Keith Mayerson

Marlborough Contemporary | New York
545 West 25th Street
October 12–November 11

Keith Mayerson, Resurrection (The Trumps Meet The Pope), 2017, oil on linen, 29 x 22".

A famous photograph taken in 1970 depicts Elvis Presley—caped in black velvet, his mouth slightly agape—shaking Richard Nixon’s hand: an enduring spectacle of fading Americana clasped with disastrous politics. It’s no wonder Keith Mayerson chose to paint the encounter, Elvis Nixon (all works 2017), for “My American Dream: Mystery Train (in loving memory of Daniel Tinker Knapp),” a show whose nostalgia is menaced by the tensions of an increasingly fractured country. Here, American landscapes often threaten to implode into abstraction, as in the monumental Paso del Norte: the US/Mexico Border, which portrays Ciudad Juárez as a near-mutilated slab of mustard yellows and bright grays. Nearby, a nuclear power plant and steel factory hint at the deindustrialization that helped fuel last year’s election.

In Resurrection (The Trumps Meet The Pope), Donald, Ivanka, Melania, and Jared pose with the pontiff in front of Pietro Perugino’s 1499 painting Christ on the Sarcophagus. Trump’s mouth contorts into a ghoulish smile; Francis wears a stonier expression. In three purely abstract works, intestinal thickets of paint—mostly putrid skin tones and vile greens—are politicized by their parenthetical dedications. Iconscape (POTUS) doesn’t differ much from Iconscape (Heather D. Heyer), though both muster a cathartic wrath denied by the other works.

Mayerson began this ongoing series during the George W. Bush administration, in 1999; the project now spans three American presidencies. Much has been made of Bush’s own oil paintings, and perhaps a juxtaposition is useful, as Bush and Mayerson both shroud patriotic spirit in ominous sentimentality. Yet this exhibition derives its quiet force by challenging power, not through empty homage. Rather than attempting to comfort or atone, Mayerson seeks to question: Does the American dream still exist, or did it ever, and to whom, exactly, might it belong?

Zack Hatfield

Marcia Marcus

Eric Firestone Gallery | New York
4 Great Jones Street, 4
October 12–December 2

Marcia Marcus, Nude with Mirror, 1965, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 47 1/2 x 30 1/2".

The twenty-three paintings by Marcia Marcus here deliver one knockout after another. In the oval portrait Nude with Mirror, 1965, a woman languorously appraises her own reflection. In Florentine Landscape, 1961, three ghostly, pale figures and a pumpkin patch appear like holograms beamed into an ancient garden. In Frieze: The Porch, 1964, three distinctly different pictures—a double portrait of the critic Jill Johnston and the painter Barbara Forst, a self-portrait of the artist in a billowing floral robe, and a picture of her as a child with her father—are all crammed together in a way that feels weirdly spacious.

Marcus, who is now eighty-nine and no longer working, excelled at a very particular style of compositional strangeness. She used oils and acrylics, canvas and linen, gold and silver leaf, graphic patterns and actual textiles, hand-drawn leaves and piles of sand, all collaged into singular paintings holding elements of portraiture, still life, and landscape together in awkward but exhilarating tension. Her figures, highly stylized though often sketchy, occupy an extremely shallow picture plane, while her exquisitely detailed grounds plunge into perspectival spaces characterized by preternatural clarity.

Johnston, a friend of the artist, described Marcus’s style as “rigorously formal yet dramatically intimate,” combining a sense of “intense lyrical abstraction” with an “uncanny realism,” which accounts for the fact that her figuration is all detail and defiance. In her heyday, Marcus was bold, her milieu decidedly mixed, her work clearly innovative. Nearly half of the paintings here have been drawn from private or institutional collections. Her historically pivotal, star-studded biography screams for greater recognition. Why does Marcus remain so little known? Maybe this show, museum-like in quality and covering fifteen key years, will at least shift the question from a why to a what-if.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Joyce Kozloff

DC Moore Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, 2nd Floor
October 5–November 4

Joyce Kozloff, 3 Elephants, 2017, acrylic, collage, pastel, oil pastel, and found object on canvas, 30 x 42 x 4".

We’ve heard it more times than we can count: It’s a man’s world. And within it, conquest is key to prosperity, requiring a neurotic addiction to territorial expansion. That’s where maps come in. Tools of imperialism and warfare strategy, maps have been utilized as political weapons across the centuries (their most dangerous purpose is to depict land as battlegrounds). But in Joyce Kozloff’s case—as a founding member of the Heresies collective and a major figure in the Pattern and Decoration movement—maps, for the past twenty-five years, have functioned as instruments dedicated to pushing a feminist discourse.

