On Lutz Bacher for Artforum

I reviewed Lutz Bacher's The Long March—an exhibition that examines cult of personality via Mao Zedong—at New York University's 80 Washington Square East Gallery. The following is a selection of my digitally “scribbled” notes from Open the Kimono, a slide show of Bacher's hand-written jottings, “lessons” culled from mass media presented in a nearby lecture hall. Read my review for Artforum at the link below.

Weaponizing the media

Your focus needs more focus

One cannot speak truth to power if power has no use for truth

Perhaps she’s tired of being Queen

Results may vary

Nobody needs to die tonight

How far is this from normal?

Human resource exploitation manual

I feel motivated

You’ll find you have the power to move the very earth itself

We have a human problem in addition
to a technology problem

Tornado of impulses

This was still America
 

Lutz Bacher
The Long March
80 Washington Square East Gallery
On view through September 8
artforum.com/picks/lutz-bacher-76082

All images: Lutz Bacher, The Long March, 2017, series of framed cards, paint on walls; installed at 80 Washington Square East Gallery, NY, June 21 – September 8, 2018. Photos: Chris Murtha.

For those interested in seeing more of Bacher's work, her FIRE (2016) is currently on view through August 19 in Readymades Belong to Everyone, the inaugural exhibition in Swiss Institute's new location. Additionally, the basement gallery is painted in a similar manner as the walls at 80WSE: various shades of gray in one light coat—an untitled work credited to Dusty Baker, likely another alias for an artist who already operates under a nom de plum.

Morsel: Duchamp's Marzipan Arcimboldo

Like the insects drawn to the marzipan fruits and veggies in Marcel Duchamp’s late work Sculpture-morte, we too are endlessly attracted to such saccharine artifice, the all-too-real.

But are the flies in this trompe-l'œil attracted to the image of the fruit (as a viewer is to a painting) or the sweet aroma of the marzipan? And are the flies plastic or rubber—the kind used in a practical joke—or made of marzipan as well?

It seems unlikely—or worse, unsettling—that both predator and prey would be made from the same sugary substance. What form of cannibalism would that be, in which the mirage consumes itself?

Both images: Marcel Duchamp, Sculpture-morte, 1959, insects with marzipan fruit, vegetables, and bread on board-mounted paper, in glass box, 13 1/4 x 9 x 2 1/4 inches; Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Morsels are a series of brief texts—ruminations—on a single work of art. This one is un morceau pour Marcel.

On Jason Dodge for Artforum

After some time away from critical writing to focus on my studies, I'm excited to get back into the swing of it. Read my review of Jason Dodge's exhibition at Casey Kaplan over at Artforum.com.

As is typical for Dodge, this exhibition is a curious collection of commonplace objects assembled towards poetic ends. The artist's engagement with poetry extends to his publishing company fivehundred places and the title of this exhibition, which was borrowed from the Franz Wright poem “Recurring Awakening.” That title – "hand in hand with the handless" – might as well be a mantra for the Readymade. But unlike Duchamp's supposedly indifferent Readymades, Dodge's are suggestive of meaning, which must be teased out by the careful observer. This initially elusive exhibition rewards such consideration.

Jason Dodge
hand in hand with the handless
Casey Kaplan
On view through July 27
artforum.com/picks

All images are installation views of Jason Dodge, "hand in hand with the handless," Casey Kaplan, New York, June 21 - July 27, 2018. Photos: Chris Murtha.

Recent Reviews for Artforum

I recently wrote two reviews for Artforum.com. The first, on Arlene Shechet’s second exhibition with Sikkema Jenkins & Co, was an absolute honor to write. Though primarily known for her ceramics, Shechet’s work has evolved from one material to another over the course of her career, and here she begins a new chapter with a series of hardwood sculptures.

The second piece reviews Polish artist Honza Zamojski's exhibition in the compact East Village gallery of OSMOS, aphotography journal. Zamojski, whose impressive multidisciplinary practice also includes writing, curating, and publishing, performs a series of subversive interventions with black-and-white photographs of magnet sculptures.

