Radiating nuclear power plants were as much a part of Keith Haring’s iconography as radiant babies. Yet the politics of Haring’s practice, whose expressions range from railing against corporate greed to allegorizing environmental degradation, are often overshadowed by the universal uplift of much of his iconic imagery. Though lacking a thoroughly contextualized presentation of Haring’s polemics, by assembling over one hundred of his more overtly political works, the sheer scope of “Keith Haring: The Political Line” productively highlights how Haring infused his art with political content through a provocative play with language and symbolism.
For example, in Haring’s early collage works from 1980, he reconfigured New York Post headlines into egregious yet obliquely poignant boldface, as in Reagan: Ready To Kill. The inflamed rhetoric of Haring’s remix presaged outcries against the president for his abominable silence during the initial years of the AIDS crisis. (Here and elsewhere, extended wall labels could have provided helpful explication).
The exhibition fittingly closes with the pink, triangular canvas Silence=Death, 1988. Created the year Haring was diagnosed with AIDS, the work references the catalyzing imagery used by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and brims with Haring’s cartoonish figures covering their eyes, ears, and mouths in see/hear/speak-no-evil gestures. The inclusion of the artist’s widely distributed safe-sex-promoting poster from 1987, which pictured a smiling penis caricature holding a condom, would have further displayed his on-the-ground relationship to the political messaging of the era. Yet Silence=Death still resonates; even the work’s neon and metallic paint produces a searing afterimage on the viewer’s retina. Haring’s life ended from AIDS-related complications at the age of thirty-one, but parallel to this large painting at the conclusion of the exhibition, even after exiting, his lasting effects are still sizably felt.
A collaboration between the YBCA, the Kadist Art Foundation, and the Guangdong Times Museum in Guangzhou, the ambitious group show “Landscape: the virtual, the actual, the possible?” defamiliarizes an influential trope in recent cultural theory: the Anthropocene as a new global era characterized by fundamentally new human/nature relations and even by a new conception of “nature” itself. The curators shrewdly present works that, rather than serving as evidence of this changed world, treat the Anthropocene as a hypothesis meant to engender exploratory thinking.
“Landscape” offers a careful balance of relevant art-historical references (such as the large photographic prints of human figures in eerily barren terrain by Elina Brotherus and Robert Zhao Renhui made in the last decade) with rigorous attempts to rethink the space of landscape using contemporary digital technologies, like Toby Ziegler’s The Fifth Quarter, 2005—architectural painting that appears to have been rendered flattened and pixelated—and Vidya Gastaldon’s conical yarn sculpture Floating Mountain, 2006, which twirls from the ceiling like a three-dimensional abstracted mountain.
The most unexpected element in the show is an array of conceptual video and performance pieces, especially Anthony McCall’s Landscape for Fire, 1972, which follows a hybrid of map and score to set fire to objects in a field, and Paul Kos’s 1970 The Sound of Ice Melting, an audio amplification of melting ice cubes in the gallery space using an absurd number of microphones—only funny for the first few seconds, then impossibly piteous. Against this thinking, more familiar approaches to nature after culture—approaches that reference detritus, erasure, and artificial borders—are cast in a fresh light.
In its first several rooms, “Secondhand” appears to embody a diligent curatorial argument about notable trends in contemporary photographic practices surrounding found images, with by canonical work from Richard Prince and John Baldessari, as well as Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s Evidence (1977), the groundbreaking conceptual book culled from massive police and science archives. The show quickly moves to a noteworthy group of recent photographers working with Photoshopped, decontextualized, vernacular images—in particular Matt Lipps’s collaged archive from the now-extinct magazine Horizons and Erik Kessels’s inexhaustible compilations of found snapshots, which have gone beyond his famous Flickr repositories into more intimate documentations of personal lives, the work’s sentiment and sheer volume both anchoring the show.
But what makes “Secondhand” remarkable is the range of vernacular photographs from numerous other collections and archives: shrewd counterpoints to the more manifest practices on display. The first show at Pier 24 to feature a majority of works on loan, “Secondhand” includes grease-marked minor-league baseball pictures (showing crop-marks, pre-Photoshop) and lowbrow postcards, exquisitely embroidered by hand. Perhaps most moving of all are the deeply subtle interventions by Melissa Catanese, who has arranged a series of found snapshots into a free-associative timeline along one wall. In contrast to these quieter creations of narrative order out of chaos, the wild abundance of the more dramatic work feels impersonal by comparison.
