• Current

  • Past

Sarah Charlesworth

NEW MUSEUM
235 Bowery
June 24–September 20

Sarah Charlesworth, Goat, 1985, cibachrome with lacquered wood frame, 32 x 42".

Laurie Simmons recalled encountering a trove of unfinished work in Sarah Charlesworth’s studio shortly after her death: “There was more green than I had ever seen in one art project . . . and that was how Sarah left us, with this beautiful—the green of springtime, the green of promise, and the idea that things weren’t ending, that there was a new beginning.” That verdant sense of imagination suffuses “Doubleworld,” Charlesworth’s first major survey in this city, and quite unlikely her last. Immersing oneself in more than forty years of this artist’s strange and searching eye, one is witness to a dexterous mind that could combine the seductiveness of the photographic surface and space with an inexorably Conceptualist rigor.

Elegantly and quite frequently, Charlesworth used photomontage as an illusion-breaking device to interrogate the junkyard of overlapping imagery and meanings within the histories of art, photography, and popular culture, culminating in tableaux that could look like hybrids of outdoor advertising, fashion spreads, and National Geographic. One sees this most pointedly in Gold, from the “Objects of Desire” series, 1983–88, which reads like a flowchart of conspicuous consumption throughout history, a survey of this precious metal’s various incarnations and perversions, from pre-Columbian death masks and medieval tchotchkes to 1980s designer wristwatches and a gold lamé swimsuit.

But the didacticism of a lot of these dyed-in-the-wool Pictures-era works utterly melts away when we come to later series such as “0+1,” 2000, and “Available Light,” 2012, spacious and metaphysical bodies of work that are studies in the colors blue and white as luminous, palpably physical experiences. Make no mistake—these aren’t sentimental, late-in-life studio dalliances. Charlesworth’s meticulousness, even ruthlessness, as a thinker and maker is in high gear throughout these images. After all, unrepentant beauty is rarely for the weak of heart.

Alex Jovanovich

Peter Regli

DOMINIQUE LÉVY | NEW YORK
909 Madison Avenue
June 25–August 15

View of “Peter Regli: One Sun - One Moon,” 2015.

The marble Buddha laughs benevolently, luxuriating, on one side. His follower, a worried-looking marble snowman, stares back. He seems to be realizing that he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell at this whole enlightenment thing. Artist Peter Regli cleverly comments on metamorphosis through more than fifty small groups of these knee-high characters. Watching the deities serenely teach their lumpy, half-melted little acolytes is highly amusing—they make such unlikely pairs. Yet, the snowmen become relatable stand-ins for us humans, desperately seeking wisdom and meaning before it’s too late. To tackle the transience of life with so much humor isn’t easy, and Regli’s results are oddly moving.

Regli, who refers to this and other projects as “reality hacking,” gave photographs of Buddha tchotchkes, snowmen, and toys to marble carvers in Da Nang, Vietnam, who fabricated the sculptures. Before this commission, the craftsmen only produced a few traditional Buddha types for temples. And they had never seen snow. By introducing this foreign subject matter, Regli seems to be hacking their reality as well as the visual expectations of his viewers. That the statues are all carved in marble highlights their formal similarities—balls of snow echoing bald heads and round bellies—at the same time that it places them in conversation with classical Western sculpture, the slumping snowmen providing comic foils for the idealized bodies of ancient Greece. Their kinship extends beyond medium, though. All sculptures, Regli seems to point out, spring from a common human need to create characters in our own image. From eternal gods on altars to snowmen in suburban backyards, we grapple with time through sculpture, watching some weather the centuries while others slip away with the seasons.

Zoë Lescaze

“All Watched Over”

JAMES COHAN GALLERY
533 West 26th Street
June 25–August 7

Paul Laffoley, The World Self, 1967, oil, acrylic, vinyl press type on canvas with a magic mirror 61 1/2 x 61 3/8".

Titled after Richard Brautigan’s 1967 poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” this exhibition draws on cybernetics in order to explore both utopic and dystopic systemic themes in art. Most acute, Brenna Murphy’s labyrinthine digital renderings of light and space seem to crystallize Brautigan’s vision of a “cybernetic meadow,” where idle humans are nurtured and sheltered in a technocratic paradise. The halcyon days of computer-science technologies that Brautigan envisions are difficult to imagine. Moreover, familiarity with his satiric writing leads one to believe that the poem is tongue-and-cheek in revealing the dark edges of a techno-utopia: surveillance and communication control.

