Critics’ Picks

  • Candy Jernigan, CANADIAN STATIONERY PT I: Three Notebooks And A Pen, n.d., colored pencil on paper, 12 x 16".

    Candy Jernigan

    Greene Naftali Gallery
    508 West 26th Street Ground floor and 8th Floor
    June 27–August 9, 2019

    There’s always a lot of junk in galleries. But here, the garbage is pure gold.

    The late and forever great Candy Jernigan (1952–1991) had a thing for the discarded and defiled, be it pop-tops, moist cigar butts, or a rat’s carcass. The artist, who lived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sourced the materials for her collages and drawings from the filthy, crime-addled streets right outside her studio door. Jernigan’s Found Dope, 1986, a taxonomic display of drug paraphernalia including residue-y dime bags and crack vials, was presented by the artist at a neighborhood meeting as proof of the sordid local goings-on and was almost seized by law enforcement.

    Yet the works at Greene Naftali feel more buoyant, likely because they document the stuff of the artist’s trips to Italy, India, and the American Midwest, among other places—life away from seamy Gotham. Two drawings, one in pastel and the other in colored pencil, depict a bottle cap for Squirt soda: Travel Series – Part 4, Bottle Cap – Yucatán, 1984, and Oberlin, Ohio, Midwest Tour, 1983, respectively. The pieces call to mind Warhol’s dictum on Coca-Cola as a class equalizer: “The President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and . . . you can drink Coke, too.” Jernigan reminds us that trash is just as democratizing—the same strain of commercial refuse can appear anywhere in this world, from a sleepy college town to a Mexican state that is home to ancient Mayan ruins.

    The strangest works in the show are the artist’s colored-pencil portraits of seemingly fresh-off-the-shelf stationery from Canada. Lined paper, datebooks, envelopes, a pink Buffalo eraser, and more are rendered in the artist’s inimitable drawing style: a marriage of Elizabeth Murray’s wobbly formalism, kinked with the jittery line work of Krazy Kat. Looking at these pictures is like seeing yourself in a cheap mirror—as a vaguely distorted but familiar sight that mildly boggles while it mysteriously enlightens.

  • Rachel Libeskind, Desire to Collect, 2019, collage on Japanese paper with fabric hardener and acrylic airbrush pigment, 33 x 24".

    Rachel Libeskind and Carmen Winant

    Signs and Symbols
    102 Forsyth Street
    June 2–July 28, 2019

    The announcement for Rachel Libeskind and Carmen Winant’s show tells us that the artists “practice feminism and motherhood,” as if these were optional items on a menu of exercise regimens. Yet both of them do attempt to grapple with the historic packaging and narrativization of women’s bodies and psyches.

    Winant’s memorable installation at the Museum of Modern Art last year, My Birth, 2018, required the viewer to pass through a long hallway plastered with pictures of newborns, pregnancies, and women in labor. Here, her collages focus on found material about “embodied treatments”—such as dance or scream therapy, marketed to wealthy, white, middle-aged women—which are chaotically assembled but neatly framed. Jostling for attention are cutout images and handwriting in graphite, ink, charcoal, and crayon. The aesthetic calls to mind the torn pages of a searching teenager’s diary (Target Practice [all works 2019] includes the headings “COMMUNICATION” and “FEELING”) or sketchbook notes from an aspiring art student (“Remember: no one likes to be seen or looked at in unflattering ways!” scolds Hologram for living). Often combining reclined nude subjects and snippets of reassuring instructions, the matter for her compositions could have come from guides to shooting portraits or sex manuals for beginners.

    The images in Libeskind’s collages were taken from an unnamed vintage board game whose pieces included men’s and women’s faces sliced into separate features. Desire to Collect, with its comparative columns of lip, nose, and eye shapes, introduces the dark tinge of a eugenics study. The other works are rather hallucinatory, full of psychedelic airbrushing and asymmetrical compositions. More playful than Winant’s pieces, they also lend an undeniable air of paranoia to the show. Together, the artists attempt to reassemble so many fragmented bodies, to relieve some of their pain—but this work is never complete.

