How can one render the invisible visible? This question stands out in this group exhibition that preserves the leftovers of show preparation. In it, a minor collection of unattributed works fills a small gallery set aside for the Bay Area Art Workers Alliance: a yellow-and-gray moving blanket hangs from a wall as a flimsy monochrome; a lensless projector fades in and out during a color test; drill holes from the previous month’s exhibition await drywall spackle. The twenty-three works on display extend the parameters of an exhibition’s “work” to include both the preparator’s labor and the support structures involved in the work’s installation.
By emphasizing these elements of show preparation, the exhibition is suspended in a state of potentiality. For instance, the color test is projected at a frame rate that is unsynchronized with its recorded image. A CCTV camera records and feeds a CCTV CRT monitor at a different rate than the projected image. In a sense, the image appears as an aura of its own failure. Likewise, in another part of the exhibition, a video fades through all the possible hues and tones used to smooth images over the course of an exhibition. These tests serve as necessary experiments during preparation and maintenance, but in this particular iteration they are noninstrumentalized—excessive and unfinished.
Located on the bustling Mission Street thoroughfare between to-die-for taquerías and mango-laden fruit stands, this exhibition of works by Ruth Laskey and Suzan Frecon, both known for creations that eschew the bombastic in favor of a cool craftiness, is a meditative world apart. Painstakingly woven over a period of six months, the seven framed textile pieces from Laskey’s “Twill Series,” 2005–14, incorporate abstract, geometric forms that recall Navajo graphic motifs and Pomo Indian basket designs. Working on a diaphanous white linen ground, as in Twill Series (Caribbean Blue/Black), 2014, the artist wove a single monochromatic shape, then bordered the form with a black line, but left one side of the blue plane exposed. With their minimal forms, her work undoubtedly hews closer to the likes of Bauhaus innovators Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl than the samplers of Elaine Reichek.
Though Laskey may have traded in painting for textiles, the seven abstract watercolors by Frecon are a testament to her mastery of the former. Painted on salvaged Indian or Japanese papers, Frecon’s compositions of rounded mounds and milky color fields evoke abstracted vistas. In Indigo Light, 2014, a hole pierced near the center of the creased paper resembles a horizon line bound by swathes of deep indigo. Nearby, the lozenge-shaped pool of marbled cobalt-blue encircled by a field of brick red in Impracticable Enceinte (b), 2014, calls to mind a cooling oasis amid an arid landscape. With the din of the world beyond the gallery faintly perceptible, Frecon’s watercolors remind us that art can offer a sublime refuge.
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.
Woman with a Camera (Diptych), 2008, is one of the works you first encounter as you enter Anne Collier’s first major museum exhibition, which encompasses ten years of powerful didactic photography. The illustrious diptych succinctly embodies Collier’s enthusiasm for iconic image-making and conveys her photographic authority and commanding appropriation. Lifted from Irvin Kershner’s film Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), the work’s black-and-white print on the left depicts a 35-mm camera pressed against film star Faye Dunaway’s eye. The work’s second image, on the right, is printed in color and pictures Dunaway staring directly at her subject over the camera’s body, not through its viewfinder. As with all the works that make up Collier’s extensive “Woman with a Camera” series (2006–), there is an obvious inversion of female objectification evoked historically by the entitlement of the male gaze. Yet the exertion of gender politics that acts as a thread throughout her work is a mere subtext to the cultural power afforded to blunt and emblematic image-making, an authority Collier wields with aplomb.
The same can be said of First Person, 2009, Introduction, Fear, Anger, Despair, Guilt, Hope, Joy, Love, Conclusion, 2002–2014, My Goals for One Year, 2007, and Spiritual Warfare, 2006, all centrally composed images of found self-help artifacts: audio tapes, questionnaires, worksheets, and personality checklists. Although each item that Collier documents was designed to address messy emotional states, the photographs are undemonstrative. Taking as a model the contrivances of the Pictures Generation, Collier’s appropriation strategies are dispassionate but never disinterested. Always clinical in their formal presentation, the prints can range in temper from witty to cruel. Yet pleasingly Collier’s authoritative aesthetic stands in static opposition to a post-Internet aesthetic and its colloquial speed of production. Unlike Laura Mars, Collier’s photographic aptitude comes from the fact that the artist never holds a camera up to her eye.
“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.
