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Emily Wardill

Altman Siegel
1150 25th Street
May 11–June 24

Emily Wardill, I gave my love a cherry that had no stone, 2016, digital video, color, sound, 9 minutes. Installation view.

The title of the central work in Emily Wardill’s solo show here, I gave my love a cherry that had no stone, 2016, is a nod to the paradoxes that dominate the exhibition. Body and machine are indistinguishable. Past and future overlap. Absence and presence coexist.

In the video, a male dancer lurches and sways around the lobby and theater of a Portuguese museum at night, shot by a drone-mounted camera and a hand-held one that jerk and soar through the modernist interior. The nostalgia for the utopian future built into this architecture contrasts with the mechanical movements of the cyborg-like protagonist, who occasionally manifests an eerie CGI effect, such as an eyeball popping out of its socket. A disembodied white shirt becomes a character, floating across the room and inflating as if to accommodate a phantom body. The entire piece is nearly silent, save for sudden jarring sounds: an ominous laugh, the applause of an invisible crowd, rhythmic dripping.

Boundaries between mediums blur throughout the exhibition. An imposing tilted screen allows the aforementioned piece to act as a sculpture, while works hung on the wall resemble flattened three-dimensional forms. Cast-resin reliefs of wrinkled white shirts—Noh Costume, An Easy Swan, and Crimp, all 2017—are drained of their materiality. Listing the credits from a past film, four rayograms from the 2013 series “Credits” include ethereal prints of the artist’s hands on the margins. All of these works suggest people who aren’t there. The lonely, haunted undertones of this installation express an alienation and anxiety endemic to the contemporary human condition.

Jeanne Gerrity

Hein Koh

Platform Gallery
116 West Mulberry Street
May 13–June 24

View of “Hein Koh: Joy & Pain,” 2017. From left: Hope and Sorrow, 2017; Eyes Without a Face, 2017; Eye Mouth Tongue, 2017.

By the front window in Hein Koh’s parlor-room exhibition is Three Lonely Hearts, 2017, consisting of lumpy, heart-shaped, spandex cyclopes’ heads cocked to the side, woebegone and piteous. From open-zippered orifices, the heads seem to have emitted glittery, puke-like, bubblegum-pink columns that have since hardened to hold them up. Nearby, The Triangle Twins, 2016, shows two gold creatures, each equipped with two dicks and pointy fingers emerging from shiny wall-bound pillows that read as portals. Two of the four floppy dicks are knotted together on the outside, as if this bond will provide strength or luck for whatever might materialize next. Above a fireplace on the other side of the gallery, Eye Mouth Tongue, 2017, has Betty Boop lips that hold in an eyeball and unleash a lavishly long tongue—a plush slide for the eye should it want a quick, easy trip to the floor.

Our emoji condition, characterized by an attraction to stock expressions, informs Koh’s imagination. In the middle of the gallery is Eyes Without a Face, 2017, two dangling eyeballs crying giant, heavy, teardrop-shaped, iridescent, blue sacks. By the entrance is a small drawing, Sleep Deprivation, 2015, showing a set of bloodshot alien eyes shooting down shafts of liquid grief while two other pairs of weeping eyes float close by, watching with reverence. Ultimately, the artist might be advocating for a much weirder culture than what current norms dictate, one that would embrace big swings of emotion, erotic play, and perversion.

Marcus Civin

Adam Pendleton

Baltimore Museum of Art
10 Art Museum Drive
March 26–August 13

Adam Pendleton, if the function of writing, 2016, silk-screen ink on Mylar, 29 × 38".

In Baltimore—the southernmost northern city and the northernmost southern city, as some call it—Adam Pendleton evokes Malcolm X, who in his 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet rallied black people to resist the comprehensive conspiracy of American racism. “We haven’t benefited from America’s democracy,” he said. “Stop talking about the South. As long as you south of the Canadian border, you South.”

As seen in one of Pendleton’s various floor-to-ceiling wall works, a reproduction of a historical installation of paintings by Holocaust escapee Marc Chagall appears to be disintegrating or reforming, as are elsewhere a towering knife and hatchet. In a central grouping of pieces, four tall shadowy paintings hang on top of a separate text-based wall work. The paintings, Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy), 2017, and the text work, A Victim of American Democracy IV (wall work), 2016, contain letters but refuse any standard formation of them into words. So too for a new lobby installation, A Victim of American Democracy II (wall work), 2015. What looks like a partial D next to an E might be the start of the word democracy, but as they are here, enlarged and printed from a collage of letter fragments, they are typographically and linguistically obstructed, cut off from other jaunty, orphaned, and inchoate neighbors.

