Articles by

<Bryony Roberts>

06/07/06 12:00am

Interstate: The American Road Trip

Socrates Sculpture Park, 30-01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City
You may think a summer road trip only yields empty fast food containers, adolescent revelations, and asymmetrical tans, but the artists in Interstate have mined the experience to create a surprising and humorous exhibit. Starting at Andrea Zittel’s popular High Desert Test Sites event in the California desert and ending at the super-urban Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, these nine artists crossed the country collecting road signs, historical artifacts, and even highway guard rails. Carolina Pedraza’s bright green mailboxes wind along the park path while Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonenberg’s structure of pastel-painted street signs towers above. Two long stretches of guard rails enclose Virginia Poundstone’s Wildflower Median and Mark Klasson’s blue payphone sprouts off the dirt, promising a live connection to the Mojave Desert. Allison Smith’s cloth tent houses historical artifacts from living history museums, and R. Scott Mitchell’s rectangular prism mocks the monotonous, reflective surfaces of office parks. These twisted remnants of the open road could not be more out of place in the urban mayhem of Queens, but the contrast gives these sculptures visual drama and a dose of cheeky playfulness.

Local Transit:  An Exhibition in Two Parts
Artists Space, 38 Greene St, Soho
In another exhibit connecting distant places, the curators at Artists Space have traded artwork with Artspace in Auckland, New Zealand, to create two shows on the theme of location. The project is meant to provoke comparisons between the ‘center’ and the ‘periphery,’ implying that New York is the center of the universe, but in reality, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between the New York and Auckland artists.  More interesting is the wide range of methods used in depicting landscapes and maps. Marie Lorenz presents a beautiful wooden canoe whose carved pieces can be run through a press to make woodblock prints of the Manhattan skyline. Dane Mitchell creates distorted maps of the world in which a country’s size reflects its number of museums, and Yuk King Tan forms images of buildings and people using small colored firecrackers. Barely relating to the idea of place, but perhaps the most charming of all, are Ellen Birrell’s photographs of wildly mutated lemons against colorful backdrops. In a separate show at Artists Space, Daniel Joglar hangs objects from the ceiling and makes subtly beautiful arrangements of office supplies on a tabletop.

04/26/06 12:00am

John Waters: Unwatchable
Marianne Boesky Gallery, 535 W 22nd, Chelsea

Wandering into Marianne Boesky recently, I found John Waters himself — impish, wiry, and mustachioed — giving a tour of his new show. Leaping around the gallery, he pointed out the gags behind the photographs, sculptures, and text pieces, giggling mischievously when we got the punch line. With his trashy, kitschy films now canonized on Broadway, Waters is using visual art to satirize the movie biz. Among the pieces in the show are the title still from gay-porn-horror movie My Ass is Haunted, a sculpture of baby Michael Jackson reaching out to baby Charles Manson, and an audio recording of a box office on the opening night of Harry Potter. Waters takes potshots at art celebrities as well, fabricating focus group surveys of the works of John Currin, Richard Serra, and Cindy Sherman, among others, complete with requests for more “happy colors.” The work is exuberantly goofy and playful — a room full of one-liners that somehow add up to a statement against self-serious, commercial entertainment.

Stefana McClure: The Year of Spagetti and other Works on Paper
Josee Bienvenu Gallery, 529 W 20th, Chelsea

Born in Ireland but obsessed with Japanese culture, Stefana McClure makes extremely subtle text pieces that address the passage of time. Her best-known works are her Films on paper, for which she superimposes the subtitles to an entire film onto a piece of paper, resulting in two soft, blurry lines at the bottom of a color field. For this show, she’s applied the same approach to manga books, such as Atom Boy and Akira, transcribing all of the Japanese text from the speech bubbles onto one colored page. The works function simultaneously as minimal abstractions and as compressed narratives, of which only portions are readable. In a separate body of work, McClure fitted typists with gloves with typewriter balls attached to each finger and asked them to type out a given story onto a Teflon surface. The spinning balls punch random letters into the Teflon, and the prolonged typing creates strange clusters of letters around each finger. These typed pieces are especially opaque, but they offer an interesting new method of mark-making and writing.