The paranormal romance genre thrives on selling teenagers fantasies of transformation in which lonely outsiders only find their true selves and true loves by becoming something monstrous and strange. Saturated with a jittery mood of adolescent anxiety, this exhibition, curated by Hamza Walker, explores variations on these themes of mutability and self-creation.
The sculptural works on view have deep affection for marginal materials that range from thrift-store discards to near-trash. Guyton\Walker’s mattresses printed with colorful abstract digital images lean like soft monoliths, and Chris Bradley’s Grease Face, 2011, meticulously replicates a stained pizza box, in bronze, aluminum, and spray paint, overlaid with a circle and two dots that suggest an outlined cartoon head. Bradley’s work jokingly toys with teen anxiety over potentially blemished skin, and Jack Lavender’s sculptures similarly depict faces as unruly and ill-shaped conglomerations cobbled together from junk food remnants and other found objects. With adolescent visages and bodies being such unreliable things, the search for acceptance is sometimes anchored elsewhere, in social rituals such as taking the perfect hit from a beer bong—as depicted in Jill Frank’s Bong (Shawn), 2014—or in performances for others, like the face-to-face confrontation between two fenced-in walls displaying graffitied bear heads in Kathryn Andrews’s Friends and Lovers, 2010.
The dark heart of the exhibition is Ed Atkins’s giddy and bleak Even Pricks, 2013, an exemplary slice of Dada teen spirit packaged into a commercial montage narrated by a digitally rendered chimpanzee, featuring a wayward, intermittently erectile thumb with a habit of penetrating navels, ears, and eyes. Even in this uncanny, high-definition world, there is no escape from our chaotic, monstrous bodies.
Like the Kinsey Report, Forrest Bess’s work synthesized several currents in motion in midcentury America: new, open-minded perspectives that science and medicine offered on the physical body and the self. This exhibition emphasizes not only Bess’s small, spare abstract paintings, but also his life as a sexual visionary in a small Texas fishing village, where he painted in solitude and corresponded with such art-world luminaries as Betty Parsons and Meyer Schapiro, and sexologists such as John Money. From his small house where he worked as a bait salesman, he would send Parsons paintings to sell, such as Untitled (No. 6), 1959, which shows two cigar-thin maroon-and-white figures facing each other, streaks of Pepto-Bismol-colored paint streaming outward from behind each, like light beams emanating from behind their silhouettes. The paint is thick and labored, clogging the implied dynamism of the scene. In several other canvases as well, the human body appears in parts before disappearing into atmospheric ooze or mist. The colors are both acrid and heavenly—pinks, gray-blues, a chartreuse—and swirl together into offbeat Jungian portals.
Bess devoted years to studying the union between masculine and feminine energies in science and literature. In 1953, he performed at-home genital surgery on himself, reporting to Schapiro, “I had found entrance to the world within myself—a beautiful dimension.” Archival materials chosen by Robert Gober—Bess’s endless letters, journals, and his written thesis on hermaphroditism—show his attempts to convey own bodily and spiritual unity to a matrix of thinkers. In a sense, this is “Seeing Things Invisible”’s thesis: that Bess’s work is a rhizomatic force drawing together multiple worlds.
Todd Hido’s current exhibition, “Excerpts from Silver Meadow,” pursues a disjointed narrative about midwestern suburbia in the 1960s and ’70s. From the puzzle pieces—nearly one hundred photographs, pulp novels, and ephemera—we discover an anxiously normal boy with a dark side. The uneven sizing and hanging of the images augment this collage effect, with the works by turns manifesting fear, banality, and lust. Many of the blurred landscapes taken from inside a car bleakly outline a particular upbringing—Hido’s own. In fact, the show as a whole productively commingles the tale of a fictionalized character and a re-creation of the artist’s upbringing in Kent, Ohio.
In one grouping, a reproduction of a torn and taped photo of a woman with her dress yanked up is positioned between a photo of a handwritten notecard showing the measurements of a young man’s body, and a black-and-white photo of two boys playing in front of a suburban house. In another cluster, the viewer finds a decomposing, yellowing home; a fallen red tricycle (in a tribute to Eggleston); a lushly wallpapered interior desolate of objects aside from an off-the-hook telephone; and a final, fading memory from a fragment of a party banner: COME HOME.