For what is… (study), 2017, Pendleton wrote and repeated the phrase “What is Black Lives Matter” across and down a piece of Mylar, bounding off the page at the end of each line, filling it up, then turning it ninety degrees to continue on. Where different letters overlap, they negate each other and allow for new forms, nonsense quasi-words such as –ciives, *kue_, and bluac. If this is language, it is a dissonant one—a radical cacophony, more of which could maybe knock against disgusting truths.

Marcus Civin

Sam Contis

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
2155 Center Street
May 3–August 27

Sam Contis, Shoeing, 2013, gelatin silver print, 12 x 9 1/2".

Sam Contis’s photographs of Deep Springs College, one of the last all-male liberal arts colleges in the United States, fragment and shroud their ardent subjects. Located in a remote desert near the California-Nevada border, Deep Springs is a fever dream of American masculinity, where young men both study and raise cattle for slaughter, among other frontier-style activities. The artist’s always-askance gaze rests on the unavoidable trope of the cowboy through the figure of a black teenager in modern glasses and an old-fashioned straw hat (Cowboy, 2014): What story does he tell himself about this place? The images in the exhibition feel slightly out of time, angled equally toward the past and the present.

The central contradiction of the show lies in the fractured landscapes and portraits: Abstract conceptions of autonomy and ruggedness run up against the deep fragility and precariousness of the environment and its human and nonhuman actors. Contis brings a restricted framing and intimately observed distance to images of the students and animals, as well as the land, displaying them all for our gaze, as in the erotic Shoeing, 2013, where a horse’s hoof is held tightly between the thighs of an athletic undergraduate.

Among such sensuality, voyeurism is unavoidable. But the artist consistently stops short of the explicit, and the images withhold as much as they reveal, often in the form of physical veils and membranes blocking subjects, as in High Noon, 2014, a perplexing picture of an isolated arm holding closed a bloody sheet that surrounds an illegible form. Alongside such constraints, archival photographs of Deep Springs, chosen by Contis for inclusion here, are brusque and naked by comparison.

Monica Westin

Zhang Peili

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
March 31–July 9

View of “Zhang Peili,” 2017.

Zhang Peili’s first US museum solo exhibition, “Record. Repeat.,” is an intense, grim encounter with China’s propaganda-media machine. Although Zhang has worked in painting, mail art, and kinetic installation over four decades, this focused survey of twelve major works from 1988 to 2012 makes a strong case for Zhang as not only China’s first video artist, as he is honorably known, but also as one of China’s most poignant critics of broadcast and surveillance technology. Similar to an investigator or a painter, he tends to set a single scene per video channel: hands repeatedly breaking and repairing a mirror; a news anchor reading the dictionary; the drawing of blood; a street in Hangzhou. Through serial imagery on six, eight, twelve, and twenty-eight screens, the durational works—some as long as three hours—quietly dehumanize their subjects. For instance, Zhang’s well-known Documents of Hygiene No. 3, 1991, depicts the artist repeatedly bathing a chicken in soapy water nearly to the point of cruelty, a sustained metaphor for China’s public hygiene campaign distributed that same year. Zhang’s critiques of the propaganda apparatus developed in quick response to the media itself, as Pi Li’s excellent and necessary catalogue essay details. Pi further remarks that, as a video artist, Zhang intentionally distanced himself from the 1990s art-market boom and therefore stayed truly avant-garde in his medium and his message. Zhang’s pioneering moving-image works, but also his mid-’90s manifesto against nationalism and his founding of the new media art department at the China Art Academy, reveals the artist as an agent of social change, not just a critic of socialist realism.

Jason Foumberg

“A Few Open Systems”

2025 Irving Blvd, Suite 201
June 3–July 29

Dora Budor, Year Without a Summer (Judd), 2017, artificial ash, modified confetti disperser, sound sensor, powder-coating paint, Donald Judd's Wintergarden Bench 16, 1980, dimensions variable.

The premise of the summer group show—that the adjacency of works by multiple artists will somehow inform and enhance one’s reading of them—is a slightly tenuous one, occasionally producing exhibitions that rely on superficial similarities. Instead, artist Noah Barker—this show’s curator—emphasizes a diffuse, collaborative mode of production that examines crosscurrents between the works on view, many of which bleed into one another. Centrally placed in the dimly lit gallery (the result of Ghislaine Leung’s gel-filter interventions) is Dora Budor’s Year Without a Summer (Judd), 2017, which features a ceiling-mounted commercial confetti dispenser hacked to distribute artificial ash onto a Judd bench (on loan from a local architectural studio) below it. The machine is triggered by ambient sound, including that generated by Hannah Weinberger’s looped audio track of ringtone samples, which wafts from a cell phone hidden above the ceiling tiles; the plastic ash creates a soft, gray halo around the bench. Budor’s ash is also scattered atop the potting soil of Asad Raza’s arboreal Root Sequence. Wald Annex, 2017. Its presence there is both perplexing and sinister: While magma-derived basalt is sometimes used in fertilizer, its synthetic counterpart seems more like a blight than a boon to the work’s two potted trees. These, an Appalachian redbud and a Texas everbearing fig, a small wooden Buddha resting against the latter’s trunk, were chosen for their provenance—they are native to the Dallas area and are well suited to the conditions of gallerist James Cope’s backyard, where the trees will be planted following the exhibition. These living readymades provide an eloquent reminder of the interdependence and circularity that define ecosystems, artistic included.

