Frank Magnotta

JUNIOR PROJECTS
139 Norfolk Street
January 11–March 8

Frank Magnotta, Silent Editor, 2014, graphite and sepia ink on paper, 40 x 24".

Frank Magnotta’s previous corporate logo conglomerations, surreal architectural mash-ups of text and ornamental design, are impressive on technical merits alone, but have also raised issues with the global hegemony these companies wield. His figurative graphite drawings on view here hint at the controversial legal concept of corporate personhood, a theory that riled hecklers in 2011 at one of former United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign stops when he said, “Corporations are people, my friend.” For these works, Magnotta uses an underlying collage of logos from the mid-1960s and ’70s as a starting point for his detailed cartoony renderings of individuals whose features take the same form as those images. In addition to Magnotta’s intricate shading technique, his use of sepia ink, often as a stain, gives his outlandish depictions a quality reminiscent of an antique photograph.

Using the United States Bicentennial, in which patriotic celebrations transformed a country reeling from a post–Vietnam War malaise, as a connecting thread, many of Magnotta’s characters take on performative roles to commemorate the event. In Co-Patriot (all works 2014), a portly man with a pipe hanging from his mouth dons garb resembling President George Washington, while the hippie in Bicentennial Bob sports a tasseled coat and an absurdly ornate hairstyle while holding a marijuana leaf. Others, such as Debbie Double, a grotesque multi-eyed caricature of a waitress serving a towering burger, speak more about America in general, where a determined working class soldiers on in unglamorous jobs to make the country hum along.

Chris Bors

Tal R

CHEIM & READ
547 West 25th Street
January 15–February 14

Tal R, Altsadt Girl, 2014, oil on canvas, 30 3/4 x 48".

Mingling homage with sabotage, Tal R frequently adopts the styles of other painters to produce anachronistic works. For his seductive new show, “Altstadt Girl,” the Copenhagen-based artist nimbly channels Modigliani and Matisse, creating clever modernist chimeras with contemporary bite. Abstracted female nudes with masklike faces shower, smoke, and lounge like odalisques in richly patterned, jewel-toned interiors. One standing woman, her body rendered in the shades of a particularly spectacular sunset, holds up an actual mask, a puckish, art-historical in-joke on primitivism. The figure in ET, 2014, sports the signature high ponytail of Sylvette, Picasso’s teenage muse. Knowing details aside, it’s enough to simply catch a contact high from R’s obvious enjoyment of paint and color. Three stripes of red, yellow, and blue on Sylvette’s neck serve as a subtle ode: This is the trio that makes everything else possible.

Twenty-seven black crayon drawings on vividly painted paper also feature undressed women but are more psychologically complex: The models return or avoid the artist’s gaze as individuals, alternately coy or confrontational, stiff or serene, and their surroundings are highly personal, apartments crammed with digital alarm clocks, desk lamps, and cluttered coffee tables. The series riffs as much on the tradition of the female nude as it does on photographers such as Olivier Zahm and Terry Richardson, who upload the fruits of soft-core sessions with beautiful amateurs to online diaries. It’s easy to flip through a glut of these images without registering the woman’s mood, let alone the wallpaper. R’s drawings keep the offhand spontaneity of snapshots, but his devotion to detail—the undulating tread on the sole of a sneaker, the water tower visible through one girl’s window—makes the viewer linger over subject matter others have rendered regrettably banal.

Zoë Lescaze

Paul Thek

ALEXANDER AND BONIN
132 Tenth Avenue
January 10–February 21

MAI 36 GALERIE
Rämistrasse 37
March 20–April 25

Paul Thek, Untitled (figures by rocks, water), ca. 1975, oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 19 1/2".

Paul Thek first visited the Italian isle Ponza in 1968 and later sojourned there, on and off, for a decade. It is said that he spent these salad days boating, swimming, reading, and, as his works from the time avow, painting—namely, the sea, over and over. When in Rome, he deftly transcribed passages from St. Augustine’s Confessions in three of his profuse notebooks (“Do the heaven and the earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them?”) alongside some of his own contemplations: black-and-white Polaroids of clouds. Is this how myth builds?

