Anna Conway

Fergus McCaffrey | New York
514 West 26th Street
November 1–December 23

Anna Conway, Potential, 2015, oil on canvas, 52 x 80".

In contemporary usage, ideas of luxury and aspiration tend to draw upon the same visual vocabulary. Architecturally speaking, this means the cool, clean lines of midtown modernism, accentuated by an expensive-looking emptiness. After all, true luxury implies exclusivity. For it to matter most, it must be yours, and yours alone.

Anna Conway attends to the slippages between the haves and have-nots with this able-bodied fleet of eight oil paintings. The images immerse viewers in the sleek surrealism of ad-ready landscapes, poured-concrete playgrounds for upmarket sedans or the kind of Arco-lit interiors where a handsome young man might present his exotic brunette—in this context, a blonde feels too cheap—with the little box that lets her know she’s “worth it.” The paintings’ titles tend to tout the formless virtues peddled on motivational posters: Determination, Devotion, Perseverance or, perhaps the most pliable, Potential (all 2015). The painter’s pristine execution echoes the would-be flawlessness of her settings, save for the soft intrusions, the orange extension cords, and pre-Keurig coffee pots that signal someone else’s presence. Figures themselves are rare and always seemingly accidental. For example, in Haniwa, 2017—named for the Japanese ritual mask propped on a pedestal in a vast, gallerylike space—the janitor stands rigidly fixed in the shadows, his floor polisher giving him away.

This preoccupation with questions of display reflects in Conway’s treatment of collected items (tabletop antiquities, di Suveroesque lawn sculptures, or even the taxidermied rhinoceros, rearing in the dark of a glass-roofed courtyard). The importance of these objects is that they can be owned, even as Conway’s larger composition glides just beyond the viewer’s grasp.

Kate Sutton

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones

Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
327 Broome Street
November 16–December 23

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Blue Dancer, 2017, oil on canvas, 68 x 54".

In all but one of the eight large paintings on view in Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’s assured solo debut, a curvaceous, androgynous figure, or pair, floats in space, twisting and turning ethereally through dense vegetation, the coils of a serpent, or gentle foliage that may well be underwater. Adeniyi-Jones’s compositions pack everything into a shallow plane. What appears at first to be rougher, more gestural brushwork—in, say, the upper right corner of an otherwise super-smooth canvas such as Blue Dancer, 2017—becomes, with a closer look, an almost divine source of light filtering into the picture, adding depth, enhancing color, and deepening the mystery of who, what, and when we are seeing.

Paintings such as Red Twins, 2016, owe an obvious debt to Matisse. The two Blue Dancer paintings included here, both 2017, seem inconceivable without the dramatic turn in Chris Ofili’s career to the blue paintings he began making in Trinidad twelve years ago. But the real engine of influence is the book giving this exhibition its name—Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit (1984), a magisterial study of how the visual arts and philosophies of five ancient African civilizations traveled from the old world to the new, with everything from cosmograms and ideographs to praise-chants and divination literature taking on radically new forms and purposes as they entered the cultural milieus of Mexico, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the American South.

Flash of the Spirit was first published not quite a decade before Adeniyi-Jones was born in London to a Yoruba family from Nigeria. Filled with drawings, photographic reproductions of priceless artifacts, and irresistible passages on notions of paradise and mystic coolness, Thompson’s book also provides a generous framework for the artist’s stylized vocabulary and playfulness with time.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Adam Putnam

535 West 22nd Street, Third Floor
November 16–December 23

Adam Putnam, Eclipse, 2016–17, gelatin silver print, 8 x 10".

The subjects of the fifty-four intimate photographs and eighty-four short films that comprise Adam Putnam’s exhibition “Portholes” include in situ windows and doors, disjunctive architectural elements, celestial light sources, ranks of trees, and spans of dune. Also, there is the occasional human, shrouded or otherwise obscured. The photos’ gauzy processing strips away detail so that bodies and objects take on a degree of abstraction. The blur is never so much as to imply nostalgia or squander Putnam’s precision; paradoxically, it clarifies. The result is a kind of cerebral psychedelia—Kenneth Anger on some mordant ADHD meds. In Cushions, 2016–17, a long, flat pillow almost levitates; in Sandman, 2016–17, a fracturing of white, black, and gray in myriad shades—seemingly a metallic blanket covering someone’s head and shoulders—frustrates visual resolution in the foreground. Almost anything planar seems as if it could “flip” visually and become not an object but a gateway. A trio of Corner works, numbered I, IV, and V, 2016–17, resemble that illusionistic line drawing that oscillates between suggesting a cube and a room. The moon appears in a work titled Eclipse, 2016–17, not as an object but as a cutout opening onto a realm of light.

