Arthur Ou

Brennan & Griffin
122 Norfolk Street
October 27–December 10

Arthur Ou, Pt. Reyes, October 21, 2016, 8:34AM, Version 1, 2017, hand-tinted gelatin silver print, 60 x 50".

Arthur Ou’s photographs here were taken during a single day, from sunup to sundown, at the Point Reyes, California, coast last year. After making a sequence of exposures from the same aerial vantage, the artist tinted each nearly identical analog print with waxed pigment, so that gradations bloom across what would otherwise be an unspectacular seascape. Despite such a deliberate technique, there is a narcotic uncertainty to the photographs, a feeling deepened by the press release’s epigraph from Ludwig Wittgenstein, who remarks that the future “moves not in a straight line, but in a curve, and that its direction constantly changes.” For his current exhibition, premised on infinite possibilities, it is fitting that the works hover between the pictorial and the abstract, painting and photography, reality and fiction. Even the blush of these rhyming seascapes is mercurial in its iridescence, evoking the fickle emotional weather of a mood ring.

Ou’s previous show at this gallery, which displayed fourteen black-and-white portraits of photographers reading Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, sought meaning in the minutest of expressions via reiterations of stillness. This theme continues in “A Day of Times,” which derives a quiet irony from the patience and dedication involved in something many of us do every day: run similar images through different filters, be they technological or psychic. These works combine Warholian replication with an interest in augmenting the American landscape through color—an interest shared by peers such as David Benjamin Sherry, though Ou’s compositions feel markedly disembodied. Each title’s specificity, such as Pt. Reyes, October 21 2016, 8:34AM, Version 1, 2017, reflects little of the pictures’ ambiguity and lunar distance. If you begin to find yourself feeling geographically or philosophically stranded, you might try to think, with Wittgenstein’s words in mind, of the future.

Zack Hatfield

Jessica Vaughn

Martos Gallery | New York
41 Elizabeth Street
October 26–December 10

Jessica Vaughn, South Beach Blue No. 389, 2017, fabric scraps on Plexiglas, 57 x 39 x 1/2".

Earlier this fall, Omer Fast drew the ire of Chinatown antigentrification activists for his installation at James Cohan’s downtown space, which mimicked a stereotypical neighborhood discount storefront. Jessica Vaughn’s current exhibition, “Receipt of a Form,” confronts similar issues of urban movement and displacement, but she wields her materials with a lighter hand. Vaughn’s modus operandi is simple: She relocates the everyday elements of city life, such as worn-out public-transportation seats and their upholstery scraps, into the gallery. Yet her sculptural works mostly function as frames for empty space, communicating the ghostly absence of the bodies they are intended to support.

In Learning From the Work of Others (all works cited, 2017), the only flat, wall-hung work in the show, seven digital prints of carbon paper surround a photocopied diagram from a public-transit upholstery manufacturer. Labeled “Efficiency 73.95%,” the diagram depicts the pattern that workers must use to cut out as many elements—seat arms, backs—from a single piece of fabric as is possible. (Vaughn has added her own cryptic notes to the photocopy, likely referring to the gallery installation.) Along the floor, Vaughn has laid sculptures she created from upholstery scraps backed with Plexiglas; she titles them after the cloth’s fabrics or colors, such as the vibrantly patterned South Beach Blue No. 389 or Boomer Blue No. 340 #2. Seven sets of retired El seats, from the Chicago Transit Authority, are pinned to two walls in After Willis (rubbed, used and moved) #008. On one wall, there is a perfect set of four; on another, only three, with a noticeable gap—a symbol, perhaps, of the city’s segregation, of personal loss, or just of the inefficiency of public infrastructure.

Wendy Vogel

Maryam Hoseini

Rachel Uffner Gallery
170 Suffolk Street
November 5–December 23

Maryam Hoseini, Don’t Talk about Women If You Are a Liar (detail), 2017, acrylic, ink, pencil, latex, dimensions variable.

Maryam Hoseini wields abstraction as a tool for flattening and blending social space. In “Of Strangers and Parrots,” her first solo show with this gallery, stripes become serpents, limbs become lakes, and penciled-in leg hairs become hieroglyphs. Whole figures are discernable, but they are piled on top of one another or stacked. This collapse of body and background into airless, stylized planes creates unease.