A quick Ponza image search is jaw dropping for its array of acidy, unreal blues, but Thek’s cerulean hues are softer—though not without bite. Dedicated to his work in Italy in the 1970s, this show makes a strong case for a rigor under the waves, against interpretation. While the gouache seascapes on newspaper are by now perhaps familiar emblems after his 2010–11 retrospective, the few small oil-on-canvas works that zoom out to broader scenes, astonish. There is Untitled (figures by rocks, water), ca. 1975, which gives us a diver, a sunbather, a rocky grotto, and water for days. The scene nearly seems fixed, like a postcard—the opposite of the once-decaying newspapers. On the heels of Robert Gober’s recent retrospective, which had two humble figurative canvases from 1975 opening and closing the show, Thek’s impact on a younger New York generation feels specific and local despite his wanderlust. The city was lucky he came back.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Lucy Skaer

MURRAY GUY
453 West 17th Street
January 10–February 21

View of “Lucy Skaer: Sticks & Stones,” 2015.

“Under the shade I shall flourish,” reads the national motto of Belize. The Central American country is mostly covered in forest, and in the 1750s it was the site of the first export of logged mahogany to Europe from the New World. In Lucy Skaer’s second exhibition at this gallery, “Sticks & Stones,” which is concurrently on view with Skaer's other show at Peter Freeman, Inc. titled “Random House,” the artist uncovers the shadowed history of Belizean mahogany, a product that was later abandoned because of fluctuating market demand until the mid–twentieth century, by subverting its material uniqueness.

Ten flitches lie consecutively on the gallery’s blond wooden floors. The two primary rectangular cross sections made from a mahogany tree are located at the entrance. These slabs are successively replicated in detail in four different materials, including stacked ceramic tile, matte-gray marble, reflective aluminum, and hollow veneered wood. The forms of the originals remain the same. Inset within each slab are geometric or figural objects that have also been replicated and transubstantiated, such as coins or handheld sculptures made of tiger’s eye. In their context, these inhabitants act like stand-ins for compartmentalized environments, including rooms, monetary systems, or bodies. Wedged between these fixed variations, they perform more like bridges or joints.

Together, these materials appear to develop in the same way the history of media that have built cities over the last few centuries has unfolded: the thatched roofs of Mesopotamia, the fired walls of Babylon, the marble colonnades of Greece, the glistening metals of Abu Dhabi, and the facsimile of data on the information superhighway. It may only take a stick or a stone to topple even the grandest of empires; the next one might be right on the horizon, even if the overwhelming shade of the present blocks out its light.

Frank Expósito

Emily Roysdon

PARTICIPANT INC
253 East Houston Street, Ground Floor
January 11–February 21

Emily Roysdon, Beyond the Will to Measure, 2014, wall-mounted ceramic, clock movements, acrylic, 56 2/3 x 10 1/2."

Handmade clocks and sundial calendars populate Emily Roysdon’s latest exhibition, where geometric shapes and popping colors produce a scene reminiscent of the 1980s Italian design group Memphis or of the magnetic pages of Colorforms collages. Roysdon’s fashioning of time renders the arrangement of objects in space a dramaturgical feat. An upside-down triangle motif is prominently cast in bold sculptural forms, the top line of which traces the identical crescent-like ridges of a rudimentary wave drawing. In Beyond the Will to Measure, 2014, a stretch of uniform royal-blue ceramic wave-triangles hang alongside one another, each sporting the hands of a clock—one thin white hour hand; one light-blue squiggly, extended minute hand. They soldier on, documenting the time spent in the gallery, fixing the time as image and rhythm in sync. For Roysdon, the transition from a wave to a line is not only a kind of visual flattening but a stilling of movement as well. The wave-triangle is repeated elsewhere: Mauve and blue clocks sit atop red metal stands, their wheels suggesting a curious mobility.

In a series of photograms, flat white photographic circles outlining the bulbous ends of butt plugs, are light and time-sensitive flashes of an object no longer there, but also there, occurring in different form. In Uncounted, a text poster accompanying the exhibition, Roysdon writes of “honoring a margin from a movement.” It is by honoring this fixed, stilled, and distilled image—not the movement itself but a margin from movement, from action—that the artist proposes a conception of “alive time,” which works against static/dynamic and form/content dualisms. It is here that time has the room to waver, to be a less disciplined form.