The snippet-like films of Reclaimed Empire (2010–17) follow a similar path, a little clearer-eyed but perhaps more eerie for it, abetted by a sparse but abrasive analog-synth sound track juxtaposed with sounds of nature. A nude form crouched under a Plexiglas construction stretches a limb; black mist drifts within a plywood chamber in front of a black-tipped column; a lens flare yellows out the head of someone gazing toward the sun. Putnam’s commitment to film as a medium—the photographs in the show are mostly gelatin silver, unique, and made from large-format negatives collected over the last decade—is at least correlative with his work’s occult overtones. For something to dematerialize, after all, there first has to be a tangible object.

Domenick Ammirati

Anton Ginzburg

Fridman Gallery
287 Spring Street
November 14–December 21

View of “Anton Ginzburg: Staring and Cursing,” 2017.

A century ago, Russia’s October Revolution catapulted universalism from the worker’s table to the seat of state power, and the prospective elimination of class created fruitful opportunities for the avant-garde. Kazimir Malevich and his lesser known contemporaries, such as Mikhail Matyushin, sought to inaugurate a transcendental aesthetic language through abstraction and explore the limits of human perception—a project that underpins Anton Ginzburg’s current show.

In the center of the gallery, viewers encounter Sky Poles II, 2016, a duo of porcelain totems glazed in gradations of blue. Despite their earthly materiality, the columns seem to reach for the atmosphere and function as pylons granting entry to the immersive mural behind, Color-Space Initiative 2, 2017. Mint and cerulean rectangles become an abstract landscape layered with four panels of mirrored glass (“COEV Compositions,” 2016–, a separate series of works) to create a horizon line. Ginzburg studied and adapted the theories and methodologies of Matyushin, who hypothesized a mystical augmentation of human perception through artistic training. The result is a body of work that is deeply formal as well as phenomenological, beckoning viewers to perceive themselves in the here and now.

Ginzburg’s “ORRA” paintings, 2017, octagonal panels of geometric abstraction, utilize vibrant color combinations related to Matyushin’s extensive studies. They allude to something beyond, but their handmade tactility projects a sense of immanent presence. Stripes and squares of blue, peach, orange, and green, among other hues, conglomerate into a frontal cross composition. Colors push and pull, confusing figure and ground. Though Ginzburg’s exhibition laments the lost possibilities of a utopian abstraction, it proposes a hopeful future for painting, full of vitality and breath.

Owen Duffy

Phil Collins

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
November 2–December 16

Phil Collins, Tomorrow Is Always Too Long, 2014, video, color, sound, 91 minutes.

In baghdad screentests, 2002, he auditioned everyday Iraqis for a nonexistent Hollywood movie, throwing Andy Warhol’s example into the harrowing pause between international sanctions and a catastrophic war. In they shoot horses, 2004, he filmed two groups of teenagers in Ramallah, Palestine, who danced for eight hours straight, treading delicately toward ideas of heroism, exhaustion, and collapse through tracks by Beyoncé and Bananarama. In marxism today (prologue), 2010, he added a Stereolab sound track to the discomfiting creep of nostalgia for a set of systems and structures that failed, for all their promise.

If you’re of the opinion that the last of those works by Phil Collins is one of the best essay films by an artist ever made, then you might find his latest exhibition here curious—darker in mood, more ambitious in terms of material. An immersive installation surrounds the twenty-one-minute video Delete Beach, 2016, created in collaboration with a renowned anime studio in Japan. Small sand dunes spill through the lower gallery, strewn with cheap beach furniture, discarded milk crates, an abandoned walker, rubber tires, and pools of oil that bubble and shimmer to a light show. The film tells a totally convincing story about a post-oil economy gone dystopically wrong, pitting the First Wavers against the renegade, anticapitalist Burners.