Dario Robleto, Setlists for a Setting Sun (Dark Was the Night), 2014, cyanotypes, prints, watercolor paper, butterflies, butterfly antennae made from stretched audiotape of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, various cave minerals and crystals, homemade crystals, coral, nickel plated sea urchin shells, sea urchin teeth, various seashells, beetle wings, ocean water, pigments, cut paper, mica flakes, feathers, mirrors, plastic and glass domes, digital player, headphones, wood, polyurethane, sound, 61 x 45 x 45”.
Looking like a cabinet of sea curiosities and feeling like a ballad, Dario Robleto’s exhibition reveals a burning heart. The packed gallery displays photographs, collages, and sculptural amalgamations made with materials like black swan vertebrae, glitter, semiprecious stones, and whale ear fossils. One of these works, Melancholy Matters Because of You, 2012, is composed of three cast and carved hands that resemble bones but are actually a mingling of bone calcium, resin, dust, pigment, and melted vinyl record collections that belonged to three generations of Robleto’s family.
For Setlists for a Setting Sun (Dark Was the Night), 2014, Robleto has assembled earthly, oceanographic, invented, and cosmic references in a museum case containing a butterfly with antennae made from stretched audiotape that once held bluesman Blind Willie Johnson’s plaintive guitar thrum; seashells that seem to have been patiently trimmed with a diamond cutter; sea urchin teeth; and small cyanotype cards with images of Johnson, satellites, and musicologists conducting recording sessions with phonographs. Johnson’s lonely song Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground plays on headphones attached to a stand next to the case, the same recording that NASA sent to space as one of the selections for the Voyager Golden Record time capsule, designed as an attempt to communicate life on earth to extraterrestrials. Encountering Robleto’s work is like reading an aching Valentine written in Morse code. It connects seemingly disparate and vulnerable technologies and forms of expression out of a desire to discover and validate an unquantifiable bliss shared by humans, a feeling which can be lost across space and between cultures and generations.
Cinematic stardom, cultural diffusion, and the need for approval collide in Candice Breitz’s exhibition “The Woods.” Three video installations depict actors from three epicenters of contemporary cinematic production: Hollywood, Bollywood, and Nollywood, located in California, India, and Nigeria, respectively. One installation, The Audition (all works 2012), depicts twenty-five American children, who are struggling for a persona, as they are informed by authoritarian entertainment industry professionals that they lack charisma and optimism. In this metadiegetic audition, shown on six vertical video panels, children stand solitarily decontextualized before a white backdrop as the boundary between script and reality is intentionally confused. The artist filmed each of these auditions for more than an hour, focusing on the intermediate moments of manifest discomfort in the children’s repetitive gestures, such as grabbing at a shirt, continuously sipping water, or irregularly moving their hands. In splicing together recited monologues, dances, singing, and awkward passages of standing, the kids display the uniformity of their aspirations instead of the uniqueness they crave as Hollywood aspirants.
In The Rehearsal, six mildly famous Bollywood preteens confidently quote from interviews with the Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan. They tout a strong work ethic and endorse, above all, normality. American signifiers such as brand-name clothing and vocabulary influence their portrayal of glamour and stardom. Throughout is a diametric opposition between aspiring Americans searching for individualism and the staged naturalism of Indian performers proclaiming the banality of stardom.
In the last video, The Interview, two Nigerian actors named Aki and Pawpaw, who are known for playing children, discuss their previous roles, as references to Gary Coleman abound. Within these works, Breitz analyzes the movie business and its murky attachment to an ideal persona that is less realized than produced through a strange and indoctrinating culture industry.
Curated by Zachary Cahill and Katherine Harvath, “Lands End” updates the enduring genre of landscape art with new critical, conceptual, and even romantic perspectives on mytho-geography, featuring works by thirteen artists, including Susan Hiller, Hans Haacke, and Andreas Siqueland. Since landscape artists create the world, or worlds, “Lands End” is unafraid of dipping into extant pastoral fantasies—from the tourist destination at Land’s End in Cornwall to the outdoorsy clothier Land’s End—and the show itself is an object essay with a sentimental mood about nature. For instance, Winter Journey/American Dream, 2014, a rose-hued, mural-like painting of a mountainscape by Norway’s Siqueland, is a gorgeous utopian antidote to Haacke’s West Bank. Valley Near Abu Dis, 2010–2014, a scenic vinyl poster of the rocky border between Israel and Palestine.
