Susan Tallman is an art historian and the coauthor of The Collections of Barbara Bloom and The American Dream: Pop to the Present. (December 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

‘I Just Look, and Paint’

Vija Celmins: Untitled (Ocean), 12 3/4 x 17 1/2 inches, 1970

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory

an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 15, 2018–March 31, 2019; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May 4–August 4, 2019; and the Met Breuer, New York City, September 24, 2019–January 12, 2020

Vija Celmins: Selected Prints

an exhibition at the Senior and Shopmaker Gallery, New York City, September 12–November 2, 2019
Vija Celmins has been an admired artist for more than fifty years, and for most of that time critics have struggled to explain the elusive poignancy and staying power of her work. In an art world that rewards noisy assertion and the avid annexation of wall space, her work is thoughtful, modest in scale, mostly black-and-white. And while much contemporary art prides itself on being difficult, even opaque, Celmins’s paintings and drawings of night skies and oceans are eye-pleasing and generous in a way that keeps them broadly appealing, even as they contend with weighty questions about the mechanics and consequences of representation. All this makes her work hard to encompass in the current language of art. Looking at her pairings of apparently identical rocks, the word that floats to mind is not “simulacrum” but “sublime.”

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

Paula Modersohn-Becker: Self-Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary, 1906

The Self-Portrait: From Schiele to Beckmann

an exhibition at the Neue Galerie, New York City, February 28–June 24, 2019
Ever since Giorgio Vasari wrote Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects in the sixteenth century, we in the Western world have understood artworks and biographies as intertwined. This isn’t inevitable. A glance sideways geographically, or over the shoulder historically, shows that most cultures have not much cared …

Painting the Beyond

Hilma af Klint: Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood, 1907

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future

an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, October 12, 2018–April 23, 2019

World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton, Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz

an exhibition at the Lenbachhaus, Munich, November 6, 2018–March 10, 2019
Hilma af Klint was a skilled painter of portraits and landscapes who in the first decades of the twentieth century began making hundreds of strange pictures articulating the fluid relations between spirit and matter. Many have no basis in the visible world, and their early dates—in some cases years before such benchmark abstract paintings as Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition VII or Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square—have led to excited claims for af Klint as the unknown woman who pipped all the famous men to the post. This is the seductive pitch behind the Guggenheim’s much-lauded exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” the first comprehensive American overview of the artist now hailed, some seven decades after her death, as the female progenitor of modernist abstraction. Even if this were true—and it really isn’t—it would be the least material or interesting thing about this ecstatic and perplexing body of work.

NYR DAILY

Poons v. Koons: The Art of ‘The Price of Everything’

Artist Larry Poons walking to his studio in East Durham, New York, from Kahn’s The Price of Everything, 2018

The quandary at the heart of The Price of Everything, the art world documentary recently acquired by HBO, is summed up in a scene with the great German artist Gerhard Richter. Gesturing to one of his own paintings, Richter explains, “It’s not good when this is the value of a house. It’s not fair. I like it, but it’s not a house.” Viewers who anticipate a filmic celebration of capitalism as a force for cultural good, or alternatively, a condemnation of commodification, will be disappointed. The Price of Everything develops no particular argument, posits no solutions, uncovers no scandals. It isn’t a polemic, it’s a portrait, and in its mix of the grotesque and the earnest, a pragmatic and recognizable one.