Alberto Giacometti

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
1071 Fifth Avenue
June 8–September 12

Alberto Giacometti, Diego au manteau (Diego with a Windbreaker), 1954, painted plaster, 15 x 13 1/2 x 9 1/2".

“Giacometti” is no blockbuster, but this retrospective succeeds thanks to its modesty—much like the artist’s own. The sculptor found no mood, idea, or quandary that he could not render from a chunk of white plaster. No other modern relied so heavily on the old-fashioned stuff. One senses the art’s inner world of white, even before seeing the show’s photomurals of his famously disheveled and astonishingly narrow studio, where he also slept. He moved into the place at twenty-five and never left. He said, “It gets bigger every year.”

As vivacious, pervy, and necessary as Alberto Giacometti’s surrealist pieces are to us today, he dismissed them entirely shortly after World War II, when he dedicated himself to working from life. The tide of recent Giacometti exhibitions and publications, and the 2017 biopic, also favor his work from sitters, in addition to the artist’s tales of “failure.” He likely would have been content to destroy everything he made, but his watchful brother Diego, his essential model (and his only mold-maker), saved some of the artist’s best pieces. A typical work modeled after his sibling—Diego au manteau (Diego with a Windbreaker), 1954, for instance—has a fist-size head with scored features, more scratched-in drawing than sculpture. Giacometti called his busts failures. They are ravaged, but for us they are miracles of presence.

The camera certainly loved Giacometti. But looking at any picture of him at work, one notices that his models are frequently poor substitutes for the objects themselves. His sculptures are more of everything: articulate, present, alive. Gaze into a figure’s eyes: the thing is too true. A portrait from life? Perhaps the unblinking demon of life itself.

Brandt Junceau

“Extra”

The Hole
312 Bowery
June 28–August 12

Cristina BanBan, Sunset con las chicas (Sunset with the Girls), 2018, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 59 x 80".

There are no white walls in “Extra,” the Hole’s current group exhibition. The show’s nineteen works are hung on vast expanses of lavender with black polka dots—a lucid indication of what is already bursting at its thematic seams. “Extra” is an audacious, no-holds-barred celebration of womanhood in its many forms. A lusciously full depiction of femininity, the vibrant, tongue-in-cheek collection of paintings subversively renders signifiers of beauty—that is, whiteness, thinness, submissiveness—as entirely irrelevant. These women, in all their sexy, self-possessed, and full-figured gloriousness, want you to know that they are here for themselves, and themselves only.

Upon entering, one is greeted by a glamorous editorial of four swimsuit-clad beachgoers pouting for an imaginary camera in Cristina BanBan’s Sunset con las chicas (Sunset with the Girls), 2018. The work’s voluptuous central figure dangles a pair of cat-eye sunglasses between two fingers as she lounges on a beach towel, maintaining unwavering eye contact with the viewer. Her expression communicates a wry sense of knowing—one in which she is comfortable being looked upon but which simultaneously challenges viewers’ comfort in their own subjectivity as beholders. Echoed by the immediately recognizable style of Fernando Botero’s velvety rotund figures (seen here giving major side-eye in Society Woman, 2003), the incandescent, thick-limbed, and bubblegum-pink nude of George Rouy’s SING?!, 2018, offers the image of an otherworldly siren, instantly arresting in her atypical (yet equally beguiling) beauty. She is captured in a moment of uninhibited repose, head tilted in mid-croon and indifferent to the audience or any kind of body anxiety.

The exhibition’s playfulness could be mistaken for frivolousness—but the show’s joyous heart is where its power lies. “Extra” provides ample space for its wild women to frolic, lounge, slump, and gyrate as they please.

Keegan Brady

Igor Hosnedl

Downs & Ross
96 Bowery, 2nd floor
June 20–August 3

Igor Hosnedl, I open into dark, 2018, handmade pigments in glue on canvas, 53 1/2 x 35 1/2".

Painter Igor Hosnedl’s “The Opening of the Wells” takes its name from a 1955 chamber cantata by the composer Bohuslav Martinů. The composition celebrates the magical flourishing of spring throughout the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands of Czechia. Here, the Czech-born Hosnedl also embraces the season’s sensuousness and grand, mystical dimensions.

In Emerald Twilight (all works 2018), one of five canvases on view, primavera has blossomed. A silhouette of a nude female figure reclines into a curtain of lush, leafy greenery. The scene is intoxicating—the picture’s rich absinthe hues seduce the psyche. From under the woman’s arm, thick locks of hair appear to sway, perhaps from a light breeze, while at her feet an unspoiled fruit casts a long and beautiful shadow. In the distance, a shallow body of water, rendered in shades of marigold and cornflower, is the recipient of some fleeting warmth from a setting sun.