At the exhibition’s heart is a quiet yellow bird. This canary resides in a rustic wooden cage, part of Claire Pentecost’s for the body without organs to sense, 2014. It is a cheap but effective emotional trick—is there nothing sadder than a bird in a cage? (Yes: one that lives in a gallery.) The installation is supposed to reference a coal miner’s warning and the looming apocalypse. It works; the artist also smartly lines the birdcage with personal stationary.
Another standout artwork is Oliver Lutz’s Stella at the playground, 2015. A CCTV transposes the image of a child onto a giant black monochrome painting, which (because of an infrared surveillance camera), is also accompanied by you, the viewer, in a quick act of augmented reality. It’s instantly uplifting—even more so because the world is about to end.
Despite America’s espoused celebration of family values, the boundary between professional and family life is generally strict, especially within artistic occupations for which “motherhood in particular is often seen as the endpoint of a serious career.” So begins the curatorial premise stated in the catalogue of Glass Curtain Gallery's current exhibition, “Division of Labor,” curated by Thea Liberty Nichols and Christa Donner.
The mess of parenting appears unapologetically, as does the energy of play, as well as practicality; Claire Ashley’s soft sculpture and neon-light installation, Sleepovers and Playdates, 2014, consumes the front window display with such exuberance that a few tendrils of the inflated fabric creep over a partition into the main exhibition. Cándida Alvarez’s napkin paintings hang nearby, made and framed in homage to bygone years of child rearing when going to the studio to paint was impossible. Each work inadvertently reveals an intersection of accumulated choices that ultimately reflect parenthood’s deeply personal logic. Looped through a speaker overhead, the disembodied voices of Alberto Aguilar’s family sing together; despite evident improvisation and the absence of any coherent lyrics, their abstract musical accompaniment is harmonious, even if we cannot hear the original Enya song with which they’re singing along.
There are sentimental moments as well, such as Andrew Yang’s index of materials that weigh the same amount as his daughter at birth. Or the shoes of Lise Haller Baggesen’s family, left outside her tent-cum–reading room/womb installation, Mothernism, 2013. Grouped together, the sixteen artists on view acknowledge the complex influence relationships—particularly custodial ones—have on the creative process.
“In We Trust: Art and Money” is a sprawling survey, resonant where the collective spirit of the work is a churning mishmash of the absurd, earnest, sharp, and self-defeating. Curator Tyler Cann includes twenty-six artists and collectives. Leaving a blank space in the exhibition title where the word God might appear, Cann doesn’t so much criticize belief in God as show money godless and unbridled. The collective Claire Fontaine’s Gateway to Freedom, 2005, for example, makes common currency into pocket weaponry; two US quarters come equipped with small scythe blades, looking like somber militia recruits.
For Detours (Celebrating the simple things in life), 2014, Ester Partegàs lovingly drew what nearly resembles a printed receipt. Imagining the exact expense of celebrating the simple things in life, she itemized the phrase word by word: “celebrating” costs $10.00; “simple” costs $6.00; “life” costs $2.00. With Color Coordinated Currency, 2012, William E. Jones photographed various international banknotes grouped by color, using the similarity to foreground the perversely persistent economic diversity and economic inequality tied up with the banknotes.
At the end of the exhibit, there is evidence of hope for humanity in the form of a grand, expansive working proposal named Time/Bank, initiated in 2010 by Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle. The project suggests a world bank without money, based on labor-backed units of currency. Cheery multilingual floor-to-ceiling posters advertise services that help with the simple things: gardening in exchange for moving a piano, perhaps, or giving a tour, or hair braiding. All is not monetized. All is not lost. Maybe.
When Kent State shut down after the 1970 shootings, art students Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale were locked out of their studios and made music at home. They later named their band DEVO, short for “de-evolution,” their term for all the ways the world was falling apart. In collages from the ’70s displayed here, like those in his artist’s book My Struggle, Booji Boy, 1977, Mothersbaugh appropriates and disfigures bodies and texts from scientific illustrations, bra ads, and cult screeds. They all seem to be saying the same thing: “This is America, and it is strange!”
