Pictures at an Execution

Two museum shows illuminate history's darkest corners

Pulp Friction

The fifteen hard-boiled but glamorous little gouaches by Dike Blair—all of personal or mundane items like cigarette packs, ashtrays, cola cans, books, and tapes set in blank backgrounds or in what look to be divey coffee shops— exude what Lillian Hellman, speaking of Dashiell Hammett, called "an angry privacy." Blair works with a draftsman's attention to fact, a botanist's eye for type, and a detective's feel for telling clues. This places these gouaches, all painted between 1988 and 1997, in a no-man's land between illustration, photography, and forensic science. Blair created a knotty sub-genre, a sort of visual split-infinity of style that related to artists like Richard Prince, David Robbins, and Vija Celmins.

Christian Schad "Self-Portrait, 1927"
Benjamin Hasenclever/ARS New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Christian Schad "Self-Portrait, 1927"


"Manet and the Execution of Maximilian"
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Through January 19

Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
Through February 19

Whatever it is, while the objects Blair depicts are everyday and lackluster, they also hold up weird mirrors to the inner-artist's-life, things painters might look at while they're fretting, brooding, or worrying about painting, or stare at in in-between moments. This gives Blair's work a pulp-fiction, just-the-facts Zen-like aura: Everything is here and real, yet also telekinetic and illusory.

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