Hido also has a propensity for voyeuristic night imagery. In #7373, 2009, tire treads in light snow lead up to a darkened home in which only a room on the second floor is illuminated. This image also appears on the cover of a Vintage reissue edition of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories (1989), which is displayed in a vitrine alongside novels such as Sin Drenched and Driven Desire. Throughout, the small-town vernacular of Hido’s American landscapes becomes charged with a compelling friction.
“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.
Photography is dead, or so “Phantoms in the Dirt” might suggest. After nearly two centuries, photography finds itself in a predicament similar to what it inflicted on painting—questioning its significance in light of changing technology and the escalating reproduction of images that are redefining the ontology of a picture. Photographic practices are foregrounding materiality more than ever in order to stand out from the wash of virtuality surrounding them.
Curated by Karsten Lund, this exhibition features artists whose work remedies this digital overdose. Bark, bronze, rust, and dirt are just some of the photographed and physical materials present here, creating an atmosphere of decay throughout the exhibition. A sculpture by Shane Ward, Barrel, 2014, includes a rusted oil container with a glossy spill of cast-aluminum, which speaks to the similarity between sculptural casting and photographic reproducibility as well as evokes war for natural resources. Upstairs, the viewer encounters two enigmatic C-prints by Shannon Ebner, Untitled, Blank No. 1 and Untitled, Blank No.2, both 2008, of a figure erasing himself from a landscape by holding a white board in front of himself. Harold Mendez’s compelling work Let the Shadows in to Play Their Part, 2012, is an ink-stained eucalyptus bark scrim that occupies an entire wall. In Beaucoups of Blues, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, November, 2012, Richard Mosse uses discontinued Cold War–era camouflage-detecting film to photograph Congolese landscapes haunted by war. Rendering the land an acidic pink inversion of a documentary photograph, this work, in concert with the others, testifies that through a rigorous examination of earthly substances and rerouting of traditional processes, photography may yet render the spirit visible.
Nothing plain is simple. This apparent paradox encapsulates some of the mercurial magic found in Nairy Baghramian’s first foray into the Midwestern United States. Curated by Susanne Ghez, the exhibition demonstrates Baghramian’s particular deftness with sculptural form and savvy in an engaging exhibition context.
Take the large low-lying sculpture French Curve (all works 2014), which occupies the Art Institute’s terrace. Opting not to battle with the Chicago skyline, the artist created a work that, from the initial approach, conjures up associations of a scooped-out corporality—linking the human body’s internal grossness to industrial manufacture. Viewed from another vantage point, it evokes a line of concrete barriers with a nod to Minimalist sculpture. If the piece is modest in it’s verticality, it remains elegant and spare. French Curve is made all the more striking for it’s odd use of color, a blanched yellow, which is dull and flaccid. This might be misconstrued as a shortcoming. Yet it is precisely this quality that causes the work to linger.
In a slightly jangling (and rather immediate) shift in context to the museum’s upscale restaurant is a series of seven sculptures titled Slip of the Tongue, which press up against their vitrines and appear as waxy, bandaged, and bruised limbs—not phantoms, but haunting. The odd is in the particular and the banal is often equated with generality; the two together in this exhibition are, for a lack of a better term, beautiful.
Back in 2006, wealthy magnate Steve Wynn accidentally elbowed Pablo Picasso’s Le Rêve, tearing a hole through the painting. The rambunctious manner in which Magalie Guérin sets abstract body parts swinging around the compositions of her modestly scaled paintings could recall such a gaff. In Untitled (Hat—Ham), 2012–14, for instance, engorged lavender and lemon appendages jab beyond the rectilinear framing devices the artist has deeply incised into the canvas’s surface.
Guérin parodies pictorial devices from painting’s history and employs clunky color schemes in choice moments as if engaging them in goofy games of dress up—a comedic affront to any supposed endgame for her cherished medium. A shape resembling a three-leaf clover is debossed in the middle of some of the eight paintings on view. This consistent repetition amid a chatter of loudly contrasting formal modeling shows a keenly attentive methodology, which sets the tempo for her wilder explorations. In sweetly puzzling works, she inches her abstractions as close as she can toward recognizable imagery, as with the carnivalesque bicorne in Untitled (Hat—House), 2013–14. From canvas to canvas, she tests the assumptions that divide authenticity and appropriation. Moreover, she squeezes her wonky shapes into a playful zone between the looming presence of her abstract-painter forebears on one side and depictions of the material world on the other. Even the comically exaggerated facial features in Untitled (Hat—Ears), 2013, would seem to propose that contemporary painting is a shared costume closet chock-full of positions, profound impersonations, and sly subterfuge that may be layered in endless variations.
