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.
“Painter’s painter” is a term of praise for artists who forcefully push the medium to generate new expressive possibilities. This exhibition, assembled over the span of three years, thanks to a gift from the Alex Katz Foundation, gathers works by thirteen contemporary painters plus several by Katz himself. These include skillful imitations of surfaces and materials (Jan de Vliegher, Man with Gigantic Bee, 2012), reimaginings of pop-culture images (Joyce Pensato, Daisy, 2007), and private visions bordering on psychological puzzles (Wilhelm Sasnal, Untitled, 2012). Also noteworthy is one of Ronald Bladen’s rarely seen impastoed paintings, the gritty and chthonic Space Landscape, 1955.
Among the strongest works is Laura Owens’s Untitled, 2013, which illustrates the possibilities of a simple black-and-white palette. Two large-scale grids overlap like Photoshop layers, scribbled across with thick lines rendered perfectly three-dimensional by drop shadows. Her precise control of line and shading makes the occasional blob of raised paint look like material intrusions into a realm of digital brushstrokes. Charline von Heyl’s symbolically charged Idolores, 2011, is dominated by an enigmatic figure that wavers between a stone totem and a blinded skull topped with a black spiky crown. The figure seems trapped between the woven grating that covers it and the background of pale bars, but at times it reverses itself, becoming part of a larger underpainted pattern that is only partially revealed. Spencer Sweeney’s Untitled, 2011, draws on Grace Jones’s iconic Island Life cover, portraying her as the ghostly shadow of a painter’s model, a barely outlined form seemingly dissolving under the lascivious red-eared artist’s gaze. The work’s multiple lines of sight depict the painted subject as not quite a person, but rather something between an object and an idea.
“Jasper Johns: Picture Puzzles” presents a focused look at the artist’s output from between 1960 and 2010, pointing to a sense of inwardness not generally associated with his practice. It is immediately clear that something more complex is occurring in this group of prints. Johns harkens back to the ethos of “A Name for All,” a poem by his frequent inspiration Hart Crane: “Moonmoth and grasshopper that flee our page / and still wing on untarnished of the name / we pinion to your bodies to assuage / our envy of your freedom.” The lithograph Pinion, 1963–66, exhibits a similar urge to come up for air, to find a means of self-expression. Impressions of Johns’s body are submerged under the flotsam and jetsam of color—a simultaneous aesthetic and physical drowning. The same exploration of something underneath both the medium and the body occurs in Johns’s prints of layered crosshatches or overlapping numbers. Johns invests in his work’s capacity for unveiling and erasure, an operation akin to our own daily self-fashioning of gender and sexuality.
Like Glenn Ligon, who uses text to emphasize the erasure of bodies and legacies, Johns stacks digits on top of each other and makes allusions to a queer voice taken far too soon—all in an effort to illustrate the multiplicity of meanings that can be derived from work that could be described unitarily as quintessential Pop imagery. It could be, in fact, that the “puzzle” has nothing to do with images or numbers or disembodied limbs. Rather, this exhibition considers the puzzle of identity, a constantly shifting process of legibility and illegibility, mutability and fixity.
Spend a day in silence. Descend a hill blindfolded. Build a village out of driftwood. Such were the sense-expanding (if common-sense confounding) activities that the dauntless young dancers and designers who attended Anna and Lawrence Halprin’s late-1960s cross-disciplinary workshops in the San Francisco Bay area could expect—if one could ever really have known what to expect from a curriculum “scored” for maximum kinesthetic effect by the pioneering choreographer and her landscape architect husband. The Halprins were standouts in their respective fields, and this exhibition highlights the vital but overlooked collaborative inquiries into movement awareness, participatory techniques, and process-oriented pedagogy that emerged from their recognition of the environment as a common medium: both a support for works of art and a portal to untrammeled perceptual territories.
Organized with the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, the delightfully mounted presentation brings together materials—scores, schedules, letters, applications, notebooks, photographs, posters, rosters, announcements, films—related to three such workshops with detailed architectural documentation of two of the spring-summer workshops’ primary sites: the Halprins’ cliffside Sea Ranch cabin and wooded Mount Tamalpais residence, home to their famed tree-trunk punctured “dance deck.” Seen against today’s carbon credit–counting ecological consciousness, these open-ended forays alert us as much to the gauntness of our compulsory environmental “awareness” as to the Halprins’ immeasurable and estimable faith in art’s capacity to imagine other, more collective and creative worlds through tactile explorations of everyday life. Take a final lesson from City Map Score, 1968: “Imagine yourself in a place of fantasies and act accordingly.”
