Amy Yao

47 Canal | Grand Street
291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor
September 8–October 8

View of “Amy Yao: Weeds of Indifference,” 2017.

At the entrance of Amy Yao’s exhibition here, the viewer is blocked by a chain-link fence draped with laser-cut, red-and-yellow, faux-silk brocade. Though the work’s title, Foreign Investments (Bottarga in Costa Mesa) (all works 2017), refers to a city in Orange County south of Yao’s Los Angeles home, the swags of low-rent chinoiserie index the gallery’s address at the crux of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and its rapidly gentrifying Chinatown. Two smaller draped fences—Foreign Investments (Good Ramen) and Foreign Investments (Baked Alaska)—likewise work as metonyms for the real and symbolic boundaries erected by real-estate capital.

In the show’s press release, Yao muses on the way that hipster fetishes of authenticity— “healthy food,” “good coffee,” ceramic plates “made by real craftsmen”—squire the displacement of local populations, often the merchants and consumers of mass-produced kitsch. This contradiction, explicit and racialized in that faux Chinese silk, is also manifest in the other deflationary objects that make up Yao’s assemblages, such as the artificial flowers encased in Plexiglas in Revolution Within and those scattered on the floor alongside Crocodile Tears Made in China, models of the titular reptile filled with dollar-store junk.

Refusing the readymade’s historical and contemporary postures—the cynical/ironic critique of the commodity form, the mystification of materials—Yao’s gnomic, desublimated sculptures are sometimes puzzling and not always easy to love. Nonetheless, their difficulties reflect honest questions: “What is even real?” she asks, speaking of when “the new authentic is used to eradicate what came before.” Corralled inside her upholstered fences, two desultory piles of glazed ceramic eggs and slime-green polyurethane, Weeds of Indifference and Weeds of Indifference (Fertile Ground), conjure associations with toxic waste and environmental panic. These twin works suggest something we all know and increasingly can’t escape: These days, the real—whatever else it might be—is apocalyptic.

Chloe Wyma

Mira Schendel

Hauser & Wirth | East 69th Street
32 East 69th Street
September 7–October 21

Mira Schendel, Sarrafo (Batten), 1987, tempera and gesso on wood, 35 x 71 x 21". From the series “Sarrafos” (Battens), 1987.

Toward the end of her life, Mira Schendel made a series of sculptural paintings more muscular than anything she had done before. Known as “Sarrafos” (Battens), 1987, the works each feature a pair of bold black bars that are joined together and jut out at sharp, irregular angles from white wooden panels. The gesso is spread so thick on these panels that they look, as her daughter once remarked, like the surface of the moon. Schendel herself described the “Sarrafos” as an attempt to convey aggressiveness, a series of intrusions to shake up the political and economic travesty that Brazil had become. What endures is the slower, subtler beauty of the shadows the bars cast, like delicate lines thrown from an unknown sun into outer space.

Schendel made just twelve “Sarrafos”—most were sold by a São Paulo gallery. One was returned to the family in 1999, eleven years after the artist’s death. Six are included here, the core of a strong, surprisingly layered show. (Scale the gallery’s upper floors and the materials get smaller, lighter, and more luminous—an intimate art of fragility—culminating in a gorgeous ink-and-watercolor collage of a tree above a triangle and rolling mountains [Untitled, ca. 1970].)

Five more “Sarrafos” have been found. One is still unaccounted for. In this context the current exhibition articulates a mystery both practical and metaphoric. Born to a Jewish family in Zurich, Schendel survived Catholic school in Milan but fled Italy during WWII. She lived as a refugee in a string of different cities in southeastern Europe, and eventually became an exile in Latin America. It was her fate to lose things. (She also burned whole stacks of drawings she didn’t like.) The missing piece reminds us: What remains of her work is our gain.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Bernadette Mayer

CANADA
333 & 331 Broome Street
September 8–October 8

Bernadette Mayer, Memory (detail), 1971–72, 1,100 snapshot prints mounted on museum board, 6-hour audio recording, 4 x 36'.

