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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

Tania Pérez Córdova

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA Chicago)
220 East Chicago Avenue
April 15–August 20

Tania Pérez Córdova, They say a lot, 2015, glass, plywood, 2 1/4 x 22 x 17 4/5".

Tania Pérez Córdova’s “Smoke, Nearby” is a hushed assembly of sculptures that indicate their fragmentation. The wall text next to We Focus on a Woman Facing Sideways, 2013/17, lists, among the piece’s materials, a single crystal earring and the brass bar on which it is hung, along with “a woman wearing the other earring.” An accompanying explanation notes that until the jewelry “is reunited with its mate, the sculpture exists in both places simultaneously.” A Man Flexing His Biceps to Show Off His Strength (Dropped Things Are Bound to Sink), 2012/17—the muscular contours of a bent arm impressed into a block of orthopedic foam—likewise comprises the activation by persons unseen as much as the residue of an object on display.

If Marx called for a material accounting of a society’s means of production, Córdova complies with a series of careful reveals offered both by the artist’s typically handsome, evocatively minimalist objects formed from their surrounding conditions, and by the texts that accompany them. In From “Us” to “Us,” 2017, a glass tile taken from the museum’s ceiling has been folded into a lilting curve and presented on the floor below where it was previously installed. Beyond bodies and buildings, data networks also bear on Córdova’s works, such as Voice, 2013, in which a borrowed SIM card is embedded in porcelain, and all calls attempting to reach that number are redirected. 10 Mexican Pesos, 1 US Dollar, 10 Mexican Pesos, 1 Mexican Peso, 2017, uses the artist’s metal casts of her home and host country’s currencies as a simple reminder of the assumptions that back divergent systems of valuation and differentiate between the legal tender of a national economy and its sculptural renderings.

Matt Morris

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

David Scanavino

Moody Center for the Arts
6100 Main Street, MS-480, Rice University
June 3–August 26

David Scanavino, Repeater, 2017, vinyl composite tile and high-density fiberboard, 23 x 56 x 48'. Installation view.

Brooklyn-based artist David Scanavino’s site-specific installation Repeater, 2017, only the second exhibition to appear in the soaring atrium gallery of this new center, is made up of a massive tessellation of industrially produced vinyl composite tiles, the kind one typically finds covering the floors of school lunchrooms, fitness centers, and hospitals. The viewer is discouraged from such associations, however, by the work’s decorative arrangement of bold candy colors, approximating an aimless labyrinth or Tetris game with no symmetry or center. Abutting hues vibrate before the eyes like an immense Color Field painting spread beneath one’s feet (imagine a dance floor designed by Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly), and the tiles, arranged in alternating patterns, create the illusion of a swirling, roiling surface. Additionally, the whole composition is skewed in relation to the venue’s floor so that, in order to fit, two of the piece’s corners stretch high up the adjacent walls.

Doubling down on the Moody’s stated mission, Repeater is billed as “a platform for interactivity,” playing host to public gatherings around jazz ensembles, meditation, yoga, dance, poetry readings, capoeira, and even strength training. All of this is visible to the outside through vast windows that realize architect Michael Maltzan’s concept of the building as a lantern or beacon. As such, both art and architecture participate in supplanting the white-cube model with that of a glass box—one that is empty, waiting to be activated, and thus always inherently incomplete.

Natilee Harren

“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

Paul Druecke

Milwaukee Art Museum
700 N. Art Museum Drive
May 12–August 13

Paul Druecke, untitled, n.d., C-print. From the series “A Social Event Archive,” 1997–2007.

Paul Druecke’s series “A Social Event Archive,” 1997–2007, forms a typology of American social life—weddings and birthday parties, graduations and high school dances, baseball games, buffet lines, and card nights. Over the course of ten years, the artist solicited photographs by traveling door to door in his Milwaukee neighborhood, completing the project the year the iPhone was unleashed and photo albums dissipated into the digital. The result is 731 images that span the American Century, ranging from the monochrome print to the glossy color snapshot, the ceremoniously posed to the candid, in a celebration of the everyday.

Druecke’s crowd-sourced archive joins other encyclopedic surveys of daily life, such as August Sander’s “People of the Twentieth Century,” 1892–1954, or Ed Ruscha’s postwar gas stations and swimming pools. They all share a database aesthetic, in which the collection, endless and multiform, supersedes any narrative order and the meaning of the photograph lies in its status as excerpt.

The pictures here are sequenced by date of submission, rather than chronology, resulting in one long seam of a jumbled collective history, mostly displayed in cases that track the circumference of the gallery. The formal order of the line imposes a structure on what would otherwise seem fiercely arbitrary. The images are mysterious in the way that all photographs, once loosed from their original context, become surreal. It’s hard not to read the series as an elegy of sorts—for both the quaint materiality of the analog and, more poignantly in the age of extreme individualism, the social itself.

Anya Ventura

Diana Al-Hadid

San Jose Museum of Art
110 South Market Street
February 24–September 24

Diana Al-Hadid, Nolli’s Orders, 2012, steel, polymer gypsum, fiberglass, wood, foam, plaster, aluminum foil, pigment, 13 1/2 x 19 x 10'.

Under a barrel-vaulted skylight, Diana Al-Hadid’s monumental sculpture Nolli’s Orders, 2012, glistens as if wet, a tiered fountain’s downward currents frozen into stalactites. Reclining on fragile palafittes are casts of human models, their limbs languorously arrayed. The figures and their environment all share the same bone-china hue, veined with pastel green, yellow, pink, and the silver of tinfoil. Al-Hadid’s primary materials are both surface and support. Mixing pigment into polymer gypsum, the artist makes color central to the sculpture’s form, rather than a decorative addition.

Many of Al-Hadid’s visual citations are drawn from two-dimensional representations of buildings. “Liquid City” includes several of these sources (a Piranesi etching and eighteenth-century maps), which aren’t so much decoders for her work as windows onto the associative logic that fuels her expansive bricolage. The large polymer gypsum painting Mob Mentality, 2014, visually references the ribbed vaults and gold leaf of Giovanni di Paolo’s Legend of Saints, 1470. An untitled drawing on Mylar from 2012 is more abstract but features pointed arches soaring like mountain peaks in cool aqua tones.

Nolli’s Orders refers to Gianbattista Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome, which was unique for its graphic distinction between public and private spaces. The challenge of representing space is, of course, also at the heart of sculpture. Al-Hadid’s many Renaissance references raise the stakes. Even in paintings so overtly concerned with the convincing use of linear perspective in a two-dimensional environment, Al-Hadid manages to tease out spaces that are both real and otherworldly.

Kim Beil