Critics’ Picks

  • Fernanda Gomes, Untitled, 2022, linen, light, 35 1/2 x 71 x 1 1/2".

    Fernanda Gomes, Untitled, 2022, linen, light, 35 1/2 x 71 x 1 1/2".

    New York

    Fernanda Gomes

    Peter Freeman, Inc.
    140 Grand Street
    September 8–November 5, 2022

    Untitled enigmatic objects that are crafted from an array of evanescent or seemingly precarious materials—including light, linen thread, fabric, and slats of wood—make up Fernanda Gomes’s debut exhibition here. Although her process is intuitive, meticulous, and full of right angles, the artist frequently sources the items for her work from her immediate environment. Indeed, her art is highly economical, in both principal and practice. Gomes spent six grueling weeks in the gallery preparing for this show and transformed her surroundings into an extension of the domestic space she operates from in Rio de Janeiro. 

    Since 1988, Gomes has treated her exhibitions as single pieces, and this one features a show within a show— a “light specific ensemble,” according to the press release, in which the artist filtered man-made light through Italian scenography linen to create tonal evenness. She also coated the walls with a shade of white, “chantilly lace,” which is the American version of the paint she used to treat some of the works in the show: Branco neve suvinil classica, a “classic snow white” by the Brazilian manufacturer Suvinil. Gomes finds there is a big difference between the Suvinil and the standard white used by many galleries in the US (sometimes known as “Sol LeWitt white”) which she says “has too much gray.” The space’s wood floors, however, were untouched—the terrain “is neutral,” according to Gomes, and “creates a beautiful reflection that I like.”

    Her minimal floor-based and wall-mounted sculptures are quietly playful, like illusions, and rife with art-historical references, among them Kazimir Malevich’s 1918 canvas, Suprematist Composition: White on White. Malevich comes to the fore a number of times, especially in those instances where Gomes treats light as paint For example, in a pair of canvases placed side by side, a centered square of light illuminates half of each panel, producing four evenly sized bands in variegated shades of beige. For those not paying close attention, some details may well be overlooked, especially since the show includes things that may or may not be artworks, such as a stick in a column, a stack of cardboard, and a pile of wood. The exhibition is quietly active, a work in progress—Gomes allows us to recognize the hidden potentiality of everything in the room, to embrace the strange power of all the “unfinishedness” before us. To quote the artist, “Who said the show had to be ready for the opening?”

  • Stephen Polatch, RIP DoE, 2022, egg tempera on gesso board 16 1/8 x 11 3/4".

    Stephen Polatch, RIP DoE, 2022, egg tempera on gesso board 16 1/8 x 11 3/4".

    New York

    Stephen Polatch

    Margot Samel
    295 Church St
    September 9–October 14, 2022

    Glasgow-based painter Stephen Polatch creates idylls populated by a cast of elvish figures, swans, cats, and foxes in narratives that unfold in hallucinatory suburban spaces. Throughout this show one can find references to video games, Symbolist art, and religious icons—though one also suspects that an autobiographical thread is running through the works’ allegorical superstructure. These modestly scaled, egg-tempera panels are animated by the friction between the familiar and the strange. Take RIP DoE (all works 2022), in which two revelers, irradiated by golden light, stare blankly beyond the picture plane from a composition with wildflowers, drink, a curious feline, and even a party hat. A set of pulled-back, chrome-yellow curtains frame the scene, suggesting theater, as if Edvard Munch were the set designer for an atomic-age vaudeville act.

    Polatch’s figures frequently wear bewildered expressions, seemingly awestruck by the power lines, railways, and dirty canals that trace the cramped streets of their mysterious realm. Take the nude, vacant-eyed damsel in Milngavie: She floats in front of a man as her long, whiplike braids unfurl beside her. A tendril of red ribbon is tied around the man’s neck—part adornment, part instrument of bondage. The stylized composition, full of saturated golds, reds, blues, and pinks, recalls Pamela Colman Smith’s iconic 1909 tarot illustrations. Indeed, Polatch’s taxonomy of forms and symbols is charged with supernatural energy, peppered with references to the occult.

    At times the artist’s subjects appear to have leaped from one painting into another. A doll-like figure in a blousy smock emerges from a forest in Figures with Owl and is also present in Milngavie, though only as a blip in the distance. In Poppy Field, two large heads in the sky—one in the shape of a moon—look down on a pale-skinned girl gathering the titular flowers as she is stalked by a cobra and a cat. While the narratives are elusive, each work here seems to fit within a much greater and deeply absurdist plotline.

  • Kristi Cavataro, Untitled, 2022, stained glass, 38 x 38 x 30".

    Kristi Cavataro, Untitled, 2022, stained glass, 38 x 38 x 30".

