• Current

  • Past

Syeus Mottel

127 Henry St
August 4–August 26

Syeus Mottel, Untitled, 1972/73, silver gelatin print, 5 x 7". From left: Matty Small, James Echevarria, unknown child, Roberta Fulton, Roy Battiste.

Syeus Mottel, freelance photographer and media consultant for Buckminster Fuller, spent the months between September 1972 and January 1973 documenting and interviewing the community of CHARAS, a grassroots organization made up of ex–gang members in the Lower East Side. After creating a storefront school for themselves and supporting local businesses, they wanted to tackle issues of affordable housing. They asked Fuller to give a talk to the group and, after deliberations, agreed to consider the geodesic dome as a model to challenge their community’s lack of agency over their urban space.

The photographs here, all Untitled, 1972/73, show CHARAS members watching television in their loft headquarters at 303 Cherry Street, a dome’s rain-protective polyethylene sheet inflating in the wind, and children and women holding 3-D tessellated models. One picture depicts an unlikely family-style portrait taken after the group constructed a sixty-foot dome on an empty lot—only two blocks from this gallery’s location—on a day when a jovial Bucky came to visit. Fuller is shown lovingly grasping a bored-looking child, flanked by his assistant, his wife, and the protagonists of the project; the dome in the background sinks into the earth like an asteroid.

Unlike the Southwestern dome communities born out of a hippie “turn on, tune in, drop out” ethos, the adoption of the dome by CHARAS can be read as more radical. The narrative, however, doesn’t account for what happened after Mottel’s part public relations, part documentarian stint. On the ultimate failure of the domes, Stewart Brand—publisher of the countercultural periodical Whole Earth Catalog—wrote that his generation left the domes behind like “hatchlings leaving their eggshells.” As the group watched Bucky climb into the back of a cab to leave the site, did they feel left behind, or led forward?

Nolan Boomer

Karl Salzmann

Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street
June 29–September 4

View of “Karl Salzmann,” 2017.

“I’ve been looking for freedom, I've been looking so long,” croons David Hasselhoff in his 1989 single “Looking for Freedom,” which the actor once sang before the Berlin Wall. Decades later, the Baywatch star’s desire for a happy world and personal autonomy remains unsatisfied, lending the cheesily infectious ballad some pathos. A few lines of the chorus are played on a short, booming loop as a part of Karl Salzmann’s exhibition here. The loop inevitably recalls the weaponization of pop at Guantanamo Bay, where music—especially anthems interpreted as jingoistic, like Bruce Springsteen’s hooky anti-Vietnam “Born in the USA,” dripping with satire misread by the interrogators—was used to torture inmates. Hasselhoff’s track emerges from a speaker hidden beneath a pile of wood, the wreckage of a bar that the show’s visitors were encouraged to destroy during the opening (Sorry, the bar is closed, all works cited, 2017). Around this tableau of Bacchanalian destruction is a pair of Roomba-like robot vacuums (Schergen[Henchman]) and a microphone crushed by a vise on a plinth (Kontrapunkt #2 [Counterpoint #2]).

A low hum regularly punctuates “Looking for Freedom”—it is deep and piercing enough to make being in the gallery uncomfortable. The hum comes from a large square speaker, flanked by white flags, at the back of the room (Lautsprecher Monument [Loudspeaker Monument]). If you stand directly in the sine wave’s path, it makes you feel like your head will explode. Standing to the side lessens the intensity and makes it more bearable. In spatializing the experience of sound, Saltzmann suggests how hearing can be reconfigured and turned into something monstrous. And the blank flags are not harbingers of surrender, but eerie reminders of all the violence that toxic patriotism produces: Witness the white nationalism in Charlottesville. The artist’s stark, grim vision is hypnotic, especially during brief moments when the whole room falls silent—every ninety seconds—while a strobe light, an element of Lautsprecher, relentlessly flashes.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

“The Horizontal”

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
July 6–August 31

Al Held, Untitled, 1950–52, oil on canvas on board, 24 x 29".

The poetic use of the horizon for the purpose of abstraction can be traced back to early twentieth-century philosophy, when the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, took the concept of the horizon as a way to conflate experience with what is lived rather than perceived. This group exhibition expands upon the power of the horizon line in formalist, landscape-inflected imagery.

