look or the way we think we look.” Flipping the pages of the variously styled self, Hardy searches for a K8 that seems mostly elusive, mostly always different. Or: mostly always K8. We look good when we look like ourselves, whatever that might be at the time.
In “Made by Whites for Whites,” a sister exhibition to “Rescue” at Jack Shainman's Twenty-fourth Street gallery, Nick Cave abandons his signature Soundsuits—flamboyant and playful bodysuits fashioned out of everything from fabric, beads and buttons to metal, wood, and even human hair—for artifacts of a dark period in American history: blackface memorabilia. Circulating widely through the past two centuries these common household objects—featuring caricatures with jet-black skin, bulging white eyes, thick red lips, and wide toothy grins—surreptitiously domesticated and reinforced racist stereotypes. Cave rehabilitates these grotesqueries by placing them at the center of object arrays made from a variety of found garage sale kitsch, creating new contexts that suggest alternative reads.
A ceramic jar featuring a scowling face is the focus of Sea Sick (all works 2014). Placed high on a shelf, it is flanked by a pair of golden hands, thumbs facing outwards and fingers pointed up. Framed by repeated maritime scenes, the distortions of caricature read as an anguished primal scream against atrocities suffered during the Middle Passage, revealing the horrors hidden in and by the picturesque. Sacrifice features another, more curious head; made of painted wood and attached to the end of a pole, it resembles a club but was most likely used as a target in a carnival game. Cradled by a pair of wall mounted bronze hands, this uncanny assemblage evokes both the tender gesture featured in paintings of Christ’s lamentation and the barbarity of a beheading.
Through poignant but simple, almost homely gestures—raising some up onto pedestals, using casts of his hands to present others with care, enshrining still others in sheltering halos of exuberant kitsch—Cave redeems these abjections by transforming each into an altarpiece where we may begin to exorcise the lingering demons of racism.
Imagine a sexual identity outside of the tedious LGBTQ-whatever-whatever-whatever acronym, one that doesn’t fall into the rank and file of stultifying political positioning or compartmentalization. Imagine bodies who’d balk at the notion of belonging to anything other than themselves, their ideologies indefatigably linked to the viscerally erotic—getting you off while scaring you shitless. Welcome to the savagely erogenous theatre of Genesis BREYER P-ORRIDGE and Pierre Molinier, two beacons of glittering black light amid a pallid sea of dumdum process-based abstraction by fuckwit, twenty-something straight boys.
Remember the better part of the 1990s, when being labeled a pervert, à la Pat Califia, Ron Athey, or Annie Sprinkle was a badge of honor? Experiencing this exhibition reminds me of what we see so little of in the art world anymore: risk. Money talks a lot today, and it’s bred an infinity of banality. Molinier’s photomontages are the stuff of magnificent obsession: jewels of pain, desire, and horror scrupulously built from the atom up. Nearly every costume, mask, and prop featured in his photographs were either created or altered by him, much in the way he “created” and altered his own flesh—transmogrifying the pat sexiness of lingerie, stiletto heels, or an erect cock into symbols and sensations infinitely more hallucinatory, majestic, and satanic.
BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s Polaroids document the surgeries and sex positions s/he shared with he/r departed other half, Lady Jaye, with whom s/he embarked—and continues to embark—on the project of Pandrogeny, a rigorous and metaphysical interrogation of gender and identity’s fallibility and mutability. What Molinier tried to do with his own body, BREYER P-ORRIDGE has done quite literally, undergoing a wide range of procedures to look like and become one with Lady Jaye. What s/he’s created manages to go beyond art—it’s a rebus of divine possibility—and a revived hope that real strangeness and beauty haven't entirely vanished.
A paradox: Art history seems to have slowed down and sped up at once. On the one hand, the 1990s are already the distant past, surveyed in exhibitions such as the New Museum’s “NYC 1993” or the Montclair Art Museum’s “Come As You Are,” opening this February. On the other, that decade has never ended, everyone is still reading Relational Aesthetics, the social turn will never die. Walking into this essential exhibition of the late Jason Rhoades, you instantly feel its dual time signature. His PeaRoeFoam project of 2002, reconstituted here, reads a bit like a last gasp of crashed-and-burned “scatter art” of the late ’90s (though Rhoades, as his drawings reveal, was a far more rigorous contrapuntist than his sloppier buddies). But it’s also an economic and ecological collision course that feels wholly and disturbingly contemporary.
What distinguishes this project from later work, such as his id-above-all Black Pussy, 2006, is its economic dimension: A factory clock ticks away, while a work station for Rhoades’s assistants (or “factory workers”) sits in the center of the gallery, covered in PeaRoeFoam: a commoditized sculptural material Rhoades created by colliding two organic elements—gray-green dried peas and blood-red salmon eggs—with glue and eco-unfriendly white Styrofoam beads. The artist let his workers sing karaoke during production, and for its 2002 presentation at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien in Vienna, he imported the workstation wholesale then invited viewers to serenade other museumgoers. These days, though, no singing is permitted. A decade ago, Rhoades’s mock-Fordist gunge factory was still a place to party—but with the posthumous sacralization of this artist and others from the ’90s, PeaRoeFoam is no longer a disposable commodity but something much more valuable, in both aesthetic and economic terms.
In the rear gallery, a film documents a young, naked woman with a billowy 1980s hairdo and slip-on heels who reclines stiffly, her back arched, on a small stage. She has pillows below and around her, but they don’t provide support. Photographers and assistants dart around the platform, adjusting her body parts and the pillows while providing running commentary of the scene. The edges of the platform are rough and unpainted; at its periphery are big lights and a camera, tools, other people, and a dog. After the shoot, the girl has trouble standing again as the lights are shut off. The film is Harun Farocki’s 1983 Ein Bild (An Image), which patiently observes the creation of a centerfold for German Playboy. The outsize interest in bland visual production is characteristic of the artist who passed away in July. Here, too, the staging works as an ideological microcosm, reproducing perfectly the priorities of a much larger system that cannot be seen.
The exhibition also includes Farocki’s most recent, and sadly last, body of work. Titled Parallel I–IV, 2012-14, four video pieces systematically unpack the world as rendered by computer games. Twenty years after Ein Bild, the subject is still the constructedness of the visual field. The videos combine a player’s typical vantage on the game with screen views of what programmers see when building the game, as well as footage of the latter at work, while a stolid voice-over provides commentary. Yet a lot has changed. In Parallel I for instance, simulated movement in trees, clouds, and waves gives rise to reflections on perpetual effects without stimulus. In sharp contrast to the aforementioned photographic subject, Parallel IV approaches a female character in a game. Described by the narrator as “between person and prop,” she inheres at the margins of the game’s universe, incapable of interaction, bobbing slightly with a permanent smile. Farocki was clearly attentive to the unsettling societal implications of an action-motivated aesthetic framework arising in response to singleplayer attention, carefully scripted yet appearing to have no limits nor end.
For “Live and in Color,” Derrick Adams refracts the current nostalgia for all things 1980s and ’90s through arguably its purest form of expression: television. Bright, succinct, reveling in its own exuberance, a series of large-scale collages depicts familiar black characters from popular shows, whose genres are hinted at through the witty planar structuring of color and patterned textiles—swatches of kente cloth are transposed into a man’s shirt, bright Monopoly money printed fabric sets the stage for a game show. Each collage is framed by the facade of a television set made from flattened cardboard and faux-wood paneling, a redoubled mediation that conflates the razor-cut paper edges with the textural fragmenting of electronic feedback: television as seen through collage as seen through television.
Adams’s referential hybrid—including the reductive geometries of Constructivism, the planar rhythms of African masks, and Romare Bearden’s improvisational layering—synthesizes into an economy of form that collapses faces, hair, and clothes into the vivid rainbow stripes of the TV color test screen. Chromatic resonance is at the heart of this playful yet incisive evocation of cultural visibility and perception, his need to excavate beyond the impassive surface of pop. Embodying this slippage between two and three dimensionality, the “Boxhead” series transfers the collaged “screens” into sculptural busts. In lieu of a face, the sculptures’ heads are formed by multifaceted brightly colored shapes, topped by Afros, leopard-print scrunchies, and other hairstyles that contribute to the works’ shift between anonymity and cultural specificity. As contemporary debates about the onscreen roles and characterizations of black performers rage on, the phrase “live and in color” recalls television’s “golden age” while evoking the breathing, vibrant presence and nuanced hues of Adams’s subjects.
On encountering the empty wall-mounted tubing of Agnieszka Kurant’s End of the Signature, 2014, it is possible to miss the mere seconds it takes for dark neon to shoot through the twisting structureas if suddenly scrawled by an invisible handand materialize into a sign. For this work in the artist’s current exhibition, “Variables,” Kurant collected more than one hundred signatures and used specially designed software to merge them into a single, collective one, which a nearby machine writes and rewrites with a pen. Maps of phantom islands, one topographical, one color-coded for national territories, appear in a side gallery. The room is empty save for a soccer ball on the floor, an animatronic object that inches away, its movements so slight as to be almost imperceptible.
