Julia Bryan-Wilson

  • Astral Reign

    ORIGIN STORIES are inescapably political. Battles to crown the “first” abstract artist might be bloodless, but they have been fought fiercely, for decades, by art historians seeking to establish a definitive breakthrough. Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, František Kupka: The story of modern Western nonrepresentational art has typically begun with a few European men jockeying for position as “figure one.” Since the relatively recent awareness of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), who produced innovative and boldly graphic abstract work predating that made by these

  • Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns

    IN A 2002 press briefing about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld issued his now-infamous series of statements about “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns.” Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns, which documents an exhibition held at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (Scottsdale, Arizona), takes its subtitle from Rumsfeld’s intentionally mystifying phrases. What methods of artistic response might speak to such a dizzying—and ultimately deathly—epistemological formulation?

    Cased inside a nifty-looking brown envelope with a string clasp

  • Sarah Sze: Triple Point

    IN A 2010 episode of the reality TV show Hoarders, a woman named Julie justifies her compulsive collecting by insisting that her scraps of fabric, empty bottles, discarded knickknacks, and other Dumpster-dive finds are materials for future art projects—one man’s trash is someone else’s found object. Another episode features a sympathetic Boston man named Dale, who has a brilliant coinage for his piled-up aesthetic: “stuff-after-stuff-after-stuff-dot-com.”

    At the forefront of contemporary-art explorations of stuff-after-stuff-after-stuff, Sarah Sze creates exquisitely conceived and executed

  • Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances

    AGNES MARTIN’S CANVASES OF CAREFUL parallel lines and pale washes made her one of the most influential and celebrated artists of our time. Heralded as a pivotal figure for both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, she died in 2004 at the age of ninety-two. This stunningly beautiful volume brings together more than 130 of Martin’s works with recollections of the artist by her friend and dealer, Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher. But rather than an art-historical overview, Glimcher provides an affectionate biographical glimpse into Martin’s life through snapshots of the artist and diaristic

  • Space Trace

    In 1971, Conceptual artist Douglas Huebler announced his intention to “photographically document . . . the existence of everyone alive, in order to produce the most authentic and inclusive representation of the human species that may be assembled.” His Variable Piece #70 was, unsurprisingly, never completed, but Huebler’s comprehensive cataloguing impulse is telling: It speaks of a desire to map the contours of civilization, to capture and behold the mass of humanity. What do we, collectively, look like? And how do we depict ourselves to ourselves?

    Artist and geographer Trevor Paglen’s The

  • Francesca Woodman’s Notebook

    IN THE THIRTY YEARS since artist Francesca Woodman committed suicide, her reputation as a photographer has steadily grown alongside her mythic status as a kind of tragic heroine. Her self-portraits are widely imitated by young female art students eager to insert their own bodies into elusive narratives. The somewhat extravagant publication of Francesca Woodman’s Notebook is sure to fan the flames of Woodmania even further. A slender volume packaged in a precious, powder-blue cardboard box, it is a finely produced reprint of a turn-of-the-century composition book that the artist found

  • Infinite Quest

    In her newly translated 2002 autobiography, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama describes her dense all-over paintings as “white nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.” Such a mystic, existential idea of art places Kusama on the long roster of modernist artists, from Wassily Kandinsky to Barnett Newman, convinced that abstraction is a gateway to the unknown, the eternal, the universal—that simplified compositions can plumb the psyche’s deepest secrets, or even reach the holy. For Kusama, her signature dots are a “spell,” “mysterious,” “magical,”