Critics’ Picks

  • Tim Brawner, Semiochem, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48".

    Tim Brawner, Semiochem, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48".

    New York

    Tim Brawner

    39 East Broadway, 404
    May 5–June 18, 2023

    In the aftermath of World War II—and the cataclysmal effects of the atomic bomb—pop culture became inundated by exaggerated tales of violence and anomie, as seen in a slew of best-selling crime and horror comics whose over-the-top yarns led to the birth of the censorious Comics Code Authority. The legacy of grotesquerie in the comic medium and its relation to contemporary art is a complex and circuitous one, but painter Tim Brawner admits that he is influenced by EC Comics publications from the 1950s—such as Tales from the Crypt and Mad magazine—as well as illustrator Basil Wolverton (1909–1978), whose grossly exaggerated mutant characters, created with pen-and-ink, were unmatched in their visceral fabulousness.

    Brawner expands upon this legacy with his acrylic-on-canvas images here, such as The Escape III (all works 2023), which depicts the closely cropped visage of a distressed man clutching the steering wheel of a car. A range of Cimmerian blues are accented by small dots of white paint that make the surface shimmer, causing this noirish man on the run, whose oversize eyes reveal both terror and desperation, to appear uncomfortably vivid.

    Brawner also cites underground comic artist and former Heavy Metal regular Richard Corben (1940–2020)—known for his Grand Guignol fantasy and horror airbrush stories—as an influence, which jibes with Brawner’s Character Head 2: The subject’s ghoulish, rotting teeth, bugged-out eyes, and orange pallor give off Evil Dead II vibes. The artist’s fetishistic approach to detail is perhaps best exemplified by Semiochem, one of the few pieces here that strays from the painter’s monochromatic palette. The canvas depicts a macabre being with pointed ears feasting on an array of foods rendered with unearthly, hypersaturated colors. In the foreground, a large insect flies amid glowing candlelight—the image feels like a scene plucked out of a ’70s Hammer film. Brawner’s abject, fantastical, and nightmarish visions, while grotesque, are surely no more monstrous than reality.

  • Tony Feher, Untitled, 1992, aluminum foil, fifty-seven glass marbles, 1.25 x 12 x 7.5".

    Tony Feher, Untitled, 1992, aluminum foil, fifty-seven glass marbles, 1.25 x 12 x 7.5".

    New York

    Tony Feher

    Gordon Robichaux
    41 Union Square West, #925 & #907 (Enter at 22 East 17th Street)
    May 7–June 18, 2023

    Taking a small bite out of a larger sculptural practice, “Tony Feher 1986–1994” is a precious reminder of the late artist’s skill to turn the seemingly prosaic into the spontaneously poetic. Spanning eight years of Feher’s life, before and after his HIV-diagnosis, the fifteen works presented here demonstrate Feher’s distinct awareness of time (he died in 2016) and his close attention to form.

    Several of the pieces in this presentation have never been exhibited before, offering us the gift of a first encounter. While Feher has recently received long overdue recognition for his drawings (a book of these works was published in 2022 by Gregory R. Miller & Co.), the artist is best known for his creative arrangements of mundane objects into shrine-like configurations. In Feher’s hands, the cheap becomes cherished; the banal, beautiful; and the junky, utterly jewellike. While often mentioned in relation to the art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Gabriel Orozco, Feher’s output is equally in dialogue with that of Yuji Agematsu and Candy Jernigan—artists who disguised themselves as city archaeologists scouring the streets in search of treasures.

    His signature use of glass jars and marbles is well represented in this intimately sized show, as we see in two Untitled works made between 1991 and 1993. Elsewhere, the marbles are either resting on a sheet of aluminum foil or have been suspended from the ceiling inside a mesh bag. The materials’ reflective surfaces catch the sun coming in from the gallery’s two large windows overlooking New York City, resulting in various studies of light—a primary interest of Feher’s. One glass jar has been emptied out onto a pedestal, revealing thirty-seven items arranged into a square-shaped group (Untitled, 1992–93). The cardboard box is another recurring motif, making an appearance in four of the featured works. These sculptures speak to Feher’s concern with objects that function as containers, to be filled and emptied out. While they can be read as vessels holding the massive losses brought about by the AIDS crisis, being filled and emptied out also echoes the process of breathing, and thereby the body itself.

  • Takako Yamaguchi, Parade, 2022, oil and metal leaf on canvas, 60 × 40".

    Takako Yamaguchi, Parade, 2022, oil and metal leaf on canvas, 60 × 40".

    New York

    Takako Yamaguchi

    Ortuzar Projects
    9 White Street
    May 5–June 17, 2023

    Takako Yamaguchi’s new oil paintings feature self-contained seaside dreamscapes, patterned with polychromatic natural elements. Attenuated clouds whirl about with attitude, knotting, braiding, and coiling themselves through whimsical feats of elasticity. Water is rendered as an unpredictably capricious entity, either as a smooth and restful gradient block or a field of undulating waves ordered into a syncopated arrangement. These surrealistic snapshots feel like Agnes Pelton’s mystical landscapes, infused with the graphic language of designer Tadanori Yokoo’s psychedelia.