An oil painting by Jenny Holzer, compromised knowledge, 2014–15, made up of blurred horizontal bands of color appearing to redact faint traces of text on a white background, is strikingly uncanny. A darkly resolute painting by Al Held, Untitled, 1950–52—modest in scale and bereft of his usual brilliant coloration—hangs next to an ink painting by David Smith, ∆Σ 10/19/54, 1954, which bears seven thick swaths of horizontal lines in gloomy gradations of purple and blue. An etching by Richard Serra, Weight I, 2009, looms large; its more than six-foot-high surface is completely covered in dense black ink, except for a thin horizontal white band at the top. Prabhavathi Meppayil’s, Fourteen/Sixteen, 2016, an arrangement of copper wire embedded in white gesso, is stark and electrifying next to a seascape by Matthew Wong, Last Summer in Santa Monica, 2017. Composed of luminous strips of warm hues, Wong’s painting is so minimal that it could easily be passed over were it not for the gauzy trace of a bird in flight and a sun-like orb. This succinct exhibition provides a space where relative histories are subdued, and the experience of a horizon by a singular person is enriched by collective accounts.

Tabitha Piseno

“The World Without Us”

Brennan & Griffin
122 Norfolk Street
July 27–August 25

Lin May Saeed, Lioness Relief, 2015, Styrofoam, paint, wood, 23 x 33 x 7".

If you’ve been at all conscious since the start of this dreadful year and never once wished for Armageddon, you probably shouldn’t be trusted. “The World Without Us,” the darkly suggestive title of this group exhibition, casts the assembled works as detritus from a civilization—ours, of course—gone to hell. This is not a negative assessment of the pieces on view, but rather a testament to the misanthropically groovy black energy they radiate as a whole.

Upon entering the space you notice Lin May Saeed’s fabulous Lioness Relief, 2015, a Styrofoam and wood sculpture of the titular creature wading through a body of water, maybe in the jungle. It’s such a lonely and desperate-looking thing, both the artwork and the cat. Painted in an array of Midwestern dialysis clinic blues, browns, and greens, it makes one think of a display for a natural history museum culled from a destroyed future, built from trash and a vague memory of a PBS wildlife special. Flanking this work are TM Davy’s trio of crayon-and-watercolor phantom stallions (all to be titled, 2017) and Akira Ikezoe’s marvelously sick oil painting Coconut Heads-Happy Go Lucky, 2017, a hieroglyphic arrangement of emaciated humans—one of the few representations of actual people in the show—shitting, fucking, and torturing one another, among other activities.

On the opposite wall is Jeni Spota C.’s Spaghetti Poodle (Pink) and Spaghetti Poodle (Blue), both 2017, a painterly pair of cheery but creepy dog pictures that could’ve been salvaged from a 1950s bomb shelter, and Trevor Shimizu’s canvas of a cold-comfort transitional object in soiled-panty pink, Nordstrom’s Bear, 2016. Close to the gallery’s entrance is Karen Heagle’s painting of four doom-ready carrion birds, Untitled (Vultures Scrying), 2017. One has its wings outstretched against a field of gold leaf—a flash of tomorrow’s landscape, perhaps, shimmering and dead.

Alex Jovanovich

Kiluanji Kia Henda

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

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

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

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

Patrick Jaojoco

Sara Rabin

27 Orchard Street
July 30–September 10

Sara Rabin, Face Swap II, 2017, oil on canvas, 12 x 12".

The drawings and paintings in Sara Rabin’s current solo exhibition illustrate the body as something curious, cute, stupid, or alien. The artist’s images are quite funny and very weird. The woman in Greetings, 2017—made with pencil and pastel on brown craft paper—gazes back at us, her ass facing the viewer while she’s on all fours with a pair of googly eyes drawn into the dark cloud of her bush. There’s a clown getting a blow job in That Girl; She a Real Clown Pleaser, 2014, and two more pop up as cappuccino art in the dopily titled I Had a Dream There Were Clowns in My Coffee, Clowns in My Coffee, 2015, a spoof on a line from Carly Simon’s 1972 radio classic, “You’re So Vain.”

In a number of drawings—such as Elevator Mirror, 2015, Shower Head, 2016, and Lamp, 2017—we see a topless woman snapping pictures of her distorted self in reflective surfaces. It’s fascinating to see Rabin take this familiar habit of self-obsession and -objectification into the terrain of utter self-estrangement.

