Ann Lislegaard

453 West 17th Street
November 8–December 20

Ann Lislegaard, Oracles, Owls…Some Animals Never Sleep, 2014, color, sound, 10 minutes, 30 seconds.

“The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk,” Hegel wrote in 1820, which is to say, before the world ends, no critique is possible. There is no flight to be seen in Ann Lislegaard’s cool, enigmatic 3D animation of animatronic owls, their faceted white feathers in glistening high definition, and not much Minervan clarity either. The birds in Oracles, Owls . . . Some Animals Never Sleep, 2014, seen earlier this year at the Nineteenth Biennale of Sydney, are antiprophets who speak simultaneously in indecipherable bursts that are interrupted with sonic glitches. A few phrases borrowed from the I Ching can be made out through the static and feedback: “building relationships,” or “destroying machines.” Fragments that once prophesied change or fortune now just recede into our perpetual feed of blips and bloops.

Lislegaard, one of numerous Norwegian artists now winning international prominence, has a long-standing interest in science fiction. Oracle, Owls references Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and its dystopian character carries through to her other black-and-white video here. Dobaded, 2014, takes its name from a word coined by the experimental Japanese sci-fi writer Chiaki Kawamata in his novel, Death Sentences, where characters fall into a realm beyond consciousness after getting the word stuck in their heads. Lislegaard’s 3D animation takes place in a similar dream state, floating through domestic spaces whose dimensions seem to vary with each passage. Along with a blatant shout-out to J. G. Ballard, whose work appears on a bookshelf, the ghost of Duchamp hovers: There’s a spinning wheel, and the camera gets caught in a web of string recalling his 1942 sixteen-mile tangle. Then the owl appears again, auguring a future not of wisdom but of emptiness.

Jason Farago

Daniel Gordon

619 West 27th Street
October 30–December 20

Daniel Gordon, Summer Fruit, 2014, chromogenic print, 60 x 70".

Daniel Gordon locates his photographs through a triangulation of painting, collage, and cutout. His C-prints compose still-life fare in complex tableaux, which he lights in-studio and captures on large-format film. Sourced from the Internet and cut freehand from printer paper, each element is inserted in a topography that makes little effort to disguise its seams. Plants sport skeins of hot glue; vases build up from clipped geometries; and apples resemble disused origami. Paper figures as a material at once volumetric and planar, drawn into space through facets and folds or collapsed into flatness by an abruptly scissored edge.

In Summer Fruit (all works 2014), Technicolor edibles occupy a field of clashing dots, checkers, and stripes. If the still life has historically been keyed to imaginative consumption, presenting spreads for the viewer to fictively digest, Gordon’s scene precludes the same. His watermelons are conspicuously shrink-wrapped, his strawberries an unculinary cyan. Nature is made luridly artificial, as if to parody the still life as an art-historical cliché, wherein foodstuffs become vehicles of symbolic elaboration: a peach for fecundity, a peeled lemon for transience. Like the other photographs on view, Summer Fruit courts overdetermination. Apples and artfully rumpled tablecloths recall Cézanne’s late still lifes, while jars with doubled, upturned lids invoke Cubism’s signature mode of de- and recomposition.

This is to suggest that, for all their disjuncture, Gordon’s C-prints are deeply familiar. Photographic space is dispersed only to be consolidated under the sign of modernist painting and papier collé. It’s a seductive gesture, though one whose implications, both for photography and for modernism, are not entirely clear.

Courtney Fiske

Kiki Kogelnik

131 Bowery, 2nd Floor
November 2–December 19

Kiki Kogelnik, Hanging, 1970, acrylic, sheet vinyl, hangers, canvas, 60 1/4 x 54".

Two silhouettes cut from sheet vinyl, one black, one butterscotch, hang from two coat hangers that are looped through wire to the canvas’s upmost edge. Slung against an acrylic gradient (pink-rimmed azure melted in lavender), each silhouette traces the contours of a body once full but now flayed: an enervated membrane, all surface and no sex. Sterile yet strangely seductive, like moltings from a space being, they treat the body as schema or sieve, limp and radically inorganic.

The piece, Hanging, by Kiki Kogelnik was made in 1970 as part of a series of cutouts traced from human forms and executed in silky, slick resins. A transplant to New York from Austria, Kogelnik settled downtown in 1962, where she befriended Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Carolee Schneemann, among others. (Claes, not on view here but made the same year as Hanging, takes the soft sculptor’s body as its template.) Her early art informel–style paintings quickly yielded to work that indexed the city’s emergent Pop aesthetic, grafting its concerns with high-tech materials, synthetic color, and transfer techniques such as silk-screening and stenciling onto her commitment to militant feminism.

