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Exhibit Review: Dan Flavin and Donald Judd

The nine grand Dan Flavin works and one big five-unit Donald Judd aluminum cube installation, now collectively up at the David Zwirner gallery on 20th Street will serve as a slap in the back of the head for anyone who thinks they’ve had enough of minimalist art.

And, as much as I want “to get” the elevating art historical language that dust-devils around these works, and American minimalism in general, the best response I have come across to date and the one most appropriate to describe this show, is Kirk Varnedoe’s clear-eyed description from his 2003 A.W. Mellon Lectures delivered at the National Gallery. In the process of debunking the theory that the CIA actively promoted American abstract expressionism to highlight “the freedom of the individual” against Communism, Varnedoe described minimalism as follows –


Luc Tuymans : The Summer is Over

To stand in front of a painting by Luc Tuymans means accepting that while you can “get” what it’s about you can never really say you fully understand it. This later point stings in that his paintings calmly stand as a rebuke that so much of what we think we have independently earned in terms of knowledge or sophisticated understanding is really just second hand.

What makes it uncomfortable at times to look at Tuymans’s paintings for an extended period is the sickening feeling that comes out of the inability to engage the paintings using our own eyes and wits.  The paintings lay bare, in the here and now, our intellectual impotence to create meaning from them without inside knowledge.

And then it kind of dawns on you, maybe that impotence shadows you in some form or other wherever you go. Maybe, to a large extent, you are only as good as your information.


Fall Books, Part 1 | In Case You Missed the Show…

To think of Christopher Wool only as a painter is to deprive oneself enjoyment of his accomplishments as a bookmaker and photographer. For three decades now Wool has brought to bear his trademark attention to detail, professionalism, intelligence and disquieting use of copy and re-presentation to over 30 books. While some were published in miniscule edition that would be rough to come by now, the admirable thing about Wool is that each of his book projects – regardless of price — is produced with the care normally reserved for more valuable and marketable works of art. In this regard, a book by Wool is part and parcel of his artistic practice.

Rather than merely document and reproduce his works — as art books traditionally do –the design of each publication pushes further the questions his paintings raise about authorship, the original, the copy, gesture, mechanical reproduction (silkscreen,, photography, Xerox), seriality, reading (of books, of paintings), and the glitch versus the mark.

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It takes a show like the current exhibit of early Russian photography at the Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York to remind us of several things. One, that the visual age we live in is neither as sophisticated nor as original as we think. Another, that the size of a photograph is part of its intended meaning or, at least, an important part of its impact, and that this critical information is frequently obliterated in physical reproduction or on the Internet. Or that we need to get into galleries where we can experience physical prints, particularly vintage prints, because their featheriness, deep blackness, greasiness, technical (im)perfection and chemical tactility ground them as physical objects as much as imagery itself.


Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets

To hear “Quay Brothers” is to instantly think of filmmakers famous for handmade, dusty, stop-motion puppet films that harken to some marginal eastern European animation tradition legible to a select few is more a result of the haphazard way we have come to know their work. The principal achievement of the Quay Brothers retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is to correct this misperception.


Requiem for the sun: The art of Mono-ha

Acrylic sheets, neon tubes, cement, steel plates, glass, rubber, cloth, paper, cotton, sponges, light bulbs, electrical outlets, wire, stone, earth, water, fire, wood, charcoal, and oil – industrial materials, household products, and natural materials were placed together in neutral arrangements. They were brought into temporary involvements or confrontations with a variety of spaces and phenomena, including the ground surface, mid-air, room interiors, walls, floors, corners, columns, windows, light, and dark. Mono-ha did not use physical objects and space as materials to realize certain ideas; their approach was a way of giving new life to these elements in interdependent relationships.


Sarah Moon: Now and Then

For her current show in the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York, titled “Now and Then,” the photographer Sarah Moon had the following quotation from T.S Eliot stenciled on a column

— What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present

While Moon may be associated in the popular mind with fashion photography, that understanding does not necessarily serve her work well because, frankly, most of us have not developed as sophisticated an understanding of “fashion” as she has. Where fashion brings to mind frenetic change, disposability, consumption and surface concerns, Moon equates fashion to fiction. And what fiction prizes, if anything, are interiority and empathy.


Delpire & Co in New York

The Aperture Foundation’s description of their newly opened exhibition, “Delpire & Co”, is that it “showcases [Robert] Delpire’s rise to prominence in the world of photography through his pioneering and seminal work in magazine and book publishing, films, curatorship, and advertising for the past fifty years.”

This it certainly does — in a herculean installation that will span four venues and two supporting gallery shows. But, beyond the stated goal, it may ultimately showcase photography’s rise to prominence in the world. When the elevator takes you back down from the show to the sidewalk below, it is worth reflecting that what you have just seen represents a world of images that not only predates the Internet and the hellish proliferation of images that marks our time but an epoch in which it was possible to ask with a straight face whether photography matters.


Brancusi: The Photographs

A question relevant to contemporary concerns quietly resonates in the elegantly understated show of 30 or so vintage prints shot by Constantin Brancusi in the 1920’s and 30s, currently showing at Bruce Silverstein gallery in New York, and it is namely one of intent. What are we to make of photographs taken by an artist known as a sculptor? What purpose were these photographs intended to serve? To whom were they addressed? What has the passage of time wrought on them and on our interpretive efforts?

The gut reaction is to see the photographs as simply documentation. However, even a cursory stroll through demonstrates that there is more going on than just Brancusi photographing sculptures for his consumption alone.


Francesca Woodman: Nothing but Herself

Upon parting ways with the 120 or so vintage photographs, artist books and short videos installed in the Guggenheim’s Francesca Woodman retrospective, I found myself feeling, oddly, a little more solid in my own skin.  Because these photographs emphatically exclude any sense of exterior setting, color, narrative, time, the weather even, and, in withholding anything that could be considered photographic information, they draw one in – literally, these prints are intimately sized about 5 inches square, so you’ve got to get your face into them – to focus one’s gaze on a particular young woman who, in print after print, conjures forth herself amidst natural light, scuffed wood, crackling paint and peeling wallpaper.  And she does it masterfully, each time getting to exist, just more so, in a way that only the physical, photographic print seems to have managed do for her, until she killed herself at the age of 22 in 1981 in New York City.