Though her drawings call to mind the eroticism and humor of Tomi Ungerer, Rabin’s portrait paintings are influenced by German Expressionism. Otto Dix is specifically referenced in the show’s press release, but the artist’s deformed beings with nauseatingly large heads could also be the mutant babies of Yoshitomo Nara and Gustav Klimt, too. Face Swap I–IV, all 2017, are paintings named after the phone app that produces spongy distortions and waking nightmares. Too-big teeth, a droopy eye, and a cleft lip are skillfully rendered in oil on canvas. Matter-of-fact and of-the-moment, the paintings show contemporary narcissism to be a vertiginous—and certainly visceral—hall of mirrors.

Yin Ho

Naama Tsabar

Paul Kasmin | 297 Tenth Avenue
297 Tenth Avenue
July 12, 2017–August 18, 2017

View of “Naama Tsabar: Transboundary,” 2017.

For all the comparisons between musical instruments and human bodies—especially the guitar as a stand-in for a wasp-waisted woman—relatively few sound artists confront the gendered history of musical performance. Naama Tsabar is an exception. In “Transboundary,” her first solo exhibition here, she shows four monochrome sculptures in felt, strung with piano wire and attached to amps. Like Robert Morris’s felt sculptures from the late 1960s, their scale evokes the body. But unlike Morris’s felts, which were arrayed in folds that often resembled the female form, Tsabar’s sculptures are pinned to the wall and stretched taut. At first glance, they appear more related to hard-edge painting than to sound sculptures, such as Rebecca Horn’s Concert for Anarchy, 1990, a piano whose keys “explode” outward every few minutes, with a loud bang.

Tsabar’s details slyly nod to formalism. Work on Felt (Variation 18) Burgundy (all works 2017) features diagonal slashes, à la Lucio Fontana. Work on Felt (Variation 16 and 17) Dark Blue and Burgundy, a diptych, feels like an Ellsworth Kelly, but groovier. When activated, Tsabar’s sculptures have a unifying, transfixing effect. During the opening, several female musicians (including Tsabar, who used to be in a punk band) played a set composed especially for the sculptures, accompanied by Lindsay Powell (aka Fielded) on vocals. The felts stood up to Powell’s full-throated voice, with a surprising range of dynamics and emotions. The pieces were stroked, struck, or played with a bow, and had the capacity to respond and resonate with movement—as vivid and alive as the people playing them.

Wendy Vogel

Willa Nasatir

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Kron

Dana Powell

Allen & Eldridge
55 Delancey Street, Located below James Fuentes
July 18, 2017–August 18, 2017

Dana Powell, Ghost drive, 2017, oil on linen, 9 x 12".

Refreshingly, Dana Powell’s twelve oil-on-linen paintings here are titled to succinctly convey their subjects: for example, Pale pool or Smoke screen (all works 2017). The approach is confident, allowing the viewer to engage visually without superficial complication. Subjects include seemingly benign situations, such as the white cloud in Puff or earth’s celestial companion in Daymoon, both delicately rendered and modest in scale. Test site and Hotbox, however—a picture of an explosion and closed elevator doors leaking smoke—complicate matters with their deadpan representations and grim humor.

Night drive, Lot, and Ghost drive depict the cinematic isolation and unease of road journeys undertaken in the dark. This is particularly strident in the latter piece, wherein the car’s headlights are all that pierce the pitch black of night, illuminating the highway and a wisp of something occupying the right lane. These shadowy paintings, along with Hotbox and Test site, cast the artist’s more picturesque images in a less comforting light. Why is the water in Pale pool rippling? Is someone out of the frame swimming? Drowning? And are the bright flashes in Rockets celebratory fireworks or distress flares?

Only Punch, made to appear as if a fist has been put through it, mounted on a strut behind a cutout section of wall, is overdone and unconvincing in its supposed violence. Otherwise, the tight effectiveness of this exhibition is due principally to the sly, undermining influence Powell’s sundry narratives have on one another.

Darren Jones

“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85”

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
April 21–September 17

Lorna Simpson, Rodeo Caldonia, 1986, photographic print, 8 x 10". From left: Alva Rogers, Sandye Wilson, Candace Hamilton, Derin Young, Lisa Jones.

In the mid 1980s, a group of about seventeen women came together in the regal Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene to create an avant-garde theater troupe named for an old B. B. King song and to needle the playwright Ntozake Shange, who had defected to Texas. The founding members of the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theatre described themselves as young, gifted, and black—but also weird, lonely, and in search of like souls, remembers the writer Lisa Jones, who penned the only two plays that ever made it into the collective’s repertoire. The work of Rodeo Caldonia was often outrageous, but it was also short lived. Just as they set themselves against other nearby artistic enclaves at the time, they acknowledged but broke away from the activism of their elders in the civil-rights and black-power movements. Their sense of entitlement was stronger but more complicated.