One of the more tired arguments regarding nature is that it is simply our own construction. It’s not. It is a collaboration. “Paraperspective,” a fifteen-year survey of Amy Vogel’s work, which is curated by artist Joseph Grigely, lends credence to this conviction. The exhibition traffics in the interplay between kitsch, art, the paraphernalia of display, and representations of nature. All the work retains an air of potentiality about it—with some pieces still partially wrapped in packing material, while others sit respectfully beneath vitrines (a hallmark of Grigely’s own practice).
Just outside the glass wall of the gallery, Painted Rock (all works 2014), an installation resembling a pigment-spattered Japanese rock garden, extends and confuses tropes of landscape painting by refashioning the medium with artificial objects. This jumble of associations feels at once familiar and strange, and it extends into other moments in the exhibition that compete for the viewer’s attention in a manner that is more gleeful than desperate. For example, Horizontal Storage Rack, a collaborative piece by Grigely and Vogel, is a table-like structure cluttered with a range of objects: nickel-plated animal traps, a mauve swan, and a cast of a tire planter, all arranged in various states of assembly, questioning conventions of contemporary art display. These works are all indicative of what feels—in the end—like a natural collaboration between Vogel and Grigely, one that walks a fine line of being delicately off-balance, making the distinction between kitsch and contemporary art moot.
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.”
Richly sensorial, “A Proximity of Consciousness,” curated by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller, explores glancing moments of intersection between social practice and the natural elements. How social practice ought to be exhibited has been a bone of contention among supporters and critics alike, due in large measure to the fact that what is essential to the genre, what is lived and experienced, has not always been easily translatable into the syntax of gallery displays. If the curatorial rhetoric around this show resists defining social practice, one is nevertheless left considering alternate notions of its artistic usage.
For Seven Thousand Cords (After Beuys) (all works 2014), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle carries out the intimate activity of splitting wood with invited guests. Culminating in stacked firewood piles possessed of a high-modernist veneer, the work lends the exhibition a redolent air of autumnal potential. To dizzying and poignant effect, Michael Rakowitz’s Every Weapon is a Tool if You Hold it Right shares the history (and served up a meal) of masgouf: the national dish of Iraq, made of Asian carp, a fish that is considered an invasive species in the US. In Rakowitz’s work, the masgouf becomes heart-wrenching synecdoche for the ongoing conflicts in Iraq. Laurie Jo Reynolds’s self-termed “legislative art” tackles the (in)human aspects of the carceral. Her replica of a living room represents one site of her collaboration with the Tamms Year Ten coalition—activists who managed to shut down the supermax prison in Illinois in 2013. In some instances, it is better when art answers more questions than it raises.
I had an epiphany about Sabina Ott’s sculptures while riding a rollercoaster. Sliding through the Swiss Alps on Disneyland’s Matterhorn, beneath the Southern California sun, I saw it: pastel lights glowing on faux snow. Ott’s similarly garish, mystical mist of neon spray enamel on carved polystyrene and spray foam is an environment-design technique she may have smuggled from Los Angeles’s happiness industry during her tenure there in the 1990s. “Here and there pink melon joy” is her sensational debut large-scale solo exhibition in Chicago.
Ott’s vision of candy-hued icicles as hanging lamps is a welcome reverie in a city with so much dirty snow. The sculptures on view are embedded with round mirrors, dead clocks, exposed light bulbs, plastic and real houseplants, drums, and drum music composed by artist Joe Jeffers, whose rhythm echoes the ticktock beats of the bucket drummers on the adjacent Michigan Avenue. Like a funhouse, “here and there pink melon joy” takes visitors on a momentary journey; in three galleries Ott leads us through her versions of hell, purgatory, and paradise in a nod to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The show culminates with the video installation to perceive the invisible in you, 2012, a swirling tangle of ecstatic love poems by Rumi, William Blake, and Gertrude Stein among others projected on four walls.
Ott succeeds in building her own sort of Fantasyland. It’s a place where, like a Disney movie, objects might come alive to play with and protect you. But this dream is no escape from reality; Ott builds the type of world she wants us to live in.
