by Nora N. Khan
by David Ebony
by Dennis Zhou
Sheila Pepe is a maker, as she herself puts it, but the things she makes are frequently unmade. The ephemerality and shape-shifting propensities of her art may be one reason her thirty-year career is less well known than it should be; the other is its rootedness in craft-based women’s practices. Pepe’s main medium is fiber, although as the traveling survey “Sheila Pepe: Hot Mess Formalism,” here at its final venue, testifies, she has also cr
eated mixed-medium sculptures, videos, and works on paper. Consisting of knotted and crocheted shoelaces, nautical rope, parachute cords, and yarn, among other industrial and natural materials, her most ambitious installations vault and dangle their way through spacious galleries, atria, and courtyards, and change according to the site. That these installations are sometimes fabricated with help from locals, who arrive to crochet them into existence, and deconstructed in similar fashion, with such collaborators unraveling them at the end of the exhibition run, provides an intriguing variable to the work of this artist, who has produced the pieces all over the world....
THE VIJA CELMINS RETROSPECTIVE at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, “To Fix the Image in Memory,” does not begin with her celebrated drawings of the ocean or the night sky, as one might expect, but with an unassuming oil painting of an envelope. Hung just outside the first gallery, Envelope (1964) portrays its subject through a subtle interplay of lush, luminous surfaces, attesting to Celmins’s considerable technical skill. The painting
carries a hint of violence and is tense with expectation—the envelope has been ripped open, but the contents withheld. To start the show with this work was a deft decision by curators Gary Garrels, from SFMoMA, and Ian Alteveer, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The exhibition will travel to the Met Breuer in the fall.) It demonstrates their sensitivity to the singular oeuvre of this reticent artist, who was born in Latvia and has developed her practice over the past half-century, first working in Los Angeles and then, beginning in the early 1980s, in New York. Although the exhibition is laid out in chronological fashion, motifs recur throughout, given Celmins’s steady focus on the same themes throughout her career. In Letter (1968) we find another envelope, this one exquisitely rendered in graphite on prepared paper. The envelope was for a letter Celmins’s mother sent to her a...
Stefan Kürten’s intricate paintings of depopulated domestic interiors and enigmatic architectural spaces are “atmospheric” in Jean Baudrillard’s sense of the term. In his landmark 1968 book The System of Objects, the French theorist analyzed how the furnishings, decorative objects, and color schemes in bourgeois homes—the components of atmosphere—operate as a part of overarching sign systems. In Baudrillard’s critique, domestic enviro
nments had become so complex, so rich in “cultural connotations,” that they threatened to eclipse their inhabitants. The theorist speculated that objects in the modern world had attained a new kind of cultural agency, like “actors in a global process in which man is merely . . . the spectator.” A hushed and ominous air, potentially symptomatic of this alienated condition, pervades Kürten’s Wish You Were Here (2018), one of the highlights of this exhibition of fourteen recent paintings. The work, rendered in acrylic and ink on linen, offers an exterior view of a single-story, glass-walled modernist house that might have been designed by Mies van der Rohe. Faintly visible on an interior wall, a late Matisse cutout of a blue figure signals the prosperity of the property’s owner. Two lounge chairs languish by the pool in the foreground. The pool’s greenish, rippling water echo...
There was an ecclesiastical air about “High Times,” Richard Prince’s latest show at Gagosian. Some of the thirty-plus recent works recalled giant church frescoes: spanning from floor to ceiling, they featured stacked rows of figures, set off by areas of black. Walking through the gallery, you could see faces and gestures repeat, like those of saints. But there’s nothing lofty about the figures, or the collage techniques that patch them toget
her. Scanned, cut, or copied from Prince’s sketchbooks, they are stick-limbed people: various grinning dudes, goofy and drugged; a cross-eyed, bikini-clad bimbo; a long-haired girl with dazed dot eyes and a straight-line mouth. Their fingers, when they have hands at all, are huge sausages, and their hair is frequently a bunch of wonky spikes.Prince used colored pencils and markers to draw his characters on paper. After the images were transferred to the canvas, he drew on them with oil sticks or amplified their colors with acrylics squeezed out of the tubes and smeared on the surfaces. Some of the scans are blown up so big that the figures become crystal caves of pixels. Viewing “High Times” led one on a dizzying search for the ground, for the seams joining the parts, for the places where the artist’s hand met the work of the inkjet printer. This quest provoked both belief and do...