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Joan Mitchell

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
October 27, 2016–December 31, 2016

Joan Mitchell, Heel, Sit, Stay, 1977, oil on canvas, 110 x 126".

For Joan Mitchell, painting was a suspended kinesthesia, an act that both dilated and disallowed bodily control, like riding a bicycle with no hands. Displayed here in a four-decade sweep alongside pastels and watercolors, her canvases make a case for the mnemonic. Though never explicitly figurative, they suggest scenes less seen than remembered. Each collects moods manifesting as gestures: dense clots, gooey smears, and wispy sprays. Together, they vex binaries of facture and image, positing the mark as a device that joins materiality and affect.

In 1959, Mitchell quit New York for France, eventually settling on 12 Avenue Claude Monet in Vétheuil. Heel, Sit, Stay, 1977, channels the founding Impressionist’s favored theme—nature, imaged on water—creating a surface that we both skip across and peer through. Each side of the ten-foot-tall diptych riffs on the other. The right side collects tufted, saturated strokes; the left responds in a springy staccato. Complementary colors organize the scheme: Rusted greens round into bruised reds, and cobalt blues appose acid yellows, like sunshine hitting shade. All around, paint piles up and runs down, obtaining a state between stillness and motion.

Nearby, an untitled eight-part pastel from 1978 asserts a tenuous horizon. Dashes of fuchsia and lime hyphenate adjoining pages, while tangles of black anchor their spread, obeying borders. White scumbles passages of lavender and azure, dissolving discrete strokes into a cumulous haze. Spread across so many sheets, space resolves into a fragmented continuity. As in the best of Mitchell’s paintings, the composition sinks toward the edges of our vision, immersing us in a realm where landscape loosens into feeling.

Courtney Fiske

Aki Sasamoto

44-19 Purves Street
September 19, 2016–January 2, 2017

Aki Sasamoto, Shoelightbox, 2016, shoe boxes, LEDs, ink-jet prints on tissue paper, dimensions variable.

Lodged in the cavity of a commercial-grade washing machine in Aki Sasamoto’s installation Washer (all works cited, 2016) is a copy of the Book of Insects (1921) by nineteenth-century entomologist John-Henri Fabre. The volume is open to a passage on the life and labors of the dung beetle, which is recited off-camera by the artist in the single-channel video Birds, Dung Beetles, the Washer looping overhead. “The peasant of Ancient Egypt,” it reads, “as he watered his patch of onions in the spring, would see from time to time a fat black insect pass close by, hurriedly trundling a ball backwards.”

This humble creature, which folds its filth and food into a spherical mobile home, provides the central parable for “Delicate Cycle,” Sasamoto’s solo exhibition here. In the installation Shoelightbox, viewers reencounter Fabre’s text, this time printed on wadded-up sheets of tissue paper visible through peepholes cut into a wall of designer shoe boxes. Through shifts in color and scale, the beetle’s fecal loaf becomes something immaculate in The Ball, an enormous boulder of white cotton bedsheets blockading a vaulted corridor. Laundry motifs continue upstairs, where crisp white sheets hang ethereally from a clothesline in the courtyard (Laundry Line) and an old-time washboard, suspended by a leather harness, doubles as a kinky surrealist object (Washboard Belt-Maidrite). On some level, these works are about the cyclic, mundane labor of maintaining and reproducing the self—the compulsory hygiene of our bodies, clothing, and habitats. But there’s also an obdurate materiality to Sasamoto’s sculpture that resists metaphorical elevation. According to Fabre, once celebrated as the “Homer of insects,” the ancient Egyptians believed the dung beetle’s ball to be “a symbol of the earth” and that the beetle’s actions “were prompted by the movements of the heavenly bodies.” Be that as it may, it’s also an animal that makes things out of shit, and that logic of agglutination is what drives Sasamoto’s earthy pleasures.

Chloe Wyma

The Haas Brothers

R & Company
82 Franklin Street
November 15, 2016–January 5, 2017

View of “The Haas Brothers: King Dong Come,” 2016–17.

What if paradise wasn’t just for the individual—what if we could all go together, hand in hand? This seems to be the proposition of the Haas Brothers’ “King Dong Come.” The exhibition takes the form of a static zoo populated by puckered-mouth amphorae and doll-size snow beasts, but the atmosphere is that of an erotic party. Hand-thrown vases from their “Father” series (all works 2016) try sucking each other off, while yetis—such as Jessica Yang and Dick Drake—admire their own silver sex organs, teeth, and toenails. The shelves lined with shaggy creatures bring to mind a cartoon strip of Noah’s Ark—the original apocalypse parable.

Like Noah and his ark story, “King Dong Come” roots itself in a kind of cosmic virility. The animals aren’t going two by two, but there is an inescapable sense of infinite reproduction. The beasts multiply in the second room, where a nine-foot-tall monster, King Dong, holds court. His leg is extended to visitors like a mall Santa’s or some benevolent prophet’s.

A fittingly psychedelic fantasy for these dystopian times, the show seeks a more harmonious relationship between objects, nature, and people, introducing a model for utopia defined by openness and humor. Shangri La is not only within reach, but it is soft and fuzzy. In Bruno Latour’s 2004 article “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” the philosopher writes: “The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naïve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather.” With “King Dong Come,” the Haas Brothers have created a temporary sanctuary in which to dwell on our collective dreams, and nightmares, of the future.

Kat Herriman

Golnar Adili

Booklyn Art Gallery
37 Greenpoint Avenue, 4th Floor
December 1, 2016–January 6, 2017

Golnar Adili, Embrace, 2013, digital print, vellum, graph paper, graphite, 11 x 17".

Are there hidden messages in the handwritten letters of the dead? Perhaps one can find them at those interstitial points between vowels. Golnar Adili’s work speaks to loss and memory through a personal archive of family documents that she came across after her father—an Iranian intellectual forced into exile after the 1979 revolution—passed away.

In Eleven-Page Letter, 2016, the artist covers her father’s epistolary correspondences with sheets of vellum, cutting out small windows to reveal the Persian vowel “ye,” a letter that curves up to form what looks like an empty embrace. “Edits,” “freedom,” “food,” “separation”—Adili records English translations of his words as well. To see them written in different languages by two different members of the same family is to look at pieces of a larger puzzle woven across time and generations—the continuation of a narrative only few are privy to via the palimpsest created by the vellum’s semi-opacity. On the opposing wall, collages such as Embrace and Concentration, both 2013, utilize pictures of Adili’s father’s arms, taken from old photographs. Her patterned arrangements of these fragments manage to create a rich and mysterious visual alphabet.

This exhibition is more than just an homage—indeed, it is an affectionate familial portrait. But it is also a careful study of the body as an extension of language. The longing here is palpable, and much of what is said transcends the written word.

Lara Atallah

James Crosby

Team Gallery | Grand Street
83 Grand Street
November 17, 2016–January 7, 2017

James Crosby, the Garrett Morgan safety hood allowing the wearer to breathe in a hostile environment (detail), 2015, fabricated coat/hat rack, heavy canvas, polycarbonate welding lens, dimensions variable.

Canvas masks with square polycarbonate welding lens eyes and two tubes, each dangling like strange appendages, line one wall of the gallery. The masks, together titled the Garrett Morgan safety hood allowing the wearer to breathe in a hostile environment (all works 2015), are replicas of air-filtration hoods––originally conceived to protect firefighters from smoke––created by African American inventor Garrett Morgan. Here, James Crosby reinterprets them as defenses against both atmospheric and social threats. A large black-and-white photograph of a figure donning the hood highlights its capacity for disguise (Take care of your mask and your mask will take care of you). Although the gallery text affirms the wearer is Crosby himself, his face is completely obscured, making this claim impossible to verify.

Crosby’s decision to frame Morgan’s legacy around this particular invention—rather than another of his innovations, such as the electric stoplight—allows the artist to engage the subject of blackness. Though Morgan symbolizes African American achievement, Crosby’s emphasis on the hoods as Morgan’s defining civic achievement seems to imply that becoming part of the Black American historical canon requires deemphasizing, or even effacing, race. A pair of hoodies cut open––one resembling a soft exoskeleton, the other concrete-dipped and hardened, like armor—emphasizes this tension between visibility and concealment. Clothing and camouflage can protect the vulnerable, though not always, as the hoodie, now a haunting symbol of police brutality, reminds us.

Crosby offers no finite answers for how blackness should present itself in society or, for that matter, in art (notably, none of the pieces on view directly represents the black body). His refusal to try to neatly resolve such vast and difficult questions only makes his debut exhibition more compelling.

Hannah Stamler

“Changed: The Altered Photograph”

Ricco / Maresca Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Third Floor
December 1, 2016–January 14, 2017

Artist unknown, Man in Box, ca. 1960s, 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 5".

Opposite the entrance to this photography-focused exhibition are six portraits from nearly a century ago, each attributed to an “American Unidentified.” A kitschy print of two white male baseball players, standing before a painted-green background (Baseball Players, ca. 1920s), neighbors a portrait of an African American soldier posing before a similarly cool-hued, airbrushed backdrop (Soldier, ca. 1920s). Beneath him is a collage of flower-seed packets sandwiched between black-and-white photos of a woman and a man, contributing to the work’s enigmatic nature.

This theme of unknown identity takes a break in the center room. A series of five poolside photos of Marilyn Monroe by Weegee—“Untitled (M Monroe),” ca. 1952–53—clearly depicts the star, but some of the images have her legs disproportionately stretched. In another, her head is duplicated eightfold into a sunflower-like shape in place of her torso, juxtaposing the actress’s classic beauty with surreal grotesquerie. On the same wall is an unattributed work, this one a woven tapestry based on a popular propaganda image of Mao Zedong playing ping-pong, taken by his personal photographer Lü Houmin.

The exhibition ends with a portrait by an anonymous American artist, installed within a small black enclave near the middle room, titled Man in Box, ca. 1960s. The obscurity of the bearded subject’s identity is doubled by the blurred glass vitrine in which he stands cross-legged with a cane. Is he trapped, or merely protecting himself from the strange, distorted world outside? His nonchalant pose suggests the latter.

Kim Hart

Jack Smith

Marlborough Contemporary | New York
545 West 25th Street
December 8, 2016–January 14, 2017

Jack Smith, L.B. Was really loving Shirley . . . , date unknown, pencil on paper, 16 x 13".

“ROACH FARTS OF SHARK STAMPEDE” reads a collage in this modest exhibition of Jack Smith’s drawings, photographs, and assorted ephemera. The phrase is mysterious, funny, Instagrammable—and it nicely summarizes the late artist/filmmaker’s mischievous imagination, which was always more fabulous than real life. Smith is best known for his 1963 film Flaming Creatures, an erotic romp filled with all manner of homosexy lasciviousness. Fliers for screenings appear alongside notes, printed materials, and correspondences—an unexpected letter from Playboy discloses the magazine’s endorsement of the artist. A trio of untitled photographs from circa 1958–62, which were reprinted in 2011, highlights Smith’s blend of camp and ritual. They feature a creepy couple—in tatty, flamboyant costumes and Day of the Dead makeup—on a butterfly-catching expedition.

Smith’s drawings on napkins and craft paper just hint at the breadth of his experimentation. Though he made things from junk, he turned it all into gold—or beautiful fool’s gold, anyway. The undated Mirage Publications gives us covers for made-up erotic novels, with titles such as Pasty Glamour, Tales of Uranus, and Slavery Stories; while an untitled and undated bit of roundabout doodling calls to mind ancient Egyptian devotionals. But . . . Who Would Punish Us? (From “The White Pig of the Medina”), ca. 1967, is an endearing portrait of a fat prostitute reclining, smoking and smiling. L.B. was really loving Shirley . . . (undated), shows a doctor clutching a needle, his lovely patient strung out on “munchkin glands.” It makes your skin crawl. Most of the exhibition’s framed materials are “date unknown,” an ambiguity which enhances the show’s intimate scope. Smith’s jouissance—or explosive mental orgasm—does wonders for our dreadful postelection malaise.

Sam Korman

Rosemary Mayer

60 N. 6th Street
October 21, 2016–January 15, 2017

Rosemary Mayer, The Catherines, 1972–73, fabric, wood, dye, 120 x 72 x 48”.

Between 1969 and 1973, Rosemary Mayer’s art underwent a dramatic transition. Abetted by the arrival of feminism, its investment in the body and the recuperation of craft, the laconic beauty of her early text-based works effloresced into the voluptuous fabric sculptures for which she is best remembered. Curated by art historian Maika Pollack, the gallery’s founder, with Marie and Max Warsh—Mayer’s niece and nephew—this exhibition tells the story of this sea change while also shining a light on a significant yet under-recognized figure in feminist and post-Minimalist art.

During the late sixties, Mayer (who passed away in 2014) contributed to 0 TO 9, a mimeographed journal of Conceptual art and poetry, with her sister, the poet Bernadette Mayer, and her then husband, Vito Acconci. Several works on paper from this period traffic between image and text. In Untitled [12 columns], ca. 1969, compositions of colored squares drawn on graph paper are paired with black-and-white typewritten pages detailing those same patterns in words.

Semiotic games give way to atmospheric affect in The Catherines, 1972–73, a gauzy matrix of peach and purple veils draped on a teardrop-shaped wooden support. Created the year Mayer cofounded the all-female cooperative gallery A.I.R., the work is titled in honor of notable women from European history: the warrior countess Caterina Sforza, the empress Catherine the Great, the mystic Catherine of Siena. Openly feminist and unapologetically ornamental, its flesh-colored swags of various transparent fabrics make sartorial and genital insinuations. More subtly, The Catherines also suggests the ethereal forms of Mannerist painting, to which—as Marie Warsh and Gillian Sneed have noted—Mayer likened the art of the 1970s after the dissolution of Minimalism’s spatial certainties. “Once surfaces were clear, ordered and opaque, surfaces that quickly answer questions,” she wrote in the introduction to her 1975 translation of Jacopo da Pontormo’s diary, “then forms dissolved, colors paled, began to float in uncertain atmospheres.”