Drawing out a long history of cybernetic fantasy, the earliest work on view also harks back to the late 1960s. Paul Laffoley’s The World Self, 1967, a diagrammatic pink-hued painting, resembles the tightly controlled aesthetics of system painting of the 1960s but lacks the rigor of actual scientific inquiry. Through its lack of cohesive meaning, it manages to operate in what Robert Smithson saw as the evasiveness of systems in art. Additionally, Lee Mullican’s methodic abstractions, here from the 1970s, attest to his experiments in a fictive-science abstraction from as early as the 1950s.

In our current self-assured technophilia, we imagine digital technology as a more objective approach to classification, which can resulting in less systemic prevarication. See Michael Portnoy's Kalochromes seemingly faithful bitmapped screen-prints of kale, which camouflage an encrypted image of a future trend-setting vegetable. Because the images deny the viewer full visual access, they also hamper full assimilation of information. Themes of systemic failure and distortion are carried through in Shannon Ebner’s black-and-white photographs of a poem, as she translates words into form, data, in a style reminiscent of the dot-matrix printer. Iman Issa’s information-based and unreliable reconstructions of canonical works of art remind us that systemic production has countless trajectories, which continuously engage in regression, actualization, dissolution, and recomposition within the same works. Conceptually rigorous and visually arresting, the exhibition, like the poem, manages to convey the enchantment and unease of our cybernetic universe.

Andrianna Campbell

Nikolay Bakharev

JULIE SAUL GALLERY
535 West 22nd Street, Sixth Floor
June 11–August 21

Nikolay Bakharev, Relationship #48, 1991-94, gelatin silver print, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4".

“The People of Town N,” the title of Nikolay Bakharev’s second solo exhibition at this gallery, refers to Novokuznetsk, the artist’s hometown in southwestern Siberia, where he’s managed to capture an assortment of its denizens in various stages of unguardedness or vulnerability for more than thirty years.

Novokuznetsk is a mill city—steel, iron—and the hardness of its environs can be read on the faces and bodies of Bakharev’s subjects. Though most of the pictures were taken after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Bakharev’s people seem, at least from the perspective of Western eyes, to be trapped in the amber of impoverished, Communist-era aesthetics—outdoors or in their cramped apartments, in seventies hair styles and secondhand polyester swimsuits, with a few black market–looking American records or magazines lying about.

But the joy of Bakharev’s work is in his depictions of eroticism and camaraderie. See friends and strangers lying about in the woods in (Relationship #8, 1986-90) or smiling and getting drunk together in (Relationship #105, 2001), or various men and women (mostly women) posing in next to nothing or nude, exultant in their bodies in these moments of sweet, seditionary exhibitionism (it was forbidden to show or even take pictures of naked bodies during Russia’s Soviet years). Like so many documentary photographs, Bakharev’s work is unyielding in its moles-and-all frankness, but his touch is unequivocally tender—a chronicler of a great and immersive love among so many ruins.

Alex Jovanovich

David Maljkovic

METRO PICTURES
519 West 24th Street
June 4–July 31

View of “David Maljkovic: Out of Projection,” 2015.

Three works in David Maljkovic’s current show share the title Out of Projection: Two ink-jet-on-aluminum collages, both 2009/2014, and an HD video, 2009–14, depict retired Peugeot workers at a test track, milling around prototypes that look at once flamboyantly futuristic and hopelessly outdated. These works are set against wallpaper that reproduces a sparse view of Maljkovic’s 2014 exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, whose interior is similar enough to Metro Pictures’s that the skewed black-and-white floor-to-ceiling images are mildly disorienting. More than producing a simple vertiginous effect, the installation poses questions with wider purchase: What happens when an artist’s work moves from institution to gallery? What is the purpose of literally transposing new works (for Maljkovic, this descriptor seems perpetually uncertain) onto past exhibitions?