Pagan iconography can be found everywhere in Hosnedl’s show. In I open into dark, daylight disappears into serene darkness. Beneath the yellow sliver of a crescent moon, a flock of amorphous, birdlike creatures dances across an ink-blue sky—the designs could’ve been lifted from an ancient Minoan urn. The nude figure returns in this work, shimmering like an earth goddess molded from bronze. She is depicted only from the waist down, a symbol of divine fecundity. As with Martinů’s illustrious piece of music, Hosnedl’s images succeed in tapping into springtime’s metaphysical countenance and midnight heart.

Gabriel H. Sanchez

Ana Mendieta

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling
898 St. Nicholas Avenue
October 12–September 23

Ana Mendieta, Parachute, 1973, 1/2-inch reel-to-reel videotape transferred to digital media, black-and-white, sound, 7 minutes 9 seconds.

The major facts of Ana Mendieta’s life and work are well established. She was born in Cuba in 1948. Her family, at odds with Fidel Castro, sent her to the United States when she was twelve. A program run by the CIA and the Catholic Church landed her in foster care. She studied painting but was increasingly drawn to performance. Her materials included mud, feathers, blood, and her own body. She moved to New York and joined the feminist AIR Gallery. She met the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, fell in love, and plunged to her death from the window of his apartment. She died at thirty-six but had accomplished so much as an artist—her work varied incredibly across a single decade—that her estate is still discovering new things: notably, three pieces dating from a little-known time in her life, when she worked as a school teacher in Iowa City and made her students’ capacity for imaginative play central to her practice.

Those works—including the single-channel video Parachute and the sound piece Untitled (Soul), both 1973—form the core of this novel exhibition, “Thinking About Children’s Thinking.” In the wobbly black-and-white video, we see Mendieta’s students turning a parachute into a dome-like dwelling, as peals of laughter sound across the playground. In the grainy audio, we hear them speculating wildly on what the soul of a person might be. Elsewhere, Mendieta’s famous Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants), 1972, is presented, ingeniously, as a game of dress-up. Does all of this work as a show for kids? Not really. The museum’s security staff exerts too much control over their behavior in the space for them to have much fun. But as a refreshing approach to an all too tragic story, it opens up a world of possibilities for new scholarship and all-ages exhibition-making.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Chaim Soutine

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue
May 4–September 16

Chaim Soutine, Carcass of Beef, ca. 1925, oil on canvas, 55 x 42".

At the entrance to “Flesh,” a survey of Chaim Soutine’s meat still lifes, we are greeted by an oil on canvas of a dead rayfish (Still Life with Rayfish, ca. 1924), inspired by a Chardin painting. The titular creature hangs flag-like, facing the viewer with empty eyes and a wide-open mouth that wavers between song and scream—an ecstatic martyr for the dinner table.

Like all of the paintings in this show, Rayfish reminds us that the pleasure of consumption relies on the pain and sacrifice of others—an understanding that should prompt us to give meals the solemnity of ritual they deserve. This is a simple message, but Soutine delivers it with exquisite beauty and force. Take the pair of fowl laid gently on a white tablecloth, as if on a silken casket veil (Two Partridges on a Table, ca. 1926), or the painting of three silvery fish on a plate, flanked by forks (Still Life with Herrings, ca. 1916); the entrée shimmers like the cutlery waiting to descend upon it. Soutine’s images of chickens have a decidedly Jewish inflection: Plucked and strung-up, the birds recall kapparot, a Yom Kippur tradition in which human sins are symbolically transferred to a chicken that is later killed in atonement.

Yet the exhibition’s centerpiece is the beef—much like a hearty supper. One section features pictures of butchered cows and oxen, their exposed bones and innards a gruesome tangle of black, jaundiced yellow, and a lacquered red so deep it appears to have the stickiness and gleam of congealed blood. These images, especially Carcass of Beef, ca. 1925, are haunting. The slaughter is still fresh.

Hannah Stamler

Jason Dodge

Casey Kaplan
121 West 27th Street
June 21–July 26

View of “Jason Dodge,” 2018.

