Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Didi Rojas: You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie,” 2019.

    Didi Rojas

    LAUNCH F18
    373 Broadway 6th floor
    September 7–October 19, 2019

    “You’re doing amazing sweetie!” said notorious momager Kris Jenner to her most famous little dividend, Kim Kardashian, during her daughter’s 2007 photo shoot for Playboy. Kris’s croon serves as the title for Didi Rojas’s first solo show in New York, which features forty-two single shoes (right foot only!) on a low pedestal in the center of the petite gallery. The footwear is diverse, ranging from a vertiginous Nike platform and a leopard-print brothel creeper to a Gucci slipper and a skyscraper-y go-go boot. But don’t even think about slipping one on. They’re all ceramic—your comfort is not up for consideration.

    The tactility of the material and Rojas’s attention to detail in these works—like the exposed clay coils on the inner ankle of Two words. . . Two. Words. (all works cited, 2019) or the hand-scored ridges lining the tread of a Chuck Taylor called I’ve been finishing my sentences saying you know what I mean—are exquisite. And see how the paint is lovingly applied to the minuscule interior crevice of the former work’s Tabi toe? Such sweet minutiae are indices of Rojas’s careful hand.

    Titles including Weird flex but same flex or the meme-inflected Chaotic Evil gesture toward the strange circulation of signifiers in the post-internet infosphere. This sense of deranged gaiety, a hallmark of online communication, shines through the shoes’ particularities. Certain elements betray a net-native sensibility: the fantastical colorways, for one, or the recurrence of outlandish platforms, ripped right from an “e-girl starter kit.” The exhibition’s kick lies in this tension between the meta and the material—the disorienting speed at which mass-cultural jokes disseminate, set against the corporeal earthiness of fastidiously crafted ceramic detail.

  • Byron Kim, Elevated Surface, 2019, wood, metal, acrylic, dimensions variable.

    “Better Homes & Gardens”

    Chen's
    Please contact for address
    August 17–September 21, 2019

    In 1980, philosopher Liang Shuming asked, “Will the world get better?” This group presentation—featuring contributions from Alston Watson, Mama Yoshi, Bettina Yung, Lu Zhang, and the queer footwear company Syro, among other artists and entities—seems to answer Liang’s question, albeit obliquely, in a deceptively ordinary setting.

    The show is set within a Brooklyn townhouse apartment restored by Howie Chen, the gallery’s cofounder and the exhibition’s curator. The flat is outfitted with sundry IKEA appointments, and artworks are scattered about casually, as if they were someone’s personal belongings. Tiffany Sia’s Salty Wet (all works cited, 2019), a chapbook-cum–porno rag (done in collaboration with Impatient Press), is placed on a side table in a bedroom. Salty Wet’s cover is taken from a 1989 issue of Lung Fu Pao (Dragon-Tiger-Leopard), a soft-core skin mag from Hong Kong (funds from the publication’s sales will “be donated to Beijing students,” according to its headlines). Inside this piece, the artist imagines Hong Kong as a sci-fi axis mundi, though it is utterly doomed: “There is no Hong Kong anymore . . . the world’s first postmodern city to die.”

    Anicka Yi’s Parthenogenesis Pathways is a large, candelabra-like structure that sits in the center of the living room, as if it were a Christmas tree. It features a scent made by the artist called “Shigenobu Twilight,” a name that refers to Fusako Shigenobu, the creator and former leader of the Japanese Red Army. Yi chose cedar as the fragrance’s base note because the tree is the national emblem of Lebanon, where Shigenobu was in exile. And just outside the townhouse is Byron Kim’s Elevated Surface, a picnic table with legs sourced from a wooden barrier that once belonged to the New York Police Department.

    Indeed, the show takes on “status quo” aesthetics in order to subvert them, utilizing the terrain of the domestic as a testing ground for political and revolutionary thought. “This exhibition recasts the Situationist imperative to ‘invent new décor’ to fit our current phantasmagoric reality,” states Chen in the press release. Good taste doesn’t have to abjure the dangerous.

  • James Bidgood, Valentine, ca. mid-1960s, digital C-print, 30 x 30."

    “Sex Crimes”

    ClampArt
    247 West 29th Street Ground Floor
    August 15–September 28, 2019

    “Sex Crimes” draws from a dense archive of mostly pre-Stonewall gay literature and erotica, focusing on the historical illegality of queer sexual relationships. Curators Greg Ellis and Brian Paul Clamp pull from their own collections, opening the show with the sobering poster Joe Orton Inquest Story, 1967, produced by London’s Evening News. Its stark font and severe color scheme (red, white, and black) posit that the titular gay playwright’s murder by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, was the dangerous logical conclusion to living a publicly queer life.

    Opposite this piece are two enticing portraits by James Bidgood, featuring the artist’s muses, Bobby Kendall and Tommy Coombs, scantily clad in form-fitting fabrics. The camp value that subverts the “physique” focus of these images is evident in the costumery and set design. Kendall is dressed as the libidinous Greek god in Pan, ca. late 1960s, while Coombs, posing inside an elaborate heart-shaped backdrop, portrays Cupid in the jovial Valentine, ca. mid-1960s. Near this pairing is a set of mimeographs from the 1950s: pornographic stories by unknown authors. They are tales of yearning and self-loathing, wriggling around in the discomfort of unjustly pathologized desire. Taking us further into this angst is Untitled, 1963, a mixed-media collage by Ernesto Edwards that features, among other things, religious icons, ominous architectures, and nude men—a Cold War tableau of cultural rubble.

    Other works, like filmmaker Jack Smith’s theatrical flyer for his 1963 soft-core opus Flaming Creatures, are a welcome foil to the tightly ordered cover of the American Psychiatric Association’s 1968 edition of The DSM II, which classified homosexuality as a paraphilia. “Sex Crimes” is a timely reminder that any recent advances made on behalf of American queer rights, especially under the current US regime, are precarious victories.