Linked by a small selection of lithographs based on cel drawings from the making of the film, Delete Beach is paired here with Tomorrow Is Always Too Long, 2014, a complex, ninety-one-minute portrait of Glasgow as experienced through the extremes of its residents, including improbable young parents, wasted ravers, petty criminals, and angry mystics. The throughline, of course, is Collins’s pop sensibility and incomparable ear for music. Don’t miss the film’s “intermission,” featuring “voodoo-rave-sensations” Golden Teacher.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Yasue Maetake

The Chimney
200 Morgan Avenue
November 3–December 17

View of “Yasue Maetake: Reverse Subterrestrial,” 2017.

“Reverse Subterrestrial,” the title of Yasue Maetake’s exhibition here, suggests the dredging up of something buried. Indeed, her site-specific installation produces the strange sensation of plunging into the depths, even as you ascend the vertical space of the two-story structure. The artist’s immersive environment appears in states of both dissolution and becoming, conjuring postapocalyptic visions of slow but resolute regeneration. Maetake’s process is one of productive destruction: beating, boiling, and burning initiate physical transformations in materials that include steel, aluminum, fiber, tree bark, and animal bone. The resulting marks—stains, rust, and oxidation—create patinas and textures that evoke time’s passage, imbuing even the delicate handmade paper constructions with unexpected durability.

The juxtaposition of industrial metals, often forming large structural apparatuses, with more organic accretions conjures the sense of a long-abandoned built environment. Although the forms remain abstract, they loosely reference flora and fauna. Molded paper-pulp sculptures, sometimes activated with videos projected onto their craggy surfaces, look like aquatic plant life, while sprawling limbs of aluminum and graphite could belong to giant insects. When the structures evince a human presence, it is through objects rather than bodies: Rusted impressions on the surfaces of fiber pulp appear to have been made by pressing tools into the wet material, suggesting once-useful implements turned obsolete. The “Three-Legged Idol” series, 2014–17, intimately scaled tripods of bone and bark adorned with trinkets and origami constructions, evokes talismans imbued with the desires and superstitions of their makers. But overall, “Reverse Subterrestrial” is a posthuman environ, picturing a time and place in which humans have wrought untold destruction yet new life forms proliferate.

Paula Burleigh

Libby Rothfeld

178 Norfolk Street
November 5–December 17

Libby Rothfeld, Bulletin Board #1, 2017, laminate, water bottle, UV Plexi-prints, charcoal, tape, paper, thumb tack, 37 x 37 1/2 x 5".

Libby Rothfeld’s exhibition here, “Noon and Afternoon,” is chock-full of vessels not exactly yearning to be filled. Ruined cardboard boxes prop up seemingly flimsy laminate desk legs in Desk / System (all works 2017). Several empty and half-empty plastic water bottles sit atop the table and other sculptures in the show. Many of her titles include the word “system,” as if there’s some kind of steadfast order that needs to be reckoned with in these existentially unsettled and haunted objects. Both Rack / System and Chair / System are geometric, quasifunctional support structures for clothes that have been enshrouded by dry-cleaning bags. Seen together, they lament the roteness of adult professionalism: Bland garments in various shades of anemic yellow and dead chocolate—with the requisite white dress shirt—reinforce a horrible sense of status quo.

A water bottle fits perfectly in the top slot of Bulletin Board #1, a wall-mounted block on which there are two paper receipts, drawings of an outstretched hand, and inset Plexi-prints of bizarre sushi ads buried under clear packing tape. None of it looks particularly important, or appetizing. The words and images feel like traces of random thoughts, things that want to be special enough to be recollected but aren’t. Hand (Mask), a vinyl print of the phrase “Butternut squash x 3” written in pen on an open palm, is embellished by a goofy monkey-face mask fashioned from Ultracal. The print isn’t crisp; the mask is crude. Rothfeld is not beholden to perfection—her works embrace the homely, cast-off, and ordinary. But the artist creates an exceptional gestalt from her unapologetically “dumb” items and sources—a body of work that very much deserves to be remembered.

Yin Ho

“Charles White—Leonardo da Vinci.”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
October 7–January 3

Charles White, Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man), 1973, oil wash on board, 60 x 44".

What if all exhibitions were like this one—shrewd, focused, and rounded out by Vedic natal charts? For the “Artist’s Choice” genus here, David Hammons has paired Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man), 1973, a monumental work from the museum’s collection made with oil wash on board by his great Los Angeles–based teacher Charles White, with a powerful, complete sketch by Leonardo da Vinci: a small brush-and-ink study on paper, The drapery of a kneeling figure, ca. 1491–94, on loan from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Though they were made some 450 years apart, the coupling inspires chills, like a poignant song with a two-part harmony.