In this exhibition, Kozloff reclaims the world by rendering it with a childlike jubilance. The map paintings here incorporate acrylic, charcoal, and oil pastels, among other media, with a variety of collage elements: most significantly, the artist’s recovered grade school drawings. The intertwining of these aspects creates gleeful tableaux of vibrant yellows, teals, and oranges, full of youthful naïveté and adult sophistication. But Kozloff unveils a thread of exoticization that tells us much about the midcentury US imagination and its public education system. In pieces such as 3 Elephants, 2017, where a pale figure with a monkey on his shoulder rides one of the titular creatures throughout the wilds of Africa, or Dream of the American West, 2017, with desert cowboys astride horses, we’re faced with symbols that go from joyous wonder to blatant reductivism, reckoning with a complicated history.

Lara Atallah

Danilo Correale

Art in General
145 Plymouth Street
September 28–November 9

Danilo Correale, At Work’s End (detail), 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

The first article of the Italian constitution reads: “Italy is a democratic Republic founded on labor.” But what form of government could presume a social order not founded on labor? And what would this society look like? Italian artist Danilo Correale confronts these issues in his installation At Work’s End (all works 2017), his first solo show in New York.

In one room, the artist invites viewers to relax, close their eyes, and lie down on one of a set of chaise-lounge sculptures while listening to a record that plays the voice of a hypnotherapist (Reverie, On the Liberation from Work). On side A of the vinyl, titled “Deliverance,” the narrator guides us through a visualization exercise that illustrates a typical day in a postwork world, with no wake-up alarms or appointments. In the next room, bathed in a faint purple light, we take in the disc’s B side, called “Transition.” It is accompanied by a video that asks us to consider the idea of a universal basic income, which would allow people to focus on their own emotional and intellectual needs in a stress-free environment.

Correale’s project represents an antidote to the obfuscation and atrophy of a world dominated by outmoded, populist rhetoric and a lack of objectivity. For a moment, he lets us inhabit a possible elsewhere, where we can redesign ourselves and go back, in a completely natural fashion, to being Homo ludens. We leave the exhibition with a state of mind that has reached our innermost depths—as if we had just come out of a dream that offered us a glimpse of a perfect freedom that, with each waking minute, slowly crumbles away.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Veronica Santi

Jacob El Hanani

Acquavella Galleries
18 East 79th Street
October 2–November 17

Jacob El Hanani, Untitled (from the Mondrian Series), 2011, ink on paper, 18 x 18".

Jacob El Hanani makes minutely detailed, dazzlingly obsessive drawings without the aid of a magnifying glass. Now seventy, he works in ten-minute bursts to avoid damaging his eyes. He spends months, even years, on a single composition. He uses ink on paper or a quill on gessoed canvas. These, at least, are the stable facts of El Hanani’s practice. Everything else about his art dwells in lush and disorienting ambiguity.

Most obvious is the question of where the viewer is meant to stand in relation to El Hanani’s drawings. His second exhibition here covers four decades. The drawings are so faint that they seem like shy living things, lingering between visibility and invisibility, reluctant to fully appear. Thirteen works on canvas line the front gallery. Fifteen smaller works on paper fill the back gallery, all behind glass. You almost have to mash your face into them to understand the extreme precision of El Hanani’s marks.

Drawings such as Untitled (from the Mondrian Series), 2011, and Linescape (from the J.W. Turner Series), 2014–15, demand you do a little dance before them—a few steps back to see formless abstractions, a few steps forward to decipher elaborate city grids and oceanic textures. Born in Casablanca, raised in Tel Aviv, and based in New York since the early 1970s, El Hanani is deeply indebted to the Jewish tradition of micrography. But as his titles suggest, he is also clearly invested in questions of modernism, urban rhythm, and the natural sublime. The best piece in the show, Alhambra, 2016, gives Islamic geometry a minimalist spin. What begins as a question of pure form—the endless possibilities of a steady, hand-drawn line—ends in a dense, fascinating matrix of mixed-up histories, geographies, and cultural movements.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Joan Brown

George Adams Gallery
531 West 26th Street
September 12–November 4

Joan Brown, Wolf in Room, 1974, enamel on canvas, 97 x 72".

Why isn’t Joan Brown taken seriously? Despite support from curators and collectors throughout her trailblazing, four-decade-long career, Brown remains shockingly left out of the conversation. There are a few factors to consider: Brown was closely affiliated with “West Coast art” in the 1970s and 1980s, when the term was still used pejoratively; her sentimental subject matter was way ahead of its time (consider her domestic scenes, kissing couples, animal portraits, as well as various family members); and most notably, Brown wasn’t afraid of painting an ugly picture, as her inclusion in Marcia Tucker’s landmark “Bad Painting” exhibition of 1978 attests.