“Someday is Now” surveys the work of artist, teacher, and nun Corita Kent (1918–1986), emphasizing her both as prolific artist and inventive educator. Kent taught at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles from 1947 until ’68, and her Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules, 1967, includes pedagogical edicts such as NOTHING IS A MISTAKE. THERE'S NO WIN AND NO FAIL. THERE'S ONLY MAKE. and THE ONLY RULE IS WORK. Beyond the classroom, Kent courted serious international interest during her lifetime, gracing the cover of Newsweek in 1967 and connecting with such figures as John Cage, who, along with Merce Cunningham, much admired and promoted her dictums.
This exhaustive survey brings together documentary ephemera as well as films such as We Have No Art, 1967, which shows Kent leading participatory Happenings. Kent embraced silkscreen serigraphic printing alongside Warhol, Rauschenberg, and others, a noteworthy example being The lord is with thee, 1952, depicts biblical figures in a blocky style of German Expressionism. By the mid-1960s, this content ceded to appropriative remixes of found text and graphic design, such as that they may have life, 1964, which mixes the palette, polka dots, and promises of Wonderbread (“enriched bread”) with a Gandhi quotation. Likewise in song about the greatness, 1964, the text of Psalm 98 is harmonized with the slogan MAKES MEATBAL SING. Part commodity critique, part secular humanist optimism, these cropped citations put pressure on the disembodied voice, using literature, religion, and advertising against each other to challenge their respective premises.
Harmony Hammond’s exhibition “Becoming/UnBecoming Monochrome” offers a sampling of the artist’s works, including fourteen large paintings from 2001–2014, fifteen smaller paintings from the mid 1970s, and Collection of Fragments, 1974–76, a display of baskets, shoes, and pottery. In some of the early paintings, such as the lozenge-shaped Ninja, 1976, Hammond created density, depth, and luminosity with oil paint and Dorland’s wax, working the viscous mass, perhaps with the butt end of the brush, into a honeycomb or spongelike pattern. Almost forty years later, the surface still seems wet and alive, as if the artist could dig in again to reshape it. For the near-monochrome Muffle, 2009, Hammond stretched mat covers from the dojo where she practiced and taught the Japanese martial art aikido for decades. Grommet-studded straps hold down the covers under thick layers of tactile black oil paint. The composition here, like the work’s title, suggests violence and restraint.
In her book Lesbian Art in America, Hammond writes that she has “always tried to work on the edge between abstract form and political content.” Being an artist and practicing aikido are inherently feminist pursuits for Hammond. Politics are manifest in the works’ controlled vehemence, the focused gestures of layering and wrapping that join art and craft, painting and self-defense. In a manifesto printed in this exhibition’s catalogue, she insists that her paintings “occupy some sort of fugitive or queer space,” even in their “refusal to ‘look’ queer.” Hammond doesn’t say what should be seen. She leaves us looking as she moves on, giving new forms to the embodied political tensions that have always motivated her work.
An unfortunate issue facing feminist artists and collectives that began their practices in the 1970s and ’80s is that the historical specificity of their political interventions has been lost in a haze of totalizing readings by scholars and critics. The Guerrilla Girls, for instance, have often been simply categorized as social commentators rather than as artists examining the intersection of aesthetics, gender, and history. Now in their thirtieth year, the group continues to fight in a characteristically biting fashion for their well-deserved place in the canon while other figureheads of institutional critique enjoy more visible support.
Featuring a tightly curated selection of posters, large billboards reprinted at their original scale, and picket signs from the collective’s international activities—which range from lectures to workshops to protests—this retrospective offers much more than mere documentation of a formerly radical movement. The iconic Do Women Have to be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum, 1989–2012, reflects a host of art-world conundrums that persist to this day, including social prejudice affecting art-historical pedagogy. Ingres’s infamous Grande Odalisque is pictured front and center—yet, now donning a gorilla mask, she is no longer in service to a patriarchal imagination but rather asserts her autonomy and frustrates a male-dominated, imperialist lineage of artistic value. Such appropriative tactics evoke the lingering, tangled layers of representational modes that support prevailing power narratives. The works gathered here make a forceful case for the continued relevance of the Guerrilla Girls because of their construction of a multivalent critique that strikes ferociously at pervasive sexism.
