Critics’ Picks

  • View of “AIL PALACES ARETEMPORARY HALACES: A Shanzhai Lyric,” 2019

    View of “AIL PALACES ARETEMPORARY HALACES: A Shanzhai Lyric,” 2019

    “AIL PALACES ARETEMPORARY HALACES: A Shanzhai Lyric”

    Abrons Arts Center
    466 Grand Street
    October 24–November 24, 2019

    Regardless of whether it’s “high” or “fast,” fashion shouts (or dog-whistles) its way through the crowds with branded signifiers. But the linguistically opaque garments gathered here are shanzhai: Chinese counterfeits of branded merchandise, and often hectic amalgamations of homely graphic design, queerly philosophical lamentations, and grammatically errant versions of trendy political statements. Operating as an offshoot of Display Distribute, an “itinerant artistic research platform” and occasional exhibition space based in Hong Kong, Ming Lin and Alexandra Tatarsky—the duo that make up Shanzhai Lyric—archive images of such clothes on Instagram or contextualize them through essays. And now, they have brought a feast of mistranslation and liberated nonsense to two humble wooden structures at the Abrons Art Center, one installed downstairs and the other displayed upstairs in the main half-rotunda. Each functions as a rack for long- and short-sleeved T-shirts printed with text, and on one of the plywood bars of the upper-level piece, The Incomplete Poem, 2017–, is a low-hanging fruit, a grape-and-teal-striped number over which is printed in a black, all-caps font: “WE SHOUL ALLB FEMINIS.” Hung above this, a white tee with interlocking gold C’s is boldly labeled “CNANEL.” And just like that, the statement T-shirt loses its laughable earnestness and attains the surreal levity and unnerving presence of found poetry: ambiguous, with facets of parody and stabs of poignancy.

    Pinned to the wall by The Incomplete Poem is a half-page of typed poetry, Endless Garment, 2015–, an edited transcription of the shanzhai shirts’ text. Here, redundancy matters, insofar as it speaks to the global pileup of the unnecessary; yet it can also be a détournement of cultural excess and runoff, especially when the prospect of authorship has been foreclosed. The word shanzhai can be translated as “mountain hamlet,” implicitly identifying the bootlegger with the role of the sansculotte, a provincial outsider of creative industries, engineering their permission-less products in what’s ironically a center of production for many Western designers and auteurs. Sadly, this abundance of creativity isn’t so good for the planet anymore. However, the anonymous designers of these garments still manage a paean to Earth’s wonders—on a Kelly-green shirt, one can read: “The world seen powdery pink to shades of green is dressed in joy.” Hear, hear.

  • Daniel Arnold, 1:21:41, 2019, digital C-print, 40 x 30".

    Daniel Arnold, 1:21:41, 2019, digital C-print, 40 x 30".

    Daniel Arnold

    Larrie
    27 Orchard Street
    October 13–November 24, 2019

    Being a city dweller can easily turn the sunniest of souls into a jaded, solipsistic griper. Combine continually rising rents and overpopulation with an endlessly dwindling livable wage, and inevitably, one’s outer shell hardens. Yet a glowing exception to all this can be found in the work of photographer Daniel Arnold, known for his playfully candid street shots of New Yorkers. His spirited pictures have struck a resonant chord with many and have gained impressive notoriety on Instagram. And now, IRL, Arnold’s work is being displayed here for his first solo exhibition, titled “1:21.”

    The show features a collection of photographs and videos taken this past summer, which distill the sticky intimacy of Gotham’s sweltering dog days. One such photo captures a voluptuous, disembodied arm taking a selfie with a paper umbrella–adorned piña colada near some NYPD officers. Yet, upon closer inspection, the subject’s face is visible in her iPhone screen—she’s beaming ear-to-ear with her tropical drink. It’s works like these—and there are many in the show—that make the viewer beam, too. Arnold’s deadpan wit and oblique approach to capturing his subjects shine through; and it’s clear that other photographers such as Nan Goldin and Sandy Kim are among his aesthetic kin. Like them, his survey of urban life can at various moments be funny, raw, or touching.

    The show culminates in a video—roughly nine minutes long—of various clips that primarily take place on the street or in the subway: class equalizers of the urban landscape. In this work, we see people talking on the phone, crying, fighting, laughing, singing, working, yelling, dancing, and behaving bizarrely. Watching it unfold from one scene to the next, we are pulled out of our myopic self-obsession, if only for a moment, and made cognizant of the rich and beautiful world around us. We are moved to feel life itself.

  • Sadaf H Nava, Puddles of Blue, 2019, colored pencil on paper, 14 x 11".

    Sadaf H Nava, Puddles of Blue, 2019, colored pencil on paper, 14 x 11".

    Sadaf H Nava

    17Essex
    17 Essex St
    September 23–November 23, 2019

    In Sadaf H Nava’s exhibition, a suite of seven modestly sized improvisational drawings hang on opposite walls of this narrow gallery—studies in porosity that scamper into the unconscious. In them, mostly women and femmes—who don ball gowns or fetishy ensembles in latex—caper between strange urban vignettes. They cram into Jacuzzi-like cylinders in Animalic (all works 2019) as two rearing mustangs arch above them, while in Puddles of Blue, composed with a hue of colored pencil that evokes lapis lazuli, water flows off of rocks and vintage umbrellas. Different kinds of fluid appear in a number of the show’s otherworldly scenes, suggesting emotional agility—or the disintegration of boundaries.

