Art Review

Horses

Susan Rothenberg
Through October 29, 2011

Jasper Johns, with his Flag and Target paintings of the 1950s, helped to change the way that we looked at paintings. He showed us that there are never truly distinct and separate categories of names for what we see and (as he phrased it) "things the mind already knows." Everything is always contingent on something else. His works begged questions such as "what is the image of?" "what is contained in the picture?" and "where does the role of the artist end, and where does the viewer’s job begin?" Susan Rothenberg was asking some of these same questions in the late '70s. In her nominal images of horses, she presented us with some of the most visually complex puzzles in art since Johns. What we assumed were abstracted depictions of an equestrian nature were anything but. Shadowy horsey outlines, painted with horsehair brushes on grounds made of ground hooves -- they gave us everything but a horse. Rothenberg long ago evolved from such painterly philosophizing, focusing instead on a brand of abstraction that hovered somewhere between Monet's large-scale, Impressionist landscapes and Alberto Giacometti's nervous figurative portraits.

Here Are the Young Men: Robert Yoder + Bradley Rubenstein

Bradley Rubenstein: Let's start with the most obvious questions first. Seattle is, from my point of view, way out there. I've known a couple of museum curators who moved there specifically because it was, to quote one of them, "not a suburb of New York." How relevant is that to you? You definitely have a thing going on there -- your work, your gallery, your whole approach to what an art world is -- that is different than here or even, say, London or whatnot. There is a fuck-you-this-is-what-we-do thing going on.

Robert Yoder: Yeah, we do what we have to do, but so would anyone with a brain and a back. There is always this haunting image of Seattle being the last vestige of the Wild West, but I think that is romanticizing something that may not exist. My favorite description is “We're a Town that Thinks It's a City.”

Beauty and the Beast

Karen Heagle: Let Nature Take Its Course and Hope It Passes
I-20
Through October 29, 2011

“Tiger, tiger burning bright / In the forests of the night / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” Though she is probably not immortal, it would seem Karen Heagle has stepped up to William Blake’s challenge. Her large, beautiful, and radiant painting "Inexperienced/Insatiable" (2011) is but one of many depictions of sublime animals, of both the predator and prey varieties, in her current exhibition.

Heagle’s tiger wades into a stream or river, head lowered, and glows from within (lushly painted stripes and golden-hued fur) and from without (a reddish light is cast over the whole scene, as if from a setting sun). This fearsome beast stands guard over the rest of the exhibit, which consists mostly of still lifes of prey animals, such as deer and rabbits.

Vincent Desiderio at Marlborough Chelsea

The art of Vincent Desiderio hinges between the frailty of life and the depth of the human spirit. He presents us with tragedy, beauty, bliss, and befuddlement, with unrestrained passion and supreme technique, and we are spellbound. There is quietness too, often in moments of truth, where freedom or failure hangs in the balance.

When looking at how Desiderio represents certain secondary and tertiary details in paint, we see a substantive push toward abstraction. In the background of “Spiegel im Spiegel” (2010), and in areas such as the lower left corner of “I Liberate” (2011), Desiderio challenges the limits of representation without losing hold of the facts.

Walk Like an Egyptian

Matthew Barney: DJED
Gladstone Gallery
Through October 22, 2011

The opening pages of Ovid's Metamorphoses describe a time before the ages of silver, bronze, and iron, when Spring was everlasting and nectar flowed in streams; mankind was "without a law," did right always, and lived contentedly. This was definitely not the times described in Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, the libretto for Matthew Barney's project of the same name, which he has been working on since 2007. We might be wise to take the writer's words with grains of salt, however. The novel, though not without moments of wit and brilliance, is on about the same level as a certain Bangles song we can name, but won't, when it comes to Egyptology. The exhibition of Barney's project avoids being pinned down quite so hard by being 1.) an element of his larger series of performances and installations, and 2.) quite beautiful.

Moby Dick

Willem de Kooning: de Kooning: A Retrospective
The Museum of Modern Art
Through January 9, 2012

Vincent van Gogh once said, "The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore." As apt a metaphor as any for the 70-year-long journey that was Willem de Kooning’s career. De Kooning was born in Rotterdam in 1904. He stowed away on a ship as a young man, sailing to New York, where he became arguably one of the most important American painters of the twentieth century. de Kooning: A Retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, NY, traces the course he navigated through the art of his time.

Killing Joke

David Moriarty: Halcyon Daze
CREON Gallery
Through September 29, 2011

(Audience Applause)…okay…so a guy calls into work. He tells his boss he can’t come in that day because he’s sick. The boss says, “Okay. No problem. Take the day off. How sick are you, anyway?” The guy says, “I just fucked my sister.” (Laughter) ...Thank you.

Sigmund Freud said, “A joke is a contract of mastery at another person’s expense.” Meaning, essentially, we laugh at the misfortunes of others while admiring our own, more fortunate, position. Jokes reveal, and play with, our inner fears (see above: social faux pas), relationships to power and money (see above: talking to the boss), and social taboos (see above: incest). Shakespeare’s comedies often reveal more of the human condition than did his tragedies. Humor in art is a rare thing, especially in painting, as quite often the viewer is never sure if the whole enterprise is a joke.

Sound and Vision

Gideon Bok: Record Store
Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects
Through October 8, 2011

We were once young, fully loaded, and gaveth not a fuck. We cut huge rails on an album called Unknown Pleasures; sorted weed together on something named Led Zeppelin. When we listened to the music, we looked at the covers and imagined the strange and luminous beings who created these sonic universes. Creatures like Brian Eno, who probably wore clothes of pure ocelot, owned a talking panda . . . had furniture made out of live girls. We were allowed to imagine. And it was one big fucking collective act. Gideon Bok captures something of this time in his exhibition Record Store.

Shakespeare's Sister

Nicola Tyson
Friedrich Petzel Gallery
Through November 5, 2011

A screenwriter bursts into his agent's office. "I have a great idea for a new picture," he enthuses. "We do a remake of The Wiz, only with white people." Clichéd Hollywood joke, sure, yet spot on, with regard to current received ideas of making art. The Reboot, Redux, the Remix -- pretty much any fucked-out form of production -- has replaced genuine individual expression. Part Matisse, part von Sacher-Masoch, part Mary Shelley, the work of Nicola Tyson draws from a wide range of inspiration while managing to pull off that most important feat in art, remaining uniquely her own. Tyson is exhibiting her recent paintings and sculptures at Friedrich Petzel through November 5, 2011.

Some Girls

Aneta Grzeszykowska: Lovetime
Harris Lieberman Gallery
Through September 9, 2011

From Charles de Gaulle airport to JFK is eight hours, but the time change and constant daylight make it seem longer. On our last night in Paris we went to dinner, a very boring party, and then bought drugs and went to a club called Boy or Toy. From there we took a taxi to the airport, finishing the drugs on the way; Amelie tucked the gun she bought at the club into the cab’s upholstery to avoid problems checking in.