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LETTER FROM BERLIN: The Esprit of Gestures

Gesture has had a changing reception since Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism positioned it as a carrier of unmediated meaning at the middle of the 20th century. Once perceived as spontaneous, open and direct, gesture later became a sign of empty rhetoric: redundant, obsolete, and naïve.

The Red Earth Above, the Rim Job Below

The coincidence of concurrent solo shows at David Zwirner this month by Suzan Frecon and Al Taylor (1948 – 1999), both of whom I met many years ago, stirred up a lot of memories. One in particular was of a review of the 2000 Whitney Biennial that appeared in the Village Voice.

Artists at Max’s Kansas City, 1965–1974

I wasn’t there, but sometimes I feel like I was. Andy Warhol was there, drinking and smoking with Morrissey and Janis Joplin, their table piled with a giant salad bowl and empty beer bottles all over the place.

Un Renard Dans L’Art: The Paintings of Farrell Brickhouse

I had never met Farrell Brickhouse, the painter—much less had I seen an extensive sampling of his work. I liked the sound of his name, even though it was not Italian. In fact, it had a literal English sound, which I nonetheless found intriguing.


When a gallerist tells an artist that her work is “in transition,” it is usually a euphemistic way of saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” This exchange presumes that the solo exhibition is a periodic bracketing that requires a certain level of cohesion and legibility (a body of work) despite the fact that the artist is alive and changing and ditto her work.


It was during my second visit to Susanne Doremus’s exhibition, open/closed, that I connected the title she gave the show to the door of the gallery. Like windows or drawers, a door has to open and close to work, and it’s clear to me that Doremus has the same expectations for her paintings, something that is nowhere near as simple as it seems.


In his first solo show in New York, Joshua Marsh continues to explore as well as expand the slippery exchange between definition and deferral, a thing’s weight and light’s weightlessness. The subjects of his paintings are undistinguished domestic objects and outerwear.


“The forest” may seem a strange concept in and of itself to city-hardened minds, when the only tree-studded refuge within reach is equally tourist and pretzel vendor-studded.

STEPHEN MALLON Next Stop Atlantic

Imagine you’re riding the subway while reading this. Do you know where the subway car you are riding may eventually end up? On the bottom of the Atlantic. Over the last nine years the N.Y.C. Transit Authority has worked with the national artificial reef building program to sink around 1,800 subway cars.

BROOKLYN DISPATCHES: Funkster Formalism, Crap Constructivism

“Thick against thin, hard against soft, curved against straight, and the shapes in between.” I first heard this maxim from Knox Martin, my esteemed teacher at the Art Students League sometime in the last century. It refers to contrast, and its value in manipulating perception.

WILL LAMSON A Line Describing the Sun

As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography: “You know it when you see it.” And many say it is so with art: good art can’t be defined, it just hits you at a gut level.

JUDY PFAFF Five Decades

Judy Pfaff is one of my heroes. A resident warrior of the Post-Minimalist movement’s dawning era, her work has both defied and embraced categorization for more than 50 years. Pfaff is neither sculptor nor painter, printmaker nor draftsman.

AUSTIN THOMAS Drawing on the Utopic

To admire someone’s ideals is one thing, but to confront what that person does in the privacy of her studio is something else again. Austin Thomas is well known as one of the prime movers of the Bushwick scene, whose efforts to seed and shape a community have achieved a degree of success that is as substantial as it is unlikely.

THE PERFECT OBJECT: Circulating the Fine Art Adoption Network

Art objects have long been the centerpiece of many a tale of intrigue. There are innumerable stories replete with counterfeiting, stealing, high stakes trading, and political maneuvering à la the Barnes Collection, any one of which could (if it hasn’t already) be made into a fast-paced Hollywood blockbuster.


Increasingly, Chelsea is not an environment where emotional intimacy is the norm. But a curious thing happened to me with Chris Verene’s photograph “MY MOM VISITING DOROTHY” (2005): tears welled up.


For Archaeo, New York-based artist Kim Uchiyama has set up a few distinct rules. Her medium is oil, the size of her paintings all measure 20 by 16 inches, and her abstract vocabulary is restricted to multiple banners of horizontal stripes.


Santiago Sierra, who was born in Madrid in 1966 and lives and works in Mexico City, has made a career out of stirring controversy and pissing people off. He grew up working class and once lived among the laborers, mendicants, and prostitutes he now hires to perform pieces illustrating the futility of alienated labor.

Hey, Ho, Let's Go: YOSHITOMO NARA at the Asia Society

Yoshitomo Nara is pumped, and it shows. Ascending the wall-clinging stairs of the Asia Society with a billboard-sized, captioned “Nara Girl” above and to your side, you enter the Mall of Childhood Malaise, followed by the auto showroom, shiny Disney dog (“Don’t touch me!” chirps the sign on its posterior), and then the music room, with recent ceramics resembling Matryoshka nesting dolls with black babushkas, reverse Buddhist swastikas and Ramones lyrics.

To Whom It May Concern

I’ve always thought that almost anything anybody needed to know about criticism was hidden (in plain sight) in Jill Johnston’s “Marmalade Me.” Writing in the 1960s about art that was changing what the world thought art could be, she changed what we thought criticism could be—and that was just her warm up.

HANNAH WILKE Early Drawings

Walking in off the street, it’s immediately obvious that these drawings need no footnotes, subtext or backstory. They are the markings, of a restive, smoldering intelligence—barreling through ideas, conjoining and discarding influences, resisting and succumbing to the pull of the senses.

TOM BURCKHARDT 157 Elements of a Painting

What do you get when you cross a cartoonist’s animation sense with an abstract artist’s search for pure form? Answer: Tom Burckhardt, or at least one part of him and his uncategorizable project.

DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ The enemy of my enemy is my friend and my friend is my enemy. Did you know it snows in Los Angeles in the summer time.

In 2009, Daniel Joseph Martinez made the journey from his Los Angeles home to the comparative wilderness of Alaska with the intention of traveling the entirety of the 33-year-old, 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

GERHARD RICHTER Lines which do not exist

In 1966, Gerhard Richter affixed a pencil to an electric drill and produced one of the fifty mostly untitled works that comprise Lines which do not exist, a survey of the artist’s drawings from 1966 to 2005.


Marcel Broodthaers (1924 – 1976), the Belgian surrealist-conceptualist-minimalist, was a poet, photographer, filmmaker, and artist who throughout the 12 years of his very short career challenged the role of art, the artist and the art institution, and is now recognized as one of the most important artists of the last century.


A deadly paradox of photography is that the more an image proliferates the weaker its impact becomes, until a terminal point is reached and the image is rendered powerless. Over-saturation leads to desensitization; it’s simple and it’s dangerous.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2010

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