Critics’ Picks

  • Rebecca Shore, Untitled (15-04), 2015, acrylic on linen, 20 x 16".

    Rebecca Shore, Untitled (15-04), 2015, acrylic on linen, 20 x 16".

    New York

    Rebecca Shore

    Derek Eller Gallery
    300 Broome Street
    November 18–December 23, 2021

    A double take is a delayed reaction to an unexpected or significant situation after an initial failure to notice anything out of the ordinary. This moment of surprise underscores Chicago artist Rebecca Shore’s New York solo debut. Upon first inspection, the five paintings on view appear mechanically designed and bilaterally symmetrical. The press release warns of “symmetry being violated” and “patterns subtly breaking down.” Yet when one notices the first blip in these imperfect systems, one is in for a bit of a shock—kind of like when you initially discover that your eyes are actually two different sizes.

    No need to panic, the six “eyes” in Untitled (17-14), 2017, aren’t identical in size either—though you could be forgiven believing that they were. Shore’s method of composition has a way of both exploiting and negating the cognitive process of pattern recognition. The human brain tends to equate information being received with data already stored in the memory, sometimes filling in details that aren’t there. Shore’s careful arrangements of flat, evenly spaced, quasi-familiar motifs lull you into a false sense of understanding. When the mind registers twelve perfect circles placed in ostensibly perfect-mirrored harmony, it completes the picture accordingly. One doesn’t expect the other exactingly rendered orbs to fall out of line, until they do. Herein comes the double take.

    It happens again once your retinas adjust to the sophisticated opticality unfolding in many of Shore’s pictures that, even in the post-Covid world of Zoom and online openings, necessitates in-person viewing. The effect is often revealed slowly, such as in the barely differing shades of green that flank the central figure in Untitled (17-14). Other times it is more pronounced, as we see in the scintillating red-and-orange grid at the heart of Untitled (15-04), 2015. In his book Interaction of Color (1963), Josef Albers highlights the psychophysical potential of color, which can offer a “surprising discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect.” Shore vividly distills the gap between the real and the imagined, engendering a near-reflexive urge to look again. And again.

  • Kandis Williams, A Kick and an extension; Graham dramatic solemnity—The Lindy Hop is black dance, funerary in solar plexus, 2021, Xerox collage on paper, 48 x 65 3/4".

    Kandis Williams, A Kick and an extension; Graham dramatic solemnity—The Lindy Hop is black dance, funerary in solar plexus, 2021, Xerox collage on paper, 48 x 65 3/4".

    New York

    Kandis Williams

    David Zwirner | 52 Walker Street
    52 Walker
    October 28, 2021–January 8, 2022

    Dancers intermingle through time and space across sixteen large-scale collages, a video, and six sculptural, plant-like assemblages in the Los Angeles–based artist Kandis Williams’s first New York solo outing, “A Line,” curated by Ebony L. Haynes. The polymath’s transhistorical narratives are rich, sharp, and choreographic: Take A Kick and an extension; Graham dramatic solemnity—The Lindy Hop is black dance, funerary in solar plexus, 2021, which is made up of carefully cut-out and glued images of modern dance pioneers Martha Graham and Donald McKayle, laid over a graphite grid on white paper. Around the duo are pictures of contemporary Black dancers that Williams photographed in her studio. By surrounding Graham with these figures, the artist subtly reminds us that Graham appropriated Black and Indigenous dance into her own work while carving out a place for herself within the American vanguard.

    References to Oskar Schlemmer’s fantastical Bauhaus theater piece, Triadic Ballet, 1922, permeate this exhibition. Her nine-minute video of the same name, made in 2021, uses history instead of costume as its primary driver. In this work, a dancer navigates the space in front of a screen where the past flickers on and off: At various points, we see the Orientalist vaudeville performer Princess Rajah, in 1904, spinning with a chair in her mouth; volunteers taking scissors to Yoko Ono’s clothing for her 1964 performance Cut Piece; Janet Jackson wearing militaristic gear and welcoming us to Rhythm Nation in 1989; and the beating of Rodney King by LA police only two years later. The show addresses the myriad ways people of color get exploited by a culture industry that rips off their innovations and efforts on a regular basis. Fortunately for us, Williams foregrounds these injustices, quietly but powerfully, while marking out parameters for another kind of vanguard.

  • View of “Christina Yuna Ko: Bathing in Public,” 2021–22.

    View of “Christina Yuna Ko: Bathing in Public,” 2021–22.