Compounding this ambiguous status of artworks and documentation, a slide presentation titled In Low Resolution, 2014, shows images from the artist’s archive with some areas reduced to blocks of oversize pixels. It’s reminiscent of the televised censoring of nude bodies, a process of obfuscation that also tantalizes. Among the eighty slides are images of the Peugeot prototypes, along with production cars bearing indecipherable interventions. A hatchback has what appear to be round gray blocks adjacent to its wheels, but the indeterminacy of the rendering makes it difficult to distinguish impediment from improvement. It’s a compelling analogy for Maljkovic’s process-based critique of memory and historical narrative, in which the refusal to come to a conclusion is both an acutely political choice and a significant source of vitality.

Andrew Kachel

Andrew Forge

BETTY CUNINGHAM GALLERY
15 Rivington Street
June 4–August 14

Andrew Forge, Untitled, 1996, watercolor on paper, 22 x 14 1/2".

Regarded for his role as a painter, teacher, and critic, Andrew Forge created a visual language with the aim of reconciling perception and representation. In this latest presentation of his work, featuring nineteen paintings dating from the 1990s up to his death in 2002, the dotted and dashed compositions create a sensory Morse code capable of captivating viewers. These images reverberate with hints of fleetingly identifiable forms and employ a great variety of brushstrokes exploring the emotive possibilities of shape and color built from small, simple forms.

An untitled yellow-and-green watercolor from 1996 invites the viewer to swim, wade, or climb through the individual sensory units that compose the work. The eye follows a suggested diagonal divide created by earthy green dots integrated across the painting. The overlap and variability of each shape allows the fragments to read as an organic whole of unknown depth.

Downstairs, the oil-on-canvas painting April, 1991–92, displays a dynamic combination of colored dots, layered and arranged to create vague suggestions of form along with splotches of descriptive color, translating the sensory impressions of a late April day into a large-scale composition. In this piece, as throughout his work, Forge sought to address a particular query he expressed in a 1975 piece for Artforum: “What does any attribute of the outside world mean—what makes it worth commenting upon or isolating or trying to recreate on any level?” This examination of isolation is evoked by the individual, energetic elements that coalesce to form each painting.

Alexandra Guglielminetti

Harold Ancart

C L E A R I N G
396 Johnson Avenue
May 12–July 12

Harald Ancart, Untitled, 2015, oil stick on canvas, 113 x 81".

The cosmic nightscapes riotously abloom in Harold Ancart’s new works on canvas land us on an exotic planet. Vibrant plants, bonfires, and astral confetti in the show’s seven oil-stick paintings thrum in tropical colors against abundant, magnetic fields of black that concentrate contemplation, evoking lacquerware worlds. But if believable blossoms top stems here, so do moons and gradient disks resembling telescopic iris shots onto other planet floors, upending figure-ground certainties. The echo between a restless treelike shape in one painting and airborne sawtooth blobs in another (all works untitled, 2015) enacts these paintings’ own shifting states of coalescence and disassembly, like cloud clusters or avian flocks. Seen up close, even the color-flecked carbon black sometimes suggests ripped rind more than deep space.

The history of painting that lives in these works like chromosomal traces enriches such dimensional unknowns. Fauvist and Symbolist flavors are joined by AbEx and Minimalist devices, such as in the neat horizontal shelf of white paint frosting one work’s upper band, unaffected by the big stylized bonfire below that is the painting’s apparent subject. Discrete veins of color and encroaching edges recall Clyfford Still’s seismic fissures, while the single pin-thin verticals of white paint suspended in two works seem equally mindful of AbEx zips and Asian folding screens. The show’s sole small work, pictorially nearly identical to the big bonfire painting, faces the latter on the opposite wall, like a portrait or a progeny, as if either fantasia were indeed life-size.

This is the planet of painting, after all, and Ancart’s space exploration is the exploration of painted space: More than depicting petals and flames, how might a painting itself grow like a flower, ignite like fire, and bring about forms that thrive as life-forms in the otherworld it always is?

Chinnie Ding

Tom of Finland

ARTISTS SPACE EXHIBITIONS
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor
June 25–August 23

Tom of Finland, Untitled, 1976, graphite on paper, 12 x 9".

The subtitle of the Tom of Finland exhibition currently at Artists Space, “The Pleasure of Play,” points to a key aspect of the artist’s work: its fundamental cheerfulness. Tom, who admired the work of Paul Cadmus and Norman Rockwell alike, gave his homoerotic drawings of well-muscled men in uniform (and in various states of undress) a subtly wholesome bent. He once vowed, “My men were going to be proud and happy men.” His young bucks’ cocks are mammoth, but often their good-natured grins are bigger. The highly repressive decades during which Tom’s work developed could not stem his innate sex-positivity.