In 1968, Amiri Baraka’s harsh sentencing for purportedly inciting civil unrest in Newark, New Jersey, was symptomatic of the racial discrimination that led to the riots. He was guilty of “formulating a plot”—the judge’s words that inspired the subtitle of Haitian-born Adler Guerrier’s first solo museum exhibition. While themes of racial iniquity loom large in his exhibition, truth and fiction are blurred, preventing the work from becoming didactic.
For instance, the mixed-media installation Untitled (BLCK-We Wear the Mask), 2007–2008, is a collection of artifacts from a fictional artist collective BLCK based in Liberty City, a predominantly African American neighborhood of Miami, that Guerrier imagined to be in solidarity with other radical Black movements across the country in the 1960s. The assemblage includes monochromatic photographs, black text on black protest signs, and prints with half-obscured urban scenes.
“Untitled (Overtown North),” 2006, is a photographic series of nondescript locations, largely of empty lots and streets at night that are lit by the eerie effulgence of lampposts. The title is instructive: It points to the Miami neighborhood Overtown, as well as to Wynwood, directly north. The work simultaneously evokes in mood the recent past of Wynwood—an abandoned warehouse turned gentrified arts district—as much as the recent present of Overtown—a center of urban decay that was once a bustling economic center for African Americans. As in much of Guerrier’s work, politics and poetics are held in tension—in this exhibition, by nimbly blurring past and present, here and there.
In a photograph at the Soap Factory’s current exhibition, two collapsible chairs on a concrete rooftop terrace face the sunset. Welcome to Casa Poli. Straight out of modernist fantasy, the white-cube cultural center sits above the surf-pounded cliffs of the Chilean coast, where Alexa Horochowski spent two artist residencies. The resulting body of work presented in this show, titled “Club Disminución” (Club of Diminishing Returns), consists of sculptures, found objects, digital scans, and videos. But only the photograph, in which customized white letters spell CLUB Disminución on the chairs’ backrests, explicitly references the philosophical fiction at the heart of Horochowski’s strange and mesmerizing world.
Inspired by writer and fellow Argentinian Gabrielo Saez’s darkly humorous invitation to the United States to join the club of formerly great nations, Horochowski coined a name for that fictional club, a union designed to do far more than embrace the withering paradigm of incessant economic growth. Horochowski conjures a melancholic, pre-postapocalyptic future-perfect beyond the human.
Conveying this dark sensibility are metal casts of bark alongside sculptures made from dried and rehydrated Antarctic kelp, its thick black coils teased into elegant freestanding sculptures, or woven through the rusty skeleton of a cube. Something—call it the modernist faith in progress, the Minimalist investment in masterpiece—is disintegrating here. Horochowski suggests a posthuman future, where assorted beach debris attests to the former glory of human civilization. In enlarged black-and-white digital scans of barnacles, minerals, and wasp nests, a quasi-organic architecture takes shape, poised to outlast us all. A Gothic sensibility reverberates throughout: evocative, sinister, and auguring the fall of the Anthropocene.
Portland-based artists Michael Knutson and Carol Benson, both highly accomplished artists working in an abstract vein, happen to be married. Though each artist’s work is quite distinct, this two-person exhibition of recent paintings and wall reliefs highlights their complementary commitments to pattern, meticulous hand process, and eccentric optical phenomena. A former student of Al Held at Yale, Knutson has spent the last thirty years exploring forms of art-historical and vernacular patterning in oil paintings and watercolors that depict elastic spaces composed of warped and spiraling latticed ovals in an astonishing visual complexity. In works such as Four-layered Rotational Symmetry I (all works 2014), Knutson begins with pencil drawings, which are then scanned and digitally rotated to become the blueprint for a masterful color study. Like other works in the exhibition, this painting contrasts earthy hues with jewel-tone high notes reminiscent of South American abstract artists such as Antonio Llorens. As a systematic evolution of American Color Field abstraction, Knutson’s vivid works stretch and twist with a cosmic energy while maintaining a rigorous painterly formalism.
Working with cast-off canvas, wooden branches, oil paint, and other odd bits, Benson stitches and wires her works together into large, intertwined tangles that slump, slope, and protrude from the wall. Topkapi Blue is a tousled mass of thick tendrils painted in hues inspired by Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. Benson’s brushstrokes, palpable across the work’s twisting surfaces, possess the raw presence and energy found in the wall sculptures of feminist artists Harmony Hammond and Mary Heilmann. The supreme surfaces of Knutson’s pieces are amplified by Benson’s tactile odysseys, with works by both artists equally interspersed throughout the gallery—by turn contrasting and energizing each other’s methodologies.
