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REVIEWS

FEATURED REVIEW

Maurizio Cattelan
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

MAURIZIO CATTELAN, "ALL," INSTALLATION VIEW, INSTALLATION VIEW: PHOTO CREDIT DAVID HEALD © SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM FOUNDATION.

IN 1989, FOR HIS FIRST SOLO SHOW, MAURIZIO CATTELAN VACATED the premises. He closed the gallery and put up a sign: Torno subito, or "Be back soon." Now, 12 years later, he has made a promise. After his Guggenheim retrospective, "All," this will be it. No more art-making for him, once and for all.

Cattelan has left his share of art objects. Well over a hundred are suspended in midair, from scaffolding hung from the Frank Lloyd Wright oculus itself. They include life-size wax figures that earned him outrage, admiration, and above all attention—like a boyish Hitler (yes, him) kneeling in prayer or supplication; President Kennedy in an open coffin; and the Pope felled by a meteorite. "All" comes close to exhibiting everything that he has ever shown.

The curators, Nancy Spector and Katherine Brinson, did not need to exhibit new work for the occasion or even make selections. With the ramps and ordinary exhibition spaces empty, except for wall text at the start and a few hard but elegant benches, Catellan has created an installation—a brand new and thoroughly site-specific work of art. It ascends the rotunda like nothing since Matthew Barney in performance, and it appeals to the same people who saw Barney's ego and excess as liberating. It wrenches old work out of context, whether in chronology or in space, while also giving it a new and changing context as viewers ascend the ramp themselves.

That invitation to shifting experience has long aligned the Italian with relational aesthetics, like the site-specific ego trips of Rirkrit Tiravanija or Carsten H&oumi;ller. Cattelan appeared with the movement just three years ago at the Guggenheim in "theanyspacewhatever" exhibition. The show played to both novices and insiders, with its mix of spectacle and promises. Naturally, Catellan's Disney Pinocchio (Daddy, Daddy, 2008) which then lay face down in the Guggenheim's lobby fountain, now hangs resurrected from above.

Make no mistake: the "wow" factor is real in dozens of large objects, obvious jokes and insider references. They include a sprawling photo of the Hollywood sign, just in case one missed the point. Cattelan has a special fondness for taxidermy, like the pigeons perched on scaffolding or the horse bearing the sign INRI. (Take that, you papists.) One has trouble looking at a life-size elephant shrouded in white, with holes for its eyes, and not saying "Boo!"

The one-liners have their share of art-world jokes. The repeated Z slashed into fabric alludes to perhaps Italy's best-known painter, Lucio Fontana. It transforms Arte Povera into a poster for European art film with the mark of Zorro. Issues of Flash Art, the Milan-based magazine that has consistently championed Catellan's career, form a literal and metaphorical house of cards. Mostly, though, this is still the kid from the streets of Padua playing with toys—he who retires from art with the most toys wins.

The boy-toys include soccer scores in marble and the world's largest foosball table (Stadium, 1991). Originally, Cattelan assembled teams of 11 Italians to play on it: North African immigrants—wearing team shirts with the word "Rauss" ( recalling the German word raus, "Get out,") —against whites, and I have a feeling nobody won. Like most bad boys, Cattelan has an obvious problem with authority. It explains the pope, the coffins, two New York cops hanging upside down, or the entire exhibition.

One can look for European politics of immigration at the foosball table, but do not look too hard. One can look for outrage, for empathy, or for insight, but in the end one has a pretend toy store and a long string of one-liners. The two cops, Frank and Jamie, appeared in 2002, just months after 9/11, and their shapes echo the Twin Towers. People have seen in them vulnerability or callous indifference (art critic Peter Schjeldahl was truly disgusted), just as with the coffins, the suicides, or, most of all, children who have hanged themselves. One could look to the hanging for more of Italy's dark history, down to the summary execution and hanging in public of Mussolini's body—itself parodied or glorified by yet another figure from Arte Povera, Luciano Fabro, in Italia d'oro (Golden Italy, 1971). Better still, one can smile at the gallows humor and forget the whole thing. Hanging is now symbolic of Catellan's installation itself. His marble slab serves as a final scoreboard and memorial.

