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

André Filipek and Cole Lu

american medium
515 W. 20th St., 3N
May 24–June 30

Cole Lu, Thoroughbred (no caster of weather foretold), 2018, concrete, 10 x 12 x 18".

“While Removing the Garbage or Paying the Cleaner,” André Filipek and Cole Lu’s two-person show here, curated by Eileen Isagon Skyers, features sculptures of chubby, hairless dogs based on Aztec effigy vessels from the western Mexican state of Colima. Filipek, whose family is originally from Colima, merges these dogs with Rotoplas water-storage containers, a reference to the aging and increasingly privatized infrastructure of Mexico’s water system. Privatization will, predictably, decrease water access and quality while enriching corporations, further proof that the state no longer exists—if it ever did—to further human thriving. Instead, operating as a handmaiden to transnational capital, the state keeps people alive just enough to leech from them.

In Lu’s Thoroughbred (no caster of weather foretold) (all works 2018), a horned monster’s head made from concrete (based on the titular creature of Disney’s 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast) appears as though it’s drowning in the floor. The piece is also partly autobiographical, cast from a mold of Lu’s own face. Other works are similarly fragmentary: Some are lulled, then is a pair of kneeling silicone, resin, and fiberglass legs, cut from the mid-quadriceps to halfway down the shin, while So much of the river I do not know (I can drink you out of town) comprises a tattooed forearm resting on a Plexiglas diving board. It is unclear to whose body, if anyone’s, these abandoned parts belong. Lu’s works insist on brokenness, refusing to cast themselves as either Platonic transcendence or Deleuzian vitalism. Instead, the diving board and drowning beast—much like Filipek’s Rotoplas statues—foreground water.

Charlie Markbreiter

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

Dave Muller

Blum & Poe | New York
19 East 66th Street
April 28–June 30

Dave Muller, Red, Yellow, Blue (Sixth, Ninth and First Most Sampled Songs According to whosampled.com), 2018, acrylic on gessoed plywood, 58 1/2 x 58 1/2".

In Dave Muller’s current solo exhibition, multicolored drips trickle down the wall from part of a mural (w+m, all works cited, 2018) that reads: “WORDS and MUSIC.” Above it hovers Red, Yellow, Blue (Sixth, Ninth and First Most Sampled Songs According to whosampled.com), a three-part tondo painting based on record labels that references the foundations of art, pop music, and politics. The artist orchestrates the show into four themed sections: “Sex,” “Death,” “Rock & Roll,” and “Ampersand.” Each area combines murals, paintings, and sculptures to build on the two-story gallery’s architecture (only the “Sex” section, however, contains sound). With their circular, and at times concentric, compositions—such as the tripartite record painting S&D&RnR, which marries Prince and the Revolution’s single “Erotic City” with Ian Dury’s “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” and Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World”—the works introduce a welcome meditation on Jasper Johns’s targets.

The “Rock & Roll” section’s terrace evokes a stage beyond the musicmakers mural, a subjective timeline of musical instruments from prehistory to Mike Kelley’s drum set and Muller’s own bass. The two-wall mural The 6 1/6 Yard Stare anchors the “Death” section with a faceoff between a pair of giant skulls: one keenly drawn, the other nearly invisible. On an adjoining wall, the white-on-white painting White Ghosts channels Robert Ryman and the dead white legends Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, and Nirvana. These apparitions whisper critiques of contemporary art’s entanglements with cultural capital and social reproduction: A “Stairway to Heaven” promo reminds, in an all caps, that it is “NOT FOR SALE” (“Mystery Train” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” also call for nonmonetary transaction). References to music’s alternative economies recur in many paintings, especially with classifications including “Promotional Copy,” “Special Disc Jockey Record,” or “Radio Station Copy.”

Sylvie Fortin

Maia Cruz Palileo

Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street
May 17–July 8

Maia Cruz Palileo, Lover at Woodland Creek (Bat’s Land), 2018, oil on canvas, 52 x 62".

The canvases are still fragrant with drying oil paint in Maia Cruz Palileo’s solo exhibition here. This only adds mystique to the dusky tropical scenes—a thick stew of Filipino, American, and Spanish history. Last summer in Chicago, where the Filipina American Palileo once lived, the artist excavated ethnographic photos of the Philippines’ indigenous people at the Newberry Library, taken by American zoologist Dean C. Worcester in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The pictures were meant to lubricate the American imperialist campaign after the US purchased the country from Spain in 1898. The artist recast the figures in these photos, freely transposing them into painted interiors and lush nocturnal landscapes. In Lover at Woodland Creek (Bat’s Land), 2018, Palileo queers the garden scene of Adam and Eve by rendering an androgynous odalisque on a rock near a serpent, the earth bloodred under the light of the moon. The canvas disrupts the lusty gaze of Worcester, who at times posed topless indigenous women in this clichéd Western art pose.

In Ancestral Home, 2018, Palileo creates a dark room of ricocheting glances, adapting Diego Velázquez’s 1656 canvas Las Meninas (and the Spanish imperial courts that produced it) to the colonial world of the Filipino upper class. With all of the metabolized trappings of Western decor, the ancestral home’s protagonist is an elder matriarch who sits before an ornate mirror at the center of a deep interior, flanked by figures who may only be ghosts.

The tropical gothic, a term coined by the Filipino literary master Nick Joaquin, is an aesthetic built on the ruins of a tribal civilization first colonized by the Spanish, then by the United States. It is a mood and a metaphor ripe for Palileo’s paintings, redolent with history but not beholden to it. The artist’s figures, emancipated from their source material, now look back at us as part of her decolonized imagination.

Cora Fisher

“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

“Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)”

The Met Breuer
945 Madison Avenue
March 21–July 22

View of “Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now),” 2018.

“Like Life” suggests that lifelikeness is the core business of Western sculpture. The historical platform it puts under contemporary practice makes it a near manifesto of plenty more to come. The 117 deftly chosen items for this exhibition range from gems of naturalism by great names (Donatello’s Bust of Niccolò da Uzzano, ca. 1430, which may have been modeled after the subject’s death mask), to forensic gadgets and philosophical toys by nonartists, such as the Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham, 1832 (a life-size effigy of the titular philosopher that contains his skeleton, casually seated in his brand new vitrine, wearing his own clothes, holding his favorite walking stick). That item granddaddies the work of living artists whose hyperlikenesses close the exhibition parentheses: Duane Hanson, Ron Mueck, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Charles Ray among them.

Keynote catalogue essays insist that lifelikeness requires color, and accuse the historical critics who imposed the white monochrome of excavated statuary as the one color of high art. The exhibition contents rather unmake that thesis. Clearly, artists (the ancients included) couldn’t ever keep their hands off the weirdest realness they could get, and color was only one tool in the box. The spellbound work of verisimilitude, although often tedious, never paused and has perhaps never been busier than today.

From color to technology—will it bring us yet-undreamed-of queasiness? The latest in hypericons, Goshka Macuga’s To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, 2016, is a life-size seated figure that wakes, blinks, gestures, and talks. Yet some of the far less “real” things here move us with not so much reality; it’s often only a very slight coup de théâtre that accosts us. Rodin’s glass-paste Mask of Hanako, Type E, 1911, weakly pigmented and lying back in a modest vitrine (Rodin kept it on a pillow), is a fair example. Just a little lifelikeness may be enough.

Brandt Junceau