In July 1971, the prolific poet and occasional Conceptual artist Bernadette Mayer set out to shoot a thirty-six-frame roll of film each day of that month and to document her undertakings in an exhaustive written account. The resulting work, Memory, 1971–72, is composed of 1,100 photographic prints, arranged in a grid, and an amplified narration voiced by Mayer that she adapted from her writings—a six-hour, breath-stretching Steinian chronicle, later published as an unillustrated 1975 book of the same name. (Mayer remains best known in the art world as the coeditor, with Vito Acconci, of the late-1960s experimental magazine 0 to 9.)

If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ve had a New York summer idyll like the one Mayer depicts: driving up the Saw Mill or the Taconic to greener points north, making films with friends, drinking Jack Daniel’s till late on the deck. Her snapshots furnish a feeling of recognition: You have likely taken casual pictures of similar forms of evanescence, or realized, too late, that you should have––of the man you loved in a convertible or shirtless in bed, of cigarette soft-packs half crushed on the dash, of garden tomatoes, a spider web, or the hurried blaze of a downtown taxi. The installation of images, if followed sequentially, forces you to crisscross the gallery multiple times, the transit from the end of one row to the beginning of the next becoming a languid carriage return of the body. (Mayer herself writes on a Smith-Corona typewriter to this day.) One moment of ’70s period-piece bohemianism in Mayer’s writing—“This is the part of the sky that cleared first blue / got two tabs of sunshine then”—inadvertently conjures the present material condition of these fading color prints, now tinted by palls of cyan or carmine. As the wavelengths of light-emitting bodies shift blue or red as they approach or recede in outer space, so Mayer’s age-tinged snapshots both advance into the present and draw back into history, like all the ficklest, best memories do.

Claire Lehmann

Sanford Biggers

BOESKY EAST
507 West 24th Street
September 7–October 21

Sanford Biggers, BAM (Seated Warrior), 2017, polished bronze, fabric, 78 x 24 x 24". From the series “BAM,” 2015–17.

Two years after the debut of Sanford Biggers’s controversial sculpture Laocöon, 2015—an inflatable ten-foot-long rendition of the 1970s cartoon character Fat Albert, laid out like a corpse (a eulogy to African Americans murdered by police and to the “character assassination” of Bill Cosby, according to the artist)—he has retooled his kill-your-idols theme. For “Selah,” Biggers moves away from depicting literal scenes of black death toward a more symbolically complicated process where icons of black culture are both cannibalized and consecrated. The exhibition features several sculptures from his series “BAM,” 2015–17. To create these works, the artist dips figurative African sculptures made from wood into wax and then shoots them with a gun before casting them in bronze. In BAM (Seated Warrior), 2017, a prominent chunk is missing from the arm of an elongated soldier whose feet are covered by an antique quilt. The sculpture is shot by an off-screen gun in the slow-motion five-channel video installation Infinite Tabernacle, 2017. (Notably, Biggers said that he didn’t pull the trigger for the piece.)

Selah, 2017, the exhibition’s namesake, scales up a cast of a bullet-riddled African figure with raised arms, suggesting a tragic position of surrender. Like Laocoön, this statue, lined with sequined fabric and covered by painted antique quilts, stands ten feet tall. Embellishments to Biggers’s flat quilt pieces, which hang on the walls, include sequined cubes, stylized waves, and, in Khemetstry, 2017, a geometric armature: a nod, Biggers says, to the study of sacred geometry by his cousin, the late Houston muralist John T. Biggers.

The artist’s use of appropriation acknowledges that history is ugly and painfully cyclical. But his formally dazzling sculptures lean on a kind of violence easily consumed by an audience accustomed to disaster porn. “Selah” raises a fundamental question: Can political art be effective without glamorizing brutality?

Wendy Vogel

Christian Marclay

Paula Cooper Gallery | 521 West 21st Street
521 West 21st Street
September 7–October 7

Christian Marclay, Extended Phone II, 1994, telephone and plastic tubing, dimensions variable.

