“Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient”

Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, Columbia GSAPP
1172 Amsterdam Avenue,, Buell Hall
March 30–June 16

View of “Arakawa and Madeline Gins: Eternal Gradient,” 2018.

The poet-philosopher Madeline Gins and the artist known as Arakawa began collaborating in the 1960s and, over the next half century, left virtually no creative discipline untouched. In the 1980s, the duo launched an architecture practice that radically upended pervasive architectural values rooted in modernist principles of efficiency and standardization. Believing that architecture should actively challenge the body rather than reinforce habitual movement, they reimagined the most taken-for-granted building staples, such as flat floors and walls. Their goal was to recondition the body to the point that the user could literally “learn not to die.” As they wrote in 1988, “[We are] taking evolution into our own hands / With a built-in mistake.”

Gins and Arakawa’s exhibition here displays the couple’s production at the very moment they began to translate their philosophy of “reversible destiny” into spatial design. One series of never-before-exhibited drawings, “Screen-Valves,” 1985–87, studies for an impossible-looking geometric enclosure, suggest an iterative process of developing a visual vocabulary feasible in three dimensions. Other sketches, such as Drawing for Ubiquitous Site X, 1990, are halfway between surrealist composition and blueprint. Artifacts from their archive—unpublished manuscripts, correspondence, Polaroids—are arranged and framed within a gridded metal structure by design firm Norman Kelley. The smart exhibition architecture references both the drawings and an exquisite wire model for an unrealized project titled The Process in Question/Bridge of Reversible Destiny, 1987–90.

Although they did not, ultimately, live forever—Arakawa died in 2010 and Gins in 2014—their proposal for an architecture of immortality was, at heart, a confrontation with foregone conclusions about what a life should be. “Eternal Gradient” offers an (oddly shaped) window into a practice ready to be revivified.

Elvia Wilk

Yto Barrada

Pace | 32 East 57th Street
32 East 57th Street, Second Floor
April 5–May 5

Pace/MacGill Gallery
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor
April 5–May 5

Pace | African & Oceanic Art
32 East 57th Street
April 5–May 5

View of “Yto Barrada: How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself,” 2018.

Over the past fifteen years, Yto Barrada has made photographs, films, posters, prints, textiles, toys, mechanized models, games, collages, oversize blocks, fake fossils, and vast collections of sundry other objects that nearly defy categorization as art. She has moved through dramatic phases in the formal development of her work, lurching from humor and whimsy to a damning critique of colonialism, underdevelopment, and injustice. She has tumbled headlong into obsessions with historical figures, including members of her own family (her mother, her grandmother) and unknowable strangers (her mesmerizing account of the anthropologist Thérèse Rivière). She has collaborated with different people to learn how to do new things, such as running a film archive and dyeing cotton with plants. She has shared her work steadily, all over the world, and so it seems almost inconceivable that Barrada has only just now opened her first gallery show in New York.

It’s late, yes, but it doesn’t matter. “How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself” slots more than forty works into three floors, overtaking Pace, Barrada’s own gallery, as well as the related photography gallery Pace/MacGill and Pace African & Oceanic Art, which specializes in tribal objects. It’s a midcareer survey in miniature, conceived as a puckish form of institutional critique. Among the earlier works on view are two black-and-white photographs from Barrada’s 2006 series “Dormeurs (The Sleepers).” Her portraits of young men sleeping in and around Tangier, their bodies sprawled out in public, play with a deadly-serious tension between glorious nonachievement and the total exhaustion of clandestine migration and shift labor. Some of her newest works revisit Frank Stella’s famed “Morocco” series, 1964–65, but to do so, Barrada takes us on a necessary detour through the painters of the Casablanca School, as if to say, for posterity: Fair is fair.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Martin Roth

yours mine & ours
54 Eldridge Street
March 31–May 13

Martin Roth, In November 2017 I collected a plant from the garden of a mass shooter. (detail), 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable.

A scraggly, drought-resistant shrub native to Nevada grows in the middle of a small gallery in Chinatown. This plant—the desert holly—is the unlikely centerpiece of Austrian artist Martin Roth’s installation here, In November 2017 I collected a plant from the garden of a mass shooter., 2018. Framed by the artist’s belief in the restorative power of nature, Roth takes an unusual approach to gun reform by offering an oblique portrait of Stephen Paddock, who shot and killed fifty-eight people in Las Vegas last October.