04/26/06 12:00am

f : t architecture : Model Space

Black & White Gallery, 483 Driggs Ave, Williamsburg

For the next few months, the courtyard of the Black & White Gallery will hold a gleaming white architectural confection. Built by the artist-curator-architects Peter Franck and Kathleen Triem of f : t architecture, the construction is a large-scale model of a house they’re building in Saugerties, New York. Working models are not normally sensational, but by blowing one up to 1: 4 scale and embedding it in a concrete backyard in Williamsburg, Franck and Triem have created something novel. Surrounded by clusters of aluminum rods representing trees, the minimalist form soars above a landscape of stacked white polystyrene. The combination of materials — I-beams, foam, Plexiglas — is strange, but the structure appears light and elegant nonetheless. The house is generically stylish, fusing Pierre Koenig with Zaha Hadid, but in miniature it becomes a symbol of escape, purity, and the endless allure of modernism.

Simon Faithfull: Ice Blink
Parker’s Box, 193 Grand St, Brooklyn

Before we even get to his art, Simon Faithfull deserves props for his sheer physical hardiness. He undertook a residency at a lonely British research station in Antarctica to make videos and Palm Pilot drawings of the desolate landscape. The Palm Pilot drawings are amazingly dexterous considering the medium — one captures the intricacies of the research station, another the gentle outline of a friend’s face. The videos range from jolty cinema verité footage of barking seals to clear, minimal shots from a fixed camera. In the latter category is 44, which records the view through a ship’s porthole as it slowly passes ice cliffs.  Similarly, Falling looks over the bow of a vessel as it plows through icy water, driving dark cracks into the white surface. All of the work is quiet and subdued, reveling in the severe beauty of the landscape.

04/12/06 12:00am

Tara Donovan: New Work

Pace Wildenstein, 534 W. 25th St.

A lot of artwork on display in New York right now leans heavily on conceptual or narrative frameworks that send you running to the wall labels. The Whitney Biennial boasts the best examples (“an articulation of nostalgia and diligence reflecting ‘traditional,’ transcendental American values,” etc.), and this recurring trend is bogging down Chelsea as well. What a relief, then, to come across a show at Pace Wildenstein that is unapologetically sensual. From out on the street, Tara Donovan’s installation appears to be a glowing, white mountain range on the floor of the gallery. But the luminous topography is actually composed of stacks of clear plastic cups, arranged in gradations of height to simulate peaks and valleys over an area of 3,000 square feet. The piece is absurdly labor-intensive, but the labor generates mystery and a magical transformation of materials, which are welcome qualities in contemporary art.

Andrew Sexton
Oliver Kamm 5BE Gallery, 621 W.27th St.

The skulls, flames, lightning bolts, and Rottweilers in Andrew Sexton’s work might lead you to believe that he’s another artist obsessed with a goth-metal-Americana aesthetic. That may be, but the works in Sexton’s first solo show have a surprising element — they’re all portraits. The five-foot, steel handlebar mustache, which the receptionist will set on fire if you ask nicely, is a self-portrait. The arrangement of painted car doors, tequila, a live masseuse, and a Walkman with a soundtrack is meant to capture the personality of Michael Stickrod, a young video artist. The Crumb-like cartoon in ink and soy sauce portrays Adrian Wong, a classmate of Sexton and Stickrod in the Yale MFA program. All of the objects transcend easy classification by combining several different aesthetics — Louis Hopper includes a Cobra-shaped beer tap, a skull carved from cheddar cheese, a wall painting of lightning, and a skateboard. Despite the mish-mash of materials and forms, each portrait conveys a fondness for a loveable, albeit eccentric subject.

03/29/06 12:00am

Cao Fei: Hip-Hop
Lombard-Freid Projects

A wildly talented young video artist from Guangzhou, China, Cao Fei is making a name for herself with her oddball satires of Chinese culture. Her lush Cosplayers video documents teenagers play-fighting in fanciful anime costumes, and her video Rabid Dogs, which was in the recent Armory Show, features Burberry-clad actors romping like dogs through a corporate office. This show at Lombard-Freid unveils a suite of three videos that see hip-hop colliding  with Asian culture. In Guangzhou, Fukuoka, and New York’s Chinatown, Fei cajoled local characters to dance uninhibitedly to hip-hop music, and most performed old-fashioned two-steps to the pounding beats. Her subjects are all endearingly out of sync with the music, which suggests, in the most entertaining way, the challenge of throwing together East and West, old and new. Fei, who has worked extensively in theater, constructed elaborate backdrops for each video; the Guangzhou piece is projected on hanging laundry, the Chinatown one on an overturned restaurant table, and the Fukuoka video between wall drawings of Japanese scenes. Her skills as a filmmaker aside, Fei provides a refreshing combination of humor and criticism in capturing China’s fast-changing role in global culture.