The people in Hoseini’s paintings live on thin margins. The artist hints at their identities with declarative titles such as Don’t Talk about Women If You Are a Liar, Women Liars Are Losers, and Liars Make Women Promise (all works 2017). It is, of course, impossible to separate the women from the liars—Hoseini seems to simultaneously revel in and reject this state of discomfiture.

By laying bare feelings of confinement and confusion with art-historical imagery, Hoseini sets a stage for looking at homosocial spaces and the paradoxical ways they are preserved in contemporary life. Whether it’s a bathroom in New York City or a hammam in her native Iran, these spaces have continually provided the architecture for the oppression of the other. But rather than shy away from her involvement in this terrain, the artist implicates herself in its construction and maintenance through her own false dichotomies: liars versus women, abstraction versus figuration. By creating a heightened sense of self-awareness, Hoseini asks viewers to give themselves over to intersectional thinking.

Kat Herriman

Andrew Cannon

White Columns
320 West 13th Street, Entrance on Horatio)
November 4–December 16

Andrew Cannon, Beaver, Real Estate, John Astor, 2017, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, plastic resin, urethane foam, polystyrene, foam, pigment, 64 x 48 x 8".

When a beaver makes its lodge, it’s an instinctual operation. The final structure is awkward, jutting, but has a peculiar beauty all its own. In the bottom left corner of Andrew Cannon’s Beaver, Real Estate, John Astor (all works 2017)—one of the wall-mounted, relief-like works in the current show, his first solo in New York—we see a profile of the titular creature (the beaver, not Astor), likely working on its house. Cannon’s gripping pieces take the beaver’s process as a model through which to think about artmaking: an unwieldy accretion of gestures and synaptic firings that are totally animal but capable of yielding otherworldly results.

At first sight, Cannon’s works appear to be heavy ceramics, as their “glazed” surfaces suggest fired clay. But upon closer examination the pieces are revealed to be made of urethane foam, among many other things—holographic foil, oil paint, putty, and gold leaf, to name a few—coated in pigment and epoxy resin. Epoxy is often used to seal metals, which adds a mechanical sheen to industrial surfaces. But the effect here feels handmade, like someone’s first stab at pottery, or Rosemarie Trockel’s memorable deformations of such craft media. Landscape recurs throughout: Italy in Goethe looks like a dirty slab of emerald and possesses the natural majesty of a scintillating geode. In Carnation Sign, there’s a mushroom with perfectly rendered gills. Above it, crystalline flowers bloom—an ecological image rife with the ecstatic. Cannon’s sculptures are newfangled objects that play with sensations and sensibilities as old as time.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Scott Covert

FIERMAN
127 Henry Street
October 19–December 10

SITUATIONS
127 Henry St
October 19–December 10

Scott Covert, Donna & Sylvester, n.d., acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 31 x 31".

Death pairs well with glamour: Think of Marlene Dietrich’s prostitute-spy character in Dishonored (1931), as she applies her lipstick before meeting a firing squad; Bette Davis as terminally ill socialite Judith Traherne in Dark Victory (1939); or Divine’s punk murderess Dawn Davenport in John Waters’s Female Trouble (1974), where the actor soliloquizes from an electric chair like a demented starlet accepting her first, and final, Oscar.

Scott Covert certainly understands the seductive appeal of merging Eros and Thanatos: For twenty-five years, the artist has traipsed the world, from Père Lachaise in Paris to LA’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park, making gravestone rubbings of the famous, fucked-up, and fabulous. Nineteen of the mostly acrylic-and-oilstick-on-canvas works, sometimes zhooshed up with glitter, are elegantly installed across two mausoleum-like exhibition spaces. Frank E. Campbell would be proud.

Of course, Marilyn Monroe makes a number of appearances in Covert’s show, quite memorably in Big Pink Marilyn #2 (all works cited, n.d.), where the doomed actress’s name and the years “1926–1962” become a pattern over fields of white and pale rose. The sensuously cool hues make one think of the skintight, nude-colored dress Monroe wore to serenade President Kennedy at his birthday celebration—an eroticized shroud, laden with rhinestones—only months before her suicide. Disco queens Summer and James share the marquee in Donna & Sylvester, while assholes Breitbart and Cunanan occupy the same circle of hell in Andrew Andrew. Covert loves his celebrities, à la Warhol, of whom the artist is a clear spiritual descendant (tender homages to Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis crop up in Covert’s pictures, too). Though the Pop painter frequently rendered his subjects as flattened, inanimate symbols, Covert does the opposite. He locates his dead in order give them one last breath—a moment that, we all hope, stretches out into forever.

