Art in America

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Art in America

Cold Light: Deborah Remington at Bortolami and Craig F. Starr

A pair of exhibitions at the New York galleries Bortolami and Craig F. Starr, organized independently but serendipitously, showcased the enigmatic paintings and drawings of the late American artist Deborah Remington (1930–2010), best known for asymmetric, high-contrast compositions populated by luminous floating forms. Born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, Remington earned a BFA in 1955 from the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), where she studied alongside artists including Elmer Bischoff, Joan Brown, Clyfford Still, and Paul Wonner. Later that year, Remington and a cadre of Bay-Area artists and poets cofounded Six Gallery, a vibrant cultural forum for the city’s Beat scene. In 1957, Remington decamped San Francisco for Japan and spent the next two years traveling throughout the country studying calligraphy and sumi-e painting. “If you write a certain character and a stroke is the slightest bit off,” as she told critic Dore Ashton, “you correct it and you do it until you get it down visually perfect.” That approach toward control and exactness defines Remington’s signature style of the 1960s and ’70s, in which the artist’s hand is hidden under meticulously flat layers of paint.
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A Theory of Everything

Theory is dead, but we still love him. Theory is dead, that’s why we hate him. Theory isn’t dead—theory is very much alive, that’s why he’s literally so annoying. Theory thinks he can solve everyone’s problems all by himself, and when we tell him he can’t, he just gets mad. He doesn’t want to talk about anyone other than himself. When I talk about me, he says I’m vain.
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When Hardware Store Met Gallery: Theaster Gates at Gray

What does a hardware store want? What do the house numbers, light bulbs, PVC pipes, mop heads, metal bolts, sandpaper sheets, and thousands of other items that constitute its merchandise need? What can they do?. Theaster Gates has long engaged in projects that seem to ask these sorts of questions...
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Anne Wu on Chinatowns, Immigration, and the Unfinished

Anne Wu, who received her MFA from Yale University in 2020, is an emerging sculptor and installation artist whose work reflects the material culture and collective experience of Chinese immigrant communities. Wu’s sculptural installation A Patterned Universe (2021) features architectural materials such as polished stainless-steel rods, red string, insulation foam, and PVC roof panels sourced from her immigrant neighborhood of Flushing, Queens. With the help of a fabricator known as Mr. An from New Tengfei Stainless Steel, Wu created an installation that evokes liminal spaces by affixing unfinished staircases, doorways, and windows to the walls and floor of a gallery. Below, Wu discusses how she came to see found materials from her neighborhood as conveyors of Chinese cultural heritage and current socioeconomic conditions. “Open Call: Anne Wu” is on view at the Shed in New York through August 1.
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A Cosmos of Southern Black Expression: “The Dirty South” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

“The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse” surveys the past hundred years of artistic expression by Black artists who have lived or worked in the American South. The exhibition claims that the culture and aesthetics of Southern hip-hop constitutes an American art form. It firmly situates the musical genre within the lineages of interdisciplinary Black cultural production, including and referencing forms not often recognized by museums, such as Black fashion, architecture, and contemporary music genres. The more than 140 works in the exhibition, on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond through September 6, are united by what curator Valerie Cassel Oliver calls the “sonic impulses” of Black expression, which this intergenerational group of artists expresses as the compulsion to be not just seen but also heard and felt.
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They Did What They Could Do at the Time: Thinking with and after Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant fundamentally altered our sense of how language matters, how language can make and sustain alternate worlds. And they did this with the buoying political lessons of writerly style—style as praxis, as a way of doing political thought by critical worldmaking. Berlant’s sentences do their work by asking much of us, by engaging us in the work as comrades, felt intimates, potential or actual friends. Their sentences are wound tight, portable, quick in their punch but longing for a slow unpack. One of the most striking examples is the first sentence of The Hundreds (2019), a co-writing experiment with anthropologist Kathleen Stewart that explored the powers of fragmentary juxtaposition: “Every day a friend across the ocean wakes up to suicidal thoughts.”
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Hard Truths: How Do I Avoid Post-Pandemic Small Talk?

After years as a painter participating in group shows, I am about to have my first solo exhibition. I am Asian American, though my work is not overtly identity-driven. I’ve never pursued gallery representation due to being skeptical about the system. Having my own show is all very new. I’m wondering how to make the gallerist realize that I may need different kinds of support from what she provides for the white painters she shows. I wonder if she is responding sincerely to the ways that the market has failed BIPOC artists or if she is just trying to adjust her business to a less white art world. It’s not like she needs to show me her signature on an open letter of solidarity, but how do I know she is spiritually on the level? How do I ensure my new gallery represents me properly?
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Objects at Rest: “The Paradox of Stillness” at the Walker Art Center

