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

Katia Santibañez

at Morgan Lehman Gallery,
through Nov. 12
534 West 24th Street

Cecily Brown

at Drawing Center,
through Dec. 18
35 Wooster Street


Tomoo Gokita

at Mary Boone,
through Oct. 29
541 West 24th Street

Sam McKinniss

at Team,
through Nov. 12
83 Grand Street

Giorgio de Chirico and Giulio Paolini

at The Center for Italian Modern Art,
through Jun. 24
421 Broome Street


Jessica Mein

at Simon Preston,
through Oct. 30
301 Broome Street

“Something Possible Everywhere”

at 205 Hudson Street Gallery,
through Nov. 20
205 Hudson Street


Talia Chetrit

at Kaufmann Repetto,
through Oct. 31
535 West 22nd Street


Caitlin Keogh

at Bortolami,
through Oct. 29
520 West 20th Street

Arlene Shechet

at Frick Collection,
through Apr. 2
1 East 70th Street

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