Critics’ Picks

  • Omnivore, Character of Vicissitudes, 2020, offset print on scalloped-edge restaurant placemat, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4".

    Omnivore, Character of Vicissitudes, 2020, offset print on scalloped-edge restaurant placemat, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4".

    New York

    “Wrecked Alphabet”

    Broodthaers Society of America
    520 West 143rd Street
    October 4–December 5, 2020

    Given the prevailing trend of infographics—think Hank Willis Thomas’s chart Colonialism and Abstract Art, 2020, a reimagining of Alfred H. Barr’s diagram for his 1936 exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art,” or Dylan Louis Monroe’s ongoing QAnon-adjacent Deep State Mapping Project, 2017—it seems about time to scrutinize how texts and schematics proposing networks of connection and scattered over pages and screens, or even painted on cans of vegetables, became the look of the zeitgeist.

    The group exhibition here, “Wrecked Alphabet,” crams a whirlwind of propositions into a small parlor floor of an old Harlem brownstone, a venue that serves as something of an ongoing homage to the midcentury Belgian poet/artist and grand master of ceremonial failure Marcel Broodthaers. Appropriately enough, a bit of elaborately conceived wisecracking and thousand-yard-stare humor suffuses many of the pieces, authored by a wide array of artists and writers. Right at the entrance is a pair of multimedia-on-panel works by Pope.L titled Fushia Jesus and Fushia Pussy (both 2017–18), because that’s what each one spells out in loose, wet-on-wet­­ letters. Sydney Wilder’s wall poster Apology Alphabet, 2020, lists an out-of-order alphabet, beginning at e and ending at z. Each letter is assigned a variation on a simpering expression of contrition (e.g., “I’m sorry for my unresponsiveness”). It’s the sort of thing one often doesn’t mean sincerely but finds oneself saying in order to lubricate some unfortunate, but somehow necessary, personal interaction.

    A small, low table displaying various documents and stationery projects by the design firm Omnivore includes a conspiratorial pie chart (!!!) with a yin-yang symbol at the center pointing out the twelve-year increments between major world events, such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, framed by an orderly text collage featuring various definitions of the word character, all of which is printed on a paper restaurant placemat. Too much information, attractively designed, and suggesting webs of relationships that may make one question reality—in 2020, it’s what’s for breakfast.

  • View of “TARWUK: Bijeg u noć,” 2020–21.

    View of “TARWUK: Bijeg u noć,” 2020–21.

    New York

    TARWUK

    Martos Gallery | New York
    41 Elizabeth Street
    November 13, 2020–January 9, 2021

    For their debut exhibition here, the Croatian-born artists Ivana Vukšić and Bruno Pogačnik Tremow—who work together as the collaborative entity TARWUK—present an astonishing assortment of drawings, sculptures, and paintings that interrogate trauma, violence, and loss. (Their name, according to the show’s accompanying text written by critic Bob Nickas, is “meant to signal an entwining of identity towards a common purpose: four hands, one mind.”) Per Nickas, TARWUK’s art calls to mind myriad sources, including dystopic science fiction (such as the 1982 movies Blade Runner and Road Warrior), the visceral phantasmagoria of H.R. Giger and Paul Thek, and, perhaps most significantly, the duo’s experiences living through the Yugoslav Wars, which started in 1991 and lasted for an excruciating ten years.

    The modestly sized tondo SIGIL_EngV.5 (all works cited, 2020), feels like a lunar deity, hovering close to the ceiling. Its nonobjective forms—a strange hybrid of Russian Constructivism and Orphic Cubism, rendered in dour browns and greens—are darkly hypnotic: eerie portents of things to come. The artists’ large, tenebrous paintings that line the walls feel like portals into ghastly dimensions. One exception, however, is the acrylic-and-oil MRTISKLAAH_Lux_Armor_Lucis.MARIO.0, a depiction of a mysterious, hermetic cosmos, festooned with a byzantine arrangement of esoteric figures and symbols. Compared to the other canvases, it seems lighter in mood, likely due to its intimations of otherworldly spirituality à la Hilma af Klint.

    KLOSKLAS_5T1ll43r3 and KLOSKLAS_divco/ZUBB32yeltenb are a pair of freestanding figurative sculptures that appear as though they were disinterred from an ancient charnel house. Built from an array of materials—such as aluminum, paint, plaster, polyurethane foam, detritus scavenged from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and human teeth—these fragmented bodies become the show’s sentinels, guarding the threshold between life and death, the past and the future, hope and despair. They seem like the survivors of a monstrous disaster; nonetheless, they are, surprisingly, quite tender.