Describing her durational choreography in a 2017 interview for the Walker Art Center, Maria Hassabi observes, “I often talk about the paradox of stillness in my performances, because stillness can’t really exist—we are breathing, and even if it’s imperceptible, it’s still a movement.” Hassabi’s words provided the title for the museum’s current exhibition on the performative turn in the visual arts and the representational turn in performance—two overlapping trends that suggest a blurring of the animate and inanimate. Encompassing performance, painting, sculpture, photography, and video, “The Paradox of Stillness” examines how the defining characteristics of performance—time, space, embodied presence, and audience—have influenced the traditional visual arts. Inversely, the exhibition also proposes that performance draws strategies from painting and sculpture, including stillness, compositional framing, and representational tropes. The cross-media slippage is clearest in the galleries dedicated to still lifes and tableaux vivants. One gallery collects memento mori by Paul Kos, Pope.L, and David Hammons that sweat, rot, and melt. Elsewhere, documented choreography by Robert Morris and a tapestry that doubles as the backdrop for a performance by Goshka Macuga make explicit reference to the paintings of Édouard Manet—the latter critically represents the female nude, extracting images of women from the photographs of Miroslav Tichý and placing them in a feminist confrontation with the grave of Karl Marx.
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Road Hard: Kit Keith at William Shearburn Gallery

Of the fifty letter-size drawings of women’s faces in “I Live Alone,” only a few bear text. “Content,” states one, the letters articulating the neckline of a slightly dizzy visage. “Road Hard,” says another, the hair neat, mouth firm, and face sharply rendered. On each piece, Kit Keith has delicately applied small, watery strokes of black acrylic to dimpled onion skin stationery, a found material bearing the letterhead of a bygone Missouri circuit court judge as well as the official state seal and a St. Louis address. Produced daily over the course of three months, these direct, unlabored pieces feel diaristic; missives from the isolation of the pandemic, they also evince a mind familiar with self-assessment.
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Hard Structures and Soft Power: Terence Gower at Americas Society

Grayscale facsimiles of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s still lifes, portraits, and paintings of horses paper the walls of Americas Society’s ground floors. These reference the late Mexican artist’s works hung in the same space in a 1970 exhibition, at a time when the Park Avenue venue was named the Center for Inter-American Relations. These digital prints, titled Partial Facsimile (2021), are now part of Terence Gower’s exhibition “The Good Neighbour,” where it serves as a specter of this institution’s role in fueling open dialogue, culture, and markets across the Americas since the time of its founding in the 1960s by David Rockefeller.
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How Courtney McClellan Mocks the Mock Trial

Since its founding in 1985, the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) has adjudicated thousands of imaginary legal cases in the fictional state of Midlands. College students—many of them preparing for careers in law—compete in variations on courtroom scenarios taken from “case packets” written and distributed by the organization. In text slides from her three-channel video Midlands, which premiered in New York at SculptureCenter’s annual “In Practice” program in 2018, Atlanta-based artist Courtney McClellan described the eponymous fictional state with a series of paradoxical yet matter-of-fact phrases: MIDLANDS OCCUPIES NO LAND OR TERRITORY. MIDLANDS IS GOVERNED BY US FEDERAL LAW. . . . IN MIDLANDS, ALL EVIDENCE MUST BE BELIEVED TO BE TRUE. ALL EVIDENCE IS FABRICATED.
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Body Image: New Sculpture at Various Small Fires

One of the first works seen when entering “Psychosomatic,” a summer group exhibition curated by Los Angeles artist Isabel Yellin, is a mirror. A 2019 sculpture by Alison Veit titled January, it’s actually two reflective surfaces in a frame of Hydro-Stone and sand in the shape of a figure eight. It hangs outside on a courtyard wall, and to see one’s face reflected in one of the mirrors is not to see it in the other, a trick that recalls Félix González-Torres’s mirror pairings. It’s a handsome execution of a simple concept, repurposed as a symbol for an exhibition ruminating on misalignments of the body and psyche.
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Book Conservator Frank Trujillo on Repairing and Reconstructing Manuscripts

I preserve what is there and try to make the repairs as invisible as possible. In this area of conservation, we can do so because we keep extensive documentation of the process. Whereas a painting conservator might fill in entire sections of a painting, I don’t reilluminate manuscripts, because it’s not acceptable to do so. On the whole, I’m more conservative in my efforts. I will repair a tear on a piece of paper to make sure it’s safe, but I don’t mind dirt in places where a book page was handled over centuries of use.
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Kameelah Janan Rasheed on Learning and Unlearning

“Finally in the coherence / we weep”: the words are in serif font and the letters slightly effaced. The w in “weep,” in particular, is missing flecks of ink, and I know that Kameelah Janan Rasheed must have considered its acutely threadbare shape when she placed this word on the bottom right corner of an unnumbered page about three-quarters of the way through her 2019 book No New Theories. Throughout the book, and across her art practice, Rasheed attends to text that is tentatively legible and partially withheld.
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Outsize Symbols: Sonya Clark at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