Not seeing becomes as important as seeing: Kurant’s works, often automated like mechanical Turks, conjure art even with blind participation, influenced by economies in which play gets converted into labor. For A.A.I 1-6, 2014, the artist collaborated with a lab in Florida to deploy termites to build six mounds out of glitter, gold, and jewel-colored sand, echoing the Kurant’s stake in collective intelligence, a theme that pervades the exhibition. Placed on a pedestal in the gallery, the structures take on the authority of ruins and press at a democratization of mark-making. In a more minimal gesture, a U-shaped conveyer belt leads into a mirror, and our gaze completes the path of this fiction-generating device, forever feeding into itself with our gaze. Nearby, in Air Rights 1, 2014, a rock floats electromagnetically just above its plinth: Suspended between our world and one just beyond it, Kurant points to that exact location where understanding yields to astonishment.
For her latest exhibition, Lily van der Stokker has assembled a fiercely united front of matte, Pepto-Bismol-pink painted wooden boxes, furniture, panels, and walls bordered with ribbons of fuchsia and the occasional dollop of creamy yellow for a daisy’s center. The artist—a purveyor of margin-style doodles blown up to mural scale—begins the show with Yelling Women (all works 2014), a sculptural speech bubble protruding off the wall like an advertisement, proclaiming, “only yelling older Women in here Nothing to Sell.” It’s a preemptively dismissive gesture, and critical in turn for how it winks at the invisibility in which established women artists continue to labor, especially within the market (nothing to sell, nothing to see?).
Throughout the installation, text blurbs with polite phrases and small chat sayings such as “nice” or “best regards” pepper the corners of paintings or lie in cut vinyl, cloud-shaped puddles around the base of sculptures, as in Huh 2. A stack of painted boxes over nine feet tall, draped with flat, thin vinyl cartoon drips and crowned with toilet paper rolls epitomizes the artist’s wayward translation of banal commercial design and products into an individual vocabulary. Over the past three decades, Van der Stokker has displayed an impulse towards totalizing ornamentation and a curious commitment to sentimentality bordering on mawkishness, as deep and light as the flat, pink puddles here. But it’s this very lightness, combined with a generous consideration for beauty, which renders her gestures radical when art is dominated by sparsity and political grandstanding.
Urgent and metaphysical, Fred Wilson’s latest exhibition is an elegantly rendered meditation on the African diaspora. His sculpture The Mete of the Muse, 2006, occupies the center of the main room. An ancient Egyptian figure made of bronze with black patina stands beside the figure of a woman, also made of bronze but painted white, sculpted and posed in the Greco-Roman style. Across the room and facing that centerpiece is Ota Benga, 2008, a bronze cast of a young man stolen from Congo and exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair and Bronx Zoo; a delicately tied white scarf suggestively drapes the base of the sculpture.
Surrounding these is a series of paintings of flags from African and Caribbean nations, including The People and M, both 2010. Only the black parts of each flag are painted—the rest is left blank. Juxtaposing this series is Untitled, 2009, an installation of sixty-three wooden plaques describing the color symbolism of the flags on display. Don’t, 2010, also a work of black acrylic on canvas, strikes a different note by presenting various versions of American flags layered one on top of the another. Meanwhile, carefully arranged on the wall of the second room, Wilson uses black and reflective tear-shaped blown glass for the works Cadence and Whether or Not, both 2014. On either side of these works are three Venetian-style works whose titles echo Othello: Act V. Scene II—Exeunt Omnes, 2014, I Saw Othello’s Visage in His Mind, 2013, and No Way But This, 2012—less a literary allusion than a gesture toward a new form of empathy.
This salon-style hanging of David Benjamin Sherry’s work is made up of a profusion of paradoxes—campy landscapes manipulated in the darkroom, punk-inspired portraiture, and an enormous sculpture of a Kelvin thermometer—that require an investment in slowness, a willingness to consider how potent social commentary can emerge from the meandering crevices of a mountain. It is as if Jimmy DeSana and David Lynch met on the road and decided to mine the gung-ho American idealism of Edward Weston and Frederick Sommer for its previously unconsidered potential.
Sherry’s insertion of queer themes into the trajectory of modernist photography gives us space to stop and consider the erotic body of the image itself. Crisply rendered and awash in flamboyant colors, Sherry’s landscapes, shown concurrently at Danziger Gallery, are in a perpetual process of unity and visual decomposition akin to that of the human body. In Deep Blue Sea Rising, Oregon, 2014, for example, Sherry’s vision of the American landscape breaks down into the tactile skin of the sea, only to be brought back together by swaths of pigment. It is a similar operation to Amy Sillman’s rendering of her friends as quasi-abstract figures, as in her painting N & O, v3, 2006.
It is no mistake, then, that presiding over the exhibition is a self-portrait of Sherry in drag, an image that sets in motion a new understanding of photography as an embodied medium, even in the impersonal haze of the digital age. Through a distinct intimacy with the land, the body, and the darkroom, Sherry’s photographs strive to be as supple and complex as skin itself, and in so doing, they call into question the passé one-dimensionality of formalist photography and Romanticism.
“As We Were Saying: Art and Identity in the Age of ‘Post,’” a sprawling group exhibition curated by Claire Barliant, makes a necessary case for the continued relevance of identity politics by presenting various aesthetic strategies tackling race, sex, and class in a dizzying variety of media—activist posters from the second-wave feminist era, assemblage, sculpture, video, and writing. A central aim runs throughout the exhibition—a tentative revising of postmodern politics and dispersed, network-based views of sexuality and gender in the arts.
Simone Leigh’s Blue Black, 2014, distills these complexities into an unapologetically beautiful and conceptually replete bust. Approximating a historically evocative oval shape, the work takes up a tradition—as exemplified by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun—of portraiture as a means of proclaiming feminine respectability, though this connection falls apart into the abyss of a hollowed-out head. Leigh’s figure, devoid of a face or a brain, appears to have had her (or his?) capacity for individuality and memory stolen. These centerpieces of human life have been ripped from this body and replaced with a crown of thorns (or roses), a lyrical illustration of the violent silencing faced by women, especially women of color, throughout history. Leigh’s sculpture, in tandem with more overtly political works such as A. K. Burns’s and Katherine Hubbard’s In spirit of (a major in women’s studies), 2014—a meditation on the constructed nature of the body—necessitates a rejection of postidentity rhetoric in favor of a renewed commitment to the multiplicity of possible interventions that can be enacted by identity politics.
A lambent quality suffuses Bill Lynch’s mostly untitled and undated paintings on scavenged plywood, executed during the last thirty years of his life. A furtive incandescence hovers inside them. Euphorically ambiguous, in the same breath they celebrate Chinese Ming dynasty flower-and-bird compositions, which hold complex symbolization and interior resonance, and Mesoa-American shamanistic burial textiles. In the former case, heavy impasto eclipses the lyricism that we associate with the genre, likening them more to the Chinese modernist tradition of Zhao Shaoang, whom Lynch admired. Floral and vegetal forms hang next to spiderwebs; lurking monkeys, twisted trees, and blue-and-white porcelain flirt with both aesthetics and affliction. Puzzling clues like the grave marker in Untitled (Marker), 2010, suggest but ultimately withhold any definitive last word.
Lynch’s exuberant pursuit of banal beauty leaves monstrous moments of congealed paint surface in its wake, not to mention perceptual disparities. In Untitled (Red Goblet with Deer), n.d., as we look down upon a tabletop with plates, we simultaneously look out onto a vignette of a figure gazing into a far-off seascape. Lynch employed this rückenfigur alongside other traditional devices, but his perspective is tremendously invigorating and unusual. In his renditions, the rectilinear surface becomes a place of close-looking at paint, at the uncompleted stroke, and of considering spiritual meaning in a contemporary world. A book of Zhao’s artwork and correspondence can be found in Lynch’s estatethe artist passed away in 2013 after suffering from schizophrenia for many years, and this show was curated by his friend and fellow artist, Verne Dawson.
With few exceptions, the artists in “The Material Image,” curated by Debra Singer, eschew straight photography, favoring instead sculptural, painterly, and collagist approaches to the medium. Process—not narrative or documentation—is foregrounded, and the results are oftentimes carefully constructed, seemingly hermetic, self-referential compositions. While some, including Amy Granat and Nick Mauss, employ nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century procedures such as the cliché verre and the photogram, others, such as Lucas Blalock and Marina Pinsky, combine analog and digital techniques to achieve fantastical, multilayered worlds. For many, the studio (with its attendant tools) is not only the site of production but also the subject of their work. This is true of both Michele Abeles and John Houck, who upend wonted figure-ground relations to create uncanny staged still lifes.
At the center of this abstract, intermedia turn in contemporary photography is Barbara Kasten, a champion of László Moholy-Nagy who since the 1970s has produced quasi-constructivist photochemical abstractions. Of her four works on view (one for nearly every decade of her career), Architectural Site 3, June 14, 1986, 1986, an electric, unmanipulated photograph for which she used color gels and mirrors to turn New York’s postmodernist Equitable Building topsy-turvy, is a standout. One can’t help but see the pictured Benday dots of a still-discernible Roy Lichtenstein mural as auguring the imminent arrival of the digital pixel—the miniscule dot responsible for the unchecked proliferation of images and, some might argue, end point of photographic novelty. The stakes have been set for the artists at task.
