Bill Beckley

Albertz Benda
515 West 26th Street
January 25–March 10

View of “After the Orgies: Bill Beckley, The Eighties” 2018.

According to Bill Beckley, “everything changed” in the 1980s. Reagan and AIDS cast intersecting shadows over the New York art world, where—as the official story goes—bohemian poverty, experimentation, and idealism vitrified into professionalization, cynicism, and knowing irony. In the essay “What Are You Doing After the Orgy?,” published in the October 1983 issue of Artforum, postmodernist oracle Jean Baudrillard frenetically adumbrated the zeitgeist: “viral contamination of things by images”; “the glazed extreme of sex”; “pornography of information”; a “state of radical disillusion which is pure presence.”

In the 1970s, Beckley had come up within an interdisciplinary post-Minimalist cadre of artists gathered around SoHo’s artist-run 112 Greene Street (where, among other interventions, he installed a live rooster). With a Baudrillardian title, “After the Orgies,” Albertz Benda revisits Beckley’s eighties work. A cheekily maximalist turn on Minimalism’s primary structures, the canted, hook-shaped Formica construction Up Yours, 1987, monopolizes one room, its many surfaces applied with chintzy checkered and floral cloth, broom fibers, and sundry black-and-white photographs including a close-up of a scrotum. Painting enters slyly, accompanied by variously dry and dirty jokes, unwieldy sculptural constructions, a family photo, and sundry media images. In the oil-and-encaustic The Size of Truman’s Hat, 1983, Haberdasher Harry’s hat size—7 3/8—is the sole stable element in an energetic field of swooping verticals, grisaille putti, newspaper scraps, a collaged sponge, rubber glove, and other random encrustations. Deadpan facticity collides with painterly exuberance. At what point does the real bleed into expression, information into noise? Works such as these ultimately debunk myths about 1980s art as much as they substantiate them. Knowing, quotation-heavy, even a bit sarcastic, they are also searching, serious, and, thankfully, still radically unresolved.

Chloe Wyma

Jesse Darling

Chapter NY
249 East Houston Street
January 26–March 11

Jesse Darling, Untitled (waiting room poster/municipal hospital series), 2017, ink, paper, plastic, aluminum frame, 26 x 18 1/2".

If the post-internet era uses new technology to position itself as a unique, irreparable break from the past, Jesse Darling’s practice situates this move within modernism’s theological underpinnings and legacy of progress. Instead of focusing on particular trend cycles, Darling investigates how the radically new became a market demand. “Atrophilia,” the artist’s 2016 show with Phoebe Collings-James at Company Gallery, interrogated the “desire for collapse or stasis,” according to the press release. In that exhibition, a candle and a toy airplane became a fleeting shrine; two blue busts of St. Jerome’s lion had noses bandaged with Scotch tape while draped in robes made of sweatshirt sleeves. Darling suggests that all technologies, bodies, and cultures are inherently fallible but that we continually infuse them with meaning in order to survive.

In the artist’s first US solo show here, a pair of crutches—Crawling Cane and Collapsed Cane (all works cited, 2017)—noodle onto the floor, limp and unusable, while a burnt hygienic curtain is only partly mended by steel snaps (Cut Curtain). Framed waiting-room posters with asemic script have cartoonish or equally opaque scribbles graffitied onto the glass, forming double-layered paintings. In one, Untitled (waiting room poster/municipal hospital series), angel wings have been added to a pregnant body with a “penis.” Transforming abject medical devices into the figures they are meant to hold up, Darling’s art examines the ways institutional and informal care networks have been made precarious. Overworked, underfunded hospitals struggle to look after patients who are themselves struggling to look after family and friends. If independence is impossible, you may not be able to realize it until you can’t care for yourself. Darling’s sculptures aren’t so much living as they are hanging on.

Charlie Markbreiter

Huguette Caland

Institute of Arab and Islamic Art
3 Howard Street
January 18–March 18

Huguette Caland, Eux, ca. 1975, oil on linen, 39 1/2 x 39 1/2".

A pair of oils on linen serves as the linchpin for this small but powerful exhibition of Huguette Caland’s drawings, paintings, caftans, and smocks. Both pictures show mischievous faces emerging from mounds of flesh. In Sunrise, 1973, a small male head peeks out from behind a face (or a breast) resembling a stylized mountain. In Eux, ca. 1975, an expanse of peach skin morphs into four women’s faces seen in full profile. This show in its entirety is just the four walls around one room. These are the only two paintings. But they work like an architecturally dramatic set of double doors, opening up to twenty-one (mostly untitled) works on paper and twenty-six pieces of clothing (including three designed for Pierre Cardin), all speaking volumes about the artist’s colorful life, her obsessions, and quirks.

Perhaps most importantly, the careful selection here, spanning more than fifty years, emphasizes the formal clarity of Caland’s erotic line—her ability to be sexually suggestive, almost comically naughty, while at the same time penning a feminist political critique of beauty, the body, and expectations of a woman’s place. The curation also explores Caland’s personal interpretation of the spectrum from figuration to abstraction, finding the crossover in her fashion design and then showing how it echoes in her drawings, where the least apparently representational patterns might in fact be studies for a hat.

The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art opened its first exhibition last spring. This is its second. So far, it has shown the work of five women. None of them are concerned with religious piety or identity politics. All of them are fiercely committed to a certain compositional intimacy and aesthetic complexity. Together, they prove what a pleasure it is to be surprised.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Dave McDermott

GRIMM | New York
202 Bowery
February 3–March 11

Dave McDermott, The Talker, 2017, oil, yarn, twenty-three karat gold, wax, panel, 75 x 63".

Melancholy, gold leaf, Federico Fellini, and yarn: Dave McDermott’s new paintings abound with nods to cinematic history and a sensuous approach to materials. The exhibition’s title, “The Long Goodbye,” salutes Robert Altman’s 1973 film (and Raymond Chandler’s 1952 book, upon which the movie is based) that follows a private investigator through worlds of murder, manipulation, and addiction. Yet it’s Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) that supposedly fuels the imagery of the artist’s paintings. McDermott drops us into a K-hole of cultural references, replete with anomie, tragedy, and loss.

The paintings are generous and, on occasion, opulent. The Talker, 2017, and The Humanist, 2018, are the show’s standouts. In the latter, a Trinacria, the gorgon symbol of Sicily, commands the work’s surface—she is surrounded by meticulously braided florets of rust and blue yarn. The planar unity McDermott achieves with his materials and processes in this piece are magisterial. The Talker depicts a Cyrano de Bergerac–like figure gabbling blobs of pastel paint into a speech bubble as he rests against a backdrop that looks like a funereal Gary Hume. The artist’s Cyrano is different from Edmond Rostand’s—McDermott’s is graphic, chilly, stripped of romance. He resembles a mask, available for anyone to wear. He’s also rendered in twenty-three-karat gold leaf and more than six feet high—a gilded yet pathetic icon of heartache, elevated into something almost godlike, and a tragic figure that we can all understand.

Owen Duffy

Susan Meiselas

Danziger Gallery
95 Rivington St
January 11–March 3

Susan Meiselas, Mitzi, Tunbridge, VT, 1974, silver gelatin print, 9 x 9". From the series “Carnival Strippers,” 1972–75.

Susan Meiselas took her first photography class when she was in her early twenties, studying at Harvard and living in a Cambridge boardinghouse on Irving Street. Her final project from the course, “44 Irving Street,” 1971, matched portraits of her neighbors with texts that described how they saw themselves in her pictures. The wild card in the series is Meiselas’s own self-portrait, double-exposed, a ghostly trace over a sturdy wooden chair. This is the first image you’ll see if you visit Meiselas’s blockbuster retrospective, up until May 20 at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. And it’s the last image you’ll catch if you duck down into the reception area of this gallery, featuring a much smaller, piston-like presentation of Meiselas’s art: twenty-five photographs from her groundbreaking series “Carnival Strippers,” 1972–75.

