Critics’ Picks

  • Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Diddy, 2018, oil paint, paint stick, oil pastel, and gouache on linen, 16 x 12".

    Nathaniel Mary Quinn

    Salon 94 | Bowery
    243 Bowery
    September 7 - October 27

    Salon 94 | Freemans
    1 Freeman Alley
    September 7 - October 27

    How do we exist in the minds of others, in the glances of strangers, in the memories of those who know us well? Surely not as razor-edged effigies—properly proportioned bodies with crisply outlined fingers and toes. Instead, we probably look more like the characters in the paintings of Nathaniel Mary Quinn. The Chicago-born artist emphasizes certain features (a wary gaze, the cleft of a chin) and eliminates others (a forgettable forehead, an unimportant earlobe) to create expressive, empathetic portraits.

    Quinn’s first solo show at Salon 94, across its two locations, delivers impressions of his Brooklyn neighbors on canvas and paper. In Diddy (all works 2018), a large cyclopean eye looms above a smudged slice of nose and grisaille lips pursed in a grimace. The Local Dealer is broken into offset horizontal strips, like a photograph of a lover torn up in anger and pieced back together. Quinn renders different features of each face in various media, including oil paint, pastel, charcoal, and gouache. The disparate textures contribute to the illusion that these works are collages. Some parts are rendered clearly while others are blurred, as though they are being dragged away by time. The hybrid nature of Quinn’s characters speaks to their multiplicity, to how many selves can coexist within one. Each painting has a distinct presence, although many stare off into space with what feels like melancholy or resignation. Gentrification, Quinn notes in the press release, is overtaking Crown Heights. No wonder these portraits feel at once celebratory and elegiac.

  • View of “Guadalupe Rosales: Legends Never Die, A Collective Memory,” 2018.

    Guadalupe Rosales

    Aperture Gallery
    547 West 27th Street 4th Floor
    September 20 - October 20

    The photographic archive has emerged as a crucial site for reenvisioning contested histories, from independence movements to war and even nightlife. When Malick Sidibé first opened his studio in 1960s Bamako, his portraits of young people captured the transformations and euphoria that characterized the club scene in postindependence Mali. Here, Guadalupe Rosales does the same for youth culture in a time of political turmoil in 1990s Los Angeles—post riots and Proposition 187—amid the preponderance of negative representations of brown bodies and the undocumented in the media then and today.

    Rosales draws from an extensive crowdsourced archive of photographs and ephemera that are part of Latinx youth culture and nightlife from this period, of which the artist herself was a part. The show begins with a blown-up black-and-white portrait of two beautiful teenage girls seated cheek to cheek in a photo booth, their eyebrows thinly arched. Collaged adjacent is a photograph of four young women posing on the shoulder of an expressway. Nearby, at the same scale as the portraits, is a photograph of a quotidian East Los Angeles nightscape, featuring attached two-story homes and electrical lines receding into the distance.

    Displayed in vitrines and directly on the gallery’s walls are a variety of printed material and objects. Colorful fliers for party crews, with names like Sweet ’n’ Sensual and Exotik Illusionz, are displayed alongside Street Beat magazines, clothing, and wallet-size “star shot photos” of friends, couples, and families. There is also a memorial to the artist’s slain cousin. Rosales’s exhibition is a living archive, one that that she has dictated should not be donated to any private institutions due to concerns over ownership and accessibility. On the opening day of the show, reflecting on the people for whom this project is a collective memory, Rosales stated, “We are LA.”

  • John Chiara, Henry Street near Rutgers Street, Variation 2, 2018, negative chromogenic photograph, 50 x 40".

    John Chiara

    Yossi Milo Gallery
    245 Tenth Avenue
    September 6 - October 27

    John Chiara is mainly known as a West Coast photographer. His pictures of California elaborate a tradition nearly as old as photography itself, taking in the state’s sublime expanses of earth and concrete. They carefully balance rich detail with compositional ambiguity, imbuing the more epic aspects of the landscape genre with a sense of poetic restraint.

    In this show, Chiara trains his eye on the streets of Manhattan, revealing hidden surfaces that might otherwise escape notice amid the hustle of daily life. Like many of his nineteenth-century forebears, he is a polymath—the artist designed a custom camera more than four feet wide, which he mounted on the back of a pickup truck. The apparatus allows Chiara to produce color negatives at a colossal scale. The result is a body of tonally inverted images that amplify the mundane in both size and chromatic intensity—not too unlike dropping acid while wearing infrared goggles. Apartment buildings, such as those in Henry Street near Rutgers Street, Variation 2, 2018, crackle in hues of ultramarine and emerald, while its fire escapes glow radiant white. Trees, too, pervade these images, creating fields of hazy abstraction or hints of burns and bubbles in the frame.