This two-part exhibition, the largest to date in the US (where he first became known in the mid-1950s through his drawings for the Los Angeles quarterly Physique Pictorial), features nearly two hundred drawings, hung loosely by medium and theme rather than chronology, and an even greater number of reference collages—mass-media clippings arranged by type that helped guide the prominent cleft chins and flared-thigh jodhpurs that defined Tom’s hypermasculine ideal. Early gouaches from the mid-1940s feature urbane rakes whose illicit behavior is only occasionally explicit; but soon thereafter, Tom provided close-up views of every possible combination of orifice and appendage, as modeled by bikers, sailors, loggers, and cowboys. A standout in the main exhibition is a twenty-part 1977 series starring Tom’s recurring leather-daddy character, Kake, whose cruising instigates an orgy that grows one by one with a stream of onlookers turned joiners. It’s remarkable, not least because Tom rendered the profusion of compound convexities—nipples, biceps, asses, abs—in the unforgiving cross-hatching of pen and ink. His skill in graphite is no less extraordinary: Portraits made in the ’80s seem lit from within, all oiled skin and gleaming leather. But it’s a surreal intergalactic image that endures, providing a suitable analogy for Tom’s global effect on gay culture. In it, a brawny, mustachioed Scandinavian penetrates planet Earth in smiling ecstasy.

Claire Lehmann

Susan Cianciolo

BRIDGET DONAHUE
99 Bowery, 2nd Floor
May 17–July 12

Susan Cianciolo, Sunburst Kit / Doll In Parts, 2014, cotton doll parts, knit batten, crochet hat, wedding dress collection, cardboard, watercolor on paper, magazine tearsheets, tape, digital prints, collage from Angels Do Exist, Purple magazine photos on quilt, 10 1/2 x 54 x 37".

Is it too much to say that the most humane objects—cups, books, shirts, and socks—the things that regularly get intimate with us, often find themselves packed into cardboard boxes? An exhibition of sculptures, costumes, and performance documentation by Susan Cianciolo, “If God Comes to Visit You, How Will You Know? (The Great Tetrahedral Kite)” focuses on the designer and artist’s “kits,” selections of materials, tools, and ephemera collected in decorated cardboard boxes. Much of the contents are part of Run, her deconstructive fashion line emphasizing customization and personal relationships, for which she collaborated with Bernadette Corporation, Rita Ackermann, and Mike Mills, among others.

Remember Kids Activity Kit, 2004–14, includes a star pin, crystals, elaborately crocheted child-size dresses, skirts, and sweaters, linen fairy wings, clay pieces, inky paintings, and book images. It’s difficult to speak of glitter and pins, dolls and bits of string, without feeling twee—but at stake here is the relationship between care, labor, and materials. Other kits contain instructions for making a generic shirt, journals, and sketchbooks, as well as antique and vintage fabrics, which are at once diaristic and instructional. They are small calls to action, ingredients suggesting free-form recipes, invitations to improvise and to depart from standardization: “Make a sweatshirt that’s right 4 U!” reads a scrawl on Do-It-Yourself Sweatshirt Kit, 2001–15. Performers in a variety of headscarves at the show’s opening sat by the boxes and took visitors through their contents. Cianciolo continually reworks the contents of the kits–reconstituting, revising and restarting–offering different reconfigurations to equip for personal care and expression. If most human lives end with boxes, it seems like here that something is carefully trying to begin, and begin, and begin again.

Laura McLean-Ferris

“After Midnight: Indian Modernism to Contemporary India, 1947/1997”

QUEENS MUSEUM
New York City Building, Flushing Meadows
March 1–September 13

Subodh Gupta, What does the room encompass that is not in the city?, 2014, found boat, found objects, found utensils, fabric, steel, found fishing net, bamboo, rope, plastic pipe, dimensions variable.