Meiselas spent four summers in the 1970s traveling through New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, meeting young women who made some kind of life stripteasing for small-town carnivals. This exhibition, bracingly relevant for work more than forty years old, emphasizes the portraits of the girls Meiselas got to know. Sometimes we get their names—Coffee, Carlisle, PA, 1975; Mitzi, Tunbridge, VT, 1974; or Sammy, Essex Junction, VT, 1974—while others are merely described as “the new girl,” or “the star.” The one recurring figure is Lena. We see her fresh-faced and bold (Lena on the Bally Box, Essex Junction, VT, 1973) or flopped down exhausted in bed (Lena in the motel, Barton, VT, 1974). We hear her in a pair of audio files, too: The grain of her voice slips from adrenalized to defeated as the seasons pass. “I’ve got a mind; I want to use it for myself,” she declares at a decidedly raw moment. “I want to be me; I don’t want to be anybody else.” At a time when a woman’s agency in the matrix of power needs serious thinking every day, Meiselas’s work here is necessary, thoughtful, and brave.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Tina Barney

Paul Kasmin | 297 Tenth Avenue
297 Tenth Avenue
January 17–March 3

Tina Barney, 4th of July on Beach, 1989, chromogenic color print, 30 x 40".

I found myself in the shoes of a voyeur, visiting Tina Barney’s landscapes here at night. Through the evening-lit gallery glass, the photographer’s frozen frames of summer looked more sinister than they had during a daytime trip. Her seemingly clichéd pictures of the seasons—as we see in works such as Drive-In 2017, Tennis Court, 1988, and 4th of July on Beach, 1989—are so obsessively formal that they bring out the shiver beneath nostalgia’s blush.

Barney serves up an ice-cream headache—a sweet, saturated world in which one is constantly seduced by sumptuous details yet held at a chilly distance. But this only exacerbates the desire to enter the glistening reality of her prints. While the earliest work in the exhibition is from 1988, one would be hard-pressed to figure out the exact years all of her images were taken. Barney’s photos feel impossibly consistent. It’s as if linear time had collapsed into the blur of New England’s collective memory, a kind of whitewashed forever.

A departure from Barney’s usual portraiture, the exhibition reveals a different aspect of the artist’s practice—one that’s focused on outdoor space and the way its beauty reflects our values. Of course, like all pretty things, nothing is as harmless or as luxurious as it seems, and in the artist’s landscapes one sees the way expectation laps away at the myth of the quaint Yankee beach town.

Kat Herriman

Peter Plagens

Nancy Hoffman Gallery
520 West 27th Street
January 25–March 10

Peter Plagens, Six of One, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 84 x 78".

Each one of Peter Plagens’s eleven abstract paintings and collages here can be regarded as trinities, made up of three visual elements that frame or obscure. Spaghettilike marks along the works’ perimeters jut and race about. They surround and jaggedly collide with flat inner plains of purple, gray, pink, or turquoise. At the heart of these works lie geometric units of blazing color, akin to tangram puzzles.

Plagens, also an art critic, has said that he manages to keep his writerly tendencies out of his paintings. He is, however, not entirely successful. His images feel a lot like discussions—heated, whispering, tussling. One can palpably sense the distinctive components of a conversation in his pictures, as the works slip between coherent wholes and fluid parts. The more structured, central nuclei have a stabilizing effect and function as mediators between order and bedlam, the terrestrial and the cosmic. The expanses of singular color encircling these forms act as spatial vacuums, providing a calming pause for the eye to rest. Black Flag, 2014, and Six of One, 2017, are marvelous examples.