    At first glance, there is a roteness within the images. But Chiara resists the reduction of the photograph to mere pixels, demanding that the viewer linger. It’s rare for a photographer to push the technical edge of the medium. And rarer still to reanimate corners of the world seen and forgotten by hundreds of thousands of eyes every day.

  • Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Untitled (detail), 2018, ink-jet-printed vinyl, grommets, 10 x 35'.

    Sara Greenberger Rafferty

    Rachel Uffner Gallery
    170 Suffolk Street
    September 12 - October 28

    Dramatically unfurling down the entryway of this gallery, a thirty-five-foot-long, untitled ink-jet-on-vinyl piece (all works 2018) hangs from grommets, on which Sara Greenberger Rafferty seems to have dumped the contents of her Google Drive. Dotted with rectangular icons ordered roughly by color, the work reveals Rafferty’s preoccupations with various kinds of staging. In it are a number of selfies the artist took in a Dior shirt that pays homage to art historian Linda Nochlin—emblazoned across it is “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists,” the title of Nochlin’s famous 1971 essay—alongside images of film stills, makeup swatches, Color-Aid tests, and comediennes such as Kathy Griffin.

    “Testing” is the title and overarching concept for Rafferty’s solo show. Using kiln-formed glass for the first time, Rafferty prints predigital archival material that touches on female stardom, school exams, and photographic processing. A native of Chicago, Rafferty’s affinity for comedy has evolved over the years from slapstick sculptures to analyses of performance gestures. It is tempting to compare Rafferty’s “Testing” works to the early flatbed-scan “joke” works of Lucie Stahl, which included the German artist’s handwritten notes. But even with intrusions of the personal, Rafferty’s concerns remain structural.

    Pieces such as Exterior (University of Michigan Extension) feature direct exposures of images onto ballistic and bulletproof plastic—the works’ substrates allude to gritty urban storefronts. Rafferty’s text-heavy works, however, pack a bigger conceptual punch. In The Law, she reproduces a page detailing Abbie Hoffman’s trial. In it, the notorious Yippie argues that his wearing of the American flag should be legal, like the garments of comic Phyllis Diller. Her Taxes appropriates an excerpt from a Vanity Fair article, published before the 2016 election, about Donald Trump’s undisclosed tax returns. Rafferty zeroes in on an anecdote about a women’s-lib era celebrity legal skirmish: that of comedienne Carol Burnett, who successfully fought the IRS to write off her evening gowns as business expenses in the 1960s.

  • View of “Dorian Gaudin,” 2018.

    Dorian Gaudin

    Nathalie Karg
    291 Grand Street 4th Floor
    September 12 - October 21

    In the center of Dorian Gaudin’s current show is The coffee cup spring (all works 2018), a giant yellow conveyor belt that forms an elaborate loop through the space—a rectangular prism with additional horizontal, vertical, and upside-down segments. The belt itself is composed only of two chains, which carry not consumer products but two lone objects rendered in fiberglass: a disposable coffee cup and a houseplant. Jerking along endlessly at a rate slower than a moving sidewalk, the objects almost mount a commentary on postconsumer waste. (Perhaps the brown planter could be made from the recycled coffee-cup sleeve?) But their status as crafty representations rather than found objects suggests something more like a joke—as emphasized by the inclusion of a second fiberglass coffee cup on a windowsill in the back of the gallery, as if left by a gallerygoer.

    Pivoting from the steel conveyor belt’s associations with industry, consumption, and construction, the other works in the show are more architectural, insisting upon a DIY aesthetic as applied to a prefab house: Here is the floral wallpaper (Forget me not carnation), there are the stairs (Things that do the same), look at the wood paneling (Busy undercover). The omnipresent whirring of the central mechanism implies that all of these items might at some point zip into the center of the room, rotating as needed to conjoin into a makeshift house.

    This emphasis on synthesis and orders of operation was particularly important to Gaudin; rather than applying wallpaper to a support or affixing wood paneling to drywall, the artist made the smooth fiberglass simulacra first, then tore them from their supports and affixed new backings. Though these additional steps perform little critical work, they do infuse the exhibition with a sense of fun, à la Rube Goldberg.

  • Steve Locke, Officer Timothy Loehmann (fishing), 2017, graphite on paper, 22 x 30".

