Critics’ Picks

  • Kevin Jerome Everson, Westinghouse 3, 2019, video, color, silent, 2 minutes 42 seconds.

    Kevin Jerome Everson, Westinghouse 3, 2019, video, color, silent, 2 minutes 42 seconds.

    Kevin Jerome Everson

    Andrew Kreps | 55 Walker
    55 Walker St
    February 29–April 11, 2020

    Two silent films frame Kevin Jerome Everson’s newest exhibition here. They feature a character, Derek Whitfield, ironing . . . and ironing. He never speaks, nor does he look out at the camera. The lens focuses primarily on his torso and hands working their way across a stark white bed sheet. In both films, Whitfield goes about his task using a rubber cast sculpture of an iron, made by Everson. Neither appliance has an electrical cord, emphasizing the ineffectual nature of such a repetitive endeavor.

    There’s something strikingly Kafkaesque yet incredibly tender about the way that Everson captures the futility of his subject’s actions. Much of this has to do with meticulous, quiet juxtapositions. In the black-and-white film, Whitfield turns into an eerie silhouette, virtually indistinguishable from the shadowy backdrop. A troubling slippage occurs where arm and iron merge and the body becomes object, an endless machine. In the color film, however, warmth abounds. The shots are tighter, more intimate. The camera lingers on Whitfield’s arms and face, making the scene more about the humanity of the laborer and labor, and less about getting lost in the folds and creases of whiteness. Toward the end, Whitfield even gazes off-screen, smiling bashfully.

    What does America do with its industrial ghosts, with all the outmoded technologies and inoperable inventions of its aged manufacturing and raw-materials commerce? How does it reconcile decayed, extractive economies with the ruin they continue to inflict upon natural ecologies and bodies, black ones in particular? Everson’s critical sleight of hand effortlessly permeates this pair of deceptively simple pieces, giving renewed agency to the body while bearing poetic witness to the worker himself in the age of surveillance capitalism.

  • Tom Waring, Roba, 2019, oil on linen, 71 × 63".

    Tom Waring, Roba, 2019, oil on linen, 71 × 63".

    Tom Waring

    Downs & Ross
    96 Bowery 2nd floor
    March 1–April 12, 2020

    Currently occupying Downs & Ross are ten candy-colored oil paintings by the British-born artist Tom Waring. His first show with the gallery serves up endless facility and art-historical influences, from the Renaissance and proto-Surrealism to the beginnings of Op art and well beyond. The press release insists that this presentation isn’t merely a game of I Spy by contextualizing it with two quotes. The first one is from a 2017 essay by the art historian Luciana Parisi that defines “post-truth politics,” while the other is taken out of Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a collection of stories told by seven characters who have secluded themselves to avoid the Black Death that ravaged medieval Europe (a timely reference given the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19). One begins to sense that the lofty ambition of this work lies not in the self-evident skill of the artist, but in his quest to stuff over half a millennium’s worth of history and countless schools of thought into a single picture. 

    This temporal compression translates to the shallow spaces of Waring’s compositions. Planes recede with impossible distance into environs that appear as deep as, say, a shoebox. The atmosphere established in these paintings seems miniature, even claustrophobic, yet somehow the objects they contain feel monumental. Despite the fact that most of the canvases depict architecture (see the castle in Eezlebulb Pip, 2019, with its spaghetti moat and man-eating scallops, or the de Chirico–like archways of Roba, 2019), the jarring scale shifts prevent the viewers from orienting themselves with a sense of place. Instead, one could navigate Waring’s constructions as apparatuses of the subconscious. Take Fush, 2020, where the artist provides numerous arrows to guide you through its complex arrangement—I couldn’t resist the thought of taking a ball from the painting’s bottom right corner and dropping it into the lovingly rendered banana-clad pachinko house, just to watch it fall into a fire-orange oblivion.

  • Hilary Pecis, Winter Room, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 62 x 50".

    Hilary Pecis, Winter Room, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 62 x 50".

    Hilary Pecis

    Rachel Uffner Gallery
    170 Suffolk Street
    March 1–April 26, 2020

    Los Angeles, Jean Baudrillard once wrote, “is in love with its limitless horizontality, as New York may be with its verticality.” Perhaps a requisite for a dalliance with horizontality is a sense of slowness, an abiding attendance to the plane. This notion seems central to LA-based painter Hilary Pecis’s “Come Along With Me,” her second solo show here, which invites the viewer into lusciously personal environs. Although figures don’t figure heavily, the fourteen acrylic paintings are quietly flamboyant with humanity. The viewer bears witness to Pecis’s life indirectly, via bits of accrued evidence such as plated almonds, a book of poetry by Mary Oliver or a volume on Albrecht Dürer, and a nook full of board games like Yahtzee and Scattergories—quirks of haptic occupancy that destine these scenes to hang together.