    New York

    Kristi Cavataro

    Ramiken
    389 Grand Street
    September 7–October 8, 2022

    Chemists call glass an amorphous solid. Positioned between states of matter, it features a slightly tweaked, irregular molecular fabric that deviates from the crystalline compositions forming other types of hardened material. Like plastics and gels, glass is defined by a structural ambiguity at the most granular level, one split between strict organization and total disorder.

    In Kristi Cavataro’s current exhibition, the artist seems to have taken her signature material’s idiosyncratic makeup as a cue for her sculptures’ beguiling forms. Each of the six works (all Untitled, 2022) are symmetrical, and in certain cases across more than one axis. For instance, the roughly cubic yet byzantine object that opens the show—realized in variegated shades of cream, slate blue, and lavender—most forcefully reveals Cavataro’s interest in deductive structures. The logical construction of this piece and others might even appear mechanical, as if 3-D printed, if one weren’t aware of the artist’s virtuosic system of fabrication. Cavataro achieves her intricate configurations by hand, flexing and shaping tiles of stained glass that are set into copper, lead, and tin.

     Nevertheless, in a vein similar to Man Ray’s Man and Woman photographs from 1918—in which rotary eggbeaters and metal reflectors serve as suggestive substitutes for a penis and breasts, respectively—sex and soma creep into Cavataro’s mechanomorphic sculptures. In one relief, a rectangular turquoise aperture extending out from its base on the wall resembles a gaping mouth ready for consumption. In another, a drooping band of pink tiles calls to mind any number of semiliquid viscera, retrofitted for museological display. Rhymed pairs of vertical beams transform other works on view into romantic couplings, their points of intersection a type of material copulation.

    The figurative allusions that haunt the exhibition largely depend on the tubular elements Cavataro uses throughout her practice: undulating forms that tone down the sculptures’ neo-geo vintage to amplify their latent Surrealist tenor.

  • Doreen Lynette Garner, Here Hangs the Skins of a Surgical Sadist! To be physically assaulted by those who identify as Black women, those who formerly identified as Black women, and those who were identified as Black women at birth, 2022, silicone, resin clay, steel, steel pins, rope, raffia, punching bag, cowrie shells, 7' 6“ x 10' 2 1/2” x 7'. 

    Doreen Lynette Garner, Here Hangs the Skins of a Surgical Sadist! To be physically assaulted by those who identify as Black women, those who formerly identified as Black women, and those who were identified as Black women at birth, 2022, silicone, resin clay, steel, steel pins, rope, raffia, punching bag, cowrie shells, 7' 6“ x 10' 2 1/2” x 7'.
     

    New York

    Doreen Lynette Garner

    New Museum
    235 Bowery
    June 30–October 9, 2022

    As artists returned to figuration in the 2010s, Doreen Lynette Garner burst onto the scene with sculptures that unflinchingly catalogued histories of medical racism. Her solo show here, “REVOLTED,” finds Garner examining the ongoing effects of the slave trade and exemplifies what theorist Christina Sharpe defines as “wake work”—the notion that contemporary Black life must continually affirm itself against the negation of chattel slavery.

    The sculptural installation Feast of the Hogs (all works 2022) connects the dangers of life in the Middle Passage with today’s pandemics. Here, Garner has suspended a semi-realistic approximation of a diseased animal carcass above a small wooden plank, evocative of a ship’s hold. Beneath the organ-splattered slats, Garner has placed a cast of a hand holding a knife. Gore is always counterbalanced by moments of decorative pleasure: glass beads, pearls, and crystals stud the dead creature’s exposed ribs and spilled guts. A second sculpture turns Garner’s silicone cast of a statue of James Marion Sims—which stood in New York’s Central Park for decades until its removal in 2018—into an effigy primed for glorious retaliation. For more than five years, the artist has interrogated Sims’s violent legacy: This nineteenth-century “father of modern gynecology” forcefully performed gruesome experiments on unanesthetized enslaved Black women. In this piece, she transforms his decapitated head into a boxing speed bag surrounded by raffia and cowrie shells, while the rest of his body, made into a large punching bag, is slumped in a corner.

    Nearby, two reliefs reinterpret canonical European paintings. Garner gained inspiration from J. M. W. Turner’s 1840 canvas Slave Ship, which depicts the 1781 Zong massacre—resulting in the deaths of more than 130 indentured Africans—and refashions it to become an homage to the 1773 slave rebellion aboard the New Britannia. Garner’s portrayal of the captive-led uprising is a visceral quasi-abstraction of cast organs, razor blades, and pockmarked white silicone “skin.” This same skin—rendered as baloney-like slices of ghastly pale flesh, marked with pustules symptomatic of illnesses such as syphilis and smallpox—forms the backdrop of Take This and Remember Me. Channeling Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, ca. 1508–12, this work centers the silicone arms of a young Black girl extending a metal weapon to help an elder. The composition calls to mind God’s wrathful words from the Book of Romans: “Vengeance is mine . . . I will repay.”