Installed across three floors, this exhibition documents Mothersbaugh’s perverse productivity as a writer, draftsman, sculptor, performer, and composer, starting with his avant-garde origins—DEVO’s first performance on a program with Stan Brakhage—and ending with his musical compositions for Wes Anderson’s films and for Peewee’s Playhouse. After seven galleries of works in every imaginable medium, the show ends on a surprisingly focused note with a dimly lit gallery full of photo albums, where visitors can flip through the thirty thousand postcards that Mothersbaugh has covered with text and images over the past forty years. One is a simple vintage photo postcard, Untitled, 2006, depicting a young girl. The artist used a marker to partially cover her head with what looks like inner tubes or a snake. It’s silly, touching, and elegant. Browsing through the albums, one might wonder where this prolific talent fits in art history or whether this even matters. As opposed to the other rooms, where music videos and concert footage provide constant background noise, the only sound here is that of album pages turning. It’s a hushed, archival conclusion to a thrilling and exuberant show.
For his latest site-specific installation, Daniel Arsham dug a large, circular trench in this gallery’s floor and filled it with nearly three thousand sculptures. The majority are made from molds of outmoded devices found on eBay, such as boom boxes, record players, VHS and cassette tapes, electric guitars, pianos, as well as corded telephones and payphones. Cast in crystal, volcanic ash, and other geological materials that give each work a charcoal-gray or chalky-white color, they are presented as eroded and timeworn artifacts of the recent past. However, the work's title, Welcome to the Future, suggests that the installation is as much about what is to come as what has already come to pass.
Peeking out among the mounds of technological relics are objects that indicate the concerns of this installation are not just about new media. Sculptures of calcified boxes of crayons, Mickey Mouse and cat figures, footballs, and guns lend an apocalyptic overtone to the display. Indeed, concrete slabs removed from the gallery’s floor to reveal this trove of objects and placed in the front room on the ground, leaned up against the wall, or stacked on top of each other—foreshadow as much. Though the assemblage recalls the aftereffects of a calamity—natural or manmade—the lack of a palpable human touch in the work is what is most eerie and startling about this pseudo-archaeological dig.
In 1968, Amiri Baraka’s harsh sentencing for purportedly inciting civil unrest in Newark, New Jersey, was symptomatic of the racial discrimination that led to the riots. He was guilty of “formulating a plot”—the judge’s words that inspired the subtitle of Haitian-born Adler Guerrier’s first solo museum exhibition. While themes of racial iniquity loom large in his exhibition, truth and fiction are blurred, preventing the work from becoming didactic.
For instance, the mixed-media installation Untitled (BLCK-We Wear the Mask), 2007–2008, is a collection of artifacts from a fictional artist collective BLCK based in Liberty City, a predominantly African American neighborhood of Miami, that Guerrier imagined to be in solidarity with other radical Black movements across the country in the 1960s. The assemblage includes monochromatic photographs, black text on black protest signs, and prints with half-obscured urban scenes.
“Untitled (Overtown North),” 2006, is a photographic series of nondescript locations, largely of empty lots and streets at night that are lit by the eerie effulgence of lampposts. The title is instructive: It points to the Miami neighborhood Overtown, as well as to Wynwood, directly north. The work simultaneously evokes in mood the recent past of Wynwood—an abandoned warehouse turned gentrified arts district—as much as the recent present of Overtown—a center of urban decay that was once a bustling economic center for African Americans. As in much of Guerrier’s work, politics and poetics are held in tension—in this exhibition, by nimbly blurring past and present, here and there.
At the heart of Seattle-based artist Victoria Haven’s installation of her “Subtitles” series from 2014 is an intuitive investigation of two linguistic forms: cinematic screenplays and text-message conversations. For the past several years, Haven has been working with the script of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining—inspired, in part, by the movie’s Pacific Northwest sets such as Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge. In 2013, the artist photographed Kubrick’s model of the film’s hedge maze, then abstracted its forms into a geometric lexicon for “Jump Cuts,“ 2013, a series of ink-on-paper works. Each drawing was titled with directorial instructions appropriated from The Shining’s script, such as CUT TO: High Angle \ Car moving along road, and “Subtitles” extends this exploration of found language.
Shifting her close examination of narrative and diagrammatic form into more personal realms, Haven began examining her text conversations with a number of friends and confidantes. From a year’s worth of such communications, she compiled two lists of sixteen hundred words each. Then she created a computer algorithm to randomly combine the lists into pairs of words ad infinitum. One hundred of these poetic dyads are represented in each of the one hundred woodblock prints that constitute this series. Some gems include terrible/me, desolation/angles, and chronic/protagonist. Within these prints, each white word is contained by its own black rectangle. Like a stereoscopic card, the rectangles are separated by a small gap between each print that cajoles one’s eyes into a back-and-forth reading. Across the installation of these works, the proliferation of language oscillates into a gorgeous and captivating tangle of ideas and emotional associations.
