Critics’ Picks

  • Raymond Saunders, Untitled, 2000–10, mixed media on panel, 58 5/8 x 21 5/8".

    Raymond Saunders, Untitled, 2000–10, mixed media on panel, 58 5/8 x 21 5/8".

    New York

    Raymond Saunders

    Andrew Kreps Gallery
    22 Cortland Alley
    January 7–February 12, 2022

    Perhaps universally, blackboards conjure images of a teacher’s neat handwriting, lines of arithmetic, or other mundane memories of rote instruction. But touched by Raymond Saunders’s wayward, hermetic mark-making, these objects are transfigured into a dazzling realm of play and expression. At Andrew Kreps Gallery, sixteen mostly untitled paintings—several of which feature a blackboard as a substrate—hang in the artist’s first New York solo show in more than twenty years. But these dark surfaces are not merely backgrounds: They hum with myriad textures and rhythms and goad the pictures into breaking out of the confines of their own two-dimensionality.

    The pieces here teeter between painting and assemblage: Splashes of paint ooze with bright color and collide with bricolaged found materials that, in previous writings about Saunders’s art, have solicited rather easy comparisons to the work of Robert Rauschenberg. But what differentiates these images from the neo-Dadaist’s is Sanders’s numinous use of chalk: Dancing across his surfaces, the material becomes a metonym for the essence of line, which traces out both abstract and figurative forms. Inscrutable but electric scrawls that whiz with seeming abandon become plants, fruits, and other motifs of the still-life tradition. These patterns appear randomly throughout the artist’s imagery with playful sweetness.

    Yet a haunting sense of uncertainty lurks in Saunders’s compositions, threatening any promise of solidity. Beneath all the layers of material is the subdued but unmistakable presence of erased chalk marks—palimpsests that suffuse the blackboards with the hazy, spectral shadow of history. These smears fall in and out of stability and instability; at any moment the traces could disintegrate into the abyss of their own ephemerality. Confronting them, I couldn’t help but feel that the artist’s phantomlike pictures might actually be memento mori.

  • Jimmy Raskin, Station 1, 2021, UV-cured inkjet on paper mounted on aluminum, 18 1/2 x 31 3/4".

    Jimmy Raskin, Station 1, 2021, UV-cured inkjet on paper mounted on aluminum, 18 1/2 x 31 3/4".

    New York

    Jimmy Raskin

    Miguel Abreu Gallery | Orchard Street
    36 Orchard Street
    December 9, 2021–February 5, 2022

    Jimmy Raskin is an aberrant poet who reveals himself on rare and vital occasions, like “a kind of ten-year cicada,” as critic John Reed once wrote. His work is often a whirlwind of chaotic, exciting, and sometimes incomprehensible musings on the nature of artistic creativity. Thankfully for us, Raskin has emerged from the soil once again with “Stations of the Last Eccentric,” a presentation that attempts to describe a metaphysical state in which an artist’s desire to create has evaporated into absolute fulfillment, an experience that, per Raskin, is “filled to the brim with inspiration, but no desire to act upon it.”

    If you’re confused by the concept, it’s OK. Raskin created a guide, the show’s central motif: a perspectival “Cone of Expression”—the titular figure is bisected by a single line, which connects the form’s vertex to its base. Primordial Diagrams (all works 2021), located at the front of the gallery, presents this map across a suite of eight black-and-white ink-jet illustrations. The prints call to mind a number of things: various fragments of the Hermann Minkowski’s space-time diagram, for instance, or even occult symbols. An accompanying audio component offers an abstruse list of instructions in deciphering the piece before experiencing the rest of the exhibition.

    Stations 1–9, 2021, are cosmic explosions of kaleidoscopic pattern and color. These UV-cured ink-jet renderings of the universe, originally captured by satellites and mounted on aluminum, have been digitally altered by Raskin into uncanny images, both beautiful and terrifying: A Cone of Expression appears front and center in almost every work here. Raskin’s Stations make me think of the stations of the cross, but these pieces have more in common with a DMT trip than the crucifixion of Christ. If at this point you’ve found yourself spiraling into an art induced neurosis, perhaps you need to recalibrate your metacognition, as Raskin would likely advise.

  • View of “Jacob Jackmauh and Lina McGinn: (At) the end (of a Rainbow),” 2021–22.

    View of “Jacob Jackmauh and Lina McGinn: (At) the end (of a Rainbow),” 2021–22.

    New York

    Jacob Jackmauh and Lina McGinn

    Art Lot
    206 Columbia Street
    October 23, 2021–February 28, 2022

    Nestled in gravel amid scattered weeds and creepers, Lina McGinn’s enormous foam sculptures of Lucky Charms Just Magical Marshmallows merrily radiate synthetic color. Among them are a coterie of mixed-media works by Jacob Jackmauh that echo the menagerie one might find at a playground or a theme park, including an owl with opaque binocular eyes, and a snail shell with a coin slot.

    McGinn and Jackmauh’s outdoor exhibition takes its title from singer Earl Grant’s 1958 ballad “(At) the end (of a Rainbow),” in which the crooner silkily intones phrases that turn precipitously from auspicious to foreboding: “At the end of the river / The water stops its flow / At the end of a highway / There’s no place you can go.” The sculptures also revel in a cheery pessimism. McGinn’s scaled-up grotesques interrogate these treacly cereal “charms,” which look more like colorful shapeless blobs than rainbows or shooting stars. The nostalgia that surrounds this childhood treat vanishes after that hit of sugar causes one’s body to crash. Jackmauh’s works—including an oversized water spigot, and a crocodile whose open mouth contains a fixture resembling a bathtub drain, a shower spout, or even the receiver of a kiddie phone—likewise deflate those objects of youthful play and diversion. Sadly, they only appear functional—the viewer is held in anticipation of something that will, frustratingly, never arrive.

    McGinn and Jackmauh’s spunky, humorous critiques of mass-produced juvenilia parallel theorist Sianne Ngai’s writing on the late capitalist underpinnings of minor aesthetic categories, such as “cute.” Ngai understands “cuteness” as an index for consumption, which elicits affective responses that can vary from tenderness to aggression. Such reactions prompt one not only to consume the object, but also to identify with it. The artists’ sculptures are an indictment of this brand of false advertising; the Lucky Charms rainbow does lead to a pot of gold, but for General Mills and no one else, alas.