Ishmael Randall Weeks
Eleven Rivington, April 7 – May 22, 2009
One of the artists considered for the New Museum’s The Generational: Younger Than Jesus (all of the nominees are listed in the exhibition’s telephone-book-thick supplemental compendium, Younger Than Jesus: Artist Directory), is Ishmael Randall Weeks, who was born in Cusco, Peru, in 1976. From the evidence of his compact but impressive display of new work (all 2009) at Eleven Rivington, timed to coincide with the opening of the noisier exhibition around the corner, it’s hard to fathom why he was excluded other than for the sake of curatorial consistency, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Weeks’s work deals with the realness of the real, which doesn’t quite jibe with the virtual, the projected, the mediated, the ersatz, or the machine-tooled—“youthful” forms that dominated The Generational, for better or worse. To enter a white-cube gallery that smells like a tire shop immediately tells you something substantially different is up.
The smell comes from “Saddle,” in which black zip ties suspend a saddle and stirrups halfway between the ceiling and a carpet of recycled tire treads. Weeks’s method is simplicity itself: he takes an object and does something to it. “Primed” consists of two eight-foot-long rubber boats, painted white and vertically hung, with fist-sized holes cut out of the sliced-and-stapled skin of one and the other reduced to latticework. In “Plans (Macchi),” he tacks a set of architectural plans to the wall after having excised their depicted floor space, leaving only a delicate network of wall lines dangling like a lacy undergarment. Another set of plans, thickly bound, is carved into a miniature landscape that appears to have fallen victim to mountaintop removal. These works could be viewed as proceeding from a conceptual impulse, I suppose, but several key issues separate Weeks from the majority of his 33-and-under confreres and consurs. The most obvious is his sense of materials, which seems to stem as much from the Minimalism of early Richard Serra and Robert Morris as anything else. Add to that his hand-hewn aesthetic, and his work takes on a heft and density that resonates with much greater poignancy than the typically fingerprint-free objects populating Chelsea galleries in spades.
What is most striking about the work in this show is that, despite its conceptually-based, easily verbalized premise, Weeks’s art feels much more vital and primal than that of many of his peers. It is about fragility and security, the need for shelter and the randomness of fate. The boat that would carry us to safety is punctured and shredded; the horse we would have mounted has disappeared into a patch of uselessly cut-and-flattened tires; floors vanish and walls entangle themselves. In a telling series of works on paper in the second room, Weeks incises fantastically intricate geometric patterns based on Lebbeus Woods’s drawings of collapsing buildings over photo transfers of church interiors. These modestly sized works, not much bigger than a sheet of typing paper, could easily be interpreted as examples of latter-day appropriation or as meditations on the mediated image. But their overlay of destabilizing lines, which literally splits apart the vaguely 19th-century-looking photos of sacred spaces, seems to strike at the core human fear that everything we’ve put our faith into is riven with faults (in all senses of the word) and could come crashing down at the slightest provocation. Perhaps that is why this work feels so intimate. It is made from uningratiating rubber and paper, and seems to exist at a cerebral remove—self-contained, introverted, and astringent—yet you have the sense that, as T.S. Eliot wrote of John Donne, the artist knows “the anguish of the marrow.” Weeks’s work is precisely thought-out and elegantly presented, yet his vulnerabilities vibrate its foundation, and his intellectualism translates into another form of nakedness.
Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen KornblumBy Ann C. Collins
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
Use of the photo image in reworking narratives lies at the heart of Our Selves, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of ninety photographs made by women artists.
A Language Cairn: Artists on Their PracticeBy Charlotte Kent
MAY 2023 | Art and Technology
Because this month I had the honor of acting as Guest Editor for the Critics Page, where I invited global curators and scholars to contribute a word theyd like to see or never see again in the discourse around art and technology, I thought I would develop this months column around the words that artists use and encounter about their practiceacross media. So I asked them what silly, uncomfortable, or productive term they encountered. It could be something said to them or something they say to themselves. Leaving aside the linguistic debates around performative utterances, words act around art as a network of ideas, a system if you will, or a kind of scatterplot of imaginative relations.
R.I.P. Germain: Jesus Died for Us, We Will Die for Dudus!By Alicia Gladston
MAY 2023 | ArtSeen
R.I.P. Germains exhibition Jesus Died for Us, We Will Die for Dudus! confronts power dynamics with multi-layered tact, transporting visitors through subjectively loaded underground and publicly visible spaces. Dudus is Christopher Coke, the now imprisoned leader of the Jamaican drug gang the Shower Posse. Coke lived the precarity of hustle culture and gang violence while also using proceeds from the production of drugs to set up community programs and support locals in his home neighbourhood of Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston. Cokes impact on the neighbourhood was such that police could not enter without community consent.
Erika Doss’s Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and ReligionBy Daniel Kraft
MARCH 2023 | Art Books
Through case studies investigating the role of religion in the lives and works of four 20th century American artistsJoseph Cornell, Mark Tobey, Agnes Pelton, and Andy Warholand through a short closing chapter discussing Christian imagery in more recent art, Doss demonstrates how reductive this dismissal of spirituality really is.