Chloe Wyma

Diane Simpson

191 Chrystie St
November 13, 2016–January 15, 2017

View of “Diane Simpson: Samurai,” 2016–17.

Diane Simpson’s sculptures are part translation, part fantasy, and pure pleasure. The octogenarian artist begins each work by creating isometric drawings on graph paper. She uses the drawings, with handwritten instructions for assembly, as blueprints for artworks with interlocking components. While they reference articles of clothing, the sculptures are constructed from hard angles, often in materials with an architectural heft. Simpson’s efforts result in a sophisticated, homespun modernism that channels the Midwestern cosmopolitanism of her hometown, Chicago.

Her second show with this gallery showcases seven sculptures and two drawings from her “Samurai” series, 1981–83. This was only her second body of work after finishing her MFA in 1978, at age forty-three. Simpson took inspiration from a scene in Akira Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha (1980), in which she observed the intricate folds of seated samurais’ skirts. In her works, the skirt’s function switches from modesty to protection; feminine concealment of the body becomes masculine containment. Her highly photogenic and life-size warriors, made from MDF and wood, project a squat, robotic, almost flat image of power. And yet the objects beg to be encountered in their rich dimensionality. Here, surprising details of their hardware-less construction emerge. Samurai 9, 1983, references Art Deco architecture in its stepped peaks and frontal solidity, while its sides reveal elegant, sloping planes. Simpson also indulges her painterly sense of color. Samurai 10, 1983, and Samurai 5, 1982, nod to Agnes Martin with their delicate grids, both incised and drawn, in pale red, salmon, and white. Samurai 6, 1982, features a dramatic enamel gradient that goes from white to gray. Conceived more than thirty years ago, Simpson’s work feels newly conversant with recent sculpture that refuses to pit structural concerns against beauty.

Wendy Vogel

Susan Lipper

Higher Pictures
980 Madison Avenue
November 22, 2016–January 21, 2017

Susan Lipper, Untitled (Grapevine), 1992, gelatin silver print, 35 x 35".

These photographs, shot between 1988 and 1992 in Grapevine Branch (a small community in West Virginia) were made collaboratively. Not wanting to rehearse the old narrative of “poor isolated rednecks,” Susan Lipper involved her subjects in the storytelling process, visualizing their personal myths. It’s surprising, then, that her work features those familiar tokens—guns, Klan hoods, bibles, booze—that decorate the liberal’s imaginary tableaux of the rural South. How did these props end up there? And, more to the point, what is it that is so unsettling about the results?

For a start, we might observe that Lipper’s characters never directly confront the camera. They look at us through masks, or look past us, or blankly stare at the ground. These are postures, and yet their effect is menacing. And it’s precisely that tension—between real and imagined fear—that forces us to engage, not retract. Untitled (Grapevine), 1992, for example, shows an old man looking at us through the broken window of a ramshackle pickup truck. His face and particularly his eyes are hidden by shard patterns. This framing is too perfect to feel circumstantial; it’s practically iconic. Yet the scene’s physical realities—unrepaired window, worn-out clothing—ineluctably evince a lifestyle in decay.

Lipper and her subjects are staging the relations between lived reality and its representation. We are invited not so much to look at these photographs as through them, at the social significance of the forlorn rituals they recount. Though Lipper’s scenes are evenly distributed between nighttime and day, they all unfold at a mysterious, timeless twilight hour. Revelation is within reach, but it remains one frame away.

Ratik Asokan

Valerie Hegarty

Burning in Water
317 10th Ave.
October 6, 2016–January 21, 2017

View of “Valerie Hegarty: American Berserk,” 2016.

Rotting, wounded, smiling—watermelons, in Valerie Hegarty’s latest exhibition of paintings and sculptures, are depicted as sentient objects: carnal, threatening. Several wedges of the fruit, done in ceramics, rest on a plinth, their pink flesh resembling gums and growing teeth, tongues, ribs, stalagmites, barnacles. They make one think of the chemically modified watermelons that spontaneously exploded across fields in China in 2011—a warning about the perils of mutant capitalism.

The title of Hegarty’s exhibition, “American Berserk,” comes from Philip Roth’s 1997 novel American Pastoral, where the writer describes the darker aspects of this idyllic genre. Hegarty intelligently references Raphaelle Peale, considered the first painter of still lifes in America, in a number of her grim watercolor works, such as Watermelon Gothic 1, Fruit Face, and Picnic Body (works cited, 2015). In the latter pair of edibles-as-people pictures, one can’t help but see homages to Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the sixteenth-century Italian painter whose portraits of notable Renaissance figures, rendered as agglomerations of vegetables, fish, and books, among other items, are more horrifying than charming.

Like Roth, Hegarty is drawn to this country’s damaged history, its warped psyche. Her watermelons are the stuff of colonialism, racist stereotyping, US avarice, and gluttony. Her fruits aren’t juicy, they’re bleeding—a lacerated bounty. The show, divided into four sections, feels a bit fragmented, as each area could be its own exhibition. But these separations only aid in reinforcing our sense of distance between the idealism of the American past and its sad, corrosive present.

Heidi Harrington-Johnson

Marianna Simnett

Seventeen | New York
214 Bowery
November 23, 2016–January 22, 2017

Marianna Simnett, The Needle and the Larynx, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 15 minutes, 17 seconds.

My punishment for being a voluble child, overflowing with words and song that grew louder and angrier as I reached adolescence, is a voice slightly down-pitched by small vocal nodules. They were discovered at fourteen, when I—a natural soprano—had trouble hitting my highest notes. “It’s like a boy’s voice cracking,” a vocal teacher joked, to my great embarrassment. I was diagnosed through an uncomfortable laryngoscopy. Once inserted up the nose and down the throat, the scope makes it impossible to breathe normally, let alone vocalize.

Marianna Simnett’s exhibition “Lies,” exploring the gendered implications of voice and masochism, vividly evoked this memory of asphyxiation. In Faint with Light (all works cited, 2016), a stack of ultrabright LEDs is synced with an audio recording of Simnett trying to faint by hyperventilating. The intensity of her breath is registered by the lights, which illuminate fully with her deepest inhalations—taken before losing consciousness—and then go dark. Although the strobe-like installation made me queasy, it’s hard to ignore its erotic implications—with la petite mort being a euphemism for orgasm. Simnett’s video The Needle and the Larynx shows the artist undergoing a temporary lowering of her voice through a Botox injection to her cricothyroid muscle. Slowed to one-quarter speed, the procedure is hypnotic, excruciating. With her large blue eyes directed skyward during the examination, Simnett is much like Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film about the young saint.

The Needle and the Larynx begins with an empowering parable of a little girl forcing a doctor to lower her voice by summoning the natural forces of heat. At the end, Simnett speaks in a startlingly feeble voice two days after her injection. Rather than masculine strength, the procedure relaxed her throat so much that she couldn’t breathe. “You suddenly become conscious of all the parts of your throat,” she says, gasping for air. “They didn’t tell me that I was gonna be so we . . . weakened by it.”

Wendy Vogel

Byron Kim

James Cohan Gallery | Lower East Side
291 Grand Street
December 9, 2016–January 22, 2017

Byron Kim, Blue Lift Sandalwood Fall, 2016, dyed canvas, 62 x 48".

Mulling over his American contemporaries and their shared reach for the sublime, Barnett Newman once wrote: “Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ‘life,’ we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.” Years later, Byron Kim seems in part to be taking Newman’s sentiment to its next logical, almost literal conclusion: Kim’s latest pieces consecrate our flesh and its sensations, via large-scale abstract renderings inspired by the bloom and flush of bruises on skin. The results will either seem mournful or erotic, depending on who’s looking.

To those familiar with his earlier output, Kim’s source material won’t come as a complete surprise: Previous works captured the skin tones of diverse sitters in grids of monochromatic panels. But whereas his interest in skin, before, yielded inquiries into socially constructed taxonomies, it now leads to visually lush records of violence and abuse—or accidents and missteps—and the ensuing limbo of recovery. While those former works’ Pantone-like precision helped make them convincing, these new pieces welcome tonal ambiguity.

Kim dyed his latest canvases with natural elements like sandalwood and ochre, then used oil- and hide-glue-soaked rags to apply more pigments. The results—stirring, almost lambent surfaces—seem to invoke the moment AbEx gave way to Minimalism’s monochromes. And if subtle folds on the canvases might resemble wrinkles, to narratively minded viewers, they also conjure painterly traditions of both measured and aleatory mark-making. But maybe art-historical references seem impotent after an election year that often felt like one long, persistent contusion. If so, Kim’s paintings also find resonance in the fact that the colors we use to describe bruises—black and blue—have racial, psychological, and musical overtones all at once. In this context, the series reminds us that bruising evinces a sort of power, too: to be responsive, sensate—alive rather than deadened. In “I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues,” a song arguably about reaching rock bottom, Ella Fitzgerald sang, “Ain't got no feelings to bruise.” We’re not there yet.

Dawn Chan

John Dante Bianchi

Denny Gallery
261 Broome Street
December 9, 2016–January 22, 2017

John Dante Bianchi, Untitled (Torqued Panel #15), 2016, acrylic and aluminum on plywood panel, 40 x 30 x 9".

For his solo exhibition “Unavoidable Encounter,” John Dante Bianchi has made sculptures that initially register as paintings attempting to escape their supports. Concertina-like folds of what seems to be canvas—but is actually immaculately engineered strata of wood and aluminum—wrest from their stretcher bars, rising and jutting forth in sharply angled planes, revealing trusses and screws beneath. Acrylic paint is applied to the surfaces in layers, then sanded back to form warm clouds of pinks, purples, and oranges, with patches of iridescent gray where the metal is exposed. The abstract visual effect in each contused piece is at once cosmologically vast and intimate on a cellular level.

Bianchi’s work resuscitates that fatigued threshold between sculpture and painting. The canvas sections are made and colored first, and their stretchers are fitted afterward, reversing a painting’s construction. This is most strikingly expressed in the thrusting shards of Untitled (Torqued Panel #15), 2016. The suggestion of corporeal separation between the piece’s upper and underlying components, such as a tendon flayed from bone, renders the work strangely emotive rather than dryly academic, despite its architectural precision.

The ten works here are wall-mounted, except for a floor piece resembling the moldering, bleached husk of a redwood’s trunk, which plays at sculpture a bit too predictably. Pristine and restrained, yet unexpectedly vulnerable, Bianchi’s work arrestingly regards what is, and isn’t, a painting, offering crisp analysis on how porous the brink between these two media may be.

Darren Jones

“Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
October 1, 2016–January 22, 2017

Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women, Woven Panel, 2016, wool textile, 98 1/2 x 102 3/8''.

This necessary exhibition presents architectural and design responses to an increasingly precarious but basic human right—shelter—in our era of mass crisis, emergency, urgency, and hopelessness. The show begins with the immense issue of housing the sixty-five million displaced people and refugees across the globe, and it ends with more ethical questions than it can ever answer. Yet one thing is clear: Nothing on view can ever be a lasting solution to the anxieties faced by the stateless families and individuals who are having doors slammed in their faces at every turn.

The risk of aestheticizing crisis runs high here, but the most interesting works avoid this through representation and not mere documentation. Consider Woven Panel, 2016, a woolen rug made in collaboration with Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women, an organization spread across refugee settlements in southwestern Algeria. The piece depicts the Rabouni camp’s long-standing ministries of defense, interior, and education, as well as a museum. A portrayal of a government that’s been in exile for nearly forty years, the work moreover underscores the tradition of weaving among the Sahrawis.

A disquieting grid in the show presents pictures of historical settlements: from a black-and-white image of Dheisheh, the largest of the Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, to Gordon Welters’s 2016 photograph of cubical-like living spaces in Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. Across the gallery, another grid is offered: found news images of migrants on overcrowded boats in Xaviera Simmons’s Superunknown (Alive in The), 2010. Among the moral dilemmas echoed forcefully around the exhibition there are these: what it means to be in-between, without rights, and, most critically, to be positioned as superfluous.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Hannah van Bart

Marianne Boesky | Chelsea
509 West 24th Street
January 5, 2017–February 4, 2017

Hannah van Bart, Untitled, 2016, oil on linen, 53 x 31 1/2".

At first glance, Hannah van Bart’s current exhibition of paintings appears to be nearly all portraits of one woman. A figure with soft breasts, solid legs, and a face of fleshy innocence stares out from the middle of each canvas. Depending on her garb and demeanor, she’s either louche or enticing, with clothes that cover or reveal a warm body ripe for bruising. The appearance of a lit cigarette held by an arm that’s slowly vanishing into the pinky-brown miasma of Untitled, 2016, seems subtly violent. The artist plays with an abundance of patterns as well, such as stripes and lattices. In Untitled, 2015, van Bart has painted a brick wall that bleeds into her foregrounded figure. All of the picture’s distinct features meld into one solid and strangely impenetrable image.

There’s a painting of a forest: Untitled, 2016. On the canvas’s left side, the quivering lines of branches and roots begin to appear anthropomorphic—are we looking at a face? This mysterious visage highlights the conceptual continuum in which the artist works, where designs melt into seemingly sentient bodily forms—the space between the two realms is purposefully murky. The exhibition’s title, “The Smudge Waves Back,” offers some insight. It is taken from David Mitchell’s 2010 novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. In the book is a scene where a father waves to his son from a distance. The boy waves back, but the father can only see an indistinct, animated form—a meaningful smear, abundant with love.

