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Upcoming shows, retrospectives, and museum openings highlighted by Maika Pollack, Ratik Asokan, Alex Zafiris, Gideon Jacobs, Michael Barron, Wendy Vogel, Zack Hatfield, and Legacy Russell
We'd just gotten married and ended up in Atlantic City, where our friends Macy & Allison got us a night stay at a hotel casino.
After playing video poker and walking the boardwalk all night, we stopped by Trump Taj Mahal on our way out of town to gawk at the business our president ran into the ground.[ Read More ]
Suburban sprawl and craft-store spree meet creeping apocalyptic bleakness.
In David Gilbert's studio, odds and ends appear and reappear through the revolving door of his many temporary sculptural constructions. Process, mutability, and the space of solitary play are central subjects. Recycled pieces of fabric, drapery, scraps of wood, wire, cut cardboard and paper, other photos, painted motifs, yarn, cord, ceramics, and stickers come and go, speaking not of Michelangelo but of a latter-day tween-on-a-budget twist on Giacomett'’s emaciated sickly figures—suburban sprawl and craft-store spree meet creeping apocalyptic bleakness on the one hand, and tenderness with a sweet attention to detail on the other. Gilbert's photographs gathered here represent his portrait mode: a set of singular if fleeting figures, both ridiculous and touching, poignant and exposed and devastated and silly, posing and vogueing for the camera in a rather formal, even proud sort of succession.
"At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."[ Read More ]
—John Keats, Letter to George and Tom Keats, December, 1817
The bed sheet as metaphor for the continuous field of consciousness
"Bed sheets serve as an almost universal accessory to elemental manifestations of desire. Also amusing is the thought that bed sheets are horizontal in the dark and hung vertical to dry in the sunshine. Nature is horizontal and culture is vertical, and a patterned bed sheet introduces the whimsical curlicues of the social imagination into the horizontal biological realm. The bed sheet is also a metaphor for the continuous field of consciousness."[ Read More ]
The Mall-ification of Manhattan
Summer in New York makes me languid—and not in the sexy, rooftop-party way. Once the temperature consistently gets above 80 degrees, I plan my days around the best air-conditioning this city can offer (cafes, libraries, museums; movies if I want to splurge). My gallery-going stamina plummets, especially for the unforgiving concrete expanse west of 10th Avenue in Manhattan. So, before my brain turned to mush and the galleries rolled out their breeziest summer shows, I devoted an afternoon during Art Basel week to Chelsea. The heat wave had burned off and the majority of the art world had left for Europe. With its empty streets, the neighborhood felt like a strange mix of ‘90s throwback and a post-art future.[ Read More ]
"What's the point of being queer, or an artist, or a radical, if you don't veer?"
Morgan Bassichis is a comedic storyteller and songstress. I met Morgan through my friend Jibz Cameron (aka Dynasty Handbag), and then again at a protest or a party. The first time I saw Morgan perform I remember laughing so hard my cheeks hurt. I leaned against the brick wall of the Creative Time tenement space, thinking I'd finally found pleasure. Morgan's performances are conversational fairytales that take the audience into the steamy underbelly bathhouses of the self-help and tincture-obsessed mind. Over the past three years, I've become a diehard Bassichian, studying the political activism and irreverence of Morgan's work with care. Yet when I find myself explaining it to my students or friends, my voice tends to trail off, not wanting to fix something that feels ethereal, resistant, and alive. Instead of saying much, I send people Instagram links to Morgan's songs on the longue durée of resistance. Or I tell them to watch a Lily Tomlin movie from the '80s.[ Read More ]
"I won't open my palm for those wanting to dominate."
