Archive for September, 2010


Tuesday, September 28th, 2010


Excerpt from my essay in the new Kaleidoscope:

“Mohamed Bourouissa: But Is This True”

The taut and tensile line between documentary and fiction is one of the defining critical positions and themes of postmodern literature. See the plethora of recent novels in which the protagonist neatly shares a name with his or her author, or the more allusive Sebaldian mode, in which personal and political histories, both invented and real, collude to create the very truth of the text. Such approaches and the suggestive spaces conjured by these novels […] have been less exploited in contemporary art practice, where artifice is a given—and where the question “But is this true?” almost never arises from the audience. Almost. Mohamed Bourouissa’s potent photographs are one of the current exceptions.

The Algerian-born, Paris-based photographer’s lush and elusive color images feature the stuff of standard photojournalism: impoverished, stylish young African and Arab men and women (immigrants or the children of immigrants) living in suburban housing projects on the outskirts of a major metropolis—in this case, Paris, with its banlieues, in which the artist himself grew up, lying beyond the ring of the city’s beltway, péripherique. Yet there is something about the images that does not quite align with photojournalistic mores and methods: one cannot imagine them coming from the pages of a newspaper or accompanying a magazine article on disenfranchised youth. The photographs are too classically composed, too richly hued, too ambiguously evocative, too shadow-strewn. Most of all, they are too still. They evince the halting, motionless elegance of classical painting, in which gestures are frozen and isolated, momentarily mirroring the viewer who suddenly stops in private contemplation in front of some canvas.

Simultaneously, the photographs are laden with lyrical strokes of the dramatic lighting that characterizes film stills. This romantic, sometimes overwrought cinematography leads the viewer’s eye on a tour of each image’s corners: Here, the photograph seems to say, is the protagonist, his handsome, inscrutable face lit as if by a strobe. And here, in the background, are the minor characters, a chorus of sorts, standing in dusky shadow. Notice how their faces are partially, if meaningfully, occluded. Notice how their intentions are secreted…


Sunday, September 19th, 2010


Excerpts from some recent reviews…

//// Matthew Barney‘s “Prayer Sheet with the Wound and the Nail”  at Schaulager, Basel, in frieze

With 17 subsequent videos delineating evermore elaborate contests of physical strength and psychological willpower against resistance at turns physical, sexual, architectural, cultural, oceanic or spiritual, the series resembles the endless tragicomic trials of a Greek demigod, or its most contemporary incarnation, the athlete. Barney often likens his actions to those of a competitor who uses resistance training in order to build up muscle groups. In a 1990 text titled ‘Notes on Athleticism’, the artist describes this hypertrophic process, concluding: ‘THE ATHLETE IS THE ARTIST’. Barney’s use of jock-ish metaphors can get overplayed, but such tropes point to the fact that the body and its tribulations are central to his practice – and that his thoroughly Postmodern work furthers one of the oldest art-historical traditions: figuration…

//// Sue Williams at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, in frieze

Strange are the paintings that simultaneously recall full-sleeve tattoos and Wedgwood china, Peter Saul’s cartoonish crassness and Willem de Kooning’s late, ambient lyricism. Improbable union? Sure, yet Sue Williams’ sheer talent and weirdness ably broker that marriage. The American artist’s recent large-scale works, which were shown in this small show at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, conflate her early rough-hewn figuration – with its alarming, violence-driven narratives and despondent grisaille – with her later forays into decorous abstractions and DayGlo. The results are impressively disorienting: the paintings are as intricate and mesmerizing as tide pools, if said tide pools were filled with flayed bodies, dripping penises and exploding innards…

//// Michael Grossert at New Jerseyy, Basel, on

It can be difficult in our age of post-everything to comprehend the political import and impact of art and architecture in the 20th century, when stakes—see: two world wars, and the modernist and/or progressive ardor that arose around them—were high […] An exception might be the experimental, postwar playgrounds of America and Europe—as designed by artists, pedagogues, and innovators like Isamu Noguchi, Aldo van Eyck, and Carl Theodor Sørensen—which even now retain a tangible weirdness and palpable utopian spirit…

//// Rodney Graham at Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, in ArtReview

In his vertiginous, nearly 40-year career, Rodney Graham has inhabited a motley crew of personae: Romantic poet (Reading Machine for Lenz, 1983–93), unconscious pirate (Vexation Island, 1997), student of modernist painting (Picasso, My Master, 2005), and self-serious, 60s-era musician/artist (Lobbing Potatoes at a Gong, 1969, 2006), not to mention rock guitarist, pop songwriter and conceptual artist. But the Canadian artist has embodied no character more, perhaps, than the studious slacker – a mirror of what he has called, cheekily, ‘The Gifted Amateur’, a West Coast autodidact and regular genius-in-residence. That both slacker and bookworm are poses is easily assumed by the viewer; less easy to understand is the bountiful borderland where the two characters meet and blur, and from which Graham’s restive works seem to spring, whole-bodied and inexplicable…

*Nods to Marilynne Robinson and Lyra Kilston