Samara Davis

Moriah Evans

ISSUE PROJECT ROOM
22 Boerum Place
January 22–February 1

Moriah Evans, Social Dance 1-8: Index, 2015. Performance view, Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, NY.

Moriah Evans’s much-anticipated debut at Issue Project Room begins before you enter, and you are let in one by one. This feels oddly both intimate and distancing, as if the dance is being privately disclosed to you but taking place for its own sake. You sit and are instructed not to transgress the orange line in the marble floor just past your feet, past which it is already visible that a very demanding piece of choreography is being executed. Executed: You will be aware throughout of the distinction between dance and dancers. It feels heroic, their achievement of this baroque, athletic repetition of vernacular vocabulary (kick line, pony, step touch, grapevine, waltz), abstracted and composed according to what seems like math. There is a tension here, which breaks, between a sense of dancers as artists—subjects enjoying the strangeness of their exuberant social gestures’ recontextualization—and as contracted workers, enduring a combinative exhaustion.

A feeling of support that touches conspiratorial humor prevails among the five onstage (Maggie Cloud, Lizzie Feidelson, Benny Olk, Sarah Beth Percival, and Jeremy Pheiffer). It must also be said that two are standouts, plain as day: Feidelson, with her absolutely determined exactitude, and Cloud, whose ease of mastery explains why she is the only dancer smiling. But however articulately bodied and interreliant they may be in their success, they come off as props, and Evans is obviously not alone among contemporary choreographers in her use of them as such. Evans has gained renown over the past few years; one might hope that her work, with its emphasis on examining the familiar, comes to celebrate the minds with whom it works just as it celebrates the range of motion they call home.

Abraham Adams

Sturtevant

MOMA - THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
11 West 53rd Street
November 9–February 22

Sturtevant, Duchamp Fresh Widow, 1992/2012, enamel paint on wood, leather, glass, resin knobs, each 30 5/16 × 20 1/4 × 4 1/8".

“Double Trouble” makes for a rare experience. Not only is it the first solo institutional presentation of Sturtevant in the United States since a small 1973 show in Syracuse, New York, it also allows one to see the artist’s work at the museum that holds many of the so-called iconic pieces that she has used as her working material: On one floor you stumble upon Marcel Duchamp’s Fresh Widow, 1920, a reduced scale French window, where the name of the artists’ female alter ego Rose Sélavy is inscribed as COPYRIGHT ROSE SELAVY 1920 at the base of the piece, while in another gallery seven of these glasses have been lined up on a black wall (Sturtevant’s Duchamp Fresh Widow, 1992/2012). There is wallpaper with human genitalia on one floor (Sturtevant’s Gober Genital Wallpaper and Gober Drain, 1994/95), which is also on view as part of Robert Gober’s retrospective on the first floor. One encounters “Warhol,” “Felix Gonzalez-Torres,” “Joseph Beuys,” “Stella,” among others, it's as if all are actors cast in a play staged by Sturtevant.

Long before it was a household term, appropriation was, for Sturtevant, simply another word for a brush creating what she refers to as a “total structure,” which is perhaps the institution of art, its social context, and its politics, as well as the narrative of twentieth-century art that the Museum of Modern Art has actively participated in constructing since the institution’s inception in 1929. This, then, is a show that has been at MoMA for a long time, though it has remained invisible. Sturtevant flipped the Duchampian coin and put a disco ball in front of the readymade gesture. She wanted to make an “artwork that could disappear,” but one that aimed to expose the discourse of art from within.

Sohrab Mohebbi

Libby Rothfeld

KIMBERLY-KLARK
788 Woodward Avenue
January 10–February 10

Libby Rothfeld, Car #2, 2015, cement, rocks, plaster, MDF, plaster, sand, ceramic, resin, 34 x 23".

Car parks, Sam’s Club, mom’s house, Target. At Panera Bread with your sister-in-law. Driving to Home Depot for shower hooks, a towel rack, new batteries. Take some more Tylenol, and you’ll still feel like shit. This stripe of existential cauterization sits at the heart of Libby Rothfeld’s solo show—her first in New York—titled “Good To Think With, Good To Think Against.” Rothfeld’s work acts as a sort of excavation of selfhood from suburban life, an attempt to find distinction within a landscape of mediocre vistas and big-box desolation.