The story of Rodeo Caldonia—as seen in the striking early photographs of Lorna Simpson, a member alongside the actress Alva Rogers and the historian Kellie Jones—is just one of the many fascinating threads in this landmark exhibition, which follows the work of several such collectives through the history of black feminism in the United States. Another compelling story comes alive in the archival materials of Just Above Midtown, a gallery that worked with the artists Howardena Pindell, Lorraine O’Grady, and Senga Nengudi in the 1970s. Another story still is twined around the alluring self-portraiture of Ming Smith, the first (and for a time only) female member of Kamoinge, an association of black photographers established in the 1960s. Smith shot portraits of Grace Jones and Sun Ra as well as documentary-style imagery of everyday life from Harlem to the Ivory Coast. Her self-portraits here frame her body against a floral backdrop reminiscent of the Bamako school, with the added element of a defiant female gaze. Beyond the obvious importance of reviving lost history, the quiet insistence on collective action gives this show a timely political edge. “Give me a girl gang, a crew,” says Lisa Jones. “A zillion sisters ain’t enough.”

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

“So I traveled a great deal. I met George, Ebbe, Joy, Philip, Jack, Robert, Dora, Harold, Jerome, Ed, Mike, Tom, Bill, Harvey, Sheila, Irene, John, Michael, Mertis, Gai-fu, Jay, Jim, Anne, Kirby, Allen, Peter, Charles, Drummond, Cassandra, Pamela, Marilyn, Lewis, Ted, Clayton, Cid, Barbara, Ron, Richard, Tony, Paul, Anne, Russell, Larry, Link, Anthea, Martin, Jane, Don, Fatso, Clark, Anja, Les, Sue, and Brian.”

Matthew Marks Gallery | 522 West 22nd Street
522 West 22nd Street
July 6, 2017–August 18, 2017

Joanne Kyger, Descartes, 1968, single-channel video, black-and-white, sound, 11 minutes 14 seconds.

One of the pleasures of this exhibition is seeing artists deviate from their typical mediums: Witness the suite of trance-inducing drawings by the filmmaker Jordan Belson, poet Joanne Kyger’s heady video that riffs on Descartes, and a series of low-res street photographs by the poet Tisa Walden. A romantic sense of freedom blossoms here, which could be linked to the fact that all of the featured artists hail from Northern California (and were alive during the Summer of Love fifty years ago). Also on view are brightly hued taxonomic paintings of nudibranchs on pitch-black backgrounds by Isabella Kirkland, exquisite abstract wooden sculptures by Robert Strini, and large-format photorealist paintings of domestic interiors by Jack Mendenhall. All sing the body electric.

Organized by the artist Vincent Fecteau and the curator Jordan Stein, the elegant show takes its lengthy title from a line in Kyger’s video, wherein she recites her poem Descartes and the Splendor Of via voice-over. Like the rest of the works, her piece is an excellent prompt for thinking about ekstasis, a philosophical standing outside the self and testing the limits of finitude, which in some mystic traditions leads to a union with a nonhuman divine entity. In Descartes, 1968, the only video Kyger ever made, she articulates her ontological argument of “Mother God,” who has “created all.” “I think hence I am. Or I doubt hence I am. Or I spin hence I am. Or I reject hence I am. You get the picture,” she notes. Each section of the work’s six parts is distinguished by varying early video effects, and throughout she reconciles the quotidian with the ecstatic––by puffing on a cigarette and lounging on a couch in one scene, while the voice-over lays out her heuristic proof. In a way, the show feels like a memorial to the free-form thinking of this undervalued poet-mystic, who passed away this past March in Bolinas at eighty-two.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Myoung Ho Lee

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
June 29–August 25

Myoung Ho Lee, Tree...#2, 2011, archival inkjet print, 41 x 60".

In 2015, environmentalists rejoiced after a new study estimated that there are three trillion trees on Earth—an unexpectedly immense tally. Meanwhile, the few remaining photography critics learned of a less joyous abundance: By the end of 2017, we will have collectively shot more than one trillion digital photos in one year—a glum statistic to reckon with in the campaign against a bumbling, illiterate image culture where photographs are taken, not made.