As anyone who has ever used a telephone knows, it doesn’t always make communication easier. Here, Christian Marclay teases out the medium’s shortcomings in four works from the 1990s while broaching broader questions of how we attempt to convey meaning to others. Extended Phone II, 1994, involves a black telephone receiver stretched to Seussical proportions. It loop-di-loops around one room, filling the space with coils like an out-of-control garden hose. The effect is funny, but the exaggerated distance between the speaking and listening ends of the receiver underscores the gulf between those on either end of a call.

Marclay delves further into the fractured nature of phone communication in Telephones, 1995. The seven-and-a-half-minute video offers a more concentrated dose of the droll wit and nimble editing that distinguish the artist’s famed twenty-four-hour video piece The Clock, 2010. We watch actors from various films approach phones, dial numbers, answer, talk, listen, sign off, hang up. The characters speak to one another across decades and from radically different plotlines, forming a comically disjointed conversation. “Darling, it’s me,” says Ray Milland. “What?” responds a perplexed-looking Tom Hanks. “The girl’s dead,” says James Bond. “I’m so confused!” wails Katharine Hepburn. Later in the mash-up, one despairing brunette clutching a white receiver laments, “If I could just see you, talk to you.” Talking on a telephone, it seems, isn’t actually talking.

This sentiment is keenly felt in an age when many of us are rarely without our cell phones. Viewing these prescient works decades after Marclay created them makes one wonder where we’ll be in another twenty years. Together, the works recall President Hayes’s alleged reaction to the telephone in 1876. “That’s an amazing invention,” he reportedly told Alexander Graham Bell, “but who would ever want to use one of them?”

Zoë Lescaze

Deborah Brown

Geary Contemporary
185 Varick Street
September 7–October 14

Deborah Brown, Nixie, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".

Riotous storms of thrashing color formed into woodland scenes are the hallmark of Brooklyn-based artist Deborah Brown’s paintings here. Among forested tableaux under tempestuous skies are recurring motifs: birds, a dog, and a lone female figure. While there are notes of modern civilization—a railing, a pathway—the bent of this exhibition is toward natural, rather than human, architecture.

In Birch Trees (all works cited, 2017), the woman, arms hanging limply by her side, looks forlornly at a bird perched on a nearby branch. As close as she is to her avian friend—a signifier of beauty, freedom, the inexplicable—she cannot touch or possess him. Our heroine almost achieves union with the landscape in Nixie, where she stands naked in water up to her waist, framed by dense foliage and cradling a small dog. Though we see her reflection in the pond, she does not gaze into it. She is an anti-Narcissus, staring directly at the viewer, at ease with her pet and wearing what could become a contented smile.

These arcadian settings are not gently rendered, however. Brown’s palette-knife facture is anxious and harsh, rife with thick daubs and slashes. Such frenetic energy is more akin to the tumult of city life. These works suggest a peaceful emancipation, something for which many enervated New Yorkers secretly ache, but perhaps cannot voice it for fear of being perceived as lacking resolve, or worse, betraying treasonous disloyalty to the city’s often suffocating embrace.

Darren Jones

Derrick Adams

The Studio Museum in Harlem via Countee Cullen Library
104 West 136th Street
May 3–October 20

Derrick Adams, Runway No. 1, 2017, mixed media collage on paper, 60 x 40".

Eleven medium- to large-scale collages on paper by Derrick Adams wrap around the mezzanine of the library here, competing for the eye’s attention with a quotation from Langston Hughes, a wall sign reading “General Fiction,” and a whiteboard advertising ample family programming for the day. It’s a perfectly unusual place for an exhibition that tests out different ideas about abstraction, fashion, art history, patterning, biography, and the archival impulse.

Adams is known for placing formal movements in art and architecture (Minimalism, deconstructivism) in playful dialogue with, say, the global trade in West African textiles or the history of racial stereotyping on television. He spent a year at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, next door to the library, poring over the work of the late fashion designer Patrick Kelly. A Mississippi native who slugged it out in New York before an anonymous patron bought him a one-way ticket to France, Kelly was a rising star in the firmament of Parisian prêt-à-porter, the first American designer of color to be accepted into the ultraconservative syndicate governing the world of ready-to-wear. Then, on the brink of financial stability, he died of AIDS, on New Year’s Day, 1990, at the age of thirty-five.

