Critics’ Picks

  • Eleanor Ray, Wyoming Window, June, 2018, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 8".

    Eleanor Ray

    Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
    327 Broome Street
    January 6–February 10

    I am standing in a sparse room, looking out a window. The view is familiar because of its frequent depiction. The bright light outside dictates harsh shadows, dark triangles within the concrete boxes of Donald Judd’s sculptures arranged elegantly on the plains of Marfa, Texas.

    The painting I describe, Marfa Window, 2017, is one in a group of works by Eleanor Ray. I stand close enough to her small panels that the images break down, becoming a series of soft geometric forms. The compositions have the tightness of photographs, and the light is plein air. Art and earth play shadow games. A window frame—from which we can see arid lands in places such as Utah and Wyoming—is depicted from different angles and distances across several pieces, so that the vantages onto the landscapes also shift. The longest wall in the gallery is hung with five paintings of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970. On the opposite wall hangs a sixth representation of the renowned work of Land art; here the perspective is so low that the curves flatten into a line. Another painting, Galisteo (Agnes Martin), 2018, is a rendering of the titular artist’s house in New Mexico. The insertion of this painting provides a reason for the show’s palette of desert hues: oranges, blues, mauves. Brush marks give texture to the brush.

    I keep returning to Wyoming Window, June, 2018. Three golden rectangles float on the interior wall of a house—a glow thrown from a portal behind the painter as she captures a memory of dusk.

  • Esther Bubley, Greyhound Terminal, NYC, 1947, gelatin silver print, 9 x 13". From the series “Bus Story,” 1947.

    “1947, Simone de Beauvoir in America”

    Sous Les Etoiles Gallery
    100 Crosby Street #603
    December 13–February 9

    The opening line of America Day by Day (1948), Simone de Beauvoir’s diary of her US travels in 1947, conveys the French writer’s intense sense of anticipation at the beginning of her first visit to the New World: “Something is about to happen.” When Corinne Tapia, owner and director of Sous Les Etoiles Gallery, encountered the journal a number of years ago, she was struck by its visual quality, an aspect that she wanted to explore further. Now, over a decade later, Tapia has curated a homage to the book. The exhibition features more than sixty black-and-white photographs—most of which date to the year of de Beauvoir’s tour—by an array of photographers.

    The show begins with a large print, ca. 1940, of the New York airport now known as La Guardia, de Beauvoir’s port of arrival, and is organized according to where she spent the most time during her roughly four-month trip—prominence here is given to New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where de Beauvoir presented one of a countrywide series of lectures.

    Reflecting the author’s thirst to know, the range of works expresses the multiplicity of 1940s America via race, age, and social class; via the longed-for, the run-down, and the privileged. Photographs of New York by the likes of Ted Croner, Gjon Mili, and Louis Faurer depict the city of one’s dreams; the blurring of light and movement in Croner’s Taxi, New York at Night, 1947–48, for instance, captures the thrill and disorientation of the nighttime metropolis. Alongside these depictions are images from Esther Bubley’s 1947 series “Bus Story,” where passengers in a shot such as Coast to Coast, SONJ, 1947, convey the paradoxical experience of travel as one of expectation and ennui. The series also marks the American road trip’s significance in the country’s collective psyche. And for one particular French woman, who undertook such a journey seventy-two years ago.

  • Cara Benedetto, missing, 2018, lithograph print with drawing, 40 x 26".

    Cara Benedetto

    Chapter NY
    249 East Houston Street
    January 6–February 10

    News outlets frequently cover school shootings with a macabre enthusiasm—we are assaulted with body counts, gruesome testimonies from eyewitnesses, and conjecture by the stupidest passersby. The event cuts you to the bone, until another horror quickly displaces it. Cara Benedetto’s current show pushes against mass media’s spectacle. A master printmaker, she employs the unwieldy technique of stone lithography, which requires care, patience, and a great deal of time. The stone she used for three of the five large prints on display here cracked while she was making them and is now set in the middle of the gallery as a sculptural form (Stone Broke, all works 2018). It bears the wax outline of a spectral figure with a set of numbered concentric circles over its torso. It’s a design for a human target, a familiar sight at shooting ranges everywhere.

    Each print has been modified with either scribbled texts (evocative of graffiti in a high-school bathroom) or tender swaths of colored pencil. The radiating violet halo of genius penis seems at odds with the creepy melting clown face at the center of the picture. In the top right corner of the piece, a graph is titled “number of hits.” Yet the assassin’s disturbingly cold calculations get undercut here and there with moments of eerie sentiment. For instance, in paid/pain, an innocent-looking heart, hastily drawn in pink marker, hovers above an Oedipal message: “I’m in love with my father.” Missing, however, brings us back to unremitting cruelty; it reads, “I missed you into absence (text me when yr dead).” Benedetto’s works give the viewer what the ceaseless news cycle never does—a quiet place to think. And mourn.

  • Josef Hoffmann, Bracelet acquired by Mäda Primavesi, 1914, gold, diamond, ivory, 2 x 8".

    “Focus: Wiener Werkstätte Jewelry”

    Neue Galerie New York
    1048 Fifth Avenue
    October 4–January 21

    Literally a jewel box of a show, this exhibition of jewelry, made by the Wiener Werkstätte (1903–32)—a coalition of Viennese artists and artisans committed to fusing traditional craftsmanship to modern design principles—is hidden amid a sea of contour drawings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Curator Janis Staggs has assembled an impressive collection of recherché miniature masterpieces here, many drawn from private collections, and displayed them in a wooden vitrine lined with a luscious black fabric that sets off their polychromatic, semiprecious stones. Diamonds have little place in the Werkstätte’s oeuvre; Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, the workshop’s cofounders, believed that the value of a piece should derive from design and craftsmanship, not from the material’s costliness. Gemstones such as opals, carnelian, coral, bloodstone, and leopardite take center stage in these delicately wrought bijous, lending their gorgeous rainbow hues to strikingly modern, symmetrical compositions that draw on Art Nouveau tropes but never fully succumb to the style’s signature floridity, instead anticipating the next decade’s attention to geometry.

    One of the show’s most astonishing pieces is also one of its oldest: a necklace from 1903 designed by Moser, bought by Klimt and then gifted to his partner Emilie Flöge, who often paired the piece with tentlike reform dresses that she herself designed. The necklace’s base is a chain dotted with silver four-pointed stars, off of which hang drops of carnelian inset with tiny diamonds that are only visible to its wearer. In his signature brooches, twelve of which are on view, Hoffmann managed to fit rounded gems into square silver frames so that the eye roams contentedly around their ping-ponging forms. Meanwhile, a necklace by Maria Likarz-Strauss dated 1919–20, created by sewing thousands of glass beads around a silk chord, would look particularly fantastic on any stylishly kooky woman from the Upper West Side. It is an absolute pleasure to see these items as Hoffmann and Moser would have presented them—not as mere baubles, but as the exquisite objets d’art they truly are.