Participant, Inc.

Yes, that’s pronounced Ri-DYKE-ulous, and say it like you mean it! Definitely one of the angriest shows in a while, this joint curatorial effort by A.L. Steiner and Nicole Eisenman addresses the current status of lesbian culture in relation to the mainstream. The exhibit coincides with the release of a ‘zine of the same name, and both involve a multitude of artists, some of whom are not lesbians or even female, including Amy Sillman, Nicola Tyson, Chicks on Speed, Lisa Sanditz, and Miranda Lichtenstein. In the gallery space, the work all blurs together in a mass of fists sprouting from vaginas, smeared fake blood, and cutout photos of Shane from The L Word. Speaking of which, this raggedy, 90s-zine-style show is a refreshing change from that over-glamorized melodrama of lesbian life, and it’s a reminder that lesbianism does not have a comfortable place at mainstream culture’s table. However, this messy political expressionism, which the press release acknowledges as somewhat tongue-in-cheek, seems oddly retro and out of place today. Maybe contemporary art viewers have forgotten how to deal with angry minorities and we need to be reminded, or maybe the 21st century just requires a more sophisticated kind of political statement.

03/15/06 12:00am

Roxanne Wolancz: The Princess Series

The Phatory, 618 E. 9th St.

In a narrow little space in Alphabet City, Sally Lelong runs the Phatory, a gallery specializing in artists who combine digital animation with painting and sculpture. In the current show, Princess Series, Roxanne Wolanczyck creates tongue-in-cheek Flash animations and digital prints about her fantasies of a better life. Wolanczyck’s use of the word “princess” is complicated: she casts herself as royalty to comment on the relative luxury of Americans, but her character is nonetheless struggling to make ends meet in New York. These candy-colored images are her imagined retreats from the daily grind: dressed in a nightgown with a white crown, Wolanczyck, her baby, and her cat wander through lush rainforests, green meadows, and fantasy homes. Basing her digital illustration on photographs, Wolanczyck creates forms that have realistic detail but are crisp and graphic. The most amusing prints are of her dream houses, which come in Modern, Japanese, Islamic, and Indian styles, and represent the domestic daydreams of many New Yorkers.

The Micro Museum
123 Smith St, Brooklyn

The Micro Museum, a collaborative project of the artist duo Kathleen and William Laziza, contains an alternate universe where chairs talk, organs light up, and televisions respond to touch. Since the early 1970s, Kathleen and William have been making interactive sound and video sculptures — their early work resembles Nam June Paik’s manipulated televisions — and in mid the 80s they set up this museum on Smith Street to house their installations and their collaborations with other artists. The most interesting pieces are the interactive televisions whose images can be manipulated by placing objects on the screen or yelling at the set. Many of the works generate psychedelic imagery, and the whole place feels like a vintage funhouse. The technical innovations are impressive, due to William’s engineering prowess, but the aesthetic is varied and exuberantly kitschy. The Lazizas organize a slew of cultural events every year, including their public access show, Spontaneous Combustion, for which they recruit young video artists with similarly imaginative taste. 

03/01/06 12:00am

It’s Whitney Biennial time again, so brace yourselves for a flood of cynical criticism and a parade of new art stars. This year’s incarnation promises novelty if nothing else — the co-curators Chrissie Iles, of the Whitney Museum, and Philippe Vergne, of the Walker Art Center, are placing a big emphasis on film and video art, featuring masters such as Kenneth Anger and Michael Snow as well as youngsters like Anthony Burdin, Aaron Young, and Paul Chan. For the first time, the exhibit will also include non-American artists and will have a title, Day for Night — a reference to the English translation of Truffaut’s film La Nuit Americaine and a nod to the dark mood of much contemporary art. Here are some of the highlights. Whitney Museum,945 Madison Ave.

5 Themes of the Show


It’s all about getting along this year, as the Biennial features half a dozen artist collectives that downplay the whole ego thing.

Musicians are the new artists, with Jim O’Rourke, Momus, and Daniel Johnston all contributing to the show.

Thank god! No more butterflies and frolicking children, there’s nothing but destruction and gore this year.

I know, Biennials are always political, but this time everybody’s really pissed off.

There’s nudity, there’s ornament, there’s glitter — more is more!