Spanning 1964 to 1971, the twelve works on view mine the possibilities of the human in the age of Sputnik and spectacle. Scissors emerge as Kogelnik’s tool of choice, which she conceived of as both a surgical implement and a feminist weapon, in the manner of Valerie Solanas or Hannah Höch. Women’s Lib, 1971, shows a silk-screened Kogelnik, her skin a martian shade of green, wielding a pair of oversize scissors over a tangle of hangings. It’s a fitting self-portrait for an artist who considered the body a schizoid thing, disjunct and always desiring.

Courtney Fiske

Sigmar Polke

980 Madison Avenue, 3rd Floor
November 4–January 15

Sigmar Polke, Tree of Life, 1983, acrylic on fabric, 71 x 59".

Kathy Halbreich’s world-shaking MoMA retrospective of the slipperiest artist of the postwar era contained no less than 265 works. They’re all in London right now, and yet somehow there are still enough Polkes around to fill three simultaneous New York gallery shows: a photography showcase at Paul Kasmin, photocopier works at Fergus McCaffrey, and this nine-painting exhibition focusing on the artist’s use of fabric. In the 1980s, Polke delighted in ugly wallpaper (think of the floral-print Seeing Things As They Are, 1991, the anchor for Halbreich’s show), and several paintings here feature bisected grounds of patterned wallpaper overlaid with expressionistic daubs, or else cartoonish, pseudo-anthropological markings. Later works, with printed images recalling both his early raster dot paintings and his concurrent photocopier experiments, play with art-historical precedents. An untitled 1993 painting has the bottle and wine glasses of a modernist still life; a 2002 artwork intermingles a coral circle-patterned quilt with what appears to be a rejigged rococo tapestry.

In a 1977 text, Polke likened the experience of art to “not being able to defend yourself . . . or the desperate effort not to want to.” That is the effect of a painting such as The Raven, 1996: It includes a ground of both plaid and nautical-themed fabrics and a Gothic sketch of man and bird that is partially painted over in an uncontrolled skim of white oil paint. The work calls into question his sincerity and intelligibility—and our own desire for the same. Nevertheless, these smaller Polke shows have the (perhaps unavoidable) tendency to make Polke easily defensible. The genius of Halbreich’s MoMA retrospective was that, for all its rigor, it insisted that Polke was in fact uncontainable. This show and the other two on view in New York now have their reasons to pin Polke down, but I suspect he’ll slip away again.

Jason Farago

John Gerrard

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Josie Robertson Plaza
October 3–December 1

View of “John Gerrard: Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada),” 2014.

Installed on a massive LED wall at the Lincoln Center’s main plaza, John Gerrard’s Solar Reserve, 2014, could at first sight appear to be footage of the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, during which Muslims circle the sacred cube of the Kaaba in their devotions. Initially indefinable objects slowly move around a central tower, echoing the sense of eternal circling central to that ritual. But Gerrard’s computer simulation is of something more secular: a solar thermal power plant in Nevada, its tower the focus of ranks of mirrors that tip to catch the sun.

Controlled by a team of computer programmers, the camera homes in on the monumental plant while simultaneously shifting perspectives from satellite-eye view to ground level over the course of an hour. It lends the perspective of the sun, even a deity looking down. There are links with Gerrard’s series “Smoke Tree,” 2006, as this work too runs in real time, seasonally and from day to night. The shifting patterns of light and shade, sun and the constellations make this installation a portentous meditation on nature, people, and the things they make.

Gemma Tipton

Nuri Bilge Ceylan

545 West 25th Street
October 30–December 13

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, The Backyard, 2007, archival pigment print, 70 7/8 x 54 3/4".

The films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan—the Turkish director whose long, stately new film Winter Sleep (2014) won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival—offer a defense of the narrative capabilities of cinema at a moment when television is pushing the medium to the edge. He began his career as a photographer and his intense still images, never exhibited in the United States, argue for the continued relevance and viability of narrative through images. “The World of My Father,” a series from 2006–2007, consists of seven images of Mehmet Emin Ceylan, who passed away in 2012 and had appeared in several of his son’s early films. Whether the films are staged or documentary, whether Ceylan’s father is himself or another, is of no consequence: Their narratives bleed from the image into personal life and public society; they make worlds as they refashion our own.

Some of Ceylan’s photographs are so rigorously composed that they look like film stills: His father gazes from a window in Midafternoon, 2006, or stares into space from his bed in Sleepless Night. In The Backyard, 2007, he’s caught facedown in the grass, exhausted and possibly crying; Freight Train in the Steppe, from the same year, captures Mehmet from behind, his gray hair echoing the snow on the grassland. Have we become too suspicious of such images—too certain that a cinematic impulse in still photography must be autocritical? I suspect so. And I would not want to think that medium interrogation is the only virtue of an image as powerful and beautiful as A Winter Day on Galata Bridge, 2007. Ceylan’s father looks out onto the strait dividing Europe and Asia, ice clinging to his overcoat, the sky filled with dozens of gulls. In the background, cloaked in fog, is Yeni Cami (The New Mosque). The Hagia Sophia, just out of the camera’s reach, presides behind. Cities are narratives, too, and must constantly be rearticulated in order to hold their meaning.