A defining characteristic of Roth’s practice is what he calls a collaboration with plants and animals. The unassuming installation space feels meditative. Pamphlets about gun-reform activism are stacked neatly against one wall. The desert holly is contained in a cubic glass terrarium. Wall-to-wall carpeting, rendered in a loud paisley print, lines the floors—a replica of the carpet on which Paddock stood at the Mandalay Bay hotel moments before the killings. Into the carpet pattern, Roth has added his own illustration of the shrub: an emblem of healing sewn into a relic of national tragedy.

Descending a set of stairs into a bunker-like room, one finds a re-creation of Paddock’s backyard, where three shrubs are planted in gravel and bathed with an eerie sepia glow. The confrontation of Paddock’s domestic life and the senseless violence he wreaked is harrowingly paralleled. For all Roth’s sanguine efforts to reevaluate discussions surrounding gun violence, his aestheticization of a crime scene and the singular, empathized focus on Paddock, rather than his victims, could easily be construed as crassly opportunistic. Yet this fuller exploration of Paddock’s humanity demands that the viewer see him more clearly. Gun violence has become a human issue—and in an age of such uncertainty, a more human approach is necessary.

Keegan Brady

“Frame Structures”

Magenta Plains
94 Allen St
April 1–May 6

Sara Magenheimer, Open Mic Solo, 2017, acrylic, archival pigment print, organza, canvas, 54 x 38".

This four-person exhibition takes its name from Susan Howe’s 1996 collection of poems written between 1974 and 1979—early pieces that use notions of place and identity as a method for deconstructing the fixity of history. With sculpture, painting, video, and photography, the artists here take up Howe’s approach to dismantling the idea of narrative through objects and images.

Three digital photographs by Steel Stillman, scanned and enlarged from old snapshots, are documents of fleeting moments. Time-stamps from when the pictures were originally taken appear in the works, confusing the viewer’s temporal relationship to the image. Percolator, 2017, a closeup of a tea-kettle backlit by diffused sunlight, enters the present from January, 1990. Autumn, 2016, which captures a swath of brilliantly red leaves, gives us a sense of what October, 2009 must’ve felt like.

Sara Magenheimer’s Open Mic Solo, 2017, embeds images of spotlit stages into ethereal fields of acrylic paint—the work becomes a disjointed map of performative emptiness. Linnea Kniaz’s shaped painting, The One Special mark is Given a Platform and a Glow but is Still Small, 2013, looks like a small island: anonymous, lonely, and utterly unmoored from specificity. “If you were a continent which one would you be?,” asks a character from Keren Cytter’s video, Object, 2016. The work features a group of people that listlessly play out a series of aggressions against one another in and around Cytter’s apartment. Men toy with guns, knives, their genitals; a woman is bound outdoors in duct tape. Violence could erupt at any moment, but it’s constantly deferred—a story that refuses a climax, or any easy resolution.

Tabitha Piseno

Zoe Leonard

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
March 2–June 10

Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all (detail), 2008, 3,851 vintage postcards, 11 x 10 1/2 x 47'.

Part of the elegance of Zoe Leonard’s work lies in its straightforward concepts: For instance, in 1961, 2002–, one blue suitcase for each year of the artist’s life is arranged into an undulating line. Over one thousand copies of Kodak’s instructional guide to photography are stacked up by year of publication in How to Take Good Pictures, 2018. And for You see I am here after all, 2008, thousands of postcards of Niagara Falls are organized by the vantage point of the photographer. These premises entail laborious processes, and the resulting visual accumulations relish those tacky fingerprints of human production and intervention—the latter work takes its title from a message written on one of the postcards.

Many of the subjects in Leonard’s exhibition “Survey” engage specifically with social and material exchanges, or possession: images and objects for sale, museum collections, intimate connections, personal archives, absorptions of one material by another. Every element feels distinctly processed or handled, evoking other lives and histories. Leonard’s own hand is also evident throughout the show—in the hooks and eyes, zippers, sinew, and wires holding together decomposing husks of fruit in Strange Fruit (for David), 1992–97; in her reflections in the shopwindows of her Analogue suite, 1998–2009; and in the stilted handwriting on a snapshot of an imagined queer black actress (The Fae Richards Photo Archive, 1993–96).