Myoung Ho Lee attends to both of these profusions with deceptive simplicity. For his “Tree Abroad” series, 2011–17, the artist enlisted industrial cranes and a large crew to install white canvases behind solitary trees in South Korea, the artist’s home country, and Mongolia. This costly, time-consuming performance remains vestigial in the actual images, which are doctored by Lee so that each tree appears backdropped by a levitating canvas—arboreal mirages amid pale skies, golfable pastures, pleasantly bland meadows. While the setup in Tree… #2, 2011, resembles a cherry-colored Rorschach test, others could be unlikely matinees at the rural drive-in.

Mirages, or billboards, portray what is desired, in theory. By advertising what is readily visible in nature, Lee’s stagings question the daily hierarchies of seeing, slyly conflating Korea’s tranquil landscape tradition with the bold style of studio portraiture perfected by Richard Avedon. But unlike Avedon—who plopped subjects into white backgrounds to relieve them of context, muddling ideas of neutral looking—Lee occasionally leaves traces of each spectacle’s production within the frame. Backdrops are wrinkled and shadowed. Gloved fingers can be seen curled around a canvas’s edge in Tree…#9, 2017. Electrical towers pock the horizon in Tree…#3, 2013, blued by distance and almost indiscernible. Totems of humankind’s giddy disregard for nature, the towers’ presence sobers up the artist’s wanderlust aesthetic, a reminder of the threats that loom over a tree’s gorgeous symmetry, over the very existence of a season.

Zack Hatfield

“Sticky Fingers”

Arsenal Contemporary | New York
214 Bowery
July 14–September 6

Elizabeth Jaeger, Blonde Pots, 2017, ceramic, dimensions variable.

This exhibition views the human body through its dehumanization. The show’s title alone, “Sticky Fingers,” evokes all manner of flesh, tainted and tantalizing. Caroline Mesquita’s carnival of sheet-metal monsters, displayed here as sculptures, also surrounds the artist in her video The Ballad, 2017, where they engage in standoffs and sexual acts. An Te Liu’s sensual skull-like bronze abstractions (unexpectedly carved and cast from Styrofoam packaging and domestic artifacts) perch atop skinny plinths, while a dismembered body by Piotr Łakomy—multiple works composed of casts of himself and articles of clothing made from industrial materials—is scattered around the show.

The cellulite surfaces of Elizabeth Jaeger’s Blonde Pots, 2017, lovingly smeared with the artist’s handprints, carry the show’s undertone of female solitude—such lonely bodies, even as they stand together. This sense of estrangement crops up in Meriem Bennani’s iPhone-shot video as well: Ghariba (Stranger), 2017, is a stoner-TV-style document, à la Tim and Eric, of women from the artist’s family in her native Morocco. Like Jaeger, Bennani ponders female representation, but through a profoundly distorted lens, making her subjects alien. Bennani’s oblique message is felt by the incongruity of her content and her editing, that is, her life and her perspective.

The smallest yet most central of the works here is Louise Sartor’s Bolo, 2017, a gouache of a woman devouring spaghetti painted on a half-size egg carton. Her flaxen hair obscures her face, and thus her identity. Domesticity, debris, self, and isolation come together in Sartor’s piece, which illustrates not only slippery digits messy with spaghetti sauce, but also the “sticky fingers” of the show’s artists, meticulously forging an image of human life from raw material.

Blair Cannon

“Elaine, Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here”

Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
327 Broome Street
June 29, 2017–August 18, 2017

Joan Snyder, Dear Irene, 1970, oil, acrylic, pencil, and spray paint on canvas, 15 x 15".

The snappy title of this summer group exhibition—“Elaine, Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here”—comes from an anecdote relayed by Elaine de Kooning in response to Linda Nochlin’s feminist essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (both Nochlin’s essay and de Kooning’s tale were published in the January 1971 issue of Artnews). The painter recalled an incident when a boorish man at a party began to ask her and Joan Mitchell, “What do you women artists think . . . ?” Not waiting around for him to finish his query, Mitchell—as famous for her uncompromising attitude as for her take on Abstract Expressionism—grabbed de Kooning’s arm and split.

With works spanning fifty years, this show poses a provocative question: How can artwork serve the politics of liberation (of race, gender, or sexuality) without explicit representation? In the older works, identity politics often remained subtle. Consider de Kooning’s portrait of the queer dance critic Edwin Denby, 1960, or Joan Snyder’s Dear Irene, 1970—a sly love note scrawled in graphite and colored pencil, surrounding expressionist daubs of rainbow-colored paint. Rosemary Mayer’s resplendent sculpture Balancing, 1972, with swags of peach and pink fabric hung from acrylic tubes and cords, evokes flesh. Yet despite her feminist inclinations—she was a cofounder of the all-women A.I.R. Gallery—she insisted her work wasn’t solely focused on depicting the female body.