    Like her home city, the works that comprise “Come Along With Me” contain portals and egresses. There are slices of windows and/or paintings within paintings. Winter Room, 2020, for instance, is pleasantly disorienting; in it, a cat snoozes on a lopsided yellow couch, above which a picture of a Matissean interior hangs. Behind a white curtain is a view of a silhouetted palm tree, which is cut off by the edge of the canvas. In these images, everydayness is quietly made weird via kaleidoscopic pilings of textures, patterns, and apertures into and out of the space.

    Nature often transpierces indoor life in Los Angeles; Pecis shrewdly captures this quality’s sunnier aspects by framing the horizontal splay of how we represent ourselves within our own environments. The viewer is not exactly inside these scenes, but neither is she a trespasser in a land of wraiths; rather, she is alongside the painter, having been sweetly summoned to the command center.

  • April Gornik, Light Wheel, 2019, oil on linen, 80 1/2 x 62".

    April Gornik, Light Wheel, 2019, oil on linen, 80 1/2 x 62".

    April Gornik

    Miles McEnery Gallery | 22nd Street
    525 West 22nd Street
    February 20–May 2, 2020

    April Gornik’s Sunset, 2018—one among the twelve new landscape paintings in her current exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery—appears as though it might be plugged into an electrical socket. Along the horizon, halfway between a malevolent sky and an inky sea, a stripe of brilliant incandescence worthy of Vermeer lights up storm clouds, choppy waters, and, one would imagine, the entire gallery if it were darkened. Symbolism, Romanticism, Luminism, and feminism have all been cited in regard to Gornik’s work. Indeed, her reimagined versions of natural phenomena are as rich a field for interpretation as the writings of Herman Melville or Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    But my immediate reaction to Sunset, and the other new oils on view, all shorn of obvious narrative tinkering, was more visceral than intellectual. I recognized, and literally felt, the hallucinatory clouds saturated in moonbeams in Moonlight, 2019; the blinding oculus created by the sun and clouds in a fleeting dance together in Light Wheel, 2019; the azure-framed ovoid made from trees reflected on lake water in Bending Light, 2019. Scaled exactly so the mind can take in the composition all at once, each work is charged by an uncanny celestial radiance; the pleasure of Gornik’s art is in its immediate transcendent affect. The canvases are ecstatic experiences, hallelujah moments right out of the Second Great Awakening. Yet they recall the haunting psychological directness of Mark Rothko’s stacked rectangles far more than Frederic Edwin Church’s grandiose, metaphor-laden fictions. In nature, nothing’s impossible—though how Gornik captures the essence of such fugitive, liquid interludes with paint so skillfully is a tremendous mystery.

  • View of “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse,” 2020.

    View of “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse,” 2020.

    “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse”

    The Museum at FIT
    Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
    February 11–April 18, 2020

    Even for the balletomaniacs among us, the material history of the art form—one caught up in interpretation, rigor, tradition, and, most of all, practice—can be hard to grasp, hidden as it is in theater archives and the closets of prima ballerinas past. Curator Patricia Mears’s exhibition here dusts off bejeweled costumes, pointe shoes, and modest rehearsal ensembles from the twentieth century, placing them in conversation with contemporaneous couture and prêt-à-porter by masters such as Yves Saint Laurent, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Christian Dior. The drool-worthy garments, organized into groups such as “Ballet Colors” and “The Neo-Romantic Revival,” effortlessly communicate Mears’s primary thesis: Modern designers often looked to these performers for sartorial inspiration. More fascinating, however, are her efforts to ground the idealized concept of the ballerina in the lives and wardrobes of the actual women who performed these roles. 

    Ballet can require self-effacement: One is not oneself, but rather Odile or Aurora; individual dancers disappear into the identically dressed, collectively pliéing corps de ballet. With its inclusion of couture pieces worn by and/or photographs of notable practitioners such as Margot Fonteyn, Anna Pavlova, Maria Tallchief, and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Virginia Johnson, “Ballerina” deftly links the archetypal to the idiosyncratic. A pair of hand-knit stockings and a stacked, striped cotton tutu with serious 1990s Isaac Mizrahi–style energy, both from the 1940s (before the mass-market production of class and rehearsal wear, when dancers had to provide their own garb), confound with their beauty and intimacy. The costumes, which range from the heavily feathered and spangled “Dying Swan” raiment, circa 1920, worn by Pavlova to the famously minimal leotards of George Balanchine’s modernist Agon (1957), vibrate with the spirit of those who once wore them. For obsessives and amateurs alike, “Ballerina” offers an unparalleled communion with these women and the fantastic designs their agility and grace inspired.