Critics’ Picks

  • Jamie Gray Williams, Frick and Frack, 2018, oil on canvas, 48 x 50".

    Jamie Gray Williams

    Selenas Mountain
    63 Woodward Avenue #6321
    November 17 - January 5

    Citing classic slapstick, the figures in Jamie Gray Williams’s paintings and drawings loom in tragicomic disarray. Squirming, tripping, poking, tumbling––their bodies are both unmoored from any discernible surroundings and completely at the mercy of unseen obstacles. These genderless, guileless creatures, their noses squishy and upturned, limbs scribbled like markings on craft-store pen-tester pads, are loopily fatalistic.

    The show encompasses paintings, drawings, and sculpture. The drawings are caricatures of movement, evincing every jiggle and sway in anticipation of toppling over. They are also studies without final products, exercises in making for the sake of making, falling for the sake of falling. Williams’s paintings offer a less articulated––but no less nuanced––account of dynamism; her figures are often doubled, shown contemplating a perversion of their reflection, a slippage between selves. In the canvas Eye Poke 2 (all works 2018), a ghostly double of the titular stunt’s perpetrator bears witness to it, complicit. In Frick and Frack, a nude, wiggling creature on all fours gazes up at its dressed counterpart, their bodies coalescing at the point of contact.

    Williams’s floor sculptures reverse Ad Reinhardt’s quip, “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.” Williams’s two makeshift “tripping devices”—Double Crossed, which is fashioned out of cloth and stuffed like a scarecrow, and Hellzapop, a piece of fired Sculpey passing as a higher-brow ceramic—make it dangerous to transgress the invisible border between viewer and work. Her tripping devices threaten to mete out farcical punishment to those who dare look too closely. Observers laughing at Williams’s lurching figures find themselves to be both in on and the object of the joke.

  • View of “Klara Lidén: Grounding,” 2018.

    Klara Lidén

    Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York
    165 East Broadway 2nd Floor
    November 4 - January 13

    Klara Lidén’s primary mode is the disruption and detournement of urban space. The artist’s recent video works follow in the wake of a series of experiments at this gallery. In 2008, Lidén transformed Reena Spaulings into a pigeon coop. Four years later, she filled it with a forest of discarded Christmas trees. With this exhibition, Lidén upholds her fervent disregard for rules.

    Using Massive Attack’s 1991 music video for “Unfinished Sympathy” as a point of departure (where vocalist Shara Nelson walks Los Angeles’s Pico Boulevard while singing), Grounding (all works 2018) captures Lidén as she traverses the streets of Lower Manhattan. The camera follows her walking with apparent poise, until she performatively—and repeatedly—falls. While Nelson is dignified as she struts down a rugged stretch of LA neighborhood, Lidén fumbles in a tony setting replete with markers of capital: the New York Stock Exchange, Chase Manhattan Plaza, and the monumental Dubuffet sculpture originally commissioned by David Rockefeller. This landscape stands in stark contrast to the pamphleteers, street musicians, and motorcyclists that populate “Unfinished Sympathy.”

    But Grounding is more than its video component; Lidén emphasizes the importance of the built environment, going so far as to reconstruct it. The video is projected onto a plywood ramp that divides the gallery in half. Inset with a trapdoor, it resembles the metal sidewalk entrances outside many New York storefronts. The other side of the ramp reveals its armature, shoring jacks traditionally used in scaffolding, as well as a video displayed on a monitor. This short, GTG TTYL, was made as a preliminary sketch for the show. In it, Lidén climbs onto a sofa and a temporary wall, located precisely where the monitor is now mounted. What is consistent about Lidén’s Grounding and “Unfinished Sympathy” is their unmoving rhythm, the determination of the single-shot camera take, the authoritative stride of their protagonists. Shara Nelson sings about heartbreak. Where, then, does Lidén’s wordless music video lead?

  • Sam Bornstein, Horologist Club of Greater Coney Island, 2018, oil, acrylic, screen print, and airbrush on canvas, 40 x 36".

    Sam Bornstein

    Charles Moffett
    265 Canal Street Suite 306
    November 3 - December 22

    When an artist bares an element of doubt in their work, they open a portal to the act of making. This productive doubt characterizes the art of Sam Bornstein, who, like Pierre Bonnard or Amy Sillman, is invested in searching and revision. Bornstein approaches painting from a position of uncertainty, allowing marks and thoughts to eddy on the canvas before they cohere.