Alex Jovanovich

Valeska Soares

Alexander Gray Associates
510 West 26th Street
October 26–December 16

Valeska Soares, Epilogue (detail), 2017, mixed media, 3' 11“ x 18' 3” x 3' 10".

“This is a true story,” begins the text on a page torn from the back of a book, humbly framed and inconspicuously placed at the start—or is it the finish?—of Valeska Soares’s first show here. Located on the second floor, the piece isn’t on the checklist. It both is and is not part of the show. It marks a new beginning and at the same time signals continuity, introducing the installation Epilogue, 2017, an epic variation on Finale, 2013. Finale consists of an antique dining table topped with mirrored glass and covered with dozens of dainty vintage drinking glasses, all of them filled with spirits. Epilogue features five such tables, end to end, with many times more glasses and an almost overwhelming smell of alcohol. To walk into the room is to wonder: What kind of extravagant party was this, and what cleared out the revelers so quickly that none of them downed their drinks? The text on the page continues: “. . . although some names and details have been changed to protect the guilty.”

Born in Brazil in the 1950s and based in Brooklyn since the 1990s, Soares specializes in a kind of domestic terror that is familiar to an international generation of feminist artists whose works span old worlds and new, intimations of home and exile, evocations of liberation and restraint. Where Soares differs from her contemporaries is in how she finds and alters pre-existing materials. The new series of paintings “Doubleface,” 2017, includes four portraits of women, variously procured, which have been turned to face the wall, painted monochromatically, cut, and folded to reveal eyes, a nose, and, in one case, hands. They are ambiguous objects, and perhaps not totally convincing as images, but they are wholly in keeping with Soares’s love of mystery and drama.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Jacqueline Humphries

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street, Ground floor and 8th Floor
October 27–December 16

View of “Jacqueline Humphries,” 2017.

In the 1960s, US-government bureaucrats and corporate tinkerers developed ASCII, a symbolic code that uses the Roman alphabet to represent images. In the 1980s, its early adoption on the Usenet gave rise to ideograms for graphics—foreshadowing our current preoccupation with memes. Adapting this early-internet nostalgia with a nod to those who have apocalyptic visions of painting’s demise, Jacqueline Humphries’s recent abstract canvases hum with a frenetic energy, buoyed by their scale and thickly textured surfaces.

For these most recent paintings, Humphries has reinterpreted—or “cannibalized,” in the artist’s words—her past work, piling up laser-cut stencils of emoji and kaomoji in pieces such as (#J^^) (all works 2017), where smiley faces repeat and coalesce almost sculpturally, inviting viewers to decode the artist’s inscrutable layers. The broad, red, gestural strokes of TQ555 recall Cy Twombly’s later paintings, and the pocked surface left by the stencils adds another effervescent rhythm.

Humphries has championed innovation in abstraction, freeing it from its often self-serious origins (think of the artist’s groovy black-light paintings, which she started in 2005). But a sense of alarm can be detected in the artist’s mind: One large canvas streaked with swaths of yellow paint, under which a big, stressed-out figure can be seen, is titled simply Worried Emoji:).

Tausif Noor

Martín Ramírez

Ricco / Maresca Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Third Floor
October 26–December 2

Martín Ramírez, Untitled (Brick Structure with Arches), ca. 1960–63, gouache, colored pencil, and graphite on paper, 24 x 18 1/2".

The current exhibition of work by the late Martín Ramírez, “A Journey,” leads viewers in exploring the world of outsider art through one of its most illustrious practitioners. Ramírez was thirty years old when, in 1925, he decided to cross the Rio Grande, leaving his pregnant wife and three children in Mexico behind for the US. He arrived illegally in his new country, where the dream of finding a better life shattered after he started laboring on the California railroads and in mines. In 1931, Ramírez was unemployed and in a state of confusion, and the police found him on the street. He was then committed to Stockton State Hospital, where he was diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He repeatedly told them that he was not insane and could not speak English, and he tried escaping the place numerous times. Eventually, however, he stopped talking and started drawing.