Yin Ho

Miguel Ángel Cárdenas

Andrea Rosen Gallery
525 West 24th Street
January 6, 2017–February 4, 2017

Miguel Ángel Cárdenas, Call Boy, 1964, PVC, objects, zipper, 28 x 28 x 6".

A glass case full of household sprays and soaps—like a shaken-up medicine cabinet—opens Miguel Ángel Cárdenas’s first solo show in the United States. The assemblage, Nog schlechts enkele dagen (1) (Only a Few Days [1]), 1963, is a fickle and incomplete time capsule of the year it was created. The clutter seems arbitrary and provides little insight into the Colombian-Dutch artist’s life.

Cárdenas excelled at creating suggestive, elusive arrangements of everyday items. He explored the sensuality of the zipper—that teasing metal barrier between dress and undress—years before Andy Warhol’s infamous Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album cover from 1971. Open Fly Silver Star and Call Boy, both 1964, feature zippers halfway undone to reveal a collection of toys and mass-produced junk secreted beneath the works’ taut, shiny PVC shells. This erotic suspense is partially broken in later pieces. A plastic banana plays a vulgar game of peekaboo in Blue Lovers, 1965, protruding from the canvas’s cobalt-blue surface. In Hot Vagina, 1969, silver aluminum folds flank a vertical bronze coil that radiates heat.

If the assemblages are devoted to object fetish, then Cárdenas’s four films, played in the gallery’s back room, are odes to another Freudianism: oral fixation. The videos center on the artist’s mouth engaged in seemingly tame activities, such as slurping soup or sucking ice cubes. These gestures, through repetition, transform into processes both sexy and highly revolting. Examples of early food porn? If they turn you on, you’ll know.

Hannah Stamler

Lenore Malen

56 Bogart Street, 1st Floor
January 6, 2017–February 5, 2017

Lenore Malen, The Reason of the Strongest Is Always the Best, 2016, video, color, sound, 4 minutes 30 seconds.

Lenore Malen’s current exhibition, “Scenes from Paradise,” is an eco-Gesamtkunstwerk, connecting our environmental crisis with the Bible’s declaration that man should have dominion over all nature. Countering this destructive injunction, the artist creates videos, photographs, and objects to present a vision of interspecies communion. In one video, Reversal (all works 2016), a woman with rein-like ropes dangling over her face addresses the camera with utter conviction. She speaks of humanity’s rule over the earth as barbaric: “It is a challenge using your language, but the real challenge for me and my kingdom is to distill the sublime nature of our existence into clumsy morsels digestible only to you,” she declaims. The video is played backwards, but subtitles decode her message. By the end, it becomes clear—partly through projections that flank her speech, where footage of horse races and county-fair rides flicker in and out of view—that the speaker is actually a horse, representing her species. (She isn’t wearing a horse costume, however, and she’s a far cry from any Disneyfied cartoon beast.) It seems that the audience’s task is to imagine another, more animal mode of being, to try to overcome human/animal difference.

Another video, The Reason of the Strongest Is Always the Best, offers up more scrambled anthropomorphism: Here, people clad in fluorescent snowsuits and animal masks run up a glacial rock in Central Park. At the end, the camera slowly zooms in on the ugly and omnipresent residential skyscraper on 432 Park Avenue, suggesting a disharmony between nature and culture.

Understanding language as political, Malen presents interspecies relationships without sentimentality. Her affective tools—satire, Biblical absurdism, and the compassion it took to found the New Society for Universal Harmony (which Malen did in 1999)—are worth holding onto in a moment when one stupid tweet could begin nuclear annihilation.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Erica Baum and Libby Rothfeld

178 Norfolk Street
January 6, 2017–February 5, 2017

View of “Erica Baum and Libby Rothfeld: AAa: Quien,” 2017.

Four photographs document veils of chalk dust on abused blackboards. Abandoned bits of hastily written text appear everywhere. Chalk gathers in the slates’ cracks, while drips of water vanquish any worthwhile messages. Erica Baum gets intimate with these relics of language and pedagogy. She captures every detail, as if she’s quietly recording the discovery of a new language.

Baum made her “Blackboard” series, 1994–96, while studying at Yale. She photographed these slates in empty classrooms to reveal images—perhaps culled from the university’s subconscious—that get made when written language is destroyed, obscured, misremembered. Baum’s photographs are paired with Libby Rothfeld’s sculptural arrangements, visual riddles that seek out elusive answers. The tiled platforms of her floor-based “Option” sculptures, 2016, are stages for indifferent-looking clay faces in bas-relief, shot glasses half-filled with fake resin spirits, and shopping baskets nearly overflowing with sprouting raw potatoes. Her wall-mounted “Label” pieces, 2016, employ anodyne tiles similar to the floor pieces. They boast, prominently and unintelligibly, alphanumeric codes and warnings from the US surgeon general about the deleterious effects of alcohol for pregnant women.

Rothfeld’s and Baum’s texts call to mind the work of poet Ingeborg Bachmann, who once wrote that there can be “no new world without a new language.” These artists create aesthetic situations that feel circuitous, enigmatic, impossible. Another cipher can be found in the exhibition’s title, “AAa: Quien,” which seems to simply inquire, “AAa: Who?” A new world, Rothfeld and Baum suggest, begins with you.

Kaitlyn A. Kramer

James Siena

PACE | 537 West 24th Street
537 West 24th Street
January 12, 2017–February 11, 2017

James Siena, Escaped Non-Map Fragment, 2016, ink on paper and museum board, 14 x 11". From the series “Wanderers,” 2015–16.

Like the labyrinthine, filigreed patterns of an illuminated manuscript, James Siena’s new drawings, divided into three series—“Wanderers,” “Nihilisms,” and “Manifolds,” all 2015–16—transmogrify their subjects into florid, and occasionally textual, tableaux. Nihilism XI, 2016, has the phrase “JUST ANOTHER EON OF CHAOS AND CONFUSION WELCOME ABOARD,” drawn in intricate curls of script. Interwoven forms, like Celtic knots, levitate throughout the artist’s “Manifolds.” They are as finely wrought and as visually meditative as mandalas and are made from interlocking, braided-together, jewel-toned ribs. The “Wanderers” suite of works, inspired by Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s observations about the function of the picture frame, is full of seemingly animated figures. They slyly crawl over their beveled matboards, slipping past the traditional picture boundaries allotted to them—take, for instance, Escaped Non-Map Fragment, 2016, where a dimensionally rendered lattice, in periwinkle blue, flares out beyond its tidy realm.

Siena has always been more of a draftsman than a painter, and the rigorous repetitiveness of his practice has often yielded comparisons to Agnes Martin. But he’s closer to Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella—less spiritual and bound to a more objective, systematic process of mark-making. Siena’s numinous images turn the flatness of the picture plane into something rich, strange, heady. His lines resist all manner of limit and indelibly etch themselves onto the back of your mind.

Anne Prentnieks

Sergei Eisenstein

Alexander Gray Associates
510 West 26th Street
January 7, 2017–February 11, 2017

Sergei Eisenstein, untitled, 1943, colored pencil on paper, 8 x 12".

The vulgar doodle is a genre seldom given the chance to blossom outside of adolescence. Yet some, such as Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, carry the lickerish art well into adulthood, even becoming consumed by it. This exhibition offers a trove of the Battleship Potemkin director’s “pornographic” drawings, made during trips to Mexico and the US in the 1930s until his death in Moscow in 1948, and marks the first time they’ve been shown in the Americas.

Divided into small islands by theme or technique along the gallery walls, this erotica, enthusiastically unsexy, parades various styles. Manic, scratchily shaded compositions accompany orgies evoked in fewer, more assured lines. The most profound sketches exploit an elegantly primitive minimalism to convey both longing and what Eisenstein called, in his memoirs, an “ocean of brutalities.” Like depraved storybook illustrations for recurring wet dreams (or nightmares), these carnivalesque tableaux record fucking—bestial, heterosexual, and gay—in nightclubs, churches, and circuses. On paper ochred by time, graphite, ink, and colored pencil curl and zigzag, escorting lines into interlocked bodies frequently stained with rashes of lascivious crimson. In one vision scrawled onto hotel stationery circa 1931 (all works untitled), a caricatured pope is impaled by a steeple as furious hatchings and stray wisps of graphite cohere in squalid vertigo. In another, from 1943, a madame loyal dips her limbs into four nearby orifices, firmly etched in red.

Unlike the collectivism extolled by Stalinist ideology, Eisenstein’s ribald renderings celebrate individual desires. The fact that his motherland would never have exhibited or even condoned these drawings—the USSR outlawed sexually explicit imagery—grants them a curious heroism, a quality often furthered by the subjects’ gladiatorial physiques. At times tender and others gleefully sadistic—regularly both—these perverse pageantries tell no clear story, simultaneously relegated and exalted to baser pleasures, shameless and woozy with want.

Zack Hatfield

Phoenix Lindsey-Hall

56 Bogart Street
January 6, 2017–February 12, 2017

Phoenix Lindsey-Hall, Never Stop Dancing, 2017, slip-cast porcelain, fishing wire, dimensions variable.

The gallery feels still. Hanging from the ceiling are forty-nine globes, radiant with gently diffused light. Arranged in impossible orbits and strung with fishing wire, the installation is akin to a science-class diorama of an unknown solar system, illuminated by the glare of unknown suns. Little porcelain squares, unglazed and matte white, envelop the surfaces of these imperfect orbs. They are like the mirrored fragments of disco balls but utterly drained of glimmer and sparkle—eyes that once flickered and flashed now overcast, blind.

In Never Stop Dancing, 2017, artist and activist Phoenix Lindsey-Hall pays tribute to the forty-nine lives lost in the Pulse massacre that took place in Orlando last June. Answering the violence of this event with love and poetry, the artist literally recasts this staple of nightclub décor as a mute witness to passion, cruelty, and death. Her monochromatic warped slip-cast objects of mourning fail to capture the sensuality and ecstasy of nightlife. They are like dying stars, trapped in darkness and forced into silent rhythms. On the gallery’s eastern wall is an emphatic elegy written in white capital letters against a black ground. In an ominous portent of joy that becomes fear, the artist writes, IN THE DISTANCE A DRUM POUNDS OUT / AGAINST THE RHYTHM, / OFF BEAT AND OUT OF KEY. Lindsey-Hall’s installation is as hushed as the suffocating calm of outer space. This sepulcher—cold because of what it memorializes, yet warm by the artist’s scrupulous labor—is what remains after the dancing has ended.

Nicole Kaack

Brian O’Doherty

Simone Subal Gallery
131 Bowery, 2nd Floor
January 8, 2017–February 12, 2017

Brian O'Doherty, Untitled, 1975, watercolor stick on canvas, 66 x 66".

“The grid glides, stammers, and blurts with different lengths and colours,” Brian O’Doherty wrote regarding his use of Ogham, an ancient Irish linear alphabet, in his paintings and sculptures from between 1968 and 1979. In groupings of perpendicular lines, Ogham vowels mark O’Doherty’s quizzical, skinny wall sculptures from this period, tethering abstraction to both language and the body. These wooden constructions adapt Mondrian’s modernist lexicon: Primary colors and black decorate their sides. Mirrored aluminum forms a V-shaped depression in each of their centers, with the Ogham marks etched into the material. This sets up a contradictory optics. One stretches and strains, past language, to see a reflection, with abstraction relegated to the peripherals. This is recognizably Duchampian: Rigid adherence to an obscure code produces mystery and humor.

This exhibition spotlights a little-known phase in the hybrid career of this artist, critic, novelist, and former director at the NEA of myriad alter egos. Cocurated by Prem Krishnamurthy and Simone Subal, the revelation here is O’Doherty’s proximity to, and deviations from, Sol LeWitt’s artist-free drawings of the same period. Consider the two paintings, both Untitled, 1975, based on O’Doherty’s “Hair Collages,” 1975, in which the artist would contrast the form of hairs from his head with straight lines of precisely the same length. The body is quantified, then rendered in line, for systematically impure abstraction. In 1976, O’Doherty would famously critique the “white cube.” These forgotten experiments exhilarate as provocations constrained by that very context.

Daniel Quiles

Will Sheldon

110 Meserole Avenue
January 8, 2017–February 13, 2017

Will Sheldon, Cut outs (detail), 2016–17, crayon, spray paint, foamcore, pen, 12 pieces, dimensions variable.

The best antidote to boredom is throwing a party, which might as well be the motto of Will Sheldon’s daydreamy exhibition “Tales from a Drippy Realm, The Card Thrower.” Hella festive, the exhibition is microdosed with fashion and fantasy, and its druggy aesthetic signals a transformative celebration.

Our first guest? Cut outs, 2016–17, a suite of twelve small drawings installed in unconventional locations. Hiding in the gallery’s bookshelves are a goblin that covets a bejeweled egg; a mushroom-headed dancer sprouting up behind a radiator; and a craggy vine growing from a pile of skulls that envelop a crystal ball, placed above the back door. Styled like tramps and pixies, dandies and burlesque dancers, magicians and witches, Sheldon’s seemingly angst-ridden creatures populate the space. Intemperance is a major theme—in one drawing, a pink corset with a wrinkly potbelly longingly slumps forward. This symbol of restraint and authority transmogrifies into an illustration of pathos, longing, and lack.