Over the course of several decades and some of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century in Paris—including both world wars and the revolts of 1968—the street-sweeper and artist Marcel Storr prolifically and privately produced a trove of drawings that imaginatively re-imagined the architecture of his native city. In Storr’s utopian view of the French capital, stylistic references to its past serve as a means to dramatically redefine its future. The present exhibition centers on works from the 1960s and ’70s, when Storr’s drawings grew larger in scale, abstract in style, and psychologically dense in context. It was during this time that the reclusive artist began to gain public attention for his work, but also when he began to suffer from the paranoid belief that Paris was headed for certain nuclear destruction, at which point his drawings would act not only as art objects but as technical guides for the city’s reconstruction.
In one drawing (Untitled, n.d.), for example, the Eiffel Tower dominates the Parisian skyline. Here, however, the iconic structure is rendered in psychedelic hues and vibrating lines, and is surrounded by uniform ziggurats. The scene’s abundance of detail virtually obscures its total lack of human presence, suggesting that Storr’s future city is defined by its symbolically historic architecture; in contrast to the subjective experience contemporarily espoused by the Situationists, buildings serve as a means of defining urban space. This sense of historicism is further emphasized by the exhibition’s installation: Drawings are presented under direct, focused light that lends their vivid coloration and outlines the appearance of stained glass, stressing the space that Storr envisioned between archaism and utopia.
On December 1, 1961, Claes Oldenburg’s Store opened on Manhattan’s East Second Street. For sale were replicas of banal objects—a plate of meat, a fur coat—made lumpy and lascivious. Each came as a burlesque of the commodity it represented, an enactment of its status as a fetish: lurid, slutty, and psychotic.
Gina Beavers’s latest paintings (all works 2014) preserve Oldenburg’s morbid obscenity, taking up the genre of the still life in its French inflection as nature morte. Derived from images posted on social-media platforms, their subjects—a “smokey eye” tutorial, junky nail art, a smile girded by braces—conflate the animate and the inanimate, figuring flesh as something lifeless and flaccid. Depicted straight on and close-up, several are serially composed, reflecting the use of online “collage apps” that mime the structure of desktop display. As in Oldenburg’s Store objects, questions of morphology are at stake here. Small in scale, Beavers’s canvases consist of sedimented layers of palette-knifed acrylic built up with modeling paste. Less pictorial than topographic, each positions paint’s materiality as a metonym for that of the body’s, making the latter seem cadaverous by comparison.
Crotch Shots from the Getty Villa, a five-part display of depictions of Greco-Roman genitalia snapped from statuary at the titular museum, is the show’s highlight. Riffing on the age-old equation of paintbrush and phallus, the work collapses the logic of the polyptych, a favored format for Renaissance devotional imagery, onto that of the lewd selfie. Color is vivid and at moments tenuously mimetic: in the lower right, a spectrum of moist mauves; in the upper center, a gluey gray, like day-old oatmeal. The resulting forms are equal parts comic and repulsive, factual and abstract. In Beavers’s hand, a sculptural afterthought becomes swollen and larval, recalling to us the strangeness of our enclosure by sweat glands and skin.
In Diddy/Lakes, 2013—the first in the recent series of Arcangel’s work featured here—a seventy-inch flat screen displays a photo of the perennially recycled rapper boarding a private jet. As in all of the Lakes, the image has been digitally animated to hypnotically reflect in a rippling pool by using the eponymous Java applet, a popular tool of the 1990s. The effect—redolent of the adolescence of the Internet—reminds us of the rapid, tandem evolution of technology and taste. Applied to familiar but forgettable images sourced from the Web, the animation suggests that a watery grave of oblivion haunts our cultural memory. Arcangel also pulls imagery from his back catalog: for example, Russell’s Rainbow/Lakes, 2014, samples one of the artist’s Photoshop gradients. In giving equal weight to artistic abstraction and snapshots from social media, the installation points to the flattening of visual culture by digital archives.
In past exhibitions, Arcangel has consistently juxtaposed different bodies of work in different formats, foregrounding the intractable materiality of digital technologies. However, for this show, he cleared out the room, carpeted the floor, and mounted the screens vertically, like portrait paintings. The installation consequently recalls models of art production and spectatorship that are at risk of being outmoded but are ripe for reinvention, just like the celebrities and technologies we see here. To that end, Arcangel uses “new” media to transform banal images into artworks with sensuality, humor, and depth. The Lakes thus surf the Möbius strip of high and low, art and tech, even as they speak (and destabilize) the codes of painting, sculpture, photography, and film. Tl;dr: The digital is art’s mother tongue.
In “Rebels Are Reasonable,” Fend brings a spirit of understated subversion to three interrelated projects—a deadpan video documenting the ebb and flow of the sea, sets of panels, and a series of redrawings of flags from around the world. In an effort to unseat traditional orientations of countries in the global South to those in the North, Fend exposes the flag as nothing more than an empty symbol often bearing the legacy of imperialist violence.
Flags, 2014, consists of ten aluminum panels over which abstractions of national flags have been printed. Fend illustrates ten distinct regions, including the paragon of colonial history, the United Kingdom, whose flag becomes a distorted, abstract mess that is a far cry from the respectability for which it affectedly strives. Printed with inkjet, the images are marked by horizontal lines, and are revealed to be as flimsy as national borders themselves, or, by extension, the artist’s authorial role. As a white man from the United States, Fend could be thought of as representative of the imperialist project in his well-researched but nevertheless self-aggrandizing reformulation of the borders and cultures of others.
That said, Fend uses the impersonal kitsch of the printer cartridge to take on very serious issues of public space; this method paradoxically effaces the artist’s presence from his self-admittedly personal activist work. We must contend therefore with a productive absence of answers that emerges from Fend’s irreverent and self-critical relationship to materials. By folding criticisms of his own political views into the show, Fend makes a punk-inspired intervention that opens his work to multivalent critique.
Including several series which have never before been on public display, “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1979–1989” takes a rare glimpse into the early work of the Los Angeles–based artist’s forty-year career. The exhibition fills a crucial gap in understanding his development: In the formative years of Conceptualism, Gaines—a longtime colleague of Sol Lewitt—created a complex, rule-based approach to his two-dimensional gridwork, which consisted of numerical sequences in pencil or ink on large sheets of gridded paper. Those familiar with Gaines’s more recent work may be surprised by the lack of any visible mention of the politics behind this seeming painstakingly developed methodology, epitomized by the nonrepresentational numerical sequence “Regression,” 1973–74.
Gaines’s foundational interest in systems-based abstraction as an implicit ideological critique over explicit political sentiment is showcased through these early works. In each work in his twenty-six part series “Walnut Tree Orchard,” 1975–2014, Gaines represents a barren walnut tree three ways: as a black-and-white photograph, a drawn outline of the tree, and a numerical sequence mapping the distance of the tree in relation to all the trees represented before it, in effect creating a numerical orchard. Here, impartial mathematical sequences provide an alternate logic for viewing the world. At the same time, the outline of the tree bears traces of the artist’s hand, which lends a touch of the spontaneous in an otherwise orderly mathematical formality. Finally, the mapped tree orchard is indicative of Gaines’s stake in both duration and the effect of time on perception. His commitment to revealing systems of representation is repeated in other series—including portraiture in “Faces,” 1978, and the human body in “Motion: Trisha Brown Dance,” 1981—each deploying systems that skirt politics to land on identity.
While Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the scope of global surveillance have been met with every imaginable response, the least common seems to have been humor. In Sadie Benning’s “Patterns,” images of that peeping police state—metadata, found photographs, weaponry—are woven, often playfully, into wall-based works, suggesting less the ominous tone of the panoptical regime tracing our lives than the comedy of (military-industrialized) errors those lives have produced. Benning first cues the comedic point with a sedate green shag carpet the artist installed in the gallery, a sly evocation of cheesy, pre-PRISM suburban living rooms.
Benning tweaks a culture defined by compulsory gender normativity, impulsory gun mania, and the consumption of toxic materials (cigarettes and oil), reducing its signs to warped tokens of an everyday that increasingly makes very little sense. In Bathroom People (all works 2014), the near universal (and outmoded) symbols for male and female restrooms are paired and patterned across a medite board, with each tiny avatar torqued slightly to alter their familiar shape until they sort of dance, sort of lose their gender. In Mask, a found photograph of a driveway wall comprising anarchic tessellations of bricks sits below a Zorro mask spying on the scene. While sometimes abstract, Benning’s patterns occasionally take nervous shape—as mysterious signals or, more ominously, as guns, as in Gun Blanket. It’s a subtle comedy keyed to the network-y atmosphere of our dark times. And without a gallows present, perhaps we could call it systems-management humor.