This concise and satisfying sampling of Brown’s oeuvre offers the opportunity to bask in the glory of the prolific and ambitious artist, one pleasingly lurid canvas at a time. In her early twenties, Brown experienced a flash of success and fame as part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement—in a 1963 article, Artforum patronizingly referred to her as “everybody’s darling.” But Brown’s work shifted away from expressionism and moved into territory uncomfortably close to the graphic arts in the mid to late 1960s, as exemplified by Wolf in Room and The Swimmers #2 (The Crawl), both 1974. Brown turned to comic figuration at nearly the same time as Philip Guston, whose new work was equally reviled.

Brown painted contemporary life in a bizarrely ordinary manner and with great deliberation. Even her most seemingly simple work brims with caustic wit and humor, tempered by an uncommon sense of humility. New Year’s Eve #2, 1973, shows a woman and a nattily dressed skeleton tangoing under a city skyline, assuredly ushering in the New Year. Keenly aware of the absurdity of being alive, Brown painted our chaotic world exactly as she saw fit.

Beau Rutland

Elia Alba

The 8th Floor
17 West 17th Street, 8th Floor
September 21–January 12

Elia Alba, The Spiritualist (Maren Hassinger), 2013, ink-jet print, 20 x 30".

The sixty individual portraits of nonwhite artists taken by Elia Alba for her current exhibition here, titled “The Supper Club,” are mostly of people she came to know through a series of dinner parties she organizes. Topics surrounding race, the art world, and visual culture are frequently discussed at these events, and the project became an expansive, multidimensional discourse on selfhood and politics.

Alba tailors each portrait to the artist. She chooses an assortment of backdrops, props, and costumes to accentuate her sitters’ personae while subtly highlighting their contributions to the cultural landscape. The titular artist in The Spiritualist (Maren Hassinger), 2013, for example, makes work that explores nature as a complex and psychological space for political and personal transformation. She appears as a dancing vision dressed in white, surrounded by violet foliage. In The Provocateur (Coco Fusco), 2013, Fusco—famous for a rigorous multidisciplinary practice that interrogates colonialism, gender, and race—stares intensely at the camera, practically burning a hole through the viewer. The performance artist featured in The Thespian (Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz), 2014, looks like an old Hollywood screen siren. She clutches a strand of pearls and points her eyes heavenward, a figure ensconced and confident in her own glamour.

Through the work Alba provides her community with a solid stage that connects it to the rest of the world. Her pictures add a theatrical dimension to concepts of identity, blurring the hard boundaries of “difference” into something more slippery and beautiful.

Naomi Lev

Ron Baron

Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street
September 23–November 5

Ron Baron, Beyond-Beyond (detail), 2017, ceramic and hardware, dimensions variable.

Ron Baron’s Beyond-Beyond, 2017, is made up of nearly one hundred pairs of white ceramic shoes cast from discarded footwear that might’ve belonged to laborers, mothers, businessmen, or children. Some have neat perforations, others are stabbed by nails. Carefully arranged across the concrete floor of this gallery, they create a void. One cannot help but think of the souls the works commemorate. And, indeed, Baron’s sculptures come from a place of loss: The artist had always used items found at vintage shops and yard sales, and an unnamed tragedy that profoundly affected his family caused the artist to see these castoffs in a different light, as evidence of forgotten lives.

The artist’s installation forces us to think about the various kinds of human relationships—romantic, filial, professional—that give meaning to and complicate our narratives. The shoes seem organized by an intuitive logic: A pair of men’s dress slip-ons sits beside some tiny Mary Janes with spikes growing out of them; high heels are strewn about as if they were just removed. The work draws us into a deep and ghostly silence.

Beyond-Beyond is a meditative experience. In conjunction with the gallery’s cathedral-like ceilings and dramatic spotlighting, this elegant display makes us feel like we’ve encountered a sacred space: a church, or even a charnel house. Baron gracefully transforms junk into meaningful objects that gently whisper—we just have to listen attentively.

Kiara Ventura

“War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts from Military Fabrics”

American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at 66th Street
September 6–January 7

Artist unknown, Sailor’s Quilt, late nineteenth century, wool felt, embroidery thread, 90 x 70".

Hands with rifles in them seem like better playthings for the devil than just idle ones, but most of the devastatingly beautiful nineteenth-century quilts on view here are the products of assiduous busywork that likely kept the British Empire’s working-class soldiers and sailors out of trouble in their leisure time. Blood-red, blue, gold, and cream hues dominate the rich, matte mosaics, which are sewn from thousands of tiny hexagons, diamonds, triangles, and squares, excised primarily from the heavy wool of military uniforms. While some of these quilts are embroidered with heraldic or narrative elements—crowns, cannons, ships, or flags—such embellishments are afterthoughts to their exquisite geometric patterning. With their suede-like texture, meticulous construction, and palpable heft, they are seductive objects regardless of their backstories. But the eerie gravitas that distinguishes them derives from imagining the men sewing in their quiet hours, delicately handling fabrics that may have seen the chaos and horror of the Crimean War, Britain’s ruthless imperial expansion in Africa, or the brutal enforcement of colonial rule in India.

