Critics’ Picks

  • Jenn Smith, Being a Wheel (detail), 2019, ink-jet prints, graphite, ink, paper, found objects, 5 3/8 x 12 1/2'.

    Jenn Smith, Being a Wheel (detail), 2019, ink-jet prints, graphite, ink, paper, found objects, 5 3/8 x 12 1/2'.

    Jenn Smith

    Flatland
    1965 W Pershing Ave Building A, 3rd Floor
    October 27–December 8, 2019

    Wobbly and geometric all at once, Jenn Smith’s fervently painted canvases are the epitome of “organized chaos.” The artist seems to say the same of her primary subjects: conservative Christianity and white Jesus (the bearded dude who just wants to love you lest you wind up sandwiched between fire and brimstone). On a wall of her one-room show “Soup Kite Laser Church,” at Flatland, Being a Wheel, 2019, is installed as two enormous circles full of found and handmade objects—pamphlets, ink-jet prints, graphite and ink drawings of abstract shapes—that unveil her process and her personal relationship with the divine. The mayhem of the evangelical marketing team is on full display. Everything from Sunday school coloring sheets to propaganda featuring black-clad apostates swirls around the circles alongside images of “godly” men so hypermasculine that they accidentally become homoerotic. These eddies of salvation face a sculptural stack of books titled Fifty-One Books About Christian Puppetry, 2016–19.

    Smith clearly sees the mockery that Christianity imposes on itself, though she focuses more on its paranoid earnestness than faith’s hypocrisy. That being said, she doesn’t seem quite ready to turn it into a punchline. With such paintings as The Eye-Gate Travels the Distance and Visitors III, both 2019, Smith brilliantly employs a balance of bold and pastel colors, and sharp and rigid shapes, against fluid strokes of movement. In the latter picture, two magenta figures demonstrate Smith’s use of ambiguity: The cartoon-like characters possess both angel wings and a demonic, hostile gaze. We can learn from this dissolution of threat into grace: Salvation comes not from power but with softness, if we can find it.

  • Kennedy Yanko, Agate, 2019, aluminum, steel, rubber, glass, plastic, paint skin, 83 x 70 x 43".

    Kennedy Yanko, Agate, 2019, aluminum, steel, rubber, glass, plastic, paint skin, 83 x 70 x 43".

    Kennedy Yanko

    Kavi Gupta Gallery | Elizabeth St
    219 N Elizabeth Street
    September 21–December 14, 2019

    Whether balled up the ground (as in Sedona [all works 2019]), squatting on a podium (Split Form), or seemingly splattered on the wall (Connect with Confidence), the industrial materials in Kennedy Yanko’s solo exhibition “HANNAH” are overwhelmingly crumpled. Taken from salvage yards and demolition sites around New York, the scrap metal pieces that serve as the backbones of these sculptures might otherwise have been recycled or repurposed in a more invisible manner. Yanko’s modifications to her found detritus—including lustrous and supple skins of oil paint—are less invasive than they appear, and lend a distinct elegance to elements such as ventilation panels and fencing. These skins don’t hang so much as drape like finely tailored fabric; they don’t bunch so much as ruffle and fold like accents on an evening gown. Even the angular platforms on which some pieces are positioned look stately when lit up by fluorescent track lighting.

    The show's title references Yanko’s full name, Hannah Elizabeth Kennedy Yanko. “I took what worked and left what didn’t,” she explains in the press release. “That was the genesis of my understanding... that my entire existence boils down to choice.” This profound meditation on individual agency clearly influenced the artist’s decisions as to how to work with raw materials. Warning labels and corporate logos remain affixed to the metal pieces, as if Yanko were allowing them to retain their previous identities, even as she riffs on their scrunched-up lines and forms to construct new silhouettes. The results are more organic than mechanic and more animated than defunct. Sleuth resembles magma rushing from a molten crater, while Agate might have been pulled from the ruins of a disaster-stricken property.