The body has always been at the center of my photographs, often covered with materials such as meat, liquid latex, body paint, and fabric, all of which mimic the models' own skin, or the impression of skin found on ancient fertility goddesses, such as Venus of Willendorf. Archeology is interesting for the same reason the human body is. Both register the passage of time. Wrinkles and deformations are marks of the body going through puberty, giving birth, and eventually reaching old age. Through these investigations of form and material, I became interested in the question of whether we can use the body—especially the female body—as a measure of time and civilization.[ Read More ]
The institution of institutional critique
Photography is, of course, permitted in the new Louise Lawler retrospective. If you attend MoMA's expansive yet sparse survey, titled Why Pictures Now, you'll surely see visitors taking photographs of photographs, posing and producing selfies with their phones. These images will later be hashtagged accordingly. These visitors are, perhaps unwittingly, engaging in what Lawler has been practicing for over forty years: creating images that expose how cultural systems and economies shape how we perceive art. A member of the mischievous Pictures Generation, Lawler has largely dedicated her career to photographing artworks within their usual ecosystems, from the bleached walls of museums to the living rooms of the 1%, from storage facilities and backrooms to aristocratic auction houses. Why pictures now. The question doesn't need a question mark. Why pictures then? The answers are the same, though the issues the Pictures Generation addressed in the '70s and '80s are amplified now. Still, compared to recent, more instructive insurgencies mounted against powerful art spaces, the institutional critique pioneered by the Pictures Generation feels neither quaint nor harmless, but rather like an institution itself, complete with its own exclusive references and codes. By including her own past works in photographs, Lawler invites us to appraise her paradoxical strategy.[ Read More ]
A Tale of Two Charlestons
From inside the Historic Reynolds Ave Fire Station, the street looks almost deserted. You can see a barren parking lot, the broad backside of a white-steepled church, and lots of chain-link fencing. Up the block is a barbershop and next-door is Emily's Delightful Banquet Hall with a colorfully painted sign that reads "IF GOD DIDN'T FORGIVE SINNERS HEAVEN WOULD BE EMPTY." Only minutes by car, this part of town feels a world apart from the iconic single-style homes, verdant gardens, and two- and three-story piazzas of Charleston's historic district. Literally framed by the garage windows of the fire station, it's clear that this landscape is as important to Fletcher Williams III's current exhibit, City Block, as the sculptural structures on the walls.[ Read More ]
The ethics of curating as an ethics of care
Cynthia Daignault's There is nothing I could say that I haven't thought before, now on view at the Flag Art Foundation, collects three separate series of paintings. Together, they continue her signature conceptual methodology, expanding on previous considerations of viewership, representative painting, and existential feminism to include a new imperative—ethics. All art has an ethics of sorts, but not many artists intend to detail the specific boundaries, freedoms, and covenants of that ethic through organizing phenomenological case studies that, in this instance, act as agents of care and consent, contending to where certain limits should be ethically upheld or breached.[ Read More ]
Old iconography in a new France
It's fitting that in Alessandra Sanguinetti's new exhibition and book, Le Gendarme sur la Colline, the photograph that can best play the role of icon, encapsulating this body of work in a single stroke, depicts the Eiffel Tower—a structure that does something similar for the nation in which it sits. But Sanguinetti doesn't point her lens at the actual 1,063-foot pride of France. Instead, she focuses on cheap facsimiles: souvenir trinkets sold all over Paris, often by immigrant vendors. In frame, the miniature towers are jumbled into a pile—a rather unromantic presentation of the most romantic symbol in the world. More importantly, a dark-skinned man reaches across a white sheet in hopes of peddling these commercial symbols of French tradition and lore—a tradition and lore that, to a great extent, may not include him.[ Read More ]
The smallest of details, writ large
For a long time while walking through Wolfgang Tillmans's exhibition 2017 at Tate Modern, I hoped it would close with the series of posters the photographer made before the Brexit vote, of poetic combinations of image and text. "No man is an island. No country by itself" was superimposed over a photo of cliffs with a bit of sea hitting against them in the corner. "Say you're in if you're in" reads another.
Though the campaign by the German-born, London-based artist was deliberately anti-Brexit, it was only designed to encourage UK residents to register to vote in June 2016. The posters were freely available to download on Tillmans's website and were thus used in a variety of ways: to illustrate articles about the impending vote, hang against windows in London flats, and post and circulate online. The project was a one-man invitation to think and share opinions, a contribution to an ongoing discussion about the political possibility of images, especially as we circulate them online today.[ Read More ]
Benjamin as hollow window dressing
Walter Benjamin—the much-loved German philosopher who committed suicide rather than risk death by Nazis—entrusted his final, unfinished manuscript to Georges Bataille, who hid it in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, where it was discovered after the war. That manuscript was both paean to and pillory of modernity. Fascinated with the soaring metal-and-glass pedestrian passageways in Paris, which were lined with shops and teeming with patrons, Benjamin considered these arcades the ultimate symbol of industrial capitalism, where it was most obvious that the real fuel keeping the factories running was insatiable consumption. The three-volume opus known as The Arcades Project inspired the bravely experimental, occasionally brilliant, but often frustrating group exhibition "The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin."[ Read More ]
James Little has worked nearly half a century at mastering the craft of painting. While our conversation here delves into his painterly "alchemy"—he mixes all his own paints and uses beeswax as varnish—it also documents a life in painting. Born into a family of artisans with high expectations in a segregated Memphis, the artist learned the value of hard work, creativity, and persistence. His experimentation with the transformative properties of his materials reflects these emphases, and his search for excellence mirrors the work ethic of the community that raised him. This is to say that memory has its textures and its colors—their own connotative ends; Little's paintings demonstrate a quest for the perfection of craft, but do not covet certainty despite the precision with which they are ordered. His paintings are guided by intuitive responses to form, color, and feeling. This approach is not overly calculated, though its complexity may suggest so. His expression is personal—visceral exchanges between memory and its hues, between emotion and the logistics of its use, between logic's place in the fog of the human heart, and the ways that rationale can be envisioned as painterly "surface." Here, to speak solely of order is to imply, in some way, process, but this implication does not necessarily suggest the course of a method as the ends of his labor's purpose. Little's "purpose" cannot be narrowly defined by his methods nor is it all a simple matter of procedure.The imagination has its own speculative ends and its interchanges with the world are, in Little's paintings, as vibrant and curiously bedecked as any prism thread with light. What follows is a conversation about artistic vision, practice, and the importance of perseverance. It is a document concerned with valuing painting as of form of experiential evidence, and the imagination as a vivid context for human worth, history's propositions, and a life's purpose.[ Read More ]
"Moving bodies generate this system. They create, supposedly, some justification to play this market out."