Other artists embrace abstraction as a site of resistance, such as the African American artist Al Loving, represented here with a multicolored paper collage (Untitled, 1976). Feminist abstraction features prominently, with a canvas from Deborah Anzinger adorned with mirrors (I told you, 2017), Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s painting bedecked with T-shirts (Lurch, 2009–14), and a rope construction by Sheila Pepe (On to the Hot Mess, 2017). Among the youngest artists, no single formal approach dominates. But Sable Elyse Smith’s poetic video Untitled, 2012, stands out as a defiant collaboration in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers. Made with a student from Baghdad, the work features washy images of war and prayer. A voice-over ponders failed jokes, crying as cleansing, and the body as a “totem to loss.”

Wendy Vogel

Megan Marrin

David Lewis
88 Eldridge Street, Fifth Floor
June 28–August 20

Megan Marrin, The Legacy (STL), 2017, oil on canvas on Styrofoam, 72 x 96".

If the art world had to be reduced to a single smell, the pungent fumes of freshly slathered white paint would make a strong candidate. Its redolence plays an unwitting foil to Megan Marrin’s latest show, “Corps,” a septet of Photorealist paintings that take as their muse the Amorphophallus titanum, or corpse flower. Thousands of people descend upon botanical gardens to bask in the flower’s languid bloom—which occurs every seven to ten years—that is celebrated for a rancid fragrance often likened to that of a spoiled carcass.

This pageantry is transformed into sexual farce on Marrin’s large oil, canvas, and Styrofoam images, where peeling spathes resemble shy stripteases and spadices are tape-measured or cordoned off like talent on a porn set. Given B-movie titles such as The Breed and The Hunger (both 2016), their debt to the floral abstractions of O’Keeffe originates not in reductive Freudian readings, but in how both artists approach an individual subject from various perspectives in order to glean its essence. While deep mauves and a healthy chartreuse appear triumphantly in The Invitation, in The Legacy (STL) (both 2017), our subject is imbued with a sense of destined wilt—erupting from a bed of blackened petals, the deflated spathe, in seasick beige, resembles a chewed-up ballet slipper. Elsewhere, the occasional human figure is smoothed and faceted, as though run through a Prisma filter—ironic, since the allure of this painterly time-lapse resides in the toilsome attention paid to what is so often memorialized with an iPhone snapshot.

Zack Hatfield

Sable Elyse Smith

370 Schermerhorn Street
June 23–September 1

Sable Elyse Smith, How We Tell Stories to Children, 2015, video, color, silent, 45 seconds.

A camera scans a dim, panoramic street scene, dogging but never catching the slight figure beyond the screen’s edge. An oscillating, angular elbow marks slowed time, leading us through an obscure landscape in the video How We Tell Stories to Children, 2015—a looping, exaggerated excerpt of a longer piece of a chase that appears to be a game of tag but could be something far more sinister. In poetry filtered through works executed in glaring light boards and neon, Sable Elyse Smith proposes parallels between this playground activity and another kind of hunt with much higher stakes.

A paragraph scrawled in black paint on the gallery walls, Untitled, 2017, is followed by an ellipsis of three white pages laid out on the gray tile floor. While kneeling to look at the papers, your position is mirrored by the pictures of six men crouched across two sheets. Three faceless bodies are spanned by a black shape, a “weird triangle of silence and smiles and pauses,” as Smith has written on the wall above. To their right, three other men pose in a casually synchronized row, an image taken directly from an album of Polaroids made by California inmates, which was sold for $45,000 at the Paris Photo Los Angeles art fair. The commodification of these photos mines new ways to survey the friendships that happen against a backdrop of chain-link fences and family reunions celebrated in guarded rooms. Pairing these tableaux with a picture of an enclosed basketball court in scapeG.O.A.T., 2017, Smith notes the material correspondences between this egalitarian urban arena and an oppressively supervised jail yard. In Smith’s hands, youthful amusements blend fluidly into horrifying realities of subjugation, cruelty, and capriciousness.

Nicole Kaack

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons

The Met | Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
May 4–September 4

View of “Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons,” 2017.