Once an artwork is made public, the artist passes the baton of consideration and response to the audience. But when both maker and critic are manifest in the same person, we might expand our experiential apparatus. We are too well trained for seeing art. This exhibition—if we strain our ears as well as our eyes—permits us tantalizing access to a particularly intimate discourse.

Darren Jones

Laurel Nakadate

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
535 West 22nd Street, Sixth Floor
January 18–March 17

Laurel Nakadate, The Kingdom #10, 2018, inkjet print, 3 x 5". From the series “The Kingdom,” 2018.

There is a different Laurel Nakadate on view in this exhibition. The woman here—no longer a catalyst in extreme social experiments, as she was in a number of well-known earlier projects—is a mother who reflects on her own family and personal history.

In “The Kingdom” (all works cited, 2018), the series that gives the show its title, thirty-four digital photomontages depict Nakadate’s infant son inserted into vintage photographs of the artist’s mother, who died shortly after his birth. The little boy, traversing space and time, appears in a variety of scenarios: resting peacefully in his grandmother’s lap when she was a young bride, all in white for her wedding day (The Kingdom #2); or clutched to her chest in a picnic picture and flanked by her sun-kissed friends, her leonine face framed by a gorgeous mass of wavy hair (The Kingdom #10). Nakadate played a marginal role in the execution of these pictures—she hired anonymous digital artists to create them, with only one guideline: to make it look like her mother is always holding her grandchild.

Executive Order 9066 features more photos of Nakadate’s happy and carefree son, but it is a deceptively buoyant piece: The 180 images in this work correspond to the days of her father’s detainment in a Hunt, Idaho, internment camp for Japanese American citizens. Many of these camps were erected after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor during World War II—just one example of vicious US xenophobia. Though the artist’s narratives unveil the tragedies within multiple generations of her family, they are nonetheless girded by the hope of new beginnings.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Veronica Santi

Isaac Pool

Knockdown Center
52-19 Flushing Ave
January 13–February 25

Isaac Pool, Starter Pack, 2017, ceramic and wire base, plastic cucumber, rubber band, lightbulb, eyeliner, mascara, and Heatherette for MAC lipgloss, 16 x 6 x 4".

“Good sister, bad sister / better burn that dress, sister / scar tissue blood blister / suck upon the dregs, sister.” The lyrics to this Hole song, from their unrelentingly rage-filled 1991 album Pretty on the Inside, are chanted like a spell by the actors in Isaac Pool’s object-play 40 Volume, 2016. The work stars four sculptures on pedestals (moved from the gallery into an adjacent black-box space for the performance’s two-night run). The characters, voiced live by actors, include a robust head of fennel—the diva—and three vases composed of tube socks suggestively encrusted with hair gel. The objects’ quipping exchanges, punctuated by a cappella renditions of songs by pop stars such as Mariah Carey and Billy Idol, reveal a complex but affectionate homage to femme fabulousness, shot through with class anxieties. (The title refers to a strength of hair bleach.)

Pool’s aesthetic renews the codes of camp in ways that are both tender and aspirational. During the opening, Knockdown Center’s bar served a strange, Dorito-dusted, smoky cocktail containing mezcal and an alcoholic lemongrass-flavored kombucha, among other ingredients. His humble yet pathos-ridden works include Dorito Flag, 2016, a neon assemblage of stretch velvet and fringe—backlit by a fluorescent bulb—and The Promise, 2017, a piece that combines the minimalist Swedish brand Acne’s millennial-pink shopping bag with a plastic cookie and real zit medication. Pool’s sources range from JOANN Fabrics to MAC cosmetics, found religious fliers to faux cucumbers, all of which manage to channel loss and queer desire. They flesh out his poetic sensibilities with cribbed and coded language, amplified by Courtney Love’s raw yearning in the chorus of “Good Sister”: “I try but I can’t and / I want to so bad and . . .”