Salvatore Scarpitta, ever fascinated by the drug of extreme risk, spent many of his eighty-eight years testing the outer limits of mortality as a speed racer. His obsession with the mechanics of speed, and the emotional intensity it inspires, links the varied selections within this survey, which include race cars, sleds, and sculptural paintings. Though small, the show is comprehensive, beginning with Scarpitta’s wrapped and overlapping canvases. Swathes of fabric are woven in crude layers, each stretched so tightly along its weft that it curls along its warp—or vice versa. The suppleness of the fabric structure contrasts with the hardened patina of resin that burnishes it as if congealing once-elastic skin into a fixed, immovable surface.
Scarpitta’s oeuvre combines the material grit of Arte Povera, the postmodern physicality of works by John Chamberlain and Eva Hesse, and Andy Warhol’s Pop allusions to commercial marketing. Elements of sensuality, implicit violence, and physical constriction are magnified in Scarpitta’s sleds, built from wooden skis and rusted metal pieces, which he wrapped with canvas strips, as though bandaging wounds or preserving relics. Alluding to his later-life return to a focus on classical formal sculpture, they stand in striking opposition to his race cars—shiny, quick-looking but only occasionally functional vehicles, presented here as a high-gloss midpoint of the exhibition and branded by colorful sponsor logos. Scarpitta famously founded a speed-racing league (and convinced Leo Castelli to sponsor it), and his race cars are among his more accessible pieces on view. Sleekly interlocking art with the sense-heightening eroticism of a nearness to death, Scarpitta’s automobiles—as well as his painting-sculpture hybrids—capture the daring adventure and inherently affirming beauty of our elemental impulses.
Though the means of documenting conflict have changed dramatically between the Crimean War and present battles in the Middle East, editorial challenges remain remarkably similar. Whether photographers have used collodion-plate photographs or high-res digital images, they consistently still struggle to capture violence, chaos, and tragedy in a manner that is both intelligent and affective. With this in mind, curator Thierry Gervais has expertly assembled “Dispatch: War Photographs in Print, 1854–2008,” an exhibition that studies the formal construction and conventions of war photography, tracing a trajectory of negotiations between aesthetic and reportorial demands.
“Dispatch” investigates the proximity of the viewer to the subject—comparing the distance to that between the photographer and the subject—as well as the discrepancies between the original print and the published reproduction. The exhibition considers the tropes that have evolved from Robert Capa’s famous photograph of the Allied forces’ D-Day landing on Omaha Beach—an unforgettable image that couples the aesthetics of instantaneity with the intensity of war. References to this shot crop up strikingly in a New York Times photograph by Francois Sully on August 26, 1963, depicting South Vietnamese soldiers running through wetland rice fields, in which the grain appears to be cresting waves. The inclusion of numerous compelling works ranging from Roger Fenton’s Omar Pacha, 1855, to Luc Delahaye’s image of a dead Taliban soldier further evidence the tremendous research and thought invested in this curatorial project. “Dispatch” reframes the alacrity of press photography and the paroxysms of conflict, while chronicling the changing meanings of war photography.
Mark Lewis is a master of the long take. The London-based Canadian artist’s single-shot silent films and videos unfold over time in a symphony of perceptual flux and cinematic form. There is a painterly, even sculptural sensibility to his meticulous compositions. When Lewis’s camera slowly glides across densely layered sight lines of monumental landscapes or urban street views, the viewer is drawn past the static visual frame into a crescendo where meaning is ultimately, and unexpectedly, revealed.
Shot at the edge of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, Observation in Cheorwon County, 2014—one of three digital videos exhibited here—opens with a close-up of stones and concrete shards on a weather-beaten, corrugated-steel roof. The camera then pans over a tangled forest and abandoned military bunkers to a vista of frozen rice fields and finally rounds back to an aerial view of tourists on a platform gazing north across the border. These juxtapositions are a study in formal and historical contradictions, and the final image of a blue-and-white six-pointed-star helipad perhaps hints at Cold War–era standoffs still festering in other parts of the world. In Derek Jawgeer, 2013, the camera circles a roadway roundabout in suburban London then tracks through a pedestrian underpass to the title’s guitar-playing busker in an antidrama of hidden socioeconomic resistance amid mundane modern city life. These cinematic and political concerns also manifest in Above and Below the Minhocao, 2014, which hovers above and around pedestrian traffic on an overpass in Săo Paulo. Recurring textural contrasts abound—a patterned sidewalk, makeshift construction hoarding, the expressway’s linear cuts through city space. But it is the couples walking hand in hand, the cyclists, skateboarders, and other passersby whose increasingly long shadows in the waning hours of the day create the most telling and lasting sense of presence.