Never mind that the dress, with fluffy black feathers bursting from an electric-blue halo, looks as though a giant scrunchie swallowed an ostrich. The piece from Rei Kawakubo’s “Blue Witch” collection, spring/summer 2016, is beautiful. With its opulent folds of fabric engulfing the mannequin, the dress is at once regal, farcical, and otherworldly. The Japanese designer is famous for spoofing traditional forms and subverting the conventional functions of women’s clothing. (This dress lacks armholes, while others sprout enough sleeves for an octopus.) Ever since she launched Comme des Garçons in 1969, Kawakubo has skewered binaries—male and female, luxury and kitsch—through designs that unravel such distinctions. In her embrace of opposites and contradictions, she regularly transforms catwalks into crossroads.

This exhibition assembles a cast of characters that could inhabit a phantasmagoric world conceived by Lewis Carroll or David Cronenberg, from mutant Stepford Wives in sheaths of picnic-ready pastel gingham bulging with bizarre humps to samurai sporting leather-daddy epaulets. One arresting coat from “Ceremony of Separation,” autumn/winter 2015–16, is a funereal confection of black polyester lace. Look closely and you will find children’s dresses and bonnets embedded among the curls and furls of fabric. The garment becomes a dying organism with offspring fused to its flanks, a creature supporting life even as it decays.

Viewers see Kawakubo’s designs through doorways and windows cut in white geometric chambers that form a futuristic labyrinth. This flashy presentation is a baffling choice for an artist whose radical imagination finds expression in three, not two, dimensions. Rarely does one get to fully circle a dress, to watch its audacious angles shift in space, and the installation drains the drama from many of the designs. Her works deserve to be scrutinized from multiple viewpoints, just as Kawakubo herself examines the world from unlikely perspectives.

Zoë Lescaze

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Vogel

Maira Kalman

Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, Sixth Floor
June 1–September 16

Maira Kalman, Cream Teas, Sherborne Castle, 2017, gouache on paper, 12 x 9".

The county of Dorset in southwest England is characterized by rolling hills, rugged coastline, and wooded valleys. It’s this idyllic landscape that serves as the subject for Maira Kalman’s current show of ten gouache-on-paper paintings in the gallery’s project room, which focus on the gardens and domestic curiosities of the region’s stately, ancestral houses. (In the main space is a separate exhibition of paintings from Kalman’s 2005 edition of Strunk and White’s classic guide to writing, The Elements of Style.)

With illustrative flair and fondant-fancy colors, Cream Teas, Sherborne Castle (all works 2017) shows a Hyacinth Bucket–esque table setting in an elegant room, replete with plates of delicacies. In Hear a HA HA, Kingston Lacy, several women tour manicured pink flower beds, while in Who Didn’t Love This Place, Smedmore House, a tweed-clad gentleman and his dog walk away from a group of cows relaxing before steep, seaward land. But no bucolic setting, however tranquil, is all that it seems, nor can it be a comprehensive reflection of its human denizens. What lies beneath polite surfaces is a recurrent theme in British culture, providing the basis for television series such as Miss Marple (1984–92) and Midsomer Murders (1997–), set in seemingly benign English villages that are home to treachery.

Redolent of the rose-hued intrigue in Barbara Cartland novels or the protagonists of the board game Clue, the apparent Stepford cheerfulness of these works causes unease as to how safe the summer frosting is. Who is the food laid out for in that parlor? Why are all of the faces so solemn, unsmiling? What shadowy deeds are masked by the picturesque vistas and dainty treats of English country life—indeed, by the civilized facade of anyone’s?

Darren Jones

“Body, Self, Society: Chinese Performance Photography of the 1990s”

The Walther Collection Project Space
526 West 26th Street, Suite 718
April 14–August 19

View of “Body, Self, Society: Chinese Performance Photography of the 1990s,” 2017. From left: Cang Xin, To Add One Meter to an Unknown Mountain, 1995; Ma Liuming, Fen-Ma Liuming Walks The Great Wall, 1998.

A major performance-art exhibition opened in Beijing on February 5, 1989, with a bang—the young artist Xiao Lu pulled out a pistol and fired two shots at a mirror in her own installation, prompting her arrest. Thereafter, the government cracked down on all unauthorized public performances, a move that was exacerbated by the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, which started only two months later.

The artists’ colony that formed in the wake of these events (called the Beijing East Village, after their New York counterpart) used private performances to illustrate the political situation and recorded them on camera, perhaps to be exhibited later in a less rigid world. In 1998, Ma Liuming’s gender-fluid alter ego, Fen-Ma, trekked naked along the Great Wall, donning lipstick and, eventually, bleeding feet—an illegal body traversing the most grandiose symbol of China’s state rule. In Cang Xin’s photograph To Add One Meter to An Unknown Mountain, 1995, ten nude artists are piled atop one another, organized according to weight. Per the video of the work’s execution, another collaborator used a tape measure to verify the bodies’ collective form as one meter off the ground of Miaofeng Mountain, where the artists were able to address their surroundings by their own methods and systems, west of their censored city.