    Steve Locke

    yours mine & ours
    54 Eldridge Street
    September 9 - October 28

    For Steve Locke, the grid—that modernist symbol of order and reason—exemplifies a vastly different kind of modernity: antiblack violence. At first sight innocuous, Locke’s sensitive graphite portraits, arranged into grids, depict white murderers of black people. The series “#Killers,” 2017–18, is the culmination of several months of research in which Locke catalogues and condemns an infamous mob across sixty-one drawings. An overwhelming amount of negative space consumes these images, bringing the whiteness of the killers to the fore. Among them are George Zimmerman, based on a selfie he took while on vacation; ex-cop Jason Stockley, rendered from a photo of him receiving an acquittal in a Saint Louis courtroom; and officer Timothy Loehmann as he was, according to the work’s title, fishing. Equally visible is the absence of those killed by these men: Trayvon Martin, Anthony Lamar Smith, Tamir Rice. For Locke, the past is all too present. One of the few exceptions to the sea of faces here is Emmett Till Memorial Marker with Bullet Holes, 2018—a piece that illustrates an act of desecration surely connected to the evil surrounding Till’s death.

    The grid persists in “Family Photos,” a series that acknowledges the media’s role in disseminating spectacles of violent racism. Rather than opting to accumulate contemporary spectacles of hatred, Locke chooses to frame historical ones—pictures of lynchings. Placed in store-bought frames intended for good-humored snapshots, these images reintroduce ancestral trauma into the household. Each of Locke’s photographs features a framed image sitting on a coffee table in front of a wall painted either red, yellow, green, or blue. The works, which were first exhibited at Boston’s Gallery Kayafas in 2016, calls for the frames’ inscriptions to be read. For instance, one says, “It’s not where you go or what you do, it’s who’s beside you that counts.” These works, according to Locke, “are the Family Pictures we have long pretended do not exist.”

  • View of “Sam Anderson: A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” 2018.

    Sam Anderson

    Chapter NY
    249 East Houston Street
    September 13 - October 21

    “Does anybody need my love?” one of New York’s nine million strangers murmured on the street as I walked to this exhibition. His inquiry felt out-of-nowhere, gentle but rather threatening: descriptors that also apply to the show in question, Sam Anderson’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” Here, other lovesome/lonesome things—a harp, an outsize cake-topper bride, a grinning tube of sunscreen—become stripped-down monuments to withheld affection. Anderson’s fragile, frugal sculptures often appear hurried to the point of incompleteness, as if to stress that her work is not a product of impassioned labor but of studied abandonment. It often puzzles. At a moment lousy with “immersive” art experiences, Anderson favors spatial and emotional exclusivity. Her deceptive whimsies signal inner worlds you may never access.

    In the room’s center, five tall, round plinths comprise an awkward archipelago. On separate pedestals are Two Babies (all works cited, 2018) made of papier-mâché and given a few taped-up sticks for legs. One mouthless tot eyes its frowning, turned-away twin, wondering perhaps if it could make the jump. The aforementioned bride, Paula, gazes at nothing, presumably jilted. Elsewhere, a pair of Best Friends—epoxy-clay and papier-mâché pawns conjoined at the hip—binge on a video bearing the show’s title. It’s projected to look like what Anderson calls a box-office window. The footage, comprising stock imagery and scored by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, loops through visions of longing: prayerful aliens, cartoon storks ferrying baby bundles, somersaulting astronauts, and napping hippopotami who bring to mind anthropomorphized internet darling Fiona the Hippo and her mother. There’s a voiceover, but it’s too soft to hear. Communication—its delicacy and swift infantilization—emerges as a concern, one underscored by the fact that each sculpture loosely resembles an emoji prototype. Anderson’s show doesn’t disclose much, but its unmoored feeling follows you outside, making you a little stranger.

  • Pati Hill, Section of Corset, 1976, black-and-white photocopy, 9 x 6".

    Pati Hill

    Essex Street
    55 Hester Street
    September 8 - October 21

    In the early 1970s, Pati Hill (1921–2014) began using a photocopier to create life-size images of mundane objects that together call to mind the song “My Favorite Things” by those famous Teutonic Singvögel, the von Trapp family: a rumpled brown paper bag, a box tied with twine, a seashell, spools of thread, and a frayed shirtsleeve. Hill’s chosen medium simultaneously evokes the drudgery of adult administrative duties and the messy thrills of high-school collages and punk zines. But her ambitious spirit was decidedly youthful: In 1980, at almost sixty years old, she moved to Paris, intent on “photocopying Versailles.” She succeeded in copying almost everything there, from the royal palace’s cobblestones to its pear trees.