According to the detailed charts (by the astrologer Chakrapani Ullal), White was born with Virgo rising, and da Vinci with Sagittarius rising—both in the first half of April. Leave it to Hammons to notice the equivalence of their star sign, Aries, in addition to the ample formal resonances here—for instance, sfumato, a blurring effect like smoke or a cloud drifting over and dimming a surface, runs across both works. It produces a spellbinding result in Black Pope, a complex chorus of shapes in shades of brown and burnt umber that finds at its center a man in a heavy coat and scarf bearing a signboard overlaid with the word NOW. No better time. But who is this holy man? More will be revealed soon through context and history: White’s first major retrospective in several decades will tour the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA next year, and will finally land at LACMA in March 2019.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Hayv Kahraman

Jack Shainman Gallery | West 24th Street
524 West 24th Street
October 26–December 20

Hayv Kahraman, Mahaffa 1, 2017, oil on linen, 35 x 25". From the series “Mahaffa,” 2017.

For more than a decade, the Baghdad-born, Los Angeles–based artist Hayv Kahraman has been making paintings in a style that is unmistakably her own, mixing elements of Persian miniature and Renaissance portraiture with a vaguely Japanese aesthetic. She works on raw linen and leaves ample space untouched. She paints women with ghostly white skin, red lips, strong brows, and calligraphic shocks of black hair. The figures in painting after painting always appear to be the same person, with subtle variations. Kahraman has arranged them into sacrificial scenes; cast them as evil marionettes; as one waxing the mustache of another. Her levels of humor and pathos go up and down. But one may reasonably wonder to what extent Kahraman is repeating herself, getting stuck in her subject.

She offers a striking answer—and a way forward—in this show. Risking the total destruction of her work, Kahraman has lately taken to delivering her paintings to a facility in the garment district of Los Angeles, where they are systematically shredded and returned to her in strips (Strip 1, for example, all works 2017). She has cut the linen of one painting and woven it into another (in the series “Mahaffa” and “Mnemonic Artifact”), emulating the pattern of a braided palm-frond fan, which was one of the only sentimental objects her family packed into a single suitcase when they fled Iraq in 1992, traveling through Africa and the Middle East on false passports before settling as refugees in Sweden. Her furthest departure yet is a pair of near abstractions, T25 and T26, made from pamphlets that were distributed to US soldiers in Iraq, ostensibly guiding them, via pictograms, to understand a few phrases of Arabic and Kurdish for a hearts-and-minds campaign—or, more accurately, teach them the vocabulary of war.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Lewis Stein

Essex Street
55 Hester Street
October 29–December 22

Lewis Stein, Untitled, ca. 1968, billy club, nail, 34 × 1 × 1".

After reading Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Structure of Behavior (1942) while studying architecture at MIT, Lewis Stein developed an interest in dance and subsequently took classes at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967. During a summer workshop with Anna Halprin that year, participants went on a field trip to Mendocino. When prompted to build structures on the beach, Stein dug a hole. Shortly afterward, the artist began the subtly anarchistic body of works on display here, whose functions are associated with the regulation and policing of space.

The objects, all Untitled, generate a pervasive atmosphere of malaise. This could be attributed to how these items are used for control and, simultaneously, the impotence rendered by their display as art. Some of the pieces include a wooden billy club, ca. 1968, which hangs by a nail at the entrance to the gallery. There’s also a set of stanchions and red velvet rope, ca. 1971, interlocked in a configuration that outlines an enclosed space in the center of the gallery. A chrome-plated rail, ca. 1972, stands in front of a working push-button door buzzer, ca. 1976. And a functioning sodium streetlamp, ca. 1979–80, with its original steel extension arm, is installed on a wall only eight feet from the ground, suffusing everything with its warm light. Isolated and stripped of their abilities to punish, regulate, or restrict, Stein’s works present a kind of realism predicated on the physiological response to stimulus—a rare opportunity to be intimate with a set of specific spatial relationships that govern conduct.

Tabitha Piseno

Maryam Hoseini

Rachel Uffner Gallery
170 Suffolk Street
November 5–December 23

Maryam Hoseini, Don’t Talk about Women If You Are a Liar (detail), 2017, acrylic, ink, pencil, latex, dimensions variable.

