Critics’ Picks

  • Dave Heath, Washington Square, New York City, 1960, gelatin silver print, 6 x 5 1/16”.

    Dave Heath

    Le Bal
    6, Impasse de La Défense
    September 14 - December 23

    Rather than defining the metropolis by way of its architecture, cultural institutions, or communities, Dave Heath understood the city as a container for those wrestling with melancholic isolation. While serving as a machine gunner in Korea at age twenty-one, he photographed fellow soldiers—lit with an almost painterly Renaissance glow—in moments of self-reflection during cease-fires. Being part of a larger body heightens, rather than resolves, alienation. Heath photographed subjects in Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, and New York, most often in Washington Square Park, but instead of reveling in the theatrical nature of street photography, he spotlighted the loneliness that belies the urban swarm, deftly framing glances that betray unfulfilled longing. Amid the distractions of continual urban movement, he honed in on anguish in plain sight––a psychological sniper.

    This retrospective displays one hundred and seventy-five vintage prints and the original maquette of A Dialogue with Solitude, Heath’s major monograph, published in 1965, which distills American postwar malaise into eighty-two images. Three films contemporary to the era—cult examples of cinema verité—are interspersed across both floors, playing at full running time, although The Savage Eye (1960) by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers, and Joseph Strick has the most direct synchronicity with Heath’s oeuvre. At one point, the film’s protagonist ascribes hypothetical thoughts, in a voice-over, to nameless strangers, highlighting the risibility of attempted mind-reading and, more darkly, the inevitable opacity of the other. After 1970, Heath gave up photography and began teaching at Ryerson University in Toronto, later becoming a Canadian citizen. This seems to be a fitting outcome for someone with no allegiance to the American dream and no interest in propagating its mythology.

  • View of “Isabelle Cornaro,” 2018.

    Isabelle Cornaro

    Balice Hertling | 239 Rue Saint-Martin
    239 Rue Saint-Martin
    October 12 - November 24

    At first glance, the works in Isabelle Cornaro’s current exhibition could be mistaken for Minimalist paintings and sculptures. Pairing large wooden rectangles redolent of Robert Morris’s cubes and beams with paintings whose rusty tones evoke Richard Serra’s signature slabs of oxidized steel, Cornaro flirts with notions of objectivity and monumentality. Ultimately, however, the artist is less concerned with these Minimalist tropes than with subverting conventional modes of display and studio practice.  

    Of the five gray or mauve spray-painted plinths here, one is left bare while the rest are adorned with small found objects. In addition to conjuring art historical debates about pedestal/sculpture dynamics, Cornaro’s sculptures literally and figuratively elevate quotidian items—chains, buttons, coins, keys—to new statures. Untitled (P#15) (all works 2018) is an erect gray plinth draped with three delicate metal chains. At nearly four-feet tall and almost half as wide, the wooden structure dwarfs the dainty chains whose very existence relegate it to a functional role. In Untitled (P#7), a low horizontal rectangle holding two metal rods, a thick chain, and a pair of identical plastic dog masks invites viewers to mull over the relationship between manual labor (symbolized by the heavy metals) and mechanical reproduction, the process responsible for these cheap novelties.

    The paintings on view, from a series titled “Golden Memories,” 2015–, are excised sections of paint-drenched carpeting used as a drop-cloth while Cornaro made her sculptures. Dadaist in spirit, these automated artworks—byproducts, really—epitomize the importance of context and perspective in Cornaro’s oeuvre. Similar to how the plinth sculptures blur the distinction between display modes and artworks, the Golden Memories paintings—amorphous and moody compositions of dark purples, umbers, and forest greens with golden highlights—warrant both functional and formal appreciation. Hung on the wall in elegant brass frames, the carpets become intimate portraits. Matte though they are, they perfectly reflect the artist at work.

  • Gaëlle Choisne, Smoking break, 2018, ceramics, Spanish rum, Russian cigarettes, 13 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 4''.

    Gaëlle Choisne

    Bétonsalon - Centre d'art et de recherche
    9 Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet
    September 5 - December 15

    Visitors to Gaëlle Choisne’s latest exhibition are greeted by a pair of black sneakers splattered with white plaster and an unplugged two-burner hot plate daubed with pink wax. These transitional objects sit together on the low concrete platform of the gallery’s welcome desk, wry emblems of mobility and of the artist’s institutional appropriation. The arrangement, Ghost Process (all works 2018), also introduces the motifs of doubling, echo, and relay present in “TEMPLE OF LOVE.”

    Choisne worked on-site for four weeks, first gesturally desacralizing the gallery’s white walls with plaster and pigment. She brought in a few of her recent sculptures, borrowed the embroidered Grillage (no inv. 67), 1980, by the late and nearly forgotten Cuban-born artist Hessie (Carmen Lydia Đurić), and elaborated assemblages in situ, drafting an intimate dialogue between works as well as with the space. Claiming a Caribbean European artistic lineage, this dialogue refuses settlement.

    This show also annexes the Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet and its users’ performances. By placing a temporary tattoo on the window, a potted carnivorous Nepenthes plant atop the esplanade-oriented monitor displaying the silent video BFF, and Cantiques du coeur (Canticle from the heart) on the floor near a window, Choisne toys with spatial boundaries and temporal certainties. Produced by firing twisted copper rods adorned and bound by hand-shaped porcelain, Cantiques du coeur resembles both atom and tumbleweed, its tension somewhere between force field and dispersion.

    Glass, resin, epoxy, and rebar grids yield open architectures and curious talismans. Suspended textiles balanced by stitches and chains harbor cigarettes, incense sticks, dried petals, feathers, nail extensions, miniature liquor bottles, oysters, a seahorse, a compass, and more. Choisne’s works hover between emergence and destruction, loving care and laissez-faire. It is from these dualities that Choisne’s exhibition derives its witchy, exquisite energy.