    Hill’s use of the photocopier capitalized on the machine’s ability to flatten images, with unexpectedly dramatic effects. The selections in this exhibition, such as Untitled (striped rag) and Untitled (sardine tin), both 1977–79, depict the titular objects as if they are floating in space, untethered. Per the exhibition’s title, “How Something Can Have Been At One Time And In One Place And Nowhere Else Ever Again,” these items are typically relegated to the realms of the domestic before being discarded and forgotten. The fifteen different shapes a scarf can make (Understanding Your Chinese Scarf, 1983) are not exactly the stuff of history—but perhaps of personal memory instead, in which quotidian events and material ephemera take on symbolic status with the distortions and dilations of time. Hill’s pictures foreground the objects that often go unexamined, reminding us that the archives of daily life are sometimes hiding in plain sight.

  • View of “João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva: WHERE THE SORCERER DOESN’T DARE TO STICK HIS NOSE and Another B&W Ghost Show,” 2018.

    João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva

    Andrew Kreps Gallery
    537/535 W 22nd Street
    September 6 - October 20

    Recent photographic production has often been described with watery metaphors: floods and oceans and rivers of images, the better to belabor the torrential rate of current lens-based output. Amid these wordy swells, I began to conceive of the world’s camera apertures as so many storm drains—catchments for the unconsidered drizzle of human experience. This indiscriminate, junky schema came to mind while watching João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva’s Camera test (vacuuming the studio), 2018, a 16-mm film made by mounting a lens on a vacuum wand to form a mongrel contraption that roams an untidy floor, sucking up everything in its path: bolts, screw eyes, scraps of paper, lozenges of turquoise chewing gum, Kodak 120 box tops.

    It’s a satisfying sight gag. But this casual hoovering of images is actually the opposite of Gusmão and Paiva’s typical working method: They shoot like ethnographers or experimental physicists might, creating studied portraits of recondite cultural phenomena and of visual experiences that the photographic apparatus alone can capture—a close-up of a monk’s tonsure being shorn with a straight razor (The Initiate, 2008); a lens recording its own occlusion by the spinning blades of a plastic fan (The green shutter, 2018). Silent and slow-motion, the works conjure the close, tranquilizing hush of a classroom dimmed for an educational-movie screening.

    Accompanying the films is a series of large-scale gelatin silver prints depicting sculptures in progress for a “fictitious” exhibition—convincing facsimiles of the sort of earnest studio shots popularized by Cahiers d’Art in the interwar period. In one picture, successive arcs of thinly rolled sculpting wax are, per the title, a depiction of a jumping flea; in another, a gloopy sphere rises from concentric ripples on the surface of what appears to be a tree stump—its subtitle, Droplet, suggests that the odd conglomeration is a splash’s corona, as if revealed under engineer Harold Eugene Edgerton’s strobe. Gusmão and Paiva’s representations manage to cast the banal as otherworldly and the numinous as intelligible. Is there any better fulfillment of what it means to be visionary?

  • Bodys Isek Kingelez, Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994, paper, paperboard, plastic, various materials, 51“ x 73” x 10' 5".

    Bodys Isek Kingelez

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    May 26 - January 1

    There are three key moments that keep the legend of Bodys Isek Kingelez burning. One is when the Congolese sculptor—maker of intricate paper objects known as “extrêmes maquettes”—quit his job as a schoolteacher in Kinshasa and began making art, feverishly, from paper, scissors, a razor, and glue. The second came when a Kingelez sculpture arrived at the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaire. The staff there refused to believe he’d made it himself and demanded he create another one onsite. He did, and they immediately hired him as a restorer. The third was his participation in the 1989 exhibition “Magiciens de la terre” (Magicians of the Earth), which catapulted Kingelez to international acclaim.

    His first US retrospective here turns on three similar moments, illuminating formal shifts in the work that subtly reflect changes in the artist’s life. Soon after “Magiciens,” Kingelez, who had been making singular buildings such as Allemagne An 2000 (Germany Year 2000), 1988, and Paris Nouvel (New Paris), 1989, began to construct entire cities, such as Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994, named after the artist’s birthplace. Some years later, he started incorporating lights and transparent materials, which give Ville de Sète 3009 (City of Sète 3009), 2000, for example, its majestic glow. And then, toward the end of his life (Kingelez died in 2015), he returned to the found packaging materials he began with, using mint boxes and lightbulb cartons in Nippon Tower, 2005.

    By turns playful and austere, rigidly chronological and blessedly open to what art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu has termed the artist’s “ecstatic imagination,” “City Dreams” moves lightly through thirty-three examples of Kingelez’s work. Lines of thought about colonialism, liberation, repression, health, and the realities of life that find welcome relief in utopian propositions arise naturally from the sculptures themselves. Curator Sarah Suzuki, whose accompanying catalogue is exceptional, deserves credit for lending astringent analysis to Kinglez’s context without ever dampening his magic.