Rothfeld’s three floor sculptures, all 2015, are mainly composed of distressed photographs depicting automobile interiors, adhered to planks of MDF with resin, which are mounted on tombstone-like cement slabs. Each work is skirted by sand embedded with small pieces of junk, such as old rubber bands and cracked bits of plastic. In Car #3, ceramic hands with pointed fingers on metal rods rise heavenward from a cluster of Subaru stars, while Car #2 has a row of three demure, bunny-eared fetish figures nestled atop a close-up picture of a grimy dashboard vent. Rothfeld is trying to imbue these banal images and materials with a mythology, a spiritual life—attempting to forge a haunted heart amid some sham ruins.

Warner Communications, 2014, is an oil painting of a floating monolith with the Saul Bass–designed Warner Bros. logo levitating before it. It sits on the back wall of the gallery’s closet, the floor within it littered with empty water bottles, cheap wire shelves, and flimsy sheets of painted wood. The painting feels like something pulled from a secret portfolio that could’ve belonged to Jack Goldstein—funny, smart, and in love with a dumb world that barely deserves it.

Alex Jovanovich

Villa Design Group

MATHEW | NYC
47 Canal Street
January 9–February 21

View of “One Blow In Anger (Evidence 2011–2014),” 2015.

Villa Design Group’s first exhibition in New York, “One Blow In Anger (Evidence 2011–2014),” sinisterly flirts with the porous, parasitically connected lifestyles and aspirations of bohemia and the bourgeoisie. Here, aristocratic values shape the blueprint for a restless social circle’s ambitions, and in turn isolate these young bohemians as they strive for la dolce vita. The thread connecting the exhibition’s framed array of fine sketches and collages on graph paper is Evidence of Childhood I–XIX, 2015, a nineteen-part tale etched on aluminum plaques that are positioned individually below the framed works. This noir fiction recounts the murderous exploits of some few arriviste minded bohemians, punctuated by self-fashioning, vengeful greed, episodic betrayal, and pools of blood. Posh, albeit sterile, symbols of luxury and taste act as ready-mades and are bestrewed about the gallery space, including reproduction Barcelona chair frames and atavistic Calvin Klein Collection sweatshirts emblazoned with the label’s hallmark fragrances (Obsession, Eternity, Escape).

It is very difficult not to take the cynical exchanges described between the parable’s figures, Master Jays, Master Clark, and Master Connick, as an allegory for Villa Design Group’s own perspective toward collaboration and artistic communities—indeed, the exhibition’s press text confirms this. The narrative, coupled with the group’s use of fetishy, aspirational luxury design objects as raw material for their practice, outlines a harsh critique of hegemonic bourgeois values and yearning social climbers. What’s unclear—and detrimental to the project—is how, if at all, the artists situate any concern toward their own function as fabricators of taste and material goods directly marketed to an aristocratic clientele. Leaving this unsettled, “One Blow In Anger (Evidence 2011–2014)” appears to subscribe to a myopic, particularly late-capitalist logic: that subversive politics can be somehow made while working with steady materialist cravings and latent yearnings for accumulated wealth.

Nicolas Linnert

Calvin Marcus

C L E A R I N G
396 Johnson Avenue
January 15–March 1

Calvin Marcus, Green Calvin, 2014, cel-vinyl on high fired ceramic over cel-vinyl on tempered hardboard, 48 1/2 x 96 1/2 x 5".

In 1684, a hall of mirrors was erected in Versailles as an immersive stage that would send countless reflections of a single expression into the world. If today the screen fulfills the function of the mirror, we’re left with a troubling question: Is the digital image more complete than a reflection? It’s an anxious proposition and one occupying Calvin Marcus, though the Los Angeles–based artist doesn’t make digital images. He favors clay and sticks of oil, tempered hardboard and corrugated cardboard, creating small sculptures—a sleeping ceramic shark, a crib-like wooden cage, doll-sized houses lit with purple LEDs—unique worlds brimming with angst and desire, works that deal in the poetics of nostalgia and repression.