- John Haber

LOS ANGELES

Elke Silvia Krystufek
The Box

Elke Silvia Krystufek, Bossi Burger Lie, 1998

LIVING AND WORKING BETWEEN VIENNA AND BERLIN, ELKE SILVIA Krystufek is well known in Europe but not so in the United States. "HARMONIE 3" at The Box is a provocative and slightly mysterious introduction to her work for local audiences.

According to gallery director Mara McCarthy, Krystufek was a prolific producer of images back in the '90s, when she first started to gain traction in her art career. She has since decided to stop producing new images; when asked to do a show now, she curates a selection of her previous work. Hence, "HARMONIE 3", which is part of a series of solo exhibitions at various locales worldwide, is a collection of works that "relate in one way or the other to Elke Silvia Krystufek's time in and imaginations about Los Angeles and its art scene."

That quote is from a statement prepared by the artist to accompany this exhibition; throughout the statement—which is a significant piece of literature in itself—she refers to herself in the third person, and by her complete name. This interesting tactic of constantly referencing herself while at the same time maintaining a certain discursive distance can also be seen at play in the works on view. The show is quite personal, organized as it is by the artist's own random internal references, and it features a few appearances by Krystufek herself. But its compositional focus is on the relationships, collaborations and influences that were around the artist in a particular time and place.

The exhibition is at once murky and dynamic, filled with images that are both bold and unreadable. The painting Christkind (1998) features the image of a sculpture by Paul McCarthy (a friend and collaborator of Krystufek's, and also father to Box director McCarthy) with some German text that translates as: "Dear Baby Jesus! I would like to finally know, how many households in Austria are equipped with a PC?" The words somehow work in tandem with the sculpture's mechanical comedy.

Nearby is You have one Jamie (Portrait of Cameron Jamie) (1998), a beautiful portrait of the LA-born, now Paris-based artist (and one-time lover of Krystufek) done on patterned fabric. In the downstairs gallery is the video Flex Performance (1998), in which Krystufek and Jamie wrestle while McCarthy and Mike Kelley's band, Destroy All Monsters, plays in the background. Other works seem to play with stereotypical notions of Hollywood; there is The idea of Love (Hollywood) (1999), a romantic painting of the Hollywood sign at night, and BORN TO BE WILD (1992), a hilarious video in which Krystufek and a friend cruise the streets of Vienna on a motorcycle, to the tune of the eponymous song.

Krystufek's imagery is charismatic, but this intimately self-curated show foregrounds her as an artist among other artists, rummaging equally through personal relationships, the concomitant incest of the art world, and larger cultural signifiers.

- Carol Cheh

Best Kept Secret
Laguna Art Museum

TONY DELAP, FAWKES, 1968, BEST KEPT SECRET: PHOTO CREDIT GENE OGAMI. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.

SPAWNED IN THE MID-'60s IN THE HEART OF BLAND, BORING ORANGE County, the art department at University of California, Irvine rapidly became a formidable force in the advancement of contemporary art. Beyond demonstrating the department's historical significance, "Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971" is a visual stunner, while providing the viewer with a cross section of emerging West Coast art including conceptualism, performance, video, feminist and installation art.

UCI's instructional model included tolerance, dialogue, diversity, experimentation, mentorship and engagement with the larger SoCal art community. Peter Frank explains in the exhibition catalog: "Instructors stressed attitude rather than practice, intellectual inquiry instead of manual dexterity, discourse in lieu of production." This radical approach baffled some students but engaged many others who pursued careers as artists, teachers and curators.

In the '60s, UCI was young and free from historical burdens. Students were encouraged to push the boundaries of art with performance, video and film. Instructors and the students they mentored created an environment with little perceived difference between them, and many instructors participated in students' performance works, including those by Jay McCafferty and Richard Newton.

