Jason Dodge

Casey Kaplan
121 West 27th Street
June 21–July 26

View of “Jason Dodge,” 2018.

Presented without specific details—such as work titles, dates, or any other elucidating information—Jason Dodge’s puzzle of an exhibition encourages viewers to make their own sense of the seemingly incongruous objects dispersed across the gallery floor. Reflecting his engagement with poetry, Dodge does not treat his ready-made materials as indifferent objects, but rather as charged symbols to be arranged in service of allegorical readings. It doesn’t take long for themes to materialize: Migration, displacement, and transience are just a few.

The dead bees and ant traps that line walls and dot corners offer up a grim tale of migration as infestation—a framing often employed by hard-core nationalists across the United States and Europe. An empty birdcage rests between two pigeon-seed bags that are chillingly stuffed with feathers, becoming makeshift pillows. The bed linens found throughout not only transpose the private and domestic to a public setting but conjure up blankets used by immigrant street vendors to display their wares. Itinerant markets are alluded to in a sculpture featuring sheets and an electric blanket stacked atop an open cash register containing foreign currency and wishbones.

Stripped of their functionality and removed from circulation, Dodge’s commonplace materials propose meaning, however indeterminate, as an alternative to use and exchange value. A series of three-legged chairs twisted into knots are bound by computer cables and balanced on drinking glasses; outmoded video projectors suggest an abandoned ersatz theater; a curious collection of scraps and spare parts resembles a transient’s encampment. Like the birdcage, Dodge’s arrangements point to an absence—specifically, our accountability for the assembled objects and this surreal landscape.

Chris Murtha

Math Bass

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown
745 Fifth Avenue
April 26–July 27

Math Bass, Newz!, 2018, gouache on canvas, 84 x 82". From the series “Newz!,” 2013–.

Caution. Hazard. Falling rocks. With their flat, clear-cut shapes and bold colors, the paintings of Math Bass recall wordless road signs: dangers distilled to their starkest, most essential forms. What perils or pleasures lie ahead, however, are less easy to decipher. The New York–born, Los Angeles–based artist has coined a style somewhere between representation and abstraction, where communication breaks down.

But if Bass skewers visual and written languages for their inability to convey certain experiences, she seasons her semiotics with a dash of humor. Several forms—a cadmium-red cone, a rectangular box with a suggestive black slit, the open jaws of an alligator—appear in different configurations. Speech bubbles become cartoon bones and balls with truncated cocks. The paintings, all part of the artist’s ongoing “Newz!” series, 2013–, could be stills from a single animation or the building blocks of an early PC game. They work best as a group, as these canvases are syllables. Together they form a Dada poem for the age of advertising, a comic strip by way of Paul Rand and Ellsworth Kelly.

Four plywood towers, Dog and Fog, 2018, emit recorded chants, which do not contribute much, other than noise, to the exhibition. More interesting is the anthropomorphic sculpture in the gallery’s smallest room. A tapered canvas tube in speedball red lies on an electric-blue slab like a sacrificial offering. Reminiscent of an empty body bag, Evacuated Figure, 2018, introduces a welcome shot of pathos into what might otherwise have been a too-slick show. There are, we sense, casualties in this coded world.

Zoë Lescaze

“Rockwell, Roosevelt, and the Four Freedoms”

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West, at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
May 25–September 2

View of “Rockwell, Roosevelt, and the Four Freedoms,” 2018.

On Juneteenth, Nikki Haley declared that the United States had left the UN Human Rights Council. You could see it coming. But to do it on that particular day, under the supercilious rationale that the HRC wasn’t “worth its name” because it has members “like China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Venezuela,” only served to underscore the US’s own past and present of slavery and torture, of cruelly separating parents and children.

The still-emerging political project of human rights has been unfortunately stained by imperialist impulses, power-mongering, and greed. That truth quietly snakes its way throughout this sprawling multimedia extravaganza of a show, even as your heart breaks to be reminded—through Norman Rockwell’s signature style—of the utopist boilerplate rights language affirmed by FDR: freedoms of speech and worship, freedoms from want and fear. These tenets of classical liberalism were directly incorporated into the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt and a focus of the last room in this show. Was it all so easy then? Of course not. Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and Wendy Brown have claimed in different ways what’s wrong with universal human rights, but I wonder what they’d say in the wake of this past Juneteenth.

A thought: If the project of human rights can be reframed as a continuing goal of instituting legal obligations, then can it be rethought today as a radical project? Might this oversize exhibition prompt us to consider rights tactics that haven’t yet been approached (and not what is merely “under threat,” as some journalists have already argued)? And, as Trump abandons a long-standing US bipartisan tradition, to say nothing of the rule of law, is it a complete irony that while talking about compassion I don’t feel anything but murderous, bloodthirsty rage?

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

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

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

“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