Wendy Vogel

“Kamrooz Aram, Anwar Jalal Shemza”

Hales Project Room
64 Delancey Street
January 24–February 25

Kamrooz Aram, Ornamental Composition for Social Spaces #14, 2017, oil, wax, oil crayon, and colored pencil on canvas, 78 x 68".

Historically, the relationship between painting and decoration has been uneasy. Critics have long regarded the decorative as anathema to serious Art. It is precisely that contentious space that Kamrooz Aram probes, implicitly asking the audience to consider the values that we ascribe to categories such as ornament, design, painting, and architecture, which his work ultimately suggests are all inextricably linked. Two of Aram’s paintings here, Ornamental Composition for Social Spaces #14 and #15, both 2017, display layers of abstract gestures and figurative marks rendered in oil, wax, and colored pencil. He borrows floral motifs from Persian rugs, which appear both buried and partially revealed amid flurries of expressionistic smears and hard-edged forms, including the grid—a symbol of modernist painting’s aesthetic rigidity. Likewise, Aram’s visual references to Persian rugs address the summary dismissal of nearly all non-Western motifs as “merely decorative,” which begs the question of why the decorative is considered undesirable in the first place.

While nods to Cy Twombly or Jo Baer are evident, the juxtaposition of Aram’s painting with aquatints by the older artist Anwar Jalal Shemza reveals further spheres of influence. Like Aram, Shemza grappled with simplistic readings of non-Western art forms, but at a time when politics were even more exclusionary. In 1956, when Shemza moved from Lahore to London, he was disillusioned to hear the storied art historian Ernst Gombrich relegate Islamic art to the realm of the functional. Shemza’s works in this exhibition engage with the legacy of European modernism—via soft pastels and repeating curvilinear forms à la Paul Klee—that also recall the visual rhythms of calligraphy and Islamic architectural designs. Shemza’s negotiation of these fraught cultural relationships illuminates a history that still drives Aram’s practice today.

Paula Burleigh

Anna K.E.

Simone Subal Gallery
131 Bowery, 2nd Floor
January 12–February 25

Anna K.E., Intangible Economies of Desires (Knee #3), 2018, 3-D rendering, inkjet photo print, color pencil drawing, LED light, aluminum jalousie, glass, Plexiglas, rubber, wood frame, 70 x 60 x 4 1/2". From the series “Intangible Economies of Desires,” 2016–18.

Anna K.E. is a former dancer, and her installation here suggests a kind of choreography, inviting the viewer to slip through and around, weave in and out. Many of her pipelike steel sculptures feature lightbulbs much like the orbs that illuminate New York City subway entrances. One descends from the ceiling, while others jut out at angles, creating an intricate web of architectural armatures for the viewer to navigate.

Appended to these structures are small speakers, each emitting a distinct sound, from crying babies to adults speaking various languages. You feel as though you’ve stepped into a quirky jam session, a hellish daycare—the noises contrast sharply with the cool elegance of the sculptures. Aluminum blocks, coated in marzipan, are inscribed with mysterious texts. One of them, Manifestations Causing Digestions, 2018, reads, “Odorless fiction.” These blocks are ciphers, as intractable and opaque as the language in Marcel Duchamp’s short film Anémic cinéma, 1926, or the leaden, waxy materiality of a Jasper Johns.

Images from a series of 3-D-rendered body parts wrapped in technological apparatuses line the walls (“Intangible Economies of Desires,” 2016–18). Some seem to depict shooting laser beams. The ink-jet prints are occluded in spots by transparent window shutters, blinking LEDs, and shiny metal frames, complicating the viewer’s perceptual encounter. K.E.’s exhibition is an idiosyncratic take on corporeality. The show is neither a didactic illustration of the “posthuman” nor a lament about technological alienation, but something fascinatingly in-between and utterly of the moment.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Kasper Bosmans

Gladstone Gallery | West 24th St
515 West 24th Street
January 18, 2018–February 24, 2018

Kasper Bosmans, “Legend: Chip Log,” 2018, gouache and silverpoint on poplar panel, eight 11 x 8 1/8'' panels.