For his New York debut, he presents one series, “Green Calvin,” 2014, which consists of ten monochrome green paintings, each with a ceramic green chicken fixed to its center. The color evokes a greenroom—the space where actors wait before performing—which spotlights our current liberty to put our lives on camera, to personally sculpt public identity. The clay, pulled and pushed to create a cadaver of a plucked fowl, looks soft and creepy. Marcus has carved out a face, his own, in the center, and each expression is very different, as if he has caught and sculpted various reflections. It’s all a bit nightmarish—finding one’s visage in raw flesh, being forced to pace in an infinity of selves—evoking the delirious level of upkeep our digital bodies require, the burden of manipulating reflection into image.

At the back of the gallery, there is one departure from Marcus’s labyrinth of green souls: a door that has been installed in the wall. It does not open. A broken clock has been adhered over its glass window—it’s the only image in the show.

Allese Thomson

Duane Zaloudek

MONITOR STUDIO
195 Chrystie Street, Suite 502B
January 17–March 1

Duane Zaloudek, Milarepa XXIV, 1965, oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 17 3/4".

Six sex-soaked abstract paintings from the 1960s make up Duane Zaloudek’s first New York exhibition in twenty years, and they fulfill a promise of art that is not always met: to move past beauty to desire, and to imbue form with the hot, sticky breath of life. Unlike his later, sparer paintings, which stamp down on sensory pleasure, these early works, painted in Portland and rhyming somewhat with the West Coast abstraction of Billy Al Bengston or Paul Jenkins, use circuitously erotic forms—solid shafts and bifurcated ovals, whose erogenous charge is compounded by a palette of cadmium red and rich, organic green. You’ll leave like Pygmalion: unhealthily in love, and desperate to join body to image.

The four paintings on canvas here are each called Milarepa, after a beloved eleventh-century Tibetan master—and advocate of karmamudrā, a disciplined sexual practice—whom Constantin Brancusi, a touchstone for Zaloudek, idolized. (At times, Brancusi imagined himself as Milarepa’s reincarnation.) Three of the works, from around 1965, feature pairs of large, drooping ovoids in the upper ground, bisected by firm vertical tubes that are themselves affixed with smaller ellipses. If the anatomical resonance in the first three canvases is unavoidable, the fourth one, from the end of the decade, joins the ovoids and the transversal shaft into a single tantric form. What’s more, Zaloudek introduces a stranger, more jagged black element that pushes the paintings beyond representation and into the realm of the senses. They pulsate, they shudder, they seduce and exhaust; they turn the riddle of abstraction into a carnival of pictophilia.

Jason Farago

Devin Troy Strother

MARLBOROUGH | CHELSEA
545 West 25th Street
January 10–February 14

Devin Troy Strother, I got 4 Michael Jordan's and a Lynda Benglis all over my brand new holograms, 2014, hologram mylar, mounted on acrylic sheet, poly-glue, water based vinyl paint, 36 x 50 x 2".

Given the current acme of self-referencing Buzzfeed culture—the phrase 90s nostalgia is a nearly ubiquitous descriptor for the millennials’ tics—Devin Troy Strother’s new works are a timely celebration of the cannibalizing nature of this generation’s zeitgeist. Here, Strother gives the 1990s Warner Bros. flick Space Jam top billing as an aesthetic jumping-off point for his lively installations, paving two of three rooms with basketball-court-inspired flooring and the third with loopy, space-themed carpet. Though three life-size cartoon-cutout Knicks introduce the show, Michael Jordan is center stage. Small cutouts of cartoon Jordan animate Strother’s lush paintings, which cheekily direct visual (and titular) references to Lynda Benglis, Cory Arcangel, and Rob Pruitt, among others. Five massive, shellacked black boxes stand Stonehenge-like around a basketball court hung with marble-and-bronze baskets; individually named for iconic b-ball stars (Who’s that big nigga in the room over there [TERRANCE]; Who’s that big nigga in the room over there [SHAQUILLE], both 2014), each structure is a McCracken-like homage to Kubrick’s monolith in that other space-themed movie.

Strother’s titles—a bronzed deflated basketball is called “fly like an eagle” (LeBronze), 2014; tactile paintings composed of pennants have names such as “we won nigga we won” (nigga, we never even scored), 2014—act as self-aware punch lines for each work, commenting not only on art history but basketball culture and its place in racial identity in America. With imagery that layers his stylistic and intellectual tribute to artists such as Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall over the glossy hologram aesthetic of the NBA, Strother boldly merges the inquisitive exploration of fine art with the bright-lights appeal of popular culture, flattening a hierarchy of cultural stigma.