Fagin, 2017, a collaboration between Sheldon and the fashion collective Women’s History Museum, is a massive pair of white felt fairy wings carrying a chaotic array of photographs, embroidery, and ribbons, drawn all over with scratchy magic marker. Deliberately dirty, the work’s title discomfitingly refers to the pickpocket leader in Oliver Twist, a black-market merchant often derisively referred to as “the Jew.” “The Jew” is the bullied kid in the stupid high school of history—but in Sheldon’s exhibition, with its blend of exuberance and haute abjection, he is the supercool Semite: louche, invincible, and the life of the party.

Sam Korman

Duane Linklater

80WSE Gallery, NYU Steinhardt School
80 Washington Square East
December 8, 2016–February 18, 2017

View of “Duane Linklater: From Our Hands,” 2016–17.

The drywall has been stripped from the side of the gallery’s entrance to expose the underlying brick and bright red scaffolding. White powder-coated steel and plywood beams populate the rooms, but instead of holding up the ceiling, they stand isolated, unattached. One beam wears a faux fur shawl draped over the top, while another stands on a crumpled floral-patterned doormat (Untitled Problem 15 and 8 [all works cited, 2016]). Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater examines the oft-invisible framing that enables and prevents indigenous artwork from being seen. On one wall, a clear plastic tarp all but covers a framed digital print of an accession sheet (Accession) for a pair of white baby boots crafted from caribou, beads, and rabbit fur—valued at twenty-two Canadian dollars—by Ethel Linklater, the artist’s late grandmother. These boots were part of an exhibition in the 1980s, organized by the Ontario Arts Council, from which this show takes its name.

Paying particular attention to the structures that display and house indigenous art, from state museums to private galleries, Linklater constructs stainless-steel armatures and concrete bases to present these art objects and family heirlooms (Speculative apparatus for the work of nohkompan, 1–9; nohkompan is a Cree word that translates to “my grandmother who is passed on”). Detailed caribou, moose, and rabbit-hide mukluks, slippers, and mitts made by Ethel—owned by Ontario’s Thunder Bay Art Gallery and on loan to Linklater—are presented atop his pedestals. “From Our Hands” is a collaborative show that traces the cultural and genealogical relations between Linklater, his twelve-year-old son, Tobias (whose stop-motion video, Origin of the Hero, is also featured), and Ethel. A bouquet of flowers and a pyramid of Du Maurier cigarettes among Ethel’s belongings rest on Linklater’s dark concrete plinths. Interrogating the relationship between the materials that create the “neutral” gallery and the collections that fill it, the artist holds a space for his son while embracing his grandmother.

Katherine Brewer Ball

Ming Smith

Steven Kasher Gallery
515 West 26th Street, Floor 2
January 13, 2017–February 18, 2017

Ming Smith, Sun Ra Space II, New York City, New York, 1978, gelatin silver print, 28 x 40".

A black photographer who began her career in the 1970s, Ming Smith was always driven by strong social commitments. And as the titles in her present retrospective suggest—Rememberin’ Billie (for Billie Holiday), New York, NY, ca. 1977, and Farewell to Alvin Ailey, New York, NY, ca. 1989—she was an elegist, commemorating a community whose existence this country tries to deny. Indeed, her sense of social erasure is so strong that it accrues a metaphysical significance. Carefully blurred, often foggy or dim, sometimes so overexposed they resemble Rorschach blots, Smith’s black-and-white prints embody a deep awareness of transience, of mortality.

In Sun Ra Space II, New York City, New York, 1978, the jazz legend is shown in a swirl of motion, almost rushing past us, as if to suggest how quickly his song will end. Smith also freezes a timeless aspect of the present, the essence of music being made. She knows the performance will end, as well as what might remain once it has. She makes visible the “ghosts”—as photographer and activist Gordon Parks once put it—that transcend time.

Like her fellow Kamoinge members—she was the only female in Harlem’s legendary black photo collective—Smith set out to develop a novel visual idiom to document what Aimé Césaire would have called her “unique people.” This exhibition shows her experimenting with a variety of techniques, including surrealist montage, atmospheric blurring, and paint-based manipulation. The results are often an elegant convergence of form and content. No Money (from the Invisible Man Series), Harlem, NY, ca. 1991, for example, is an overexposed photograph of a young boy standing before the facades of closed shops. Light from the left of the frame threatens to erase our protagonist. But his defiant pose, almost a silhouette now, asserts that he isn’t going anywhere.

Ratik Asokan

“Cathouse FUNeral Harvested”

Cathouse FUNeral | Chelsea
132 10th Ave.
December 15, 2016–February 18, 2017

View of “Cathouse FUNeral Harvested,” 2016–17.

On November 20 of last year, the original site of this Brooklyn exhibition space in East Williamsburg, located in a former funeral home, closed its doors for the last time. The artist-run venue had an unquiet rest, however—another version of it currently exists as a projects space in Carroll Gardens, while its first body has been exhumed for a second life in Chelsea. “Cathouse FUNeral Harvested” (an extension of which will open on the Lower East Side on January 8) collects residue from twenty shows of murals and installations via fragments of sheetrock and other architectural excerpts, presented as collaborative works that have been three years in the making. Crowded with freestanding wall segments and framed remnants, the Tenth Avenue space is punctuated by dead ends and ersatz corridors. Zips of pink are in evidence from the 2014 group show “Shrink It, Pink It.” A mural by Brad Benischek begins with Harvesting: FUNeral Tryptic (w/ Brad Benischek) and ends in FUNeral Gallery-Object 2 (w/ Benischek) (both 2016), though the slabs are anachronistically joined (by David Dixon, Cathouse’s wallah, with the artist’s permission) to unlike parts. Excavated to stand like clean-cut monoliths, the “harvestings” present a mess of artifacts that refuse to straighten into a tidy narrative; even the three gypsum tablets that chronicle the Cathouse’s exhibition history are placed out of sequence. These structures share no design with their former digs and make no attempt at a documentary-like report. Although these assembled remains contain the potential for a whimsical archive, they are shown not as gestures of mourning or memory, but as celebrations of the vitality and opportunity of ending.

Nicole Kaack

James Coleman

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York
24 West 57th Street
January 17, 2017–February 18, 2017

James Coleman, Working arrangement – horoscopus, 2004, video installation, color, black-and-white, sound, 54 minutes.

Every hour, a drama plays out across a pair of huge screens in a project room strewn with cables, audio equipment, and some folding chairs. Frequently, the two screens subdivide into eight. Occasionally, the smaller screens go black, show vivid distortion, and clear to reveal a setting, or an actor: one of eight members in a theater company who are rehearsing a play in a space that looks like a former slaughterhouse. The action builds in fragments. About halfway in, one of the actors is shown frantically searching for something throughout multiple screens. Soon after, he appears on a single screen to the left, talking to a woman on the screen to its right. Their exchange is a lovers’ quarrel, piercing but at the same time clichéd. She has left him without warning. He wants to know why.

In fact, their dialogue is adapted from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which the actors improvise all the way through James Coleman’s video installation Working arrangement – horoscopus, 2004. One of nine pieces in a show spanning nearly five decades of work, Working arrangement is the most explicitly cinematic projection on view, braced between Still Life, 2013–16, a gorgeous digital projection of a larger-than-life poppy plant, and Untitled, 2011–15, a stutter-stop LED of revelers on a carnival ride.

These two works arc across the extremes of human experience—art, contemplation, and introspection on one side, and thrill-seeking spectacle and canned entertainment on the other. Working arrangement deals with the more delicate notion of passage in between. Filmed with a few hand-held cameras and a series of “button” cameras affixed to the clothes and glasses of the eight actors, the footage conveys the difficulty and magic of moving from camera to screen, artist to viewer, intention to reception. But transmission here is also a perilous journey to hell and back. Will art allow a lover to return? Perhaps, but it’s possible that she—like meaning, like myth—could be maimed or utterly changed by her travels.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Cynthia Talmadge

56 Henry
56 Henry Street
January 13, 2017–February 19, 2017

Cynthia Talmadge, Hazelden (Winter), 2016, C-print, 74 x 48".

If reality television took the romance out of rehab, then Cynthia Talmadge’s “Leaves of Absence” pumps it back in. Her installation, Leaves of Absence: McLean, 2017, based on Harvard Medical School’s psychiatric facility, can be seen from the street—but only those who enter get to take in the full picture. The artist envisions rehab as a kind of Ivy League dormitory outfitted with the requisite gear: a mug, a tote, a sweatshirt. It is a scene that belongs to Hollywood, perhaps in a Wes Anderson remake of Mark Robson’s 1967 movie, Valley of the Dolls.

The pastel dream doesn’t last long. The impossible neatness of the room suggests a kind of compulsion on the part of its maker. The cyclical nature of addiction and depression becomes the glue that marries the artist’s process with her concept. A matching print shows the room in a different colorway, with another treatment center emblazoned on its collegiate accessories (Hazelden [Winter], 2016).

Talmadge uses repetition and humor to discredit herself, but like any unreliable narrator there is something about the ambiguity that drags one deeper into the fantasy. The vacuousness of her one-size-fits-all bedroom has the same effect. Big enough to hold the viewer’s projections but too small for comfort, the installation encourages one to flirt with the threshold between sanity and madness. In Sylvia Plath’s semiautobiographical novel The Bell Jar (1963), her unraveling heroine, Esther Greenwood, muses: “I wondered at what point in space the silly, sham blue of the sky turned black.” Talmadge’s hospital-corner hyperrealism brings the viewer to this same precipice.

Kat Herriman

TM Davy

195 Chrystie Street
January 18, 2017–February 19, 2017

TM Davy, horses (xoo), 2016, oil on linen, 79 x 99".

TM Davy’s suite of eight horse paintings comes from a blood connection to this gallery’s street address—the artist learned of his patrilineal great-great-great-grandfather’s livery stable via an old photograph that had “195 Chrystie Street, 1880” scrawled on its back. Three large canvases of equine bodies stand in the front gallery. One, horses (xo) (all works 2016), shows a mare and scared-looking foal bathed in a rainbow of colored light that streams in from the window of a claustrophobic stall. This otherworldly halo appears in horse (x) as well. Davy has long held a fascination with light, often depicting it, like a Dutch old master, as a painting’s greatest subject.

Everything from the horses’ breathing skin to their genitalia is lovingly rendered. Their eyes are crushingly realistic: exceedingly anxious, watchful of being watched. In the rear gallery are two paintings, horse (xoox) and horse (xox), where the horses’ eyes are covered with soft fly masks—admittedly, a welcome reprieve for the viewer.

Human evolution is closely tied to the ways beasts of burden have been used and, of course, misused. Horses—sometimes jumpy, sometimes gentle—can be ignorant of their own size and strength. The work horses (xoo) depicts another mare and foal grazing beneath an archway of leaves; it’s such an idyllic moment of painterly symmetry. In this serene setting, they look out at the viewer. You experience discomfiture at this, for these noble, enigmatic creatures seem to understand, profoundly, that this very moment of being looked upon is the only instant that exists.

Yin Ho

John M. Armleder

Almine Rech Gallery | New York
39 East 78th Street
January 18, 2017–February 23, 2017

View of “John M. Armleder,” 2017.

John M. Armleder’s slickly designed Furniture Sculpture 230, 1989—made up of three antique-looking chairs on a monochromatic platform—evokes the culture of neoliberal professionalism via high-end decor. Flanking this work are several pieces that span a long career of formal upheaval. Among them are Untitled, Caput Mortuum (Untitled, Dead Head), 1968, and Haejangguk, 2016. They seem to have been capriciously produced and are quite different: The former is a minimalistic gouache drawing; the latter, a volatile splattering of paint, sequins, and glitter.

The element of chance in Armleder’s work—initially inspired by John Cage—and its proximity to luxury household commodities produce and expose a contradiction. Of course, Armleder is famously interested in the contexts in which art is displayed. “The artist has a very restrictive understanding of his own work because he’s so close to it,” he said in a recent interview. “So what binds it all together? It’s obviously time, space—areas. And all that would be wiped out by new time, new spaces.” So is there a radical autonomy exercised by the work? Not quite—significance arises when the form is conversant with its context. The yuppie culture of the 1980s embodied in Armleder’s chic appointments collides with the radical, painterly formalism around them. The effect is ironic and playful yet pointed: Fine art as commodity, regardless of its politics, is at least partly implicated in the indiscretions of financial markets—art is, after all, one of the most potentially lucrative luxury assets. The idea is hardly unique to this gallery space but is nevertheless teased out by Armleder’s collisions.

Tyler Curtis

Carl Ostendarp

Elizabeth Dee Gallery
2033/2037 Fifth Avenue
January 21, 2017–February 25, 2017

Carl Ostendarp, ECH!, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 52 1/2 x 51".

Well known for his minimalist approach to cartoony graphics and text, Carl Ostendarp’s hand-painted work harkens back to the early days of Pop. For his first show at this gallery’s new location, he employs a tool associated with blue-collar labor to make the washed-out, earth-tone-gray backgrounds of his paintings: a mop. The result is an abstract surface that resembles a cosmic soup, or an eruption of lava, possibly signifying a return to the primordial—or the end of the world.

Two types of acrylic-on-canvas work are present: long horizontal landscapes and word paintings. Unifying the first group is a craggy horizon line filled in with an opaque gray that could be read as a series of upside-down drips or a mountain range. Titled after classic Black Sabbath tracks, works such as Behind the Wall of Sleep and Hole in the Sky (all works cited, 2016), with their hazy backdrops, are perfect symbols for our uncertain future. The word paintings, consisting of onomatopoeia favored by comic-book artists—Mad magazine’s Don Martin comes to mind—represent what one utters when reading a daily barrage of disheartening news about the Trump administration. These guttural, gloomy renditions—two of which are titled Ech! and Agh! Argh! Ack! Gak!—would make great protest signs. (Auspiciously, the international Women’s Marches were held on the same day that the gallery opened this exhibition.) Ostendarp skillfully crystallizes the mood of our collective spirit in this grouping of works—totally nauseated.