Arlene Shechet
Turn Up the Bass
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
On view through November 12
www.artforum.com/picks/id=64323

Honza Zamojski
Ghostism
OSMOS Address
On view through December 4
www.artforum.com/picks/id=64478

Top and bottom: Installation views, Arlene Shechet, Turn Up the Bass, Sikkema Jenkins & Co.,
October 13 – November 12, 2016; Middle: Installation view, Honza Zamojski, Ghostism, OSMOS Address, October 14 – December 4, 2016. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

What We Look For When We Look At Art: Rachel Harrison’s Perth Amboy

Installation view, Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy, The Museum of Modern Art, March 19 – September 5, 2016.

In Fall 2000, Rachel Harrison set out to document a modern-day pilgrimage to Perth Amboy, NJ. Residents there claimed to have seen an image of the Virgin Mary in their second-story window and people were flocking to this town on the outskirts of New York City to behold Her presence. Harrison’s resulting project, Perth Amboy, is currently being re-staged by MoMA fifteen years after its original presentation at Greene Naftali Gallery.

From early on, Harrison’s work has presciently combined sculpture and photography to explore our relationship to images more concretely. Here, she pairs her own photographs from Perth Amboy with a series of found-object sculptures. With this installation, Harrison questions how we view art and, more specifically, what we look for when we view art. In retrospect, it represents her archetypal project.

Harrison’s understated photographs forego documentation of the apparition and focus instead on the moment when visitors touch the window in hopes of gleaning any lingering presence. One photograph eerily captures the faint image of a person’s face, just visible through the glare of reflected sky and the accumulation of handprints. In effect, the handprints form a new image, one that recalls the smudges that initially conjured the Virgin Mary. With an emphasis on contact, Harrison’s photographs transport the image of this holy apparition back into the physical realm.

Installation view, Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy, The Museum of Modern Art, March 19 – September 5, 2016.

The rest of the installation, which fills the entire gallery, is set up as a cardboard maze that limits our mobility and seems to entrap us within the space. The cardboard panels are unaltered except for the folded scores that allow them to stand on their own, somewhat precariously. Situated (and sometimes hidden) among them are seven sculptural arrangements, exhibited on customized bases that include a mirrored pedestal and a Stor-All box. The gallery is so crowded with cardboard that it is difficult to look at more than one of these tableaux at once, and impossible to view them collectively.

Several pairings focus on the act of looking, with one object contemplating another. In one, a ceramic figurine of a Chinese scholar meditates on one of Harrison’s characteristically lumpy cement sculptures. In contrast, a family of porcelain Dalmatians gazes up at a crumpled chipboard envelope as if it were an important monument. Others focus more directly on photography: a Becky doll (Barbie’s disabled friend and coincidentally "the school photographer") views an unspectacular image of a green wall and a miniature bust of a Native American in headdress admires a framed snapshot of a sunset (a remnant from Harrison’s earlier project, Sunset Series*).

Rachel Harrison, detail of Untitled from Perth Amboy, 2001, wood, GatorBoard, cardboard, Becky Friend of Barbie doll, thumbtacks, and chromogenic print, 96 x 38 x 41 inches.

Each pair is a reiteration of the others, a repetition of the gaze (and the projections that accompany it) that is central to the artist’s project. By relating her own pieces to common objects, Harrison may be poking fun at her own work and contemporary art in general, but more likely she’s taking aim at the loaded nature of the gaze, the awkwardness of the exchange between a viewer and an object.

Here, the observed objects signify nothingness, or at least an absence of clear meaning or function: an empty envelope, an abstract sculpture, a generic sunset photograph, and a green screen, which represents digital invisibility. Harrison’s readymade figurines are searching for something in these objects that they may not find, and this, perhaps, is what they share with the people documented in the photographs that line the gallery walls. Still, the effort is admirable.

Harrison may have been drawn to the initial spectacle in Perth Amboy as a skeptic, but she clearly respected the power of the apparition. Unlike the sculptures, there is no mocking tone in her photographs of the faithful. After all, it was the power of an image envisaged from a few smudges on a windowpane that drew crowds of people to an unassuming two-story house in the suburbs. It’s a similar power that transfixes the figures in Perth Amboy and keeps us wandering this cardboard maze.

Installation view, Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy, The Museum of Modern Art, March 19 – September 5, 2016. (All photos: Chris Murtha)

Rachel Harrison: Perth Amboy
On view through September 5

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
www.moma.org


*Harrison’s Sunset Series (2000) featured photographs that employed various analog distortions to create distinct images of the same sunset snapshot.