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 Boxed Edition, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 ŕ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.