  • Leonardo Drew, Number 211, 2019, wood, paint, 86 x 58 x 29".

    Leonardo Drew

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
    528 West 26th Street
    May 16–August 2, 2019

    Leonardo Drew’s wooden assemblages inspire a distinctly energetic choreography. Employing the minute and the monumental as coconspirators in his visual schema, Drew facilitates an unanchored viewing experience wherein the breadth of each work is slowly revealed through explorations near, far, and even inside the object-environments he creates. In turn, the works themselves shift, from painting, to sculpture, to immersive installation, perpetually observed in transition.

    Drew’s pieces are roughly divided into two galleries, the smaller of which houses a series of sculpted reliefs, each coated in black paint. In Number 212, 2018, cut lumber, stacked together puzzle-like into dizzying planes of knobs and slits, serves as the structural basis for a collection of large branches propelling out from the wall into the gallery space. Due to the sharp distinction the artist constructs between low and high relief, Number 212 appears topographical, illustrating, perhaps, a cluster of colossal trees and the urban sprawl in which they are subsumed. Number 211, 2019, features a less dramatic crescendo, its wooden fragments and branches arranged relatively level, slowly and circuitously approaching their apex. Despite the particular undulations of each, however, what Drew’s reliefs share is a certain in-betweenness. As if frozen in entropic transformation, surfaces of carefully detailed mosaic work give way to untamed appendages, our reception subsequently oscillating between optical fixation and physical response.

    Number 215, 2019, occupying three walls and the floor in the main room, offers a panoramic vista of painted wooden fragments, scratched and distressed as if remnants of a long-shattered mural or, alternatively, a now-familiar moment of combustion at a standstill. Yet Drew’s play with generation and decline is nowhere more present than in the materials themselves, which, previously defunct, are imbued with the laborious energy of his craftsmanship, as if born anew.

     

  • Jean-Luc Moulène, More or Less Bone (Formal Topological Optimization) (Paris–NY, 2018–19), fiberglass and epoxy paint, 63 x 335 x 177".

    Jean-Luc Moulène

    SculptureCenter
    44-19 Purves Street
    April 29–July 29, 2019

    Jean-Luc Moulène’s new sculpture sits in a room like an unearthed piece of technology from the future. To think of its weight, one might consider the epigraph from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker: “What was it? A meteorite that fell to Earth? Or a visitation from outer space?” For More or Less Bone (Formal Topological Optimization) (Paris–NY, 2018–19), Moulène collaborated with France’s Aerospace Valley, a civilian and military aircraft engineering cluster, to render an optimal form that amalgamates a set of various shapes: spheres, stairs, and human knuckles. This seemingly random fusion, developed with modeling software (though the object itself was not 3-D-printed), yields something not too unlike a cattle skull.

    With its coldness, this mammoth structure becomes the inverse of Ana Mendieta’s On Giving Life, 1975, a photographic work in which the artist, bathed in sunlight reminiscent of Eric Rohmer’s springtime romps, lies atop a human skeleton, lending warmth to ever-present death. Moulène’s fiberglass-and-epoxy colossus defies such tenderness, trading sense experience for a work worthy of our technocratic era. But there is something impish in Moulène’s grinning skull, faceless though it is. A bodily form, couched on the concrete floor, reaches toward a trapezoidal shape that dominates the construction, becoming a line break that ends in a snarled enjambment of splintered material at the trapezoid’s tip. The incidental demarcations between these forms allow for the possibility of grace, an offering to climb inside and be cocooned there.

    In an interview, Moulène stated that he sees his sculptures as “surfaces, with no inside or outside, only holes.” His object suggests the physical representation of a cinematic idea, something approaching Soviet montage theory, which forces the question: If technology trickles down from a military to a civilian populace over a decade, what, then, is nature when photography is augmented by a third dimension?