For his debut at David Lewis, Lund presents only two of his in-demand abstract canvases. These works are an elaboration of earlier efforts at pushing low-quality iPhone photos of iconic works (by Daniel Buren and Martin Kippenberger, in this case) through several layers of distortion and final material realization via silkscreen. One of the work’s more interesting details is how the unprimed, raw canvas below the layers of paint restrains the tonal pop that might push the work into a cloyingly seductive direction.
Lund is an artist whose name appears more often in cynical, link-bait journalism about secondary-market auction results than it does in critical reflections on the output of a patient, slow-burn artist gamely wandering the once-fertile wastelands of historical painterly minimalism. It’s an unfortunate truth that reflects a moment when visibility for young artists is increasingly linked to the profits generated by creepy art flippers who see work not so much as material facts to be lived with than as tokens of value to be traded in and up.
All which makes Lund strangely subversive: Dressed down and desaturated, these works flirt with the contemporary moment’s vogue for historical painterly abstraction. However, failing to deliver a fast gratification to the eye, the works instead draw viewers in a little closer, for a little longer, into something a little weirder. The second half of the show presents a number of sculptures outfitted from roughly human-scaled freestanding silk screens. Coated with the binary photo emulsion that would otherwise guide paint pushed through them in the artist’s studio, Lund’s screens instead guide only the light that enters the gallery’s bank of east-facing windows—complicating, in the process, some of the sight lines and wall-focused visuality of his canvases.
In its latest show, the collective BFFA3AE has erected two parallel walls that cut diagonally across the gallery’s main room, sandwiching a handful of Mylar balloons, each emblazoned with a cheerful special-occasion message, an image of One Direction’s Niall Horan or iCarly’s Miranda Cosgrove. BFFA3AE—made up of Daniel Chew and Micaela Durand—is perhaps somewhat better known for Internet-based work, but here the group takes a thorough turn toward art IRL. Its recent output seems to celebrate the eager-beaver impulse to amass and admire that’s shared by distinguished art collectors and enthused middle-schoolers alike, as Niall and Carly’s mugs appear alongside pieces bursting with strains of Fluxus, Dada, and other art movements past. A monitor obscured by sheets of seaweed (a piece by Durand), for example, sits near a found soap dispenser in the shape of a lady’s shoe.
Across the room, rags by Chew are framed and decorated with stains, screenprints, and laser-cut lettering. Their titles (e.g., Look #15: Printed ‘trompe l’œil’ shirt - Printed ‘trompe l’œil’ skirt - Stretch linen thigh high boots, 2014) seemingly allude to both the cyclical transience of fashion and the semipermanence of collected art. Which leads us to the jumble of videos and paraphernalia—placemats, potting mix, and keyboards—in the gallery’s foyer. The room, we’re told, is BFFA3AE’s “retrospective.” When taken as a comment on the pace at which the art world consumes young artists, it’s not much. But considered as a hoard that represents both nostalgia and possibility to someone starry-eyed, it means everything.
Probing the relationship between historical preservation and individual memory, Patricia Esquivias’s film 111-119 Generalísimo/Castellana, 2014, traces stories around a 1950s housing project in Madrid’s current-day financial district. Much of the film focuses on ceramic murals originally installed for the balconies of the buildings; each mural depicts a different city around Europe, the intent during Franco’s reign being to project an image of Spain as a thriving, international state. Many were removed over time, some salvaged pieces of which are on view along with photographs and texts in this exhibition that, together with the video, constructs a historical narrative that oscillates between what is personal and what is factual.
The film depicts the artist’s laptop screen, showing her opening and switching between various image files. The disjointed slideshow establishes that her interest in the housing development hearkens back to time spent with her father, hinting that her concern with facts is also viewed through a lens of rekindled childhood imaginations. One narrative references a refashioned marble wall element that appears to have originally resembled a seashore—the artist jokes that perhaps residents’ fond memories from holidays at the beach will instigate the piece’s restoration. In a printed text, Esquivias retells how a renter decided against destroying his ceramic mural after hearing of the artist’s interest in the object.
Documents displayed on tables further illustrate the artist’s efforts to uncover the buildings’ histories, which included meeting with families of the architects and thwarted attempts to photograph more tiles. The artist’s anecdotes and research foretell how objects and surroundings receive value through circumstances perhaps as fickle as they are personal. Esquivias’s own instructive approach mirrors this condition as it seamlessly shifts between fact and childhood speculation, made believable via a puerile charm.
