Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Gerhard Richter

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Gerhard Richter, Untitled, 30.5.1999, 1999. Graphite on paper, 11 7/8 x 8 5/16 inches. Private collection, Berlin.

Gerhard Richter’s lines are full of contradiction. At a glance, they appear to be gestural; pencil scribbles making vague, abstract shapes. They seem simple, bordering child-like. But a closer inspection reveals how astoundingly beautiful the marks are. They have an unclassifiable quality to them, a subtle gyration and throbbing sway. They seem both confident and tentative at once, refusing to be solidly classified as either, but also refusing any middle ground. They are somehow both, fully and without dilution. They are beautiful, intriguing, and mesmerizing. And yet, Richter removes himself from the process as much as possible. The drawings were made by taking a pencil, inserting it into a drill, and using the spinning vibrations to create the lines. He dispels the notion that the artist’s touch is important.

To limit a description of Richter’s work to his lines would be doing them a disservice. These aren’t merely contour drawings, but complex explorations of materials. The paper is filled with graphite, natural patterns arising from the drawing tool, the paper surface, etc. Often, the drawing is smudged and blurred. The abstracted images almost coalesce into something tangible, but like a distant memory, they linger but never solidify.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a series of four large-scale drawings hung at the far wall. They have a haunting quality to them; a fog where shapes hint at emergence. There are points of aggression–two sets of erasure marks angrily cutting into a rectangular form. On another, an erasure line ripping through the drawing, separating two vaguely rectangular shapes. Recall the imagery of the 9/11 attacks, and you have the key to interpreting the drawings. Suddenly, the clues slam together and become perhaps the most subtle, intricate, and poignant art pieces done by any artist in response to the attack.

Gerhard Richter: “Lines which do not exist”, On view at theDrawing Center from September 11-November 18, 2010

New York Photo Festival

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

As many of you know, the NYPH was this weekend. Alex and I missed out on most of it, managing to make it to the Slideshow Potluck, but that was about it. However, I’ve been following coverage of it, and by far the most comprehensive, illustrative, and interesting write-ups have been on

Check it out.

Additionally, there were a lot of amazing participants, and I wanted to pass along some of their websites:

Tina Enghoff

Sally Gall

Scott Irvine

Ken Kitano

Michael Macioce

And a few cool non-monochrome:

Review: William Kentridge: Five Themes

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing, the contingent way that images arrive in the work, lies some kind of model of how we live our lives. The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are or how we operate in the world.

- William Kentridge

This quotation is posted at the entrance to the MoMA’s gigantic retrospective of the work of William Kentridge. And, like any good epigraph, it both sets the tone for the viewer’s experience of the exhibition, and later resonates with that experience as the viewer reflects from an angle of comfortable repose. In this case, I am struck by exactly that model of lived life and how its personality comes through in all its asymmetrical grandeur. But more on this below.

William Kentridge

William Kentridge is from and of South Africa. His career can be seen as the struggle of a privileged white male, trying to find a language that lets him understand his place in a society riven by apartheid. A strong political pathos pervades his work, yet though Kentridge’s sympathy for the oppressed classes is strong and unwavering, it would be unfair to take the reductive step of labeling it simply ‘political art’. This difficult (and successful) brinksmanship is achieved by the intense ambivalence with which the artist places himself at the center of every piece, a sort of schizophrenic Janus that is, as an artist, sympathetic to the lower class’s plight, but also, as a white, middle-class man, an agent of its residual oppression.

But even talking about the art in these terms seems to impute an ideology to them that is refreshingly absent in the presence of the works themselves. While they, the works, are certainly aware of these generalities, it is detail and subtle movement that define both the still images on display and the huge, projected animations that fill at least five theater spaces constructed on the MoMA’s second floor.

William Kentridge

The centerpiece, both of the show and probably of Mr. Kentridge’s career, is the collection of animated films entitled, Drawings for Projection. The two central characters in these films are the two aspects of the artist himself, as mentioned above: Felix, the lover, artist, and sympathetic everyman; and Soho, zillionaire business tycoon and oppressor of the masses. Their interactions with each other are not direct, but instead play out across the shifting landscapes of contemporary South Africa, both as land and as idea.

Mr. Kentridge’s distinctive style uses heavy, dusty charcoal to create sketches that are at once rough and accurate. The animation is achieved by rubbing away a portion of the drawing and redrawing it in the new position, like most ‘analog’ animation. But it differs in that Mr. Kentridge doesn’t fully erase the foregoing state, and thus leaves a ghostly trail of movement through each scene. The effect is dreamlike, or perhaps nightmarish, but also seems to play with the way memory works by making it visibly evident across these created spans of time. This is especially moving in the more abstract flights, where the texture of the image’s history compliments, or even comprises, the full artwork as it develops before the viewer.

William Kentridge

Throughout the films, the viewer is confronted with strange amalgamations of technological devices and organic objects, like sentient camera tripods and telephones that morph into cats. Mr. Kentridge seems to deploy artifacts of banal, bureaucratic existence as an army of karmic payback, as these phones and cameras, along with notary stamps and guns march against a civilization that is portrayed as perilously close to the abyss. In fact, that abyss itself seems to be animated as the anxiety (depicted as rising, blue water that is creeping up all around Soho in some scenes) that threatens to consume everything. The impression is that of a quotidian apocalypse, slow but intractable.

And again, what makes this particular apocalypse so powerful is that it is so personal. Felix and Soho, as parts of the artist himself, are trapped by the force of their circumstance. They are defined, for better and worse (though more often for worse) by their histories, which the viewer can actually see as the ghostly trails of the animator’s technique. They can move around, but they cannot cleanly rub out the past, only smudge it some and hope it fades with time. By exploring this inescapable contingency, Mr. Kentridge is searching for a better model for life, a better way to operate in the world.

William Kentridge: Five Themes runs at the MoMA until May 17.