Presented without specific details—such as work titles, dates, or any other elucidating information—Jason Dodge’s puzzle of an exhibition encourages viewers to make their own sense of the seemingly incongruous objects dispersed across the gallery floor. Reflecting his engagement with poetry, Dodge does not treat his ready-made materials as indifferent objects, but rather as charged symbols to be arranged in service of allegorical readings. It doesn’t take long for themes to materialize: Migration, displacement, and transience are just a few.

The dead bees and ant traps that line walls and dot corners offer up a grim tale of migration as infestation—a framing often employed by hard-core nationalists across the United States and Europe. An empty birdcage rests between two pigeon-seed bags that are chillingly stuffed with feathers, becoming makeshift pillows. The bed linens found throughout not only transpose the private and domestic to a public setting but conjure up blankets used by immigrant street vendors to display their wares. Itinerant markets are alluded to in a sculpture featuring sheets and an electric blanket stacked atop an open cash register containing foreign currency and wishbones.

Stripped of their functionality and removed from circulation, Dodge’s commonplace materials propose meaning, however indeterminate, as an alternative to use and exchange value. A series of three-legged chairs twisted into knots are bound by computer cables and balanced on drinking glasses; outmoded video projectors suggest an abandoned ersatz theater; a curious collection of scraps and spare parts resembles a transient’s encampment. Like the birdcage, Dodge’s arrangements point to an absence—specifically, our accountability for the assembled objects and this surreal landscape.

Chris Murtha

Math Bass

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown
745 Fifth Avenue
April 26–July 27

Math Bass, Newz!, 2018, gouache on canvas, 84 x 82". From the series “Newz!,” 2013–.

Caution. Hazard. Falling rocks. With their flat, clear-cut shapes and bold colors, the paintings of Math Bass recall wordless road signs: dangers distilled to their starkest, most essential forms. What perils or pleasures lie ahead, however, are less easy to decipher. The New York–born, Los Angeles–based artist has coined a style somewhere between representation and abstraction, where communication breaks down.

But if Bass skewers visual and written languages for their inability to convey certain experiences, she seasons her semiotics with a dash of humor. Several forms—a cadmium-red cone, a rectangular box with a suggestive black slit, the open jaws of an alligator—appear in different configurations. Speech bubbles become cartoon bones and balls with truncated cocks. The paintings, all part of the artist’s ongoing “Newz!” series, 2013–, could be stills from a single animation or the building blocks of an early PC game. They work best as a group, as these canvases are syllables. Together they form a Dada poem for the age of advertising, a comic strip by way of Paul Rand and Ellsworth Kelly.

Four plywood towers, Dog and Fog, 2018, emit recorded chants, which do not contribute much, other than noise, to the exhibition. More interesting is the anthropomorphic sculpture in the gallery’s smallest room. A tapered canvas tube in speedball red lies on an electric-blue slab like a sacrificial offering. Reminiscent of an empty body bag, Evacuated Figure, 2018, introduces a welcome shot of pathos into what might otherwise have been a too-slick show. There are, we sense, casualties in this coded world.

Zoë Lescaze

“Rockwell, Roosevelt, and the Four Freedoms”

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West, at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
May 25–September 2

View of “Rockwell, Roosevelt, and the Four Freedoms,” 2018.

On Juneteenth, Nikki Haley declared that the United States had left the UN Human Rights Council. You could see it coming. But to do it on that particular day, under the supercilious rationale that the HRC wasn’t “worth its name” because it has members “like China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Venezuela,” only served to underscore the US’s own past and present of slavery and torture, of cruelly separating parents and children.

The still-emerging political project of human rights has been unfortunately stained by imperialist impulses, power-mongering, and greed. That truth quietly snakes its way throughout this sprawling multimedia extravaganza of a show, even as your heart breaks to be reminded—through Norman Rockwell’s signature style—of the utopist boilerplate rights language affirmed by FDR: freedoms of speech and worship, freedoms from want and fear. These tenets of classical liberalism were directly incorporated into the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt and a focus of the last room in this show. Was it all so easy then? Of course not. Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and Wendy Brown have claimed in different ways what’s wrong with universal human rights, but I wonder what they’d say in the wake of this past Juneteenth.

A thought: If the project of human rights can be reframed as a continuing goal of instituting legal obligations, then can it be rethought today as a radical project? Might this oversize exhibition prompt us to consider rights tactics that haven’t yet been approached (and not what is merely “under threat,” as some journalists have already argued)? And, as Trump abandons a long-standing US bipartisan tradition, to say nothing of the rule of law, is it a complete irony that while talking about compassion I don’t feel anything but murderous, bloodthirsty rage?