The wall text tiptoes around the global role of its (mostly anonymous) male quilters, referencing their hardships in some detail while largely avoiding acknowledgment of the murderous rapacity of the British and the atrocities committed—perhaps by some of these crafters personally—in the very euphemistically termed “volatile landscapes” where they were stationed. And while I wanted more discussion of how the formal characteristics of these textiles might be influenced by local traditions, especially given the prominence of exoticism in the decorative arts of the Victorian era, credit is given where due to the extent it’s possible. The most gorgeous quilts, featuring brighter colors, intricate appliqué work, and beading, are those from mid-to-late-nineteenth-century India. So virtuosic are their design and construction, the accompanying description notes that they are not always the work of untrained infantry but sometimes of regimental or—surprise, surprise—Indian tailors.

Johanna Fateman

Rosemarie Trockel

Gladstone 64
130 East 64th St
September 13–October 28

Rosemarie Trockel, Studio Visit, 2017, glazed ceramic, 24 x 20 x 2".

In both German and English, the past perfect describes a time anterior to another moment in the past. Conjugating “to be” in the temporally aloof, twice-distanced “had been” abstracts the relation between subjects and their prior actions. Titled after the German word for this grammatical tense, “Plus Quam Perfekt,” a solo exhibition of Rosemarie Trockel’s photographs, ceramics, and sculpture made within the last decade, embraces this grammar of estrangement, materializing it into things of austere beauty.

Entering the gallery, the viewer confronts the issue of time in Clock Owners (all works cited, 2017), a vitrine displaying nine white ceramic masks. Arranged neatly in a line, they range in facture from pockmarked and malerisch to plainspoken and reductive, in mood from comic-grotesque to funereal. Hanging above Clock Owners is Studio Visit, one of four ceramic mirrors in the show. Its black surface, lustrous but irregular, returns the viewer’s gaze with a dappled, dark reflection.

A mirror could be called the opposite of a mask: While one disappears the subject behind a prosthesis, the other makes us a spectacle to ourselves. The black mirror, also called the Claude glass in homage to landscape painter Claude Lorrain, was a popular eighteenth-century optical device. It endowed the scenery captured in its convex, tinted pane with a soft, golden tonality associated with Lorrain’s landscapes, transforming nature, in advance, into art. As Studio Visit reaches back to the historical picturesque, it also returns to the present, conjuring the shiny exteriority of a dead smartphone screen.

“Presentness is grace,” the modernist critic Michael Fried famously concluded in his 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood,” polemicizing—contra the Minimalists—that immersion in abstract form transcends the banality and self-consciousness of the body. Trockel inverts the values of this historical, long-gone argument, making pastness graceful, even perfect.

Chloe Wyma

Lucas Samaras

PACE | 510 West 25th Street
510 West 25th Street
September 15, 2017–October 21, 2017

Lucas Samaras, NO NAME 6 (Screens), 2017, pure pigment on paper mounted on Dibond, 12 x 12".

Lucas Samaras looks at life through the kaleidoscope of his own work, like an Idealist philosopher entertaining the possibility that the world may cease to exist without his direct observation of it. Unlike other artists who transform the creating self into narcissistic phantasmagoria, Samaras comes close to an obsessive outsider sensibility that divorces his work from that of his contemporaries. Nonetheless, Samaras has always been there to remind us that aggressive subjectivity is a rebellious option.

The artist’s current exhibition of photographs is made up of rooms hung with twelve-inch-square Photoshopped prints. Exquisite, hallucinatory mandalas make up a grouping of works to which the artist refers as Kastorian Inveiglements (all works 2017). Elsewhere, we find Rorschach-like street scenes, glowing ducks, and a sprinkling of his iconic self-portraits, such as NO NAME 6 (Screens), where the artist’s abject face looks as if it’s dissolving into a cloud of dust. Samaras, like Man Ray (and younger artists Oliver Wasow and Barbara Ess), was thinking in Photoshop before it was invented. Whether this is precognitive artmaking or the uncanny ability of the tech industry to give us what we didn’t know we wanted is impossible to ascertain.

One doesn’t think of Samaras looking outward, engaging in point-and-shoot photography like a psychedelic flaneur. One thinks, “Why ducks? Why this city view?” But then the feeling of a day spent alone wandering the city with our attention focused inward surfaces. What we see and what we think about on these occasions are so often randomly juxtaposed that it is difficult to decide if we are seeing or thinking at all. And this describes the visionary experience that Samaras’s work has always evoked.