Cat Kron

Roni Horn

Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street
May 20–August 20

Roni Horn, Untitled (“I deeply perceive that the infinity of matter is no dream.”), 2014, solid cast glass with as-cast surfaces, height: 50 3⁄4“ x 55” diameter.

Roni Horn’s glass sculptures, at first glance, could be dismissed as a collection of attractive and costly manufactured objects. A home-decor store might sell a smaller-scale, mass-produced version of them. Yet upon careful inspection, they provoke an astonishing range of experiences. Meticulously created from solid cast glass generally used for the sensitive lenses of telescopes, these chest-high cylinders are semitransparent light collectors. Each form is suffused with a singular pale color: one a soft blue, one pastel purple, another faint peach; two are made without color, though ambient hues are absorbed and made visible. These cylinders—each weighing more than ten thousand pounds—are created from molds that deposit vertical seams and subtle striations along the frosted exteriors. In contrast, the tops of the cylinders are pristinely smooth and transparent; peered into from above, each work offers a view resembling the interior of a crystalline lake.

A fascinating alternation between the inherent thingness of the sculptures, and the reflected world, takes place across the mirrored surface. Horn lures viewers into a kind of meditative reverie, only to draw our attention back to our bodies and the room we inhabit. Dispersed across the gallery space, the sculptures mimic the exacting presence of the natural world—the slick and majestic translucency of icebergs comes to mind. Though the works are methodically constructed, one starts to forget their intricate craft and instead feels an almost primordial and hypnotic connection to their gradations. Horn’s long-standing enchantment with Iceland feels robustly present as a pristine, unadorned light gathers, reflects, and penetrates these affecting forms.

Matthew Bourbon

“Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place”

Denver Art Museum
100 West 14th Avenue Pkwy
February 19–October 22

Jaime Carrejo, One-Way Mirror, 2017, two-channel HD video, tinted acrylic, paint, 5 minutes 38 seconds.

The show’s thirteen artists inhabit a dual space straddling the US–Mexico border: All either split their time between the two countries or have immigrated from one side to the other. Asked to engage with the idea of home, the artists present simultaneously personal and political works; issues of identity, social justice, and history all coalesce in this multifaceted and complex exhibition.

In One-Way Mirror, 2017, Jaime Carrejo projects two videos—one of the Mexican landscape shot from El Paso, and one of El Paso as seen from Mexico—on the acutely angled walls of a cavernous passageway. Bisecting the projections, a surface of tinted acrylic both obscures and reveals the scenes behind it, evoking the sense of limited access and desire inherent in the borderland experience. Some artists in “Mi Tierra” collaborated with Denver’s immigrant population: Daniela Edburg’s knitted Alpaca wool reproductions of local rocks, grasses, and lichen accompany photographs of Denver residents styled after Hans Holbein paintings, while Daisy Quezada combines porcelain castings of clothing—much of it worn by recent immigrants either during or after border crossings—with sound recordings of narrated migration experiences. Sometimes abstraction conveys notions of place and identity: In Xochi Solis’s large-scale collages, solid colors and imagery from books and magazines together become a metaphor for lives formed by multiple national identities or environments. In Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus No. 36, 2016, thousands of threads form a gossamer prism spanning an entire gallery wall. Inspired by the strict gender binaries governing Dawe’s own boyhood in Mexico (he was not allowed to sew as a child), the work exuberantly celebrates transcending cultural limitations.

It’s tempting to remark on the timeliness of a show featuring work that confronts issues surrounding immigration and identity during such a contentious period in United States history. But one should also note that the exhibited artists’ practices predate the election—and these concerns have informed their work long before the rest of the country awoke (or were reawakened) to their importance.