    Retirement: Behind the Seam, a capacious, twenty-two-minute music video, is a tense self-portrait shot on location in some of the few prevailing public spaces in Manhattan’s storied Lower East Side, such as East River Park and the Hester Street Playground. Deconstructed is a voguish term in avant-garde music, having been pinned to a loosely codified genre of theoretically dense interpretations of rave and rap music typically circulated online. The term is operative here, too, as Nava, in the musical lineage of experimentalists like Tamio Shiraishi and Okkyung Lee, reminds us that deconstruction, like the illogic it unveils, has no end. The video brims with an erotics of excess—a sensibility that defines the artist’s multimodal practice—that, in this instance, exposes the thorny mechanics of feminized image production. Awkward dialogue (“We could go somewhere else, too. . .”) and incidental field recordings interrupt a mournful, reverberating violin as, on-screen, Nava lingers long enough to get the emphatic take. Despite, or because of, the swells of desire that precipitate everyday life, too often we waver where we are.

  • Vik Muniz, Seashell fossil, Paris Bay, 45 million years, Museum of Ashes, 2019, archival inkjet print, 30 x 40".

    Vik Muniz, Seashell fossil, Paris Bay, 45 million years, Museum of Ashes, 2019, archival inkjet print, 30 x 40".

    Vik Muniz

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
    530 West 22nd Street
    October 10–November 16, 2019

    Vik Muniz’s pair of exhibitions here, titled “Surfaces” and “Museum of Ashes,” present two facets of the artist’s ongoing interest in what critic Jonathan Crary calls vision as a “mode of work.” Muniz is known for his whimsical reinterpretations of famous artworks, such as Caravaggio’s painting Medusa, 1597–99, which he remade out of garbage then photographed. In “Surfaces,” Muniz turns to modernist abstraction—images that, like his, take effort to see. For instance, Iberia, after Carmen Herrera, Surfaces and Provincetown I, after Marsden Hartley, Surfaces (both 2019) are pictures of the iconic pieces mentioned in the titles, which were then cut up, collaged, and painted—multiple times over—and finally shot. The resultant photographs are not exact replicas, of course, but loving homages Muniz built up from multiple layers—both literal and affective.

    Muniz reaffirms that his preoccupations with surface and the mental construction of images stem from having learned art history through slides and reproductions. We see this most explicitly in “Museum of Ashes,” which is based on the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, an encyclopedic institution that, tragically, lost its inimitable collection when it burned to the ground on September 2, 2018. Working with scientists, the artist re-created several of the museum’s lost artifacts with soot salvaged from the fire, displayed here as photographs and blackened statues printed from 3-D scans. The “carbon copies”—which include the skull of Luzia, the oldest human from Latin America; dinosaur skeletons; and a Pompeiian fresco—seem charged with a sense of urgency, as they contain remnants of their original selves within.

    “To possess is to lose,” wrote the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. “To feel without possessing is to preserve and keep, for it is to extract from things their essence.” What’s lost may be lost, but Muniz imparts some solace: If we can preserve the image, perhaps that is enough.

  • View of “Ron Gorchov: at the cusp of the 80s, paintings 1979–1983,” 2019.

    View of “Ron Gorchov: at the cusp of the 80s, paintings 1979–1983,” 2019.

    Ron Gorchov

    Cheim & Read
    23 E 67th St
    September 26–November 15, 2019

    In 1966, Ron Gorchov decided to ditch the woefully rectilinear confines of painting’s traditional support in favor of something more curvaceous. A year later he came upon the ideal form, one that would become his signature—the “saddle.” Geometrically speaking, these saddles are hyperbolic paraboloids, a kind of conoid used frequently in architecture for its stability or, alternatively, in the design of Pringles potato chips for their stackability. (Coincidentally, this quintessential American snack food hit shelves the same year Gorchov began working with this unique structure. The mind wanders. . .)

    The eight paintings on view in the inaugural exhibition of this gallery’s Upper East Side space were made more than a decade into Gorchov’s exploration of shaped canvases. The earliest example in the show, MOSQUE, 1979, depicts a pair of violet-brown figures floating within a mint-green ground. Because of the painting’s irregular contours, the distance between the two forms appears to change depending on where you are standing in relation to the picture plane. Gorchov exploits the saddle’s distinct topology to maximum formal effect, turning the exhibition into an endlessly rewarding game of peekaboo.

    I danced with METALLURGY, 1982, for a hot minute, first approaching it from the left in order to gaze at its profile, a narrow expanse suffused with a powdery blue. But then as I slowly moved toward the right, a flash of cadmium yellow would rise from a vertical horizon line—then set once more, like a golden sun, when I went left. Do this a few times, and you may start to feel like a god. Just try not to bump into anything.