    New York

    Christina Yuna Ko

    Selenas Mountain
    63 Woodward Avenue #6321, Queens
    November 7, 2021–January 8, 2022

    Christina Yuna Ko’s solo exhibition here, “Bathing in Public,” is a portal into gauzy childhood memories of escaping into digital screens. Ko deftly demonstrates that not much is needed to evoke the dreamy bathhouse setting that often appears in her favorite Korean soap operas and variety shows. The mere suggestion of a floor drain or fogged window, as we see in the artist’s installation at the gallery, conjure a sensation of warm water from a painted cutout shower head, or of steam rising to fog up a mirror. Punctuated by soothing pastel pinks and baby blues, Ko’s sybaritic aesthetic also evokes the soft tunes of vaporwave and lo-fi, genres of music where nostalgia for the Orient lends an exotic detail to chill beats.

    The gallery walls are tiled with paper squares and a generic gradient landscape, making recollection immediate yet fragile. Accoutrements are available in both literal and make-believe forms—such as a real washcloth presented as a found object and, nearby, a painting of oneas if to cherish how kawaii requires no further intervention to be artful. What results is a reliable backdrop for gleeful roleplay, where the eroticism of nakedness can be coquettishly veiled by the innocent necessity of getting clean.

    Bathing in public has become a dangerous practice in more ways than one. The racist myths surrounding the origins of the coronavirus have stigmatized Chinatown and Koreatown businesses across the United States as nexuses for anti-Asian violence. In the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings, where white gunman Robert Aaron Long targeted several Asian massage parlors and spas to murder eight people in attempt to curb his so-called sex addiction, the public bath has transformed from a space of pleasure to one of mourning. It is only through being ensconced within this white cube space that the Asian spa is allowed to make sense, look alive, and safely host guests again. Ko’s loving homage to the bathhouse reminds us that this place can once again be an anxiety-free site to repair our broken bodies.

  • Pablo Picasso, Portrait de femme endormie, III (Portrait of a Sleeping Woman, III), 1946, crayon on paper, 19 1/4 x 25 3/4".

    Pablo Picasso, Portrait de femme endormie, III (Portrait of a Sleeping Woman, III), 1946, crayon on paper, 19 1/4 x 25 3/4".

    New York

    Pablo Picasso

    Acquavella Galleries
    18 East 79th Street (Between Madison and Fifth Avenues)
    October 7–December 3, 2021

    More than eighty works appear in “Picasso: Seven Decades of Drawing,” an exhibition deftly curated by art historian Olivier Berggruen. This presentation shows how drawing was Pablo Picasso’s id and ego, a crucial extension of self—or perhaps more accurately, obsession—that served a purpose far beyond the merely preparatory.

    Picasso’s behavior was often monstrous and caused many of his wives and mistresses a great deal of suffering. Yet his Portrait de femme endormie, III (Portrait of Sleeping Woman, III), 1946—an intimate crayon drawing in red, blue, and green of his much younger lover the artist Françoise Gilot, who birthed two of his children—displays, through fluid line and elegant form, a remarkable tenderness. By contrast, Dora Maar dans un fauteuil d'osier (Dora Maar in a Wicker Chair), 1938, is an impersonal, cubistic depiction of Picasso’s longtime companion in ink, charcoal, and pastel. The piece’s elaborate yet manic line work suggests a strange kind of indifference to his subject, turning Maar into something alien, detached.

    The sanguine-on-paper Le taureau (The Bull), 1949, is a high-contrast contour drawing of the titular subject, executed with a powerful, assured line. The animal’s stylized rendering is sophisticated, yet it still manages to feel primeval, elemental, as though the source of its spirit could be found in the caves of Lascaux. The visible erasures from a preliminary image give the viewer a chance to better understand how Picasso might have arrived at this final form. Picasso frequently used the bull as a symbol to represent himself, and the bloody spectacle of Scène tauromachique (Bullfighting Scene), 1900, which shows the creature impaled by swords, makes us wonder what his state of mind was when he created this picture. However, a pencil self-portrait, Tête (Head), 1972, made about a year before the artist died, seems more fraught and psychologically straightforward. With a penetrating, anxious line, Picasso depicts himself as a misshapen, terrified being who might disintegrate at any moment. It is a simple work that, nevertheless, offers up a profound statement on life near its end.

  • Rosemary Mayer, Galla Placidia, 1973, satin, rayon, nylon, cheesecloth, nylon netting, ribbon, dye, wood, acrylic paint, 9 x 10 x 5'.