Chris Bors

“The Stand”

334 Broome Street
January 13, 2017–February 26, 2017

View of “The Stand,” 2017.

Cobalt-blue and charcoal-colored rubber mulch cover the floor, cutting the space into two triangles of color. More ecosystem than exhibition, the artists in Prem Krishnamurthy and Anthony Marcellini’s postapocalyptic show, “The Stand,” play with light, firmament, plants, totemic forms, and animals. The show changes the doomed mood of the desert playground from Terminator 2 to one of strange playfulness.

Here, memories of sulky-dreamy Sarah Connor’s muscled arms clinging to a chain-link fence shape-shift. The outstretched arms of a black NBA player in Paul Pfeiffer’s luminous photograph Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (07), 2002, points to Basquiat’s pained meditations on black resilience and black death. We see the player’s head, wearing the crown of crowd support, ultralight beamed. The black athlete, name and team number digitally removed from his jersey, is not a commodity, not Samson tumbling the pillars of spectacular captivity. The booming digital glow acts as a shield from the arena’s mob, and the death knell of racial iconography. Beneath the hallucinatory blues and yellows flaring in Connie Samaras’s archival pigment print The Past is Another Planet: Huntington Desert Garden, Cacti; OEB 1723, Novel Fragment, Parable of the Sower, 1989, 2016, cactus soil mixes with lines from Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower (1993). While the show takes its name from Stephen King’s 1978 plague novel, Butler’s story of survival yields another insight: “We haven’t even hit rock bottom yet.”

Melancholia seeds this show, as does transformation, formally and materially: Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s video Cinema, 2014, made in the movie house of a dilapidated US naval base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, loops on an iPad. Light filters into the theater through trees growing out of earth that holds undetonated bombs. Amid hysteria, dynastic decay, and clamors of uprising, “The Stand” poeticizes pluralities of living with death, playing in the US empire’s wake.

Rachel Ellis Neyra

“Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America”

American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at 66th Street
October 6, 2016–February 26, 2017

Hiram Powers, James Gibson Powers, ca. 1838, plaster, 11 x 6 x 6".

“Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades.” The carving of character by light, as the early camera was thought to do, and as this advertising slogan for photographers of the 1800s suggests, was especially trenchant for those who wanted to remember their dead at eternal slumber’s start, with astonishing veracity, via the daguerreotype’s unearthly powers. Memorial portrait painting is another kind of alchemy—venerable, yet stranger, as it tasks the artist with reviving a kind of familiar glow or personality from the deceased––sometimes using the corpse as a model––for the commissioning bereaved.

This exhibition, curated by the museum’s Stacy C. Hollander, is an extraordinary survey of memorial works—mostly painted and photographic—that were made by artists, both formally trained and self-taught, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America, a time when we were more intimately acquainted with mortality and the rituals surrounding death. Many of the works’ subjects are quite young—children and babies who died from illness, accidents. One of the most affecting is Thomas Wilder’s oil-on-canvas portrait of Anna Baylies Bushee, 1848, which depicts the girl, just barely five, sitting in a dour parlor near a window that looks onto two small angels—ugly, sickening things—awaiting her arrival in heaven. There’s Charles Willson Peale’s Rachel Weeping, 1772–1818, a painting of the artist’s wife crying over the body of their infant daughter, Margaret, who was taken by smallpox: Margaret’s yellowed lips are held shut by a silken chinstrap, her arms securely fastened to her sides by a swath of white ribbon, tied with a dainty bow. There’s even a plaster death mask by Hiram Powers made from his little boy’s face, James Gibson Powers, ca. 1838, who succumbed to “water on the brain.”

Pictures of headstones appear in the exhibition as well—some so crudely fashioned that they look considerably older than just two or three hundred years. Also on view: an ivory medallion featuring a watercolor and graphite rendering of a virginal teenage bride. A photo encased in a velvety, locket-like frame shows a young lady in her casket, lavished with flowers, with an aged paper fragment that reads “Death’s seal is on that cherub brow, and closed that sparkling eye.” Genteel language often poorly conceals such devastating loss.

Alex Jovanovich

Peter Campus

Cristin Tierney
540 West 28th Street
January 19, 2017–March 4, 2017

Peter Campus, affect, 1987, digital photo projection, dimensions variable.

The photograph Earthrise, taken from NASA’s Apollo 8 space shuttle in 1968, captured the Earth as seen from the distance of the moon. Half engulfed in shadow, our home planet looks radiant and fragile—a kaleidoscopic cobalt-blue-and-misty-white shard floating in a vast and unbroken pitch-black sky.

The picture’s capacity to transmit the beauty and vulnerability of Earth is credited with helping to launch the environmental movement of the 1970s. But today, decades after Earthrise and the advent of satellite imagery, we’ve grown accustomed to such all-encompassing aerial views of the planet and, with this familiarity, more confident that we can understand (or even control) its course. We’ve also set our collective sights higher—space missions now explore far beyond our world, plumbing the outer edges of the solar system.

Peter Campus’s black-box exhibition feels remarkable for directing our gaze firmly back to the ground and for imbuing the most minuscule pieces of the Earth’s surface with a sense of mystery and magnificence. On display for the first time in public are five monumental black-and-white photographs of rocks Campus collected in Montauk, New York. The images, all from 1987, illuminate the darkened gallery walls as glittering three-dimensional digital projections. Campus’s head-on, enlarged views of the rocks—with evocative titles such as affect, schism, and half-life—reveal their intricate patterns of pockmarks, grooves, and ridges. Through the artist’s lens, the beach pebbles are transformed into precious gemstones and meteorites that demand the same awe and rapt attention as a night sky.

Hannah Stamler

Sophie Hirsch

27 Orchard Street
February 5, 2017–March 5, 2017

Sophie Hirsch, Reformer, 2017, silicone, fabric, plaster, graphite, metal, springs, wood, leather, 100 x 64 x 36".

In the back room of Sophie Hirsch’s current show is Reformer, 2017, a plaster arrow riding an industrial-looking body-shaping machine. The sculpture faces itself in a pair of mirrors, recalling a Pilates studio with its BDSM-like balance of pleasure and torture. Joseph Pilates considered Contrology, his tension-and-relief method, the only route to bliss. Martha Graham and George Balanchine swore by it. If her work is any indication, Hirsch does too.

The artist approaches quick-drying materials such as plaster and silicone with an interest in posture, gravity, and compromise between flexibility and resistance. Studio props such as straps and blocks give constraints to Hirsch’s floppy bodies, which would otherwise collapse under their own weight. Bending, folding, twisting—the abstract sculptures read as instructional diagrams. Her series of shadowbox works, “Muscle Test 1–5,” 2016, strengthens this allusion.

While at first her concerns feel largely formal and materialistic, they are not what one leaves with. Hirsch’s work brings oppositional forces together to create new equilibriums, whether it be a hard-edge feminine aesthetic or a wall-mounted sculpture that begs to be called a painting. Rather than going outside for inspiration and depth, the exhibition’s bodily overtones demand inward expansion. Starting with the figure and working outward, the show feels like a rally for enlightened navel-gazing. Hirsch encourages not only self-awareness but excavation. Her sculptures seem to ask, How can we extend ourselves safely? How can we be bridges?

Kat Herriman

Peter Caine

53 Stanton Street
January 19, 2017–March 5, 2017

Peter Caine, The Great Wall of Trump, 2017, mixed media, animatronics, dimensions variable.

Much Trump-related art pokes at the president’s perceived physical inadequacies, faltering at superficiality and failing to elucidate concerns within our body politic. Peter Caine’s exhibition “The Old Man and the Sheep” is an eviscerating exception.

Known for videos and installations of animatronic sociopolitical tableaux and pop-cultural critique, as well as animal husbandry presentations, Caine has an idiosyncratic on-screen persona lightened by cynical wit. Here, he shows three kinetic works with four life-size figures of a rapturous Trump in various stages of sexual degradation. Aping the protagonist’s theatricality, the mixed-media constructions operate only in response to spectators. With pendulous genitalia, the president variously brutalizes a sheep from behind; masturbates in an altered Nazi uniform into a melon; and seems ready to engage in rapey oral sex with a kneeling man. All of this is set to the pneumatic sound track of juddering, mechanical intercourse.

Despite this pungency, Caine’s principle assets are refined insight and layered meaning. As Trump rams the sheep, the term “golden fleece” gets reinterpreted—one wonders if the unfortunate beast represents America or his own voters. The kneeling individual in The Great Wall of Trump, 2017, wears a sign identifying him as homeless and offering to “suck dick” as Trump’s gripped phallus protrudes through a fragmentary wall. The subjugation and humiliation of marginalized groups raises Trump’s omnipotent tendencies and victory-mongering. Particularly horrific is the wretch’s face, which is a livid, pink mirror of Trump’s features, a detail that is biblically egomaniacal in recalling an earlier figure that cast man in his own image.

Darren Jones

Beverly Buchanan

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
October 21, 2016–March 5, 2017

View of “Beverly Buchanan—Ruins and Rituals,” 2016–17.

“I think that artists in the South must at some point confront the work of folk artists,” the late artist Beverly Buchanan said. But Buchanan, who is known for her colorful shack sculptures emulating Southern vernacular architecture, was anything but an outsider artist. In the early 1970s, she studied with Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden while working as a New Jersey health educator. She also gained the support of such curators as Lucy Lippard and Lowery Stokes Sims. Yet as a black woman artist who spent the height of her artistic career in Georgia, her work has not been given its historical due.

This exhibition, organized by curator Jennifer Burris and artist Park McArthur, surveys Buchanan’s practice, which commemorated the resilience of black communities while interrogating American racism. Separated into three galleries of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (triangulated around Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, 1974–79), the layout flips the script on Buchanan’s work. The show opens with her least known pieces—the series “Frustula,” 1978–81, made up of squat, cast-concrete sculptures—artworks in pointed dialogue with post-Minimalism’s industrial-ruin aesthetics. Buchanan pursued site-specificity when she moved to Macon, Georgia, in 1977. From 1979 to 1986, she created a number of humble concrete sculptures, mixed with local materials such as tabby (a cement made with oyster shells, water, lime, ash, and sand, once used for building slave quarters), which memorialized sites of racial violence. Three videos, created by McArthur, Burris, and Jason Hirata, June 10–19, 2016, 2016, document four of her Southeastern projects in situ.

This is an artist-curated show, and the second and largest section—containing more than one hundred archival objects—reveals an artist’s eye. Burris and McArthur include pieces such as the plaid shirt Buchanan painted in, adorned with white crosses and blue and red stars (Untitled, Church on Fire, 1995–96), and photo reproductions of her Guggenheim grant report for the public artwork Marsh Ruins, 1981. The final section, devoted to her miniaturized shacks from 1987 to 2010, is enriched by photos of the 1991 performance Out of Control. Buchanan enacts a conceptual score of symbolic brutality, setting a shack sculpture on fire, only allowing a friend to extinguish it.

Wendy Vogel

Pieter Hugo

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
January 26, 2017–March 11, 2017

Pieter Hugo, Portrait #3, Rwanda, 2014, digital C-print. From the series “1994,” 2014–16.

The “born free” generation of South Africans—those born after the fall of apartheid in 1994—has recently come into the limelight as protest movements such as #FeesMustFall or #RhodesMustFall have swept university campuses and city streets. The country’s youth have rallied against the intensification of economic disparity and the lingering effects of historical traumas. As time passes, the Mandela-era dream of the “rainbow nation” seems to slide further away.

South African photographer Pieter Hugo offers a more enigmatic vision of this generation with his series “1994,” 2014–16, employing portraiture as a means to signify, however obliquely, the immense cultural transitions it has witnessed. While the eldest born-frees are in their twenties, Hugo’s subjects are younger children, some mere toddlers, from both South Africa and Rwanda (where 1994 marked the unspeakable horrors of genocide).

Hugo is lauded for his disquieting, almost feral aesthetic; he has photographed those on the fringes of society throughout southern and West Africa. Here, though, the work is somewhat more metaphysical: Children are made archetypes of contestation, survival, and hope. They face the camera, seated or recumbent, posed within verdant landscapes or against the looming edifices of rural schools. One of his most arresting images, Portrait #3, Rwanda, 2014, shows a Rwandan girl, draped head to toe in pale-pink fabric, seated on the ground. She gazes forward solemnly as she extends a flower branch and a green frond. Elsewhere, boys and girls in oversize soiled frocks recline against grass and dry earth or pose near mossy trees. These settings invoke the unpredictability and even the cruelty of wilderness, while the children’s clothing, mostly donated from Europe, locates them within a discordant contemporary moment. The photographer’s gaze is inquisitive and searching—his subjects respond with an onerous sense of clairvoyance.

Allison Young

Steve Wolfe

Luhring Augustine | Chelsea
531 West 24th Street
February 4, 2017–March 11, 2017

Steve Wolfe, Untitled (Anna Karenina), 1985–87, oil, enamel, ink transfer, modeling paste, canvas, wood, 7 1/2 x 5 x 2".

Love is rarely tender, especially with cherished objects. Sometimes they become so much a part of who we are that they, too, accumulate the scars, scrapes, and burns of affection. Steve Wolfe’s current posthumous exhibition offers up impeccable re-creations of books, book covers, and records from the artist’s personal library, made to look as worn by time and use as the originals. Every tear and scuff is fabricated through oil paint, ink, and graphite; every misaligned spine, intentional.