The most outrageous student to emerge from UCI was Chris Burden whose conceptual works tested the limits of the body and the reception of performance art. An example is his television infomercial Through the Night Softly (1973), represented at the LAM by a photo of him crawling nearly naked over glass. Burden and other former students have achieved international fame, much of it based on an education encouraging unbridled creativity.

The genesis of "Best Kept Secret" occurred in 2009 in a conversation between Laguna Art Museum Director Bolton Colburn and artist Tony DeLap, an original UCI faculty member who became project consultant for the show. The exhibition, consisting of works by 40 artists at UCI, helps set examples for contemporary viewers in usage of materials, construction, conceptual ideas, political engagement and more.

In terms of materials and construction, instructor John Mason's tall Unfinished Arch (1973), made of traditional clay bricks, holds together without mortar. Light and Space works by Larry Bell, Craig Kaufman and Robert Irwin are examples of those who used new materials such as plastics, resins and polymers. For example, Bell's Bette and the Giant Jewfish (1963) (unfortunately titled after the Goliath Grouper), and Untitled (1969) are large square boxes of vacuum-coated glass and chrome-plated metal that draw the viewer in by using refracted light; DeLap's Fawkes (1968), a red cast fiberglass, stainless steel and acrylic hexagonal sculpture, seems to change shape as the viewer moves around it.

Works by two former UCI students are especially noteworthy: Marsha Red Adams' Woman Bound/Woman Withdrawn (1971) consists of eight photographs of a naked woman in various constraining poses, over which are hand-painted and stitched string to bind the woman. Barbara T. Smith's video Ritual Meal (1969), featuring characters out of a primal nightmare, helped hurl her into the performance art limelight.

- Liz Goldner

George Legrady
Edward Cella Art + Architecture

GEORGE LEGRADY, AT THE BAR, 2011, LEGRADY: COURTESY EDWARD CELLA ART+ ARCHITECTURE GALLERY, LOS ANGELES.

THROUGHOUT "REFRACTION," GEORGE LEGRADY'S INSTALLATION of lenticular photographs and video works, images are broken apart and reconfigured to create a sense of narrative, implying that a transformation will occur as one image becomes another. Legrady, interested in the relationship between the abstract and the representational as related to the dialogue between man and machine, softens his usually analytical approach by creating works that explore these relationships on an emotional rather than purely conceptual level. This shift as illustrated by the use of personal photographic images rather than pure data imbues the works with a humanistic content, one that resonates culturally and as narrative.

The source for this compelling body of work is a set of documentary- style black-and-white photographs Legrady took at a formal Hungarian ball in Montreal in the 1970s and recently rediscovered. The dress of the attendees and the decor of the location recall the setting of Alain Resnais' enigmatic and surreal film Last Year at Marienbad (1961). The works formally allude to the film and share conceptual similarities in the construction of narrative around people who interact but never really connect.

When making his images, Legrady was interested in documenting the relationship between the servers and the served and now through this re-presentation has injected the suggestion of cinematic narrative across the body of work. Through the use of the lenticular process, two or more images can be seen simultaneously as the viewer shifts perspective. In At the Table (all works 2011) photographs merge implying a sequence of time. Similarly, Movement presents the aura of a dance with different couples on the dance floor. By juxtaposing three photographs Legrady transforms party pictures into dynamic images that speak about class and social relations.

Furthering his dissection of the images Legrady also includes software-based animations that loop through aspects of the photographs recombining specific elements to direct the viewer's focus. In Retelling he uses tinted fragments from the image At the Bar that isolate specific people and conversations, architectural details and bar items, continuously re-sequencing them within the frame. In Slice he cycles through six images, dividing the composition into ever-narrowing strips as one image becomes an abstraction before it morphs into another.