    Rosemary Mayer, Galla Placidia, 1973, satin, rayon, nylon, cheesecloth, nylon netting, ribbon, dye, wood, acrylic paint, 9 x 10 x 5'.

    New York

    Rosemary Mayer

    Swiss Institute
    38 St Marks Pl
    September 9, 2021–January 9, 2022

    “Ways of Attaching” is the first comprehensive institutional exhibition devoted to the art of Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014), and adds even more knotty complexity to the artist’s story. The show explores a cross section of Mayer’s oeuvre, including her process-based text pieces of the 1960s and the durational installations of the ’80s. Sister to poet Bernadette Mayer, for whose work she created numerous illustrations, Mayer became known in the mid-’70s for her eccentric large-scale fabric sculptures with titles that reveal her broad historical interests: Take Hroswitha, 1972–73, which is named for a tenth-century Saxon poet, or Galla Placidia, 1973, which is titled after a fifth-century Roman empress. Her turn to a traditionally gendered medium in 1971 was intentional, occurring the same year she started participating in a consciousness-raising women’s group and shortly before she cofounded the feminist arts cooperative A.I.R. Gallery in Manhattan.

    Among the historical figures Mayer drew upon, most intriguing is Mannerist painter Jacopo da Pontormo, whose work she encountered on a trip to Europe in 1975. (She was so enthralled by the experience that she published her own English translation of da Pontormo’s diary.) The sixteenth-century artist is key to understanding the impulse driving Mayer’s drawings of the late ’60s, which often depict free-floating festoons or isolated garments, emphasizing the way textiles define the body or accentuate its gestures. One could say that Mayer embraced the Mannerist model as a way of upending the dogmatic conversations around formalism that, by the early ’70s, had become as overdetermined as perspectival composition had been in da Pontormo’s time. (In the corner of one 1972 study for a fabric work, Mayer scribbled, “UGH, A PAINTING.”) She even produced a small altarpiece-shaped painting of a rainbow-patterned swath of drapery on a gold-leaf ground—The Fifth Angel Sleeve, 1973—in homage to Matthias Grünewald, who, like Pontormo, eschewed the classicism of his era. Perhaps the titular sheath is part of a vestment meant for saintly mavericks, like the aforementioned artists and, of course, Mayer herself.

  • View of “Jacob Jackmauh and Lina McGinn: (At) the end (of a Rainbow),” 2021–22.

    View of “Jacob Jackmauh and Lina McGinn: (At) the end (of a Rainbow),” 2021–22.

    New York

    Jacob Jackmauh and Lina McGinn

    Art Lot
    206 Columbia Street
    October 23, 2021–February 28, 2022

    Nestled in gravel amid scattered weeds and creepers, Lina McGinn’s enormous foam sculptures of Lucky Charms Just Magical Marshmallows merrily radiate synthetic color. Among them are a coterie of mixed-media works by Jacob Jackmauh that echo the menagerie one might find at a playground or a theme park, including an owl with opaque binocular eyes, and a snail shell with a coin slot.

    McGinn and Jackmauh’s outdoor exhibition takes its title from singer Earl Grant’s 1958 ballad “(At) the end (of a Rainbow),” in which the crooner silkily intones phrases that turn precipitously from auspicious to foreboding: “At the end of the river / The water stops its flow / At the end of a highway / There’s no place you can go.” The sculptures also revel in a cheery pessimism. McGinn’s scaled-up grotesques interrogate these treacly cereal “charms,” which look more like colorful shapeless blobs than rainbows or shooting stars. The nostalgia that surrounds this childhood treat vanishes after that hit of sugar causes one’s body to crash. Jackmauh’s works—including an oversized water spigot, and a crocodile whose open mouth contains a fixture resembling a bathtub drain, a shower spout, or even the receiver of a kiddie phone—likewise deflate those objects of youthful play and diversion. Sadly, they only appear functional—the viewer is held in anticipation of something that will, frustratingly, never arrive.

    McGinn and Jackmauh’s spunky, humorous critiques of mass-produced juvenilia parallel theorist Sianne Ngai’s writing on the late capitalist underpinnings of minor aesthetic categories, such as “cute.” Ngai understands “cuteness” as an index for consumption, which elicits affective responses that can vary from tenderness to aggression. Such reactions prompt one not only to consume the object, but also to identify with it. The artists’ sculptures are an indictment of this brand of false advertising; the Lucky Charms rainbow does lead to a pot of gold, but for General Mills and no one else, alas.