Kasper Bosmans reinterprets selected relics to direct our attention toward the seemingly obsolete powers that conceived them. On a large wall, Ebstorf Map (life size) (all works 2018), is made up of three rows of ten panels that replicate the titular document. The original thirteenth-century mappa mundi, with Christ's face included at the top, illustrates more than mere geographic information. Here, the distance between each parchment expands the surface that the piece occupies, suggesting the map's purpose: to promulgate European dominion.

Complementary to such a conquest were “chip logs,” wooden triangles with an arched side and a rope knotted at equal intervals attached to one face, which were meant to measure the speed of a vessel in a body of water. After tossing a log from the ship’s stern, sailors would count the number of knots on the rope that slipped through their hands in a given period of time. In T.O. Chip Log (Ebstorf), four chip logs are arranged to form a full circle, the only piece mounted on the Prussian-blue walls of the third and last room. Due to factors such as tides and currents, measuring speed with logs was never exact. Thus, control over the seacraft was always imprecise—but it was power nonetheless.

By way of wall text, Bosmans has created rebus-like legends to guide the viewer through his work. “Legend: Chip Log” is a series of eight small paintings featuring clean, color-saturated icons both retrieved from the past and borrowed from the present. Although the iconography is mostly recognizable—apples, flags, spinning pinwheels, fleur-de-lis, hourglass cursors, castles, bombs, crowns—the connections between the figures are left undeciphered. Various historical contexts add a degree of unintelligibility to the paintings and prompt the question: What contemporary objects will serve as residues of power in the future?

Valentina Sarmiento Cruz

Maryam Jafri

Kai Matsumiya
153 1/2 Stanton Street
January 11–March 11

Maryam Jafri, Where we’re at, 2017, wooden frame, books, vinyl, dimensions variable.

Maryam Jafri’s “War on Wellness” states that the wellness industry has polluted more than it has detoxed. The exhibition has resonance now that pseudoscience, in the form of climate-change deniers and flat-earthers, has become authority. If “wellness” only targeted the affluent, it would be a mere perpetrator of victimless crimes, no more dangerous than a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap—but it isn’t. It’s part of a nexus of unattainable dreams and delusions that have hijacked our best instincts toward ourselves and sold them to the almighty Oz.

Self-care, 2017 is a toilet-paper roll made from a purple strip of yoga mat. It’s a surrealist object and a sculptural meme at the same time (one should not discount the meme as a critical strategy in a time when accepted methods of critique are too slow-motion for our current greenhouse of horrors). Where we’re at, 2017 is a wall-size functioning crossword puzzle/bookshelf of psychobabble, pop political science, and secrets-to-success books. It suggests that our problems, as defined by the prophets of false hope, are utterly solvable—not intractably social, physical, geographical, and economic.

A prayer altar with a monitor showing an army captain teaching meditation to troops, (American Buddhist, 2016), is not a takedown of certain reflective practices. But it does underline that the possibilities of utopia through healing are thwarted by the fact that no self-improvement technique is morally neutral or divorced from our self-inflicted forces of destruction—regardless of how much water dribbling off polished stones is present. The work also points out that the wellness industry, by aping the forms of organized religion, is guilty of perpetrating similar abuses.

Matthew Weinstein

Thornton Dial

David Lewis
88 Eldridge Street, Fifth Floor
January 25–March 18

Thornton Dial, Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye, 2002, clothing, enamel, spray paint, Splash Zone compound, canvas, wood, 76 1/2 x 108 x 4".

In the art of the late Southern painter Thornton Dial, the notion of “relief” leads in several directions. Along one path, it was the word used in his lifetime (he died in 2016 at the age of eighty-seven) to describe his wild assemblages on canvas and wood, which were so heavily piled with found objects, oils, paints, enamels, and other compounds that they reach out several inches from the wall. In another sense—for an artist who was dealing with some of the more abject horrors of the world and described his approach to history in terms of tilling the soil—“relief” also suggests a kind of reprieve. Dial busied his hands to find, for himself and his viewers, a way to be freed from violence, cruelty, injustice, and tragedy. His way was to give those things shape, color, texture, and depth.

