New York, May, 2009
Adel Abdessemed @ David Zwirner
Sculpture, video and performance-documents that force us into a harsh, globalized perspective: “Usine,” an 87-second video, shows footage of various dangerous animals—tarantula, fighting dogs, snakes, as well as some innocent little mice—pressed into the same space; “Prostitute” consists of handwritten copies of the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an, as transcribed by paid prostitutes. Abdessemed’s work, we are told, is raw: the nectar of power and dominance, unfiltered and unsubsumed into postmodern spectacle. In a world of abundant exploitation and suffering, Abdessemed seems okay to engineer just a little more of it; this is political, in a sense, but the work doesn’t even necessarily take a political position (Abdessemed could be a committed lefty alerting us to unseen horrors, or he could be a right-wing “realist” proving that life is inherently awful). I’m pretty torn—on the one hand, I do feel that this is smart, thoughtful work; on the other, if you can’t stand opposed to agents of exploitation, then what rights do you have to oppose anything, really?
Laurie Anderson @ Location One
God bless Anderson and her eternally downtown, over-artsy self. In “From the Air,” Anderson presents herself and her dog as demure, bulbous projections on the gallery floor; she sits in a chair and talks about nature, psychology, terrorism, and dog-walking. Much of Anderson’s work—as a visual/performance artist and as a musician—rests on her own likeability and affected persona, with her stilted cadence and atmospheric fables. It certainly doesn’t work on everybody, but it basically always works on me (at least part-way).
Scott Anderson @ Stux
To future generations, our era will be known as the Dawn of the Nerd. In all realms of creative culture, what was once the domain of isolated fanboys is now firmly entrenched in the mainstream: teenagers who are not totally socially fucked-up read Japanese comics, people read graphic novels on the subway without guiltily trying to hide their book from the other people on the train, and art galleries show work heavily indebted to ’70s sci-fi illustration (Heavy Metal and the like). Specifically, Anderson’s paintings show a fictive re-imagining of the American revolution and similar hardscrabble conflicts. There’s a lot going on here, but because of the work’s formal proximity to comic books, I began to question what this work gains by refusing to include more cogent narratives.
Are You Sure You Are You? @ Spencer Brownstone
It goes without saying (though I will say it) that the computer is now an indispensable artistic tool. When it comes to art about the computer, though—that’s where it gets more dispensable. Technology changes so much that work on the technological vanguard one year becomes throwback nostalgia a few years later. Anyway, that’s how this show feels, but not in a bad way—a trip back to the days of slow modems, clunky monitors and cheesy geometric screensavers. Who’d have thought anyone would ever be nostalgic for that?
Pierre Bismuth @ Team
It seems like there were more shows than usual this spring that dealt with cinematic history in some capacity—is this a manifestation of a greater desire to escape? Do we all just need to stop spending all our free time watching old movies? Do we need to get a life? For this show, Bismuth traced in permanent marker the filmed movements of the hands of legendary movie matrons (Dietrich, Garbo, Monroe), and there’s a sense of him trying to connect with these figures across death and distance. It’s interesting, but a quick trip to the Internet could probably net you more honest, more lucid expressions of matinee idol-worship and deathly devotion.
Melanie Bonajo @ PPOW
Matter-of-fact photographs of nude women burdened by utilitarian objects—useful, everyday things bundled and stacked, like chains and pillories around these raw-fleshed bodies. Beyond the trite, but accurate, political read—that women often bear more of society’s weight—these works could be a sort of sci-fi vision where s/m kink has evolved into prosaic, daily struggle; these are kinky photos not about sex, but about work.
Jennifer Bornstein @ Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
One work in this show, “Phantom Limb,” is a 16mm film of low-stakes architectural forms as envisioned, through mirrors, into impossible slopes, tilts and coalescences—it all relates to the use of mirrors in neurological research. The other work, “Evergreen,” consists of typological photos of Seattle-area high school kids. So, how do these two works relate to each other? Let’s make it easy—they don’t!