5 Must Sees

Pierre Huyghe
The culmination of a three-part project, A Journey That Wasn’t is a film of Huyghe’s journey to Antarctica and his spectacle at the Wollman Rink in Central Park.

Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty
This collaboration between Dan Graham, Tony Oursler, Rodney Graham, Laurent P. Berger, and the hipster band Japanther, is an inflammatory puppet show.

The Wrong Gallery
The founders of the Wrong Gallery, including Maurizio Cattelan, are curating Down By Law, a show within the show.

Rodney Graham
The oddball video artist is turning away from his usual inscrutable narratives and offering us a single, spinning chandelier.

Rirkrit Tiravanija and Mark di Suvero
In a recreation of di Suvero’s Peace Tower from 1966, the two are soliciting panels from hundreds of artists to construct a tower in the Whitney courtyard.

5 Under the Radar

Jay Heikes

This jack-of-all-trades makes paintings, sculptures, and videos about the pop icons who live and die for us.

Paul Chan
The politically minded video artist, originally from Hong Kong, treads new ground with an ominous projection of light and shadows.

Zoe Strauss
Strauss’ wacky photographs of people and their bad accessories will make you laugh out loud.

Martha Colburn
Absurd and grotesque collages come to life in Colburn’s animated films.

Yuri Masnyj
Masnyj’s sharp, black-and-white drawings incorporate Constructivist imagery in enigmatic scenes. 

5 That Beg the Question "Is This Art?"

Reena Spaulings
A fictional artist created in 2004 by a group of collaborators; they run a gallery and create art and music under the pseudonym.

Bernadette Corporation
This collaborative group has generated a fashion line, a magazine, a novel, and several films.

Critical Art Ensemble
This group of five radical artists writes books and organizes biotech projects to challenge “authoritarian culture.”

Natalie Jeremijenko
Her Bureau of Inverse Technology is a database of the government’s anti-terror actions.

Center for Land Use Interpretation
A research organization that studies the effect of human development on the natural landscape.

5 Heaviest Hitters/VIPs

Kenneth Anger

This experimental film guru is showing a trippy Mickey Mouse adventure.


A contemporary of Warhol’s, she’s been making copies of other people’s work for 40 years.

Robert Gober

The master of quirky, sassy, and totally inexplicable sculptures.

Richard Serra

Lemme guess, another black square on paper. Can’t we see some more steel?

Taylor Mead

One of Warhol’s Factory boys, Mead was born in 1924! He’ll be reading his poetry and exhibiting some drawings.

5 Political Crusaders

George Butler
His film Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry traces the presidential candidate’s war years and political ascendance.

Deep Dish Television Network
This grassroots satellite network broadcasts left-leaning programming about our government’s bad decisions.

Jimmie Durham
A Cherokee artist, Durham makes work about the heritage of American Indian culture.

Dominic Angerame
His recent film Anaconda Targets documents the bombing of a military target in Afghanistan.

Robert Pruitt
His drawings and sculptures confront racial tensions with unflinching honesty.

02/15/06 12:00am

Space Boomerang
Swiss Institute
495 Broadway, Soho

For Space Boomerang, curator Marc-Olivier Wahler has turned the Swiss Institute gallery into a dark cave full of swirling smoke, weird smells, and startling vibrations. Named after the Boomerang nebula, the coldest known place in the universe, the show evokes a Space Odyssey-era fantasy about the cosmos. Like a newly discovered planet, the exhibition teems with strange, inanimate objects moving of their own accord. Lang/Baumann’s long wall of lights lends a retro-glam ambiance to the tableau and Loris Greaud’s Spirit fills the air with a slimy fragrance based on descriptions of Mars. Greaud’s other piece, Tremors are forever, generates disturbingly strong vibrations in one of the gallery walls, and next to it Ann Veronica Janssens’ Freak Star illuminates a star in a cloud of smoke. It’s theatrical and fun, like an old-fashioned haunted house — but that, miraculously enough, doesn’t cheapen the art. Instead, Wahler draws out the mystery and drama of artworks that may have seemed banal in a white cube.