Maryam Hoseini wields abstraction as a tool for flattening and blending social space. In “Of Strangers and Parrots,” her first solo show with this gallery, stripes become serpents, limbs become lakes, and penciled-in leg hairs become hieroglyphs. Whole figures are discernable, but they are piled on top of one another or stacked. This collapse of body and background into airless, stylized planes creates unease.

The people in Hoseini’s paintings live on thin margins. The artist hints at their identities with declarative titles such as Don’t Talk about Women If You Are a Liar, Women Liars Are Losers, and Liars Make Women Promise (all works 2017). It is, of course, impossible to separate the women from the liars—Hoseini seems to simultaneously revel in and reject this state of discomfiture.

By laying bare feelings of confinement and confusion with art-historical imagery, Hoseini sets a stage for looking at homosocial spaces and the paradoxical ways they are preserved in contemporary life. Whether it’s a bathroom in New York City or a hammam in her native Iran, these spaces have continually provided the architecture for the oppression of the other. But rather than shy away from her involvement in this terrain, the artist implicates herself in its construction and maintenance through her own false dichotomies: liars versus women, abstraction versus figuration. By creating a heightened sense of self-awareness, Hoseini asks viewers to give themselves over to intersectional thinking.

Kat Herriman

Andrew Cannon

White Columns
320 West 13th Street, Entrance on Horatio)
November 4–December 16

Andrew Cannon, Beaver, Real Estate, John Astor, 2017, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, plastic resin, urethane foam, polystyrene, foam, pigment, 64 x 48 x 8".

When a beaver makes its lodge, it’s an instinctual operation. The final structure is awkward, jutting, but has a peculiar beauty all its own. In the bottom left corner of Andrew Cannon’s Beaver, Real Estate, John Astor (all works 2017)—one of the wall-mounted, relief-like works in the current show, his first solo in New York—we see a profile of the titular creature (the beaver, not Astor), likely working on its house. Cannon’s gripping pieces take the beaver’s process as a model through which to think about artmaking: an unwieldy accretion of gestures and synaptic firings that are totally animal but capable of yielding otherworldly results.

At first sight, Cannon’s works appear to be heavy ceramics, as their “glazed” surfaces suggest fired clay. But upon closer examination the pieces are revealed to be made of urethane foam, among many other things—holographic foil, oil paint, putty, and gold leaf, to name a few—coated in pigment and epoxy resin. Epoxy is often used to seal metals, which adds a mechanical sheen to industrial surfaces. But the effect here feels handmade, like someone’s first stab at pottery, or Rosemarie Trockel’s memorable deformations of such craft media. Landscape recurs throughout: Italy in Goethe looks like a dirty slab of emerald and possesses the natural majesty of a scintillating geode. In Carnation Sign, there’s a mushroom with perfectly rendered gills. Above it, crystalline flowers bloom—an ecological image rife with the ecstatic. Cannon’s sculptures are newfangled objects that play with sensations and sensibilities as old as time.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Valeska Soares

Alexander Gray Associates
510 West 26th Street
October 26–December 16

Valeska Soares, Epilogue (detail), 2017, mixed media, 3' 11“ x 18' 3” x 3' 10".

“This is a true story,” begins the text on a page torn from the back of a book, humbly framed and inconspicuously placed at the start—or is it the finish?—of Valeska Soares’s first show here. Located on the second floor, the piece isn’t on the checklist. It both is and is not part of the show. It marks a new beginning and at the same time signals continuity, introducing the installation Epilogue, 2017, an epic variation on Finale, 2013. Finale consists of an antique dining table topped with mirrored glass and covered with dozens of dainty vintage drinking glasses, all of them filled with spirits. Epilogue features five such tables, end to end, with many times more glasses and an almost overwhelming smell of alcohol. To walk into the room is to wonder: What kind of extravagant party was this, and what cleared out the revelers so quickly that none of them downed their drinks? The text on the page continues: “. . . although some names and details have been changed to protect the guilty.”