Voice of Sisyphus is a wall-sized projection that fills the second gallery. While Retelling and Slice have a direct relationship to the lenticular pieces, Voice of Sisyphus moves the work in a new direction—one based on erasure rather than clarity, as the image is gridded out based on a computer algorithm that procedurally breaks the image down to its essential pixels, then repurposes the hues as blips of electronic sound. As the image continuously reconstitutes itself and dissolves into a blurry abstraction the repetitive nature of Sisyphus' plight resonates. While Voice of Sisyphus seems closest to Legrady's previous works, it functions more expansively because of its relation to the rest of the exhibition. Through inventive reuse of source material Legrady is able to break the cycle, offering new ways of looking into the past.

- Jody Zellen

Places of Validation, Art and Progression
California African-American Museum

HOUSTON CONWILL, PASSAGES,1979, DETAIL, COURTESY THE CALIFORNIA AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSEUM.

"PLACES OF VALIDATION" EFFECTIVELY ARTICULATES THE INTENTION to mount a comprehensive survey of African-American artists from the Los Angeles region. Though slightly congested at points, the exhibition's encyclopedic scope is ambitious and rewarding. It locates, identifies, defines and develops aesthetic windows that fix the art movement into time and place, allowing it to be seen within a larger cultural continuum.

"Places of Validation" also addresses the context and circumstances that jump-started an artist-generated infrastructure of artist-run galleries, emerging museums, and community art centers that supported and promoted overlapping aesthetic agendas. It does this by providing a plethora of supporting information which tracks and documents each institution's progress. Full disclosure: I am the former director of Pearl C. Wood Gallery, included therein.

Of the exhibition's 180 works by 90 artists, 22 were represented by examples from the Museum's collections while 60 works on loan from the prestigious Golden State Mutual Collection were afforded a separate gallery. One of the more memorable works from the museum's collection is Timothy Washington's elongated mixed-media female sculpture Energy (1970). From several private collections are also examples of his signature "back etched" drawings. The artist sprays black automobile primer on sanded aluminum surfaces and draws into them with an etching tool, leaving a contrasting shimmer.

Painter and muralist Richard Wyatt's work He Knew Us Before We Were Born (1974) employs the heroic and totemic sensibilities found in Charles White's drawings. A small portrait, Edgar Johnson (1978) (of a former upper management executive with Golden State Mutual), further cements Wyatt's reputation as one of the best photo-realists around.

Veteran sculptor Ron Griffin's two bas-relief sculptures Balls and Melanasia (both 1972) consist of white padded canvas surrounding black compartments. These house undisclosed forms attempting to break through their black nylon stocking constraints, sharing a similar physical treatment found in Senga Nengudi's nylon stocking sculptures, which are currently exhibited at the Hammer Museum and MOCA.

Installation and performance artist Houston Conwill's earth-textured wall relief, Passages (1979), reads like a separated ancient cliff fragment, revealing esoteric and codified information. A structured compartmental hierarchy of niches within the work contains a collection of his time capsules and "JuJu pouches."

VanDerZee The Genius by photographer Willie R. Middlebrook (1980) presents a dual portrait of the Harlem Renaissance luminary and photographer James VanDerZee, seated in front of a black and white photograph of himself. Middlebrook tweaks VanDerZee's own method of photographing the deceased—VanDerZee employed a "ghosted" image of his subject in the background—introducing issues of appropriation and co-substantiation. Like VanDerZee, Middlebrook asserts that the essence of a portrait is a cross-section between a person's physical presence and their spiritual shadow.

The 1971 sculpture Fallen Man (Sergeant Barker) at the exhibit's entrance/exit point by sculptor John Riddle provides the perfect evocation and summation to a strong show. The abstracted black metal figure's presence feels like a poetic fall, a rhythmic descent, an awkward grace, or a provocative encounter that calls to mind a break dancer, performing a stop-frame pose, after a "helicopter" spin-out.