The fragrance from Sophy Naess’s eight hanging soap slabs pervades this small white-boxed gallery, where curator Lumi Tan has presented works by three artists. Embedded in Naess’s soaps are tiny things: Pieces of weeds and flowers float next to funny trash items and found treasures. The contents are carefully arranged, whether suspended in color blocks or scattered just beneath the soap’s surface, and each tablet depicts a different landscape of secret meanings and spells. A take-away printout lists the ingredients in two clean yet crowded columns, with items ranging from “EYE OF HORUS” and “OCCASIONAL MELANCHOLIA” to “FRANK’S SEASHELLS” and “BROKEN LOCK ON SIDEWALK.” There’s a cosmological bent in the milky and wistful layers comprising each slab: Over time, the soap changes, warping and bending, responding to the climate with sweat and discoloration.
Ryan Mrozowski’s repeating patterns of floating orange orbs have an almost sinister effect against Naess’s organicism. The visual weight of these paintings is tempered by their strange flatness, where orange moons and shadowy green leaves cover each canvas in striking matte designs. Sara Magenheimer’s Radio Feeling Table, 2014, comprises a white-tiled platform that hosts an odd array of objects, arranged according to graphic and formal qualities: cosmic blue and pale green lie like powder along the surfaces of two painted-white peanut shells; a wiry metal toy rests on a ripped blue rubber glove, resembling the SPLAT! in comic strips. Each artist’s idiosyncratic engagement with order attributes an unexpected sensorial complexity to everyday forms, where it becomes clear that viewing is both sensing and sensemaking.
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.
In “Novelty Court,” Emily Mae Smith presents paintings that employ a personalized iconography as a means toward unabashed self-assertion and its liberatory effects. For the most part, the motifs in these canvases are proprietary, culled from sources ranging from the Art Nouveau trade bulletin The Studio to Disney’s Fantasia, and they are fed by the artist’s robust interest in the history of design. Ghost Writer (all works 2014) is an extreme case, a painting which repeats the letter E five times in black paint on a white background; the middle bar of the letter, which would complete the character, has been replaced by a two-hued blue wave. Here, Smith alludes to herself through a corporatized logo, reformulating the spirit of Kurt Schwitters’s “Merz” series in the corporate graphic parlance of Microsoft’s Windows.
One conspicuous element that appears in three small paintings features a man’s toothy rictus as a framing device. The mouth reads as male because there is a handlebar mustache painted directly above it, and because of the gaping Chiclet teeth centered above and below the picture. For instance, in The Inspector, the teeth circumscribe a simplified image of a cartoonish backside. Hovering above the right cheek is a monocle, which brings to mind eyeglasses and other sight aids deployed by artists—from Pieter Brueghel the Elder to Jasper Johns—as iconographic code to mock myopic art critics. In this case, Smith adds a wry jab at the insatiable male gaze. Are we all really so obtuse and ass-hungry? Maybe. This type of graphic sophistication and screwball humor forms an incisive critique in its own right as it circumvents any dominant mode of picture-making in favor of singular intelligence and eccentricity.
“Living with Pop. A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism” features barely any “original” works of art. As its title suggests, the exhibition—an investigation of the postwar West German phenomenon of Capitalist Realism—consists of reproductions, prints, and multiples of archival ephemera: invitation cards, flyers, press releases, brochures, guest books, letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles, neatly assembled in large, gray display cabinets. Even the forty-some-odd paintings included—most of which were modeled after advertisements and publicity photographs of consumer products—are not the virtuoso oil-on-canvas originals but true-to-scale photographic facsimiles.
In many ways, the exhibition captures the spirit of Capitalist Realism, the name of which was introduced in 1963 by the Düsseldorf foursome (Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter) to parodically counter the mandated Socialist Realism of East Germany and to respond with a sense of skepticism to the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) of the West. Despite its text-heavy character, the show is visually dynamic and easy to navigate, with more than a decade’s worth of information (1957–71) arranged chronologically in sections that are bracketed by mural-sized black-and-white photographs of such key events as Richter and Lueg’s infamous 1963 Happening in the furniture store Möbelhaus Berges, or the group’s impromptu 1964 exhibition in the snow-speckled garden of Galerie Parnass.
The invitation to American Conceptual artist (and cinephile) Christopher Williams to frame the exhibition with a selection of films could not have been more discerning—after all, Williams is not only a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where the artists whom the show addresses met, but, more to the point, his photographic practice both revisits the Cold War and critically comments on the conventions of advertising. Presented on adjacent flat screens, the works he has chosen range from such art-house classics as Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1973) to popular flicks such as Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), creating a continuously changing kaleidoscope of images that brilliantly speak to our late-capitalist, media-prescribed condition.