Adams’s show is rare among archival projects in that the formal propositions of the intervening artist confidently match the fascinating dimensions of the historical subject. The collages move from a strict red, yellow, and navy palette with works such as Runway No. 1 and Runway No. 4 (all works 2017) to an exuberant suite of images featuring animal patterns, glitter, and beading, including Prints Are In and Semi Formal. Two vitrines of source materials (sketches, magazine clippings) reveal the extent to which Adams has made visual motifs from the joyfulness of Kelly’s designs and the sorrows of his story. But save your tears—the show is a triumph of dignity, fun, and poise.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

“Pearls”

Lubov
373 Broadway, 207
August 20–September 24

Sofiyah McCormack, Chin up, 2017, watercolor and collage on paper, 15 x 11".

“I don’t enjoy it here / squatting on this island / looking picturesque and mythical,” says the narrator of Margaret Atwood’s 1974 poem “Siren Song,” a second-wave-feminist retort to Homer’s amphibious temptresses in the Odyssey. Today, it appears that sirens have been culturally domesticated, seen less as femmes fatales than as ethereal beauty inspirations for #mermaidhair and #seawitch looks. “Pearls,” curated by Natalie Yang, brings together works by seven female artists in their early twenties who reclaim the siren as a symbol of desire, ecosorcery, and vulnerability.

A recent New York transplant from California, Yang includes two of her own works in the show. The rainbow-colored whorls of her weaving Untitled (all works cited, 2017) recall oceanic eddies and the recesses of the female body, while the photograph Brianna captures a dark-haired Ophelia submerged in water. Photographers Lula Hyers and Grace Hazel also depict lithe sirens in unspoiled nature, updating the sexualized tableaux of Gen X-ers such as Ryan McGinley and Justine Kurland for the Instagram age.

More piercing, however, are the quasi-surrealist works that consider the sea as a site of mystery and danger. In Grace Milk’s gouache-and-collage painting Bedtime Bacchanal, narrow-eyed nymphs frolic with maritime creatures and a nubile aardvark-woman hybrid, bedecked with a body chain. Sofiyah McCormack, who lives in Sydney, shows watercolor-and-collage compositions based on the shape of the poisoned Citarum River in West Java, the region from which her family hails. Imelda, named after her grandmother, traces the river’s shape over three sheets of paper. McCormack’s angry Chin up shows us a tributary split into two dangling, ovarian forms, one bearing the cut-out image of a shark’s mouth dripping blood.

Wendy Vogel

Kiluanji Kia Henda

International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)
1040 Metropolitan Avenue
June 27–October 6

Kiluanji Kia Henda, Rusty Mirage, 2015, inkjet print mounted on Sintra, 40 x 59".

A metal sign reading Miragem—the Portuguese word for “mirage”—once sat in the restaurant of a small desert community, rusted through from the billowing sands of southern Angola. A photograph of the peculiar sign, Rusty Mirage, 2015, is the centerpiece of Kiluanji Kia Henda’s current exhibition, a meditation on the failures of the modern city. In the main room, a four-channel video installation, Paradise Metalic [sic], 2014, outlines the birth of a mythological country. The Man with the Shovel, the hero of the story, seeks to answer the question, How do you build that which is God’s and not man’s? He lays claim to a small patch of land in the desert by driving a circle of stakes into the ground, then celebrating this simple success with his trusty assistant. In the subsequent chapters, however, the black-clad spirits of nature show their might: They push the stakes deeper into the earth, making them invisible, and obliterate a newly made concrete wall. This drama, with its focus on the assembly and destruction of simple geometric forms and architectures, plays out like a Minimalist soap opera.

