Critics’ Picks

  • Reggie Burrows Hodges, Big We’ll, 2020, acrylic and pastel on linen, 54 × 50".

    Reggie Burrows Hodges, Big We’ll, 2020, acrylic and pastel on linen, 54 × 50".

    New York

    Reggie Burrows Hodges

    Karma | New York
    188 East 2nd Street, 172 East 2nd Street
    January 8–March 14, 2021

    There’s something radical about the way the painter Reggie Burrows Hodges primes his blank white canvases with an inky, monochromatic black. He practically carves his figures out of this surface, layering different forms and colors around them in order to build out compelling scenes of everyday Black life. His subjects’ faces, bereft of distinguishing features such as eyes, noses, or mouths, are spectral presences—mirrors through which we see ourselves or project some kind of “other.” These are spaces of charged self-reflection, where notions regarding race, context, and identity come to the fore.

    Hodges does a lot with a deft economy of means. Take the woman in Playing Dub Records in Berlin, 2020: Her garments—a navy top with an elegant V-neck and what could be a floral headwrap—are simple, unfussy. She appears to be doing exactly as the painting’s title describes while sitting at a table that seems poised at the edge of some impenetrable darkness. Other canvases are just as suggestive, such as Big We’ll, 2020, in which a child rides a bike in a leafy suburb. Behind this figure two adults stand guard—ostensibly Mom and Dad. In the background are a few haunted-looking houses rendered in a smudgy white pastel. The family of three is set into a patch of green and yellowed grass under a sky of fathomless black. Hodges takes this scene, like something out of a Milton Avery picture, and turns it into something nostalgic and strange.

    In perhaps the most jaw-dropping work here, Swimming in Compton: Auntie B, 2019, we see a woman—who almost disappears into the picture’s roiling charcoal-colored backdrop—standing near a vibrant pool of water that swells like an uncontrollable mass, painted in vivid blues and greens. In a catalogue essay for the show, the writer Hilton Als says that Hodges’s “characters are pushing up past . . . the idea that blackness is ‘heavy,’ politically, artistically, and otherwise.” Indeed, the artist captures a number of playful or celebratory moments in his paintings: a hurdler triumphantly leaping over an obstacle, for instance, or people riding unicycles. But to my eyes, the works are still extraordinarily dense—history, heart, and meaning imbue every mark he makes.

  • Patrick Angus, I Get Weak, 1991, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 28 1/4."

    Patrick Angus, I Get Weak, 1991, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 28 1/4."

    New York

    Patrick Angus

    Bortolami
    39 Walker Street
    January 15–March 6, 2021

    Among the homo triumvirate presently installed across Bortolami’s TriBeCa complex—which includes a presentation by Tom Burr and “Lucky For Men,” a group show curated by David Rimanelli—is an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Patrick Angus (1953–1992), providing the ensemble’s retro smut and rhetorical prelude. Angus’s images feature a number of art-historical references, including Picasso (whose name appears in the title of a self-portrait), David Hockney (Angus’s atmospheric, corporeal shading owes a great deal to the British painter), and Jean Cocteau and Andy Warhol (their lissome linework courses through many of the artist’s sketches here). More significantly, his paintings Hanky Panky, 1990, and I Get Weak, 1991, capture what is for many an unfamiliar—or distantly remembered—mode of looking and desiring.

    These two canvases, which depict the Gaiety and the Prince—Times Square porn theaters of yesteryear—exhume the subcultural haunts Angus and so many others frequented throughout the latter half of the last century. In both paintings, a gaggle of men sit and stand, their eyes glued to the erotic films playing on screen. If gay sex is now readily accessible online—along with Truvada ads, Buttigieg-brained liberalism, and the contemporary gay figurative painting that ascends alongside them—Angus’s work reanimates a markedly different culture of sexual possibility in which its televisual capture was still precious and distinctly communal. Indeed, except for the lone figure exiting the theater in Hanky Panky, the audiences in both paintings pay rapt attention to the debauchery unfolding on-screen. The skin flicks, like the cigarettes scattered around the room, are savored, lingered over.