Charles James’s life wasn’t all debs, soigné parties, and Slim Keith. By the time of his death in 1978, after a lifetime of striking up bad business deals and alienating scores of friends and supporters, the visionary fashion designer was living in sheer squalor in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel: sick and a pauper, months behind in rent. Despite having a small coterie of minders (or nightclubbing fans who occasionally borrowed some of his renowned frocks to party in), he died alone.
But James was far more than your average fashion-land burnout, and in this bravura retrospective, put together by the Costume Institute’s curator in chief Harold Koda and adjunct curator Jan Glier Reeder, we experience a man who posed and dallied with some of the early twentieth century’s wealthiest American and European bluebloods, but produced garments that only a sharp and stealthy avant-gardist could’ve dreamed up.
James’s confectionary ball gowns deceive the eye. They are, at first glance, stunning examples of ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s chic. But closer inspection (offered via mobile digital cameras and screens that provide extraordinary details of how each dress was constructed) reveals a love of asymmetrical structuring, unusual combinations of materials and, frankly, feats of painstakingly adroit jerry-rigging. James was notorious for fussing over his garments past the point of finishing, sometimes adding as many as twenty layers of fabric within a dress until it met his exacting standards of proportion. And some of these dresses, despite weighing as much as fifteen pounds, would just float on the wearer’s body, a result of James’s intuitive sense of mathematics, spatial dynamics, and architecture (he never received any institutional training as a dressmaker). Though James has always been referred to as an “obscure” designer, one can see his influence in the work of so many, such as Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Vivienne Westwood, or John Galliano. But thanks to this comprehensive, intelligent, and luminous exhibition: the shadows, no longer.
Fifty years ago, architect Philip Johnson invited the edgy up-and-coming artist Andy Warhol to produce one of ten commissions for the facade of the World’s Fair New York State Pavilion—Warhol’s first and ultimately last public-art project. Working in the midst of his “Death and Disaster” depictions of car crashes and race riots, while taking his initial photobooth strips of socialites, friends, and, of course, himself, Warhol devised a work for the pavilion that would merge the profane and the portrait: blown-up silk-screened mug shots of the thirteen most-wanted men taken straight from the City of New York’s police department. As the story goes, someone in power had objections, perhaps to its coarse aesthetics, thinly veiled homoeroticism, or simply the banal subject material. By the time the World’s Fair opened on April 22, 1964, the 13 Most Wanted Men was covered in a thick coat of silver paint (a proposal to replace the work with twenty-five identical panels of a beaming World’s Fair President Robert Moses was, alas, rejected out of hand).
The making of the work, its quick demise, and its afterlife in Warhol’s oeuvre make up this meticulously researched and precisely installed exhibition. The fascinating murder mystery of the Men unfolds chronologically, weaving in appearances by potential culprits Philip Johnson, Robert Moses, Nelson Rockefeller, and most enigmatic of all, Warhol himself. Nine silk-screened portraits of the Men that were made the summer after the debacle form the core of the exhibition, which is supplemented by an array of other works by Warhol, such as Little Electric Chair, 1964–65, and Nelson Rockefeller, 1967, and archival materials documenting Warhol’s year of production on the pavilion, the World’s Fair exhibition, and the reception of the controversial destruction of the work. By the end of 1964, for Warhol, “Death and Disaster” had transformed into a Flowers elegy and the Men had mutated into the screen-test series 13 Most Beautiful Boys, 1964–66. What remains in this exhibition are the relics of an astounding transitional moment in the artist’s work.
What if Kynaston McShine’s landmark 1966 presentation of objects, “Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors,” had been global in scope? This is the question driving Jens Hoffmann’s inaugural two-part exhibition at the Jewish Museum, which brings together artists from South America, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe whose pared-down works share formal and conceptual affinities with those of their better-known contemporaries featured in the foundational show, such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris.
Dialogues between past and present, Western and “other” abound throughout this elegantly mounted exhibition. Geometric sculptures of varying sizes, shapes, and colors are flanked by blown-up black-and-white archival photographs of the original exhibition, which serve to extend the current installation in both time and space. In one arrangement, for instance, Argentinean artist Norberto Puzzolo’s Virtual Pyramid with Exterior and Interior View, 1967, a series of incrementally sized triangular frames made of painted wood, is set to face an image of Sol LeWitt’s No Title, 1966, a six-foot modular wooden cube. When seen together, these serial, nonreferential works offer a global reassessment of the complex visions and radical new approaches to sculpture in the 1960s.