    Bornstein’s current exhibition, “Daydream Workshop,” comprising twelve paintings in a variety of media, such as oil, acrylic, and silkscreen, gets to the heart of his process. Take Manic Cartographers (all works 2018), an image of diaphanous yellows, browns, grays, and reds depicting three people fumbling with a comically unwieldy map. A man in the foreground clasps the corners of the guide and pulls it through the legs of another man as a woman frantically scrawls topographic lines over its surface. The activity being portrayed is not unlike the physical and mental obstacles a painter might encounter while attempting to coax an image into existence.

    In Horologist Club of Greater Coney Island, thin washes of aqueous pigment outline a group of men and women, each of whom tinkers with a clock. The scene is illuminated by a warm light that evokes late afternoon sun—perfect for the iconic Coney Island landmarks glowing in the distance. One can’t help but imagine Bornstein’s timekeepers as proxies for an artist watching the paint dry. Here, he deploys boredom as a means to redirect our attention to that which unfolds slowly, and splendidly, in time.

  • View of “Cynthia Talmadge: 1076 Madison,” 2018–19.

    Cynthia Talmadge

    56 Henry
    56 Henry Street
    November 2 - December 23

    Who could ever blame someone for falling in love with death? After a string of immediate family members died, artist Cynthia Talmadge began a series of paintings depicting the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The parlor became famous in 1926 when its namesake alerted the paparazzi—and even hired mourners—to a public viewing of silent-film star Rudolph Valentino’s body, without the knowledge or consent of Valentino’s family. This turned the chapel into a spectacular mainstay of bereavement, hosting services for all manner of celebrity and notable, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Judy Garland, Tennessee Williams, and Biggie Smalls.

    Each of the show’s eight paintings depicts the building in a labor-intensive pointillist style, which spills over onto the work’s frames. A few are straightforward renderings of its facade, while others provide details of the building’s security cameras (View From 81st Street, all works 2018) or its wrought-iron doors (Frank E. Campbell [Gates at Dawn]). Every image is painted to illustrate a different time of day or season, which shifts the emphasis from the building itself to the varying qualities of light among the paintings. One can’t help but think of Monet’s obsession with capturing the Rouen Cathedral, a fixation so deep that he often reported having nightmares of cathedrals crashing down on him in an array of colors.

    Talmadge brought in a design firm to transform the gallery space—the walls are covered in a mossy green silk, with accents of gauche crown molding. The paintings hang from ropes à la a nineteenth-century salon. These final notes drizzle the show with an awareness that this series can’t bring her loved ones back from the dead. But it’s certainly worth trying.

  • View of “Lauren Clay: Windows and Walls,” 2018.

    Lauren Clay

    Asya Geisberg Gallery
    537B West 23rd Street
    October 25 - December 21

    Windows and walls are aswirl in Lauren Clay’s anachronistic realm of optimism. Upon entering, one has the impression of stepping into a giddy loggia populated by bright meringue entities steeped in candy-colored gradients. Angles, apertures, and thresholds are untethered—feints in a watery world where flatness and fatness are equally buoyant. From floor to ceiling the gallery gets the full treatment, plastered with digitally printed enlargements of Clay’s hand-marbleized collages depicting Neoclassical facades. The chatty liquidity of the marbling process is everywhere, skewing conventions of structural rigor. Scale and texture are playthings: When magnified to this extent, the pulpy consistency of the original paper is visually exaggerated, giving the walls the appearance of being felted or even slightly soggy.

    Clay’s seven sculpted plaster forms take loose cues from architectural features such as embrasures, and most are named accordingly: windows, screens, a trellis. Though sizeable enough to suggest a kinship with adult human bodies (each with particular quirks), they are not merely anatomical and have an open relationship with symmetry. The swollen amplitude of Fat Trellis (all works 2018) and Narrow Screen is disrupted by skinny curls and serpentine tendrils, while Double Ascending Stair nurses pink tresses in its rolls. These deviations toy with the rotundity of the whole and lead the eye astray.

    Four architectonic collages are individually framed and quietly displayed in the back of the gallery; their smallness speaks to interiority in a way that magnitude cannot. Looking at them feels voyeuristic because of their modesty. Here is the world of miniatures, models for great edifices—reminders that most monoliths begin as handiwork.

  • Denise Scott Brown, La Concha Motel, Las Vegas, ca.1966, giclée pigment print on Hahnemuhle archival paper, 17 x 21."

    Denise Scott Brown

    carriage trade
    277 Grand Street 2nd Floor
    October 25 - December 22

    Vegas was her idea. In 1968, architects Denise Scott Brown and her husband, the late Robert Venturi, chaperoned thirteen Yale students—nine of them studying architecture—to the city for a field trip. Four years later came Learning from Las Vegas—their landmark, somewhat trollish retort to the fusty grade of International Style then ascendant. That treatise’s so-called populist championing of vernacular modes and classical allusions remains relevant and divisive, though Scott Brown’s immense legacy still often serves as a footnote to Venturi’s. This small exhibition of research photographs—and her first US solo show—offers a subtle corrective, reminding us how her curiosity and nimble, voracious observations spurred one of contemporary architecture’s most contentious movements.

