Critics’ Picks

  • Inés Di Folco, Pablo & les roses, 2023, oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 19 1/2".

    Inés Di Folco, Pablo & les roses, 2023, oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 19 1/2".

    New York

    Inès Di Folco

    Laurel Gitlen
    465 Grand Street, Suite 4C
    March 2–April 8, 2023

    “The last dream before birth,” Inès Di Folco’s debut New York exhibition, features canvases with luminous passages that evoke intergalactic atmospheres. Elements of glitter and grit comprise her creaturely beings, who are saturated with gauzy stains that seem to gently illuminate them from within. For instance, the warm mellow tones of Pablo & les roses (all works 2023), which recalls Picasso’s Rose Period paintings, depicts an orange visage that emerges from a field of black flowers. Both flora and figure are enveloped by a rolling landscape made up of inchoate textures evoking some primordial world. Washes of hand-mixed pigment are left to pool and puddle—such moments loosen the divide between subject and surface.  

    Oasis Tunis nods to Matissean idylls. A single figure—transfixed by an angelic apparition hovering before them—appears front and center in the composition, hypervigilant. UFO-style cloud formations emit a pink light against a Color Field backdrop of fiery, variegated reds. More impish than demonic is Diabolo, a work painted with sooty grays and inky blues. The small, closely cropped subject is mostly featureless, save for its faint-yellow lips and nostrils—perhaps evidence of the beast’s acidic spirit.

    One gets the sense that Di Folco’s subjects naturally emerge from the paint. Certain passages echo moments from art history or the artist’s own life, but summoned from the furthest depths of her subconscious. Di Folco invites us to experience the delight of discovery as she uncovers the otherworldly denizens of her numinous realm.

  • Erika Ranee, Nacre, 2023, acrylic, shellac, spray paint, and paper collage on canvas, 72 x 54".

    Erika Ranee, Nacre, 2023, acrylic, shellac, spray paint, and paper collage on canvas, 72 x 54".

    New York

    Erika Ranee

    Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery
    87 Franklin Street
    February 17–March 25, 2023

    “All Natural,” Erika Ranee’s first solo exhibition with this gallery, presents seven abstract paintings that address the artist’s life between two types of environments: New York City, where she currently lives and works, and rural Western Massachusetts, where she grew up and frequently returns. Her art—collaged, shellacked, sprayed, and smeared—obliquely documents various facets of her day-to-day existence: from family (some pieces feature drawings of her niece’s braided hair extensions) to the intimate goings-on inside her head, home, and studio. As a child, Ranee aspired to become an ornithologist, which is apropos given her works’ woven nest-like accumulations of layered marks that record the history of their own process.

    Rarely painted upright, Ranee’s work employs a wide formal vocabulary, yet her skeins of fluid pours and pearls of sprayed paint remain some of her most recognizable moves. For example, in How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You How Much You Love Me (all works 2023), an ultramarine pool ascends and rakes to the center of the composition, but is entangled with the chorus of adjoining marks that surround it—a moment that exemplifies what the artist calls her “intuitive visual freestyle.” Although she takes inspiration from the wild-style graffiti of the 1980s and Jean Dubuffet’s raw surfaces, among other sources, Ranee’s art possesses a singular freshness and grit in its synthesis of influences.

    Over the past twenty-seven years, Ranee has shifted from using explicit imagery that examines racist Black stereotypes to something more CoBrA-esque and suggestive. Narrative, however, is still retained, as it anchors the work’s more prosaic or recognizable elements, such as the cannabis leaves in The Giving Tree and the cut-paper philodendron plants in Nacre. These paintings dispute a prevalent essentializing position that an artist’s identity must be communicated literally through their subject matter. Ranee’s show gorgeously confounds our expectations with a type of abstraction that is lush, generous, and utterly hard-won.

  • Mark van Yetter, Untitled, 2022, oil and wax crayon on paper, 40 x 28 5/8".

    Mark van Yetter, Untitled, 2022, oil and wax crayon on paper, 40 x 28 5/8".