However, the most inciting pieces resist, rather than mirror, the tenets of canonical “abc art.” The mixture of the modestly scaled, suspended mobiles of Polish Edward Krasiński, Brazilian Hélio Oiticica, and Venezuelan Gego in one room, or the subtle yet continuously bubbling, tubular machine of Filipino David Medalla in another, are but a few examples. Although this exhibition is a response to rather than a strict recreation of its predecessor, it culminates with an arresting, ten-foot-tall dollhouse—a painstaking model of the museum as it stood in 1966, complete with vibrantly colored Minimalist trappings—which provides a contrast to the achromatic photographs on view and allows one the chance to peer into a history nearly fifty years past.
A time-based media crackerjack, the late Christoph Schlingensief (1960–2010) seamlessly roved between the disciplines of experimental film, theater, television, radio, opera, and performance art. In the charged atmosphere of 1968, at the age of eight, Schlingensief had already directed his first work, a twenty-minute short in which a farmer waves a handcrafted flag to German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s renowned Wedding March—the film’s eerie political undertone and focus on a specifically German context would come to define his entire oeuvre. A champion of a post-Brechtian attitude, Schlingensief often tried to assault his audience out of complacency, tackling gritty subject matter such as neo-Nazism and the unification of Germany with anarchic verve. A household name in his native country, he is still little known in the United States.
This is thus a timely overview of an inimitable career. Featuring documentation of approximately two dozen performance works, the exhibition comes head to head with the complexities of presenting such a prolific, ephemeral practice. The subversive qualities of this enfant terrible’s provocative output are best communicated in the interactive displays. Highlights include Animatograph, 2005–2006, a pulsing, dark, rotating tree house meets postapocalyptic bunker in which viewers confront disturbing films and props as they climb up and around the fun-house installation. See too Talk 2000, 1997, the peculiar talk show Schlingensief founded in the basement of the Volksbühne (People’s Theater), which is shown here on two cubic television monitors on a revolving platform arranged like a living room with sofas, side tables, and lamps.
The exhibition also shines in its simultaneous presentation of The Germany Trilogy, 1989–92, and 120 Days of Bottrop—The Last New German Film, 1997, in a darkened chamber on the museum’s second floor. The cacophonous clatter—an alarming mixture of rumbling chainsaws, shrieks of terror, and gasps of pleasure—that bounces between the jutting, angled walls is true to Schlingensief's unruly spirit.
Here today, gone tomorrow. If last year’s overnight whitewashing of graffiti haven 5Pointz in Queens revealed anything, it's that the fleeting form of graffiti tags is as susceptible as ever to the whims of property owners and real estate speculation. All the more prescient, then, was artist Martin Wong’s vision to amass his extensive collection of graffiti works on canvas, wood, Masonite, doors, and any other conceivable writing surface. Aspiring to be the “Albert Barnes of graffiti,” Wong donated his collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994—“City as Canvas” is the first selected display of these materials.
One of the earliest items exhibited is Wicked Gary’s Tag Collection from 1970–72. Compiled during the nascent years of graffiti’s ubiquity, the gridded display features the distinct signatures of almost one hundred pioneering writers. Among the more legible signatures indexed are Super Strut and Flint, For Those Who Dare; the posturing and bravado of both are a staple of the spirit of graffiti tagging. By 1981, the Metropolitan Transit Authority heightened police measures and installed razor-wire fences and guard dogs in train yards as initial efforts to “clean up” the city. Lady Pink, notable as one of the few female graffiti writers, foreshadowed the eventual effects of these developments in her 1982 self-portrait, The Death of Graffiti. The artist stands nude atop a mountain of spray cans pointing mournfully to a whited train as a graffiti-marked train passes behind it, the stark contrast emphasizing what has been covered in the first; a stifling feeling of inevitable gentrification pervades the scene.
Indeed, in 1989, New York City mayor Ed Koch declared the subway “graffiti-free” as a result of the cleanup efforts. That same year, Wong founded the Museum of American Graffiti in the East Village to bring archival attention to what he deemed his “aerosol hieroglyphics.” The project proved short-lived, closing within a year due to financial pressures. Yet the museum—the first of its kind in the United States—provides a lens into Wong’s sustained preservation efforts. An original vitrine from the museum’s inaugural exhibition is on display here. Covered in chain-link fences and signature scrawls, the case provides an appropriately urban, idiosyncratic display for a similarly alternative collection from a nearly bygone era.