Born in Brazil in the 1950s and based in Brooklyn since the 1990s, Soares specializes in a kind of domestic terror that is familiar to an international generation of feminist artists whose works span old worlds and new, intimations of home and exile, evocations of liberation and restraint. Where Soares differs from her contemporaries is in how she finds and alters pre-existing materials. The new series of paintings “Doubleface,” 2017, includes four portraits of women, variously procured, which have been turned to face the wall, painted monochromatically, cut, and folded to reveal eyes, a nose, and, in one case, hands. They are ambiguous objects, and perhaps not totally convincing as images, but they are wholly in keeping with Soares’s love of mystery and drama.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Jacqueline Humphries

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street, Ground floor and 8th Floor
October 27–December 16

View of “Jacqueline Humphries,” 2017.

In the 1960s, US-government bureaucrats and corporate tinkerers developed ASCII, a symbolic code that uses the Roman alphabet to represent images. In the 1980s, its early adoption on the Usenet gave rise to ideograms for graphics—foreshadowing our current preoccupation with memes. Adapting this early-internet nostalgia with a nod to those who have apocalyptic visions of painting’s demise, Jacqueline Humphries’s recent abstract canvases hum with a frenetic energy, buoyed by their scale and thickly textured surfaces.

For these most recent paintings, Humphries has reinterpreted—or “cannibalized,” in the artist’s words—her past work, piling up laser-cut stencils of emoji and kaomoji in pieces such as (#J^^) (all works 2017), where smiley faces repeat and coalesce almost sculpturally, inviting viewers to decode the artist’s inscrutable layers. The broad, red, gestural strokes of TQ555 recall Cy Twombly’s later paintings, and the pocked surface left by the stencils adds another effervescent rhythm.

Humphries has championed innovation in abstraction, freeing it from its often self-serious origins (think of the artist’s groovy black-light paintings, which she started in 2005). But a sense of alarm can be detected in the artist’s mind: One large canvas streaked with swaths of yellow paint, under which a big, stressed-out figure can be seen, is titled simply Worried Emoji:).

Tausif Noor

José Leonilson

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
September 27–February 3

José Leonilson, O ilha (The Island One), 1991, thread and metal on canvas, 14 x 11".

José Leonilson was born in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1957––seven years before the military coup that kept the country under the rule of military dictatorship until 1985. He spent most of his career working in São Paulo and traveling around the world until his untimely death due to complications resulting from AIDS in 1993, at the age of thirty-six. While his career was coterminous with the rise of the 1980s generation of Brazilian painters exploring a postdictatorship Brazil, his complex and diaristic intimacies set him apart from his peers.

Leonilson once said that he only made work intended for people he loved. Works on view here include collage, fabric assemblages, paintings, and drawings that use poetics and other discursive strategies to grapple with an emotional self-portraiture under a death sentence. O ilha (The Island One), 1991, is a small, spare canvas with an enrobed figure embroidered onto the surface. He stands next to the Portuguese title—a combination of masculine article and feminine noun—atop the words “handsome, selfish.” The work processes Catholic religiosity, familial fealty, and desire through a queered metaphor for loneliness. Saquinho (Small Bag), 1992, is a vibrant orange pouch, cinched tightly with copper wire and embroidered with Leonilson’s initials, “J. L.,” and his age at the time, “35.” It is a rendering of the self as vessel, container, pocket. We are left to wonder if the bag is representative of him keeping his diagnosis from his family or if it is a work about trying to hold onto something of himself before cachexia set in.

This exquisite and intelligently curated survey also lays bare a certain institutional egregiousness. We are indeed lucky to be gifted with this first-ever solo exhibition of Leonilson’s work in the United States; however, it begs the question: Why, despite the commercial and institutional visibility of artists who deal with sexuality, mortality, and disease, such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres and David Wojnarowicz, has a body of work of this political importance and poetic urgency remained largely unknown?

John Arthur Peetz

Raghubir Singh

The Met Breuer
945 Madison Avenue
October 11–January 2

Raghubir Singh, Monsoon Rains, Monghyr, Bihar, 1967, C-print, 9 1/2 x 14".

Raghubir Singh’s first camera was a gift from an older brother, who brought it back from a trip to Hong Kong. Singh, fourteen at the time, used the camera to join the photography club at his Jesuit high school in Jaipur. He took pictures constantly and developed them in a rudimentary black-and-white darkroom. On one of his parents’ bookshelves, he found a book of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work in India and pored over it intently.

Singh went to college to study history but dropped out. He needed to find a job. It was only after he applied to nearly every tea company in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and was rejected by all of them that he turned to photography as a career. Starting in the 1960s, he worked as a photojournalist—magazines offered him decent pay and unlimited access to Kodachrome slide film—and then settled into a rhythm of self-directed projects, which found their fullest expression in books (Singh published thirteen in his lifetime, with a fourteenth released posthumously). He died instantly of a massive heart attack in 1999, just fifty-six.

