Jenny Holzer’s Hypocrisy

Walls of the Guggenheim Museum bathed in a purple glow. A scrolling LED text installation winds up the ramps of the Guggenheim Museum, displaying texts written and curated by the artist, leading to a blue sky beyond the oculus.
Installation view, Jenny Holzer: L: right Line, May 17-September 29, 2024. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. @2024 Jenny Holzer, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photo: Filip Wolak

“I want people to concentrate on the content of the writing and not ‘who done it.’ I want the work to be of utility to as many people as possible. And I think if it were attributed to me, it would be easier to toss.”

Quote by Jenny Holzer from Art21

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece on the suspect politics of Maurizio Cattelan’s show at Gagosian Gallery — it questioned why successful artists who make political claims for their work do not use their privilege to engage in direct political commentary and action rather than critique by analogy. I’m not suggesting they need to engage in social practices like Mel Chin or Tania Bruguera; I think artists like Cattelan can be more direct in their criticism or more like Theaster Gates, who acknowledges the contradictions and privilege that comes with his success to the degree that he openly differentiates between museums and institutional exhibits that permit him to experimentation and his gallery exhibits that afford him market engagement. Meanwhile, while those works have an implied politic, he is an activist who focuses on community development, which is realized through his Chicago-based Rebuild Foundation, which is a platform for cultural development and neighborhood transformation. This multifaceted approach enables Gates to navigate and influence both the art world and broader societal issues without collapsing one into the other.

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Maurizio Cattelan’s Hypocrisies

View of Maurizio Cattelan’s 2024 exhibition “Sunday” at Gagosian, New York. Photo Maris Hutchinson

The conjunction of art and politics is a confusing and often compromised enterprise. The commentator Ben Davis argues that as our society regresses under the politics of neoliberalism, such art serves a “compensatory role.” Much explicitly political art is either pedantic or satirical. There’s a long history dating back to the Incoherents and Decadents, the late 19th-century artists who embraced absurdity, irrationality, and the grotesque to protest against emerging bourgeois values and the academic practice of art. They used parody, satire, the carnivalesque, as well as didactic and pedantic jokes to expose cultural ideocracies and societal flaws. This was followed by the Dadaists in the early 20th century, who expressly mixed real-world politics and provocative, anti-art gestures with the intention of undermining social and artistic conventions and setting the groundwork for a social and cultural revolution. Since then, and as an avant-garde compliment to social realism, there has grown up a tradition of the trickster artist—pranksters using absurdity, parody, and gestures to scandalize and provoke their audiences.

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Accommodating the Object: Elizabeth Yamin and Bosiljka Raditsa at The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation

A room with art on the wall

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Installation view. Photo courtesy of The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation

The exhibition Accommodating the Object of paintings by Elizabeth Yamin and Bosiljka Raditsa is presented by The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation in New York and was curated by William Corwin, who describes this exhibition as an intimate survey that offers the viewer an opportunity to compare the works of these two artists, who were active during the latter part of the twentieth century without attaining prominent careers.

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Harriet Korman’s Brutal Realism

a hallway with paintings on the wall
Photo credit: Fernando Sandoval/MW

In Harriet Korman’s exhibition titled Portraits of Squares, the squares in question are either nested within the framework of a grid or stand alone as discreet entities surrounded by blocks of color. Her palette, in the main, is made of secondary and tertiary colors, which for the most part, are applied in an opaque and unmodulated manner — her surfaces tend to be flat and dry. Korman uses color both as a formal element to reinforce her composition’s structure as well as spatially. As one moves around the gallery, there seems to be no logical progression or sense to the paintings’ variations. The canvases, all of the same dimensions, are rectangular and are hung on the horizontal at eye level; their sequencing refuses to surrender an associative, conceptual, or anecdotal narrative. What one is left with is the fact they all, in part, reference squares and that they are all relatively different in approach. Subsequently, it is hard to determine if the “portraits” represent systemic deviations on a singular theme or if each painting was individually intuited. Behind the reception desk hangs a painting from 1979 whose forms are organic, their edges blurred, and whose surface is mottled. This painting stands as a reminder that Korman works thematically, and the present paintings are an aspect of her broader investigation of abstract painting’s various idioms.

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Manet and Degas as Realists

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Technically, Edouard Manet (1832–1883) and Edgar Degas (1834–1917 are not Impressionists; instead, they are Realists whose works owe a debt to Gericault, Goya, and Daumier and the invention of photography. Unlike Monet, who sought solace and inspiration in nature, which can be seen as a reaction to the urbanization associated with the rise of the bourgeoisie, Manet and Degas instead embraced the industrialization and urbanization driven by bourgeois economic interests. They were unconcerned with the dehumanizing effects of rapid technological advancement. Realism is aimed at depicting scenes and subjects based on the everyday lives of ordinary people.