- Greg Angaza Pitts

Hung Liu
Walter Maciel Gallery

HUNG LIU, HI HO (AYOU HOU), 2011, LIU: PHOTO CREDIT BEN BLACKWELL. COURTESY OF WALTER MACIEL GALLERY, LOS ANGELES.

THE MOST RECENT SERIES OF PAINTINGS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY Chinese-born, Northern California-resident artist Hung Liu, "Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk," tells stories about a painful past. The title refers to implications of violence and loss as Liu thinks back to times of her youth.

The gifted artist was born in 1948, the year before Mao Zedong's decisive victory in the War of Liberation. After graduating from high school, she was "plucked" from the relative comfort of her urban life—as were many Chinese intellectuals—and sent to the countryside for four years of "further education" as a laborer in the rice fields. Liu carried a friend's camera with her and used it to photograph the farming families she lived and worked with. The 40-year-old photographs, some of them printed for the first time last year, form the basis for many of the works in "Dawn Blossoms."

The most impressive of the photograph-based paintings is Dragonflies (all paintings 2011). Liu's elegiac portrait of three children smiling through a veil of fluttering insects is both lovely and achingly nostalgic. The children carry baskets laden with farm goods and pause on their way to market to form a joyful frieze in the bright sunshine. The image carries its content in a skilled sheath of painterly diversity, shuttling between cool, controlled description and lush, sensual impasto. Viewers are always aware that the image is not natural, but an aesthetic construction.

The large-scale 80 x 120 inch Band of Boys reminds us that Liu was trained as a muralist. Eight boys stand in an awkward line beside a pale swimming pool, laughing at the young Liu's camera. The watery shimmer behind them contrasts with the Manet-like verve of their skin and baggy shorts. Only two look directly at the photographer; the others turn their shy smiles away. All of them are painfully thin and fragile, their momentary humor masking certain deprivation.

Dragonflies and Band of Boys stand in marked contrast to another large painting, Hi Ho (Ayou Hou). Based on a 1950s Communist propaganda poster intended to urge people to work in teams, it employs cartoony social realism to "demonstrate" that shared efforts insure better results.

Of Liu's photographs (dated variously 1968-1974), several are printed as duotones on layers of resin over gold leaf. A young girl turns coyly toward the viewer; a grandmother stands totemic; a cluster of children gathers on a narrow street. Elegant and seductive, the photographs appeal to Western viewers as beautiful objects of exotica. But they are, like the paintings, much more than that.

Psychoanalyst Matthew von Unwerth reminds us, "In mourning, like Orpheus, we make our way underground by singing, by telling stories about our lives that give sense and form and meaning to the events and feelings whose enormity threatens to overwhelm us. In telling ourselves the stories of our lives—especially stories of the dark times—we reclaim lost aspects of our lives." Hung Liu's recent paintings and photographs are lyrical. The stories must be sung to be known.

- Betty Ann Brown

You Can't Make Art By Making Art
Chandra Cerrito Contemporary

Stephen Whisler, A Couple of Pages from Ulysses Soaked in the Last of My Coffee, 1977, Stephen Whisler, A Couple of Pages from Ulysses Soaked in the Last of My Coffee, 1977

THIS EXPANSIVE TRIBUTE TO LEGENDARY BAY AREA CONCEPTUAL ARTIST David Ireland, hosted by Oakland gallerist Chandra Cerrito, is comprised of personal responses to Ireland by friends and protégés. Beyond direct references and use of similar materials, artists extrapolate from Ireland's varied sensibilities, which include Duchamp, Cage, Broodthaers and chance/process art in general. The exhibition title "You Can't Make Art By Making Art" comes from Ireland's own retrospective in 1980 at Claremont College, a reflection of another influence on Ireland—Zen Buddhism.

Mari Andrews' Lineup (1996), Spool (1996-2011) and Ball for David (2011), constructions of steel wool framed in wood, allude to Ireland's fondness for humble, at-hand, non-art materials; the latter inevitably suggests Ireland's dumbbells, concrete spheres that Ireland tossed from hand to hand for the 12 or 13 hours needed for curing.