Matthew Weinstein

John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres

Alexander and Bonin
47 Walker Street
September 8, 2017–October 21, 2017

John Ahearn, Carlos/Spiderman, 2015, acrylic on cloth and plaster, dimensions variable.

For decades, John Ahearn has worked to expand the scope of the New York avant-garde, connecting it with points beyond the downtown scene, first as a member of Collaborative Art Projects in 1977 and most notably through a long-term partnership with Rigoberto Torres, who as a teenager saw Ahearn’s work in the windows of the South Bronx art space Fashion Moda. Together, they began casting sculptural forms using live models—mostly people from the communities in which the artists worked and traveled.

This exhibition, with works done by Ahearn and Torres both collaboratively and individually, draws together a sampling of these signature castings, which hang from walls in deep relief or stand, sans plinth, amid gallery-goers. During a year that featured rousing portraits of urban life by Henry Taylor, Jordan Casteel, and others, the artists’ figures are notable for their humorous verve—bold colors, rumpled clothes, bodies in athletic motion—and uncanny lifelikeness. A young mother-to-be cradles her belly and gazes out from the wall, eyes at once weary and vital (Juanita, 2010); several feet away, a child in full Spiderman costume crouches on the floor, ready to pounce (Carlos/Spiderman, 2015).

Perhaps more startling is encountering these doppelgängers in the heart of TriBeCa—the very downtown milieu that Ahearn once fled. These are working-class men, women, and kids, primarily nonwhite and from Spanish Harlem, the Bronx, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Ahearn and Torres’s work, aside from its formal power, attempts to bridge a persistent rift between those on the inside and those looking in.

Ian Bourland

Barbara Kasten

Bortolami
39 Walker Street
September 8, 2017–October 21, 2017

Barbara Kasten, Parallels I, 2017, fluorescent acrylic, 32 x 98 x 96".

“My underlying question,” said Barbara Kasten in a 2012 interview, “is whether it is possible to make an abstract photograph.” Influenced by Bauhausian interdisciplinarity, which sought to combine all visual mediums into “total artworks,” the eighty-one-year-old Chicago-based artist trained as a painter before shifting to photograms, painted with liquid developing chemicals or the photo’s emulsion. For her first studio photography pieces, Kasten made sculptures of found industrial materials such as mirrors, Plexiglas, and sheet metal. These temporary “constructs,” as the artist calls them, were shot with lighting that was itself sculptural; lush film-noir shadows almost physically rest against geometric neons reminiscent of a James Turrell light projection, or Miami Vice night scenes starring the “3-D pipes” screensaver redone in stucco and frosted glass.

Kasten’s interest in abstraction continues at her current exhibition, “Partis Pris.” The show’s title is an architectural term that refers to the organizing principles behind a particular design. In the “Collisions” series, 2017, overlapping fluorescent acrylic shapes turn photographs into deep, recessive spaces. “Progressions,” 2017, seemingly borrows the contents of “Collisions,” but adds Plexiglas relief elements. With the sculpture Parallels I, 2017, fluorescent acrylic beams balance on top of one another like transparent Jenga blocks. Considering the near-monochrome palette of an earlier series, “Studio Constructs,” 2007–12, “Parti Pris” is a return to color, with hot yellows, greens, and pinks, à la Skrillex at the Ultra Music Festival. Instead of a schematic that flattens difference or puts us on an endless dialectical loop, Kasten’s pieces suggest a finite genericism containing infinite and infinitely contradictory variations.

Haley Markbreiter

“Near & Dear”

EFA Project Space
323 West 39th Street, 2nd Floor
September 15–October 28

Brian Zegeer, The Golden Hour (detail), 2017, archival ink-jet prints on plywood, monitors, mixed media, dimensions variable.

In this group exhibition curated by painter Carrie Moyer, the artist puts her multigenerational community on display, an assortment of makers who share a love of formal kinkiness and ingenuity. Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt presents delicate, ancient-looking works, several of which were created in the 1960s and 1970s: One is a small foil-and-rhinestone ode to a gay physique mag hero (Untitled, ca. 1970s). The artist’s florid materials have taken on a subtle patina with age, yet they manage to retain their camp vitality. In 2016P-17 (Wave), 2016, Anoka Faruqee applies layers of acrylic paint onto her linen-and-panel surface, then rakes through the wet pigment with a trowel, producing oscillating patterns that evoke Op art flushed through a trippy, contemporary spirituality.

Brian Zegeer contributes The Golden Hour, 2017, a looming plywood sculpture that’s part room divider, part children’s fort. TVs with shifting imagery are installed into a decoupage-like skin of ink-jet prints, twine, and sawdust—an enchanting kind of horror vacui. Jennifer Paige Cohen’s small elegant sculptures, made from strikingly patterned clothing found at thrift shops, complement Zegeer’s gargantuan piece, but are strange creatures from a distinctly separate world. For instance, Hydria with Interior Landscape, 2017, is a garish web of blackened rainbow designs on a lumpy exterior. On the inside, the fabric is sullied by the plaster used to mold it and has the appearance of a freshly removed cast.

