Critics’ Picks

  • Barbara Hammer, Double Strength, 1978, 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound, 14 minutes 38 seconds.

    Barbara Hammer, Double Strength, 1978, 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound, 14 minutes 38 seconds.

    New York

    Barbara Hammer

    145 Elizabeth Street
    October 2–November 6, 2021

    This presentation of Barbara Hammer’s work and archive, “Tell me there is a lesbian forever…,” begins in 1968, when the experimental cineast discovered 8-mm film. A few years later, she discovered women: A handwritten note on display here reads “COMING OUT”. Lovemaking was intertwined with artmaking, and Hammer’s partners appear in many of her photographs and films from the 1970s. Combining still and moving images, the film Double Strength, 1978, charts the arc of Hammer’s romance with aerialist Terry Sendgraff. At its exuberant heights, the two naked women soar on trapezes while the pair, in voice-over, process their relationship. Hammer used an optical printer to play with mirroring, a metaphor for same-sex attraction that she utilized to powerful effect.

    Even though feminist critics called Hammer’s 1970s films “essentialist,” the artist continued making work about lesbians but shifted her focus from rendering gay women visible to queering visibility itself. A treatise on haptic eroticism, Sync Touch, 1981, intersperses hand-painted frames, depictions of hands, finger painting, sensual touching, and footage of Hammer’s French tutor intoning theoretical language, which the artist parrots back. Pools, 1981, another tactile film with painted-on color, dives deep into Hearst Castle’s swimming pools. This grand edifice in San Simeon, California, was designed by early-twentieth-century architect and reputed lesbian Julia Morgan. Pools anticipated Hammer’s documentaries from the 1990s, which mined the myriad archives of queer history (none of those works, however, are featured here).

    There’s a motorcycle—the model that Hammer rode—on a plinth in the gallery. Refinished in specular chrome and ritually cleansed by artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden, the show’s curator, it functions as potent symbol of Hammer’s legacy, which has indelibly impacted queer filmmakers working today, and the maverick histories of lesbianism, which she devoted herself to depicting, preserving, and endlessly renegotiating through a lifetime of art.

  • Tyler Mitchell, Group Hang, 2021, archival pigment print, 39 11/16 x 50".

    Tyler Mitchell, Group Hang, 2021, archival pigment print, 39 11/16 x 50".

    New York

    Tyler Mitchell

    Jack Shainman Gallery
    524 West 24th Street
    September 9–October 30, 2021

    Jack Shainman Gallery
    513 West 20th Street
    September 9–October 30, 2021

    Appearing in Tyler Mitchell’s solo exhibitions “Dreaming in Real Time” and “I Can Make You Feel Good,” which unfold across both of this gallery’s Chelsea spaces, is the photograph Riverside Scene (all works 2021), which brings to mind George Seurat’s 1884–86 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, that art-canonical classic of dillydallying. Only instead of portraying bourgeois whites afternooning by the Seine, Mitchell’s piece presents Black ladies and gentlemen who happily lounge on vinyl-tube lawn chairs and red-and-white checkered blankets, or sketch at an easel on a grassy hill overlooking a muddy body of water in Georgia.

    In Group Hang, we see silhouettes of young Black people crouching in a coppice, while Nap features a close-up of intertwined feet in saddle shoes. In Impact, a trio of bathers dunk themselves into the murky Chattahoochee River—an update to Thomas Eakins’s faded sepia photo studies for his canvas Arcadia, ca. 1883. The photos capture youths frolicking in the Pennsylvania woods during a cholera outbreak. Mitchell’s images reclaim leisure as a vital Black activity that, crucially, occurs far away from the surveilling white gaze. Sheets drying on a line, shirtless tanning men, Hula-Hoopers—these works offer up moments of play and bucolic calm amid all the troubling depictions of racist “Americana” that flood newsfeeds the world over.

    Famously, Seurat’s painting relies on a very specific kind of optical effect, where tiny dots seen up close cohere into discernible images when viewed from a distance. But it doesn’t matter where you stand in relation to Mitchell’s generous works—joy is clear and everywhere.