As suggested in the exhibition’s title, “After Midnight: Indian Modernism to Contemporary India, 1947/1997” launches a conversation between two discrete time periods. Curated by Dr. Arshiya Lokhandwala, the presentation begins with paintings from the era following India’s independence from Britain, primarily by those involved in the seminal Progressive Artists’ Group that jumpstarted modernism in India. These artists’ interest in diverse media beyond painting—output that is rarely exhibited—is worth noting. See F. N. Souza, who used diluted printer’s ink and magazine paper to create what he dubbed “chemical paintings” in 1969, and Tyeb Mehta, who produced the sixteen-minute black-and-white film Koodal (“Meeting Place”) in 1970.

Two standout contemporary artworks that marry material experimentation with social commentary are Asim Waqif’s By-Construction and Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice, (both 2003). Exploring art-world consumption, the former is an ingeniously built sprawling structure composed entirely of trash generated by the exhibition itself, such as shipping crates. The latter is inspired by the inaugural speech of the newly formed and independent India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Kallat transcribed each letter of the address with rubber adhesive that he then set aflame. Given that the work was constructed a year after the sectarian riots in Gujarat, the charred letters and the buckling of the mirror from the heat powerfully suggest that Nehru’s wishes for India were unfulfilled. Overall, the highlighting of experimentation with materials throughout the exhibition prevents the show from being weighed down by context—a chronic problem for display of “Indian” art —while not eschewing it either.

Alpesh Kantilal Patel

Seth Price

PETZEL GALLERY | 35 EAST 67TH STREET
35 East 67th Street
May 14–July 17

Seth Price, Books are Weapons, 2003, pen and graphite on paper, 11 x 14".

For an exhibition of more than sixty items produced largely since the turn of the millennium, “Drawings: Studies for Works 2000–2015” coheres with an unusual syncopation. Little wonder that these ink-jet prints, gouaches, ink drawings, and other media works on view by Seth Price, whose heterogeneous output has often concerned distribution as much as it has distraction. Some pieces such as Books are Weapons, 2003, read as bits or fragments from a broader narrative, as if excerpted from an author’s meandering plot: This pen-and-graphite drawing displays a cartoonish publication against an upright, modest Victorian home, extolling that “Books are weapons . . . and houses, etc.” One windowpane is likened to an unsavory insect’s nine eyes, which all resemble monitors. Another work, Study for a Christian Novel, 2001–2002, summarily outlines a grand narrative that remains unwritten, depicting a flowchart prophesying incidents of mass migration, stockpiled cash of the 1 percent, plague-like religious conversion, and a “cult of the individual.”

Many studies glimpse presciently toward today, with its de facto modes of shambolic messaging and devout narcissism. Study for Confusion, 2003, lists the tent poles of balanced living, as if typed by a frenzied multitasker: “Wrok, Fmaily, Freidns.” Bisexual Litigator, 2013, labels an insufferably—and amusingly—individualized suitor: “Steeped in critical theory + psychoanalysis as well as Torah, high-powered and intense, looking to meet same.” As a whole, this boisterous array of works sketches out a musing, heretofore an overlooked layer of Price’s inquisitive yet otherwise materially infatuated practice—a mode of production that hangs in the balance between thinking and making.

Nicolas Linnert

Marjorie Strider

BROADWAY 1602
1181 Broadway, 3rd Floor
May 8–August 1

View of “Marjorie Strider,” 2015.

History does not remember Marjorie Strider as well as it should. Tom Wesselmann, Mel Ramos, and Roy Lichtenstein were all contemporaries of hers in the 1960s, and there was a great deal of overlap in all their subject matter: Crayon-colored Pop representations of the female form. But what Strider didn’t do, which her dudely confreres did, was to subject her women to the burnishing effects of male Eros. Even the most embittered of Roy’s girls always wanted Brad back, pretty-perfect in crisp lines, red lips, tears, and distress. Strider wasn’t big on this form of boy’s-club fantasy and gaze—her ill-at-ease, uninviting ladies would rather see Brad’s head on a fucking pike.