Michael Brown @ Yvon Lambert
No, it’s not just a room with some readymade everyday objects being recontextualized as art (the art world’s been there, the art world has done that)—parts of these objects have been recast out of melted-down vinyl records. You see that mop? Well, the handle of that mop is made out of old Aretha Franklin records. It’s a soul mop. Anyway, while I do like Brown’s approach, I question the veracity of the work—maybe because there’s not enough in concert here between ideology and object, and maybe because I feel like a lot of people lately have been melting-down old records and making stuff out of them.
Sophie Calle @ Paula Cooper
When Calle’s boyfriend sent her a sudden break-up email, she channeled her grief into perhaps the most ambitious project of her career. For “Take Care of Yourself,” Calle had various female acquaintances interpret the letter according to their respective vocations: a lawyer breaks down the email as though it represented a potential breach of contract, a diplomat interprets the letter in terms of “negotiations” and “unilateral decision-making,” a cartoonist draws a cartoon about it, a dancer does a dance about it. All in all, 144 women make their mark, all united in an arch, comic sensibility: writers, teachers, security officers, doctors, Calle’s mother, a puppeteer, a parrot. This project is a celebration of working women, and a tribute to work in general. It’s also a wistful appreciation of the educated Western middle-class—Calle’s roster of vocations does not include “housecleaner” or “fast-food worker” or “retail sales associate.” With all this going on, it may be prudent to question this work’s elemental source—the tragic but coldly dismissive break-up email from Calle’s former lover. Does it really warrant this much attention? Do Calle’s personal romantic muddlings really form the requisite bedrock for such an ambitious survey of the working world? The piece may be something like a beautiful, gleaming edifice set atop a flimsy, rotting foundation: wonderful, but you end up wishing for something sturdier.
Patty Chang @ Mary Boone
For “The Product Love-Die Ware Liebe,” Chang, a video and performance artist whose work often has an underlying comic charge, videotaped several translators as they interpreted a 1928 essay by Walter Benjamin, written in his native German: the English translations don’t quite sync-up, of course, which highlights the fluctuating nature of truth in the . . . . Actually, you know what? I’m getting burned-out on name-drops to the limited art-theory canon, and to the tangled nests of self-referentiality and nostalgia they seem to engender (as in this case—a postmodern breakdown of an essay by one of the forerunners of media theory, about Benjamin’s meeting with a Chinese film star). In all fairness, though, it’s not really Chang’s fault—I’m talking about myself; I think it’s great that artists help to keep alive this particular and exceptionally rich intellectual tradition, and I feel lucky to have been exposed to it in the first place. All I’m saying is this: it’s refreshing when people explore intellectual sources outside the ones that have been established and institutionalized for their particular field of inquiry. That’s fair, right?
Francesco Clemente @ Deitch Projects
I don’t get Clemente. I just don’t. He’s very famous and probably very rich, so I don’t feel bad saying that. If you’d like to explain him to me, please write to me c/o this magazine.
Chuck Close @ PaceWildenstein
I have nothing to say about Close that hasn’t already been said, but I will say this: imagine being able to call-up Bill Clinton or Brad Pitt and have them pose for a portrait by you (or, if you’d rather imagine yourself as Brad Pitt, imagine having Chuck Close call you up and ask to paint your portrait).
Phil Collins @ Tonya Bonakdar
Collins has long been interested in a socially and politically motivated approach to artmaking—there is no way to separate the work he makes from the world he makes it in. “Soy mi madre” was done while Collins was in residence at the Aspen Art Museum, as a sort of bid to make art that would appeal to the area’s large Latino population—it’s a telenovela, you see? That is, a video in the style of the high-toned soap operas that currently enjoy wild popularity all over Latin America. To my untrained eyes, the video looks like the real deal—it was made with experienced telenovela stars and producers and presents an engaging story that just oozes with vindictive melodrama. The question, then, is one of essential purpose: what does this piece achieve that a real, live telenovela couldn’t? Other than some high-artsy flourishes—the actors keep switching around, there’s some (sorta perfunctory) class consciousness, and it was based on a Genet story—this is an essentially inauthentic piece of work, an approximation of a flawed but viable populist art form. It doesn’t help matters that, as far as I can tell, it’s unlikely that this work achieved any significance in Aspen’s immigrant community. When everything becomes art, what’s the point of there being any art at all?