Ray Beldner's D.I., 08.25.30-05.17.09 (2011), a concrete slab in the gallery sidewalk inscribed with Ireland's dates, like a headstone, commemorates Ireland's 1976 sidewalk repair performance, with a slide show echoing Tom Marioni's videotaping of the activity. Jordan Biren explores the relation of performance to its lexical documentation in Performance Relation, and Relation (Disuse) (1989), a portfolio of photographs and text. Randy Colosky considers Ireland's reclamation of construction materials in Cinderblock with Great Stuff Expansion Foam (2010)—which is, in a further twist, actually trompe-l'oeil painted bronze—as well as his Simpsons in the XYZ Axis (2010), metal straps used for earthquake-proofing houses bolted together and splayed like playing cards into an industrial-strength rosette.

Daniel Nevers' Gestalt Theory (2011), a sculpture of tubing and rubber held in tension by bungee cords within a door-frame structure, recalls Ireland's love of the literal and overt—memorably symbolized by his removal of the casement window framing in Mie Preckler's 500 Cap's Treat, a Project for Ireland (1983-1985) so that he could observe the ropes and pulleys. Sabine Reckewell's Square #17 (1979), a weaving made with only one stitch and one tool, "as minimal and transparent as possible," is based on a similar orientation toward process and clarity, while Remnants from Nails in the Ceiling (1978), the box of strings and nails left over from her installation piece that Ireland admired as an unintentional readymade artwork, reflects his and her trust in accident and intuition.

Sheila Ghidini's Chair of Heightened Perception (2011) and Preckler's 500 Cap's Treat nod to Ireland's use of dilapidated chairs as human surrogates, and his fondness for wordplay; Ghidini's represents Zen attentiveness while over Preckler's chairs hover six Irish woolen caps, making the artist's presence palpable.

Kerry Vander Meer's Bones of Eire and 490 Grams (both 2003) come from a residency off the coast of West Ireland where monks lived in isolation for centuries; David Ireland too felt an affinity for these obsessive solitaries. Her sculptures of sliced and reassembled potatoes resemble cairns of stones and the snakes legendarily banished by St. Patrick. Finally, Stephen Whisler presented Untitled Shelf from Ireland's 1980 show, concrete supporting a rolled-up and now yellowed Los Angeles Times; his own A Couple of Pages from Ulysses Soaked in the Last of My Coffee (1977) is a pulped and humorous version of stream-of-consciousness life.

- DeWitt Cheng

Geof Oppenheimer
Ratio 3

GEOF OPPENHEIMER, "ANTHEMS," 2011, INSTALLATION VIEW, OPPENHEIMER: COURTESY OF RATIO 3, SAN FRANCISCO.

BUDDING ARSONISTS ASIDE, MANY OF US CAN STILL RELATE TO the cathartic emotion contained in the title "Inside us all there is a part that would like to burn down our own house"—an urge to wipe the slate clean, to destroy the imperfection of one's reality and begin anew. In a diverse exhibit which includes conceptual sculptures, digital prints and a brief but impressive video, Geof Oppenheimer approaches the violence implicit in society, and how social systems and political dogma intersect with the terrain of art and culture.

Collaborating with an unnamed pyrotechnic expert who once worked for Disney, Oppenheimer created explosions within ballistic-grade Plexiglas cubes, their residue coating the interior surfaces with bright splashes of pigment. Visually stunning, each of the three cubes, collectively titled Modern Ensembles (2010-2011), has a unique palette, one coated in warm, earthy tones of ocher and orange, another raspberry-alizarin with faint touches of yellow-beige and sky blue and the last army gray-green, shot through with electric yellow and darker tones of brown. While the sculptures attest to dramatic events involving gunpowder and pigment, they convey more an aura of science lab than battlefield, undermining somewhat their intended function as signifiers for the violence undergirding our culture.

