Critics’ Picks

John Ahearn, Carlos/Spiderman, 2015, acrylic on cloth and plaster, dimensions variable.

John Ahearn, Carlos/Spiderman, 2015, acrylic on cloth and plaster, dimensions variable.

New York

John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres

Alexander and Bonin
59 Wooster Street Second Floor
September 8–October 21, 2017

For decades, John Ahearn has worked to expand the scope of the New York avant-garde, connecting it with points beyond the downtown scene, first as a member of Collaborative Art Projects in 1977 and most notably through a long-term partnership with Rigoberto Torres, who as a teenager saw Ahearn’s work in the windows of the South Bronx art space Fashion Moda. Together, they began casting sculptural forms using live models—mostly people from the communities in which the artists worked and traveled.

This exhibition, with works done by Ahearn and Torres both collaboratively and individually, draws together a sampling of these signature castings, which hang from walls in deep relief or stand, sans plinth, amid gallery-goers. During a year that featured rousing portraits of urban life by Henry Taylor, Jordan Casteel, and others, the artists’ figures are notable for their humorous verve—bold colors, rumpled clothes, bodies in athletic motion—and uncanny lifelikeness. A young mother-to-be cradles her belly and gazes out from the wall, eyes at once weary and vital (Juanita, 2010); several feet away, a child in full Spiderman costume crouches on the floor, ready to pounce (Carlos/Spiderman, 2015).

Perhaps more startling is encountering these doppelgängers in the heart of TriBeCa—the very downtown milieu that Ahearn once fled. These are working-class men, women, and kids, primarily nonwhite and from Spanish Harlem, the Bronx, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Ahearn and Torres’s work, aside from its formal power, attempts to bridge a persistent rift between those on the inside and those looking in.