The urge to see the artist’s tools is as old as art itself; it reflects a fundamental though perhaps antiquated yearning to catch a glimpse of the magic of creation, the process by which an artist turns everyday materials into a masterpiece. In James Casebere’s exhibition “Scales and Dimensions,” we are afforded that opportunity by the inclusion of Casebere’s rarely shown scale models that serve as the basis for his photography. But rather than excitement, there is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. Gone is the disturbing patina of the photographs, whose magnificent and haunting glamour could give Wes Anderson a run for his money, and in its place is a set of handmade buildings and boxes containing toy trees. Similar to Laurie Simmons, Casebere exploits the way miniatures can oscillate between representing reality or dreams. Why, then, exhibit the props whose presence roots the photographs firmly in mundane reality?
Exposing the construction of his tableaux provokes a fresh consideration of process, medium, and meaning in a much-needed revision of the ubiquitous psychological readings that cling to the Pictures generation. Besides highlighting Casebere’s deep knowledge of architecture, exhibiting the meticulously crafted models alongside his photographs frees us to consider the breadth of meanings—conceptual and formal—inherent in conceptual photography. One can see, for example, Dan Flavin’s “monument” 1 for V. Tatlin, 1964, embedded and repurposed in Casebere’s Two Bunk Cell, 1998, a visual reminder of the historical layers that produce meaning in Casebere’s unsettling interiors and landscapes. Disappointment, then, becomes grounds for new discoveries.
Commissioned by the museum, and conceived of as a tongue-in-cheek “collaboration” with the museum’s architect, Zaha Hadid, Mithu Sen’s playful but unsettling Border Unseen, 2014, opposes the brutally rigid and abstract geometry of Hadid’s building by tracing a soft, fleshy line in the space. Rising up gradually from the floor, the eighty-foot-long hanging sculpture consists of a narrow ridge made from carefully poured pink dental polymer that is topped with a seemingly unending row of false teeth, which are held in place by drips of gooey, hot glue, and sits atop a thin metal beam. In a quintessential feminist gesture, the abject interior of the human body is transfigured into both architecture and landscape.
Though the arrested fluidity of Sen’s materials recalls Lynda Benglis’s famous poured-latex sculptures from the 1970s, here the scale and effect is more intimate than sublime. The sculpture simultaneously evokes various body parts—spine, tongue, tail—in addition to an impossibly long and straight gingiva. Firmly anchored high on a far corner wall, it also resembles a parasitic worm more than it does a discrete external threat.
Interspersed among the fake teeth, which are occasionally arranged in circles or ellipses to possibly suggest vagina dentata, are other similarly sized objects: pointy shark teeth, tiny cartoon skulls, and miniature train set figurines. These details encourage close looking along the sculpture’s length and introduce the possibility of narrative. Transforming the materials used to build oral prostheses into a floating fantasy landscape, Sen’s sculpture manages to combine the sensibilities of two distinct periods of our lives—the young and the old—incorporating childlike play to take the edge off our impending mortality.
In Giant, 2014, the highlight of this show and an apt introduction to this duo’s recurring interests, two distinct settings and cinematic modes intertwine into one sublime vista. The first, a period piece of Merchant Ivory detail, watches a Warner Bros. secretary circa 1955 as she types out a location contract for the eponymous 1956 film. The second follows Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler and their crew as they fastidiously record the sounds and sights around the now-skeletal remains of the film’s Reata mansion in a field outside Marfa, Texas. The technology of the first, the typewriter, contrasts with the silence of the second’s boom mics and camera dollies as they turn wind gusts, creaking wood, and perching birds into cinematic moments. Through such novelties, the two views juxtapose the empiricist techniques of documentary to those of the big-budget narrative drama, until the conventions associated with either begin to invert, just as aptly describing one as its other.
“Sound Speed Marker” continues the inquiry that Giant refines in two earlier documentary explorations that likewise explore the ways film’s past-tense fictions permeate real geographies in the present. Grand Paris Texas, 2009, combines video of the decrepit Grand Theater, a long-abandoned movie palace in Paris, Texas, with interviews of locals about their relationship with Paris, Texas, 1984, a big-budget feature that used the town’s name but filmed largely in distant Fort Stockton and Marathon, Texas. Movie Mountain, Méliès, 2011, highlights various narratives that surround a mountain in the Chihuahuan desert, including a screenwriting cowboy, the descendants of silent film actors, and a possible link to historic filmmaker George Méliès. Well cited at Ballroom, Marfa, just down the road from Donald Judd’s utopia, all three films encourage the viewer to consider the specificity of any locality, even when just passing through.
