Art Review

Waltzing Mathilda

Peter Williams: Midnight Waltz in D Minor
Paul Kotula Projects, Ferndale, Michigan
Through December 3, 2011

One of the problematic legacies of Modernism was its emphasis on originality, youth, and the myth of the artist who sprang sui generis into a recognizable, signature style. There were rare exceptions, such as Picasso and Matisse, who remained in the canon and were allowed to mature and develop their works past their youthful experiments and achieve a late body of work. Admittedly, the fact that they lived to be ninety sort of bludgeoned the historians and critics into pretty much accepting whatever they did just because they refused to die. On the other hand, de Kooning lived just as long, and his constant morphing of styles proved to be equally as protean but not as accepted, and his later painting was more or less dismissed until well after his death. What gets overlooked in this now familiar pattern of looking at artists is the fact that most of them go through a period of adolescence after their initial "breakthrough" works, and then they slowly hone their style. This period of artistic growth, often overlooked, is usually the most interesting of an artist's career.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk -- An Introspective
The Brooklyn Museum
Through January 8, 2012

Sanford Biggers gathers the imagery and sounds of Blues, the rhythm and movement of break dancing, and the costumes and theatricality of blackface routines and turns them into a very personal discourse on race and culture in our time. The exhibition centers on a large installation of a tree growing through a player piano (Blossom, 2007), which grows through the museum’s fifth-floor rotunda. With passing references to “a tree grows in Brooklyn,” nature versus culture, and Buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree, it drives home its point by intermittently playing “Strange Fruit,” the ode to black victims of racism made famous by Billie Holiday.


Allison Schulnik: Mound
Zieher Smith
Through December 17, 2011

On May 5th they isolated the strain of Virus HC-35, which became known as The Flu. On April 1st President Manson declared a State of Emergency, cleared the protesters from Zapruder Park, and issued orders for the Continuous Curfew. And the deaths came in millions. By June the food had run out, and we began to hunt the neighbors. By July the neighbors had run out, and we stayed confined to the 69th floor. Two days ago we ate Amelie. Now Katya is sitting in the living room, counting the last of the drugs on the table. Enough Neroin and Serafem to last only one person for the rest of the month.

Tones on Tail

Tom Kotik: Tone
Lesley Heller Workspace
Through November 27, 2011

Nothing says "Rock and Roll" louder than the Marshall Stack, the amplification system developed in the 1960s that continues to define the stage appearance of bands as diverse as Slayer, U2, and The Who. A full stack consists of one head, containing the actual amplifier, on top of two stacked 4x12s -- loudspeaker cabinets containing four twelve-inch speakers. Walls of up to sixty stacks have become the background for most metal bands, with the volume of the music connoted by the large number of stacks. In fact, some bands use the empty cases as props, to create the impression of a large sound, much like the on-stage swigs taken from a bottle of Jack Daniels that in fact are refreshing sips of iced tea. Tom Kotik, in his exhibition Tone, begins with something of the same premise in his sculptures of silent guitars and amps.

The Thing

Mira Schor: Painting in The Space Where Painting Used to Be
Some Walls, Oakland, CA
Through December 18, 2011

The Writer’s Meeting follows the usual banal routine. Expensively yet tastefully appointed conference room. Mahogany table laid out with the small, bottled Evians, containers of Chinese food (untouched), four-inch-long rails of blow chopped on the new Coldplay CD cover (touched). The writer’s assistant, a B-movie actress you would recognize (The Human Millipede, Spring Break Gangbang VI), her blonde hair now red, sits at the far end of the table taking notes. “Listen,” I say, “this is all very confusing. Are we or are we not discussing the same script? Is Philip Seymour Hoffman attached to the project or not?” I am beginning to sense panic in their eyes and need to restore order and confidence quickly. “What we have here is a live-action Happy Feet: Rio meets Antichrist, right? Can someone please sum all this up in a nutshell? I like things in nutshells.”

Dizzying, Mesmerizing Artistic Expression from Trudy Benson

Trudy Benson: Actual/Virtual
Through November 12, 2011

As noted in the press release, when viewing the new paintings of Trudy Benson, one is easily reminded of the work of the Abstract Illusionists from the mid-1970s. The problem with that reference is it was never a particularly effective or compelling "art movement," if you could call Abstract Illusionism an art movement. The good thing is that Ms. Benson achieves much more success than her predecessors by adding variety and, to put it simply, chutzpah, as she employs bold paint applications in wild compositions.

Rashaad Newsome

Rashaad Newsome: Herald
Through December 3, 2011

Rashaad Newsome portrays culture -- Rap, Hip Hop, bling and booty, all that -- with extraordinary flair and formality. He is unrelenting. He appropriates, pushes and plows through volumes of data, and achieves brilliance, and there is no end in sight. As an art world figure, he is potent, powerful, precise, and poised to break through to the top as other multi-talented innovators have done before him.

At the opening of Herald, the mean age of the attending throngs was much younger than I am used to seeing. But it wasn’t just the fact that the crowd was younger, it’s that they were more engaged, much more enthralled than I am used to seeing; a bona fide buzz was in the air that carried out onto the streets.

Rebel, Rebel

Eva Hesse: Eva Hesse Spectres 1960
Brooklyn Museum
Through January 8, 2012

In 1969 Eva Hesse participated in When Attitudes Become Form, a benchmark exhibition of Minimalist art. This was a watershed moment for Hesse. What the participants in this show demonstrated with their work was that experience -- that of the artist and that of the viewer -- could be given shape through language, line, color, and pre-existing shape (primary ones such as circles and squares were popular) and that experience could acquire meaning as aesthetic objects. In essence, these artists demonstrated that the recording of their process of thinking about art and making objects was the artwork. Although it is this work that Hesse is known and remembered for, we are fortunate to be able to view her lesser-known paintings from the early 60s at the Brooklyn Museum.


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.”