Anne Prentnieks

Ryan McNamara

MARY BOONE GALLERY
745 Fifth Avenue
January 8–February 28

View of “Ryan McNamara: Gently Used,” 2015.

The stage is a medium in itself for Ryan McNamara. While this has been gestured at in McNamara’s earlier output—including his 2012 show “Still” at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, which considered the production and circulation of performance images—his latest exhibition uses theatrical accouterments, specifically the spotlight, as formal devices, expanding the breadth of how the gallery can frame art as performative. A cluster of moving-head LEDs stand like antic sentinels at the center of the gallery, highlighting—and sometimes black-lighting—the show’s sculptures, “performance plaques,” and wall-bound reliefs in timed intervals.

The exhibition, curated by Piper Marshall, is titled “Gently Used,” referring to the worn materiality of the objects on display. Taken from McNamara’s performances, previously donned costumes—invariably a mix of futuristic flair and camp comedy—are repurposed through sculptural means, providing a second aesthetic life to the indexes of McNamara’s ephemeral live art. For instance, in Misty Malarky Ying Yang, 2014, fabric outfits from McNamara’s recent High Line performance are encased in colored Plexiglas in a freestanding swinging panel display. And in Unitard Stretch (Purple), 2014, seven unitards are pulled across wooden stretcher bars, producing an interlaced, entwined composition. Statically installed in the gallery, these works and others stand as tongue-in-cheek follow-ups to McNamara’s sprawling performances.

Images from McNamara’s productions make their way into many of the works as well, including the decoupage MEƎM (Silver), 2014, whose titular palindrome reflects back on itself and references the narcissism of the Internet age. Invoking the choreographed spectacle of McNamara’s award-winning performance MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet, 2013, an overload of photographs of figures from the dance float atop the canvas’s Factory silver background. More posed than poised, the gestures captured range from Thriller-esque hand claws to awkward, twirling bends. Every seven minutes the exhibition’s spotlight hits MEƎM with a black light, soaking the work and its immediate surroundings in an ultraviolet glow. For McNamara, even the white-walled gallery is a platform for shifting, immersive effect.

Alex Fialho

John Waters

MARIANNE BOESKY | CHELSEA
509 West 24th Street
January 9–February 14

John Waters, Beverly Hills John, 2012, C-print, 36 1/2 x 26 1/2".

“What do you call a feminine top?” John Waters posed to a captive audience one summer night on New York’s very own gay Xanadu, Fire Island. Smirking, he replied, “Why, a blouse, of course.” Having both written and directed such cult-classic movies as A Dirty Shame, Pink Flamingos, and Hairspray, the “Prince of Puke” has made a name for himself skewering contemporary culture and celebrating society’s misfits while gleefully offending conservative tastes along the way. And for his current show, “Beverly Hills John,” Waters once again turns his caustic eye toward the twin, rock-hard pillars upon which celebrity rests: mortality and eroticism.

Waters’s Fellini’s 8 1/2, 2014—an oversized wooden ruler with the titular text pressed into it in bold black letters—is an empirical bon mot to the Italian director’s, well, achievements. Meanwhile, in the black-and-white photostrip, Shoulda!, 2014, a lineup of five fatal femmes (Whitney Houston and Anna Nicole Smith among them) follow a film-still caption that proclaims, “SHE SHOULD’A SAID ‘NO’!,” a not-so-subtle meditation upon the darker side of fame. Elsewhere, three large-scale color headshots depict pop-culture icons post cosmetic surgery (Beibs, Lassie, and Waters himself). With plumped lips and augmented cheekbones that just scream Jocelyn Wildenstein, Waters’s digitally altered self-portrait, Beverly Hills John, 2012, mordantly places under the knife the entertainment industry’s obsession with aging and appearances.

But not all of Waters’s works are so playfully tongue in cheek. Among them, the black-and-white photograph Separate But Equal, 2014, appropriates Elliot Erwitt’s iconic image Segregated Water Fountains, North Carolina, 1950, depicting the racial prejudices that imbued the Jim Crow South. By swapping the terms “Whites” and “Colored” for “Gay Married” and “Gay Single,” Water emphasizes the growing alienation segments of the LGBT community feel from more assimilated members, which is anything but a one-liner.