In Colter Jacobsen’s first museum exhibition, two principal and overlapping strategies are on view, both of which animate memory and its certain loss. The first involves collecting discarded objects, the second, drawing from the artist’s memory. In Bridal Veil Falls [memory drawing], 2007, Jacobsen employs both methods. On found paper, he draws one version of a found photograph while looking at it and a second version from recall. The two are then paired side by side, with the reference-blind drawing watered down in its details neatly referencing the degenerative process of cognitive recollection.
Between the patinaed surfaces, the small and preciously sized dimensions, and the theme of a foregone past, this show unequivocally verges on the nostalgic. But ultimately, the majority of the artist’s works on view—with a few made in collaboration with curator Larry Rinder and the poet Bill Berkson—are just too funky to be sentimental. The types of materials employed evince this, as in Double-sided Record Player, 2011–2014, made from cardboard, dowels, papier-mâché, and a needle, or Lightmill, Windhouse (variations), 2014, an installation of objects taped to a window in the gallery, which incorporates a yellowing newspaper, flayed cardboard, and lemon juice, among other things. Rather than being simply wistful, this exhibition manifests the unromantic and sometimes soiled hallmarks of longing, grasping, collecting, and fading. The title of one of four of Jacobsen’s books on view, The Saddest Joke, 2010, registers that beneath Jacobson’s clever and fanciful studies is a faint grieving for all that is lost.
Each painting or drawing by Julie Buffalohead could be an illustration from a storybook, one that might read as a wry parable about the intersection of American Indian and European cultures. Buffalohead’s first major museum exhibition offers an opportunity to follow this story as it’s developed over the past twelve years of her career.
All of the work on display here depicts animals—most often coyotes, foxes, deer, rabbits, and owls, though a menagerie of other creatures, including humans, also appear. In Buffalohead’s works on paper, over half of the total pieces in the show, these characters float in expanses of negative space. In contrast, her large oil paintings investigate fully realized landscapes. Buffalohead’s animals often don masks of other animals, evoking the artist’s recurrent theme of identity in flux.
In ways that are both playful and pointed, the characters emphasize motifs of Buffalohead’s Ponca tribe, crossing lines with traditional Western tales such as Alice in Wonderland and “The Three Little Pigs,” in which animals also play a central role. In Standoff, 2012, a slender woman joins a teddy bear, owl, wolf, and doe for a tea party; each wears a mask (the woman sports the face of a wolf, the owl is garbed as a rabbit, the doe dons the face of a cat). Pop culture iconography figures in works like Mine, 2005, in which a fierce coyote, standing on its hind legs, feeds a bottle of milk to a small toy version of Wile E. Coyote. Minnesota’s state bird, the Common Loon, shows up in the unambiguously symbolic Untitled, 2008, bathing in a pool of tears wept by a prone coyote. With a solemnity leavened by wit and charm, Buffalohead’s work conjures an unsettling vision of a world in turmoil, of icons unmoored.
“Teoría del color” (Color Theory) investigates social systems steeped in exclusion, racial differentiation, and discrimination, through the work of fifteen international artists in a variety of media, including posters, video, installation, photography, painting, and performance. These works reveal that there is no better testament to the racism deeply rooted in our time than the visual clues embedded in supposedly postracial societies. Take for example Daniela Ortiz’s 97 Empleadas domésticas (97 Domestic Employees) , 2010, a compelling photo album of snapshots documenting social and family gatherings of upper-class Peruvians collected by the artist from Facebook profiles. These familiar scenes expose a common yet perturbing practice of exclusion, as in all the photographs, housekeepers and nannies appear either in the background, out of focus, or cropped. While revealing a classist society, these images also expose the ambiguous, awkward conditions of domestic labor where intimacy paradoxically coexists with intentional distancing and estrangement.
Everyday and everywhere people are subject to racial differentiation and classification due to the omnipresence of biometric surveillance software. Zach Blas’s “Facial Weaponization Suite,” 2011–14, responds to these technologies by producing a series of masks modeled on aggregated facial data from a workshop’s participants. Creating the possibility to avoid facial identification through amorphous, colorful masks, Blas protests the digital systems that use categorizations based on gender, ethnicity, and sexuality to discriminately privilege and disadvantage people. Racism still exacts heavy socioeconomic, political, and emotional consequences globally, and this exhibition engages these issues in a critical discussion that is very necessary, not least for a country such as Mexico, which is characterized by both invisible and institutionalized mechanisms of discrimination that create destructive social inequality.