Critics’ Picks

  • Mark Ryan Chariker, 13 AM, 2020, oil on canvas, 54 x 48".

    Mark Ryan Chariker, 13 AM, 2020, oil on canvas, 54 x 48".

    Mark Ryan Chariker

    1969 Gallery
    103 Allen Street
    January 12–February 23, 2020

    Many artists claim connection to the painterly canon, but Mark Ryan Chariker applies rare authenticity—and invention—to this assertion in “Limbo,” his current exhibition here, which includes seven oils on canvas and fifteen small drawings on paper. The latter works, made with ink, oil, and watercolor, depict a variety of scenes, such as rustic peasant gatherings, grave robbers toiling at their macabre industry, and journeymen performing acts of heroism. These monochromatic images, done in an array of cornflower blues, delicate sepias, and misty grays, range in tone from whimsical to melancholic, and stylistically recall the works of J. M. W. Turner, Francisco Goya, and Caspar David Friedrich.

    In It’s a Long Road and There’s No Turning Back, 2019, a splendid oil-on-paper composition, a shadowy figure leans on his companion for support as they traverse a dark forest, saturated in blood-red light. Branches, outcrops, and a bleak path are rendered with exquisite feathery marks. At the picture’s center, trees part to reveal a distant mountain, but their gnarled limbs seem eager to grasp the protagonists, unwilling to let them go. The wistful gothic atmospherics are utterly enthralling. However, Side of the Road, 2019, delivers an abrupt twist: A crumpled car—hood up, metal guts spilled on the highway—jolts us back to the present. This broken-down moment of urban blight is a wry rejoinder to the bucolic Victorian lull that pervades the other drawings.

    The paintings are biblical, portraying congregants on rocky edifices under billowing, portentous skies, perhaps awaiting the Rapture. Chariker inserts elements of contemporary life—modern attire, beer cans, sneakers—into these grim tableaux, so that they maintain classical sensibilities yet feel oddly familiar. In 13 AM, 2020, an unwrapped burger and a radio are visible among a dreary crowd that might be attending an outdoor concert—or expecting Christ’s return. Chariker wittily collapses time between now and the past, linking human experience across the span of art history.

  • David Reed, #709 (For Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan), 2005–2009/2018–19, acrylic, oil, and alkyd on polyester, 10' 1“ x 4' 7”. 

    David Reed, #709 (For Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan), 2005–2009/2018–19, acrylic, oil, and alkyd on polyester, 10' 1“ x 4' 7”.

    David Reed

    Gagosian | 980 Madison Avenue
    980 Madison Avenue
    January 10–February 22, 2020

    I didn’t notice it at first: a stark-white, totally alien non-brushstroke on a black ground that practically looks like a sticker adhered to the upper half of #710, 2005–2009/2018–19, one of the fifteen canvases in David Reed’s latest exhibition. I say “non-brushstroke” because this thing is anything but painterly; in fact, its speed is so out of rhythm in this composition that it’s practically an anachronism within the field of swooping marks beneath it. (Perhaps it was executed after the almost decade-long pause in the work’s process.) Yet, due to the frame’s towering proportions, you hardly notice this anomaly because it’s hovering four feet above your head. You might catch it right when you enter Gagosian’s sixth-floor gallery, or maybe out of the corner of your eye. But the closer you get to it, the more likely you are to miss what’s right in front of you. 

    Reed has talked about how the viewer’s position in relation to a surface can create an entirely new experience of looking and, specifically, how paintings can transform through one’s peripheral vision. His point is proven on the fifth floor: a much narrower space with tall, vertical works hanging on the far ends and three horizontal pieces on the longer sides. To the right is the largest painting in the show: a ten-foot-tall, neon-green-and-purple gesture fest. The erratic directions of Reed’s brush produce a seemingly endless tangle of marks. Yet, if followed far enough, each stroke comes to an abrupt end, which shifts in space beneath linear planes without emerging on the other side. All the while, I couldn’t escape the movement of two other paintings in my periphery. It almost felt like I was being watched: an even more chilling realization after noting that the painting before me was dedicated to Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan—a rising art-star couple of the 2000s who, after years of suspecting they were under surveillance by the Church of Scientology and the US government, tragically took their own lives in an alleged double suicide. There was an eerie weight in the room. Before exiting the gallery, I couldn’t resist the impulse to peer over my shoulder—just in case.

  • View of “Madeline Hollander: Heads/Tails,” 2020.

    View of “Madeline Hollander: Heads/Tails,” 2020.

    Madeline Hollander

    Bortolami | 55 Walker
    55 Walker Street
    January 10–February 22, 2020

    From 1931 to 1964, the traffic lights along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue were topped with bronze statuettes of Mercury, the Roman god of transportation. In “Heads/Tails,” choreographer and artist Madeline Hollander’s exhibition at 55 Walker—a new project space shared by Andrew Kreps Gallery, Bortolami, and kaufmann repetto—a figurine of Mercury gazes out the window over the congestion at Walker Street and Broadway, just beyond the gallery. For an ambitious installation filling two long walls, Hollander shunted data from the intersection’s traffic signals into hundreds of disembodied, gemlike head- and taillights.

