Art In America

Stan Douglas

at David Zwirner,
519 West 19th Street

Set in Lisbon during the 1974 Carnation Revolution, which ended Portugal’s dictatorship and its colonial ambitions, Stan Douglas’s The Secret Agent is a faithful update of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel about the machinations of terrorists and their police antagonists in London. Despite Douglas’s creative use of a six-channel installation—characters in dialogue appear on facing screens and certain scenes are depicted from multiple angles—there’s something oddly claustrophobic about the feature-length cinematic work, which resembles at times a PBS period drama. The actors, cast in Portugal, speak with pan-European accents and often with flat affects. Combined with the overall grayness of 1970s Lisbon, the drab dialogue makes the work a rejoinder to the post-punk glamour bestowed on the era’s revolutionary violence in the 2010 television miniseries “Carlos,” or to the fun of a spy-vs.-spy James Bond film. The police and terrorists alike are small, bumbling, and dreary. Like Douglas’s celebrated photographs (a selection of which are concurrently on view at Zwirner’s 20th Street location), The Secret Agent is a tour de force of set and costume design, awash in accurate details. But the tangled narrative of petty conflict serves almost as a bulwark against nostalgia and romance. As might be expected for a motion picture by a renowned photographer, there is a pervading sense of stasis here. “The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket,” as the anarchist Professor says in Conrad’s book. “Revolution, legality—counter moves in the same game; forms of idleness at bottom identical.” –William S. Smith

 

Pictured: Still from Stan Douglas's The Secret Agent, 2015. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York and London.

More from the Lookout

Philip Guston

at Hauser & Wirth,
through Jul. 29
511 W. 18th Street

Lionel Maunz

at Bureau,
through May 8
178 Norfolk Street

Taca Sui

at Chambers Fine Art,
through May 28
522 W. 19th Street

Jessi Reaves

at Bridget Donahue,
through Jun. 5
99 Bowery

Closing

Omer Fast

at James Cohan,
through May 7
533 West 26th Street

“Munch and Expressionism”

at Neue Galerie,
through Jun. 13
1048 Fifth Avenue

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

at Metropolitan Museum of Art,
through May 15
1000 Fifth Avenue

Closing

Michael E. Smith

at Andrew Kreps,
through May 7
537 West 22nd Street

David Hammons

at Mnuchin Gallery,
through May 27
45 East 78th Street

Cao Fei

at MoMA PS1,
through Aug. 31
22-25 Jackson Ave

Robert Ryman

at Dia:Chelsea,
through Jul. 29
535 West 22nd Street

Marcel Broodthaers

at The Museum of Modern Art,
through May 15
11 West 53rd Street

Submit your e-mail to receive insider information from the art world every week.