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin

David Lewis
88 Eldridge Street, Fifth Floor
June 1–July 28

Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, Madame de Void: A Melodrama, 2018, video, color, sound, 45 minutes.

At the beginning of Madame de Void: A Melodrama, 2018, the titular lady laments that her notion of identity as a constructed and performative event has become utterly passé. The video, a collaboration between Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, is the centerpiece of their exhibition here. Bernstein stars as Ms. de Void, a villainess who harvests dogs for the creation of luxurious fur coats, à la Cruella de Vil. Blot, a pup played by Rubin, is this year’s pick of the litter. As time passes, Blot magically picks up critical theory, displaying a remarkable ability to understand such thinkers as Jacques Lacan and Ferdinand de Saussure. This causes Madame to fall in love with him. The animality and animatedness of self, acted out via diva and doggie drag, melts species and gender lines. “Everything today must have a claim to the sincere,” laments Madame. It is the work’s great virtue to reject sincerity: sexual, theoretical, and otherwise.

Madame de Void is dedicated to George Kuchar, whose spirit is reflected in its abject aesthetics and anarchic approach to the body. Yet rather than adopt Kuchar’s madcap pace, Bernstein and Rubin unveil the range of their perversities slowly, producing a stretched-out space for thought that, initially, seems at odds with the video’s theatrical affectedness. It’s a dilation rather than an explosion—a feeling more in line with the zombified camp of Warhol’s cinema. Or perhaps even Jean Genet’s only film, Un chant d’amour (A Song of Love, 1950). Blot, after all, is a fan of the author.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Bodys Isek Kingelez

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
May 26–January 1

Bodys Isek Kingelez, Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other various materials, 51“ x 73” x 10' 5".

There are three key moments that keep the legend of Bodys Isek Kingelez burning. One is when the Congolese sculptor—maker of intricate paper objects known as “extrêmes maquettes”—quit his job as a schoolteacher in Kinshasa and began making art, feverishly, from paper, scissors, a razor, and glue. The second came when a Kingelez sculpture arrived at the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaire. The staff there refused to believe he’d made it himself and demanded he create another one onsite. He did, and they immediately hired him as a restorer. The third was his participation in the 1989 exhibition “Magiciens de la terre” (Magicians of the Earth), which catapulted Kingelez to international acclaim.

His first US retrospective here turns on three similar moments, illuminating formal shifts in the work that subtly reflect changes in the artist’s life. Soon after “Magiciens,” Kingelez, who had been making singular buildings such as Allemagne An 2000 (Germany Year 2000), 1988, and Paris Nouvel (New Paris), 1989, began to construct entire cities, such as Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994, named after the artist’s birthplace. Some years later, he started incorporating lights and transparent materials, which give Ville de Sète 3009 (City of Sète 3009), 2000, for example, its majestic glow. And then, toward the end of his life (Kingelez died in 2015), he returned to the found packaging materials he began with, using mint boxes and lightbulb cartons in Nippon Tower, 2005.

By turns playful and austere, rigidly chronological and blessedly open to what art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu has termed the artist’s “ecstatic imagination,” “City Dreams” moves lightly through thirty-three examples of Kingelez’s work. Lines of thought about colonialism, liberation, repression, health, and the realities of life that find welcome relief in utopian propositions arise naturally from the sculptures themselves. Curator Sarah Suzuki, whose accompanying catalogue is exceptional, deserves credit for lending astringent analysis to Kinglez’s context without ever dampening his magic.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Anna Boghiguian

New Museum
235 Bowery
May 2–August 19

View of “Anna Boghiguian: The Loom of History,” 2018.

Anna Boghiguian’s first museum exhibition in the United States comes curiously late in her life and career. Boghiguian is a legend in Cairo, the city where she was born, and her cluttered rooftop studio, occupied for decades and almost worryingly stuffed with materials, is a tiny windswept palace of wonders and curiosities. It is also a place to listen and learn, as she habitually unspools a good many lessons in literature and history. That sense of Boghiguian holding forth translates well in this show.

“The Loom of History” fills a wide room in the New Museum’s ground-floor galleries. The walls are painted in two broad stripes of black and gold. Boghiguian has painted paragraph-size blocks of text onto the upper part, such that one doesn’t so much see the exhibition as read through its long narrative line. Plodding along, the viewer comes to understand that Boghiguian has taken her long-standing interests in empire, tyranny, exile, colonialism, and revolt and sunk them into American soil, moving from Alexis de Tocqueville, Vasco da Gama, and the spice trade to the Dutch port of New Amsterdam, slavery, and its effects on the Egyptian cotton trade.