Find. Fold. Photograph. These actions form one of the basic strategies of Erica Baum’s exquisite practice, for which she mines outmoded, moribund printed material, such as library card catalogues and yellowed dime-store paperbacks from the 1960s and ’70s, to create simple yet infinitely engrossing “found collages.” For “The Paper Nautilus,” this bibliophilic artist has brought together new works from three distinct series: “Stills,” “Viewmasters,” and “Naked Eye,” which capture the halftone, molecular blueprint of their subjects.
Though her well-known concrete poetry constructions are not on view, text (and the literary pleasures associated with it) remains instrumental to her recent pictures. The exhibition itself, for instance, takes its name from a 1940 poem by modernist writer Marianne Moore (1887–1972), who, like Baum, is known for having recycled and explicitly recontextualized the words of others. Meanwhile, despite the oftentimes abstract and elusive quality of Baum’s imagery, her redolent titles, such as The Warren Commission, which is coupled with a grisaille Josef Albers lookalike, and Kent State, which accompanies a more conspicuously bifurcated image (one half of which pictures silhouetted soldiers against leafless trees), not only color her mostly black-and-white compositions, but also allude to their sources.
Whether image- or text-based, Baum’s pieces are replete with references both familiar and obscure—the Suprematist paintings of Kazimir Malevich, the graphite grids of Minimalist Agnes Martin, and the rule-based Conceptual work of Sol LeWitt are but some of the most frequently cited. However, the very richness of her production resides in the considerable space it leaves viewers to fill in the gaps, to free associate visuals and narratives of their own making, and, most of all, to engage in such intimate ways with material on its way—or perhaps already—out the door.
There’s a great tradition of garbage art, from Kurt Schwitters’s collage and assemblage works and the Situationists’ reconfigurations of trash culture to Rachel Harrison’s and Isa Genzken’s brilliantly mean-spirited monuments to the nastiness of late capitalism. And then there’s Dave Hardy, whose formal, poetic coordinates within this realm fall rather elegantly between Apollonian facture and unadulterated abjection.
Hardy’s primary materials for all six works in this exhibition are scavenged panels of glass and cast-off chunks of cheap, desiccated furniture foam (think the appointments of an especially low-budget porn or fittings of a local welfare office). The foam is dipped into cement and manipulated into lugubrious, voluptuous folds and fleshy mounds that call to mind both the contrapposto of classical figurative statuary and heaps of modernist sculpture gone to seed. Hardy’s materials are precariously leaned and balanced— connective supports being virtually absent, rather clever feats of engineering and careful uses of gravity keep these works hanging solidly together.
There’s also a pathos that imbues this family of sculptures—one can feel its spirit most acutely in the various bits of homely detritus embedded in the works’ surfaces. It’s in the dumb pretzel or shitty glue stick dangling from Destiny (all works 2014); the disused car lighter that was surely culled from some sad stripe of Honda circa 1982 (Lighghts); or that feeble erection of pink pencil jutting out of Cutout. It’s these seemingly off-the-cuff applications of little junk that heighten the vulnerability of these works, like knives into a fairy-tale beast, and cause the obdurate “thingness” of Hardy’s objects to melt here and there into moments of broken love and tenderness.
In recent years, David Hockney has turned to the walkways around his studio in East Yorkshire, England, where he has set his latest series, “The Arrival of Spring.” Hung according to medium, it begins with stark black-and-white charcoal drawings, which are followed by a multiscreen video installation that depicts winter in all its severity. The series culminates in vivid prints drawn on an iPad, illustrating the verdancy of spring. Pathways center every work, with the exception of 4 May 2011, in which a large tree halts our perambulation in an overgrown field populated by wildflowers.
Though each work is titled by date, a sense of linear temporal progress is misleading as the iPad works were made a year before the black-and-white winter scenes. The titles announce this disparity, signally the way seasons structure memory. We imagine that we are moving toward spring, but in fact we turn out to be indulging reflections of years past. Spatiotemporal disorientation most commonly reminds of the human relationship to the urban geographical terrainthe flâneur sauntering in Charles Baudelaire’s Paris or Guy Debord’s derive, an unplanned drifting while responding to psychological contours of the city. Hockney emphasizes our encounter with the pastoral landscape as more than ever distant and mediated by technology.
Calling attention to the haptic nature of drawing, technology highlights the tenuousness of the artist’s touch, being at once present and absent in the iPad prints. A parallel interplay with the embodied landscape occurs in Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010, a point-of-view video installation in which nine screens present a snowy drive. Immersed in the blinding white of winter, slightly different camera angles allow the video to unfold as expansively as the drawings. Hockney manages to integrate different media and styles into a conceptual framework that invigorates landscape, a genre that too often struggles to be daring.
I missed “Act I” of this exciting group show curated by Prem Krishnamurthy and Carin Kuoni, but traces of the eleven-day installation by HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? remain in the gallery for “Act II,” on view now. The walls are still painted black, and an edit of the art collective’s timely, twenty-four-channel video piece The Wayblack Machine, 2014, plays on a single monitor. It’s a moving montage of material culled from news sources and social media about the police killing of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. Art’s turnaround time doesn’t often allow for immediate responses to world events, so it’s satisfying to see something made with such apparent urgency on the fly. Slideshows of newly iconic photos—protestors’ hands up in defiant poses of surrender, teargassed faces, tanks—are interspersed with digitally animated tweets that swirl into hashtagged gibberish.
The YAMS installation was billed as the launch for a new Internet archive, thewayblackmachine.net, but that URL takes you to a low-res splash page, a dead end. Maybe the radical project of building a digital repository for the documentation of “activism around black embodiment,” as the press release reads, is a kind of joke, purely conceptual—or speculative, at least for now. The show’s funniest work is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Synthia, 2000–2002, which literalizes the hysterical market fluctuations on which financial speculation relies. A tiny monitor hangs from a chain in a bell jar, showing real-time market data and video clips of a woman in corresponding states of mind. I visited the gallery on a bad day for Wall Street, I guess: Mostly, Hershman’s character slumped on a couch drinking alone. There’s a surprising thread of humor to “Post-Speculation.” While the black walls remind us this is Ferguson October, they don’t dampen the prankish synergy between the works assembled.
For all his achievements, for all his mastery, for all the support he has given younger sculptors, Mark di Suvero remains an infuriatingly undervalued American artist—and this despite the fact that the youthful eighty-one-year-old is the author of not one but two of perhaps the most visible artworks of the past decade. One is his remade Peace Tower, done in collaboration with Rirkrit Tiravanija and presented at the 2006 Whitney Biennial, in the trough of the Bush nightmare. The other is Joie de Vivre, 1998, the seventy-foot steel totem that formed the axis of Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park encampment.
Luney Breakout, 2013, the tour de force of his latest exhibition, climbs twenty-two feet, grazing the gallery’s vaulted ceiling, and, although it’s not painted, in many places its steel components have rusted to the artist’s beloved orange. Facing the sculpture frontally, the swooping curves supported by orthogonal legs seem anthropomorphic. Forty-five degrees away, the struts and curves resolve into a tangle of lines and planes. The plural forms of Luney Breakout shouldn’t surprise as for di Suvero, artmaking entails not purgation or disjunction but the synthesis of industrial rigor and winningly candid playfulness, of three-dimensional heft and lighter painting-in-space (the show also features two zippy paintings, as joyful as anything by Matisse), and indeed, of humanistic universality and unambiguous political antagonism—the last worn very publicly.
In an earlier moment of exclusionary judgment about sculpture, di Suvero’s open and promiscuous approach made him hard to pin down on one of Rosalind Krauss’s proscriptive diagrams. In our more capacious moment, it is easier to see such plurality for the triumph that it is—and at last to start to repay an artist we all owe so much.
There is an expansive effort to create a steady sense of joy in the carefully constructed paper weavings and enamel paintings of Michelle Grabner. Her work feels steeped in the rhythms of ritual and dailiness, thoroughly tended to and loved, like a garden or a family. Count every strip of paper and modulated dot of paint—of which there are many thousand—and you get the impression that we are witness to a tabulation of blessings.
Grabner pulls her abstractions from the patterns of domestic life—the plaids of kitchen dishtowels or the zigzags and crocheted squares of the handmade baby blanket—then translates them into formally rigorous, allover compositions. The paper weavings are arranged like offerings on low plinths, vulnerable to dust, dirt, and human clumsiness. They are polychromatic and buoyant, reminiscent of Johannes Itten’s color studies, and carry a devotional charge not too unlike the craftwork of Shaker quilts or gift drawings, products of not-idle hands, that are meant to bring one closer to God.
The blanket paintings are autumnal, melancholic. They are sisters to the candy-hued versions that the artist made in the 1990s, when her now adult children were just babies. The yellows, oranges, and varieties of red are still there—they show up in the smaller works, but they’re paler, leaner, cooler, and in certain instances, quite occluded. The larger paintings are primarily grisaille, many covered with swarms of dun enamel spots, which give the surfaces the look of aged skin. But let’s not misunderstand—the countenance of a long and fulfilling life is always beautiful.