Oppenheimer's video Anthems (2011) evoked a generalized sense of dismay and unease with the social constructs that a military marching band might suggest. The four unspecified national anthems, simultaneously played by groups of the drum and marching corps of Rickover Naval Academy in Chicago, were blended and overlaid, essentially mangled beyond any recognition. Reflections and combinations of sound and image created an unsettling effect, while the military precision—the neatly pressed uniforms and shining horns—suggested the regimentation of life in the service of one's country, and a kind of surrender of self to the greater whole, of following orders. As these lines of marching bands paraded in absurd, tight circles, periodically the cacophony of sound faded to silence, and the images of the marchers shifted to a vacant space bearing rough plywood constructions: a pair of steps. Eventually, the two risers fit together like a puzzle, one inverted resting atop the other—perhaps a metaphor for the enforced unity of political camaraderie.

The final component, Social Failure and Black Signs (2010), was comprised of acerbic wall-hung, text-based pieces. Against a light gray background a slender arm enters bearing a message lettered in plain white text on a black card—"TOLERATED AS UNFORTUNATE EXCESSES," "AND DESPAIR, DECADENCE, AND MORALS" among them. These terse, dogmatic excerpts have been taken from interviews with notable politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro. A statement about the ultimate futility of political ideology, these images offer us a brittle aesthetic experience, and present a kind of intellectual conundrum as well: strings of words decontextualized to convey no coherent meaning, rather an ambiguous —yet autocratic—sound bite.

Oppenheimer's work is engaging enough to draw and keep our interest, yet simultaneously hermetic and dispassionate enough to put us on edge.

- Barbara Morris

Nan Goldin
Matthew Marks

NAN GOLDIN, ODALISQUE, 2011, GOLDIN: COURTESY OF MATTHEW MARKS GALLERY, NEW YORK.

DO WE EXPECT ART TO CORROBORATE OUR OUTLOOK ON THE WORLD, or to challenge and broaden it? For "Scopophilia," which is the title both of a 25-minute slide show and her first New York solo exhibition in four years, Nan Goldin juxtaposes images old and new from her oeuvre with photos she took last year of great works in the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Similarities in subject matter are relentless—images of intimacy predominate—and the contrast between Neoclassical artifice and Goldin's unvarnished style not as jarring as one might expect. The artist found herself at the Louvre, and she induces us to find her there, too.

Briefly quoted in the press release is Goldin's "idea of taking a picture of a sculpture or painting in an attempt to bring it to life." She does so, in a way, in Cupid with his wings on fire, Le Louvre (2010), a partial view from the rear of Antonio Canova's marble Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss (1787). Reached by sunlight streaming through a nearby window, the feathers of Cupid's right wing appear a bit jaundiced. Otherwise this catalog of narrative parallels is devoid of surprises.

Odalisque (2011) marshals eight of Goldin's languorous women in various states of undress with as many snaps of recumbent female figures from the likes of Ingres and Delacroix, separated by black borders and arranged in a grid. Hair applies the same treatment to models with flowing locks; Water displays bathers and other people getting wet. Tediously reminding us that the eroticism of her work has precedents, Goldin bends the rules and goes to the Musée d'Orsay's once-scandalous Courbet, Origin of the World (1866), reproducing a large detail in quadruplicate.

In a separate space with a curved ochre wall, hang fifteen relatively straightforward Goldin portraits shot between 1993 and 2010. Above each one is another, smaller photo of a portrait—usually, a detail of a painting —in which the subject resembles Goldin's sitter in one or more respects. The correspondence of facial features—prominent cheekbones or wide-set eyes or pursed lips—is mildly interesting, nothing more.