Nigel Cooke @ Andrea Rosen
I love some of Cooke’s earlier work—large-scale paintings that mix deft abstraction, exquisite detail and lifelike apocalyptic scenarios. Cooke is a Painter (did you notice the capital “p”?)—he seems to have devoted his life to that pursuit, as a craftsman and as a torchbearer of grand traditions. It’s good for artists to locate themselves in history, but then, a lot of recent painting seems to have been crushed under a suffocating wave of myopia and self-reflexiveness. And it seems that Cooke too has succumbed; his latest paintings are about his own position as a hip, artsy kinda guy, and also a tongue-in-cheek in-joke on the wacky life of a painter. Seriously, can you think of a more boring subject for art? Because I don’t think that I can.
Robert Elfgen @ Marianne Boesky
A trio of slow-moving dancers (perhaps taken from some old TV footage) are video-projected through a white scrim (reminiscent of Bill Viola) so as to become a lyrical, majestic, creepy spatial presence. I also read a certain degree of cheeky, affectless irony, but I’m going to pretend that that’s not there and focus on the lyrical, majestic parts instead. There, much better.
Ceal Floyer @ 303
For your minimal-slash-post-minimal-slash-post-conceptual-slash-blah-blah-blah artists, the challenge is to find simple but highly resonant symbols and then do some little thing that will make them that much more meaningful. To me, Floyer’s work feels aloof, and I can’t get past that—the aloofness just seems wrong. An example, in this show—a bunch of speakers arranged to resemble a staircase, playing the sound of someone walking up a staircase. Hmm.
Andrea Fraser @ Friedrich Petzel
For “Projection,” Fraser applies her strategies of acerbic, confrontational performance to an autonomous therapy session. Fraser plays the role of both doctor and patient, but only one at a time—you hear the responses without the questions, so nothing really adds up. What could have worked as a sort of minor catharsis becomes a treatise on the potential uselessness of psychotherapy. But here’s an important lesson from this artwork: we are, all of us, totally crazy and messed-up in the head. You’re welcome.
David Herbert @ Postmasters
The main events here concern a sort of post-digital recreation of “Steam Boat Willie” (that would be the first Mickey Mouse cartoon) and a shiny sculpture of Giger’s Alien (that is, from Alien) passed-out in a rocking chair. I don’t know—cinematic history is great and all, but I wonder if our nice little media-saturated society hasn’t reached a limit, to what gallery art can really tell us about cinematic iconography. But you can’t fault Herbert’s dedication—his desire to squeeze these figures for every last ounce of juice (or perhaps, film-theory filling? Deleuzian deliciousness? Mulvey milk?).
Alex Hubbard @ Gallery-C
In what appear to be single, continuous shots, Hubbard’s videos show planned bits of materialistic destruction in the studio—objects are smashed, bags are ruptured, planks topple, things break. The result is improbably exciting, as if Hubbard had siphoned-out some of the destructive energy of an action movie and reconstituted it with meditative precision—the lovely, guilty pleasure of watching things fall apart.
Gary Hume @ Matthew Marks
Picture this: fashion! The lights, the runway, the glamour. Or, don’t. Think about this, though—Hume’s glossy, reductive paintings suggest high-fashion to me, the backdrop for a fashion show. Honestly, I don’t know if Hume has worked in fashion, or if he even likes fashion, but that’s all I can think of right now in relation to his work. There’s a dollop of self-conscious glitz, a bit of aristocratic flippancy, and the sense that these works are setting the stage for something bigger to come—maybe something temporal or spiritual, or maybe a skinny young woman covered in feathers and duct tape.