In this show, viewers encounter variations of a man on horseback, one of the artist’s most iconic and popular figures—perhaps a reference to the Cristero fighters of his former homeland. There are also obsessively rendered architectonic structures composed of repeating arches, rows of little bricks, and patterns that look like wood grain. When he did not have access to his usual materials, he used what he found in the hospital. Untitled (Brick Structure with Arches), ca. 1960–63, for example, was created on gift-wrapping paper with a mid-1950s design that melds with Ramírez’s picture.

Untitled (Train and Tunnels), 1954, likely the most complex work in the show, is a vertiginous network of concentric lines and darkened tunnels with a train running along a track of impossible construction. Ramírez is a solitary traveler through memory, and his drawings are fearless.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Veronica Santi

Mary Kelly

Mitchell-Innes & Nash | Chelsea
534 West 26th Street
October 19–November 22

View of “Mary Kelly: The Practical Past,” 2017.

Mary Kelly’s landmark installation Post-Partum Document, 1973–79, tracing out the early years of the artist’s life with her son, from his first consumption of solids to his acquisition of language, has been so consistently present in intellectual discourse that it is hard to imagine the history of feminist art without it. So crystalline was Kelly’s articulation of psychoanalytic principles that it is also easy to forget how prosaic the work really is. The soiled diapers give evidence that she did a good job weaning her baby. The record of his every utterance expresses the abundantly common frustration of a child totally ignoring his parent’s command.

This exhibition, titled “The Practical Past,” is a reminder that Kelly’s work is fundamentally useful and that Post-Partum Document proposed new motherhood and early childhood as firsts in a long series of traumas, extending to the world of political upheavals, to ‪the promise and failure of revolutions past and present.

A trio of diminutive letterpress prints from 2016 outlines Kelly’s concern for three historical moments, which she describes in poetic texts. In Unguided Tour c. 1940, three men are reading in a London library during the Blitz. In Unguided Tour c. 1968, a woman hoists a flag in Paris on the eve of a general strike. And in Unguided Tour c. 2011, protestors gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo, only days before the reign of President Hosni Mubarak crumbled. The pieces function as guides for larger-scale pictures made solely of compressed lint (yes, yes, the stuff you scoop out of your dryer filter). Kelly’s show riffs on these surreal irruptions of hope while reeling from old anxieties about the stubborn disjunction between good (leftist) politics and bad (or often insufficiently feminist) behavior.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Aria Dean

american medium
515 W. 20th St., 3N
October 19–November 25

Aria Dean, Untitled (Obscenities), 2017, galvanized steel, silk, wax, 39 x 10 x 50".

There is a comedic straightforwardness to Aria Dean’s work that betrays her ulterior motives. The artist deploys cliché, often and with pleasure, starting with the first eyeful of her exhibition, Untitled (Obscenities) (all works cited, 2017), a sculpture composed of a handmade red satin bow dangling from a steel chain and pipes. An overtly romantic gesture sullied by wax drips and telltale traces of manual facture, the droopy gift-wrapping sets the tone for Dean’s pushback against objects’ undue symbolic burden.

Dean is playful, not precious, with her materials. Carry the Zero, a plastic blowup doll with a spigot for a mouth, lies vulnerable on the floor. Its transparent body calls to mind a sex toy or the cartoonish chalk outline of a murder investigation. The artist layers reference upon reference until the object’s meaning collapses into chaos. For example, the series “Untitled (Canvas 1-4#),” is made up of cotton batting stapled to sets of stretcher bars and burned in areas with a lighter—Dean’s take on the blank canvas. Her fuzzy paintings, readymade jokes that tweak Minimalism’s conceptual heft, also allude to American slavery, which provided the infrastructure for the industry to flourish today.

The artist draws parallels between the way objects are treated and the way blackness is unfairly loaded as a surface, identity, and idea. Sincerity and irony meet in her video A River Called Death. In the film, shots of a starry night and the Yazoo River in Mississippi are captioned with a narrative starring Death as a figure synonymous with the mysticism and everydayness of the Southern tributary. “She waded in, ducking under,” reads the silent screen. “It’s just a quick ride to the bottom where wood splinters and limbs appear one and the same.”

Kat Herriman

José Leonilson

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
September 27–February 3

José Leonilson, O ilha (The Island One), 1991, thread and metal on canvas, 14 x 11".