In Massachusetts, public discussions of Confederate monuments often seem to forget the commonwealth’s place in the country’s history. While the region doesn’t have memorials to General Robert E. Lee, slavery is still part of its DNA, as evidenced by a problematic statue of Abraham Lincoln with a formerly enslaved man at his feet, which the City of Boston finally removed last year. The danger in confining the history of enslavement and anti-Blackness to the South is that we obscure how the North too benefited from, and continues to benefit from, the abuse and dispossession of people of color; New England was home to its own population of enslaved people as well as its own struggles for emancipation. To begin to face up to this history in its complexity requires delineating the political, economic, and cultural entanglements of the South, the North, and the wider world.
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One Work: Yannis Tsarouchis’s “Dancing in Real Life and in Theatre”

Midway through “Dancing in Real Life,” the first major United States retrospective of Greek artist Yannis Tsarouchis (1910–1989), on view at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago, hangs the exhibition’s namesake: Dancing in Real Life and in Theatre. Completed in 1968 and inspired by Caravaggio, the panoramic oil painting is an outlier for Tsarouchis. The palette, earthy and muted, with few accents of light, contrasts with that of his buoyant watercolors and gouaches displayed throughout the galleries. The format is also rare. But the underlying tension between fantasy and life, and the diffuse erotic ambience, are trademarks of the artist’s dazzling oeuvre.
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Black and White and Red All Over: Deniz Gül at SALT Galata

Linguistic experiments and architectural interventions have defined Turkish artist Deniz Gül’s practice for the past decade. In 2011, Gül lined up a coffin, a vitrine, a door, a closet, and a safe in Istanbul’s Arter gallery, inviting viewers to imagine a conversation among them. Symbolizing the claustrophobia of Turkish bourgeois life, the installation, 5 Person Bufet, introduced this then–twenty-eight-year-old daughter of a furniture salesman to Turkey’s art world. In a book accompanying that presentation, Gül wove together gibberish Turkish words, street chatter, excerpts of her notes, phrases heard on television, and purple prose she recalled from newspapers into a chamber piece for the furniture. (Five musicians performed 5 Person Bufet at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago in 2015, continuing the cycle of translations from furniture into text into music.) For Meydan (Square, 2020), Gül emptied the nearly three-thousand-square-foot space of Yapı Kredi Culture and Arts, one of Istanbul’s largest contemporary art venues, to make room for a new body of work: a piece of polyurethane foam, a straight line engraved in a wall and delineated with black marker, a metal bar, and a handful of other sculptures that, in their near invisibility, unsettled the expectation that art will have a material presence.
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Funny Business: Two Comics Anthologies

Being in a cartoon is a lot like being in hell. No matter how often Daffy Duck gets shot in the face, the animators bless him with a full recovery, so that he can get back to being tortured as soon as possible. Daffy isn’t so different from the sinners in Dante’s Inferno, perpetually drowned in shit or roasted or boiled, or Lucifer in Book I of Milton’s Paradise Lost, chained in fire. I am not the first to notice this: The Daffy-Lucifer connection inspired John Ashbery to write his poem “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” (1975), and John Berger based one of his finest essays on the secret kinship of Walt Disney and Francis Bacon. Of course, being in a cartoon looks more fun than being trapped in a glass cage or a fiery lake, but, as Milton’s Lucifer knew, agony can be fun, too.
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Frieda Toranzo Jaeger on Semiological Vandalism and Decolonial Futures

For her one work exhibition “The Perpetual Sense of Redness,” on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through October 3, the Mexican painter Frieda Toranzo Jaeger has created a kind of modern-day altarpiece, her largest work to date. Featuring eleven embroidered canvases of varying shapes and sizes hinged together into a silolike form, the work is, like most of her sculptural paintings, a winking homage to driverless cars—a symbol of the future. Below, the artist discusses her emphatic infusion of Indigenous techniques with Western ones, and explains why cars came to be her central motif.
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Post-Continental: Contemporary African Photography

The 1990s were a turning point for contemporary African photography, owing to several key projects, including the founding, in 1995, of the Bamako Encounters, a biennial photography festival in the capital of Mali, and the 1996 exhibition “In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, curated by the late Okwui Enwezor. In a 2016 conversation with the prodigious German photography collector Artur Walther, published on the Aperture magazine website, Enwezor commented that the decade was noteworthy because African photography began to be seen, and written about, as an autonomous practice. Previously, he argued, the work of African photographers was considered interesting, at best, for the information it provided about life on the continent, and not regarded as an art form in its own right. “What I believe,” said Enwezor, “is that in the 1990s, a generation of curators, writers, and thinkers who were Africans—and I want to underscore this—made a bid to shift completely away from this ethnographic lens, and its spotlight. We found that the way that this lens thought of Africa was completely at odds with the content.”