Chelsea Weathers

“Between Land and Sea: Artists of the Coenties Slip”

The Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross Street
April 4–August 6

Lenore Tawney, Seaweed, 1961, linen, silk, 120 x 32''. The Lenore Tawney Foundation, New York. © Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

Coenties Slip is a tiny street in Lower Manhattan, situated halfway between Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, and a few blocks southeast of Wall Street, abutting a park that connects it to the water’s edge. It’s hard to imagine a time when artists would have pursued that location “to seek a barer life, closer to reality, without all the things that clutter and fill our lives,” as Lenore Tawney once said. But in the 1950s and 1960s that is precisely what she, along with Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Jack Youngerman, and Chryssa, did. There they lived and worked in former sailmakers’ lofts, inventing a new wave of abstraction that this tight exhibition, curated by Michelle White, highlights with elegance. The works’ modest monumentality points to a shared aesthetic in which the powers of close looking distill the honest beauty of everyday phenomena.

White’s curation makes an implicit argument for the importance of thinking about art history through the intimate social geographies of artistic micro-communities. Thoughtful juxtapositions electrify small details that build a conceptualized iconography of the pier, rooting the artists’ abstractions to a specific place and time. There is the pleasing pattern of Indiana’s Ginkgo, 1959, a small painting on wood panel inspired by the leaves of neighborhood trees, and Kelly’s “tablets” that record compositional ideas derived from ships’ sails and the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge. Particularly rewarding are Chryssa’s terra-cotta slabs inspired by ancient Cycladic figures (made by artists who also lived between land and sea), as well as the conversation posited between works by Martin and Tawney. Tawney’s open-weave textile piece Seaweed, 1961, is full of delicate joys. What we discover is that the grid has remarkable evocations beyond the construction of vision in Western art history; more immediately and materially, for these artists it suggests the loom, sail rigging, fishing nets, and city blocks, whose redevelopment pushed artists out of the neighborhood by the late ’60s.

Natilee Harren

Tosha Stimage

City Limits
300 Jefferson Street
June 3–July 9

Tosha Stimage, Point & Shoot, 2017, woven rug, 60 x 36".

Tosha Stimage stages an analytical memorial of black mourning to address the loss of both life and meaning that accompany death turned into spectacle.

The language of flowers offers an entryway into the artist’s system: Her diptych painting Vanitas (all works 2017), featuring a diving human body (reminiscent of a chalk outline) filled with collaged flowers, alongside a panel of the title, renders a Conceptualist interest in sign systems as colored by floriography and the tradition of vanitas painting. What happens when the meanings of symbols and names are forgotten or misunderstood? On an adjoining wall, the mural For the Dead offers up dozens of nearly identical packets of forget-me-not seeds hung in a graveyard-like grid, substitutes for anonymous figures under the watchful eye of a monumental Hermes carrying blossoms arranged within the global corporate flower company FTD’s logo.

As a counterpoint to this kind of erasure, Stimage is also intrigued by what happens when the determination of content is merely delayed, in both the way we interpret symbols or everyday signals, and those other snap judgments that lead to the deaths of black people and the way they are quickly grieved via media blitz and then forgotten. A woven rug titled Point & Shoot depicts the back of a braided head, but the image is difficult to decipher, giving pause to a gaze that’s become inured to violence and turning the inability to interpret into a political call to slow down for vulnerability.

Monica Westin

Jorge Satorre

Gral. F. Ramirez 5, Daniel Garza, Del. Miguel Hidalgo
April 21–June 29

View of “Jorge Satorre: Moral Modern Subject, Decorating the Pit,” 2017.

In 1946, the Mexican architect Enrique del Moral bought the land where this gallery is located to build his own house and garden. Nearly sixty years later, the resultant iconic modernist building was modified, and in 2002 Fernando Romero built his own offices in the garden area. For his third solo exhibition here, Jorge Satorre takes up this history. He has opened up a gallery wall to connect the white cube with the garden. In front of the opened wall he dug a pit that exposes fragments of the former building’s foundations. He has embossed the inner surface of this ditch with casted elements from the garden, such as leaves and flowers, as well as paw prints from the gallerist’s dogs. The ornamentally decorated hole also served as a mold to produce a massive concrete sculpture, which is presented as the central work in the exhibition space. A rig that was used to bring in the sculpture remains in the installation, disclosing the cast’s spatial transfer and connecting the two spaces and their contexts.

In addition, Satorre offers a series of pencil drawings. These suggest chronological episodes: from the proposal of the show to milestones of its production process, which all serve as a setting for the artist’s own imagined theater, interweaving the real with the fictitious while creating Dionysian-like scenes of social interactions that seem to defy a purposeful and target-oriented task (for instance, workers are shown in a foundry while being absorbed in intimate, erotic intermezzi). Like in his previous works, Satorre traces the past by making visible multiple characters and narratives that are considered insignificant for their impact on the prevalent historiography.

Anna Goetz