Jennifer Paige Cohen figures moments of corporeal hinge: the slouch of a shoulder, the crook of crossed knees. Consider Obverse (Fleece), 2014, which takes shape from troweled plaster and pilled fleece. One side disposes consecutive curves: the first, the slope of shoulder into forearm; the second, a rounded edge to an oblique triangle, seemingly organic, like an impossibly slender knee. The other side features the titular garment variously exposed and laminated by plaster, which stipples its surface in a mime of an afternoon shadow.
Like Obverse (Fleece), each of the twelve midsize sculptures on view pairs a body fragment with an article of clothing, sourced secondhand and eclectically patterned: think Bill Cosby’s sweater collection circa 1970. Cast in plaster and pale-gray stucco, the joints and limbs that populate these works settle into neither gender. The iteration of elbows seems a choice as much structural—a means of transition from vertical to horizontal—as symbolic.
Cohen seems drawn to the cast as a technique that negotiates solids and surfaces, articulating the body while dispensing with mass and enclosure. It is a tension that her fabrics enact in reverse, using flutes and furrows as a way to swell planes into space. Banked and folded, the contours of her work cleave to the logic of the Möbius strip, their serial inversions and extrusions confusing distinctions between interiors and exteriors. Everywhere, residues of the figurative conjure a lapsed experience of bodily proximity. In Cohen’s hand, allusion emerges as something continuous and unconsummated: the semiotic analogue of the sinuous forms that her sculptures trace.
A severe silence sets the tone for Claudio Parmiggiani’s first solo exhibition in the United States in three decades: In Untitled, 2014, a sixteenth-century ecclesiastical bronze bell, is gagged and gibbeted by its tongue above the entryway to this gallery—a portent that announces a puissant presentation of Parmiggiani’s oeuvre. And yet it tolls for no one. In the next room, a three-dimensional iron stake pierces an untitled photographic print of the artist’s palm—a self-inflicted stigmata that undermines the artist’s own authorial taction. Transversely installed is Che mangia questo pane vivrà in eterno (Giovanni 6,58) (Whoever eats this bread will live forever (Gospel of St. John, 6, 58)), 1997, which offers 365 loaves of bread cast in bronze and piled in a corner of the galleryironclad dogma in the guise of spiritual nourishment.
Negation and the transfiguration of absence remain central themes throughout Parmiggiani’s fifty-year career: Delocazione (Delocation), 2014, is the fuliginous remains of a once-existent frame hung on wood manifest in an image of a painting now destitute of materiality. Here, the volatility of fire and fume have transubstantiated into palpable pigment, evoking perennial visions. In Il Sogno di Marcellino (The Dream of Marcellinus), 1977, a pile of books placed on the floor supports a horizontal plaster cast of a classical visage; it’s topped by a model sailing ship in an oneiric lamentation on the status of the contemporary artist. Parmiggiani’s long employment of a classical Catholic symbolic tradition illustrates the paradox of all who, like Marcellinus, undergo the creation of their own narrative: free to navigate the unknown waters of their time yet anchored by the weight and authority of a historiography that precedes them.
“The Inside of the Outside,” an exhibition of Tatiana Kronberg and Anne Eastman, captures the tensions between the concrete and the immaterial inherent to the photographic medium in the context of our contemporary digital age. Kronberg’s large photograms of body parts and floral motifs have a visceral presence, and her unique prints echo the material turn back to traditional methods in photography. In contrast, Eastman nimbly displays her comfort in a wide range of media—from video to photography to installation—all engaged with the existence of the photographic image in a dematerialized format.
In the surrounding objects ~ bowerbird, 2014, Eastman displays nine gray shop stools with rotating double-sided mirrors hung by a thin wire underneath each seat. The mirrors are low and only reflect the viewers’ feet, effectively forestalling the Lacanian moment of self-identification (or the narcissism of the selfie). Analogously, Kronberg’s Love Song Translated #1, 2014, features a brash, white silhouette of hair and hands. In distinction to the openness of Eastman’s mirrors, Kronberg traps her figures in the hermetic space of the black, glossy print.
There is a graceful synchronicity between these two artists’ work. Several of Kronberg’s prints depict plants, harking back to the medium’s early relationship with botany (think William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins). Eastman also returns to the moment before the photographic image in her installation, together unattended, 2000–2011, in which she frames a contorted houseplant within a mobile. The peculiar, tortuous growth of the plant towards the square wall sculpture produces a protofilmic space, the mise–en–scène of a photograph.
Michael Bell-Smith makes jokes about art. Five of the eleven vinyl on white aluminum “paintings” on display are laid out like magazine mock-ups, with dreamlike squiggles and x-ed out colored squares surrounding Groucho Marx’s famous summary of set theory as a paradox of alienation, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” But under each iteration of this epigram appears a different name: Thomas Jefferson, Morrissey, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Ayn Rand. And Rabbit Season, Duck Season, a short, looping video, is ostensibly a heavy-handed explication of the 1951 Bugs Bunny short “Rabbit Fire,” in which Bugs and Daffy Duck each attempt to impose on the iconically befuddled hunter Elmer Fudd a reality that results in his shooting the other one. (Bugs, as always, is the winner.) Didactic subtitles, infinite sine waves, and a rotating clip-art Ouroboros insist that their alternation can continue forever, so long as a punch line is suspended.
The implication is that there is no substance but rhythm, and that what goes for Bugs and Daffy goes for every other thought process or social phenomenon, too. But when the view zooms in on a Web browser window and one screen replaces another, instead of the argument expanding to embrace the world, it’s revealed that it applies chiefly to itself. Bell-Smith’s jokes are tightly wound, transparent, and self-contained. They are equally poised to collapse into empty self-reference or massively expand their emotional and conceptual range.
This two-person exhibition, featuring Mira Dancy’s riotously colorful acrylic paintings and Sarah Peters’s tactile, terracotta sculptures, pivots on the template of the female nude as a ground zero for aesthetic experimentation. Dancy’s paintings merge sprawling, busy compositions with comics-style color reminiscent of Gary Panter or Mickey Zachilli—all magenta, acid green, teal, and banana yellow shot through with silver curves. Take Dream of the Unicorn Tapestry (all works 2014), wherein a figure casually stretches out her arms while her legs lie loosely crossed at the bottom of the frame. The intense patterning across both figure and background flattens the subject into colors and textures resembling a fragmented screen resolution or corrupted pixels. With the body scrubbed of any particular identifying details, the impression is of a very cyberpunk version of Gaugin’s lady land. Another large painting, Herfume Perfume, is triangular with a swarm of brushy forms that sometimes coalesce into something recognizable and sometimes don’t, building a dynamic momentum to its topmost point stamped with a blunt, purple font stating its title. Just like the phrasing, her paintings treat gestures as play.
Peters’s small, tan figurines are a quiet complement to Dancy’s exuberances. Perched on white plinths, their unglazed clay surfaces wear kneaded impressions and have slight, delicate features that look lovingly inscribed, as if with a blunt fingernail. Figurine with Looping Arms, true to its word, disregards armature in favor of soft, wormy curves with tiny, rough notches for nostrils and eyes recalling a ghoulish, anime-type rendering. In all these works, one notes that the female form is less baggage to be dealt with than a cipher to be tossed around in a fast and loose game of suggestion and rehearsal.
Installed on a massive LED wall at the Lincoln Center’s main plaza, John Gerrard’s Solar Reserve, 2014, could at first sight appear to be footage of the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, during which Muslims circle the sacred cube of the Kaaba in their devotions. Initially indefinable objects slowly move around a central tower, echoing the sense of eternal circling central to that ritual. But Gerrard’s computer simulation is of something more secular: a solar thermal power plant in Nevada, its tower the focus of ranks of mirrors that tip to catch the sun.
Controlled by a team of computer programmers, the camera homes in on the monumental plant while simultaneously shifting perspectives from satellite-eye view to ground level over the course of an hour. It lends the perspective of the sun, even a deity looking down. There are links with Gerrard’s series “Smoke Tree,” 2006, as this work too runs in real time, seasonally and from day to night. The shifting patterns of light and shade, sun and the constellations make this installation a portentous meditation on nature, people, and the things they make.
Throughout art history, the technique of collage has commonly been used to create juxtapositions that highlight disjuncture and difference. Zarina’s latest exhibition, “Descending Darkness,” is a tour de force demonstration of how collage might be used differently, more quietly. Her limited palette of black and gold coupled with her restraint and precision produces delicate, minimal paper-cut collages, through which one may probe issues of spirituality and mortality.
For the triptych Shadow on My Table I, II, III, 2014, black strips are carefully arranged on a white background to re-create the angular patterns that result from light streaming through window blinds. In the diptych Northeast Light I & II, 2014, thin horizontal strips mottled with gold leaf alternate with thicker strips of black paper on a printed rectangular black background, creating an abstraction that manages to capture the uncertain crepuscular luminosity of shortening fall days. Alternating thick and thin strips of black paper are similarly arranged in Steps III, 2014, the pattern only emerging once our eyes begin to register the subtly different blacks used. In all these works the seams and edges characteristic of collage are never declared but are revealed gradually through close looking.