    New York

    Mark van Yetter

    Bridget Donahue
    99 Bowery 2nd Floor
    February 10–April 8, 2023

    Mark van Yetter’s “The Politics of Charm” indeed delights and beguiles, but all is not as it first appears. The show is primarily composed of two sets of works on paper, pastel-Fauvist in palette, marked with a hodgepodge of media such as pencil, watercolor, oil, and wax crayon. These are accompanied by a lone sculptural installation featuring a ceramic teapot and a pitcher on a pedestal. Such humble, incongruous materials draw the viewer into a visual world that is at once baffling and alluring, like a house of mirrors.

    Doubling—in several senses—is central to the aesthetic experience van Yetter presents. In the most substantial group of works on paper, all Untitled and from 2022, each composition adheres to an idiosyncratic format of six painted panels arranged in two rows of three, one above the other, framed by color-pencil outlines. In each case, the outer panels mirror one other in general form and content, yet the two central panels seem unrelated. In one work, a radiant yellow bird appears to be bursting from its cage flanked by lyrical Matissean cats floating in blue indeterminate space. Above them stands a totemic figure in gray with breasts, a penis, and bloated feet turned unnaturally to the right like bent logs. What meaning is made through this juxtaposition of bird, cat, and ogre?

    The puzzle is further complicated by the second series of paintings, all still lives depicting vessels arranged in an incongruously demarcated architectural space. Such clunky materiality, accentuated by the inclusion of the actual ceramics, provokes a curious comparison with the lyrical fantasy of the counterpart series. What makes this vision cohere?

    The cumulative effect of these uncanny tableaux compels the viewer through a dreamlike labyrinth of affective association: a game bereft of ossified logic but brimming with poetic charm.

  • View of “Refik Anadol: Unsupervised,” 2022–23.

    View of “Refik Anadol: Unsupervised,” 2022–23.

    New York

    Refik Anadol

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    November 19, 2022–April 15, 2023

    Fretting over the “death of art” is a tradition as old as the monochrome—just ask Aleksandr Rodchenko. Such concerns have resurfaced of late with the brow-furrowing over AI: Will DALL·E put artists out of work? An AI-generated picture won an art prize—what does it mean? “Refik Anadol: Unsupervised”—featuring a project made with an AI trained on publicly available data of MoMA’s collection—suggests one approach to such questions. Using a patchwork of sophisticated machine-learning and rendering software, Anadol created a multidimensional “map” of the museum’s collection data. Then he directed a software to “travel” through that space and generate a continuously evolving image in real time—a “hallucination” of art that does not exist. The results, unfurling on a massive LED wall in the museum’s lobby, are spellbinding. Familiar motifs from the modernist tradition effloresce, hybridize, and vanish: A blossoming of Fauvist color transforms into allover patterning; a biomechanical shape attenuates into graphic registrations on a printed page; a loose grid melts into Cubist planes.

    The callbacks to modernism’s past are not simply visual; they are also structural. In a review of Anicka Yi’s 2022 show at New York’s Gladstone Gallery, Colby Chamberlain notes an affinity between the machine-learning tools the artist used to make a new series of paintings and Surrealist processes of overpainting and grattage. With Anadol’s project, we might add the broader modernist tendency toward noncomposition, and efforts by artists to surrender authorial control via strategies such as indeterminacy and iterative systems. There is a not terribly vast leap from Jean Arp’s Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance), 1916–17, or Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance II, 1951, to the probabilistic computation that gives rise to Anadol’s evolving composition—with the added twist that the Arp and Kelly pieces belong to MoMA’s collection, thereby constituting entries in the artist’s ready-made data set, such that motivations proscribing any mark are doubly abstracted, receding into the fractal expansion of procedural play.

    Critics have complained that Anadol’s art didn’t let them “feel” anything, and, apparently uncomfortable with the machinelike strategies deployed by artists from Seurat to Sturtevant, have worried at how little the work “expresses.” But modernism was never about feeling in a conventional way. MoMA’s prominent display of an artist such as Anadol, who arrives from a context different from the so-called art world, is surely a shock. Yet perhaps it is precisely those qualities that make the work seem so alien—its inexpressivity, its entanglement with “tech”—that bring it most in line with the historical tradition to which the museum is devoted.