Critics’ Picks

  • Fiona Rae, Abstract 6, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas,  16 1/2 x 69".

    Fiona Rae, Abstract 6, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 16 1/2 x 69".

    Fiona Rae

    Galerie Nathalie Obadia | Rue du Bourg Tibourg
    18 rue du Bourg-Tibourg
    January 10–March 7, 2020

    For the first time since she participated in Damien Hirst’s legendary 1988 “Freeze” survey, Fiona Rae is painting on white grounds. She is categorical about this show’s large-scale works, which were made last year and executed with oil on pearly, luminous acrylic-primed canvases. Whereas Rae’s titles can sometimes wax lyrical, these pictures are all Abstract and numbered chronologically. Adopting a new process, Rae began on sheets of paper—Hahnemühle’s bright white, “the clearest starting point,” she told me—drawing in gouache and aquarelle (five are displayed here) to map out the composition and color for her canvas works. Like a writer leaning on her notes as she prepares a novel, her outlines leave room for invention.

    Easing off of the pastels that defined her last series, Rae’s palette tends toward bold and deep: the yellow of farm-raised egg yolks, the magenta of crushed raspberries, the dark blue-green that the French call bleu canard—the color of a mallard’s crown. Her repertoire of distinct marks, light flourishes, feathery sweeps, thin arrows, small bleeds, and sharp zigzags never cluster into recognizable forms. Isolated, each brushstroke tests the possibilities of line and beauty. A drawing and its corresponding painting, Abstract 6, hang side by side. Although the canvas retains the explosive energy of its source, it’s clear that Rae has expanded the drawing’s scale with patience and care, maintaining the strong Uccelloesque sword of dark red paint, the arcing blues and greens of the middle ground and the radiant yellow rays of the upper left. Concentrating only on the brushstrokes’ rendering, the artist carves an imaginative space unconnected to the body, free.

  • Miho Dohi, Buttai 70, 2019, plaster, brass, wood, sponge, paper, copper wire, acrylic paint, 15 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 7 1/2''.

    Miho Dohi, Buttai 70, 2019, plaster, brass, wood, sponge, paper, copper wire, acrylic paint,
    15 3/4 x 30 3/4 x 7 1/2''.

    Miho Dohi

    Galerie Crèvecoeur
    9 Rue des Cascades
    January 17–February 29, 2020

    Small-scale, lightweight, and delightfully off-kilter amalgams of yarn, paper, wire, wood, and other humble materials abound on walls and tables at Galerie Crèvecoeur, marking the Kanagawa, Japan–based artist Miho Dohi’s first show in Europe. To construct these sculptures, Dohi follows an experimental and intuitive process, manipulating and rotating her components and shifting their centers of gravity to produce uneven, variegated surfaces.

    One of the works in the exhibition that most resembles a living form, Buttai 70 (all works cited, 2019), recalls a rib cage, with its skeleton made up of white plaster-covered copper wires. Recognition, however, is thwarted when one takes in the entirety of the sculpture. Wires splay outward from a small circular sponge affixed to corrugated folds of paper on a wooden base. Hanging from the wall, the biomorphic object is simultaneously erect and contingent—its painted passages of iridescent blues and greens only viewable from certain angles.

    These playfully absurd objects are all entitled Buttai (after the Japanese word for object) and share an approximate size (each one measures somewhere between seven and twelve inches). Two exceptions here are study 1 and study 2, both plaster and cloth sculptures that assume even less determinate shapes than the other works on view. Void of color but rich in grotesqueness of form, they resemble clouds and are similarly dreamlike, fickle, and shape-shifting. If clouds are gods, as Socrates believed, then Dohi’s nebulous sculptures deserve deep admiration, if not veneration.

  • Etel Adnan, Vibrations n°2, 2017, gouache on paper, 7 1/16 x 4 3/4 x 97 11/16".

    Etel Adnan, Vibrations n°2, 2017, gouache on paper, 7 1/16 x 4 3/4 x 97 11/16".