Moyer has assembled a gathering of great works made from castoffs and kitsch histories by artists who understand that certain forms of trash make for incomparable treasure. “Near & Dear” is sweet, sentimental, and full of love—why should art be anything else?

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Ruth Asawa

David Zwirner | 537 West 20th Street
537 W 20th Street
September 13, 2017–October 21, 2017

View of “Ruth Asawa,” 2017.

In her lifetime, the artist Ruth Asawa weathered storms of weak interpretation: whole seasons of lazy criticism that made too much of her positions as a wife and mother and not nearly enough of her contributions to modernism and abstraction. Asawa’s hanging looped-wire sculptures were a triumph of line and form, playing with weight, gravity, visibility, the continuity of multiple spheres and cones, and the ambiguity of inside and outside space. Critics in the 1950s read them as women’s work. They also attributed her style to a Japanese aesthetic that was assumed but unsubstantiated. Asawa was born to a family of farmers in California. The singularity of her visual and spatial language came from Mexican basket weaving and Black Mountain College.

For better or worse, critical appraisals of Asawa’s art have gained clarity and depth since her death in 2013. The current exhibition, her first at this gallery, spans four decades, adding to our understanding in layers. Across three rooms are twenty-eight exquisite sculptures, including lesser known examples of her tied-wire pieces based on forms found in nature. There are also seven diminutive abstract drawings and paintings in ink, oil, and watercolor, at once playful and revelatory. Untitled (SF.046b, Plain Potato Print in Blue and Orange), 1951–52, is a jubilant pattern of bold and fading spheres, while Untitled (BMC.83, Dogwood Leaves), 1946–49, is a moodier study of shapes and turns. A room with archival materials, including photographs by Asawa’s lifelong friend and neighbor Imogen Cunningham, rounds out the mythmaking. But it is the relationship between Asawa’s paintings and sculptures that remains the most compelling open question.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Kahlil Robert Irving

Callicoon Fine Arts
49 Delancey Street
September 8–October 29

Kahlil Robert Irving, Seven Pack – Memorial edition, August 2014 (RIP), 2017, glazed and unglazed porcelain and stoneware, blue slip, gravel, glass, decals, various shades of luster, 15 x 14 x 12".

Kahlil Robert Irving’s smashed porcelain, stoneware, gravel, and glass sculptures hold multitudes. The works, cast from Styrofoam food containers, soda bottles, and paint cans, are destroyed and then pieced together into rough assemblages that interrogate material, visual, and political realities. The chaotic Seven Pack – Memorial edition, August 2014 (RIP) (all works 2017) has a sea of cigarette-butt decals adhered to its base, holding aloft seven precisely made ceramic soda bottles. Bricks, Concrete, Tubes (Mass Memorial) exclaims “I am Mike,” while Mass: Meissen TO – GO (KILLING DAILY; DAILY KILLING) screams “Ferguson burns.” Both works, via newspaper headlines and pictures of graffiti, refer to the 2014 murder of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer. A wallpapered image of a chain-link fence in the gallery creates a decrepit “inner city” backdrop. It turns the whole exhibition into a kind of ruin, or a museological tableau of ravaged urban life.

As such the works reflect the brutality and corrupt politics of today. Bits of what may have been a bowl or a plate form the base of a wreck made from brick and gravel in BLACK and Blue: (RIP – New layers – No Charges for Wilson or Europe)—a meditation on the vicious intersections of social economics and race relations. More headlines about Michael Brown appear among the work’s defiled surfaces. It becomes clearer that the history of porcelain as an indicator of wealth in colonial America is used to deconstruct and forge links between contemporary violence and America’s past. Irving pushes us into a terrifying free fall that forces us to ask, “What now?”

Patrick Jaojoco

Genesis Belanger

Mrs.
60-40 56th Drive
September 9–November 4

Genesis Belanger, Something Fishy, 2017, porcelain, 3 x 6 x 4".

Genesis Belanger’s first solo presentation at this gallery, with modestly sized porcelain, stoneware, and cast-concrete objects, is suggestive and strange. Most of her sculptures are methodically situated throughout the space on cement pedestals and a wall-mounted shelf, while a few occupy the floor. Many of her pieces feature slightly overscale fingers grasping a variety of things that reference oral consumption: bananas, a stick of gum, and a blue Oreo-like cookie with a copious amount of cream filling.