In the last thirty years of his life, Dial touched on the US-led invasion of Iraq, wildfires in California, the destruction of the World Trade Center, O. J. Simpson, and the legacy of the civil-rights movement epitomized by the 1965 protest marches in Selma, Alabama. This show, featuring seven paintings and one stand-alone sculpture, delves into the last three, most strikingly in Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye, 2002, which translates the smoldering site of mangled steel and charred remains into a lurid, almost sickly orange broken up by flower patterns and a little girl’s tutu. Even more brilliant, however, is the decision to match the seriousness of Dial’s “history painting” with his teasing of art history. In Art and Nature, 2011, a handful of paint cans appear to have been dumped over a pair of delicate ceramic vases, smashing one while leaving the other intact. Everything together signals art’s utter fragility but also its fighting spirit.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Jamian Juliano-Villani

191 Chrystie St
January 11, 2017–February 24, 2018

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Gone With the Wind, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96".

The last time Jamian Juliano-Villani staged a show at JTT, the canvases were so big and the gallery so small that viewers had to stand outside to fully see the works: sci-fi visions of sexed-up aliens and blasted moonscapes, both menacing and irreverent, like billboard ads for the apocalypse. This time, the space is bigger, the paintings are smaller and—more importantly—sparer. The restraint that characterizes these enigmatic, economical works marks a shift for the young New Jersey native, who gained early fame for phantasmagoric mash-ups of cartoon figures stretched like Silly Putty, stock imagery, logos, and memes in lurid acrylic: David Salle–esque pastiches for the Ren & Stimpy generation. Instead of splicing everything she’s got into each canvas, it feels as though Juliano-Villani is testing how much she can strip away while still achieving the psychotropic dread of her busier works.

In Gone with the Wind (all works 2018), a cartoon fish gluts itself on Coca-Cola while a helpless-looking firefighter floats above burning California. October depicts an ash-choked Pompeian infant blowing across an empty school hallway. The linoleum floor is littered with shattered glass, in an eerie evocation of recent school shootings. Together, these works convey a loss of control, of entropy overriding security, idealism, and best-case scenarios. In Three Penny Opera, Juliano-Villani delivers her own late-capitalist critique: Cookie Monster, stretched to fashion-model proportions, sashays down a runway toting bulging Key Food shopping bags like so many designer duffels. One can see why the artist would relate to Brecht’s alienation effect; she too excels at rendering the familiar foreign.

Lest we take these works too seriously, though, Juliano-Villani has also made an inane installation involving jokey, graffiti-covered canvases (“toys can’t hang,” reads one). The stoner humor deflects earnest engagement with the other, excellent paintings. Unnecessarily—those are plenty funny, and much more as well.

Zoë Lescaze

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Gavin Brown's Enterprise | Harlem
439 W 127th St
January 14–February 25

View of “LaToya Ruby Frazier,” 2018.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s first show here is expansive, tenderhearted, and so cleverly slotted across three large floors of ascending exhibition space that you might actually laugh out loud when you arrive at the uppermost landing and realize the paces you’ve been put through to get there.

On the ground floor, the looking is tough and requires real work. Frazier’s “Flint Is Family,” 2016–17, made up of twenty-four photographs, follows three generations of women—mother Renée, daughter Shea, and granddaughter Zion—as they course through the horrors of the Michigan water crisis, in which a toxic combination of government disregard, corporate greed, and crumbling infrastructure exposed the residents of a largely poor, black town to devastatingly high levels of lead in their drinking water. The pictures wind through the gallery alongside a twelve-minute video (also titled Flint Is Family, 2016) and 1,364+ Days Undrinkable, 2016–17, a mural made up of twenty-five prints.