Some 400 of these images are strung together for the slide show, with jump cuts and cross fades transitioning between images. (Goldin reluctantly shifted from actual slides to video a few years ago.) Between passages of lugubrious modern chamber music composed by Alain Mahé and featuring an operatic soprano, Goldin's monotone voice-over defines "Scopophilia." She describes her delight at being allowed to roam the Louvre during off-hours, and refreshes the viewer's memory of various myths. These are illustrated by three-second glimpses of masterworks from the Museum and potentially relevant images from the Goldin archive: Gérome's Pygmalion and Galatea (1871) and a stonily intense brunette; Poussin's Narcissus and a shirtless young man apparently looking at his penis. For Tiresius, who was transformed from a man to a woman and back again, we see a Roman sculpture of a sleeping hermaphrodite, and the transsexual Greer Lankton in a bathtub. It is all numbingly predictable, and extremely pretentious.

The Louvre itself commissioned this dispiriting work, and one sympathizes with institutional efforts to help visitors imagine a connection between the art of the distant past and that of the recent past. But the high regard in which the decision-makers at the Louvre hold Goldin, who has lived in Paris for years, has blinded them to the staleness of her work and the paucity of her thought. Any veteran photographer might come to grips with the world (including the art) around her by means of her camera, but for many of us the Louvre's collection has plenty of life already.

- Stephen Maine

Allison Schulnik
Ziehersmith Inc.

ALLISON SCHULNIK, YOGURT EATER, 2011, SCHULNIK: COURTESY OF ZIEHERSMITH INC. NEW YORK.

WHILE SEVERAL PAINTERS ARE CURRENTLY WORKING WITH WHAT could be described as a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza pie palette, few pull it off as undeniably well as California-based Allison Schulnik. Perhaps that's because she was trained as an animator, so her thick impastoed surfaces come across less as a style and more as authentic exploration—a direct offshoot of her work with claymation. With "Mound," her first solo exhibition at ZieherSmith, a melancholic atmosphere is present overall, including the large projection of her sixth animated video, which shares the title of the exhibition. American expatriate singer-songwriter Scott Walker, whose first four solo albums charted in the United Kingdom, loaned his 1969 song It's Raining Today to the video. The song's mood is a perfect match for the morphing claymation cast of wandering, pensive figures. While no exact narrative is apparent, one central figure is a sad sack mound of white clay with colored accents, circled by admirers in an adoring orgy. A spider web acts as a curtain opening onto the closing sequence of wispy-haired female dancers, finishing with the backs of their dresses bleeding into faces of rainbow colors.

Also on view are glazed porcelain ceramics on found bases, a gouache on paper work and 10 oil paintings ranging in size from the diminutive Cat Head to the massive Flower Mound (all works 2011), which dominates the main room of the gallery. Made up of thick layers of paint, the luscious colors of the petals create a visual pop on top of their placement on a dark, mostly black and green background. Sprouting from the middle of the bunch is a clownish figure, whose presence isn't essential, as the flowers themselves hold more than enough visual interest. Another standout work is the large Idyllwild, also a dark canvas, which counters the mostly pale and colorful forms of the video. In it a weary figure holds an umbrella and a cane, while the right side of his body is made up of massive slathers of paint resembling an animal carcass. Existing somewhere between the tenor of these two canvasses is Yogurt Eater, depicting another dark figure sitting on a nebulous object surrounded by a light background. The hunchbacked brute is caught in a moment of tenderness, reflecting on something we are not privy to, while the revealing title seems to be Schulnik's warning not to judge people on appearances alone.

In contrast, the light colored backgrounds of the still lifes Red Flower and Oval Flowers match the tone of the video and are the most straightforward depictions of nature. Updating painter Wayne Thiebaud's method of weighty pigment combined with saturated colors, Schulnik slathers, trowels and builds up the surface with unusual dimensionality, creating a sculptural presence. While her glazed porcelain ceramics, such as the cat in Standing Gin #3, remain isolated figures, one can almost imagine an installation in the future consisting of large life-size scenes, similar to the sets for the trippy late '60s children's series H.R. Pufnstuf. Since Schulnik seems highly ambitious, I wouldn't put something of that scale past her.

- Chris Bors