Wolfe’s remaking of Voltaire’s satire, in softcover, Untitled (Candide), 1988–89, surprises by its vibrancy. Its colors and textures are exquisitely vivid—more real than real life. Other books are “stained” by coffee cup rings, “faded” by the sun. The rough, painterly cover of Untitled (Anna Karenina), 1985–87, belies the coated sheen of the standard Penguin Classic. But its warped, frayed form keenly delivers the familiar story of a tome that has ventured once too often into the crushing depths of an overloaded backpack. Elsewhere, the artist’s books exist solely as covers, collaged onto a single plane (Untitled [Study for Mumm/Jose Cuervo Cartons], 1994). They flawlessly capture the brittle textures and acid-browned colors of the crumbling texts you’d fish from the dollar crate at the Strand.

Wolfe has taken the inspirational energies provided by his library and harnessed them into hours and hours of scrupulous labor. His imitations become utterly sacred through this extraordinary care. These are saintly bodies—conceived by mysterious processes and coated in precious pigments—that carry the kind of divinity one can only find in books.

Nicole Kaack

Lynn Hershman Leeson

Bridget Donahue
99 Bowery, 2nd Floor
January 27, 2017–March 12, 2017

View of “Lynn Hershman Leeson: Remote Controls,” 2017.

Seated in overstuffed leopard-print armchairs, visitors to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s second solo exhibition at the gallery navigate, via remote control, the dumpy virtual living room of Lorna, a middle-aged agoraphobe whose experience of the world is entirely mediated through her television. Clicking on various objects unlocks bits and pieces of a schmaltzy vernacular media culture, such as boozy cowboy ballads, daytime talk shows, televangelical sermons, and amateur music videos. In one of the game’s three possible endings, its lonely heroine commits suicide.

The first interactive videodisk, Lorna, 1979–84, can claim importance in a broader media history beyond twentieth-century art, though Hershman Leeson has likened the piece’s random, nonhierarchical sequencing to “electronic cubism.” Even more fragmented and multiperspectival is Deep Contact, 1984–89, the first artwork to employ interactive touch screens. Viewers are invited to touch the virtual leather-clad physique of a Teutonic hardbody named Marion, whose various parts open onto a labyrinthine sexual fantasy with fifty-seven forking paths. In her 1985 essay “Interactive Technology and Art,” Hershman Leeson espoused optimism about the enfranchising potential of interactive technology. “The art world,” she wrote, “has long functioned on the presumption that viewing art is passive, while only making art is active. Technological change in the form of laser and video art, however, is changing this traditional way of viewing art.”

But Hershman Leeson’s avant-garde technologism is cut with camp, horror, and feminized abjection, undergirding an eerie feeling that interactivity is as much about capture and control as it is about activation and agency. Between the Snowden leaks and a Twitter presidency, the narrative around technology has acquired a dystopian charge, and Hershman Leeson’s work is increasingly recognized for its Cassandra-like premonitions of technological panopticism. Such anxieties explicitly structure her new installation, Venus of the Anthropocene, 2017. A grotesque mannequin torso faces a vanity mirror rigged with a camera and crude facial-recognition software that attempts—with modest success—to identify the viewer’s age, gender, and mood.

Chloe Wyma

Andrea Joyce Heimer

1002 Metropolitan Avenue
January 29, 2017–March 12, 2017

Andrea Joyce Heimer, I Am Jealous Of Everyone You Have Ever Been With And There Have Been Many, And Then I Find Out Some Of Them Were Squirters And I Am Undone By This Knowledge. It Weighs On Me Like A Stone., 2016, acrylic and pencil on panel, 30 x 40".

Of all the deadly human sins, envy is perhaps the most unavoidable. It makes us mourn the things we never had in the first place while reminding us of what we have to lose. In “A Jealous Person,” Andrea Joyce Heimer’s new exhibition, the artist has made narrative, quilt-like paintings that yearn for some sense of firm identity. Her complex renderings of flattened domestic interiors and natural landscapes are psychological minidramas. And their titles, though verbose, are deeply personal.

I Am Jealous Of Those Who Can See Their Own Facial Features Echoing Down Their Family Lines Like A Voice Telling Them Just Where They’ve Been. (all works cited, 2016), is likely related to the artist’s disquietude reflecting on her adoptive family. It depicts a neat row of pale, similarly featured figures in a room, acting in tandem as they get ready for a meal. Standing apart from them amid some tall plants is a dark-skinned woman; opposite her is a portrait of a black swan: A pair of beautiful creatures, linked by their otherness, are alienated from all the rest. I Am Jealous Of Everyone You Have Ever Been With And There Have Been Many, And Then I Find Out Some Of Them Were Squirters And I Am Undone By This Knowledge. It Weighs On Me Like A Stone. depicts dozens of nude women seeping bodily fluids, swimming around a single eroticized male. It’s relatable—who hasn’t fretted imagining a lover’s previous exploits?

Heimer is primarily self-taught, and her pictures occupy a folksy realm: Volumes of visual information are packed into satisfying, epic stories. The carefully applied ornamentation of her works may at first strike one as surreal. But her allegories speak to a very common kind of pathos—we are indeed mostly jealous people.

Anne Prentnieks

Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Yancey Richardson Gallery
525 West 22nd Street
February 2, 2017–March 18, 2017

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study (Self-Portrait)_Q5A2059, 2015, archival pigment print, 32 x 24".

Paul Mpagi Sepuya is self-consciously part of a deep lineage of queer cultural practice. His process journals reveal his engagement with Bruce Nugent and other gay writers from the past century, and his intimate color portraits call to mind earlier photographs by Lyle Ashton Harris, Peter Hujar, and Rotimi Fani-Kayode. The writer and critic Hilton Als included Sepuya in his 2016 exhibition on James Baldwin, poetically situating him as one of Baldwin’s creative “children.”

This exhibition includes a handful of such portraits: black and white men, at times draped in rich fabric and posed in a formal studio setting, à la Baroque painting. But most of the pictures here are fragmented—collages of Sepuya’s large-scale prints: torn, overlaid, and rephotographed. Works such as Mirror Study (Self-Portrait)_Q5A2059, 2015, rather overtly suggests process—from the messiness and fractured nature of the self to the archival aspects of artmaking, down to saving and indexing files on a computer.

But for all their layering, Sepuya’s photographs have a distinctive unity, derived from his shooting into a mirror and drawing his varied source materials together onto a single plane. In these studies, figures are never complete, and we are asked to consider the lineage of studio portraiture itself—its artifice and self-performance a form of analogy to the more quotidian masquerade of everyday life, of looking at our reflection and searching for a sense of cohesion. Sepuya’s camera resists such cohesion and adds contemporary resonance to the traditional, canonical, and subcultural alike.

Ian Bourland

Henry Chapman

Kate Werble Gallery
83 Vandam Street
February 10, 2017–March 18, 2017

View of “Henry Chapman: Phthalo Blue Red Shade,” 2017.

Henry Chapman’s carefully gessoed canvases, smooth as polished stone, are adorned with pigments that bleed, à la Helen Frankenthaler, into their white grounds. Between his spare, painterly passages, which range from assiduously prim to flagrantly scatological, Chapman adds screen-printed texts: Some are taken from a European travelogue; others rehash moments from the artist’s daily life or are just made up. If Enlightenment gentlemen traveled the Continent for enlightenment (think Goethe in Italy), Chapman’s wanderings through some of the same terrain—Berlin, Rome—are pure indulgence, pleasure: One must see the Holbein show at the Bode, after all, not on Instagram. But there’s a weltschmerz that glazes all this fabulous jet-setting, too. Maybe a visit to a brothel called the Artemis would lift the spirits—read about it in Luke in Berlin (all works cited, 2016–17).

In Greenpoint, yolky spheres linger below faint gray words crossed out by a tidy excess of ink, like an old master canceling his intaglio plate. Green Field offers up small, clocklike diagrams, with vectors that seem to record anger, sorrow, pleasure, resolve, desire, and pain. They are charts of human frailty and the vicissitudes of time. Yammerings about allergies and oysters pop up throughout Chapman’s paintings as well. These narratives are too boring to be irritatingly narcissistic, and yet—surprisingly—they draw you in, likely because the works are so pale and enigmatic. Chapman practices a very funny, wan kind of seduction—honestly, the man can’t be bothered for too much more.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Camilla Wills

Chapter NY
249 East Houston Street
February 19, 2017–March 19, 2017

View of “Camilla Wills: Driven by Thoughts,” 2017.

Camilla Wills’s current exhibition has all the dark cheer of a Victorian orphanage. The show exudes the kind of artifice and perversity one would find in a posh nineteenth-century parlor. Block the Windows and Change the Date, 2017, is a piece of cloth blacking out the gallery’s windows. The year 2016 is laser cut into a pattern on the fabric. This gesture—an act of disavowal or merely a decorative preference—shutters the gallery and allows us to experience daylight as an endless repetition of yesteryear. Neatly stuffed into a filing-cabinet drawer is Press Release, 2016–17, a self-portrait made from a wedding dress silk-screened with press releases written in lorem ipsum, a filler or dummy text used by graphic designers. The dress resembles Pierrot’s leotard and frames the social contract between artist and audience as a fool’s game. Wills loves to baffle and does it with a straight face. Even the actual press release for the show is enigmatic, containing lines such as “Readability is against expression.” The artist’s associations—poetic, ersatz—rattle language’s hold on meaning. She is a printmaker par excellence as well, and the medium’s ubiquity here compounds her destabilization of the world-making power of words.

The purgatorial Contract of Indeterminate Duration, 2017, is a bedsheet ghost that surveys the gallery on a rotating motor. In two pockets, the phantom carries Oblivion Seekers, 2017, a pair of empty birds nests. Wills’s unified object is simultaneously self-possessed and vulnerable. It seems to ask, “Do you believe in ghosts?”

Sam Korman

Eleanore Mikus

Craig F. Starr Gallery
5 East 73rd Street
February 3, 2017–March 25, 2017

Eleanore Mikus, Tablet 142, 1965–66, acrylic on wood, 34 x 52".

Eleanore Mikus made the majority of her Tablets atop her studio floor, fitting sections of plywood into an eccentric patchwork then setting the arrangement with wooden braces and glue. The pressure subtly reconfigured each piece, yielding an improvised pattern of dents and grooves. Ripping the structure from the floor and reversing it, she applied repeated coats of gesso and white oil to its surface, marshaling paint as a form of adhesive to bind disparate elements. The result evolved into a series that Mikus started in 1961 and pursued until 1968, lingering on each piece for weeks or even years. Their deliberate facture parallels the perceptual mood they conjure: dulled and rapt, like staring at waves. Plays of light and shade color their surfaces with hints of pollen, peach, and plummy gray, leavening the monochrome’s sameness with difference. The effect is amplified by Mikus’s varying use of oil, acrylic, enamel, and epoxy paint, which lends each Tablet a specific, subtle luminosity.

When describing the series, Mikus speaks of objects worn through contact: pavement, driftwood, shoe heels, and subway turnstiles. Often refined with sandpaper or wax, each seems less painted than caressed. Consider Tablet 142, 1965–66: four identically sized panels overlain with strips of thin wood. Pocked and puckered, the strips abut and overlap one another, producing ridges whose shadows look like drawn lines. The texture recalls the theatrical drapery of certain Baroque paintings, wherein folds prompt virtuosic demonstrations of chiaroscuro. The inclusion of Untitled, 1967, a board swathed in dark rose-colored cloth and bound with rubber bands, corroborates the comparison. Swelling surface into volume, its pleats are mnemonics: memories of contours modeled by hand. Thus contextualized, the Tablets disclose the doubled temporality inherent in their namesake: both an ephemeral pad for scribbles and an enduring monument, primed to relay a mystical message.

Courtney Fiske

Ron Gorchov

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
February 16, 2017–March 25, 2017

Ron Gorchov, Nausicaä, 2016, oil on linen, 98 x 78 x 13".

There is much evidence of classicism in reductive art practices. Rarer, however, is the presence of the more willful and subjective impulses of neoclassicism, in which classical order is not adhered to but depicted. Ron Gorchov’s signature shield-shaped paintings would not be out of place gripped by a dying marble warrior. Gorchov’s canvas, featuring a rounded edge and a concavity in the center, is not an optical illusion or a sculptural push into space—it is an image open to interpretation. The fact that these paintings encourage symbolic viewing sets them apart from much contemporaneous abstraction.

Two mysterious and evocative curvilinear forms often appear in the centers of Gorchov’s paintings. They are reminiscent of the symmetrical scrolls on string instruments, the sexy dimples on the lower backs of many humans, or inchworms wiggling together on invisible strings. These forms are companions, never in conflict. It is significant that Gorchov gives us the back of the shield, the defensive rather than the aggressive side—the side that contains and protects the life within. These idiosyncratic paintings are loaded with intent, and what is so human about them is the mystery of the intent. The intensity of our own actions hardly explains them to others. This gap allows us to imagine each other. And one spends much time in front of these paintings imagining what they are.

The work is deeply sensual. In Nausicaä, 2016, washes of baby blue seem to sweat down and around a yellow and a cobalt form. The raw edges, the isolated and wiggling central forms, and the sheer physicality of these pieces makes them beautiful in the classical sense of the term.

Matthew Weinstein

“Evidentiary Realism”

Fridman Gallery
287 Spring Street
February 28–March 31

Josh Begley, Information of Note​, 2014, C-print, 40 x 40".

“Evidentiary Realism,” the title of this exhibition, is a term coined by its curator, Paolo Cirio. It refers to art that, in his words, “portrays and reveals evidence from complex social systems.” The works in this fourteen-person show heighten our awareness of the foul social and political infrastructures that seem to be dominating much of the world today.

Navine G. Khan-Dossos’s series “Expanding and Remaining,” 2016, uses ISIS’s English print magazine as a source for colorful, systematic abstract paintings, rendering the basic graphic structure of the periodical’s layout sans text. Nearby is Josh Begley’s Information of Note, 2014, a collage of photographic documentation of Muslim-owned venues in New York, taken from the NYPD Demographics Unit—a secret surveillance program that was leaked to the press in 2011. One of the more challenging works in the show is Seamless Transitions, 2015, James Bridle’s 3-D video tour of immigration, detention, trial, and deportation sites throughout the UK. Their sterile architecture, without people or sound, offers up a painfully detached view of places where fates, often capriciously, are being determined.

This profoundly affecting presentation is the first in a series of shows that will focus on evidentiary realism. The project has an online presence as well, with a catalogue of artworks, related texts, and an open invitation to artists to apply for future exhibitions. In Hannah Arendt’s Life of the Mind (1978), she writes: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” Making up one’s mind about the devastating effects of political machinations is crucial.

Naomi Lev

“Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965”

Grey Art Gallery
100 Washington Square East, New York University
January 10–April 1

Jean Follett, 3 Black Bottles, 1958, mixed media on wood, 11 2/3 x 19 1/2 x 1 3/4”.

A few of the artist co-ops and alternative spaces featured in this show have recently gained some art-historical due—via, for instance, the Blanton Museum’s exhibition on the Park Place Gallery and the Birmingham Museum’s survey of the Spiral Group—though more research and scholarship is still much needed. “Inventing Downtown” is a welcome antidote as the first exhibition to examine a synergy among works and ephemera from fourteen artist-run galleries below Fourteenth Street (with the exception of the City Gallery in Chelsea and Richard Bellamy’s Green Gallery in midtown). It’s a treasure trove that discloses a much smaller yet wilder local scene than the sprawling and somewhat faceless one we know today.

While some of the artists will be familiar, particularly those who embraced the cheap paints, varnishes, and kitsch objects littering 1950s consumer society in the wake of the Korean War (such as Donald Judd, who reviewed some of these galleries, and Claes Oldenburg, who feels omnipresent), there are many more who have been excluded from the canon. And we really should know them better. Sari Dienes, who showed at City Gallery, took an ink-coated roller out into New York, covering subway grates and tombstones with paper or fabric to make her sepulchral transfers. Jean Follett was associated with Hansa Gallery and made sulky sculptural assemblages with trash and found objects. She also fled New York in the early ’60s after a breakdown, and a delinquent former landlord demolished much of her work. I could go on—the capriciousness of taste and luck is merciless. But what emerges most impressively here is the pervasive sense that none of the artists were merely interested in dollars. They were committed to extending, advancing, and opening up aesthetic and philosophical conversations for the benefit of the common good.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Jeremy Couillard

yours mine & ours
54 Eldridge Street
February 17–April 2

Jeremy Couillard, Alien Afterlife (detail), 2016–17, mixed media, dimensions variable.

On a dusty, slate-colored couch reeking of bong water and dirty laundry, Jeremy Couillard invites visitors to experience a multidimensional journey into the great beyond with Alien Afterlife, 2016–17. The installation’s centerpiece is a video game designed and engineered by Couillard, unfurling as a quest for reincarnation amid kaleidoscopic landscapes and eccentric extraterrestrials. When the player is killed, the game abruptly ends with a stern and graphic “NO!” Moments later, you are returned to a limbo/home-base level called the Mother, sans penalty, likely because the character was dead to begin with. The whole virtual experience is suffused with the comic absurdity of early-1990s first-person-shooter games such as Wolfenstein 3D and Doom but carves its own unique position within the genre as a metacritique of dimensional reality.

The gallery’s installation is living-room space culled from something between the neon cyberpunk motif of a William Gibson novel and Spicoli’s bedroom from the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. An empty bong waits patiently on the coffee table, and a number of dated smartphones, along with an iPad, display 3-D renderings designed by Couillard of exterritorial stoners lollygagging about time and space. In the dark, neon-lit basement below the gallery, the exhibition takes a startling turn as a pair of animatronic gray aliens clank away at laptops, communicating to one another via a localized chat room. At one point during the conversation one alien asks a pertinent question of the other: “What is your art about?” The response: “USB—Uncle Sad Bedroom.”

Gabriel H. Sanchez

Eleanor Antin

Alden Projects™
34 Orchard Street
February 24–April 9

Eleanor Antin, Untitled (Eleanor Antin’s Mother Telling the BOOTS’ Fortune), 1973, vintage gelatin silver print, 8 x 10".

Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots, 1971–73, on view here, plays well to our current state of alienation. The exhibition readdresses the piece’s political subtext while bringing to light recently rediscovered B sides from this seminal work. With deadpan humor, Antin ridiculed the Vietnam War, issuing her protest in the form of fifty-one postcards, each depicting fifty pairs of military-grade rubber boots gallivanting in different parts of the American landscape. The narrative slowly unfolded in the mailboxes of somewhere between six hundred and a thousand recipients, with boots goofily trespassing under fences, riding roller coasters, or traipsing in a meadow. They stand at attention, evoking rows of dead soldiers. Antin attributes the pronoun he to the project throughout her archival materials—militarism and maleness, after all, fit so well together. She and others were quick to pun on the title, too, as in the 1973 New York Times headline “100 Boots’ to End Cross-Country ‘March’ at Museum.”

The new/old works read like grievances and escapist fantasies from the Nixon era. They also draw out the immediacy of her project and emphasize that the dematerialization of the art object still requires a tight crop. 100 Boots at the Checkpoint. San Onofre, California. February 15, 1972, 10:20 a.m., 1972, forms a serendipitous link between that time and the present, as the boots line up on the customs checkpoint at the US-Mexico border. Perhaps Antin thought the image was too unambiguously critical, hence it was cut from the original piece. Another picture offers up Antin’s mother playing a clairvoyant (Untitled [Eleanor Antin’s Mother Telling the BOOTS’ Fortune], 1973), while Untitled (100 Boots and the Artist Under the Brooklyn Bridge), 1973, captures the artist’s New York homecoming from the West Coast. Why revisit this series today? An important lesson from the counterculture: There’s no wrong way to protest.

Sam Korman

Jonathas de Andrade

New Museum
235 Bowery
January 25–April 9

Jonathas de Andrade, O peixe (The Fish), 2016, 16-mm film transferred to HD video, sound, color, 38 minutes.

Fishing is a display of male sensuality that is supremely underrated. In Jonathas de Andrade’s thirty-eight-minute film O peixe (The Fish), 2016, the handsome protagonists are the ageless, chiseled fishermen of a coastal village in northeastern Brazil. Wet skin catches the glimmering sunlight on the surface of the water. They steer their boats and swing their hooks. Muscles swell.

Interrupting the tranquil ambiance of lapping water and wind drifting through the palms is the tug of a line, a ripple below. But then a sudden urgency to retract the net causes an explosion of violence and primal masculinity. From this point, de Andrade turns abruptly toward maximum absurdity. Each fisherman takes his catch and lifts it to his chest, entering a meditative embrace. As the fish struggles for its life, he strokes its scales, reversing the role of the midwife—rather than ease the entrance of life into this world, he lovingly assists in its departure.

As in much of de Andrade’s work, there is an intellectual subtext here about the relationship between modern and precolonial Brazil. But that pales in comparison to the many contrasting visceral impulses he forces us to confront at once. This imagined shamanistic ritual in which a hypermasculine, exoticized, and sexualized figure cradles an alien body—the size of an infant, with strangely human lips—is violent and bizarrely romantic. O peixe evokes a shock further heightened by the sounds of labored breathing from both parties. As viewers, we get the sense that our emotions are being played with—much to our delight.

Janelle Zara

A. K. Burns

Callicoon Fine Arts
49 Delancey Street
February 26–April 9

A. K. Burns, She Was Warned, 2017, cement hydrocal mix, concrete, rebar, steel wire, steel concrete reinforcement, plastic, pigmented resin, 73 x 25 x 12".

Outsiders are not welcome: A forbidding fence obscures the view through the front window of the gallery. Two more like it appear throughout the space, each patterned with barely legible phrases à la Donald Rumsfeld: Known known, known unknown, and unknown unknown. In the exhibition “Fault Lines,” A. K. Burns reflects on the power of language to colonize our physical realities with political polarities. A picture of the Dakota Access Pipeline crawls like a blind, wormy beast through the sunshine landscapes of the show’s press release, while Better Off Without You (all works cited, 2017) is a suite of adhesive prints that transpose newspaper images of the terrain surrounding the pipeline. A page from the New York Times is overlaid with an imprisoning and painterly grid in Post Times (Weather Report).

Burns inscribes these images of our current dystopia with phrases that are frightening precisely for their actuality and absurdity: Here, Rumsfeld’s puzzling wordplay on whether or not Iraq was supplying “weapons of mass destruction” to terrorist groups literally becomes barriers. Mitch McConnell’s comment on Elizabeth Warren being shut down in the Senate as she argued against Jeff Sessions’s appointment to the post of attorney general inflames She Was Warned, the artist’s sculpture of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and childbirth. The sculpture You’re Fired features this famously bloviating phrase from our current president, floating up from a foot like a happy-go-lucky manacle chain. The language of spin and debasement never ceases: The “known unknowns” of yesterday are the “alternative facts” of today. Burns’s barricades guard our borderlines, conceal the truth, and cut us off from the rest of the world. Ignorance is its own conviction, but the margin by which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote says that we are not all true believers.

Nicole Kaack

Paul Chan

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street, Ground floor and 8th Floor
March 3–April 15

Paul Chan, Pentasophia (or Le bonheur de vivre dans la catastrophe du monde occidental) (Pentasophia [or The happiness of living in the disaster of the western world]), 2016, nylon, metal, concrete, shoes, fans, various papers, 151 x 130 x 98".

For his current exhibition here, Paul Chan has made nylon figures—hooded, tapered, or headless—fixed atop fans that inflate and animate them in wild contortions and macabre dance. Electrical cables run from power outlets via concrete-filled shoes, a grounding device that connects each “breather” to the corporeal and domestic. Some forms are presented with props such as a rug, a flag, or turf, further pointing to human connectivity. On the walls hang symbolic ink-on-paper charts of stitching patterns used to achieve particular airflows and movements. Individually and in groups, the works play out an eerie dichotomy as they billow, fall, and swell. They seem tormented by the relentless roar and thrust, or are perhaps lost in diabolical reverie; the ritualistic, operatic melee seems threatening while evoking pity for the wraiths’ storm-tossed plights.

The largest installation is Pentasophia (or Le bonheur de vivre dans la catastrophe du monde occidental) (Pentasophia [or The happiness of living in the disaster of the western world]), 2016, which consists of five linked specters on a stage, arranged around a well with the letters R-I-R-I-M-K-M-I painted along its interior—an invocation of the demon Naberius. But as with many works here it is the beguiling rhythm of the breathers that creates the spectacle and poignancy, rendering much of the supporting material extraneous. This is exemplified in the quieter, hunched loner, Le Baigneur 1 (The Bather 1), 2016, whose simple, swaying manner is acutely sorrowful. Chan harnesses the very air we breathe, in concert with oppositional forces—lift and gravity—to convey mesmerizing emotivity and imbue his aerodynamic marvels with an elementally designed sorcery.

Darren Jones

Vija Celmins

Matthew Marks Gallery | 522 West 22nd Street
522 West 22nd Street
February 10–April 15

Vija Celmins, Blackboard Tableau #12, 2007–15, 1 found tablet, and 1 made tablet: wood, leather, acrylic, alkyd oil, pastel, 11 x 8 1/2".

Vija Celmins is a ruthless poet. The artist’s images in this exhibition—rippling waters, blank slates, stones, stars—are as obdurate as they are yielding, as everything as they are nothing. Experiencing a fastidiously constructed painting, sculpture, drawing, or print by the artist, often made over many years and with an endless supply of patience, is not unlike looking into a mirror. You see yourself in the picture or object you’re gazing at—or falling into—wondering how it came to be, and how you got there, too.

Celmins frequently works small—it is when she is at her most astonishing. Here, Night Sky #26, 2016–17, a painting nearly five feet tall depicting exactly what it’s titled, doesn’t carry the same concentrated, jewel-like charge of her more modestly scaled oil-on-canvas works, such as Reverse Night Sky #1, 2014, a sort of negative image of the cosmos; Untitled (Falling Star), 2016; or Untitled (Ochre), 2016, perhaps a yellowing section of our ancient Milky Way, or bubbling hot metal, freshly poured out of its crucible. Reverse Night Sky #3, 2016, a charcoal drawing, looks like a dirty paper towel and a glimpse into forever.

Celmins was born in 1938 in Latvia. She and her family fled the country prior to the Russians seizing it from the Nazis in 1944. They lived in a refugee camp in Germany, overseen by the United Nations, before relocating to Indiana in 1948. The artist’s slate works—exacting reproductions of children’s blackboards, paired with their originals—feel stolen out of time, wrenched from World War II. They are lonely-looking, penitential things. Unsentimental. Mean, even. While Celmins’s starscapes ask us to countenance the impossibility of the universe, her slates, portals of dusty, grim beauty, force us to consider the ground we stand on, six feet below.

Alex Jovanovich

Louis Zoellar Bickett

Andrew Edlin Gallery
212 Bowery
March 3–April 15

View of “Louis Zoellar Bickett,” 2017.

Recent exhibitions around the AIDS crisis have been critiqued as too focused on how art scenes were affected in major cities—how refreshing, then, to see an exhibition that hones in on a singular, rural experience. Louis Zoellar Bickett’s show is a room-size installation comprising a vast collection of ephemera related to loss in its many forms, with visual jokes and texts that imbue the pieces with the artist’s wry sense of humor. Bickett, based in Lexington, Kentucky, began his archive in 1972, at the age of twenty-two. Early items include branches from a beloved apple tree his mother cut down during his childhood (The AIDS Tree, 1986–90). The saved branches are wrapped like wounded limbs. “Daddy” is often invoked here, too, though it’s left ambiguous as to whether Bickett is referring to his own father, whose passing is noted in several items, or a sexual daddy.

Ideas surrounding place are brought to the fore in myriad ways. Objects in glass jars abound: Studio Trash: 102 West Second Street #2, Lexington, Kentucky 15 July 2002, 2002, features, among other things, an undergarment, a soda can, and a handwritten note. There’s a vial of water (Oxford, Mississippi, 2001) and Forgiveness Is Essential, 2008, dried horse dung in a kind of glass candy jar that is omnipresent in matriarchal kitchens throughout the South. Bibles are everywhere: A stack of them is immaculately punctured for “The Glory Hole Bible Project,” 2000–2004. What I Read (Nude), 2015, is a photo triptych taken at Walmart, Bickett’s preferred local photo studio. Wearing only his glasses, the artist looks surprised as he wields an open Torah, Bible, and Koran. Lovers and friends long gone are represented in this morbid, joyful catalogue, a paean to suffering, nostalgia, and the fleeting nature of time.

Lilly Lampe

Jochen Klein

Galerie Buchholz | New York
17 East 82nd Street
February 9–April 15

Jochen Klein, Untitled, 1996, oil and collage on canvas, 66 x 57".

Jochen Klein’s current show of paintings, collaborations, and studio ephemera makes plain how deeply enmeshed the artist was in his community and the larger world. Klein was taught painting under the classical master-student model at the Munich Kunstakademie but was doubtful of the medium’s potential. He stopped painting for years and became involved in activism and other forms of artmaking. Thomas Eggerer, a close friend, collaborator, and fellow student at the Kunstakademie, worked with him on writing and a site-specific work. In the 1994 essay “The English Garden in Munich,” Klein and Eggerer discuss the urban park’s deliberate artifice as nature framed for human enjoyment. They made an artwork in the English Garden, too: On the outside of a toilet near a popular gay-cruising area, they installed a kind of public bulletin board, Leave a Message, 1994, bringing private desire into the open.

Klein made unapologetically beautiful images when he returned to painting. Perhaps his hiatus from the activity allowed him to combine the declarative nature of the medium with a self-awareness of the longing that occurs as we scrutinize a work for beauty. Untitled, 1996, is a painting of a large white duck and a small puppy whose beak and nose are so close that the two appear to be nuzzling. Set against a bleary and luminescent green landscape, the collaged animal duo melts into their phantasmagorical surroundings.

Miracles of Life, a 2009 print by Wolfgang Tillmans, hangs in the last room of the exhibition. Tillmans identifies as both an artist and an activist. He was also Klein’s boyfriend at the time of the painter’s death from AIDS—he was only thirty when he died. Klein reminds us of how we define ourselves—and our place in the world—by the company (friends, lovers, teachers) we keep. No one should have to go it alone.

Yin Ho

Anne Ryan

231 East 60 Street
January 31–April 22

Anne Ryan, Untitled (No. 435), 1952, mixed media, 8 x 7".

In 1948, six years before her death at the age of sixty-five, the poet Anne Ryan discovered the collages of Kurt Schwitters and likened the artistic technique to a visual sonnet. One can see why; both modes often scrape together disparate materials—haptic or not—to evoke a highly compressed self-expression. Ryan soon became an ardent collagist, creating hundreds of works. Unlike Matisse, who approached the same medium in his own final years, Ryan kept her compositions small. Confected from textiles as well as scavenged objects such as twine, paper, mesh, and feathers, the twenty abstract assemblages displayed here are multitudinous, by turns amoebic and explosive, vibrant and subdued.

Untitled (No. 435), 1952, fashions a crude kaleidoscope out of pastel blues, greens, tans, pinks, and periwinkles. A couple of pasted papers appear to be singed. At its top, a piece of gilded foil, like candy-wrapper shrapnel, glints.

The show’s centerpiece and largest collage, Untitled (No. 618), circa 1948–54, is gauzed entirely with skin-shaded patches. Pale hues of sand and marmoreal bisque plunge softly into deeper tones of ecru and beige, where dried glue puckers beneath the surface into tiny alpine textures. In other works, fibrous honeycombs stretch across mundane and bizarre decoupage. A tender crescent moon makes an appearance. Embracing quieter colors and quotidian materials, the collages’ presence might feel humble—the artist even signed them in pencil—yet their aura lingers, like some half-remembered dream. Ryan’s late move to collage, itself a biographical volta, shunted her legacy firmly into the context of Abstract Expressionism, where she’s been relatively overlooked. Yet to say Ryan did not devote those last years to poetry begins to feel, after seeing this show, somehow mistaken.

Zack Hatfield

Ken Tisa

Gordon Robichaux
41 Union Square West, #925, Enter on 17th Street)
February 26–April 23

View of “Ken Tisa: Objects/Time/Offerings,” 2017.

For “Objects/Time/Offerings,” Ken Tisa has transformed the gallery into a magical grotto, decorated with all manner of beautiful and funny things from his extensive collections. Dolls, puppets, masks, devotional objects, trinkets, and artworks from every continent mingle in dense, layered arrangements along with campy ephemera, dollar-store treasures, and the artist’s own small colorful paintings from the 1980s and 1990s. A wall-spanning grid of more than three hundred of the paintings, each just eight inches tall, is the result of a long-standing daily practice, reflecting Tisa’s sponge-like reverence for diverse styles and cultures, as well as his wry attunement to mass media. The weird, ebullient figuration of artists such as Kiki Kogelnik or Jim Nutt comes to mind, but Tisa’s cartoony faces, body parts, and domestic vignettes are more spontaneous and scruffy. In one inspired repeating picture-within-a-picture suite, he inlays a photographic collage element into the screen of a whimsically rendered television set: A Jetsons-ish hot-pink TV on legs displays a spaceship landing; a bright-blue one, placed behind a jack-o’-lantern, is lit up with an extreme close-up of a dick.

These paintings, made in an era of AIDS devastation and Helmsian anti-art crusades, push back obliquely with their droll enjoyment of gay sex and bodies of whatever gender, while the larger installation they inhabit, in all it’s cacophonous excess, also delivers a message. Glancing around the room, you might spot a Noh mask, an exquisite pair of cardboard sneakers, ornate shadow puppets, carved Makonde figures, a few silver Jenny Holzer stickers, and a red-and-yellow decal that reads “God made me Queer.” With his nonhierarchical, loving arrangement of absorbing material, Tisa comes off not as a curatorial mastermind but as a voice in the crowd, happily agitating for more beauty.

Johanna Fateman


Pace/MacGill Gallery
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor
February 9–April 29

Jim Goldberg, Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008, gelatin silver print, 19 1/2 x 15".

A brutal truth: Images have long maintained an unyielding tyranny over words. The notion is relayed at the entrance to this show, where a colorful heap of anti-Trump protest signage is quietly arranged. It’s a curatorial ploy apt for this photography ensemble concerned with depictions of speech, a theme vague enough to let a stark image of a young, sinewy Congolese refugee cradling a radio (Jim Goldberg’s Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008) hang near Irving Penn’s swankily gothic portrait of Carson McCullers, whose own devastating possession is a luxe cigarette holder (Carson McCullers, New York, 1950). A literal and intellectual toothlessness are implied in Gregory Halpern’s Untitled, 2016, in which a brown, manicured hand holds out an upper set of dentures, a bit of plaque accumulated between a cuspid and a premolar. Two naked men, one masked, converse in Duane Michals’s A Man Talking to God 1975, a photographic quintet that charts an existential crisis with handwritten dialogue. In one frame, the unmasked man asks why he doesn’t know that he’s talking to himself. The masked man’s retort: “You choose not to know. You’d rather make noise.”

Elsewhere, the First Amendment is celebrated more directly. Photojournalistic images of Civil Rights revolutionaries and representations of queer culture amplify countless citizens’ abiding struggles to be heard. In an exhibition that can sometimes feel like a greatest hits of photographic expression—though the show is clearly a response to our current political perils, only six of forty-three works were made in this century—the less thematically obvious works resonate longer. Take, for example, Susan Paulsen’s Wilmot, 2013, in which an older woman stands at a church pew, arms raised halfway, fingers straightened, mouth partially open. One would be forgiven for believing that speech had ineluctably slipped into song.

Zack Hatfield

“Rotative Repository of Latin American Video Art: Mono Canal”

El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue
January 11–April 30

Joiri Minaya, Siboney, 2014, HD video, sound, 13 minutes 20 seconds.

This group show from fifteen Latin American artists presents an impressive and sometimes deeply affecting series of video works that is hampered by an ill-conceived and amateurish exhibition approach. Given that the videos rotate over a total running time of nearly two hours on a single LCD screen in the Museo’s café, the show’s title is appropriate, though the quiet intimacy evoked by many of the works calls for—and deserves—a more sophisticated exhibition style that would give each work its own space to subtly operate on its viewers. Margarita Sanchez’s As I Inhale, 2013, a mysterious and silent meditation on loss and grief, suffers the most, as its wispy, spectral forms got lost in the glare cast on the screen by the café’s large windows on the day that I visited the exhibition.

Including early-career and globally known artists from throughout Latin America, many of the show’s works focus on the body as a locus of trauma, libidinal tension, and the construction of cultural identity through performance, music, and everyday actions. Eduardo Gil’s 2010 work Muscle Memory (Books of David Alfaro Siqueiros), 2010, features Gil volleying tennis balls against the gallery walls of the famed Mexican muralist’s former studio, interspersed with rapid shots of the ball striking books from Siqueiros’s private library. Joiri Minaya’s Siboney, 2014, also explores bodily movement within a cultural context, showing the artist painting a mural of lush tropical vegetation while the artist, subtitled, angrily questions the Western-centric cultural narrative that traps her as a representative of the exotic and the sensual. She eventually wets her body and wipes the mural from the wall, smudging the leaves and flowers in a smear of color and motion.

Dan Jakubowski

“March Madness”

Fort Gansevoort Gallery
5 Ninth Avenue
March 16–May 7

View of “March Madness,” 2017.

The culture of the mind (art) and the culture of the body (sports) have stereotypically been pitted against each other. But might female-identifying artists, whose own bodies and gender performance are under constant scrutiny, have a more nuanced perspective on the pursuit of athletic prowess? This is the premise behind “March Madness,” a survey of works by thirty-one female artists. The exhibition title references the NCAA basketball tournaments and calls to mind the political ramifications of the recent Women’s Marches.

The main thrust of the show addresses the clash between the aesthetic ideals of femininity and those of athleticism. Portraiture is a common thread: Cindy Sherman appears in the guise of an ice dancer, Jamaican-born Renée Cox depicts herself as her superwoman alter-ego Raje, and Collier Schorr’s and Catherine Opie’s photographs portray androgynous young sports players. Collage and assemblage also feature prominently, from Martha Rosler’s compositions of female athletes juxtaposed against nature (from the “Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain” series, 1966–72) to Deborah Roberts’s collages of young black female pugilists. A highlight is Pamela Council’s Flo Jo World Record Nails, 2012, an abstract sculpture made from two thousand long acrylic nails and based on patriotic designs favored by the African American track-and-field star Florence Griffith Joyner.

A quieter strain examines the intersection between nationalism and athletics. A still from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, 1936, is tucked next to a set of Jean Shin’s revamped trophies from the series “Everyday Monuments,” 2009, which show trophy figurines engaged in activities such as gardening and baking. Gina Adams, of indigenous Ojibwa, Lakota, and European heritage, gives us two bodies of work related to sports and land dispossession. In O$ Osage 6, 2015, a midcentury archival image of an Osage girls’ boarding-school basketball team, whose sweaters—creepily and incongruously—bear dollar signs.

Wendy Vogel

Arthur Russell

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) | Peter Jay Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Avenue
March 1–May 14

View of “Do What I Want: Selections from the Arthur Russell Papers,” 2017.

The exhibition “Do What I Want: Selections from the Arthur Russell Papers” is a posthumous homage to a pioneer of electronic music who spent most of his career overlooked. Russell, nearly penniless toward the end of his life, died from AIDS in 1992. This show, an invitation to glance at the various facets of a musical genius, is a visual elegy filled with posters, snapshots, and letters from record producers, such as David Berson of Warner Brothers and Jan Abramowitz of Metronome. And the exhibition’s intimate setup is brilliantly designed to make viewers feel as though they’re part of an exclusive inner circle.

Snapshots narrate the more charmed parts of a difficult life. In one of them, Russell is with his mother on a sunny day, riding a sailboat. The light hits his face, and his insouciance is palpable within the grain of this old picture. Elsewhere, a black-and-white photograph shows Russell timidly smirking as his boyfriend’s hand rests gently on his shoulder. The artist’s stare is terribly arresting.

You can sit on one of the three comfortable gray couches in the space, put on headphones, and take in the surroundings as Russell’s music plays (the artist’s 1980 just-after-disco classic “Is It All Over My Face” is among the offerings). Nearby, a songbook encased in Plexiglas is open to a page with a line that reads: “What does God know ‘bout divine I’ll twist and shout.”

Lara Atallah