José Leonilson was born in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1957––seven years before the military coup that kept the country under the rule of military dictatorship until 1985. He spent most of his career working in São Paulo and traveling around the world until his untimely death due to complications resulting from AIDS in 1993, at the age of thirty-six. While his career was coterminous with the rise of the 1980s generation of Brazilian painters exploring a postdictatorship Brazil, his complex and diaristic intimacies set him apart from his peers.

Leonilson once said that he only made work intended for people he loved. Works on view here include collage, fabric assemblages, paintings, and drawings that use poetics and other discursive strategies to grapple with an emotional self-portraiture under a death sentence. O ilha (The Island One), 1991, is a small, spare canvas with an enrobed figure embroidered onto the surface. He stands next to the Portuguese title—a combination of masculine article and feminine noun—atop the words “handsome, selfish.” The work processes Catholic religiosity, familial fealty, and desire through a queered metaphor for loneliness. Saquinho (Small Bag), 1992, is a vibrant orange pouch, cinched tightly with copper wire and embroidered with Leonilson’s initials, “J. L.,” and his age at the time, “35.” It is a rendering of the self as vessel, container, pocket. We are left to wonder if the bag is representative of him keeping his diagnosis from his family or if it is a work about trying to hold onto something of himself before cachexia set in.

This exquisite and intelligently curated survey also lays bare a certain institutional egregiousness. We are indeed lucky to be gifted with this first-ever solo exhibition of Leonilson’s work in the United States; however, it begs the question: Why, despite the commercial and institutional visibility of artists who deal with sexuality, mortality, and disease, such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres and David Wojnarowicz, has a body of work of this political importance and poetic urgency remained largely unknown?

John Arthur Peetz

Raghubir Singh

The Met Breuer
945 Madison Avenue
October 11–January 2

Raghubir Singh, Monsoon Rains, Monghyr, Bihar, 1967, C-print, 9 1/2 x 14".

Raghubir Singh’s first camera was a gift from an older brother, who brought it back from a trip to Hong Kong. Singh, fourteen at the time, used the camera to join the photography club at his Jesuit high school in Jaipur. He took pictures constantly and developed them in a rudimentary black-and-white darkroom. On one of his parents’ bookshelves, he found a book of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work in India and pored over it intently.

Singh went to college to study history but dropped out. He needed to find a job. It was only after he applied to nearly every tea company in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and was rejected by all of them that he turned to photography as a career. Starting in the 1960s, he worked as a photojournalist—magazines offered him decent pay and unlimited access to Kodachrome slide film—and then settled into a rhythm of self-directed projects, which found their fullest expression in books (Singh published thirteen in his lifetime, with a fourteenth released posthumously). He died instantly of a massive heart attack in 1999, just fifty-six.

This most comprehensive retrospective of Singh’s photography to date, “Modernism on the Ganges,” tells the story of his life and work through eighty-five of his pictures. Singh held close to the influences of Cartier-Bresson and the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, a lifelong friend. But while they stuck to a black-and-white vision of the world, Singh drew upon eighteenth-century Rajput miniatures and the more colloquial twentieth-century tradition of hand-coloring studio portraiture. The show delicately punctuates its loosely chronological narrative with comparative images, tracing out Singh’s sources of inspiration, the work of his peers, and younger photographers whom he mentored. It allows for an incredible accumulation of detail, building in complexity toward a surprisingly nimble argument about color, photography, modernism, and a porous world.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Marcia Marcus

Eric Firestone Gallery | New York
4 Great Jones Street, 4
October 12–December 2

Marcia Marcus, Nude with Mirror, 1965, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 47 1/2 x 30 1/2".

The twenty-three paintings by Marcia Marcus here deliver one knockout after another. In the oval portrait Nude with Mirror, 1965, a woman languorously appraises her own reflection. In Florentine Landscape, 1961, three ghostly, pale figures and a pumpkin patch appear like holograms beamed into an ancient garden. In Frieze: The Porch, 1964, three distinctly different pictures—a double portrait of the critic Jill Johnston and the painter Barbara Forst, a self-portrait of the artist in a billowing floral robe, and a picture of her as a child with her father—are all crammed together in a way that feels weirdly spacious.