Other works, like Aleppo, 2013, are less austere. Fragmented into an irregular array of rectangular black frames, the composition evokes both the pages of a miniature manuscript and an architectural floor plan. Holes punched in gold-leaf paper both index the titular city’s recent devastation and mimic a mashrabiya, carved wooden latticework often found covering second story windows in old Arab cities. And finally, Folding House, 2013, a set of fifty variations on the house, one of Zarina’s favored motifs, demonstrates the versatility of collage as a technique despite, or maybe because of, the restrictions of simple geometry.
Two sculptural creatures both resembling the Cookie Monster, one in deep purple and the other avocado green, are the focus of Stefan Tcherepnin’s latest show, while a third version of the character in its traditional azure lies flattened in the shape of a kidney on the floor. Above them hang inverted bundles of mulberry branches, each lit from within by a single lightbulb that casts dramatic shadows on the walls and large, scrim-like partition dividing the gallery. The lighting along with the flagrant absurdity of the figures recalls the campy films of Mike and George Kuchar. Inside the gallery’s storage room, an ad hoc theater displays the video Learning Movie, 2014, depicting the simulacral Muppets roaming (and sometimes rowing) through wild, unpopulated landscapes.
Tcherepnin is known for his collaborative sound art, and one wonders whether this solo show was so conspicuously titled “Hypocrisy Ladders” as a comment on the authenticity of single authorship and value of works in the round, or if the phrase’s garishness merely reflects that of the exhibition’s somewhat hermetic content. Beside a random potted cactus at the darkened entrance, one encounters a lone ink drawing on the wall, depicting forms that resemble the branching shadows in the gallery inside. Along with the moving light of traffic allowed in from the street, the emphasis on shadow play throughout the show brings to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a kind of protocinema. In a sense, this exhibition’s daring consists in a depthlessness akin to the scrim backdrop of such dramas, here a stage where evacuated characters perform the story of our own anxious psychology surrounding the experience of art objects.
The films of Nuri Bilge Ceylanthe Turkish director whose long, stately new film Winter Sleep (2014) won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festivaloffer a defense of the narrative capabilities of cinema at a moment when television is pushing the medium to the edge. He began his career as a photographer and his intense still images, never exhibited in the United States, argue for the continued relevance and viability of narrative through images. “The World of My Father,” a series from 2006–2007, consists of seven images of Mehmet Emin Ceylan, who passed away in 2012 and had appeared in several of his son’s early films. Whether the films are staged or documentary, whether Ceylan’s father is himself or another, is of no consequence: Their narratives bleed from the image into personal life and public society; they make worlds as they refashion our own.
Some of Ceylan’s photographs are so rigorously composed that they look like film stills: His father gazes from a window in Midafternoon, 2006, or stares into space from his bed in Sleepless Night. In The Backyard, 2007, he’s caught facedown in the grass, exhausted and possibly crying; Freight Train in the Steppe, from the same year, captures Mehmet from behind, his gray hair echoing the snow on the grassland. Have we become too suspicious of such images—too certain that a cinematic impulse in still photography must be autocritical? I suspect so. And I would not want to think that medium interrogation is the only virtue of an image as powerful and beautiful as A Winter Day on Galata Bridge, 2007. Ceylan’s father looks out onto the strait dividing Europe and Asia, ice clinging to his overcoat, the sky filled with dozens of gulls. In the background, cloaked in fog, is Yeni Cami (The New Mosque). The Hagia Sophia, just out of the camera’s reach, presides behind. Cities are narratives, too, and must constantly be rearticulated in order to hold their meaning.
With someone as Internet ubiquitous as Artie Vierkant, it’s always pleasant to see the work in person. His latest exhibition, “A Model Release,” begins with the two-screen video piece Antoine Office, Antoine Casual, 2014, where Vierkant uses stock motion-capture data to animate a 3-D scan of a man. Rendered by turns in business attire and in a yellow T-shirt and flip-flops, Antoine gesticulates wildly against single-color backdrops and at one point his own flattened face.
The gallery’s back room is taken over by the second iteration of Vierkant’s ongoing series “Exploits.” In 2013, the artist began approaching patent holders, negotiating for legally acknowledged permission to create artwork based on their intellectual property. US 8118919 B1 (Air Filter and Method of Constructing Same), a patent for a layer of organza silk added to window screens for allergen filtration, is realized in altered form as a pair of hollow, white boxes, outfitted with mesh screens and silk printed with diagrammatic doodles and photogram-esque images of office clothing. Elsewhere, US 6318569 B1—a “detachable storage rack for a metallic structure for organizing and storing small bottles and containers within reach of the user”—materializes as large reflective metal rectangles hung on the wall, crossed by International Klein Blue shelves.
Given that copyright law already provides for the creation of derivative artworks without permission of the authors from whom their elements are borrowed, Vierkant’s negotiations are in fact legally unnecessary—and this is part of the point. A generative process rather than an attempt at legal rationale on its terms, each agreement becomes material like any other. Both the sculptures’ liberal interpretations of intellectual property and Antoine Office, Antoine Casual’s possession by stock material see Vierkant coax the formal structures of law out of objects, aestheticizing corporate language and imagery while engaging with their worlds.
“What is romance?” asked Aki Sasamoto in a recent performance at JTT gallery. Clad in optical blinders, she stumbled about, welcoming the audience with beer bottles in hand. Astrud Gilberto tracks played on repeat from overhead, and the packed crowd reassembled almost magnetically around Sasamoto as she moved. Her art of making room in tight places is epitomized in these shows—four of which are slated for the exhibition’s run. In the off-performance hours, the gallery is a bare-bones café with do-it yourself service—beers are in the fridge, there’s an espresso machine, and the lighting is flattering.
Another vignette: Holding up a microphone to a floor fan to amplify the blowing air, Sasamoto slowly stepped backward so the wind drew a line in space that made us part around it. Then, lying flat on the floor—her face against a stack of flapping papers with handwritten words on the top left corners—she read the words into the mic, raising her head slightly to let each page fly against the shoes of those hovering around her. Some words were accompanied by a story, and others weren’t read at all. Commonplace gestures and objects are expertly staged in an intricate choreography of contingencies and clichés.
It’s hard not to feel wooed by Sasamoto, even when she’s slamming an impossibly tiny one-by-four-foot door carved into a mobile gallery wall in your face, then pushing the wall itself forward from behind until you are forced out of the space, an absurd gesture of inhospitality with endearingly comic effect. In the performance I attended, people stayed close after being evacuated, lingering at the entrance doors. What is romance? It’s like Sasamoto’s performances, where everything is suspended but somehow still secure; each object and nugget of space is infused with a new promise.
Two silhouettes cut from sheet vinyl, one black, one butterscotch, hang from two coat hangers that are looped through wire to the canvas’s upmost edge. Slung against an acrylic gradient (pink-rimmed azure melted in lavender), each silhouette traces the contours of a body once full but now flayed: an enervated membrane, all surface and no sex. Sterile yet strangely seductive, like moltings from a space being, they treat the body as schema or sieve, limp and radically inorganic.
The piece, Hanging, by Kiki Kogelnik was made in 1970 as part of a series of cutouts traced from human forms and executed in silky, slick resins. A transplant to New York from Austria, Kogelnik settled downtown in 1962, where she befriended Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Carolee Schneemann, among others. (Claes, not on view here but made the same year as Hanging, takes the soft sculptor’s body as its template.) Her early art informel–style paintings quickly yielded to work that indexed the city’s emergent Pop aesthetic, grafting its concerns with high-tech materials, synthetic color, and transfer techniques such as silk-screening and stenciling onto her commitment to militant feminism.
Spanning 1964 to 1971, the twelve works on view mine the possibilities of the human in the age of Sputnik and spectacle. Scissors emerge as Kogelnik’s tool of choice, which she conceived of as both a surgical implement and a feminist weapon, in the manner of Valerie Solanas or Hannah Höch. Women’s Lib, 1971, shows a silk-screened Kogelnik, her skin a martian shade of green, wielding a pair of oversize scissors over a tangle of hangings. It’s a fitting self-portrait for an artist who considered the body a schizoid thing, disjunct and always desiring.
“The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk,” Hegel wrote in 1820, which is to say, before the world ends, no critique is possible. There is no flight to be seen in Ann Lislegaard’s cool, enigmatic 3D animation of animatronic owls, their faceted white feathers in glistening high definition, and not much Minervan clarity either. The birds in Oracles, Owls . . . Some Animals Never Sleep, 2014, seen earlier this year at the Nineteenth Biennale of Sydney, are antiprophets who speak simultaneously in indecipherable bursts that are interrupted with sonic glitches. A few phrases borrowed from the I Ching can be made out through the static and feedback: “building relationships,” or “destroying machines.” Fragments that once prophesied change or fortune now just recede into our perpetual feed of blips and bloops.