Jason Farago

Michael Bell-Smith

623 West 27th Street
October 10–November 26

Michael Bell-Smith, Rabbit Season, Duck Season, 2014, HD video with sound, 5 minutes, 18 seconds.

Michael Bell-Smith makes jokes about art. Five of the eleven vinyl on white aluminum “paintings” on display are laid out like magazine mock-ups, with dreamlike squiggles and x-ed out colored squares surrounding Groucho Marx’s famous summary of set theory as a paradox of alienation, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” But under each iteration of this epigram appears a different name: Thomas Jefferson, Morrissey, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Ayn Rand. And Rabbit Season, Duck Season, a short, looping video, is ostensibly a heavy-handed explication of the 1951 Bugs Bunny short “Rabbit Fire,” in which Bugs and Daffy Duck each attempt to impose on the iconically befuddled hunter Elmer Fudd a reality that results in his shooting the other one. (Bugs, as always, is the winner.) Didactic subtitles, infinite sine waves, and a rotating clip-art Ouroboros insist that their alternation can continue forever, so long as a punch line is suspended.

The implication is that there is no substance but rhythm, and that what goes for Bugs and Daffy goes for every other thought process or social phenomenon, too. But when the view zooms in on a Web browser window and one screen replaces another, instead of the argument expanding to embrace the world, it’s revealed that it applies chiefly to itself. Bell-Smith’s jokes are tightly wound, transparent, and self-contained. They are equally poised to collapse into empty self-reference or massively expand their emotional and conceptual range.

Will Heinrich

Chris Ofili

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

Mira Dancy and Sarah Peters

537B West 23rd Street
October 16–November 26

Mira Dancy, Herfume Perfume, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 69 x 67".

This two-person exhibition, featuring Mira Dancy’s riotously colorful acrylic paintings and Sarah Peters’s tactile, terracotta sculptures, pivots on the template of the female nude as a ground zero for aesthetic experimentation. Dancy’s paintings merge sprawling, busy compositions with comics-style color reminiscent of Gary Panter or Mickey Zachilli—all magenta, acid green, teal, and banana yellow shot through with silver curves. Take Dream of the Unicorn Tapestry (all works 2014), wherein a figure casually stretches out her arms while her legs lie loosely crossed at the bottom of the frame. The intense patterning across both figure and background flattens the subject into colors and textures resembling a fragmented screen resolution or corrupted pixels. With the body scrubbed of any particular identifying details, the impression is of a very cyberpunk version of Gaugin’s lady land. Another large painting, Herfume Perfume, is triangular with a swarm of brushy forms that sometimes coalesce into something recognizable and sometimes don’t, building a dynamic momentum to its topmost point stamped with a blunt, purple font stating its title. Just like the phrasing, her paintings treat gestures as play.

Peters’s small, tan figurines are a quiet complement to Dancy’s exuberances. Perched on white plinths, their unglazed clay surfaces wear kneaded impressions and have slight, delicate features that look lovingly inscribed, as if with a blunt fingernail. Figurine with Looping Arms, true to its word, disregards armature in favor of soft, wormy curves with tiny, rough notches for nostrils and eyes recalling a ghoulish, anime-type rendering. In all these works, one notes that the female form is less baggage to be dealt with than a cipher to be tossed around in a fast and loose game of suggestion and rehearsal.

Paige K. Bradley

Nam June Paik

725 Park Avenue at 70th Street
September 5–January 4

Nam June Paik, Room for Charlotte Moorman, 1993, mixed media, dimensions variable.

The current, malign vogue for wearable gadgets could have panned out so much better if Nam June Paik were still around, there to remind us to interrogate, to laugh at, or to disrupt technology rather than accept it wholesale. His TV Bra for Living Sculpture, 1975, a pair of screens sported by a nude Charlotte Moorman, or TV Penis, 1972, a sort of television condom worn during a performance at The Kitchen, imbricated technology and the human body, but not into some cyborg third term. Even with his TV Cello, 1971, which Moorman played in a kind of carnal embrace, new media was used to enable new forms of human eroticism and potentialities, rather than to subordinate bodies to machines, or worse, corporations.

In this way, Paik—trained as a composer—might be much closer to Richard Wagner, the original tech-obsessed erotic mastermind of “the artwork of the future,” than to his alleged successors using tech for tech’s sake. This selective exhibition, the first in New York since Paik’s death in 2006, revalorizes Paik's sculptural works (notably the early radio-controlled assemblage Robot K-456, 1964) and reemphasizes his views of new media, which were, like Wagner’s, prescient but ultimately too romantic. Long before the rise of the Web, Paik saw television as not a one-to-many transmission, but a more plural affair in which individuals could intercede and reconstitute the mechanisms of broadcasting. Younger artists or anyone still naively confusing technology with progress would do well to heed Paik’s words from 1965: “Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important.”

Jason Farago