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It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby

Left: Pablo Picasso, 1920. © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Hannah Gadsby, 2018. (Photo: Alan Moyle).
Left: Pablo Picasso, 1920. @2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Hannah Gadsby, 2018. (Photo: Alan Moyle).

In our current era where historical and critical thinking are on the wane, one can’t complain about a show being ahistorical, but one can be faulted for lacking a cogent dialogue. Consequently, though mashing things together can produce interesting results, the parts must communicate with one another in a meaningful manner. Problematically, the exhibit, It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby at the Brooklyn Museum resembles Gadsby’s stand-up comedy routine—it rambles from subject to subject, and in this case, its cohesion relies on the audience’s attempt to understand how it is all connected to the red-herring Picasso. Considering Gadsby has been put in the position of playing auteur in a medium she is unaccustomed to, one which is visual and not language-based, it might have been a more interesting exercise in a post-way of thinking to present solely the exhibition’s wall texts, or conversely just the works themselves without commentary rather than clinging to the conventions of theme based exhibitions.

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Re-evaluating Ellsworth Kelly at 100

Ellsworth Kelly, Spectrum IX, 2014, acrylic on canvas, twelve joined panels, © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, Photo: Ron Amstutz, Courtesy: Matthew Marks Gallery

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is one of those artists whose status I’ve never understood. While he is held in high esteem by many, I’ve always questioned his significance. Don’t get me wrong, I like his work, but liking it doesn’t necessarily make it significant. His work is elegant, refined, and smart, and yet even in the 1950s-70s, it seemed conservative against the backdrop of Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and Minimalism. What made Kelly different from his peers was that when he was living and studying in Paris after World War2 on the GI Bill, while many of his fellow artists from the States were exploring lyric abstraction and L’informale, Kelly was looking at Art Concrete and had begun to make multi-canvas paintings.

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Adam Henry: Parts to a Whole

  Installation view, photo credit: Charles Benton.
Adam Henry, Installation view, photo credit: Charles Benton. Courtesy of Candice Madey gallery

Amongst a burgeoning market of retrograde art practices there runs an undercurrent of artists seeking to establish for art and its practices a new sustainable identity as a means of inquiry. What made his work different was that he was using painting as a platform primarily to explore the subjectivity and semiotics of perception—the polarity between painting as an optical event and a conceptual one. Taking his vocabulary from color theory, systemic and color-field painting, and cognitive science, his work focused on the difference between what a thing (materially) is and what it may descriptively represent. As with those works, Henry in his present exhibition at Candice Madey Gallery rejects at every turn the cult of individual expression, the magical thinking of transcendence, the pervasive appeal of accessibility, and spectacle. Instead with his present body of works, he reasserts his ambition is to use art as a means to engage his audience in speculative thought and self-reflection.

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Beyond the Digital at Venus Over Manhattan (uptown)


Installation view of "Beyond Digital", Venus Over Manhattan, 2022
Installation view of “Beyond Digital”, Venus Over Manhattan, 2022. Photo courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan

Artists have been working with technology since the beginning of the 20th Century. This represents an important moment in artmaking’s evolution, which until recently collectors and institutions haven’t wanted much to do with—the result is a lack of historical presence for such works. Without recourse to a history, every few decades promoters herald the emergence of an exciting new realm of expression or experimentation related to a new media, which appears to the uninformed to be without precedence—most recently it was the crypto-driven NFT market. It is this lack of a sense of history that makes it possible for the organizers of Beyond Digital to claim that this exhibition brings together pioneering artists whose works explore the possibilities of bridging the digital and physical realms. Problematically, this project is more than 50 years old and is built upon one that dates back to the start of the 20th century, when artists working in the modernist tradition started to adapt technology to art to produce light organs, slideshows and kinetic art.

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Impossible Failures at Zwirner

A photo of Pope.L in his studio, dated 2022
Pope.L, studio, 2022, photo courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery 52 Walker

When I heard about Impossible Failures it promised to be an exciting exhibition, in that it was to bring together Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978), a White post-Minimalist artist best known for his site-specific works of cutting through buildings and homes, and Pope.L (b.1955), a Black artist who used to describe himself as the friendliest Black man in America, and is known for his public performances and installations, which address Black racial stereotyping and other such hypocrisies. In a not un-interesting way, the resulting exhibition is a curatorial mash-up in which the works in it are overwhelmed. As such, this is not an exhibition where the works of each artist supply a context for the other, nor does it explore Matta-Clark’s legacy by focusing on Pope.L’s overlapping strategies. Instead it might be thought of as a collaborative installation authored by the curator Ebony L. Haynes.

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