Yayoi Kusama @ Gagosian
Kusama is one of my favorite artists (I know I’m not alone in that). Through her relatively simple, reduced litany of symbols she’s been able to create work that seems to challenge the very nature of the cosmos, meanwhile forging trails for the use of space, appropriation, the body, and the self in visual art. So why do I have so little to say about this show? Kusama’s new paintings and installations are pretty much what you’d expect from Kusama. It’s understandable—she’s now in her eighties, after all, and people aren’t looking to her for innovation and experimentation, not anymore. Still, there are some older artists who avoid becoming textbook examples of themselves, and I don’t think that Kusama’s battle with the universe is quite over, even if the universe seems to have given her a pretty cushy spot at this point.
Vera Lutter @ Carolina Nitsch Project Room
Lutter is known for her unique camera obscura images, with their solid, imposing displays of urban/industrial environs. The main piece in this show is a sensuous, pink-hued video showing the life cycle of a hibiscus flower. If that seems a bit soft for Lutter, well, consider this: the exhibition is meant as a sort of eulogy for the tens of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of Iraqi civilians killed in our current war; the show is titled “Samar Hussein,” after the 13 year-old girl who was the first official civilian casualty of the conflict. I’m of the belief that artists should be eulogizing and recording the destruction and loss that will be the ultimate legacy of this much-despised war, but I don’t really approve of how Lutter approaches it here. For such a serious subject, I think that her approach is too vague and even non-committal—if you didn’t know better, you’d just assume that it was a video of a flower. Despite the eulogy you just experienced, you would walk away, and you would not be thinking of the war.
Victor Man @ Gladstone
Dim, dark-hued paintings and installations. I’ll tell you what I mainly remember about this show: one, that it was dark (literally—the gallery turned down the lights and you had to squint). Two, that some of it seemed a bit rushed—there was a large-scale sculptural installation that was emotionally effective but disconcertingly spare. Three, that I liked it all quite a bit. We all have buttons—buttons of morbid obsession and funereality, buttons of horror, and it’s nice to have those buttons pushed by things other than the latest Saw movie or what have you.
Chris Marker @ Peter Blum
The 88-year-old Marker has had one of those amazing 20th-century sort of careers. He’s worked as a photojournalist, a novelist, a prolific director of both documentary and fiction films (most famously, the celebrated 1962 sci-fi short “La Jetée”) and more recently as an artist working with digital production and video installations. It’s remarkable (inspiring, even) to see an artist with such a long, storied career happily embracing the latest technologies. I say all this in part to preface the exhibition itself, which was really not very good. A multi-channel video based on Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” for example, doesn’t have much to add to or say about Eliot’s words; the sneaky low-res photos of women on the Paris subway are totally fine for what they are, but would never be mistaken for the work of one of the last century’s most influential filmmakers (even though that’s what they are as well). But what can you do—Marker has made about 60 years’ worth of creative work, and some of it’s got to be boring.
Aernout Mik @ The Project
Mik makes sweeping, poetic video-documents of politically loaded zones—in this instance we see the security apparatus of a fictional airport and, in a piece made in collaboration with Marjoleine Boonstra, the patchwork living quarters of an actual Chinese factory. Mik doesn’t provide a commentary, so what we get is less like a screed and more like journalism (the semi-objective kind)—especially important right now, because who knows what’s going on with traditional journalism and what kind of future it has (it hurts to write that, but it’s true).
Malcolm Morley @ Sperone Westwater
It’s funny—I’m not much of an acolyte of racing and car culture, but I feel like I’ve been exposed to a lot of it, in part because there seems to be so much art about that stuff (in the case of this show: skillful paintings and sculptures of motocross derring-do). I do see the appeal, but part of me feels like a lot of such artwork plays second-fiddle to the truly visceral thrills of the respective sports. (See also: my review of Dirk Skreber, below.)
Laurel Nakadate @ Leslie Tonkonow Artworks & Projects
Much of Nakadate’s career so far has orbited around her position (ahem) as a nubile, attractive young woman; in problematic earlier videos, she went on dates with lonely, horny older guys, and then had them quietly watch her dance to Britney Spears songs and otherwise enact ridiculous scenarios of conflicted, staged eroticism. In “Good Morning Sunshine,” the centerpiece of this show, we see other young women captured on video in amateurish intimacy, with an off-screen female voice sweet-talking them into getting naked (that is, playing the ‘male’ role). It might sound like a simplistic or baselessly confrontational switcheroo, but Nakadate gets the details right: the commingling of genuine, tender affection and predatory malice, something so normal that people can’t even talk about it.