The US-Mexico border, like most borders, is mostly conceptual: a space more often imagined than physically there. The artists that comprise Postcommodity are indigenous to lands that used to belong to Mexico, and to many peoples before that—Raven Chacon, from Fort Defiance, Arizona, raised on a Navajo reservation; Kade L. Twist, a Cherokee raised in Bakersfield, California; and Cristóbal Martínez, a Mestizo born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In two recent works, Postcommodity explores the border as a poetic complex, a militarized marketplace of state and non-state activity—a place to administer and to trespass.[ Read More ]
Exploring Muslim femininity through the politics of love
At a time when draconian measures are being implemented to deny Muslims entrance into the US and white mansplaining increasingly has the audacity to criticize and define the cultural identity of Muslim women (e.g., Bill Maher, who on his HBO show Real Time, supported the meme "A woman should be… whatever the fuck she wants," then lambasted those who dress in burqas), it's no wonder that Muslimas feel unfairly portrayed and scrutinized by conservatives and liberals alike. As author and activist Samila Ali solemnly points out, "the only women it seems permissible to judge and even ridicule today are Muslim women."[ Read More ]
Art writers and curators often do somersaults to avoid talking about "energy" or any other New Age-y terms that may arise when writing about the California-based Light and Space movement. Light and Space has much in common with its East Coast cousin, Minimalism: stark, geometric forms made from industrial materials like luminous plastic, often polished to high-gloss effect. But while Minimalist artists resolutely rejected any possibility of illusion during the '60s and '70s, Light and Space artists had a more relaxed relationship to the oddities of perception. Still, curators steer the focus toward the production of these works rather than delve into any potential mystical or cosmic associations. And I get it—the manufacture of these works is intriguing, since sculptures by John McCracken or Larry Bell look less like things made by human hands than monolithic alien spacecraft of the like seen in sci-fi movies such as Kubrick's 2001 and, more recently, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival.[ Read More ]
Portraits of Harlem before gentrification
Critics often talk about the humanity of Alice Neel's paintings—or maybe they talk about how often critics talk about it. The word snugly adheres itself to the late artist's work like skin, as though humanism could not be found, one way or another, in every portrait of a human. In reality, some of Neel's most recognizable pictures are well known because they express a kind of loving cruelty—the humiliating yet awed portrayal of Warhol and his corseted stomach, or her nude self-portrait that scandalized so many upon its debut. But this bluntness—the occasional lazy eye, unfeasible proportions, or slightly morbid hues—lends her art its mysterious compassion as well as a sentimentality that shirks excessive or unearned emotion. Neel sought to depict life in all its forms, but more remarkably, her loyalty was to what—or whom—she believed we ought to see.[ Read More ]
Border crossings in recent photobooks by Adam Golfer, John Radcliffe Studio, and Paul Turounet
Any border, whether defined by some geographic obstacle or imposed by decree, involves a negotiation of what lies on either side. On a purely physical level, such boundaries invite our consideration of the conditions for crossing. But even walls of concrete and razor wire serve as stand-ins for less tangible, more complicated barriers: those of history and politics, ideological constructs of time and space. Three recent photobooks—Adam Golfer's A House Without a Roof, John Radcliffe Studio's Foreigner, and Paul Turounet's Estamos Buscando A (We are looking for)—tackle the difficulty of transnational journeys and the burden shouldered by those who embark upon them.[ Read More ]
Women, objects of desire and artifice
In the years leading up to 1984, Canadian artist Vikky Alexander's confrontational works probed how the post-feminist backlash turned the hope of women's liberation into Orwellian freedom-as-slavery. This focused presentation of Alexander's work at Downs & Ross—the merger of two Lower East Side galleries formerly known as Tomorrow and Hester—includes seven framed, photo-based pieces from the early '80s. Alexander's compositions enlarge, repeat, and syntagmatically reshuffle advertising imagery of women in order to reveal its complexity and strangeness. In the pictures Alexander appropriates, the female beauty ideal on offer is the one favored in the '80s, the period of our current president's real-estate heyday: coiffed hair, unnatural makeup, big jewelry, spiked heels. It's an exaggerated version of femininity that promises a circulation of value between the symbolic capital of images, sex appeal, and economic capital—provided, of course, that one can afford to buy in.[ Read More ]
The body as a sentence to be scrambled
The first artwork of Dan Herschlein's I saw was a 2013 performance, titled Driver's Bedroom, at the no-longer-extant Violet's Cafe (run by artists Violet Dennison, Graham Hamilton, and Scott Keightley). It was located in Gowanus and felt more like an office than a gallery. It had a drop-tile ceiling, linoleum floors, and fluorescent lighting—all completely unmodified, allowing for each show staged there to have a sense of existing in a real place, with some unknown history, much like a revolving room in Mike Nelson's 2007 A Psychic Vacuum.[ Read More ]