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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.