    Shot with a touristy casualness, Scott Brown’s pictures recall the banal, deadpan vistas of Stephen Shore’s and Ed Ruscha’s photographs (viewers immediately encounter a panoramic collage of casinos modeled after Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966). But the pleasures lie in seeing how Scott Brown sees: how the bronze, bikinied odalisque in a suntan-lotion ad becomes an extension of the mountainous horizon behind it (Tanya Billboard, 1968, which later graced the dust jacket of Learning from Las Vegas). Or how lushly sculptural the gimcrackery of overlapping motel and wedding chapel signage can be (as in Architettura Minore on the Strip, Las Vegas, 1966), or La Concha Motel, Las Vegas, ca. 1966, a nocturnal snapshot involving a floating neon onion dome and electric seashells (“no sense of space at all,” says Scott Brown of the scene, in the catalogue for the show). Two videos, filmed by a camera mounted to the prow of a Ford, take us down the Strip, whose excess now feels quaint. Indeed, despite this show’s diagrams, cerebral wall text, and intuitive arrangement, the images appear mostly evacuated of their polemical charge. And yet from Scott Brown’s tendency to notice those places that force us to gawk, there is still much to learn.

  • Josef Hoffmann, Bracelet acquired by Mäda Primavesi, 1914, gold, diamond, ivory, 2 x 8".

    “Focus: Wiener Werkstätte Jewelry”

    Neue Galerie New York
    1048 Fifth Avenue
    October 4 - January 21

    Literally a jewel box of a show, this exhibition of jewelry, made by the Wiener Werkstätte (1903–32)—a coalition of Viennese artists and artisans committed to fusing traditional craftsmanship to modern design principles—is hidden amid a sea of contour drawings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Curator Janis Staggs has assembled an impressive collection of recherché miniature masterpieces here, many drawn from private collections, and displayed them in a wooden vitrine lined with a luscious black fabric that sets off their polychromatic, semiprecious stones. Diamonds have little place in the Werkstätte’s oeuvre; Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, the workshop’s cofounders, believed that the value of a piece should derive from design and craftsmanship, not from the material’s costliness. Gemstones such as opals, carnelian, coral, bloodstone, and leopardite take center stage in these delicately wrought bijous, lending their gorgeous rainbow hues to strikingly modern, symmetrical compositions that draw on Art Nouveau tropes but never fully succumb to the style’s signature floridity, instead anticipating the next decade’s attention to geometry.

    One of the show’s most astonishing pieces is also one of its oldest: a necklace from 1903 designed by Moser, bought by Klimt and then gifted to his partner Emilie Flöge, who often paired the piece with tentlike reform dresses that she herself designed. The necklace’s base is a chain dotted with silver four-pointed stars, off of which hang drops of carnelian inset with tiny diamonds that are only visible to its wearer. In his signature brooches, twelve of which are on view, Hoffmann managed to fit rounded gems into square silver frames so that the eye roams contentedly around their ping-ponging forms. Meanwhile, a necklace by Maria Likarz-Strauss dated 1919–20, created by sewing thousands of glass beads around a silk chord, would look particularly fantastic on any stylishly kooky woman from the Upper West Side. It is an absolute pleasure to see these items as Hoffmann and Moser would have presented them—not as mere baubles, but as the exquisite objets d’art they truly are.

  • Catherine Opie, Artist #2 (The Modernist), 2016, pigment print, 40 x 27".

    Catherine Opie

    Lehmann Maupin
    536 West 22nd Street
    November 1 - January 17

    Among the photographs on display here is The Modernist (2018), Catherine Opie’s first film: 852 black-and-white photographs sequenced over twenty-two minutes. The proximate reference is Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), another film built from stills and less than half an hour long. Marker uses post–World War III Paris to push it along—Opie opts for Los Angeles and modernist architectural hits of the twentieth century.

    Inspired by California’s Lake County fires of 2016, Opie’s nameless character—played by Pig Pen, a trans artist from the Bay Area—decides to burn down several landmark John Lautner buildings, including the Chemosphere and the Sheats-Goldstein Residence. The arsonist is a compressed index of American masculinity: greasy hair, Dickies, Red Wing boots, full-bleed tattoos, and hand-rolled cigarettes. Without dialogue, and for only one glorious moment of sound, Opie tracks Pig Pen’s unfussy physicality as they torch these homes, the physical traces of outdated luxury and niche optimism. Who was supposed to buy all these spaceships?

