by Violet Lucca
by Jackson Arn
at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
by Rahel Aima
Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s harrowing sound installation Saydnaya (the missing 19db), 2017, consists largely of whispers. In a recording that plays at low volume, a male narrator recounts in Arabic his experiences of being incarcerated in Syria’s Saydnaya prison—where thousands of political dissidents have been imprisoned and tortured since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, over ten thousand of whom are believed to have been executed—
his words translated into English by a woman speaking in hushed tones. He describes how he and his fellow prisoners endured untold hours of strictly enforced silence, as well as regular beatings from guards—sometimes for coughing, sometimes just because. They were kept in pitch darkness, and blindfolded when taken out of their cells, so their aural memories of Saydnaya are among the few available means of documenting its brutalities.Saydnaya (the missing 19db) was presented in a small, dark soundproofed room in the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis’s showing of Abu Hamdan’s “Earwitness Theatre”—a touring exhibition for which the artist has been nominated for this year’s Turner Prize. The “earwitness” testimony employed in the installation is from a 2016 investigation into the prison conducted by the collective Forensic Architecture (of which Abu Hamdan is a member) and...
at Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
by Anya Ventura
The most immediate aspect of the German artist Anna Oppermann’s work is its insistent and compulsive weirdness. In the late 1960s, Oppermann, who died in 1993 at the age of fifty-three, began creating works she called “Ensembles”: early examples of installation art consisting of drawings, photographs, paintings, and household objects arranged in dense, overlapping constellations that spread across gallery walls and floors, and that took as the
ir central theme the conditions of being a woman and an artist. Oppermann saw her Ensembles as permanently unfinished and endlessly preparatory, often circling back to a given installation over the course of several years. Her work, which has rarely been exhibited outside Europe, was often received harshly by critics during her lifetime, but today it seems ripe for reappraisal as a feminist project reclaiming the domestic sphere as philosophical and aesthetic territory....
at Matthew Marks
It’s easy to forget that New York titans of contemporary art history like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol were real people who lived real lives in cluttered apartments that resemble those many of us currently inhabit—square footage notwithstanding. As shown in images featured in this exhibition of Ugo Mulas’s photographs of New York City’s artistic power players from the 1960s, Johns hung out with friends and roasted veget
ables, though who knows how great his cooking was—how could it have been with all those liquor bottles crowding his counters? A commercial and documentary photographer from Italy, Mulas met Leo Castelli while shooting the 1964 Venice Biennale, after which he traveled to New York three times and fell in with the New York School and Pop crowds. Mulas’s disarmingly tender photographs humanize his subjects and portray a 1960s New York art world that looks much like the current one, despite our tendency to mythologize that era. ...
What is modern painting? For about the last 150 years, we’ve been given two different answers to the question. The first, based upon the criticism of the French poet Charles Baudelaire, is that painting is modern if it addresses the peculiar character of modern life: the fugitive nature of urban experience, the alienation of work under the regime of capital, and the fleeting consolation provided by commodified pleasures. If an artist depicted thes
e or similar subjects, he was modern. (The modern artist was usually figured as male since women were generally denied access to the delights and degradations of modernity.) The second answer to the question of what makes painting modern is a formalist one. Painting is modern if it abjures representation, storytelling, and allegory in favor of pure painting, that is, art for itself alone. To accomplish this—to purge itself of everything extraneous—painting had to become focused solely on its materials (paint, flat canvas, stretcher, and, possibly, frame) and the formal attributes that arise from them: namely, color, tone, direction, surface texture, and facture. Classic statements conveying this perspective on modern painting were made by the young Symbolist painter Maurice Denis in 1890 and the American critic Clement Greenberg in 1962. The first wrote: “Remember that a picture—...