This gorgeous miniretrospective of Strider’s works from 1958 to ’74—drawings, collages, sculptures, and bas-relief sculpture/paintings—are abrasive reconfigurations of midcentury American “femaleness,” subtly roiling in their formal discomfiture and attitude, a kind of voluptuousness threateningly rendered in a manner that evokes tumors. Only one of the artist’s famously bumper-boobed women is on display—Come Hither, 1963—a Liz Taylor doppelgänger in black and white with a rictus and slightly crossed eyes. But Strider’s caustic take on feminine softness and desirability comes across just as vividly in her still lifes, where “domestic” objects stand in for irritated female bodies, as in Untitled (Graters) and Untitled (Shakers), both 1973–74, a series of homely cheese graters and spice shakers oozing Lynda Benglis–style blobs of rotted-out, Play Doh–looking guts.

Green Horizontal (Jolly), 1964, looks like a prop out of an old Green Giant commercial, where, perhaps, a happy housewife pointed winningly to its pair of misshapen 3-D lima beans, ready to plop out of their pod. Are they dead ovaries? Or maybe even a sad sack of balls? They are all of the above, surely—and a funny, withering rejoinder to the pro-bro stylings of first-generation Pop.

Alex Jovanovich

Daniel Dewar & Grégory Gicquel

FRONT DESK APPARATUS
29 East 37th Street, 2B
May 11–July 31

View of “Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel,” 2015.

If the Internet has come to bolster geographically dispersed tendencies and social groupings in the world of contemporary art, the price it has levied for this connectivity and acceleration has been the triumph of the image as the dominant vessel of influence. In their New York debut, Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel present a precise body of sculpture that lays siege to that dominance in the Beaux Arts townhouse where the gallery recently reopened. In this building—once owned by nineteenth-century merchant and art collector Cornelius Bliss and on the same walls where his daughter would hang works by Picasso and Modigliani—Dewar and Gicquel have installed two strangely proportioned, handmade wool tapestries. When we see the works, they appear as hugely oversized wool sweaters. Too large to be donned, the truth of the lush, richly woven works rests in the volume of space they inhabit with their pliable contours and organic texture. In this sense, they challenge us to subjugate vision to a material presence that refuses to be subsumed by it. What better material than wool, the fiber of both resilience and warmth, could be pitted against the indifference of imagistic conditioning that would reduce a six-foot-tall tapestry to a piece of clothing?

The other works in the exhibition stalk a similar vector of attack: Hand-carved earthenware sculptures approximate a toilet and a wash basin set with such exacting detail that they seem they could be functionally deployed given the right plumbing. Their organic patinas of muddied green dance away from ideas of the readymade with which a viewer might meet them. The pitcher accompanying the basin provides a more elusive movement: Standing on a large foot, it evokes some unspecified near past. Its empty form tempts a figurative reading, but the work’s straight-faced rendering is an end only to itself. There are no molds or reproductions after all, but only a way for the artists to continue working.

Boško Blagojević

“Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today"

MUSEUM OF ARTS AND DESIGN
2 Columbus Circle
April 28–September 27

Eva Zeisel, Frame for a Folding Chair, 1949, chrome-plated tubular steel; 28 1/2 x 26 x 26 1/2".

Countering Richard Serra’s famous Verb List of 1967–68, Anne Wilson’s To Weave, to Wind, to Knot, to Twist, to Push, to Pack, to Press, 2010—a light box of tools used for “women’s work” and reconfigured in glass—stresses the action embedded in this exhibition’s title. “Pathmakers” assembles more than one hundred objects by forty-two artists in a broad survey of historical and current practice. The show is divided into two floors: The “midcentury” galleries open with a cluster of Ruth Asawa’s dangling wire sculptures, ca. 1950–72, dramatically lit so that their shadows appear like the transparent fabric tapestries in their company. A floor below, “today” is anchored by projects from 2014: Michelle Grabner’s bright paper weavings and enamel paintings, and Polly Apfelbaum’s exuberant marker-on-silk pendants.

Curators Jennifer Scanlan and Ezra Shales have chosen nine lesser-known figures for longer explanatory labels, including Alice Kagawa Parrott. Her unisex Hanten Jacket, ca. 1960, was a favorite of artists such as Agnes Martin, whose own version is on display. (I would have loved to see some connection to Gabriel Ann Maher’s Garment and accompanying video _Design, both 2014, which explore the role of gender in how we dress.) One emergent theme is the shaping of space. Textile pioneer Dorothy Liebes’s subtly luminous Room Divider for United Nations Delegates Dining Room, ca. 1952, finds its contemporary parallel in Hella Jongerius’s Knots & Beads Curtain for UN Delegates Lounge, ca. 2012. Like Eva Zeisel’s whimsical Belly Button Room Divider, 1957, Jongerius’s curtain carves our environment and filters how we see it.

