Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Rest,” 2022.

    View of “Rest,” 2022.

    New York

    “Rest”

    Rumpelstiltskin
    1166 Manhattan Ave #301, Brooklyn
    July 4–September 10, 2022

    “Rest” is a group exhibition and performance series that ruminates on the faint and deep impressions of leisure, especially against the backdrop of work-from-anywhere culture. Take the four steel shelving units comprising Max Shamash’s sculpture, against glass, 2022, which support other readymade pieces by artists in this show. Shamash has outfitted his work with hidden speakers that play a stereophonic recording of a fly infestation that hovers in and out of earshot. The work seems a meditation on collapse and decay—indeed, the “rest” of eternal slumber.

    Placed on Shamash’s piece are Pamela Ramos’s clusters of blooms, Untitled (Bouquet #1–5), 2022, which lay wrapped in photographs, printed on newsprint, of her travels in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Los Angeles. As one can imagine, the flowers wilted rapidly, their rot and moisture distorting the images on the paper. This calculated application of entropy makes clear that rest is sometimes not an escape, but a cover for hidden processes that can quietly change everything.

    Making up Lauren Burns-Coady’s mini installation Untitled (the mice), 2022—also displayed on the shelves—are receipts from the likes of Economy Candy, the restaurant Dimes, and neighboring smoke shops on New York’s Lower East Side. The papers are pierced by the tails of mouse-shaped brass paperweights. This months-long accumulation functions as a late-capitalist portrait of the artist and her friends, whose identities can be parsed out, at least somewhat, by their purchases, which suggest hours of shopping and eating.

    Aki Sasamoto’s stark sculpture, however, Past in a future tense, Table 2, 2019, provides an emphatic contrast. Atop a pedestal table, a whiskey glass, animated by air pushed through a ventilation pipe, spins inside a glass bubble, unable to stop. The endlessly rotating vessel calls to mind the movements of a clock, signaling that the passage of time is, sadly, something we’ll never get a proper rest from.

  • Danielle McKinney, Moth, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18".

    Danielle McKinney, Moth, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18".

    New York

    “Uncanny Interiors”

    Nicola Vassell
    138 10th Avenue
    July 7–August 19, 2022

    “Uncanny Interiors,” a group exhibition at Nicola Vassell, tackles a genre essential to the evolution of Western painting and the contemporary self. Despite its “traditional” subject matter, the show foregrounds a critical voice: that of Black individuals, for whom the issue of space and interiority has not only been central, but whose avant-gardism in destabilizing space as form is the unsung bedrock of modernism. Taking cues from bell hooks’s 1990 essay “Homeplace: A Site of Resistance,” the presentation reveals homemaking as an act of color, shape, sound, feeling, and ultimately beauty, in spite of the wariness and violence that infringes upon its labor.

    While known for creating scenes of hypervisible Black bodies, Kerry James Marshall’s untitled 1998 drawing—featuring an arrangement of flowers in a vase on a Minimalist coffee table, behind which a single hand rests firmly on a couch cushion—reveals the crux of his practice to be a predilection for domestic realms and their relationship to the body. Paul Anthony Smith’s painting Signs of the Times, 2020, depicts a woman seated on a gray wood-trimmed couch clutching herself, tensed in a state of exhaustion and anxiety. Abstracted fields of color serve as the walls and floor of her living room, which simultaneously constrict, define, and expand her surroundings. The dialectics of pressure presented here foreground the complex ambiguity of “home,” a site of conflicting states and desires. Danielle McKinney’s acrylic-on-canvas Moth, 2022, explores intimacy, interiority, and the gaze by casting a nude figure in sumptuous shadow. Between their rouged lips is a lit Marlboro. The smoke gently dissipates into the room’s yellow, brown, and black hues, almost like the model, who remains elusive and mysterious despite our close (and likely unwelcome) scrutiny.

    Works by Henri Matisse and David Hockney highlight the former’s Fauvist sense of color and rejection of realist mimetics, as well as the latter’s celebrated succession to such modernist renderings of life. We are, however, reminded that Matisse’s formal innovations, which Hockney utilized and expanded upon, were the result of the immense influence of Black aesthetics. “Uncanny Interiors” opens the door to various types of insides—physical, psychic, spiritual—which stir as places that exist at the nexus between cultural restoration and reimagination.

  • View of “Shen Xin: ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green), 2022.

    View of “Shen Xin: ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green), 2022.

    New York

    Shen Xin

    Swiss Institute
    38 St Marks Pl
    May 4–August 28, 2022

    The namesake centerpiece of the Chengdu, China–born Shen Xin’s solo exhibition here, ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green), 2022, is a massive three-channel video and sound installation. The work, which grew out of the artist’s stumbles in learning Tibetan, comprises a floor-to-ceiling screen featuring imagery projected on both sides, subtitled in English and Tibetan. This surface divides the gallery space evenly in two, metaphorically producing the “gulf” that frequently exists between different languages. For the piece, Shen worked with a technician to create a lighting scheme that mimicked the passage of a day within each of the four seasons. The artist wrote down their feelings in response to the scheme in Mandarin, and then had this text translated by Ji Ta Zong, their language teacher, into Tibetan. The resulting document functioned as a pedagogical tool for Shen’s language lessons with the tutor.

    In the videos, hazy blobs of color intermingle to produce a kind of abstract grammar—reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s formalism—suggesting that learning is a lot like calibrating one’s vision. A soundtrack of conversations between Shen and Ji, in both Tibetan and Mandarin, accompanies the piece, but what they say is difficult to make out. This garbledness seems to emulate what it feels like to try and master a new language as one tries to overcome the various roadblocks—intellectual, cultural, etc.—that crop up during the process.

    In discussing the notion of “linguistic identities,” Peter Hessler, an American journalist and the author of several books on China and Egypt, writes that “the more languages you know, the more you appreciate how hard it is to label another person, because each mind contains its own unique collection of words.” In their piece, Shen nods to Hessler’s concept, as the work suggests that possessing a sense of openness or vulnerability when facing the unknown—a language, a culture, etc.—might mitigate prejudice and lead to deeper self-reflection.

    For instance, when Ji describes fruits as blocky forms on a tree, Shen is surprised; when Shen wonders why the root of the word night in Tibetan is related to motherhood, Ji confesses that she had never thought about it in this way. Through their courageous acts of not knowing, the duo manages to share in each other’s creativity and imagination, producing a state of profound mutual understanding between teacher and student. Indeed, by “using what we see and feel as a field of knowledge production,” Shen states, “coexisting with multitude is feasible.”