Andrea Zittel: Critical Space
New Museum of Contemporary Art
556 W 22nd St

The first word that comes to mind in describing Andrea Zittel’s art is Gesamtkunstwerk, or Total Artwork. Originally used by Richard Wagner to describe his integration of the arts, the term is just as appropriate for Zittel, who employs fashion design, architecture, interior design, cooking, painting, and sculpture to investigate the human need for order. Zittel asserts that self-imposed regulations can be more liberating than pure freedom, and uses her own lifestyle to test this idea. This show includes dozens of the dresses she makes, which she wears every day for six months, and several of the living units she designs for herself and for collectors. Combining California modernism and the modular principles of Le Corbusier, her living spaces are sleek and pint-sized. The living units never impressed me when I saw them in group shows, but in the context of her other work, they are connected to studies of animal breeding structures and to her extreme personal regimens. This retrospective proves that Zittel is one of the few artists who erases all boundaries between life and art.

01/18/06 12:00am

If you don’t live in Long Island City, it can be a nice little getaway with its scenic views from the 7 train, sweet-smelling doughnut factories, and of course, some great art…

5 Pointz
Jackson Ave, between Crane and Davis Sts.
The surface of this building, right across the street from P.S.1, serves as an enormous outdoor gallery for graffiti art. With the encouragement of the owner, graf artists large and small leave their mark on the walls, cars, and trashcans on the property. From sci-fi fantasies, to Rembrandt imitations, to straight-up tagging, the art here is more than you’d ever expect from a spray can. Take a walk all the way around the building and then up the stairways to the artist studios: the place is colorful inside and out.

John Kessler: The Palace at 4 A.M.
P.S. 1
If holiday shopping kept you from seeing this show, make sure to stop by before it closes February 6. Kessler combines a homemade aesthetic with an obsession with surveillance cameras to create tripped-out image-making machines. The show is an overwhelming cacophony of kinetic sculptures, spinning cameras and clacking mechanisms whose logic only becomes evident after prolonged scrutiny. The flashing monitors, which appear at first to be playing pre-recorded videos, are actually showing live feed from the many surveillance cameras careening around the room. Collages of news images and magazine ads move in front of the cameras to create simulations of Iraq combat, the cockpit of a fighter plane, and the destruction of the Twin Towers. What seems to be a mess of slipshod constructions turns out to be a complex, finely tuned network of moving parts. Kessler’s sloppy craftsmanship is deceptive and ultimately distracting in the context of his witty, skillfully constructed videos.

If you still have energy for more: 

Digital Play: Reloaded
The Museum of the Moving Image
This semi-permanent exhibition is a survey of video games, featuring playable stations and, that’s right, Dance Dance Revolution. Whether you go to study representations of violence in the media, or just want to kick some digital butt, this is worth a visit.

The Imagery of Chess Revisited
The Noguchi Museum
A recreation of the famous 1944 show organized by Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, this show features whimsical chess musings by Duchamp and chess pieces designed by Man Ray. 

12/21/05 12:00am

Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture
Japan Society
Curated by Takashi Murakami, this survey of Japanese image culture confirmed the global popularity of anime, manga, and super-cute kawaii culture, while asserting their connection to the trauma of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japan Society followed this stellar show with the equally riveting, but more subdued, History of History exhibition curated by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Comic and Grotesque: Wit and Mockery in German Art 1870 – 1940
Neue Galerie
Ushering in 2005, this show of German art delved into the twisted humor of cabaret culture and satirical journals from the fin de siecle. Aside from a few early paintings and the outlandish silent films of cross-dressing Karl Valentin, the exhibit focused primarily on cheeky anti-Fascist collages and cartoons from the likes of Hannah Hoch, Lionel Feininger and George Grosz.

Janet Cardiff: Her Long Black Hair
Central Park
Hands down the best public art project of the year, this highly personal audio tour through Central Park made a familiar place mysterious and new. An old pro at audio projects, Janet Cardiff skillfully recorded the sounds of a walk and overlapped them exactly onto the viewer’s live experience. The result was a visceral sound adventure, interlaced with narrative fragments and history, which led to a zen-like level of awareness.

Mike Kelley: Day is Done
Mike Kelley made a bold re-entry into the New York art scene this November, discounting any rumors that he peaked in the 90s. The Los Angelino is more ambitious than ever in his new installation Day is Done, an enormous hodgepodge of video projections, set pieces, photographs, and alarming sculptures that turn fragments from high school musicals and Halloween parades into an all-encompassing world of horror.

David Ellis
Jessica Murray Projects
One of the many graffiti artists to gain art-world recognition this year, Ellis fuses painting with elaborate musical devices. In this solo show, his signature swirling forms connected different percussive machines, and surrounded life-size trees containing record players. The centerpiece of the cacophony — a fast-forwarded video of him doing large floor paintings, one on top of the other — was a magical record of organically growing forms.