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.
Juxtapositions are at the heart of Mitchell Syrop’s practice, and this exhibition accordingly presents two distinct yet interrelated bodies of work that could serve as a compact introduction to this veteran Conceptual artist. Two floor-to-ceiling installations of vintage high school yearbook photos—each photo enlarged to eight by ten inches—face off in one gallery.Large Grid, M (Midway Version) and Large Grid, F (Midway Version), both 1974–, are the most recent manifestations of an ongoing project, previously shown in several iterations, wherein both the photos and their configurations change but the artist’s systematic sorting remains the same. The portraits of young men and women are arranged by formal characteristics, hair color being the most obvious. With this, Syrop calls attention to the standardized manner in which individuality is often expressed.
The other gallery features several of the artist’s multimedia works from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties. Poster-size gelatin silver prints explore how advertising graphics create meaning and wield power, as in Lift and Separate, 1984, where the titular phrase appears in nine different black and white panels variously depicting a space shuttle launch, a canopied bed, or Millet’s The Gleaners. The 16-mm film transferred to video in Watch It. Think It., 1976, is a rapid-fire re-edit of a television ad featuring a smiling woman. Accelerated and drained of specific product references, the film shifts commercial tactics for commanding attention from a means to an end. Overall, these works underline that the Pictures generation’s investigation of image appropriation is as relevant as ever, rather than a relic of the past, given the evolution of mass media into fragmented social media—the content of which rarely varies from a formula as set as the lighting and presentations of identity in yearbooks.
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.
“A Hatchet to Kill Old Ugly” is a three-part exhibition in the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s storefront project space that comprises a Shaker-inspired domestic interior, a dim crawl space, and a back-room atelier swarming with colored light. It is the fifth and most collaborative dual show for Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck (a married couple), both professional museum preparators. They each present new works—Feasley’s are acid-hued landscape and still-life paintings; Swenbeck’s are jagged-edged, plant-inspired ceramics—in environments they built, which contain constellations of objects with distinct ontologies, such as historical artifacts, handmade replicas, and magician’s materials. With an auto-curatorial approach reminiscent of shows like “Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos” (2012–13), this is an essayistic exhibition-as-interpretive-text on the artists’ work.
In the austere domestic interior, replicas of a Shaker willow-branch broom and taupe felt cloak hang on wooden pegs alongside Feasley’s painting of a butterfly in a four-leaf-clover field. Crawling through a faux brick hearth, one enters a low, dark, mirrored closet in which a mechanized mobile—made up of turned wood, tiny bells, and twisted metal—clangs eerily. Seen from here through the storefront window, the outside world seems freakishly ordinary. The third room, in contrast, reveals the exhibition’s seams. The sink and the closet’s raw plywood exterior jostle with magical objects including primary-colored dowsing apparatuses. Taken as a whole, the show celebrates the illusionistic craft of exhibition making, while placing the artists’ individual works in conversation with their referents.
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.
Beatrice Wood is best known for her lusterware pottery, so this exhibition of nearly fifty works on paper, made over the course of a staggering eighty-seven years, is surprising and also gratifying. Despite drawing on styles that veer from commercial illustration to delicate abstraction and Cubist figuration, Wood’s distinct visual stamp and sensibility persist through changing influences and decades. The drawings have the combined openness and intimacy of a daily diary, revealing the wit and humor, pathos and joie de vivre for which Wood’s so well known. For example, works from “Touching Certain Things,” 1932–33, depict sexually tinged interactions between women with a directness and sweetness that remains, despite a quaint illustrative style, radical for our times. Though less overtly sexual than the other works in that series, . . . how lucky men are!, 1932, suggests closeness and comfort between the two women depicted, here propped in bed on fluffy pillows and clad in filmy negligee, leaning in towards each other.
A number of drawings explore dream and emotional states through abstract figuration. The outlined figures in Meeting of four women who hated each other, 1983, sway to and fro as if in a dance, surrounded and connected by a rush of red lines. Organic shapes in shades of pink make up the fleshy bodies that encircle the woman in black at the center of Nun’s Dream, 1996. Amid the drama and caricature, narrative and humor, several figurations of a more minimal bent provide quiet moments, including Untitled (intertwined legs), 1977, in which a thigh, pointed toe, and rounded rear hover gracefully in the center of a page torn from a sketch pad.