Ruben Ochoa @ Peter Blum
A massive (i.e. actual size) concrete freeway divider, covered in dirt, daring you to risk your life by walking under it (does it go without saying that Ochoa is based in L.A.?). It’s fake, of course, but this little transgression—bringing the highway to the gallery—heightens one’s sense of the monumental in the everyday; the daily burdens, the unspoken gambits of faith and assurance that all the things that could kill us, won’t kill us—at least, not today.
Nam June Paik @ James Cohan
A sort of mini-historical survey of the legendary video-sculptor and avant-garde prankster. It’s worth noting how utterly dated some of Paik’s work looks now—the haphazard green-screening, the lurid analog video palette, the clumsy old TV’s. Not “dated,” though, as in stale or irrelevant—more like, of a specific date, an articulation of a particular historical moment. So what I’m saying is this: if you want to make timeless work that will endure through the ages, just take a video camera and then zoom in and out on people in leotards and sequins as they do goofy dances in front of a green screen. It worked for Paik.
Huang Yong Ping @ Gladstone
The ‘viewer’ ascends to the top of a crazy, spiraling construction of a positively Paleolithic snake creature, gets to be king of the world for a minute, and then has to retrace their steps and pass back out through the bottom. This transition—from conquering king to prehistoric snake poop—makes for a good bit of allegorical moralizing, but there’s only so much that Ping’s piece can really tell us about power. After all, there are systems, dynasties, and legacies that would be a challenge to chew up, even for the most starved and ravenous among us.
Elodie Pong @ The Kitchen
In one video, a bunch of chirping birds are revealed to be discussing the economic crisis; in another, the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, and Batman hang out together and have bawdy phone conversations, and then they dance. Pompous? Oh, yes. But it’s funny, too. You can forgive something a lot of faults if it’s genuinely funny.
Charles Ray @ Matthew Marks
This show features the first-ever public exhibition of Ray’s 1987 sculpture “Ink Line,” in which a steady stream of ink pours continuously from the ceiling to the floor—the visual simplicity of the presentation conceals a necessarily complex system of pipes and mechanics to keep the black stuff pumping. Within the piece is a planned struggle, between stillness and motion (it takes a while to realize that the ink is actually moving), and between harmlessness and sneaky danger (what would happen if you touched it?). These roiling conflicts embodied in such a placid spectacle are what take this piece from the realm of goofy novelty into that of genuinely memorable artwork.
Anri Sala @ Marian Goodman
A horse stands stolidly by the side of a highway, and some kids intone loaded words to a flickering fluorescent tube, and this guy plays some drums while his girlfriend tries to talk to him (they’re in a Fuller dome, of course). Sala’s project here is comprised of work from the last six years, reformatted into an ambitious video/sound installation. There’s an almost political current to this work: some sort of stunted political ambition that yields no tangible polemics. But what this installation maybe loses as politics it gains as art. There’s a sense of post-religious faith, of a shrinking, globalized world, of music and noise, and the cumulative effect is haunting and, of all things, beautiful.
Masato Seto @ Yancey Richardson
In vibrant color photos, Seto documents a particularly Taiwanese phenomenon—tiny, bright-lit roadside kiosks in which attractive young women sell a mild stimulant known as binran. And I’ll admit—to my eyes, these shops look pretty weird; I’ve never seen them before. It’s useful to reflect on what, in your own culture, would be alienating, what would be aberrant. Imagine how a McDonald’s must look for someone who’s never heard of such a thing (assuming there are some of those people left).