    Yamaguchi produces intensely crisp details so precise that they often seem computer generated. The magic lies in her astonishing brushwork and subtle optics. Take Parade, 2021, in which vertical, rectangular strips of rain cascade across the canvas. Upon closer inspection, however, we see that these seemingly all-white bands contain faintly shadowed edges, making them pop just enough against the painting’s gradated gold-and-cobalt background. Yamaguchi bifurcates this and several other compositions with a solid-colored stripe to indicate a horizon line, a typically invisible indicator of depth that the artist has concretized in a self-consciously stylized manner. The viewer is allowed to float within Yamaguchi’s optical suspensions, which deftly play with the flatness of the canvas and the illusory depths of the picture. In this way, the greatest delight of Yamaguchi’s art rests in its delicate balances: of two and three dimensions, of the absurd and the everyday, of deep serenity and endless surprise.

  • Bob Thompson, Triumph of Bacchus, 1964, oil on canvas, 60 1/4 × 72 1/4". © Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

    Bob Thompson, Triumph of Bacchus, 1964, oil on canvas, 60 1/4 × 72 1/4". © Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY.

    New York

    Bob Thompson

    David Zwirner | 52 Walker
    52 Walker
    April 21–July 8, 2023

    “So let us all be citizens” is a small but enlightening retrospective of painter Bob Thompson’s meteoric career, which ended prematurely on May 30, 1966—roughly a month before the artist’s twenty-ninth birthday. Deftly curated by 52 Walker’s Ebony L. Haynes, the show presents fourteen oil paintings, spanning 1960 to 1965, all of which have been loaned from private collections and museums. The works are strongly influenced by European masters: Fragonard, Gauguin, Poussin, Titian, as we see in a number of canvases, including The Swing, 1965, or Triumph of Bacchus, 1964. Such inspirations exude an ideal of artistic perfection as well as a hyperbolic vision of Arcadia—a world where injustice and cruelty don’t exist. This imaginary territory must have felt like a relieving fantasy for a young Black man who grew up in Kentucky during the Jim Crow era. How does one paint harmony or retain innocence, having experienced so much hate and brutality?

    In these images, luminous beings undulate in pastoral settings, each radiating their own personal color while participating in cheerful group activities—or more destructive endeavors. Thompson’s use of light adds a soft poetic feel to these bucolic tableaux, which look like joyous celebrations of life’s fleeting moments. But hell is also very much present in several of Thompson’s canvases, as we see in The Execution, 1961, where a Black man is hung, blindfolded, and mutilated—a scene that calls to mind the lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, which occurred when the artist was a teenager. Because of their facelessness, the artist’s anonymous characters might initially strike one as innocent—yet their actions frequently reveal that they are anything but. Thompson synthesized historical European painting in remarkable ways. But his lush compositions never shied away from ugliness and pain: They offer a modern vision of a broken Arcadia.

  • Bang Geul Han, Warp and Weft #05, 2022, woven paper tapestry, thread, 20' x 6' 9". From the series “Warp and Weft,” 2021–.

    Bang Geul Han, Warp and Weft #05, 2022, woven paper tapestry, thread, 20' x 6' 9". From the series “Warp and Weft,” 2021–.

    New York

    Bang Geul Han

    The 8th Floor
    17 West 17th Street 8th Floor
    March 16–June 24, 2023

    Bang Geul Han’s exhibition here, “Land of Tenderness,” addresses how language can be both embodied and obfuscating—an abstract tool of power that, nonetheless, struggles to encompass the full weight and breadth of personal experience. Her subject matter is emotionally charged: US immigration policy, anti-abortion statutes, and sexual violence. By contrast, the texts she uses as artistic material is often flat or opaque, culled from class-action lawsuit cases, Supreme Court justice opinions, and state laws, among other sources.

    Han’s show includes two VR works that remix cruel immigration stories via large-language-model AI software. The easiest to grasp (and most conceptually successful) is Ø (Island), 2022, which requires headset-donning viewers to “chase” letters, flying like a flock of birds, through a dark space. When the forms approach animated birdcages, they coalesce for a few brief seconds into testimonies from migrant children about being separated from their parents at the US border with Mexico.

    The works that evidence Han’s physical labor, however, have a greater emotive pull. Take Apology Bracelets (Harvey), 2022, a set of more than one hundred macramé friendship bracelets that spell out disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein’s apology published by the New York Times on October 5, 2017. His trite words, spliced into short woven phrases surrounded by hearts and stars, reveal his emotional stuntedness and lack of genuine contrition. At the same time, Han’s handmade accessories hearken back to adolescent cliques and the “gossip” shared therein—sometimes meaningless drama, other times important warnings.

    For the “Warp and Weft” series, 2021–, Han weaves textiles from narrow strips of paper printed with the full texts of legal documents that detail restrictions on reproductive and migrant rights. Plaiting these records together, Han illustrates the intersections of decisions that render certain populations (women of color, undocumented immigrants) exceptionally vulnerable to abuses of power. Up close, Han’s neat and geometrically patterned works dissolve into a morass of legalese: In one, a Department of Homeland Security logo is partially visible; elsewhere, we see the phrase “a hospital that provides birthing services . . . at all times”—ominous in the context of our new, Handmaid’s Tale reality limiting abortion access. Alongside the weavings, Han shows photographs of herself, wearing the textiles while sleeping, reading, and sitting on the toilet. Covering her face and nude body, the artist straddles a line between intimacy and anonymity.