Belanger’s suggestive foodstuffs are framed by a dark whimsy: A porcelain hot dog with a lascivious squirt of mustard is nestled into a stoneware wedge sandal (Dog in Heels, all works 2017) sitting atop a stool with wobbly cigarettes for legs (Sitting Habit). Nearby, an open tin of sardines reveals fillets that are actually cartoon eyes (Something Fishy). Her forms—so eerily smooth, so uncomfortably supple-looking—are rendered even weirder by her confectionary palette that calls to mind fondant icing and Necco wafers.

Belanger addresses her formal debt to Robert Gober—the ur-sculptor of ominously funny and sexualized reproductions of household items merged with body parts—especially by her inclusion of an untitled white porcelain sink plugged by a cement cigarette butt. While the artist’s objects lack the urgency of Gober’s sculptures, which often served as somber testaments to the AIDS crisis, they assure the viewer of their maker’s vested interest in culling the uncanny from the ordinary.

Cat Kron

Jordan Casteel

Casey Kaplan
121 West 27th Street
September 7–October 28

Jordan Casteel, Memorial, 2017, oil on canvas, 72 x 56".

In 2015, while in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Jordan Casteel took to the streets with her camera and iPhone, photographing men she encountered. Adopting this process for the exhibition of paintings here, the artist presents herself as a flaneuse, capturing the vibrant life of the neighborhood, at night, without categorizing it for easy consumption. In these portraits, men appear alone or in groups of two or three, sitting in subway cars, on stoops, and standing in front of store windows. (Women are absent, save for images on a braiding salon’s awning.) Nonetheless, Casteel’s subjects are perfectly at home in their environments, often bathed in the fluorescence of street lamps, as in Q (all works 2017), where the eponymous subject gazes back, phone in hand, a Coogi-clad Biggie Smalls on his red sweatshirt.

Casteel has a knack for detail where it counts: the sharp glint of light hitting the subject’s sunglasses in Zen or the folds of a black puffer jacket and the stripes of a Yankees hat in Subway Hands. In Memorial, a bright spray of funeral flowers on an easel sits over a street-corner trashcan—the pink bows attached to the easel’s legs feel almost animated, celebratory. The artist also possesses a wry humor: The pair of bemused men in MegasStarBrand’s Louie and A-Thug sit on folding chairs next to a sign that reads “Melanin?”

Casteel’s paintings capture Harlem’s denizens beautifully, a community that has long shaped black American identity despite years of white gentrification. Casteel navigates her terrain with ease, lightness, and empathy.

Tausif Noor

Meriem Bennani

The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street
September 13, 2017–October 21, 2017

Meriem Bennani, Siham & Hafida, 2017, six-channel projection mapped digital video installation and three monitors, color, sound, 30 minutes.

Meriem Bennani’s marvelous new video installation Siham & Hafida, 2017, sets up a dramatic, mischievously contrived showdown between two women at odds over the place and future of the chikha, a female singer or dancer in the lineage of aita, a form of vernacular sung poetry that winds its way throughout the modern history of Morocco.

Hafida, brusque and to the point, represents an older generation of women who used their performances to entertain, bring audiences to the brink of ecstasy, and honor the subtle art of aita, but also to carry messages of revolt against French colonial rule. Colonial administrators, in turn, cast the chikhat as women of loose morals or prostitutes. The associations stuck, as did the Orientalist fantasies of academics struggling to understand the erotic ambiguities of aita. In a bid to turn aita into a tourist attraction, the Moroccan government, independent since 1956, recently reclaimed the genre as national heritage, ushering in a new generation of social-media-savvy chikhat, epitomized by simpering Siham.

Instead of an earnest or ethnographic film, Bennani runs her subject through what has become an unmistakable, totally disarming style of digital distortion and surreal irruption. (She also fractures what is essentially a single video into a six-channel projection with three monitors and an anteroom of kitsch Plexiglas prints.) Siham and Hafida meet in a café, and, of course, they despise each other. What sticks in the mind, however, are the moments when Bennani’s image breaks apart, when a flurry of insects or crustaceans suddenly takes over the screen and becomes a field of vibrating abstract patterns. In those instances, Siham & Hafida does the work of aita itself, transporting viewers to another realm of imagination and promise.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Eliza Douglas and Anne Imhof

Galerie Buchholz | New York
17 East 82nd Street
September 7, 2017–October 21, 2017

View of “Eliza Douglas and Anne Imhof,” 2017.

Unlike the spare, languid performance of Faust, 2017—which won Anne Imhof the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale and made art partner/model Eliza Douglas’s face more recognizable than Balenciaga did—the duo’s exhibition rings in as cynical excess. But perhaps that’s the point.