East Village member Zhang Huan once said, “The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is the proof of identity. The body is language.” These artists documented their work to comment on the interaction between their bodies and the social and natural landscapes they struggled against. If performance and its photography were radical and unsettled genres in the West, their presence in this context takes the political power of such image-making to an unprecedented level.

Blair Cannon

Maureen Gallace

22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
April 9–September 10

Maureen Gallace, January Flowers, 2004, oil on panel, 11 x 12".

I would like to die inside of a Maureen Gallace painting. The New England of her intimately scaled canvases and panels—full of solitary beach shacks and desolate coastlines, summer homes, Christmas cottages, flowers, and trees—is irradiated by an endless midmorning sun. Her world is beautiful, sumptuous, yet just out of reach—every barn or verdant hedge seems dangerously close to being swallowed up whole by its vanishing point. The artist’s tableaux call to mind Paul Cézanne’s obsessive looking, the domestic surrealism of Lois Dodd, or Jane Freilicher’s rural poeticism. But the mood Gallace evokes is undeniably chilly. Her entire palette feels shot through with white. Though the months of July, August, September, and October show up in her works’ titles, the artist’s picturesque scenes are keenly touched by some kind of inescapable winter.

“Clear Day,” Gallace’s retrospective here, offers up more than twenty-five years of her brutally focused thinking and making. The show is spacious and elegantly appointed, but it’s hard not to feel anxious as you make your way through it. Gallace is a merciless editor of her own work, and some of these paintings have probably seen the business end of a scraper on countless occasions. It’s difficult to figure out the sweat equity of January Flowers, 2004, for instance, a delicate still life of three preternaturally lovely blooms (yellow roses? golden peonies?) resting in a clear glass vase. Its breezy facture is deceptive—it could’ve been made in one day or over the course of two thousand.

Gallace expertly suspends time for our luxurious perusal as well: The Woods, 2007, features Monet-tinged blossoms of the palest periwinkle hovering over a creamy field of lush foliage; Roses, Beach, 2008, depicts a wide-open sky streaked by a gossamer pink—the titular flowers gaze up in astonishment. In Summer Rainbow, Cape Cod, 2006, bands of prismatic color slice through an unusually dolorous firmament—necessary light to cut a grim heaven.

Alex Jovanovich

Elaine Cameron-Weir

New Museum
235 Bowery
May 3–September 3

View of “Elaine Cameron-Weir: viscera has questions about itself,” 2017.

Elaine Cameron-Weir’s current exhibition, “viscera has questions about itself,” feels like the laboratory/dressing room of a cyborg goddess. Five otherworldly garments and seemingly sentient accouterments occupy the gallery, titled with chopped and spliced phrases such as “subcutanean tantric the skingrip palpable, it” and “body conduit (dish of) psyche’ dissolved” (all works 2017). A long bolt of enameled crocodile-like skin, Snake 8, is draped down to the floor. In the middle of the gallery is a chain-mail garment with metal breasts and spine, subtly echoing Snake 8’s sinuous verticality. Another piece features two mysterious death baguettes nested in twin beds of white sand that are themselves cradled by troughs that look like a pair of extra-long, lace-up slippers. Inside the work’s shoestrings, little pans cook a thick black liquid—labdanum resin that vaporizes a hint of musky perfume.

Toward the rear of the gallery, the sleeves of a parachute-silk tunic hug a blue-neon tube (Lamp with Garment). Elsewhere, a spherical heating mantle on a ring clamp bolted to a rod contains a glass clamshell (Vault). In this work, uncanny metal jaws, labeled a “dental phantom,” are perched atop something that resembles a beaker stand. Cameron-Weir’s objects conjure both the dark romanticism of sacred keepsakes and the sinister functionality of technical devices ready to spring into action. Indeed, modular elements such as electrical conduit tubes and generic sandbag weights temper the moody affect of more sensual materials. This merging of body and machine is characteristic of a paradigm shift toward hybridity that has occurred over the past several decades. As new ontologies and ideas of non-brain-based intelligence gain traction, perhaps we will listen more closely to our viscera’s questions about itself.

Vanessa Thill