Lislegaard, one of numerous Norwegian artists now winning international prominence, has a long-standing interest in science fiction. Oracle, Owls references Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and its dystopian character carries through to her other black-and-white video here. Dobaded, 2014, takes its name from a word coined by the experimental Japanese sci-fi writer Chiaki Kawamata in his novel, Death Sentences, where characters fall into a realm beyond consciousness after getting the word stuck in their heads. Lislegaard’s 3D animation takes place in a similar dream state, floating through domestic spaces whose dimensions seem to vary with each passage. Along with a blatant shout-out to J. G. Ballard, whose work appears on a bookshelf, the ghost of Duchamp hovers: There’s a spinning wheel, and the camera gets caught in a web of string recalling his 1942 sixteen-mile tangle. Then the owl appears again, auguring a future not of wisdom but of emptiness.
It’s said that it takes two decades for cultural nostalgia to solidify; after this time, past trends can revive as ironic countercurrents to the present fashions. In “Gold Diamond Park,” Gabriele Beveridge’s debut solo exhibition in New York, the artist juxtaposes sculptural elements to self-consciously question the criteria for trading and exhibiting ideals of beauty. Her work simultaneously evaluates the processes by which aesthetics fade out and return as cultural currency.
Exemplary is a series of seven tableaux of perforated metal panels that the artist took from the ceiling of a library in East London, where she lives and works. Their time-worn surfaces appear as aloof, wall-fixed minimalist grids encased in voguish iPhone 5–style lime, lemon, and pale-blue borders. Framed differently, these offhand historical references take on the look of what is currently salable, implicating the markets of high and low culture in a mutual reprocessing.
In Gold Diamond Park [Silver] (all works 2014), plastic hoops hang like gymnastic rings above a mannequin holding a feather to a crystal ball. Here, divination reflects uncertainties surrounding investments of the present: How will this artist, this body of work, the weight of this idea measure up in the future? A clue: No Questions exhibits a sun-bleached beauty advertisement and tie-dyed T-shirt on shop-display fittings behind a pane of glass. Like the faded affiche’s promise of an ideal look, this psychedelic garment––an accoutrement of 1970s counterculture cool, later resuscitated as a ’90s fad––is here preserved as acquirable high art. Wait long enough, and even forgotten kitsch could one day be worth its weight in gold.
Hundreds of cutouts from a 1960s Italian book series featuring masterpieces of sculpture have been propped up on a round table that spans eighteen feet in diameter in Geoffrey Farmer’s latest exhibition. There is Desiderio da Settignano’s Bust of a Young Woman, Giambologna’s Appennino, Constantin Brancusi’s Maiastra, Michelangelo’s David, and Antoine Le Moiturier’s hooded monks, nudes, medieval saints, small children, and tiny animals. Part of the installation Boneyard, 2013, the paper figurines stand as sculptures would, intimating the flatness of being Photoshopped in spacea slideshow of Western sculpture from antiquity to modernism in the round.
In the next room, a more traditional slideshow, Look in My Face; My Name Is Might-Have-Been, I Am Also Called No-More, Too-Late, Farewell, 2013, shuffles through political snapshots, anonymous portraits, ethnographic studies, and then-genre scenes of work, leisure, agriculture, and industry. A history is told by the shifting film stock—sepia to Kodachrome; black-and-white to dye transferthe tonal qualities reflecting the technological changes in film as new methods for printing enter the mass market. The clamor of disjointed percussion accompany the slideshow, alternating between a synced pattern with the images (footfalls on the stairs) and random sounds guided by a computer algorithm.
Farmer’s subject matter is time, he states, cut and reordered. This nonlinearity entices a contemplation of the looming past alongside a suspended present, which is made acute by the juxtaposition of cacophonous noises and the disquieting muteness of the photographic artifact.
Daniel Gordon locates his photographs through a triangulation of painting, collage, and cutout. His C-prints compose still-life fare in complex tableaux, which he lights in-studio and captures on large-format film. Sourced from the Internet and cut freehand from printer paper, each element is inserted in a topography that makes little effort to disguise its seams. Plants sport skeins of hot glue; vases build up from clipped geometries; and apples resemble disused origami. Paper figures as a material at once volumetric and planar, drawn into space through facets and folds or collapsed into flatness by an abruptly scissored edge.
In Summer Fruit (all works 2014), Technicolor edibles occupy a field of clashing dots, checkers, and stripes. If the still life has historically been keyed to imaginative consumption, presenting spreads for the viewer to fictively digest, Gordon’s scene precludes the same. His watermelons are conspicuously shrink-wrapped, his strawberries an unculinary cyan. Nature is made luridly artificial, as if to parody the still life as an art-historical cliché, wherein foodstuffs become vehicles of symbolic elaboration: a peach for fecundity, a peeled lemon for transience. Like the other photographs on view, Summer Fruit courts overdetermination. Apples and artfully rumpled tablecloths recall Cézanne’s late still lifes, while jars with doubled, upturned lids invoke Cubism’s signature mode of de- and recomposition.
This is to suggest that, for all their disjuncture, Gordon’s C-prints are deeply familiar. Photographic space is dispersed only to be consolidated under the sign of modernist painting and papier collé. It’s a seductive gesture, though one whose implications, both for photography and for modernism, are not entirely clear.
Starting a fire by striking a man’s face—is it a feminist idea? Match-bust, 1973, looks like a big matchstick with a human head for a tip. It’s twenty inches tall, but still you can imagine dragging it along a brick wall or a curb, rubbing off the nose and brow to get a light. This poetic piece by Birgit Jürgenssen (1949–2003) is one of a handful of early, Surrealist-influenced sculptures grouped in the center of the gallery. Another great one, Untitled (Horse), 1973, looks like a child’s hobbyhorse—except that a wavy dick sticks up from the seat of its hand-sewn velvet saddle. The phallic horse is echoed in a later work, Unicorn, 1991, a grid of photos that includes images of a table-saw blade, a solarized flower, and a serious woman posing in a unicorn costume. Most of the works on view are from the 1980s and 1990s, and employ experimental photographic processes: Jürgenssen painted with developer and fixer, scratched her prints, and used multiple exposures, photograms, and cyanotype in her dark, dreamy compositions.
She is best known for her participation in the Austrian feminist art movement of the 1970s. Along with her contemporaries, Jürgenssen protested art-world sexism and made works such as the iconic Housewives’ Kitchen Apron, 1975, for which she photographed herself burdened by a cartoonish oven around her neck. None of her mid-1970s pieces that so explicitly attack gender strictures are included in this exhibition, and the accompanying press release notes with ambivalence that the artist’s feminist reputation may have overwritten the complexity of her oeuvre. It’s sobering to consider that this aspect of her artistic-political identity might constrain an understanding of her diverse practice. This smart estate show provides a sampling not of “feminist art” but rather a sampling of three decades of elegantly caustic work by an overlooked feminist artist.
“Three Cups Fragrance” takes its name from tea consumed in three successive brews of the same leaves. The précis offers tasting notes about this tea without a hint of further commentary. Routine, privately comforting, to recycle drink while savoring its transformations is not the action of one struggling to impress a visitor. But to watch the quiet concept of this show divide along a group of formally distinctive works is mesmerizing in its humorous light touch.
Oto Gillen’s portrait of a helicopter (Untitled, 2014), overdressed in double matting and a frame of sculpted corrugated cardboard, is one of several photographic pieces here whose figurative straightness contrasts with conspicuous concern for its support. The banged-up backing of Kyle Thurman’s gridded equine trade photos (A Possible Cast, 2014) echoes the images’ ephemeral utility, while Tom Humphreys’s crowning Untitled (Radiant Striped Edge, Man in Blue Jacket), 2014, absurdly monumentalizes a pedestrian whose shirt and jacket match the color of his iPhone, on a ceramic reproduction of a paper plate.
From here, the show performs a flip that’s reminiscent of a lens’s inversion of its intake, with traditionally mounted photographs whose textural focus brings them almost to abstraction, as in Moyra Davey’s playful 1979 triptych Tattoos and Elizabeth Atterbury’s gorgeous documents of staged sculptural environments, which could even be mistaken for photograms (especially Black Beach, 2014). A lone work in the round sits at the center of the gallery: Lukas Geronimas’s Custom Tub, 2014. This graffiti-etched fixture feels right at home, a culmination of the surrounding artworks’ sculptural desires. Layered with graphite, its rich silver looks as if it might have just come from the inside of a photograph. One thinks less about what it is doing here than how photography, with its chemical baths, became as intimate and necessary as our own bathing and cups of tea.
Matt Hoyt’s sculptures resemble stones, sticks, shells, and geometric curios individually not much larger than a golf ball or quail egg. He presents these pieces in tidy museological arrangements of two or three (sometimes more) and rests the groupings on flat, hand-cast sheets of MDF and polyurethane bases that have been dyed in muted hues to amplify the objects’ organic-seeming patinas. Speaking in the historical vocabulary of the objet trouvé, these small sculptures are bits of sly fiction. What appear to be pebbles or exotic sea shells are actually constructions of various putties, tempera paint, and the occasional cameo of other materials—bits of metal, plastic, or wood. These mediums are intimately handled in their process of becoming sculpture: Hoyt often spends months carefully laboring over, revising, and living with each one. Likewise, the finished works themselves invite handling and affective caress, offering a sympathetic surface that absorbs that most effervescent of earthly energies: the human touch.