Joseph Akel

Saira McLaren

SARGENT'S DAUGHTERS
179 East Broadway, Ground Floor
January 8–February 8

Saira McLaren, Untitled (Reflection), 2014, pigments on raw canvas, 36 x 48".

For her first solo exhibition at this gallery, Saira McLaren shows nine paintings and three porcelain ceramic pieces that evince a keen empathy for materiality, color, and the mutability of form. The sculptures, all untitled and produced in 2014, are craggy lumps glazed in mint green and patched with gold, and sport alternating pockmarked or scaled surfaces like a coral fished from the deep.

The paintings are wildly colorful yet somewhat ghostly due to how they’re less painted than stained with dye and pigment. Gestural marks are marshaled into a focused flow, evoking fantasy landscapes or the flat, dense style of graffiti signatures. The colors—turquoise, hot pink, apricot, gold, and lime—dance around and through one another, here as a bold puddle or there as a wispy, worming line. Each element holds the hand of the other, as in the three smaller paintings displayed in the front room. One of these, Birds in Spring, 2015, features soft lines that coil and swarm around one another in a pattern that would look equally at home printed on silk as on a city’s brick wall. The jettisoned perspectives and lack of representational anchoring in these three works feel less encumbered than the larger paintings in the back of the gallery, which hint at psychedelic expanses of nature. However, Untitled (Reflection), 2014, is the exception within these larger works, featuring a row of three teal trunks exploding with gold and pink dots and forest-green streams that echo below in a reflection dripped over the lower part of the canvas. It looks washed away, as if a rain had come and dissolved its structure, leaving the picture to cry itself into a smeared abstraction. Ruined, but free.

Paige K. Bradley

“Speaking of People”

THE STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM
144 West 125th Street
November 13–March 8

Ellen Gallagher, Hare, 2013, ink, watercolor, oil, pencil, cut paper on paper, 44 4/5 × 46 3/5."

In “Speaking of People,” artists cut, collage, and repurpose Ebony and Jet—two magazines launched in the mid–twentieth century for black audiences—to draw attention to representations of race in print. In her inventive sixty-piece grid, DeLuxe, 2004–2005, Ellen Gallagher has added googly eyes, Plasticine, and paint to models’ faces in magazine ads to distort and transform the figures, as well as the promises that they advertise. Lorna Simpson further points to the fantasy of mutability inherent in such images in Riunite & Ice, 2014, a series featuring a floating female head on which she has collaged and painted different hair styles and accessories, a seriality that underscores both potential self-reinvention and the nature of the magazine as a medium.

Other artists isolate images of products advertised in these magazines, as Glenn Ligon does in his 1985 series. By pairing handpainted images of African American male hair products, such as Nu-Nile, Dax pomade, and Afro Sheen, with depictions of Giacometti and Brancusi sculptures that were shown in MoMA’s 1984 “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art” exhibition, Ligon draws attention to how notions of blackness are disseminated, usurped, and remade in both high and low culture. Hank Willis Thomas also spotlights the circulation and representation of blackness in Black Is Beautiful (1953–2014), which features every woman in Jet’s “Beauty of the Week” column from the magazine’s print run, creating a compendium of changing approaches to black female beauty. Such work transforms isolated individuals into a single, monumental installation, demonstrating how print culture permeates our everyday world and serves as a material to be mined and defamiliarized by artistic intervention.

Lori Cole

Judith Scott

BROOKLYN MUSEUM
200 Eastern Parkway
October 24–March 29

Judith Scott, Untitled, 2004, fiber, found objects, 29 x 16 x 21".

In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, the narrator recounts testing grown-ups by presenting them with a drawing of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Most adults recognize it as a hat, causing the drawing’s maker to never again discuss “boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars” with them, but instead “bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties.”

Judith Scott’s sculptures give a sense of shape-shifting between things like hats and processes like boa constrictors swallowing elephants. They are typically amorphous forms—mostly large yet small enough that they could still be cradled by an adult—that were produced by tightly binding and weaving fibers, generally multicolored yarn and fabric, around clusters of common objects. In a few instances, the underlying, often industrial materials—plastic tubing, wooden sticks, and clothing, for instance—poke out. More commonly, however, different things come to constitute a unified entity that is completely strange, but perhaps all the more so because it retains a sense that there is something we know very well hiding inside.