Nonetheless, the Man with the Shovel manages to succeed, fabricating a skeletal steel utopia whose shape is derived from traditional Angolan sona sand drawings (other iterations of the structure are seen in photographs in the next room). But these bones cannot last. Henda illustrates humankind’s attempt at civilizing wilderness as an act of hubris. The artist’s tongue-in-cheek Instructions to Create Your Personal Dubai at Home, 2013, underscores this idea through a DIY Dubai construction manual, which tells us how to build a mini–Burj Khalifa with beer cans, or your own Palm Islands using carefully arranged matchsticks in a toilet. Magisterial cityscapes for cheap—no shovel required.

Patrick Jaojoco

Willa Nasatir

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
July 14–October 1

Willa Nasatir, Conductor, 2017, C-print mounted on wood, 75 x 61".

Willa Nasatir’s photographs of her provisional and precarious studio assemblages reveal the artist’s ruminative tinkering—but the use of dramatic lighting demonstrates a tight control over her environment. Nasatir’s images are populated by the materials that frequently accompany artmaking, including hammers, stands, and brooms. And the interiority of these photos, whose configurations are distorted to the edge of recognition by her interventions, crucially echoes the personal nature of the studio itself.

The artist’s high-contrast, theatrically lit work is visibly indebted to the eerily intimate 1980s tableaux of photographers such as Barbara Kasten, Laurie Simmons, Vikky Alexander, and Ellen Brooks. Unlike these artists, however, Nasatir insists on analog manipulations, via mirrors and clear latex screens, which register as a pointed contemporary disavowal of postproduction software. Her latest set of ten large-scale C-prints, shown here alongside smaller black-and-white prints, comprises her most ambitious work to date, while also her most evasive.

Of the ten, at least six contain allusions to the human form. In several pieces, model wooden hands and amputated fingers sprouting from makeshift armatures wordlessly beckon to us for a closer look: A chubby doll leg rests inverted atop a crystal stopper in The Green Room (all works 2017), while a rubber-dipped work glove ominously adheres to a gauzy white surface stained with red in Coney Island #2. The objects’ physicality is further distorted by Nasatir’s use of the mirror—that jejune signifier of identity—in each of her compositions. Though the approach sounds heavy-handed, it is indeed useful, as the reflections of the props bleed beyond the pictures’ borders, allowing the artist’s haunted figures to slip out of view and indulge their own private whims.

Cat Kron

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island
Governors Island, Building 110, near Soissons Landing
May 27–September 24

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, A Supple Perimeter (detail), 2017, archival ink-jet prints, monoprints, Xerox copies, wheat paste, text fragments, self-authored poems, video, overhead projector, black Plexiglas, dimensions variable.

“This is a stout truth. Are you trying to die on that question?” This is printed on a piece of letter-size white paper, one of hundreds of black-and-white sheets covering a freestanding wall, like ads on a city street. The wall serves as an introduction to A Supple Perimeter, 2017, Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s installation here. But the “stout truth” cuts like a knife—especially following the recent acquittal of the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, a young black man, during a traffic stop last year.

Investigating race through text and images, Rasheed’s works take the form of writing in space. She installs framed or tacked pieces around the gallery’s perimeter, in clusters organized around a rough horizon. Like timelines or diagrammed sentences, some elements hover above or below this line. Many of Rasheed’s images appear warped or stretched to the edge of legibility, like they’ve been manipulated on the bed of a photocopier. (Occasionally, we see the artist’s fingers reproduced on the pages.) But abstraction doesn’t dilute the content, which ranges from the title of a book on black entrepreneurship to language possibly excerpted from a volume about gun protocols. Rasheed’s material choices also explore a taxonomy of blackness, from the inks of various kinds of prints to a reflective sheet of black Plexiglas, or a shadow thrown from an overhead projector.

Across the island, more of Rasheed’s text-based pieces occupy the exterior of the Fort Jay Theatre, constructed in 1939 as a cinema for military residents. Mimicking the cycle of runs for feature films, Rasheed will display new works every three to four weeks. In place of movie posters, she has displayed alliterative and stark black-and-white texts (If/Then, 2014–), seemingly targeting Governors Island’s hipster visitor demographic with phrases such as “Aggregated Apathy” or “Artisanal Anger.” Questions, 2017, is a marquee with a query that’s open to politicized interpretation: “Are We There Yet?”

Wendy Vogel