Clamoring everywhere in between are Boghiguian’s fabulously messy collages, sculptures, paintings in beehive frames, cutout paper figures, and a large painted sailcloth. The eight parts of the mixed-media drawing Nietzsche, 2016, are spare and illustrative: In one section, opposite arrows point to the names “Dionysus” and “Apollo,” for example. The panels in the beehive frames, such as In the World: East and West, North and South I, 2017, are busier, suggesting more complex histories unraveling (one juxtaposes portraits of Gandhi with images of Alfred Hitchcock pointing to his watch). The mandatory reading is a touch oppressive, so these moments out of it offer relief—as well as an accurate accounting of Boghiguian’s wild imagination and frenetic spirit.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

“Multiply, Identify, Her”

International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)
250 Bowery
May 23–September 2

Barbara Hammer, What You Are Not Supposed to Look At #5, 2014, chromogenic prints, Mylar, X-ray, collage, 23 x 26". From the series “What You Are Not Supposed to Look At,” 2014.

This lively exhibition of ten artists contributing portraits, videos, films, and photocollages winds its way around two muses. One of them, the artist Laura Aguilar, who recently died, is nowhere to be seen—her work is not included in the show—but the spirit of her challenging self-portraiture (for some pictures in her 1996 “Nature Series,” Aguilar would fold her enormous body into the shape of a large rock in a landscape) was an explicit inspiration for the curator, Marina Chao, and Aguilar’s sense of identity as necessarily plural, complex, and polyphonic provides a spacious conceptual blueprint, into which all of the works on view can fit.

The other muse, the legendary singer Eartha Kitt, is, by contrast, totally inescapable. You hear her even before you descend the stairs to the gallery where the show is installed, belting out the lyrics to “Angelitos Negros” (Black Little Angels), as part of Mickalene Thomas’s winning eight-channel video installation of the same name, composed in 2016. In Thomas’s work, you see original footage of Kitt performing in 1970 spliced with reenactments by three other women, including Thomas and her girlfriend Racquel Chevremont, all of them mimicking Kitt’s stormy presence to the point of blissful confusion.

“Multiply, Identify, Her” comes nearly forty years after ICP staged its first plausibly feminist show, “Recollections: Ten Women of Photography,” in 1979, featuring works by Berenice Abbott, Nell Dorr, and Consuelo Kanaga, among others. Chao deserves credit for honoring that ancestral format while assembling such a wildly diverse group, including riveting collages by Geta Brătescu, Wangechi Mutu, Lorna Simpson, and Barbara Hammer, whose layers of self-portraiture (nudes with found X-rays from the series “What You Are Not Supposed to Look At,” 2014) are intense meditations on illness, fragility, age, and—à la Aguilar and Kitt—defiance.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Hipkiss

The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
April 6–August 12

Hipkiss, Bulwark #8 (detail), 2017, graphite, silver ink, silver tape, and metal leaf on paper, 89 x 16".

Each of the art duo Hipkiss’s graphite, ink, and metal-leaf drawings—more than seven feet tall—are composed of seven tondos, stacked. Within each tondo is a section of a magnificent imaginary plant. The rendering is reminiscent of Victorian botanical prints, in which the eye of the scientist dominates that of the aesthete. The line quality is certainly reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, as well as H. R. Giger and Erté. The elegance contrasts nicely with the ink’s direct presence on the paper. Notations along the edges of the works are diaristic, inscrutable.

The drawings’ spliced geometric forms feel like ants, caterpillars, or multiplying cells. It’s as if H. G. Wells had returned with illustrations from a strange and flourishing planet filled with flora-and-fauna hybrids. It is significant that the title of each drawing begins with the word Bulwark and is followed by a number. Naturalists such as John J. Audubon, Karl Blossfeldt, and Pierre-Joseph Redouté treated their subjects as specimens, which necessitated the death of the object of investigation. Countless living things have been sacrificed for curiosity and representation. Hipkiss, however, use a precise kind of inner observation in the service of creation. Representation, for them, does not involve killing. Every Bulwark is a tower of celebration devoted to the protection of life.

It is always a thrill to discover such fully realized art—Hipkiss’s Alpha and Chris Mason have been making work together since 1983. Bulwark #5, 2017, is an accumulation of doily-shaped tondos. Elegant cascading squiggles safeguard delicate branches within. The branches appear to be releasing pollen or grasping for tiny flecks of life: sustenance against our intrusions.

Matthew Weinstein