Scott was born with Down syndrome; she spent her life nearly deaf and was unable to speak. In her forties, Scott joined the Creative Growth Art Center, an art studio in Oakland for artists with developmental and physical disabilities, and her entire body of work was produced during the following eighteen years. Rather than pathologizing the artist, or divorcing these astounding artworks from their maker, this posthumous retrospective at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art prompts a reading of her work that is informed by ideas shared by feminism and the growing field of disability studies: that an art object is both connected to and dependent upon not just the lived experience of its producer but also a surrounding network of equally embodied subjects that are an integral, albeit frequently unrecognized, part of both making and the making of meaning.

Sarah Lookofsky

Thomas Struth

THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
1000 Fifth Avenue
September 29–February 16

Thomas Struth, Pantheon, Rome, 1990, chromogenic print, 93 3/4 × 72 1/4".

This vest-pocket exhibition of two dozen photographs offers a valuable opportunity to see how quickly the terms of image perception are changing: how the period eye must now be measured not in centuries but in years. See the artist’s early, excellent black-and-white New York photographs—a predesecration 2 Columbus Circle (58th Street at 7th Avenue, Midtown, New York, 1978) and then West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York, 1978, which depicts a pre-gallery neighborhood full of low-slung Chevrolets. During the Met’s last outing of Struth in 2003, you still might have been happy to see the grit go, believing New York’s best days still lay ahead. In post-Bloomberg New York, where the crime-gripped 1970s city can seem a prelapsarian Eden, Struth’s unpopulated photographs feel closer to Eugène Atget’s images of pre-Haussmann Paris than to the typologies of his professors Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Struth’s most enduring and difficult works remain his museum photographs, whose depictions of dedicated art lovers or aimless tourists in Europe’s palaces of culture waver between faith in and doubt of aesthetic experience. A more contemporary reading of them might begin with a simpler observation: not one of the tourists is holding a camera or a phone. In the 2003 retrospective, these photographs offered a sly view of an ossified European culture. Ossification: We should be so lucky. Earlier this month, the Met’s newly appointed chief digital officer told the Wall Street Journal that the museum plans to track visitors’ movement throughout its exhibitions and permanent collection; if you pause for a moment in front of Madame X or the Etruscan chariot, your smartphone will ping with “an instant coupon for the catalog, or a meal being sold at the cafeteria that’s based on it.” Even the encyclopedic institution now treats its holdings as data in the service of profit, while the mass tourism Struth photographed decades ago looks bewitchingly unsullied: a last gasp before art’s pitiful reduction to shareable content.

Jason Farago

Chris Ofili

NEW MUSEUM
235 Bowery
October 29–February 1

View of “Chris Ofili: Night and Day,” 2014.

Any account of Chris Ofili’s career will invoke the scandal around his rise to prominence in the 1990s, when he merged large-scale figuration with old-fashioned base materialism. His Holy Virgin Mary, 1997, was nearly banned when it debuted at the Brooklyn Museum, but his “afro lovers” and resin-coated elephant dung would reappear, including at the 2003 Venice Biennale, where he turned the British pavilion into a nocturnal redoubt.

Ofili’s American retrospective highlights his play of light and contrast and showcases a decade of new work, including forays into sculpture and theatrical design and refinements of earlier interests in drawing and portraiture. Many ’90s-era paintings are on display, and they are worth the price of admission. Widely circulated in reproduction, those paintings take on new power when encountered here. Larger than life, drizzled with resin, and festooned with map pins and glitter, their psychedelic landscapes are revealed as an intricate network of color and line. Curators now, as they have done in the past, try to read politics into the work, but Ofili’s skill as formalist is contribution enough.

Two galleries show the artist in maximalist mode: He flaunts his influences (Matisse, Bacon, Douglas, Warhol) but synthesizes them fluidly, aided by soft lighting that produces an ethereal experience of immersive looking. Nine oil paintings (2006–2014) nearly occlude their content, rendered in deep blues and hung like Rothkos; a garish suite of more narrative scenes hang on walls reimagined as the textile work of a scene shop. They blur the line between work and display, and utterly transfigure the New Museum’s blank surfaces. Ofili is off in new directions, and seemingly in grand modernist fashion.

Ian Bourland