    The Chemosphere may be in the Jetsons portfolio, but that future never arrived, especially for someone like Pig Pen, now looking down the barrel of being erased as a trans person, per a recent edict by Trump’s administration. Opie’s photographs, especially of the wooden matches Pig Pen lights, are sumptuous and calm. In a number of Opie’s tableaux, Pig Pen reclaims the serial killer’s wall collage and turns the trope of the dead-girl map into a mural of dead splendor made with images cut from an imagined LA Times. Opie has been critiquing the built environment for almost thirty years, photographing homes and freeways since the 1990s. The landscape in The Modernist is the Hollywood Hills, but it’s also the American nowhere, the desert that never gets the dream community. The portrait is of Pig Pen, and anyone else who is forbidden to reach that house on a hill. At one point, when Pig Pen sets up small models in a backyard, it looks as if our hero has a plan for swapping out the modernist bubbles with new homes. But it all goes up in flames.

  • Stuart Davis, Rhythm—George Wettling, 1947, gouache and pencil on board, 13 x 16".

    Stuart Davis

    Kasmin Gallery | 293 Tenth Avenue
    293 Tenth Avenue
    September 13 - December 22

    Blue jeans, jazz, 1930s America; sailors and signage in New York’s Times Square, the stench of fish rolling off the river, and the plaintive sound of a trumpet snaking through the air. Stuart Davis, of course, was at the center of it all. But the artist’s pictures here aren’t the exuberant, hot canvases of his retrospective that took place at the Whitney Museum in 2016. This exhibition of spare, mostly black-and-white drawings and paintings, hung against smoky blue walls, features almost no color at all. Bebop drummer Art Blakey comes to mind—he said that “jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.” I think of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, too, who once said, “I start in the middle of a sentence and move both directions at once.”

    Maybe that thin, high trumpet is coming from Eddie Condon’s jazz club, which used to be located on West Third Street in Greenwich Village. Its address can also be found in Rhythm—George Wettling, 1947, Davis’s tribute to the titular Dixieland drummer. The show’s title, “Lines Thicken,” refers to a kind of sonic texture found in jazz, where a melody is shadowed in close harmony. Formally, this exhibition is full of such moments. Davis’s lines come together and branch out like urban streets, taking swooping, angular detours. Images such as musical staves, clefs, and notes mingle with cityscapes, boats, buildings, chimneys, fish, flowers, and even an armchair in a sort of interior-exterior cartography. His strokes are so rewardingly bold and sure, but on occasion we can see the faintest of hesitant, whispery pencil traces—they feel like a benediction.

  • Bodys Isek Kingelez, Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994, paper, paperboard, plastic, various materials, 51“ x 73” x 10' 5".

    Bodys Isek Kingelez

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    May 26 - January 1

    There are three key moments that keep the legend of Bodys Isek Kingelez burning. One is when the Congolese sculptor—maker of intricate paper objects known as “extrêmes maquettes”—quit his job as a schoolteacher in Kinshasa and began making art, feverishly, from paper, scissors, a razor, and glue. The second came when a Kingelez sculpture arrived at the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaire. The staff there refused to believe he’d made it himself and demanded he create another one onsite. He did, and they immediately hired him as a restorer. The third was his participation in the 1989 exhibition “Magiciens de la terre” (Magicians of the Earth), which catapulted Kingelez to international acclaim.

    His first US retrospective here turns on three similar moments, illuminating formal shifts in the work that subtly reflect changes in the artist’s life. Soon after “Magiciens,” Kingelez, who had been making singular buildings such as Allemagne An 2000 (Germany Year 2000), 1988, and Paris Nouvel (New Paris), 1989, began to construct entire cities, such as Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994, named after the artist’s birthplace. Some years later, he started incorporating lights and transparent materials, which give Ville de Sète 3009 (City of Sète 3009), 2000, for example, its majestic glow. And then, toward the end of his life (Kingelez died in 2015), he returned to the found packaging materials he began with, using mint boxes and lightbulb cartons in Nippon Tower, 2005.

    By turns playful and austere, rigidly chronological and blessedly open to what art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu has termed the artist’s “ecstatic imagination,” “City Dreams” moves lightly through thirty-three examples of Kingelez’s work. Lines of thought about colonialism, liberation, repression, health, and the realities of life that find welcome relief in utopian propositions arise naturally from the sculptures themselves. Curator Sarah Suzuki, whose accompanying catalogue is exceptional, deserves credit for lending astringent analysis to Kinglez’s context without ever dampening his magic.