    Etel Adnan

    Galerie Lelong & Co. | 13 rue de Téhéran
    13 rue de Téhéran
    January 23–March 7, 2020

    Accordion-style books in an accordion-centric city: Music has rarely felt as relevant to Etel Adnan’s works as in “Leporellos,” an exhibition titled after the term for this type of folding booklet. Since the 1960s, Adnan has produced such zigzagging pages, which alternately conceal and reveal their neighboring panels like miniature shoji screens. Although they include recognizable scenes—a row of inkpots, say, or Adnan’s geological muse, Mount Tamalpais, whose peak here stands three and a half inches tall at the center of Spring, 2003, 2003—these hybrid productions fulfill Adnan’s own observation that the beholder’s “mind never rests on these scrolls as it moves back and forth on them as a scanner.”

    The inability to grasp any of these leporellos in a single instant has led the prolific artist and poet to liken them to musical scores. This is certainly true of Vibrations nº2, 2017, a book cracked open and concertinaed out, its forty-five-degree vertices evoking the staccato beeps of a heart-rate monitor. A navy-blue stripe appears on the right of every page, guiding our reading forward.

    Yet this assumption—of the direction in which books, or even people, get read—discloses a central concern of Adnan’s work: the struggle in and with language. Reared in French-occupied Lebanon, Adnan attended schools where children were punished for speaking Arabic, even at recess. Although the ache of linguistic exile permeates many of Adnan’s writings, it seldom appears in her more tranquil palette-knife paintings and prints. (A few of these more recent estampes hang downstairs in the gallery bookstore.) An exception is Night, 2017, in which the suppression of the Arabic tongue is represented by the titular word ليل, repeated in a yellow that is smothered by murky-rose watercolor. In pages where the pink has been imperfectly applied, one can see the true hue of the yellow, which is actually very bright. It seems to gasp for air.

  • Barbara Hepworth, Torso I (Ulysses), 1958, bronze, 52 × 33 × 25 in".

    Barbara Hepworth, Torso I (Ulysses), 1958, bronze, 52 × 33 × 25 in".

    Barbara Hepworth

    Musée Rodin
    77, rue de Varenne
    November 5, 2019–March 22, 2020

    Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), Dame of the British Empire, sculptor of Single Form, which sits serenely before the United Nations building in Manhattan, has finally been given a monographic exhibition in France. Despite their grace, her sculptures in stone and dense tropical woods are indeed heavy and not easy to ship, though they have been shown several times at the Musée Rodin, beginning in the late 1950s. When invited to contribute to the second edition of the “Exposition internationale de sculpture contemporain,” in 1961, Hepworth presented Torso I (Ulysses), 1958, which is now back in Paris and on view here. A little over four feet tall, the bronze sculpture suggests a broad-shouldered hero, and the waves and flotsam he may meet at sea. 

    Curators Catherine Chevillot and Sara Matson have gathered a wealth of Hepworth’s personal photographs, as well as a selection from her studio library and a collection of letters she exchanged with Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Pablo Picasso. The gender of Hepworth’s correspondents gives pause. Are these documents included in order to assure the audience of her importance? Hepworth’s dark, dense Seated Figure, 1932–33, carved from a Guaiacum trunk, doesn’t need any letters to prove the nobility of its form: a female body knotted around itself and looking out from a solid, smoothed frame. Nearby, brilliant Mediterranean-hued lithographs from Hepworth’s 1954 sojourn in Greece emphasize an attention to color that is clearly evident in her careful selection of wood and stone.

    Adjacent is a children’s play area with bright ovoid objects conceived by the organizers. This is the first time this kind of space has been created at the museum. While the ambition to open the gallery to young families is a welcome shift, it is worth asking why this space for children was introduced alongside the work of a mother and not a father. While motherhood does occasionally surface as a theme in Hepworth’s art, it is the landscape outside her Cornwall studio that remained her most consistent muse. The expansiveness of that environment is best evoked in the last room, an open space of white walls illuminated by skylights. Here, the artist’s intuitive forms and finely worked surfaces gather playfully, liberated.