    Brake lights spring to life in bursts, climaxing in a spate of red. When they flicker off and get supplanted by the seraphic glow of headlights, our shoulders relax at the prospect of motion. Hollander coded the car lights to mimic the unconscious braking behaviors of thirty-six driver profiles such as the texter, the paranoiac, or the tailgater. Regardless of expressive variances, they all move within the boundaries of algorithms shaped by prevailing ideologies via urban planning, transit, progress. An heir to the Judson Dance Theater’s tactics of mundanity, Hollander has viewers giving the mindlessness of traffic close scrutiny.

    She also made eight watercolors to chronicle her objects’ performance, which seem to riff on systems of dance notation ranging from Labanotation’s rigid geometry to Benesh Movement Notation’s figurative gymnastics. With pleasure we dip into her synesthetic imaginary: Systems of brightly colored circles, sprightly ink squiggles, and diminutive dancers pirouette across pages. One watercolor positions a chain of figures atop rows of colored blocks: a traffic jam abstraction. Outside, we hear the blare of a horn, which heralds the cars’ slow crawl. Mercury has granted clemency, if only for a moment.

  • Whitney Hubbs, Animal, Hole, Selfie, (detail) 2020, color contact prints on mirror, 36 x 60".

    Whitney Hubbs, Animal, Hole, Selfie, (detail) 2020, color contact prints on mirror, 36 x 60".

    Whitney Hubbs

    127 Henry St
    January 11–February 16, 2020

    It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Whitney Hubbs a photographer’s photographer, invested as she is in the medium’s history and technique. But her images possess a psychosexual tension—not to mention a preoccupation with staging—that aligns them with performance art. In the exhibition “Animal, Hole, Selfie,” these subjects are captured in a trio of sumptuous black-and-white images: a picture of a horse shot from above, standing curiously still amid piles of its own manure; the evocatively dark opening of a cavern; and a nude self-portrait the artist snaps in a mirror, a snake tattoo coiling around her arm as she crouches between two pieces of cardboard. Though they were taken at different times, Hubbs dates her photographs by the date of printing, 2020, uniting them all in the here and now.

    Rounding out the exhibition is its namesake, Animal, Hole, Selfie, a collection of nearly one hundred color contact sheets taped over a mirror. Using a four-by-five camera, Hubbs performs dozens of semi-pornographic, fetishistic poses. In one image, she stares at the viewer, wearing a dental gag, while a pink gummy substance oozes over her chest. In others, she attaches a prosthetic breast between her own, or tucks neon-green “balls” in her tights, or plays with a phallic plank. There’s a history of male artists degrading the female body, but there’s also a parallel history of feminist artists reclaiming abjection on their own terms, from Adrian Piper’s public “Catalysis” performances, 1970–73, and Hannah Wilke’s “S.O.S. Starification Object Series” photographs, 1974–82, to the bondage-inspired videos of Austrian artist Maria Petschnig. Hubbs’s show follows in this lineage. And we’ll always see her hand on the shutter, indicating that she’s in control.

  • Robert Irwin, Arrowhead, 2018, shadow, color, reflection, 84 x 106 x 4".

    Robert Irwin, Arrowhead, 2018, shadow, color, reflection, 84 x 106 x 4".

    Robert Irwin

    Pace | New York
    540 West 25th Street
    January 17–February 22, 2020

    Having rejected painting’s insistence on viewing reality through a two-dimensional plane with four corners nearly fifty years ago, Robert Irwin opted to forgo the medium’s frame—and the medium itself—in favor of creating “site-conditioned” interventions that responded to the inherent qualities of existing locations. Natural and artificial light as well as scrims (a kind of translucent curtain commonly employed in theater productions) became part of his repertoire and were implemented within architectural surroundings to heighten one’s understanding of perceptual phenomena that might otherwise go unnoticed: the scale of a room, for instance, or the way in which exterior light permeates an interior space.

    Each of the eight wall-mounted sculptures here feature a sequence of six-foot-tall fluorescent lights, wrapped in colored gels and attached to rectilinear fixtures. Unlike a group of similar (and Flavinesque) sculptures Irwin produced from 2014 to 2015, these glass tubes will never glow—thus foregrounding this exhibition’s title: “Unlights.” Fastidiously arranged, irresistibly seductive, and seemingly buoyant, the works feel teleported in from another dimension.

    For every sculpture, sections of the exposed wall—which form equidistant gaps among the bulbs—are painted varying shades of cool gray, invoking trompe l’oeil shadows and thereby softening the distinction between the object and its environment, or that which is seen versus that which is physically present. From afar, the eight gray rectangles of Arrowhead (all works 2018) also appear to be opaque tubes. However, as one approaches them, the eye registers the erect shapes as belonging to the painted wall in an acute moment of revelation. Such optical sleight of hand is quintessential Irwin, a storied Minimalist able to cultivate a deeper awareness of our own embodied perception while maintaining an unwavering devotion to philosophical inquiry and artistic invention.