Conrad Shawcross @ Location One
Shawcross’s work is rooted directly in scientific theory and history, and it seems for-real; I can’t verify, but I trust that it is. It helps that it’s fun to look at, too: in this show, a bright light arcs and pans around a wire cage, projecting a dizzying shadowplay of regimented perspective—it messed with my spatial perceptions in a most agreeable way. Elsewhere, some steel rods show the relative size of the planets—a nice bridge between science museum educational display and art museum sculptural reductivism.
Dirk Skreber @ Freidrich Petzel
There are some sculptures here consisting of dramatically crashed cars—they seem to have been wrapped around poles. They’re in an art gallery, though, so you can rubberneck to your heart’s delight. These works do have a charge of blunt power, but then, blunt power isn’t such a hard thing to find out there, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Ali Smith @ Freight and Volume
These paintings seek to blend large-scale abstraction—the space-y, energetic sort—with immediate, fleshy texture. Somewhere along the way, though, something gets stuck. I think that Smith’s devotion to a mock-childish sensibility—gooey, sticky forms and obnoxious colors—exerts too much weight on the work; you need to be at least 16 to get a pilot’s license, you know?
Shinique Smith @ Yvon Lambert
Graffiti started as a street-level movement—the artists marking up major cities likely couldn’t afford things like studio space or an MFA. From fairly early on, though, graffiti was embraced by the art world, with well-known graffiti artists spray-painting canvases to make gallery-ready work. These days, graffiti is alternately respected and despised across the class spectrum—as a statement of generalized rebelliousness without any necessary links to a particular movement or consciousness. It’s out of this complex history that we get Smith’s artwork—gallery-paintings that engage precariously with the above-ground and the underground, with traditions of fine art and graffiti that, of course, aren’t always separate (curiously, while the press release mentions “Abstract Expressionism and Japanese calligraphy,” the word “graffiti” isn’t used once). Smith’s work combines an abstracted graffiti “look” with a painterly energy, but seems to still lack a certain verisimilitude—not because it isn’t “street” or whatever, but maybe because, once out the door, the work doesn’t quite know where to go.
Wolfgang Staehle @ Postmasters
In September, 2001, Staehle was exhibiting a live-feed projection from a webcam trained on a lower Manhattan vista—the towers of the World Trade Center featured prominently. Then, well, we all know what happened. This show includes some footage from that particular feed, from September 10, 2001 (which does seem a bit like a sick joke), and also some choice cuts from other, similar projects—footage of Roman ruins and the demolished Berlinian Palace of the Republic. This show is effective in addressing imperial folly and the ultimate transience of seemingly permanent systems; everything collapses eventually, though I’ll bet that not even Staehle realized how horribly, how sickeningly fast some changes occur.
Hannah Starkey @ Tonya Bonakdar
Well-realized, tricky photographs of (mainly young) women—in shops, in cafés, on the street. I like these photos, but I couldn’t tell you what they necessarily add to a given discourse; I like these photos of people on the street in much the same way that I sometimes like watching people on the street.
Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation @ Winkleman
I saw this finely realized set of a Soviet-era astronaut’s office—it’s actually supposed to be Yuri Gagarin’s office—and I felt like I was missing something. Turns out I was right: the office is but a stage set for an ambitious, upcoming film project. I’m not sure about the logic, then; why are these folks exhibiting the incomplete beginnings of an artwork? Was the public clamoring for a life-size recreation of Yuri Gagarin’s office?
Mika Tajima @ X
Cinematic artifice. Postmodern architecture. Mid-century industrialism. Jacques Tati. A lecture by the founder of avant-garde/academic press Semiotext(e). Doughnuts. Theater sets. Italian leftist movements. The Pittsburgh Steelers. Two of these things are not part of this show, but the rest of them are. Yeah, it’s still a bit much.
Frank Thiel @ Sean Kelly
Large images show a sort of atypical, spindly grid-system, gently bending and swaying as per some graceful, hidden structure. It turns out that these are close-up photographs of old curtains; Thiel is playing an amiable, formal game that, while ultimately limited, gives us some surprisingly unique and compelling things to look at. The curtains were all salvaged from abandoned buildings in East Berlin, which adds an interesting wrinkle (ha ha) of documentary minutiae.
Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch @ Elizabeth Dee
Trecartin is a young artist who is now a pretty big deal thanks to his long-format video works—choppy, bratty splays of high-camp, low-rent mania set against a seething suburban nihilism. For added effect, his videos are often installed amidst quickie assemblages of overpriced chintz and exercise machines. This show, made in collaboration with Lizzie Fitch, presents a quickie assemblage without an accompanying video: mainly, it’s a bunch of dismembered mannequins in a dirty jacuzzi and amidst various piles of crap. The unfortunate consequence: this piece misses out on the compelling aspects of Trecartin’s work—the sense of overwhelming information, internalized class-skirmishes and Protean queer selfhood—and shifts attention to the most annoying aspects, the predictable struggles of two enlightened artists tsking and tut-tutting middle-class consumer culture. It’s all well and good to experience something in real life, but sometimes it’s better just to watch the movie.
Brian Ulrich @ Julie Saul
When I last encountered Ulrich, he was taking pictures of people recklessly buying pricey stuff at fancy malls; that was a few years ago, of course. His recent work involves closed (I mean closed) stores and busy thrift shops. Ulrich’s photos are good individually, but taken as a whole, they seem to be creating a potent historical document of shopping—an activity that, admit it or not, is perhaps the definitive cultural action and social ritual of our particular society (maybe with the next society we’ll be able to figure something else out).
Adriana Varejão @ Lehmann Maupin
In large-scale paintings of saunas, the relentless geometry of the tiled surfaces recalls Cubism and 20th-century geometric abstraction, while the spaces themselves reference the history of colonial Brazil. Maybe Varejão should have chosen one of those directions more definitively; as it is, it feels like this work could almost be interesting, but it’s not quite there yet. Or else, it could be the backdrop for something really interesting.
William Villalongo @ Susan Inglett
Villalongo has for a while now presented the world with a crafty, grotesque, sexy (well, sexualized) take on formative Christian mythology. In these new collage-works, Masaccio’s iconic image of Adam and Eve gets reconfigured with the visages of important crusaders for freedom (or at least, iconic figures in the ongoing struggle for civil rights), including Dred Scott, Susan B. Anthony, Angela Davis and even, yes, Barack and Michelle. The appropriative strategy at work suggests less of an elemental restructuring and more of a cut-and-paste prank, but what Villalongo’s getting at is big—too big for pranks. So where do we go from here?
John Waters @ Marianne Boesky
Yes, that John Waters. A few years ago, Waters made a great little piece of art called “Hair in the Gate”: it showed stills of iconic movie moments—Rhett and Scarlett embracing, Patton before the American flag—interrupted with a little scrap of flickering hair, as sometimes gets caught in cameras and projectors. It made an important point—as revered, as beloved, as obsessed-over as these collective fantasies can be, they’re still just fantasies. In this show, several pieces take a similar strategy with more-aggressive Photoshopping: child stars with cigarettes (Shirley Temple lighting up), heroic leading men with crass, product-placement tchotchkes. It’s fine, but the further Waters gets from his sources, the weaker the material gets. It’s as if he’s diluting (I won’t say “watering-down”) his own artwork.
Abbey Williams @ Bellwether
When Williams was pregnant, she made a number of videos around the experience of her changing body. The pieces in which she compares her own image with iconic paintings and photos feel like pretty threadbare, aimless grabs at postmodern analysis; much more successful are the lyrical video-passages where Williams and other expectant mothers enact some unidentified communal nature-ritual—there really is a sort of power there. Tragically, Williams’ son ended up dying in childbirth, which adds a weight to this exhibition that the artist really, truly didn’t intend for.
Dustin Yellin @ Robert Miller
Yellin makes multiplanar paintings on interleaved layers of clear resin—the end effect suggests scientifically simulated three-dimensionality, which is especially well-suited to Yellin’s preferred subjects, of trees and bodies as defined by complex, vascular growth. It’s a novelty, but a rather magical one, recalling a sense of childlike wonder at a creepy outer/inner world that even adults (even smart adults) have a hard time understanding.