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

Pamela Rosenkranz

at Miguel Abreu,
through Dec. 22
88 Eldridge Street and 36 Orchard Street

Julia Rommel

at Bureau,
through Dec. 18
178 Norfolk Street

“Black Pulp!”

at the International Print Center New York,
through Dec. 17
508 West 26th Street, 5th Floor

Tony Feher

at Sikkema Jenkins,
through Dec. 23
530 West 22nd Street

Jonathan Meese

at David Nolan,
through Dec. 17
527 West 29th Street

Prabhavathi Meppayil

at Pace,
through Dec. 23
537 West 24th Street

Cosima von Bonin

at SculptureCenter,
through Jan. 2
44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City

Closing

Sondra Perry

at The Kitchen,
through Dec. 10
512 West 19th Street

Liu Wei

at Lehmann Maupin,
through Dec. 17
536 West 22nd Street and 201 Chrystie Street

James Hoff

at Callicoon Fine Arts,
through Dec. 23
49 Delancey Street

Peter Voulkos

at the Museum of Arts and Design,
through Mar. 25
2 Columbus Circle

William Eggleston

at David Zwirner,
through Dec. 17
537 West 20th Street

Kerry James Marshall

at Met Breuer,
through Jan. 29
945 Madison Avenue

Cecily Brown

at Drawing Center,
through Dec. 18
35 Wooster Street

Giorgio de Chirico and Giulio Paolini

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