This most comprehensive retrospective of Singh’s photography to date, “Modernism on the Ganges,” tells the story of his life and work through eighty-five of his pictures. Singh held close to the influences of Cartier-Bresson and the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, a lifelong friend. But while they stuck to a black-and-white vision of the world, Singh drew upon eighteenth-century Rajput miniatures and the more colloquial twentieth-century tradition of hand-coloring studio portraiture. The show delicately punctuates its loosely chronological narrative with comparative images, tracing out Singh’s sources of inspiration, the work of his peers, and younger photographers whom he mentored. It allows for an incredible accumulation of detail, building in complexity toward a surprisingly nimble argument about color, photography, modernism, and a porous world.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Elia Alba

The 8th Floor
17 West 17th Street, 8th Floor
September 21–January 12

Elia Alba, The Spiritualist (Maren Hassinger), 2013, ink-jet print, 20 x 30".

The sixty individual portraits of nonwhite artists taken by Elia Alba for her current exhibition here, titled “The Supper Club,” are mostly of people she came to know through a series of dinner parties she organizes. Topics surrounding race, the art world, and visual culture are frequently discussed at these events, and the project became an expansive, multidimensional discourse on selfhood and politics.

Alba tailors each portrait to the artist. She chooses an assortment of backdrops, props, and costumes to accentuate her sitters’ personae while subtly highlighting their contributions to the cultural landscape. The titular artist in The Spiritualist (Maren Hassinger), 2013, for example, makes work that explores nature as a complex and psychological space for political and personal transformation. She appears as a dancing vision dressed in white, surrounded by violet foliage. In The Provocateur (Coco Fusco), 2013, Fusco—famous for a rigorous multidisciplinary practice that interrogates colonialism, gender, and race—stares intensely at the camera, practically burning a hole through the viewer. The performance artist featured in The Thespian (Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz), 2014, looks like an old Hollywood screen siren. She clutches a strand of pearls and points her eyes heavenward, a figure ensconced and confident in her own glamour.

Through the work Alba provides her community with a solid stage that connects it to the rest of the world. Her pictures add a theatrical dimension to concepts of identity, blurring the hard boundaries of “difference” into something more slippery and beautiful.

Naomi Lev

“War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics”

American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at 66th Street
September 6–January 7

Artist unknown, Sailor’s Quilt, late nineteenth century, wool felt, embroidery thread, 90 x 70".

Hands with rifles in them seem like better playthings for the devil than just idle ones, but most of the devastatingly beautiful nineteenth-century quilts on view here are the products of assiduous busywork that likely kept the British Empire’s working-class soldiers and sailors out of trouble in their leisure time. Blood-red, blue, gold, and cream hues dominate the rich, matte mosaics, which are sewn from thousands of tiny hexagons, diamonds, triangles, and squares, excised primarily from the heavy wool of military uniforms. While some of these quilts are embroidered with heraldic or narrative elements—crowns, cannons, ships, or flags—such embellishments are afterthoughts to their exquisite geometric patterning. With their suede-like texture, meticulous construction, and palpable heft, they are seductive objects regardless of their backstories. But the eerie gravitas that distinguishes them derives from imagining the men sewing in their quiet hours, delicately handling fabrics that may have seen the chaos and horror of the Crimean War, Britain’s ruthless imperial expansion in Africa, or the brutal enforcement of colonial rule in India.

The wall text tiptoes around the global role of its (mostly anonymous) male quilters, referencing their hardships in some detail while largely avoiding acknowledgment of the murderous rapacity of the British and the atrocities committed—perhaps by some of these crafters personally—in the very euphemistically termed “volatile landscapes” where they were stationed. And while I wanted more discussion of how the formal characteristics of these textiles might be influenced by local traditions, especially given the prominence of exoticism in the decorative arts of the Victorian era, credit is given where due to the extent it’s possible. The most gorgeous quilts, featuring brighter colors, intricate appliqué work, and beading, are those from mid-to-late-nineteenth-century India. So virtuosic are their design and construction, the accompanying description notes that they are not always the work of untrained infantry but sometimes of regimental or—surprise, surprise—Indian tailors.

Johanna Fateman