Her hand and lens function like a finger pressed against the glass. Leonard points to the tensions of appearance and narrative, as subtle and palpable as bark pushing through a chain-link fence. Just behind the glass are those objects of desire, or desires gone by.

Mira Dayal

“Several Years Have Passed”

348 South 4th St.
March 25–April 29

Abbey Williams, Reply, 2017, video, color, sound, 8 minutes 1 second.

This exhibition gathers five women who have taken time away from their artistic careers, be it to raise children or care for the “sick and dying,” as the show’s press release states. The word practice suggests a commitment to and constancy in an endeavor that disregards other responsibilities. However, the demands of life can eclipse those of the studio. Curator Jenny Nichols proposes that living fully—through happiness, tragedy, or daily drudgery—is just as essential to art as its actual making.

In Annette Wehrhahn’s painting The Missing, 2018, scattered strokes of boldly applied finger painting trace the outlines of meaty limbs in magenta and white, suspending them awkwardly against a beet-red ground, which was painted in collaboration with her ten-month-old twins. The artist’s unstretched canvas becomes a lived space that accommodates a mother’s life.

In a back room, three videos by Abbey Williams play simultaneously across angled screens. In La Mulatta, 2007, the artist’s own breathing, nude torso is superimposed upon an image of La Négresse, 1872, a bust in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection that depicts a slave woman sadistically bound by ropes. Reply, 2017, captures Williams at a patio bar dancing with a bunch of wasted white women lip-syncing to Nelly’s “Hot In Herre.” Racist YouTube responses to footage of the 2015 McKinney pool-party incident—where a young black woman, Dajerria Becton, was tackled by a police officer—fade in and out of the foreground. One of these commenters writes, “A bunch of out of control Nigglets. . . . Cops doing there [sic] job.” Galling stupidity is certainly one way of stoking a smart artist’s creative fire.

Nicole Kaack

Bogosi Sekhukhuni

Foxy Production
2 East Broadway, 200
March 18–May 6

Bogosi Sekhukhuni, Consciousness Engine 2: absentblackfatherbot (detail), 2014, two-channel video, color, sound, 4 minutes 20 seconds.

Bogosi Sekhukhuni’s inaugural US show is steeped in longing, invoking, again and again, the cruelty and greed of the good-for-nothing fourth dimension, time. The exhibition’s most moving piece is a two-channel video, Consciousness Engine 2: absentblackfatherbot, 2014. Two screens stand on tripods several feet apart, facing one another. Each displays a disembodied face at its center, looking straight ahead while floating before a gilded background. One avatar represents Sekhukhuni and the other, his estranged father. They converse through digitally manipulated voices, reciting real, heartbreakingly mundane conversations that the artist and his father had via Facebook Messenger. Long periods of silence indicate psychic strain between them, and the quiet tension is perhaps worse than the small talk they exchange. Sekhukhuni’s father eventually blocked him on the app. Though the piece is cleverly conceived, its cool does nothing to freeze out the work’s vulnerability, its rawness.

Among the show’s other notable works is GRAVITY, 2018, a jet-black sculpture of a rubber ball that sits atop a tiny trampoline. It’s a reenactment of the common high-school science-class demonstration of how planets warp space-time. It may also allude to Sekhukhuni’s desire to manipulate his own history to soothe a life full of troubles. Trilobyte 1 and 2, 2018, are drawings of the long-extinct arthropods—they seem to reach out across the eons and say, quite sincerely, we are kin.

Wallace Ludel

Frank Benson

Downstairs Projects
1713 8th Avenue, Brooklyn
March 25–May 20

Frank Benson, Foam, 2003, pigment print on vinyl, 24 x 30".

The five photographs gathered for Frank Benson’s outing here share a few rigid formal devices. The most recent piece, iChiaroscuro, 2013, goes so far as to suggest a tidy theme: A model rests her head on the piercing white screen of a smartphone—the image’s only light source—which sinks half her face into dramatic darkness. The rest of Benson’s photographs feature the same raking lighting, which heightens the contrast between machine-crisp edges and bubbling, disintegrating shapes. Pitcher, 2003, depicts the titular vessel as a slumping, ribbed mass, glistening in a window. In Tissues, 1998, the earliest work on view, a pert spray of pink Kleenex rising from its box bisects the picture plane. The stale subject, parting the photo into fields of coal black and sea-foam green, carries all the resplendence of a bouquet at twilight.