If certain historical and geographic contexts go unexplored—with everything from showerheads to gravy boats on hand, how could they not?—“Pathmakers” charts a postwar trajectory for women artists that includes corporate collaborations and individual experimentation, without hierarchy of genre. The show celebrates making as discovery. There’s no better illustration than Zeisel, whose work we surprisingly encounter again on the contemporary floor: In 2008, at the age of 102, she decided to try her hand at lighting.

Prudence Peiffer

“America Is Hard to See”

WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART
99 Gansevoort Street
May 1–September 27

View of “America Is Hard to See,” 2015.

If you saw the Whitney’s recent cycle of permanent collection shows uptown, notably Carter Foster’s “Real/Surreal” and Donna de Salvo and Scott Rothkopf’s “Sinister Pop,” you’ll be well primed for the shrewd, unpretentious, and often winningly provincial exhibition that inaugurates the museum’s on-the-money new home. The show’s early galleries think past boundaries of media—Imogen Cunningham’s double-exposed portrait of Martha Graham hangs next to a Charles Burchfield sunburst—and of race and gender, most persuasively via the juxtaposition of a blah abstract totem by Robert Laurent with a better 1931 bust by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, an artist of the New Negro Movement. Folk artists such as James Castle and Bill Traylor complicate the progressive modernist story, though sadly not the postwar one.

“America Is Hard to See” succeeds most by looking askance at American claims to cultural advancement, whether in Woodrow Wilson’s time or Mark Zuckerberg’s. America’s theft of the idea of modern art in the late 1940s is scrutinized rather than celebrated; it takes guts to make your anchor painting a Hedda Sterne. Minimal developments in the 1960s get blown away by informel collages and assemblages—hands down the best room in the show, juxtaposing Jack Smith’s groovy short film Scotch Tape, 1959–62, with menacing works by Lee Bontecou and Bruce Conner and an eerie painting of a bat by the underrated Los Angeles mystic Cameron. Eventually the sting of the late 1960s (in Peter Saul’s churning Saigon, 1967, or Faith Ringgold’s collage Women Free Angela, 1971) and the anger of the first AIDS years gives way to the Hellenistic nonchalance of the present. But any complacency in the Whitney’s last galleries should be countermanded by the views they afford: to the Piketty-validating glass towers arising in west Chelsea and to a Hudson River that, within our lifetimes, will rise high enough to regularly flood the neighborhood.

Jason Farago

Laurie Simmons

THE JEWISH MUSEUM
1109 Fifth Avenue
March 13–August 9

Laurie Simmons, How We See/Ajak (Violet), 2015, pigment print, 70 x 48".

There is the problem of eyelashes. The six unnerving photographs that Laurie Simmons displays here feature interchangeable models against perky colored backgrounds: vapid, prosaic images from a fashion world where Vogue is no longer distinct from twelve-year-olds’ makeup lessons on YouTube. But the eyelashes: Overpainted on the upper lid, much too thick on the lower one. It takes a few seconds to notice—compliments to the dexterity of this maker’s hand—that the models’ eyes are actually clamped shut, and irises and pupils have been painted over their lids. What gives the game away are the lashes—the lower lashes are in fact upper lashes: monstrous, spidery antennae, markers of an enduring but diseased humanity on bodies that makeup and Photoshop have otherwise scrubbed of biology.

In The Land of Green Plums, 1994, the Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller writes of the body as a pell-mell cluster of organs, any one of which could betray the others. “If you control your face, it slips into your voice,” she writes. “If you manage to keep a grip on your face and your voice, as if they were dead wood, it will slip out through your fingers.” Like Müller, Simmons employs the techniques of Surrealism not as a dated language for internal fantasy, but to express the very real effects of external pressures on the body, the psyche, that thing we used to call the soul. There’s no point going inward, these images say; even your imagination has been spoiled, and the dream you dream with your eyes closed tight belongs, if we’re honest, to the international conglomerate that sold you the mascara. Put on a brave face for the camera, but the body cannot withstand the onslaught; keep the pain behind your eyelids, and it will slip out through your lashes.

Jason Farago