    Surrounding the aforementioned canvases is a sea of intimate portraits of friends and lovers rendered on paper. One might imagine these pictures as extensions of the time Angus spent in places like the Gaiety, the natural outgrowth of his quest for congress and copulation. Here the sexual and the social become confused and mutually imbricated, part and parcel of the smoky, libidinous tableaux Angus invites us into.

  • Jason Moran, Bathing the Room with Blues 2, 2020, pigment on gampi paper, 25 1/4 x 38".

    Jason Moran, Bathing the Room with Blues 2, 2020, pigment on gampi paper, 25 1/4 x 38".

    New York

    Jason Moran

    Luhring Augustine | Tribeca
    17 White Street
    January 16–February 27, 2021

    Jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran’s new pigment-on-paper abstractions in this show, created during the pandemic, greatly broaden the relationship between the body and sound. The impressions captured by the artist in these images are, in some sense, acoustic: Moran made these works by laying sheets of paper on a piano keyboard, coating his hands with color, and then playing the instrument, producing a frottage of mechanical and musical activity. These indexical, machinic imprints function as several things at once: a performance record, a sensory stamp, and perhaps even an ex post facto graphic score. In the gallery’s back hangs a huge unstretched canvas—the “stage” upon which Moran composed these prints. Variegated blacks and rich Egyptian blues appear in this work as well as in the pieces on Japanese gampi paper installed throughout the space.

    And such haunting blues: the blues of American bigotry, the blues of corrupt politics, the Covid-19 blues—this nation’s darkest blues, rich with cruelty, pain, and suffering. In the wake of a global health crisis and worldwide protests against lethal racial injustice caused by police brutality, Moran’s explorations of blue inhabit all manner of psychic and emotional terrain. As I take in this show, a passage from James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time comes to mind: “An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.” In this current moment, when so much abstract image-making embraces the empty stylistic tropes of previous eras, Moran’s drawings, by contrast, address real histories, near and far. They negotiate a lyrical stillness with a palpable sense of exhaustion and breathlessness. As a title from one of the works here suggests, Moran “make[s] freedom in the night while hammering together the walls.”

  • Salman Toor, Bedroom Boy, 2019, oil on plywood, 12 x 16".

    Salman Toor, Bedroom Boy, 2019, oil on plywood, 12 x 16".

    New York

    Salman Toor

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    November 13, 2020–April 4, 2021

    Gaga, Carly, Robyn, Britney, and Madonna: I can almost hear Salman Toor’s paintings before I see them. Through their acidic green patina, anthems of glamorous loneliness seemingly emanate from the artist’s depictions of young, queer, Brown men, be they intimately gathered on a dance floor or smoking outside of a bar. The show’s title, “How Will I Know,” draws from Whitney Houston’s 1985 ode to crushing, and it casts a palpable air of longing and elation over everything. In Four Friends, 2019, the first painting you see upon entering the exhibition, two boys dance together in a small living room with flirtatious abandon, while two other boys, one of whom has his arm tenderly wrapped around the other, gaze into the cool light of a smartphone together.

    In Toor’s vignettes, we observe subjects grappling with the images they make of themselves, and the images that others make for them. Sometimes, this process is intimate and fun, as in Bedroom Boy, 2019, where a young man coyly takes a nude selfie in his boudoir; at other times, it is labor-intensive and tiring, as suggested by the terse smile of the pink-jacketed subject surrounded by a cloud of stylists making him up in The Star, 2019. For many queer people of color, the agency to fashion one’s own image is critical yet heavily policed. Indeed, several of Toor’s paintings address this. In another canvas from 2019, we see a pair of dejected-looking figures standing before a desktop rendered in dull gray—the official color of grim bureaucracy. The surface is strewn with personal items, such as a necktie and a sneaker. It seems as though the scene is taking place in an airport screening room—a scene of humiliation caused by some bigoted official’s notion that the two Brown men are security threats.

    I was drawn to the portrayal of diasporic queerness in Toor’s paintings. Tea, 2020, depicts a man who might be back home, visiting family. He’s standing in front of his ostensibly South Asian kin, likely getting peppered with uncomfortable questions from aunties and uncles. The moment is recognizable: It’s an encounter between a culture that you were born into and one that you chose, but neither of which captures all of the potential ways to be queer in the world. It feels vivid and full of possibility.