Each of Benson’s images has been printed on lightly tactile, supremely matte vinyl, which benefits compositions dominated by dry, sucking shadows. We find in this exhibition a concern for texture and depth that can safely be called sculptural. Foam, 2003, for instance, palpably captures knobby cascades of polyurethane frozen on the tip of an orange spray can—lit, of course, from a brilliant angle. There’s some thought given to the selection of objects, but more to the placement of that shape in that light. In some moments, form comes at the expense of the object: for Untitled (Changer), 2008, the artist melted a tray from a five-disc CD changer into drooping black nipples. Like a film photo of a smartphone screen, it is useless, beautiful, and plastic.

Travis Diehl

“Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diasporas”

647 Fulton Street
March 15–April 29

Fabiola Jean-Louis, Madame Beauvoir’s Painting, 2016, archival pigment print, 26 x 33".

In the spring of 1863, the southern photographers McPherson and Oliver took an indelible portrait of a man who had escaped from a Louisiana plantation and sought refuge in a Union camp. It was at the height of the American Civil War. The man, his full name lost to history, was known as Slave Gordon, or Whipped Peter. McPherson and Oliver photographed him with his back turned three-quarters to the camera, elbow bent, a fist to his hip. Six months before crossing a river and rubbing his body with onions to throw off search dogs, Gordon had been brutally beaten by an overseer. Scars gouge his back. His portrait was printed on cartes de visite, reproduced in Harper’s Weekly, and widely circulated as evidence of slavery’s unconscionable cruelty. It appears, some hundred and fifty years later, vivid and vicious as ever, as the focal point of an equally unforgettable portrait—by the Haitian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Fabiola Jean-Louis.

Jean-Louis’s Madame Beauvoir’s Painting, 2016, shows a young black woman in an opulent gown, her back turned three-quarters to the viewer, regarding a painted version of Gordon’s destroyed body. The setting is decidedly baroque. The catch: Jean-Louis is both a photographer and a sculptor. The gown is also a piece, a life-size sculptural object made entirely of paper. This image and another, Marie Antoinette Is Dead, 2016, are paired with an actual paper gown, Running Through Time, 2018, to form the heart-stopping moment at the center of this excellent, fiercely complicated group show exploring the web of relationships that exists among the two nations on the island of Hispaniola, their diasporas, colonial Europe, and the imperial US. Nineteen artists—including Edouard Duval-Carrié, iliana emilia garcia, Tessa Mars, Groana Melendez, and Alex Morel—fill the amphitheater-like community space here with a wild array of works, each, like Jean-Louis, winding a vital history lesson around formal invention.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Taysir Batniji

Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
March 15–May 10

Taysir Batniji, Black Arab, 2017, video, color, sound, 6 minutes 7 seconds.

The Gaza-born, Paris-based artist Taysir Batniji has made so many orderly sculptures and austere installations—all of them clever and conceptual, with emotionally charged references to art history and the Palestinian condition—that one can easily forget that the foundation for all of his work is and always has been photography. This exhibition, titled “Home Away from Home,” is both dense and expansive, with more than a hundred artworks, the majority of them photographs. These color images include portraits, landscapes, and the kind of accidental or abandoned still lifes that are Batniji’s forte—capturing objects that seem freighted with meaning, such as the teapot and teacup in Home of Ahmed Batniji, West Palm Beach, Florida, 2018, or the jacket draped on a dining-room chair in Home of Dr. Sobhi and Khadra Batniji, Laguna Niguel, California, 2018. The photographs are arranged in several clusters supported by videos, drawings, and a family tree so wonderfully complicated that it covers an entire wall.

Batniji grew up in a place torn by its openness to the sea and the intractable confinement of the occupation. He left at nineteen. After a year in Italy, he moved to France. All of his work deals, in one way or another, with exile. But until now, he has clung to a certain Mediterranean melancholy, heavy with the symbolism of keys, maps, and land deeds, the accouterments of dispossession. Here, Batniji takes a wild leap into the land of his American cousins, where all of the certainties of Palestinian identity are thrown into brilliant but troubling disarray. The artist’s young cousin Safa cuts through the upheaval in a short video interview, Black Arab, 2017. Her anger about racism in the Arab world and class warfare in the United States smolders just beneath the surface, ready to burn it down.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie