Critics’ Picks

  • Klea McKenna, Underground (1), 2019, copper, sepia, and selenium toned photogram and relief on gelatin silver fiber paper, 24 x 20".

    Klea McKenna, Underground (1), 2019, copper, sepia, and selenium toned photogram and relief on gelatin silver fiber paper, 24 x 20".

    Klea McKenna

    EUQINOM Gallery
    1295 Alabama St
    September 7–November 15, 2019

    On the exterior wall of the building where Klea McKenna's exhibition hangs, a mural speaks of the long relationship between women and the manufacture of textiles both sacred and secular. McKenna montaged dozens of iconic photos of textile production: Images of Egyptian women embroidering, for instance, are juxtaposed with the tragic Lewis Hine photos of child factory laborers. Like a medieval tapestry, the composite picture serves as both illustration and metaphor, outlining a history of the tradition while alluding to the deeper connotations of the relationship.

    Out of this fascination came McKenna's latest body of work, large photograms of fabrics, such as an Uzbek suzani, decaying fragments of Chinese silk, and an Afghan niqab. Artists from Anna Atkins to Adam Fuss have used the photogram technique—placing an object on top of photosensitive paper and exposing it to light—to produce silhouette-like images of their subjects. McKenna has elaborated on the process here, using a flashlight and other tools in her darkroom to allow for more complexity. And she has layered not only the materials to be photographed but also the chemistry itself. Sepia, selenium, and copper tones illuminate the fine textures of the cloth and create additional patterns and forms that echo, but remain distinct from, her images’ origins. Like the women who wove these fabrics, McKenna works with her hands, creating physical impressions of her subjects to double their images. The outcome is a beautiful marriage of McKenna’s media and ideas with the tradition she’s honoring—with all of its brutality and delicacy.

  • Nicki Green, Splitting/Unifying (toilet tanks, slip spigots and medical sink laver with faucets), 2019, Glazed vitreous china, epoxy, and found slip spigots, 54 x 40 x 36".

    Nicki Green, Splitting/Unifying (toilet tanks, slip spigots and medical sink laver with faucets), 2019, Glazed vitreous china, epoxy, and found slip spigots, 54 x 40 x 36".

    Nicki Green

    Et al. etc.
    2831 Mission Street
    September 13–October 26, 2019

    Nicki Green’s tender sculptures intervene in her industrial source material, queering the assisted readymade. Green created the works shown here during a recent residency at the John Michael Kohler Art Center—Kohler as in the specialists in plumbing products and bathroom fixtures. Her altered ceramic vessels, made out of found sinks, tubs, and smaller porcelain objects, remain anchored in their humble industrial beginnings while subtly but rigorously theorizing gender and its relation to the question of bathing and care in the era of the bathroom bill. The centerpiece and titular work of the show, Splitting/Unifying (toilet tanks, slip spigots and medical sink laver with faucets) (all works 2019), combines its title’s parenthetical elements into a sculpture that evokes one of those painful old sinks with scalding hot and freezing cold taps that never meet and blend. Another shrine-like piece, A Discrete History of Intimacy and Violence (double urinal basin with faucets), fuses together two discarded urinals with lush, glutinous ribbons of epoxy to create a baptismal tub of sorts. Duchamp, eat your heart out.

    Green’s clever approach to interrogating binaries is complicated and deepened by the decorative elements she integrates into every sculpture on view: ontologically cryptic fungi shaded to mimic the phases of the moon, mysterious multiheaded figures, and dozens of decorative miniature vials that held sprigs of lavender during the opening. The tension between the sheer heft of the objects in the show and their porcelain fragility suggests the violence built into the ideological structures that police our restrooms, while their painted surfaces offer coded, playful alternatives to the forms and paradigms that guide our bodies.

  • Matt Lipps, Blowup, 2019, ink-jet print, 59 x 80".

    Matt Lipps, Blowup, 2019, ink-jet print, 59 x 80".

    Matt Lipps

    Jessica Silverman Gallery
    488 Ellis Street
    September 12–October 19, 2019

    Over the past twenty years, Matt Lipps has developed a distinctive photographic collage practice. After cutting out pictures from books and magazines and arranging them, freestanding, into three-dimensional tableaux, he rephotographs them and prints the images at a large scale. In 2016, the artist began to employ the leftover backgrounds of the extracted images as abstract layers that alternately frame and obscure the cutouts. Here, Lipps has pushed this compositional conceit further by superimposing the backdrops—in this case, 1990s fashion advertisements—on a second layer of imagery, black-and-white documentary photographs published in US Camera Annual in the ’30s through the ’60s. The excised figures (iconic supermodels whose spectacular glamour captivated the artist as a teenager, when he was figuring out his own sexuality) thus function simultaneously as silhouettes and apertures.

    Visual puns abound in the juxtapositions of different times and places: A setting sun becomes a motorcycle taillight in Ride (all works 2019); a mountain range is positioned suggestively at the chest height of four women in Peaks. Elsewhere, pictures are abstracted in the Brechtian sense, rendered unfamiliar and seen anew, as in Blowup, where a battlefield explosion is partially glimpsed through a crowd of models who are nearly subsumed by the violent imagery they ostensibly frame. Lipps not only unsettles the original meaning of these photographs; he insists that their significance was never fixed but rather established through their circulation and through viewers’ conditioned perceptions.

    As in Lipps’s previous work, the photographs feel as textured as the collages—an effect enhanced by the visible, stylized use of tape. Signifying the literal and conceptual act of joining together disparate images, the tape attests to the ongoing critical potential of radical montage practices—of the Dadaists and Pictures generation alike—even as it points to the outmodedness and aestheticization of such strategies.