The gallery is rammed with work, much of it scaled to fit just between the ceiling and floor. Examples of each artist’s paintings sit alongside fourteen new collaborative ones: variations on what appear to be the pair’s signatures, the script rotated to form a spine down the center of each black-and-white canvas. Whereas Cy Twombly used handwriting to demonstrate how the body metabolizes information, Douglas and Imhof use it to signify the pair’s currency. In many ways, the artists seem aware of the extent to which their debut at this gallery could be overdetermined by their cultish (yet gutting) performance. But if Venice gave us alienation as a byproduct of collectivity’s exploitability in systems of capital and fashion, New York sees the artists ready to exploit the capital and fashion their collectivity leveraged. Paintings such as Signature VII (Eliza) and Signature XIII (Eliza), both 2017, depict the same silk-screened image of Douglas, mouth agape between center part and bare clavicle, that became iconic as part of the performance’s setting.

A prominent aspect of Faust, for which Imhof built glass partitions into the Nazi-designed German pavilion, was its transparency. By contrast, this exhibition is quite reflective: Imhof’s paintings feature gestures scratched into black or blue acrylic on mirrorlike aluminum—viewers can hardly escape themselves in the surfaces, sites for the enactment of a viral vanity.

Annie Godfrey Larmon

Mira Schendel

Hauser & Wirth | East 69th Street
32 East 69th Street
September 7, 2017–October 21, 2017

Mira Schendel, Sarrafo (Batten), 1987, tempera and gesso on wood, 35 x 71 x 21". From the series “Sarrafos” (Battens), 1987.

Toward the end of her life, Mira Schendel made a series of sculptural paintings more muscular than anything she had done before. Known as “Sarrafos” (Battens), 1987, the works each feature a pair of bold black bars that are joined together and jut out at sharp, irregular angles from white wooden panels. The gesso is spread so thick on these panels that they look, as her daughter once remarked, like the surface of the moon. Schendel herself described the “Sarrafos” as an attempt to convey aggressiveness, a series of intrusions to shake up the political and economic travesty that Brazil had become. What endures is the slower, subtler beauty of the shadows the bars cast, like delicate lines thrown from an unknown sun into outer space.

Schendel made just twelve “Sarrafos”—most were sold by a São Paulo gallery. One was returned to the family in 1999, eleven years after the artist’s death. Six are included here, the core of a strong, surprisingly layered show. (Scale the gallery’s upper floors and the materials get smaller, lighter, and more luminous—an intimate art of fragility—culminating in a gorgeous ink-and-watercolor collage of a tree above a triangle and rolling mountains [Untitled, ca. 1970].)

Five more “Sarrafos” have been found. One is still unaccounted for. In this context the current exhibition articulates a mystery both practical and metaphoric. Born to a Jewish family in Zurich, Schendel survived Catholic school in Milan but fled Italy during WWII. She lived as a refugee in a string of different cities in southeastern Europe, and eventually became an exile in Latin America. It was her fate to lose things. (She also burned whole stacks of drawings she didn’t like.) The missing piece reminds us: What remains of her work is our gain.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Sanford Biggers

BOESKY EAST
507 West 24th Street
September 7, 2017–October 21, 2017

Sanford Biggers, BAM (Seated Warrior), 2017, polished bronze, fabric, 78 x 24 x 24". From the series “BAM,” 2015–17.

Two years after the debut of Sanford Biggers’s controversial sculpture Laocöon, 2015—an inflatable ten-foot-long rendition of the 1970s cartoon character Fat Albert, laid out like a corpse (a eulogy to African Americans murdered by police and to the “character assassination” of Bill Cosby, according to the artist)—he has retooled his kill-your-idols theme. For “Selah,” Biggers moves away from depicting literal scenes of black death toward a more symbolically complicated process where icons of black culture are both cannibalized and consecrated. The exhibition features several sculptures from his series “BAM,” 2015–17. To create these works, the artist dips figurative African sculptures made from wood into wax and then shoots them with a gun before casting them in bronze. In BAM (Seated Warrior), 2017, a prominent chunk is missing from the arm of an elongated soldier whose feet are covered by an antique quilt. The sculpture is shot by an off-screen gun in the slow-motion five-channel video installation Infinite Tabernacle, 2017. (Notably, Biggers said that he didn’t pull the trigger for the piece.)

Selah, 2017, the exhibition’s namesake, scales up a cast of a bullet-riddled African figure with raised arms, suggesting a tragic position of surrender. Like Laocoön, this statue, lined with sequined fabric and covered by painted antique quilts, stands ten feet tall. Embellishments to Biggers’s flat quilt pieces, which hang on the walls, include sequined cubes, stylized waves, and, in Khemetstry, 2017, a geometric armature: a nod, Biggers says, to the study of sacred geometry by his cousin, the late Houston muralist John T. Biggers.

The artist’s use of appropriation acknowledges that history is ugly and painfully cyclical. But his formally dazzling sculptures lean on a kind of violence easily consumed by an audience accustomed to disaster porn. “Selah” raises a fundamental question: Can political art be effective without glamorizing brutality?

Wendy Vogel