Marcus, who is now eighty-nine and no longer working, excelled at a very particular style of compositional strangeness. She used oils and acrylics, canvas and linen, gold and silver leaf, graphic patterns and actual textiles, hand-drawn leaves and piles of sand, all collaged into singular paintings holding elements of portraiture, still life, and landscape together in awkward but exhilarating tension. Her figures, highly stylized though often sketchy, occupy an extremely shallow picture plane, while her exquisitely detailed grounds plunge into perspectival spaces characterized by preternatural clarity.

Johnston, a friend of the artist, described Marcus’s style as “rigorously formal yet dramatically intimate,” combining a sense of “intense lyrical abstraction” with an “uncanny realism,” which accounts for the fact that her figuration is all detail and defiance. In her heyday, Marcus was bold, her milieu decidedly mixed, her work clearly innovative. Nearly half of the paintings here have been drawn from private or institutional collections. Her historically pivotal, star-studded biography screams for greater recognition. Why does Marcus remain so little known? Maybe this show, museum-like in quality and covering fifteen key years, will at least shift the question from a why to a what-if.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Elia Alba

The 8th Floor
17 West 17th Street, 8th Floor
September 21–January 12

Elia Alba, The Spiritualist (Maren Hassinger), 2013, ink-jet print, 20 x 30".

The sixty individual portraits of nonwhite artists taken by Elia Alba for her current exhibition here, titled “The Supper Club,” are mostly of people she came to know through a series of dinner parties she organizes. Topics surrounding race, the art world, and visual culture are frequently discussed at these events, and the project became an expansive, multidimensional discourse on selfhood and politics.

Alba tailors each portrait to the artist. She chooses an assortment of backdrops, props, and costumes to accentuate her sitters’ personae while subtly highlighting their contributions to the cultural landscape. The titular artist in The Spiritualist (Maren Hassinger), 2013, for example, makes work that explores nature as a complex and psychological space for political and personal transformation. She appears as a dancing vision dressed in white, surrounded by violet foliage. In The Provocateur (Coco Fusco), 2013, Fusco—famous for a rigorous multidisciplinary practice that interrogates colonialism, gender, and race—stares intensely at the camera, practically burning a hole through the viewer. The performance artist featured in The Thespian (Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz), 2014, looks like an old Hollywood screen siren. She clutches a strand of pearls and points her eyes heavenward, a figure ensconced and confident in her own glamour.

Through the work Alba provides her community with a solid stage that connects it to the rest of the world. Her pictures add a theatrical dimension to concepts of identity, blurring the hard boundaries of “difference” into something more slippery and beautiful.

Naomi Lev

“War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics”

American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at 66th Street
September 6–January 7

Artist unknown, Sailor’s Quilt, late nineteenth century, wool felt, embroidery thread, 90 x 70".

Hands with rifles in them seem like better playthings for the devil than just idle ones, but most of the devastatingly beautiful nineteenth-century quilts on view here are the products of assiduous busywork that likely kept the British Empire’s working-class soldiers and sailors out of trouble in their leisure time. Blood-red, blue, gold, and cream hues dominate the rich, matte mosaics, which are sewn from thousands of tiny hexagons, diamonds, triangles, and squares, excised primarily from the heavy wool of military uniforms. While some of these quilts are embroidered with heraldic or narrative elements—crowns, cannons, ships, or flags—such embellishments are afterthoughts to their exquisite geometric patterning. With their suede-like texture, meticulous construction, and palpable heft, they are seductive objects regardless of their backstories. But the eerie gravitas that distinguishes them derives from imagining the men sewing in their quiet hours, delicately handling fabrics that may have seen the chaos and horror of the Crimean War, Britain’s ruthless imperial expansion in Africa, or the brutal enforcement of colonial rule in India.

The wall text tiptoes around the global role of its (mostly anonymous) male quilters, referencing their hardships in some detail while largely avoiding acknowledgment of the murderous rapacity of the British and the atrocities committed—perhaps by some of these crafters personally—in the very euphemistically termed “volatile landscapes” where they were stationed. And while I wanted more discussion of how the formal characteristics of these textiles might be influenced by local traditions, especially given the prominence of exoticism in the decorative arts of the Victorian era, credit is given where due to the extent it’s possible. The most gorgeous quilts, featuring brighter colors, intricate appliqué work, and beading, are those from mid-to-late-nineteenth-century India. So virtuosic are their design and construction, the accompanying description notes that they are not always the work of untrained infantry but sometimes of regimental or—surprise, surprise—Indian tailors.

Johanna Fateman