In his latest presentation, Hoyt for the first time shows his works and their flat, colored bases on freestanding tables that he also designed, allowing visitors 360-degree access to the works (previously, the works were presented on wall-bound shelves). With unconstrained visual access, viewers can now explore the many crevices, recesses, and details of each work. A pearl-white, hollowed-out protrusion (with a mysterious slit) seems to have been the home of some imaginary deep-sea mollusk; a sun-stained pebble seems to tell the story of the deep Southwestern canyon where it was formed millennia ago. In this liberalized mode of display, the works now more than ever seem to resemble evidentiary material from fictive natural processes in the stories they tell—stories that are, in fact, only the hushed voice of a patient and subtle artist at work.
The area on the outskirts of painting, photography, and graphic design is a rocky place to set up camp, but Sara Greenberger Rafferty does just that, deftly, with the multivalent works in her latest show. On view are largely ink-jet prints on acetate—the product of variations on a technique that the artist has explored since 2012. Upon certain pieces, the artist has poured paint and solvents, and then mounted the cracked, shiny results onto Plexiglas.
The elements of each artwork oscillate between order and entropy, as if salvaged from a postapocalyptic world and then preserved in their sorry states. Some of their Plexiglas surfaces are punctuated by a constellation of screws: violent moments of humor. Frequently, a single representational element—usually boldly graphic, often implying a human presence—appears amid an abstract environment of drips and swaths of paint. Untitled, 2014, for instance, features the “woman” Isotype (found on bathroom doors) floating about shades of mauve. Curtain, 2014, depicts a drooping microphone at waist height: Against a silk background that’s entirely white, the instrument could be a prop held by an invisible comedian acting out a dick joke.
There are both finish fetish echoes and Pictures generation concerns trickling through the show—a fascination with the materials that make up surface, and a tongue-in-cheek treatment of mass-market imagery. But in the end, the works are wholly contemporary: Rafferty carves new ground, taking a wry, sideways look at portrait-making traditions widely embraced to this day.
For his latest show, Josh Faught has produced a multivalent range of woven and crocheted work. Handwoven hemp has been dyed to match the hues of the past year’s fashion and then adorned with glitter, sequin trim, gold lamé, and bedazzled seashells, among other winking materials. Each work has been named after a past lover, and Faught has woven the name of the individual into the tapestry. In many, the woof and warp is so tight that it creates images and patterns, while in others, the fabric frays and spools, gesturing at the precariousness of the medium. At play are dynamics of desire for human intimacy and then for material culture, intimating how easily the two can become confused. Faught aptly titled the exhibition “Christmas Creep” after a merchandizing phenomenon that capitalizes on the commercialization of Christmas by moving the marketing date up to Halloween, signaling a queer commingling of fear and joy and the way memories and feelings become attached to objects.
Many of the subjects in “Christmas Creep” grew out of an installation Faught created at the Neptune Society Columbarium in San Francisco, an interment site for those who died of AIDs. A number of the works on view incorporate a motley group of objects—VHS tapes, rubber onion rings, plastic chocolate cookies—mementos of a fixed past but also part of an archive that can be reimagined in the present and future. An AIDS activist button reading “I’m a name not a number” is pinned into Sally Jesse (Scott), 2014. With the exception of a clock, the tapestry is abstract, the handworked surface of the material gesturing at the way an object can keep one alive.
The current, malign vogue for wearable gadgets could have panned out so much better if Nam June Paik were still around, there to remind us to interrogate, to laugh at, or to disrupt technology rather than accept it wholesale. His TV Bra for Living Sculpture, 1975, a pair of screens sported by a nude Charlotte Moorman, or TV Penis, 1972, a sort of television condom worn during a performance at The Kitchen, imbricated technology and the human body, but not into some cyborg third term. Even with his TV Cello, 1971, which Moorman played in a kind of carnal embrace, new media was used to enable new forms of human eroticism and potentialities, rather than to subordinate bodies to machines, or worse, corporations.
In this way, Paik—trained as a composer—might be much closer to Richard Wagner, the original tech-obsessed erotic mastermind of “the artwork of the future,” than to his alleged successors using tech for tech’s sake. This selective exhibition, the first in New York since Paik’s death in 2006, revalorizes Paik's sculptural works (notably the early radio-controlled assemblage Robot K-456, 1964) and reemphasizes his views of new media, which were, like Wagner’s, prescient but ultimately too romantic. Long before the rise of the Web, Paik saw television as not a one-to-many transmission, but a more plural affair in which individuals could intercede and reconstitute the mechanisms of broadcasting. Younger artists or anyone still naively confusing technology with progress would do well to heed Paik’s words from 1965: “Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important.”
Kathy Halbreich’s world-shaking MoMA retrospective of the slipperiest artist of the postwar era contained no less than 265 works. They’re all in London right now, and yet somehow there are still enough Polkes around to fill three simultaneous New York gallery shows: a photography showcase at Paul Kasmin, photocopier works at Fergus McCaffrey, and this nine-painting exhibition focusing on the artist’s use of fabric. In the 1980s, Polke delighted in ugly wallpaper (think of the floral-print Seeing Things As They Are, 1991, the anchor for Halbreich’s show), and several paintings here feature bisected grounds of patterned wallpaper overlaid with expressionistic daubs, or else cartoonish, pseudo-anthropological markings. Later works, with printed images recalling both his early raster dot paintings and his concurrent photocopier experiments, play with art-historical precedents. An untitled 1993 painting has the bottle and wine glasses of a modernist still life; a 2002 artwork intermingles a coral circle-patterned quilt with what appears to be a rejigged rococo tapestry.
In a 1977 text, Polke likened the experience of art to “not being able to defend yourself . . . or the desperate effort not to want to.” That is the effect of a painting such as The Raven, 1996: It includes a ground of both plaid and nautical-themed fabrics and a Gothic sketch of man and bird that is partially painted over in an uncontrolled skim of white oil paint. The work calls into question his sincerity and intelligibility—and our own desire for the same. Nevertheless, these smaller Polke shows have the (perhaps unavoidable) tendency to make Polke easily defensible. The genius of Halbreich’s MoMA retrospective was that, for all its rigor, it insisted that Polke was in fact uncontainable. This show and the other two on view in New York now have their reasons to pin Polke down, but I suspect he’ll slip away again.
The sweeping arc of Western art history is the subject of this voluminous exhibition, which consists of hundreds of photographs, paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, books, and other ephemera. The project begins with a presentation of Salon de Fleurus, a meticulously researched yet extemporized re-creation of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, surreptitiously located on Spring Street in SoHo, which has been managed by an anonymous doorman for the last two decades and closed last spring. This is followed by a series of five galleries that have been temporarily erected, each devoted to exploring a defining moment in the story of art: in reverse chronological order, they include the 1855 Exposition Universelle (the first large-scale contemporary art exhibition); the establishment of the Louvre and the Musée National des Monuments Français, during the French Revolution (the origins of the modern museum); the publication of Vasari’s Lives, in 1550 (the introduction of the artist biography); and Apollo in the Belvedere Romanum sculpture garden around 1503 (the secularization of art). Two didactic panels flank each gallery—one a historical summation of the room’s contents and the other an allegorical once-upon-a-time narrative of emperors and kings.
If this description comes off as unwieldy or strange, it is not the only off-kilter element. Together this meta-museum is based on a lecture first presented in Guangzhou in 2011 by Walter Benjamin, who has been dead since 1940. “The Unmaking of Art” circuitously reveals not just how fictionalized the tale of art history is but how its attendant tropes of authorship and originality remain central in our seemingly decentered contemporary art world. Traditional Chinese music wafts through the entire exhibition, awkwardly clashing with the European narrative and further hinting at all that is left out from this story.
Any account of Chris Ofili’s career will invoke the scandal around his rise to prominence in the 1990s, when he merged large-scale figuration with old-fashioned base materialism. His Holy Virgin Mary, 1997, was nearly banned when it debuted at the Brooklyn Museum, but his “afro lovers” and resin-coated elephant dung would reappear, including at the 2003 Venice Biennale, where he turned the British pavilion into a nocturnal redoubt.
Ofili’s American retrospective highlights his play of light and contrast and showcases a decade of new work, including forays into sculpture and theatrical design and refinements of earlier interests in drawing and portraiture. Many ’90s-era paintings are on display, and they are worth the price of admission. Widely circulated in reproduction, those paintings take on new power when encountered here. Larger than life, drizzled with resin, and festooned with map pins and glitter, their psychedelic landscapes are revealed as an intricate network of color and line. Curators now, as they have done in the past, try to read politics into the work, but Ofili’s skill as formalist is contribution enough.
Two galleries show the artist in maximalist mode: He flaunts his influences (Matisse, Bacon, Douglas, Warhol) but synthesizes them fluidly, aided by soft lighting that produces an ethereal experience of immersive looking. Nine oil paintings (2006–2014) nearly occlude their content, rendered in deep blues and hung like Rothkos; a garish suite of more narrative scenes hang on walls reimagined as the textile work of a scene shop. They blur the line between work and display, and utterly transfigure the New Museum’s blank surfaces. Ofili is off in new directions, and seemingly in grand modernist fashion.