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.
James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) is not so much a book to be read as it is to be experienced. This is a key thought to hold on to when viewing Spanish artist Dora Garcia’s The Joycean Society, 2013, one of three large-scale video projections with accompanying sculptural elements gathered by curator Chantal Pontbriand for the exhibition “Of Crimes and Dreams.” Shot in a documentary style, the film hovers around members of a reading group in Zurich as they decode a single page in Joyce’s masterpiece. As the complex, ciphered text is unpacked word by word, spontaneous tangents emerge across literary cues and personal anecdotes. It’s a durational performance of sorts (keeping in mind that it takes the group eleven years to work through the entire book), and the longer one watches the more it becomes clear that, for Garcia, the essential value of language, no matter how irrational or obscure, is the parallel social dynamic that it reveals.
Similarly, for her video Désordre, 2013, Garcia invited residents at a French psychiatric hospital to read Finnegans Wake as well as Félix Guattari’s Soixante-cinq rêves de Franz Kafka (Sixty-Five Dreams of Franz Kafka) (2007), this time prompting a free-association discussion on daydreaming, anxiety, and betrayal. There is a candid synergy to this group of marginalized “others,” and the results are pointedly lucid: “I think it’s important to dream because it’s proof of life,” says one patient. It all comes together in a pair of large chalkboards from Garcia’s ongoing series “Mad Marginal Charts,” 2009–. Here, Garcia has devised a kind of spiraling linguistic calculus based on research on Joyce, Freud, Lacan, and Antonin Artaud to anti-psychiatry and deinstitutionalization. Impenetrable at a glance, this mapping of abstract symbols and equations demands complete absorption, in time opening a coded gateway that at once confounds and creates meaning beyond the conscious limits of language and society.
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 São 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.
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.
In Vida Yovanovich’s latest exhibition, “Grita en silencio/Memoria que se borra” (Shout in Silence/Memory That Vanishes), eight video-and-sound installations deal with the atrocious fate of the victims at Mauthausen, one of the deadliest concentration camps of World War II. Within a muted landscape and seemingly inhospitable architecture, Yovanovich creates a view into a dense yet empty context. Certain that we can only intend to approach the unfathomable if experienced as temporal duration, her almost deathly still films hold watch, capturing a place beyond any possible narrative.
Over the course of four years, the artist explored the site’s devastating past, producing, among other impressive works, Sálix babilónica (Salix Babylonic), 2010–14, a video installation that captures a lone willow tree throughout the seasons. Four nearly floor-to-ceiling projections of the peacefully undaunted tree surround the viewer in the gallery, conveying the cyclical passage of time in nature. This changes, however, upon realizing that on the floor at the center of the gallery is an outlined square that measures approximately 172 square feet—the dimensions of gas chambers used in concentration camps. Synergistically, our bodies unwittingly occupy the symbolic core of the genocide.
Yet, Yovanovich’s almost motionless visions retain hope for the still latent meaning of life. In one instance, a bird flies down from the autumnal willow, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. With this simple gesture, Yovanovich offers us a past that is palpable, yet in motion.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.
Kate Newby’s latest solo exhibition features a modest and contemplative sculptural installation that playfully exploits the conventions of the physical gallery and extends her ongoing investigation of linking different spaces in nuanced ways. Two components of I feel like a truck on a wet highway, 2014, manifest this idea. The first is a sculpture of bulbous silver bells hanging in the gallery’s entryway. The bells have a precious quality, which is heightened by the artist’s subtle fingerprints on the metal. They are suspended individually by thin, multicolored strings, the other end of which swoops up connecting them to a neighboring roof.
The second is a sculpture of ceramic wind chimes arranged from light to dark—white, creams, blues, then blacks—on a thin, white string in the gallery’s small main space. The pieces are long and narrow, but each is unique in shape and incorporates signs of process, such as air bubbles and fingerprints, while hanging from the same string as the bells. The chimes’ string loops through the bells’ knot before it passes through a door into a private bedroom and out to a patio space. With this gesture, Newby’s work becomes reliant on the walls of the gallery as much as it is dependent on an outside context for its meaning to be legible.
The installation as a single work highlights the mundane and commonplace, and much like works by artists such as Michael Asher and Francis Alÿs, Newby’s work examines where place becomes as much a part of art’s content as objects.