Your reward for all that is the more familiar territory of the second floor, where twenty-eight images from Frazier’s best-known series, “The Notion of Family,” 2001–14, line the walls. Here, moments of extreme intimacy tangle into another story of industrial failure and economy in free fall. And then, the top-floor finale, “A Pilgrimage to Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum,” 2016–17: thirteen gorgeous, large-scale photographs of the late artist’s outdoor museum in Joshua Tree, California, all of them majestic portraits of his incredible junkyard assemblages. Frazier once described her own work as a spiral, spinning out from the home to the street and beyond. In this show, her work takes on a different shape, that of an almost spiritual elevation, suggesting that the path to enlightenment runs, by necessity, from community service and a commitment to social justice, through extremely empathic observation, until you reach a roomful of wondrous art that is all the more gratifying for the climb.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

“Josef Albers in Mexico”

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
1071 Fifth Avenue
November 3–March 28

Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square: Consent, 1947, oil on Masonite, 16 x 16".

Josef Albers’s series “Homage to the Square,” 1950–76, oil paintings of the titular form in three or four colors on Masonite, are icons of modern art—printed in textbooks, on posters, and, in the 1980s, on US postage stamps. We are familiar with these works. We have memorized their contours. We have learned the principles of color theory and geometry they make manifest. And yet, what remains exceptional about them is precisely what we cannot immediately perceive—the infinity of reactions their disarmingly simple designs cause. What will lingering in front of an Homage piece make us see, and how it will make us feel? Will the squares nest inside one another, as in a set of Russian dolls? Or will they expand out toward us, like an accordion in play? Will they make us serene? Alarmed?

This exhibition, pairing the artist’s paintings with photographs he took in Mexico, hints at even more of what lies in wait beneath these cool exteriors. He and his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, saw an attentiveness to form in pre-Columbian design similar to their own aesthetic principles, and took frequent trips to Mexican architectural ruins from the 1930s on. Might Josef’s squares be about the vertiginous sensation of gazing up at ancient flights of stairs? Or how the sunlight curves over intricate and labyrinthine stonework patterns?

No cultural translation is neutral, and the Albers’ zeal for all things Mexican can feel fetishizing or appropriative. But this in and of itself is part of what makes “Josef Albers in Mexico” tick. Are Josef’s squares original? Are they “modern”? The exhibition prompts these questions and more.

Hannah Stamler

Cathy Wilkes

22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
October 22–March 11

View of “Cathy Wilkes,” 2017–18.

The air is cold and heavy with desperation: Witness the tattered cloths, the dirty dishes. A 2006 painting with an overturned saucer affixed to its jejune surface spells out its title in thin pencil strokes: “She’s pregnant again.” The piece is a womb and a void. Look at the children: Their legs are thin or absent, their toys worn, shredded (see the brown Beanie Babies bunny whose velvety ears lie a little too close to that tarnished Swiss Army knife, in Non Verbal, 2005/2011). Their TV is turned off, with a faded red towel thrown on top of it—did it put out a small fire? Cathy Wilkes’s show is full of sparks, both deadened and vibrant. Life is glimpsed through assemblages of used and abused containers, discarded items, and household goods.

But the kids can still draw and write: “All things were made by it and without it was not anything made that was made,” says a carefully transcribed passage on wide-ruled paper in a youthful hand (Untitled, 2017). It’s part nonsense, part faith—a story about creation that rhymes without reason. And Wilkes eschews reason. She intends for her work to be experienced as a vast mystery, unfolding as a kind of maternal detachment. Mannequin mothers stand stiffly in ripped stockings, float above dead nettles, dance while possessed by some cleaning routine, or sit hunched over an alcohol bottle while the young ones watch hungrily nearby. In their wake are those fragments of narrative—crusty residues, shards of mirror—rearranged and broken again for this haunting retrospective.

Mira Dayal