Search View Archive

Lyle Rexer

Lyle Rexer is the author of many books, including How to Look at Outsider Art (2005), The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography (2009) and The Critical Eye: 15 Pictures to Understand Photography (2019).

In Conversation

DAWOUD BEY with Lyle Rexer

Dawoud Bey speaks with Lyle Rexer about his life, influences, and deep thinking around portraiture and landscape photography.

In Conversation

Jack Pierson with Lyle Rexer

Jack Pierson is one of the artists who has turned photography back to its roots and made it personal. Even as his work has celebrated mass media and the icons of popular culture and gay life—images in widespread circulation—it has awakened a poignancy and nostalgia at the heart of even the most commercial images.

In Conversation

On Joseph E. Yoakum

This conversation for the Brooklyn Rail’s New Social Environment series brings together several people connected to the recent exhibition of drawings by the self-taught artist Joseph Yoakum at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition represents a landmark in contemporary efforts to bring to a wider public the work of this remarkable American artist.

In Conversation

Silvio Wolf with Lyle Rexer

I remember very well the first works I saw of yours, in a private showing, “Icons of Light,” as you called them. They were photographs of paintings, shot at an angle so that the reflected light wiped out the image. These were framed as paintings then hung on the wall. These “icons” gave back nothing except the absence of a picture, and yet they provoked a desire to see beyond this instant of blindness. Is this fundamental to your approach to photography, that it can be made to disclose and withhold at the same time?

EMIL ALZAMORA Random Mutations That Work

Alzamora’s sculpture, concept meets craft at a very high level, a union as rare as the teeth of the proverbial hen. With the general de-skilling of art and the rise of conceptual strategies, which have gone hand-in-hand since the early 1960s, it has been too little noted that what amounts to an old-fashioned, Henry-Fordish division of labor has taken over in the art world.

Robert Frank: After The Americans

In The Americans, Robert Frank may have appeared as a revolutionary photographer, but beyond The Americans, the real revolution in photography was taking place elsewhere.

Philip Guston Now

Given the preamble to this delayed exhibition, it is best just to start at the very center, with a single work, and make our way out by stages to the issues swirling around specific images that, when they were originally shown, prompted a different kind of controversy and a different kind of canceling.

Donald Judd

From a distance of decades, it’s easier to see Judd’s veiled polemic for what it was: opinion masquerading as analysis and intuition supported primarily by his own practice. At the same distance, through two major exhibitions, it’s possible to see and feel intensely what Judd accomplished.


Is there such a thing as outsider photography? The term “outsider” has come to mean either self-taught, outside the art establishment or, in the more extreme version, cut off from many forms of social intercourse by mental illness or incarceration.

Gayleen Aiken: Interiors

A Vermont native, Aiken mastered a luminous color palette, often composed from colored pencils, that could evoke the seasonal landscape with vivid freshness.

Hector Leonardi

There is a story about how Bonnard, as he grew older, became increasingly obsessed with the juxtaposition of color, to such a degree that when he was working with a pigment, he would walk among his canvases and see where the color might be applied in anything he was doing, to get just the effects he was after.

Fritz Vogt Drawings: A Sense of Place

Fritz Vogt, an itinerant renderer who worked in five counties west of Albany, left behind hundreds of drawings in graphite and colored pencil that give a glimpse of a world that no longer exists, when towns were growing and farming was prosperous.

Sally Mann: Proud Flesh

Several years ago in conversation, Sally Mann said that once she adopted the wet collodion process for taking photographs, she became aware of making “graven images.” This exhibition is her most vivid demonstration of the truth of that idea.

John Wood and Paul Harrison: Bored

In their first solo gallery exhibition in the United States, English artists John Wood and Paul Harrison arrive just in time and too late.

The New Woman Behind the Camera

This revolution is the insertion into the archive of a very large group of women photographers, many of whom have been virtually unknown to contemporary viewers.

Vik Muniz: Scraps

Everything Muniz does is personal, that is, all his work reflects a distinctive attitude toward images and their production, but Scraps may be as close to a psychic confession as we are likely to get.

Luis Camnitzer: Towards an Aesthetic of Imbalance

Luis Camnitzer’s work has always confounded me with the way it speaks so critically while assimilating seamlessly into architectural space, including the quasi-sacred but increasingly consumer-friendly temple of the museum and the white cube gallery.

Mike Kelley: Timeless Painting

It was upsetting and exhilarating in equal measure to see a selection of those paintings extracted from the detritus of Kelley’s sprawling artistic career and made to stand for something important in the cold confines of Hauser & Wirth. Separated from the stuffed animals, videos, sculptures, and architectural models that crowded MoMA PS1 a few years ago, Kelley’s paintings become an uncomfortable retrospective, inevitably shadowed by the artist’s suicide in 2012.

Ken Grimes: Alien Variations

Although the exhibition at Ricco/Maresca contains mostly smaller works on paper—drawings and gouaches—it may be the most revealing presentation about the motives of this prolific artist. It is illuminating as well, not only about Grimes but also about the strategies of a range of artists on the visionary spectrum, from Alfred Jensen and his obsession with Mexican pyramids to Johannes Itten, who founded the Bauhaus design program, to Emery Blagdon, the outsider who created a barn full of healing machines.

Joseph E. Yoakum: What I Saw

Yoakum’s landscapes have been well-known in the world of folk and outsider art for four decades, but their enfranchisement by the larger art world has taken longer, even though the work of this Chicago artist was recognized and collected by a group of trained artists in the same city almost as soon as it appeared in the 1960s.

Jim Shaw: Dad’s Drawings

For more than 40 years, Jim Shaw has been a guide to the American optical unconscious, exploiting and exploring the popular forms of representation that have shaped many Americans’ perception of everything from nuclear war and organized religion to sex and domesticity—and, it almost goes without saying, beauty.

The Book of Crow

The unfinished, epic series of narrative poems, Crow: from the Life and Songs of Crow, served as a repository for Ted Hughes’s grieving and guilt. As a locus of bereavement, the Crow poems made intuitive sense as a shadow text for Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers and, here, for Lyle Rexer’s picaresque that attempts to make sense of the past two years. This excerpt comes from two short stories, “The Last of Crow” and “Crow in the Time of Cholera.” Playful absurdity emerges with the crow’s-eye view, and there’s much to be enjoyed in the trickster experience of corvid covid.

Penny Wolin’s Guest Register

A poignant sense of presence and transience, Guest Register is a black-and-white postcard from another time, or maybe a love letter to a Los Angeles that no longer exists. The thirty-four full-page photographic portraits are a deeply affectionate slice of 1970s period life.

Carla Zaccagnini’s Cuentos de Cuentas

This is a book about money disguised as a memoir. Or an exhibition about photography and memory disguised as a book that is really an analysis of money. Or a book of appropriated and other images and stories heavily nostalgic for almost everything—including and especially money.

Juan Alonso

The death this July of the novelist Juan Alonso constitutes a great loss to American letters and to me personally. I first met Juan Alonso more than forty years ago. I had just read his fourth novel, Althea (The Divorce of Adam and Eve), published by the Fiction Collective, and intended to review it. It seemed then (and still seems) the great novel of the 1970s I had been waiting for. That review was never published, but I did make a pilgrimage to Boston to meet him (as I recall) outside the Harvard Club.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues