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“Body Language”

COMPANY
88 Eldridge Street, 5th Floor
April 20, 2017–May 21, 2017

View of “Body Language,” 2017.

The body, in its irrationality and potential for extinction, overwhelms language. This group show, with its melancholic and liberatory overtones, gestures toward that idea. Forcing a strict divide between language and movement, niv Acosta’s digital film Clapback, 2016, brings together sequences from a performance that debuted at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. Part of the video presents questions accompanied by house music. The queries alternate between the stuff of social-media surveys (“Kissed any of your Facebook friends?” “Slept in until 5PM?”) to items directed toward specific identity groups (“Do you have more than one black friend?” “Fled from your country of origin?”). A list of names—the victims of police violence—flash in staccato, which are then abruptly replaced by a slowed-down view of Acosta from the back, twerking for minutes against an animated outer-space background. The artist memorializes the dead through physical, eroticized labor.

Visions of the future become interlaced with humor and nostalgia in Jacolby Satterwhite’s collaborations with his late mother, Patricia. He pairs family photos with her drawings of imaginary QVC products, made as part of her psychotherapy program. In the video The Matriarch’s Rhapsody, 2012, Satterwhite animates his mother’s hand-drawn designs—sometimes practical (an electric pencil sharpener), sometimes absurd (a “cock on wheels”)—as rotating, three-dimensional forms. Sometimes he demonstrates her inventions while vogueing in fantastical getups. A similarly hand-made, searching sensibility infuses Tschabalala Self’s mixed-media work Flower Girl, 2017, in which a voluptuous female figure and its dark shadow sprout delicate blossoms from their mouths, craned skyward in a laugh or scream.

Jimmy DeSana’s Cibachrome photographs lit in juicy, saturated colors—private performances for the camera that recall burlesque and punk ballet—anchor these younger artists in a lineage of queer aesthetics. DeSana’s untimely death from AIDS in 1990 is a sobering reminder of the way othered bodies become both politicized and precarious.

Wendy Vogel

Céline Condorelli

P!
334 Broome Street
April 23, 2017–May 21, 2017

View of “Céline Condorelli: Epilogue,” 2017.

“Epilogue,” the architect-artist Céline Condorelli’s current exhibition about exhibitions marks the swan song of P!, Prem Krishnamurthy’s “mom-and-pop Kunsthalle,” which has, in its fleeting five years, staged more than forty shows and offsite projects, many of them prodding the fraught marriage of form and the social. A happy pairing, then, as Condorelli’s work has long been invested in ransacking the political implications of historical models of display while proposing new ones. Here, the artist, in the spirit of the gallery, is reflexive: The exhibition takes as fodder the institutional memory of the space while it considers the ways in which display—already a practice of hiding and revealing—is historicized. Condorelli finds the conceit of the afterimage useful. In the print It’s All True, 2017, P!’s storefront is obscured with a palimpsest of its past shows; After Image (Bayer), 2017, is composed of a series of graphic vinyl forms adhered to the front window, which fractures and flattens our view into or out of the gallery.

Condorelli takes on an interlocutor in Bauhaus polymath Herbert Bayer, a seminal if controversial figure in the history of exhibition design. (Though Bayer’s sympathies were ultimately unclear, he designed propaganda for the Nazi party.) She includes his 1930 drawing/collage Extended Field of Vision, where an eye in a suit (think of art collective/rock band the Residents) stands before a field of variously hinged planes, their vectors demonstrating the reach of his vision—Bayer was already attuned to the extreme demands the media puts on our attention. The work is installed on a brick substrate that was exposed by the artist when she excised a piece of the gallery’s plaster wall. She repurposed the removed part to make an upholstered bench (Alteration to Existing Conditions [II], 2017), a support for conversation. Indeed, though the gallery’s legacy will be compressed into digital impressions, it will likewise be fleshed out anew in discursive space.

Annie Godfrey Larmon

Jerry Blackman

Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space
120 Essex Street, inside Essex Street Market
April 19, 2017–May 21, 2017

View of “Jerry Blackman: Undone Yin Yang,” 2017.

A nonlinear notion of time—where past and future coincide, cycling in an eternal return—is represented by Jerry Blackman’s forever-unfinished artworks here. Huddled in the middle of the space, archaic-looking disks in gray, blue, and cream indicate a turn toward the past (all works untitled and 2017). These process-based, freestanding sculptures, created with equal parts water and plaster dust, seem prepared to roll away at any moment—a pair of them jump out from the gallery’s walls. The show feels like a dusty, crumbling excavation site. A round, smoky platform grounds the rest of the pieces in the room, establishing a kind of order and solidity for the jutting, impermanent structures.

Hung on the surrounding walls in five sets of two are sleek graphite drawings that evoke the smooth perfection of a utopian future. Reminiscent of Sol LeWitt’s A sphere lit from the top, four sides, and all their combinations, 2004, the drawings indistinctly separate the darkness of yin from the light of yang, proving that one cannot appear without the other. Set in bleak frames that match the walls, the diptychs, symmetrical and modern, also appear strangely antiquated. Time operates on numerous registers in Blackman’s immersive tableau, seducing and confusing the viewer. The tension he creates settles on a temporal area where the only possible moment of recognition is now.

Samuel Argyle

Erwin Wurm

Lehmann Maupin | Chelsea
536 West 22nd Street
March 30, 2017–May 26, 2017

Erwin Wurm, Deep Snow, 2016, instruction drawing and Baker Copenhagen bench, dimensions variable.

Since the 1980s, Erwin Wurm’s “one-minute sculptures” have instigated artful absurdity within the gallery space by asking visitors to act out detailed, irrational tasks with a vast spectrum of common objects. In his latest exhibition, “Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order,” the artist employs midcentury modern furniture as elegant props for a new suite of sculptures that will make most modernist design aficionados squirm.

Deep Snow (all works 2016) invites you to step into two wobbly, oblong holes that have been cut into a pristine Baker Copenhagen bench. In the artist’s own handwriting scrawled onto the bench, participants are instructed to lift the thing around their ankles as if putting on an enormous pair of pants. In Spaceship to Venus, they’re asked to sit on an Aalto Tank lounge chair with their bodies turned 180 degrees, while Head TV makes viewers plunge into a handsome Danish cabinet like an ostrich with its head in the sand. Littering the gallery are less interactive sculptures that are just as eccentric—Modernist Pickle features the titular condiment in triplicate, cast in bronze and caught in an acrobatic three-way; 3 Legs is a trio of lifelike human legs, seemingly wanting to scuttle their way out the gallery’s front door.

For Organization of Love, a party of two is asked to suspend a swatch of foam with nothing but their united foreheads. With this piece, as with many of the others, Wurm cleverly engages the ego’s susceptibility to being publicly attentive. When caught in this open, embarrassing display, there’s a tinge of horrible self-consciousness that washes over the body. It gets amplified by the overwhelming sensation that somebody’s cranky grandma is on her way to scold us for playing on the furniture.

Gabriel H. Sanchez

Daniele Milvio

Downs & Ross | 55 Chrystie Street
55 Chrystie Street, Suite 203
April 30, 2017–May 28, 2017

Downs & Ross | 106 Eldridge Street
106 Eldridge Street
April 30–May 28

View of “Daniele Milvio,” 2017.

Daniele Milvio’s recent works feel like an unholy amalgamation of Cy Twombly’s beautifully loopy imagery and Anselme Bellegarrigue’s Anarchist Manifesto (1850). A number of Milvio’s smaller pieces, dark and ethereal things, are covered with swirling, barely legible script on linden wood supports. A snippet of text in Mastro Titta (all works cited, 2017)—the nickname for Giovanni Battista Bugatti, the Papal States’ head executioner from 1796 to 1865—reveals that they are menus for a spezzatino, or stew, of neoliberals, among other sorts of folk. Nearby, two larger paintings (Teresa! Senti Quanto Pesa! [Teresa! How Heavy It Is!] and Sire, Il Cicalaro [Sire, the Gabber]) anchor the show. In both pictures, rows of party people are violently murdered, via decapitation or throat-slitting. As the menu paintings suggest, they’ll be the main ingredients for a tasty cannibalistic repast. A sculptural trio of bloody heads, all untitled, sit on pikes—they’d make Salome proud. And metal chains, fixed to the walls by grotesque little creatures, recall Renaissance door knockers or accoutrements for an s/m dungeon.

Milvio’s fusion of madness, human-flesh-eating, and dark humor is political theater à la Grand Guignol. His destruction is gleeful, satanic—rich with vengeance, loaded with spite. Such a purgative bacchanal would be useful to many a contemporary appetite in this age of evil power-grabbing and demagoguery. Of course, you can’t take Milvio’s exhibition as an act of capitalist and social critique too seriously, but you certainly don’t want to undermine the liberating schadenfreude such a nasty vision has to offer.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Will Eisner

Society of Illustrators
128 E 63rd St
March 1, 2017–June 3, 2017

Will Eisner, Il Duce’s Locket, 1947, ink on paper, 16 x 23". Title page for The Spirit, May 25, 1947.

Will Eisner was one of the most influential and trailblazing comic-book artists in his field, and this retrospective underlines the power of his legacy. Stories about his costumed crime fighter, the Spirit, were published from 1940 to 1952 as a stand-alone comic-book supplement in American Sunday papers. The Spirit—a sophisticated narrative written for an adult audience—was acclaimed for its cinematic compositions (think Orson Welles, Fritz Lang) and innovative use of the splash panel, in which a single image takes up the entirety of the page. Eisner redrew the title logo frequently to fit the mood or theme of every new tale. More than forty of his original Spirit pages are on display, including images of the story Quirte from November 21, 1948, where he relayed the plot through the eyes of the antagonist, a creepy narrative device used much later in John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween.

Eisner reinvented himself in the 1970s when he discovered the work of underground comic artists such as Robert Crumb, who unabashedly accessed the full depths of his imagination. Although not a fan of the pornographic content, Eisner realized through their example that there was an opportunity to create something more personally satisfying, and he set to work on A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories (1978), a historical, slice-of-life piece about Jews living in Depression-era New York City—the book popularized the designation “graphic novel.” Contract’s lead story is partially based on Eisner losing his daughter to leukemia when she was sixteen. The graphic novel, with its exquisite draftsmanship and dramatic pacing, is nonetheless a realistic and haunting depiction of ethnic identity and the human condition. This and other of Eisner’s literary masterpieces profoundly shaped the medium and were harbingers of Art Spiegelman’s landmark Maus (1991) and Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World (1997).

Chris Bors

“Soft Skills”

The James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue, The City University of New York
April 14, 2017–June 3, 2017

Danielle Dean, Pleasure to Burn, 2012, HD video, color, sound, 7 minutes 42 seconds.

Martha Rosler’s text and image work Know Your Servant Series, #1: North American Waitress, Coffee Shop Variety, 1976, includes a list of remarks concerning the ideal female server, suggesting that she should be forthcoming but in the background, kind but impersonal, and a hard worker who never breaks a sweat. This group exhibition plays up such contradictions of feminized work while emphasizing its performative aspects and the real labor it requires to produce pleasure for others. Here, pieces associated with second-wave feminism such as Rosler’s are positioned alongside younger artists’ output no doubt informed by that generation. The show thus opens up an art-historical gamut, but it also addresses the socioeconomic shifts within it: the increase of women in the labor market as well as the surge of service-sector, “pink-collar” jobs, not necessarily performed by women.

Productive juxtapositions highlight latencies in older artworks that yield contemporary resonances. Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (I am your reservoir of poses), 1982, lays out the title’s parenthetical phrase in the artist’s signature typeface beneath a large sun hat masking a woman’s body. In the context of the exhibition, Kruger’s image, once connoting the female body in art history, now provides a reading in which stereotypically female qualities—empathy, subservience, flexibility—become models for a precarious workforce to follow.

Danielle Dean’s Pleasure to Burn, 2012, expands upon Kruger. In an office-like setting, four women (two of color, two white) take turns repeating phrases to one another in emotional registers ranging from glee to despair—such as “wipe that smile on your face” and “laundry is the only thing that should be separated by color”—derived from ads targeting female consumers. In this racialized dramatization, the attitudes aren’t just imposed by some external patriarchal order; they are also internalized and reproduced in subtle interactions and gritted smiles between women.

Sarah Lookofsky

Adriana Ramić

Kimberly-Klark
788 Woodward Avenue
April 29, 2017–June 4, 2017

View of “Adriana Ramić: Machine that the larvae of configuration,” 2017.

A wall-to-wall landscape of fragrant herbs, green moss, and wildflowers fills the gallery with the sweet, aromatic perfume of a garden at morning. For her first solo exhibition, Adriana Ramić has built an ecosystem, titled Every time step that passes has a cost of one (all works 2017), specifically designed to entice ladybugs. In stark contrast to this natural scenery, hundreds of printed images—what the artist describes as flashcards—cascade down the gallery walls, depicting plants, mysterious diagrams, toxic-waste barrels, elephants, kitties, and balaclavas, among countless other things.

The flashcards are the result of an optical character recognition program that has been coded by the artist to reconfigure images into text—not too unlike what Google Books uses to convert analog type into searchable information. From a suite of thirty generic photos of ladybugs in Key (on display in a small dark room at the rear of the gallery), the program translates the pictures to letters of the Serbo-Croatian alphabet, which then become the immense flashcard backdrop to the very curious work of Land art—it’s as if you’re traversing Walter de Maria’s 1977 New York Earth Room reimagined by Mark Zuckerberg.

Ramić’s show confuses the distinctions between computer programming and the networks of complex systems that govern life. Caught squarely in this uncanny matrix are the gallery’s visitors, who are asked to wear sterile coverings over their shoes before entering the space, so as to avoid disturbing the fragile ecosystem. Flooded by stimuli in every direction, one feels like a complete stranger in the very world that we inhabit daily.

Gabriel H. Sanchez

Nairy Baghramian

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York
24 West 57th Street
May 4, 2017–June 10, 2017

Nairy Baghramian, Dwindler_Updraft, 2017, paint, glass, zincked metal, colored epoxy resin, dimensions variable. From the series “Dwindlers,” 2017.

Nairy Baghramian’s latest show, “Dwindle Down,” features, among other works, four jointed glass sculptures that embody the titular verb. Seamed with metal bands and liberal daubs of adhesive, their segments are anchored to the wall by brackets and bolts whose function appears vaguely orthopedic. Thus assembled, Baghramian’s “Dwindlers” (all works 2017) outline cylinders that resemble vitreous intestines and soiled ventilation ducts. Stained with successive coats of paint in mineral hues, their surfaces gesture toward a past use as conduits for an unknown silty substance. Indeed, they engage the tradition (advanced by Marcel Duchamp and the Minimalists, for example) of treating industrial artifacts as readymade sculptures. But they position this tradition in a state of dereliction, whereby sculpture emerges as a residual “dwindle,” premised on the registration of its own attrition.

By turns prosthetic and infrastructural, the “Dwindlers” court confusion with bodies, buildings, and objects. In so doing, they subtly derange the need that sculpture consider, however obliquely or abstractly, its viewer. Their forms address bodies that are not full but supplemented, synthetic: avatars of a posthuman world whose claim to the organic is hedged by artifice. Each positions itself along the gallery’s edges, tracing the rise of a wall, traversing a column, or rimming the turn of a corner. Together, they speak of obstruction and flow. Their installation encodes a certain contingency, in that their parts, though conspicuously mounted, could be reconfigured. Reworked by Baghramian, site specificity comes to mime the essential logic of contemporary capitalism, with its demand for flexible subjects and structures. Eminently adaptable, this exhibition interrupts our expectations of sculpture, offering less a critique than a symptomatology of its present-day disorders.

Courtney Fiske

Peter Howson

Flowers Gallery
529 W 20th St
May 3, 2017–June 10, 2017

Peter Howson, Prophecy, 2016, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 1/2".

Scottish artist Peter Howson is known for dramatic paintings of brutal melees in urban settings and muscular working-class men in noble combat or heroic poses. Elements of his own tumultuous experiences are often writ large, including his upbringing in a God-fearing environment and his struggles with depression, Asperger’s syndrome, alcohol, and drugs. In 1993, he was Britain’s official artist for the Bosnian conflict. In this role he created a work so horrifying that London’s Imperial War Museum, which had commissioned him, did not accept it into the permanent collection. During a 2000 treatment for addiction, he became a born-again Christian. These themes coalesce with calamitous, biblical frenzy in his current show.

Of several large canvases the principle work is Prophecy, 2016—also the title of the exhibition—a vicious nighttime street battle thick with fighters clamoring toward a central crucified Christ. The baroque cavalcade of ogreish figures and folkloric fiends stretches from spire to gutter as they wield blood-curdling medieval weaponry. Minarets and stone crosses tumble, flags of ISIS and the United States flail, all of which is illuminated by the baleful glow of lanterns and a distant moon. This desperate wreckage of humanity, just shy of being historicist kitsch, is nevertheless moving.

Human-giant hybrids with blistered complexions make up a suite of smaller, divisionist oil-on-gesso panels. While they suffer from a compressed scale, Whoin? Warum? Wie? Where? Why? How?, 2017, depicting a shirtless hulk holding flaming torches, is an unnerving symbol of socialist zeal and tortured resistance. These unabashedly religious works—a quality often shunned in contemporary art—are gripping in their evocation of the church’s barbarous legacy and an apocalypse perhaps only moments away.

Darren Jones

Whitfield Lovell

DC Moore Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, 2nd Floor
May 4, 2017–June 17, 2017

Whitfield Lovell, Grandmother, 1988, oil stick and charcoal on paper, 38 x 50".

In what has already proven to be a remarkable few seasons of black figuration—such as Henry Taylor at the Whitney Biennial or Kerry James Marshall at the Met Breuer—this exhibition of thirty-one large-scale works on paper by Whitfield Lovell is disarming and quietly powerful. The artist is well established: Born in 1959, he is part of a generation of artists that came up somewhere between the polemics of the Black Arts Movement and the turn toward greater inclusion in the art world during the 1990s. Accordingly, the images here, made between 1987 and 1998, seem out of step with a lot of work being made right now that deals with questions of the African diaspora.

And yet dislocations of diaspora seems to be the subject at the heart of this show, in which Lovell traces literal family trees; depicts partial, bound, or lacerated bodies; and reiterates his long-standing interest in portraiture. Taken together, there is a rhizomatic logic at play connecting the works, but also a Byzantine quality that runs throughout—most depict talismanic forms such as floating hands or rusticated medallions amid fields of rich, gemlike tones. At nearly six feet tall, the profile in Al, 1990, or the likeness adorned with wings in Grandmother, 1988, take on hagiographic dimensions.

And while Lovell seems to plumb the more obscure depths of personal memory and allegorical references drawn from his travels, any individual piece resonates on its own. His command of oil stick and charcoal coaxes elegiac subtlety from his figures. Looking at them, it’s easy to get swept away.

Ian Bourland

Cameron Jamie

Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St
530 West 21st Street
April 28, 2017–June 17, 2017

Cameron Jamie, BB, 1998–2000, Super 8 film transferred to 35 mm, black and white, sound, 18 minutes 20 seconds.

Documentary footage of violence that is dramatized or frivolous risks feeling naive at best and at worst like an ominous rehearsal. Fortunately, these pitfalls are evaded in the current exhibition of three films by Cameron Jamie, portraying ceremonies within different masculine subcultures. Perhaps that is because the artist’s interests tend toward the ethnographic. Each work captures rituals that privilege brutality over piety, though the difference is often hard to tell.

In Kranky Klaus, 2002–2003, male participants costumed as the furred, horned Krampus—the devilish cryptid of pagan lore—enact an annual parade of yuletide sadism, terrorizing their small Austrian village and policing the morality of its children. In BB, 1998–2000, the bruising slapstick of teenage savagery, filmed in Super 8, appears nearly transcendent. A wrestling championship held in a backyard in Southern California is shot in black and white, all frantic pans and zooms, contenders often dissolving into blurs then snapped back into focus. Parts of the tournament play out in slow motion. Folding chairs and trash cans are hurled. Chests are beaten. From rooftops, boys splash into bodies panting on a makeshift wrestling ring. Who better to score this rite of suburban survivalism than the Melvins? Their murmuring guitars and hellish drums lend the footage a chthonic tinge.

Massage the History, 2007–2009, is essentially a Sonic Youth music video with an unlikely premise. A middle-class living room in Alabama transforms, to the sound of a haunted acoustic riff, into a site of intimate rediscovery as two men gyrate: on furniture, a Christmas tree, and the plush carpet. “Not everyone makes it out alive,” Kim Gordon sings in a breezy half whisper. One man caresses a tassel hanging from a table, imbuing it with talismanic potential. To belong to these domestic arenas requires bodily transgression, and yet Jamie choreographs innocence as it usually is—neither lost nor found.

Zack Hatfield

Tobias Pils

Galerie Eva Presenhuber | New York
39 Great Jones Street
May 6, 2017–June 17, 2017

Tobias Pils, Untitled (Viennese Head), 2016, mixed media on canvas, 33 1/2 x 27 1/2".

Tobias Pils’s monochromatic exhibition here opens with Untitled (Viennese Head), 2016, a black-and-white canvas featuring the profile of a deformed human head with a huge black void for a cheek. The eyes, however, gaze directly at you—they peer through a field of swaying lines that could be melting lashes, or even seaweed. It appears to be kissing a tangle of zigzags, some of which have edges that bleed delicately, as if they were rendered by an inky pen dragged down a sheet of wet paper.

To call the artist’s paintings surrealist seems a bit limiting—they play quite liberally with a kind of mushy cubism, too. Untitled (Arrow), 2016, shows a figure made from thick slabs of white paint, suicidally aiming a hard-edge white triangle with soft fletching toward its chest. Is this picture disturbing? Funny? Elegant? Cruel? Pils’s images ignite a variety of queasy sensations that are difficult to pin down. But we can access them nonetheless—deeply, intuitively.

It’s worthwhile to read this show as an immersive dream journal overflowing with id. In Untitled (Autumn 1), 2015, a bath-brush-like object grows out of a baggy gray creature that might be getting sodomized by a V-shaped demon. And whatever’s happening to the juicy, jittering blobs in Untitled (Flowers), 2016, looks just as fulsome, kinky. The artist’s deft brushstrokes and rich tableaux activate all manner of sweet, libidinal pleasure.

Yin Ho

Nancy Spero

Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
528 West 26th Street
April 27, 2017–June 17, 2017

Nancy Spero, Maypole: Take No Prisoners (detail), 2007, hand-printing on aluminum, ribbon, steel chain, aluminum pole with steel base, dimensions variable.

This exhibition presents Nancy Spero’s contribution to the Fifty-Second Venice Biennale for the first time in the United States. For her large-scale sculpture Maypole: Take No Prisoners, 2007, the late artist transformed a maypole—that folksy emblem of rebirth and community—into a monument to violence, national culpability, and complicity. Ribbons in cheery reds flow from a central beam strung not with flowers but with aluminum tragedy masks that wear contorted, aggrieved expressions. Some have mouths agape in Munchian howls; others spew gore that darts from their jaws like sharpened daggers. On the gallery’s white walls, the tangle of ribbons and ghoulish faces casts shadows that evoke lynching scenes.

The installation, conceived as a comment on the Iraq war, is paired with small gouache and ink drawings from Spero’s “War Series,” made between 1966 and 1970, at the height of the war in Vietnam. The selection includes Maypole/Kill Commies, 1967, which depicts this festive symbol topped with an American flag and weighted down by severed heads haloed in smudged red blood—a precursor to her 2007 piece. Female Bomb, 1966, personifies an explosive as a barren woman, with poisoned, retching skulls where her breasts and womb should be. Helicopter and Victims, 1967, imagines the titular aircraft as a prickly metal dragon that rains a mist of human waste and bones.

Art cannot prevent war. But Spero’s dark and expressionistic work suggests that there are few things more effective at conveying its horror and malignancy.

Hannah Stamler

Maren Karlson

Interstate Projects
66 Knickerbocker Avenue
May 19, 2017–June 18, 2017

Maren Karlson, No Longer a Friend, Master, Slave, 2017, colored pencil on paper, 16 1/2 x 12".

Slitted eyes and jagged flames gleam in lurid magentas and chilly violets, lighting a path both sensual and sinister in Maren Karlson’s crepuscular compositions. Mixing exacting geometries with cartoonish illustration, these drawings, paintings, and ceramic works often follow a bald figure draped in silken robes through swoony, dreamlike landscapes. Charmed with the mysticism of an invented iconography, Karlson’s images suggest occult ritual. In No Longer a Friend, Master, Slave (all works cited, 2017), the central character reenacts what seem to be ancient origin stories—she makes herself over in sweat and moist clay. Open depicts what might be a kneeling kouros, offering himself upon a triangular altar alongside a rose-tipped pyramid and a lily. In a fluid exchange between body, sacrament, and environment, Karlson unravels our sense of material stability.

We see the central character’s features iterated across myriad surfaces—eyes patterned onto the tongue of a rolled carpet in Her Vault, or glinting across the nail of an outstretched hand in My Realm. Drawn demons walk as earth, fire, and air through the heart of a pulsating, animate landscape, flexing and formatting their skins to new shapes. Summoned to life by these drawings and their three-dimensional kin, the gallery is activated by surreal possibility; the delicate web that is drawn across the center of Trick reappears, in the flesh, stretched across the southeast corner of the room (Untitled), while the stepped architecture of Solitude and Freedom Are the Same shows up as the terraced pedestal upon which Karlson arranges three ceramic figurines. Karlson’s works weigh the parity of promise and foreboding in a nightmarish fluidity.

Nicole Kaack

Sylvia Plimack Mangold

Alexander and Bonin
47 Walker Street
April 29, 2017–June 24, 2017

Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Summer Maple 2013, 2013, oil on linen, 60 x 45".

In a kind of durational performance, Sylvia Plimack Mangold has painted the trees surrounding her home in Washingtonville, New York, for the past thirty years. Her painting routine, like tree growth, is seasonal. In winter, she paints from inside her studio; otherwise, she paints outdoors. Not merely relying on shadow and sunlight, Mangold creates depth and volume through variations in leaf color and multiple vanishing points. The artist enters her paintings, she declares, as if she were a “flying creature,” perhaps a hummingbird or a gnat. Early in her career, Plimack Mangold painted deadpan trompe l’oeil of her wooden floor. While Mangold’s tree and floor paintings share a material interest, they’re also both studies in spatial anatomy. Here, The Winter Maple Tree, 2016, feels like a composite, made from a row of trees stealthily lined up behind it. In The Pin Oak 4/13, 2013, a watercolor, fluffy leaves (think of Helen Frankenthaler’s gauzy, watery blots) drift into a soft, flat sky (not too unlike the atmospheric gradients rendered by Jules Olitski). Mangold’s treatment of genre is also subtly cheeky. While Conceptual artists subjugated form to content Mangold playfully but rigorously back-pedaled to recognizable, Romantic-era subject matter. Declining to make work that hews to manufactured and biannually shifting theoretical categories, Mangold’s subject, she writes, is “painting with nature as my source and focus. . . . This experience of being in one place, studying the same forms over and over sounds repetitious, but, in fact, it feels expansive.”

Haley Markbreiter

Ivana Bašić

Marlborough Contemporary | New York
545 West 25th Street
May 25, 2017–June 24, 2017

Ivana Bašić, I will lull and rock my ailing light in my marble arms #1 (detail), 2017, wax, glass, breath, weight, pressure, stainless steel, oil paint, silk, cushioning, marble dust, 126 x 128 x 14".

Ivana Bašić’s recent exhibition centers on two sculptures of humanoid creatures with beautiful gold glass placentas encasing their drooping heads: I will lull and rock my ailing light in my marble arms #1 and #2 (all works cited, 2017). They are being born out of chrome shells à la Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, 1486, as envisioned by H. R. Giger. Elsewhere, two head-size chunks of pink alabaster are rhythmically pulverized by silvery robotic hammers (A thousand years ago 10 seconds of breath were 40 grams of dust #1 and #2). Particles accumulate on the floor.

There is no high or low in contemporary culture—but there are light and dark sides of the moon. Full illumination saps a culture that seeks interpretation. The dark side’s total obfuscation suggests potential. Not since Charlie White’s memorable project Understanding Joshua, 2001, has there been a show that connects to the collective science fiction consciousness with so little mediation and such brightness. But the incandescence dims as we begin to take in Bašić’s extravagantly visceral sensibility and realize that these pieces are their own gestating form of terror, more werewolf than alien. They are becoming part of the cyclic, driven, and threatening primal world that we are hell-bent on destroying.

Now that people in this country are feeling the End Times approach—like Bašić’s ruthless hammers—Orwellian is trending, and Philip K. Dick has gone from kook to prophet. Bašić knows where our speculative fictions are headed. Her work suggests that we have not yet tasted the trauma we have envisioned. We are merely testing its reality.

Matthew Weinstein

Pooh Kaye

Shoot The Lobster | New York
138 Eldridge Street
May 12, 2017–June 25, 2017

Pooh Kaye, Climb, 1976, digital transfer from Super 8, color, silent, 1 minute 11 seconds.

Sometimes you just want to shimmy up a pole. Jump on a bed. Fold yourself into a small space. Writhe naked atop a table. Or bury yourself. Don’t you?

In the private performances she staged for the camera from 1975 to 1980, Pooh Kaye did all of the above. The five digitized Super 8 films gathered for this exhibition, curated by Josephine Graf, are documents of post-Judson dance (for several years, the artist worked with seminal choreographer Simone Forti) and contributions to experimental cinema. A jumpy frame rate renders them almost like stop-motion animation—Kaye’s moving body, the clay—or early film. The end of Going Out, 1980, which sees a magic carpet pulling the artist around wildly to different corners of her loft, is straight out of the films of special-effects pioneer Georges Méliès, or the short comic vignettes of Thomas Edison.

But Kaye eschews the neatness of a punch line, favoring quixotic tasks that can never be satisfactorily completed. In Swim, 1977, she drapes herself across a chair, supported only by its arms, and mimes swimming as best she can through air. In Climb, 1976, the artist makes a SoHo loft a site of inspiration and torture as she frantically tries to ascend a column wearing only a grass skirt. There’s something undeniably funny about this athletically challenging activity—it’s in the spirit of vaudeville. Kaye’s humor mixes with and loosens up the seriousness about repetition and corporeal investigation associated with Forti and Yvonne Rainer. In Climb, a dog comes out of nowhere, a welcome interloper, disturbing the austere setting.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Alex Katz

Timothy Taylor 16×34
515 West 19th St
April 27, 2017–June 30, 2017

Alex Katz, Man with Newspaper on the Subway, ca. 1940s, black ink on paper, 5 x 8".

Even with the phenomenon of “manspreading” or the impending L train apocalypse, the New York subway-riding experience nevertheless continues to evince a gritty nostalgia among the city’s embattled daily commuters. Such sentiments are sure to be piqued by “Subway Drawings,” an exhibition of forty exquisite pencil-and-ink sketches by artist Alex Katz. Dating to the late 1940s, all of the illustrations—originally bound in small notebooks—were made by Katz during his commute on the E train from his childhood home in Queens to the East Village, where, at the time, he was a student at Cooper Union. Uninterested in the models provided by the school, Katz, the story goes, took to the subway and its straphangers for inspiration.

In Man with Newspaper on the Subway (all works ca. 1940s), a seated passenger, blithely reading, is unaware of the protruding belly that threatens to impede upon his momentary idyll. In this sketch, as with others in the show, Katz’s economy of line, matched by his eye for subtle details (a barely hinted-at five-o’clock shadow, a rumpled dress shirt), results in mordant depictions of an urban mise-en-scène reminiscent of George Grosz’s drawings of Weimar-era denizens, albeit missing Grosz’s penchant for the grotesk.

Elsewhere, in Crowd on Subway, the occupants of a packed train car include women in their sartorial finery (no athleisure apparel back then) and a bespectacled rider gazing downward, while in Subway Scene Couple, Katz captures a duo unawares. To be sure, there is a voyeur’s delight on Katz’s part, and his quick-handed, on-the-sly drawings, in many ways, presage the appearance of transit-oriented sites such as Instagram’s @hotdudesreading. However, Katz’s voyeurism seems to be less interested in fetishizing the other than in connecting with it. Indeed, what better place to encounter the breadth of humanity than the E train during rush hour?

Joseph Akel

Mike Mandel

Robert Mann Gallery
525 West 26th Street, Floor 2
May 11, 2017–June 30, 2017

Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Untitled, Evidence (detail), 1977, silver print, 10 x 8".

The shared blunders of Richard Nixon and our current leader are obvious, but there’s one stark difference between the two presidents: Nixon, who loved classical music and reportedly wanted to throw liberals a bone during the Vietnam War, demonstrated strong support for the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1971, its budget was doubled. By the end of the decade, the number of working artists in the country had increased by 81 percent.

“Good ’70s” is a fitting name, then, for this exhibition of Mike Mandel’s work, all from projects made over the course of that decade. It was a productive period for the artist—the recipient of several NEA fellowships—and his images reflect the protean identity of photography at the time. At a glance, the twenty-one black-and-white snapshots of barbershops, airports, shop fronts, and other public spaces appear commonplace—until you spot Mandel himself, lurking in the periphery or grinning goofily next to his subjects. Are they self-portraits? Sure. But they lack the genre’s forced introspection, and they cheekily eschew street photography’s air of detachment as well.

Also on view are Mandel’s best-known projects, The Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975, and Evidence, 1977. They, too, forged new territory. Spoofing the art world’s competitive atmosphere and photography’s growing status within it, Mandel shot 134 well-known photographers—each posed comically with bats, mitts, and balls—then crafted a baseball card for each of them, complete with stats, quotes, and complimentary chewing gum. He sold the cards to museums in packs, igniting a collecting frenzy. It’d be a prank if it weren’t so subtly high concept. Ditto Evidence: After receiving one NEA grant, Mandel and his long-term collaborator, Larry Sultan, used proof of their federal funding to gain access to the archives of government agencies and assembled a collection of images depicting esoteric procedures and scientific sites. It’s too beautiful, the government paying to showcase its own photographs. But work is, ultimately, all about the money.

Juliana Halpert

David Novros

Paula Cooper Gallery | 534 West 21st Street
534 West 21st Street
April 27, 2017–June 30, 2017

David Novros, Untitled, 1975, oil on canvas, 117 x 168 x 2".

David Novros’s current exhibition comprises four paintings and four works on paper from the 1970s. All postdate his first site-specific fresco from 1970, which was commissioned by Donald Judd for his Spring Street residence in New York City. Novros, so much more than a Minimalist, is interested in continuing the tradition of painting as an immersive, site-specific experience—as it is in Paleolithic cave art, Byzantine mosaics, and Renaissance frescos—one that can profoundly alter its surrounding architecture.

Untitled, 1975, is a large-scale work painted with luminescent monochromatic blocks assembled into two unconventionally shaped canvases evoking basic post-and-lintel construction, or a fragmented pictorial rectangle. His palette is restrained and often evokes the richness of earth and unpolished stones, as in the tripartite Lent Painting, 1975, which is full of glossy blacks, dusty reds, and greens.

Novros understands that paintings are objects, as have many in the generation of artists with whom he came of age. But he also senses the importance of allowing painterly intuition to take control. Perhaps the most important thing he shares with his Minimalist peers and the lineage of in situ art to which he responds is the desire to activate the viewer as he or she takes in the work. For example, in Untitled (Frog Altar), 1975, the work changes, tonally and physically, as we walk from one side of the piece to the other—as do we, phenomenologically speaking. This bodily engagement through the artist’s reductive painterly facture is the reason Novros was one of the handful of painters Judd supported, and it is also what makes Novros relevant today.

Alex Bacon

Ellen Berkenblit

Anton Kern Gallery
16 East 55th Street
May 25, 2017–July 7, 2017

Ellen Berkenblit, Witching Hour, 2017, oil and paint stick on linen, 63 1/2 x 77".

Animated by frenzied bursts of vibrant color, splashing patterns, and succulent forms, Ellen Berkenblit’s recent paintings capture moments of stillness in broad, energetic strokes. Through her sumptuous canvases, caked with creamy paint stick and occasionally bedecked with quilted calico fragments, we follow a scattered sequence of minutely shifting portraits: a beribboned bay pony moving restlessly between Untitled and Lilac (both 2016); a massive outstretched hand with Kool Aid–hued nails trying to pinch a tulip-like flower (Alef Bet, 2016, and Witching Hour, 2017); and a woman with an almost toothless grin meeting the surprised gaze of a bird (Scruffs, 2016).

Her works are made and hung with filmic repetition—it feels as though we are experiencing a slideshow interspersed with the white of gallery walls. Berkenblit’s characters are in some kind of luxurious state of deceleration: Fingers subtly reach and retract; a horse gently backs away and approaches. Berkenblit’s execution—by turns languidly graphic and emphatically expressive—further confuses this temporality. The movements from a cartoon version of Manet’s Olympia in V, 2017, are infinitely protracted by the weight of heavy outlines and her grayish-pink coloration, while in I Don’t Object If You Call Collect, 2017, the sleepiness of lowered lashes is shaken by the energetic designs of a patchwork background. Playing her mark-making against the elusive narratives of her subjects, Berkenblit tests the supremacy of content over form, suffusing instances of quiet with a sense of imminence and possibility.

Nicole Kaack

“Stranger Things”

Outpost Artists Resources
1665 Norman St.
June 9, 2017–July 7, 2017

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Devin in Red Socks, 2016, ink-jet print, 24 x 36".

Sculptor Doreen Garner extends her inquiries into intimacy, hygiene, latent sexuality, and racialized violence in her first curatorial effort to date. From Chicana punk tattoo artist Tamara Santibañez to Hollywood special-effects animator Erik Ferguson, the artists in this group exhibition hit Garner’s themes from many different angles.

Nakeya Brown’s photo series “If Nostalgia Were Colored Brown,” 2014, presents quietly domestic tableaux peppered with clues to a vibrant life: 1970s disco albums, salon hair dyers, curlers, and a flowerless African violet. In Ted Mineo’s pictures Mist, Not, Shipping, and Ride, all 2017, common objects are rediscovered as otherworldly specimens: Tinted by luscious studio lighting, objects such as rubber gloves and a mound of polymer clay float through bursting galactic droplets. Ferguson’s Day-Glo Untitled Video Compilation, 2017, renders fleshy trunks and monstrous sexual appendages flailing through gleaming digital space. His body-horror animation corresponds with Jes Fan’s futuristic sculpture—leftover props from a performance—Disposed to Add, 2017. Fan’s tub is filled with wet, slug-like silicone tubes that seem as if they’re the remains of some alien surgery.

In Untitled: Bureau, 2017, a sculpture by Garner herself, a wooden dresser bulges with frizzy black hair—her straightforward use of materials falls short of evoking the startling uncanniness her work is known for. Hair is also manipulated by Kenya (Robinson) with her suite of blond-haired brooms. These janitorial tools fitted with dangling synthetic locks, such as Reclining Blue, 2016, are a bitter statement on race and maintenance labor. But the daily negotiation of pain in black life shifts to tenderness with Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.’s photograph Devin in Red Socks, 2016. Here, a young man holds aloft a towel that conceals his torso as he poses in a bedroom. A tiny hole in his sock is a punctum—a wounded doorway for the heart to rush in.

Vanessa Thill

Lex Brown

Deli Gallery
10-16 46th Avenue
June 9, 2017–July 9, 2017

View of “Immortal Duck,” 2017.

Don’t let those foam cinder blocks on the floor fool you. Lex Brown’s first solo exhibition ain’t soft—it’s a razor-edged debut with a droll twist. “Immortal Duck” departs from Looney Tunes’ iconic 1951 “Hunting Trilogy,” where Daffy Duck is shot multiple times by Elmer Fudd but never dies, like some eternal god in an Attic comedy—though the cartoon is, of course, deeply American and quite current, with vainglorious characters center stage, avaricious and always craving attention. But Brown mines Daffy Duck’s enduring potential as positive and perhaps even as an avatar. (From the poem on the press release: “She’s like that duck, quack / here forever / and always fine, / So I don’t worry about that shit getting taken by Fudd, Bugs, / Bud, Chuck, / Chad, Brad, or any other brat wabbit.”)

Wave Sandwich (all works 2017), a fleshy, Oldenburgesque burger patty and grimy bun made from steel, chicken wire, fiberglass resin, burlap, casters, and paint, crushes one of the squishy cinder blocks. The work features the word rage in negative—or maybe it’s race? This searing ambiguity runs across a few more works in the show, yet the strongest pieces here are clear in their direct address. “Wabbit Season” is a series of laminated ink-on-paper drawings of Daffy Duck’s face. Dotted around the gallery, the works recall some of Joyce Pensato’s paintings, but Brown’s take is looser. A slew of hasty lines transform the character’s visage across multiple pictures—we get anger, satisfaction, curiosity, confusion—but most of all we see Brown having fun with these incisive works, which might just be the best survival strategy.

Lauren O'Neill-Butler

Wendy Red Star

CUE Art Foundation
137 W 25th Street, Ground Floor
June 1, 2017–July 13, 2017

Wendy Red Star, Um-basax-bilua, “Where They Make the Noise” 1904–2016 (detail), 2017, archival pigment prints, graphite, pins, vinyl, dimensions variable.

In previous photographs, Wendy Red Star has posed amid inflatable elk, creased mountain backdrops, and AstroTurf to lampoon the manufactured authenticity of indigenous culture evident in, say, an Edward S. Curtis postcard. That ironic approach is traded for a more genuine one in Um-basax-bilua, “Where They Make the Noise” 1904–2016, 2017, a photographic timeline of Montana’s yearly Crow Fair—a parade originally installed by the US government in 1904 to assimilate the Apsáalooke into white culture—that spans two rooms and a century in its depiction of Crow customs. A cavalcade of tribe members makes its way across the walls, each figure cut and pasted to literalize the passage of time. The procession wends through the gallery in reverse-chronological order, so that selfies and Chevys ebb into colorized pictures, then crumbly black and white. Corralling family snapshots, back issues of National Geographic, stock imagery, and more, the timeline is democratic with source material, so that a beadwork session graced with a Getty Images watermark shares space with a cut-out of the artist as a smiling adolescent, holding up a can of Orange Crush. Extensive marginalia, scrawled onto the wall in pencil, decrypts Red Star’s genealogy, often straying to more playful facts. We learn that Curley, a Crow scout in the US Army, aided General Custer during the Battle of Little Bighorn; that Safeway cornflakes make an agreeable camp breakfast; and of entrepreneur Max Big Man’s plan to entertain white tourists at Yellowstone.

To imagine the hours of invisible labor, physical and otherwise, that Red Star spent withdrawing ancestors from their contexts is to imagine what was left over: hundreds of portraits and tableaux now bearing human-shaped lacunae. These altered photographs, only implied, simultaneously invoke and transpose the colonialist erasures wreaked upon those whom American institutions forget. Here, their names are written on the wall.

Zack Hatfield

Lissa Rivera

ClampArt
247 West 29th Street, Ground Floor
June 1, 2017–July 15, 2017

Lissa Rivera, Eggleston Hair, 2015, archival pigment print, 20 x 30".

Delicate poses, painted lips, silky dresses, and a serenely defiant gaze are a carefully scripted fuck-you to heteronormative gender codes in Lissa Rivera’s “Beautiful Boy,” her exhibition of photographs here. Rivera’s Fassbinderesque lighting and luscious, vibrant colors are tender, moving. She enthralls us, and that sensation comes from the show’s underlying narrative about the romantic relationship between the artist and her subject, BJ Lillis, the beautiful boy in question.

These photographs depict an androgynous man wearing makeup, sometimes nude or draped in feminine attire, staged in poses that recall the golden age of cinema, or the history of lovers’ photography (think Nan Goldin or Mark Morrisroe, for instance). Guided by a female gaze, Poolside, Family Home (all works cited, 2015) shows a poised BJ donning a white swim cap, arms crossed on the basin’s edge. His pale skin contrasts sharply with the deep blue of his eyes and the surrounding water; his lips, colored red, add a burst of fiery sensuality. In Eggleston Hair, Rivera tips her hat to one of photography’s most celebrated masters of color (and particularly his Untitled, 1974 (Biloxi, Mississippi), 1974). Here, BJ is lying on a mustard couch. His long, dishwater-blond hair spills onto the upholstery as he winsomely clutches his breast. The intimacy of Rivera’s images is stunningly palpable. Within the elaborate world that they’ve created for themselves, one can locate a warmhearted Pygmalion story for modern times.

Lara Atallah

“El Helicoide: From Mall to Prison”

Center for Architecture
536 LaGuardia Place
May 9, 2017–July 15, 2017

Pietro Paolini, Terraform, 2012, photograph mounted on board, 21 x 31".

El Helicoide (The Helicoid) stands in the Caracas landscape layered like the world’s most extravagant cake. Conceived by architect Jorge Romero Gutiérrez in 1955, the reinforced-concrete edifice was supported by Marcos Pérez Jiménez’s military junta. Its double-helix ramps were slated to include over three hundred shops, offices, and a hotel, all topped by a geodesic dome. While a number of South American countries constructed massive modernist structures during pockets of socialist-leaning politics, this was not the case in Venezuela.

This concise exhibition mainly illuminates the building’s conception. A vitrine of marketing paraphernalia and paper models shows how this piece of visionary architecture was used to aggrandize Venezuela’s image abroad. It embodies all the postwar values of speed, materialism, and national pride. One CMYK line drawing of El Helicoide shows the eight dizzying loops one must make in a car to climb the entire thing (Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya [Helicoid of the Tarpeian Rock], ca. 1958–60). Other promotional materials show a day of shopping: illustrations of guests arriving in haute couture and stopping their cars in front of their favorite shops.

Construction came to a halt in 1961, following the fall of the dictatorship in 1958, and banks disputed the building’s finances. The structure was only used as a shelter for landslide victims, in 1979, then since 1985 as police-intelligence headquarters. Only a handful of photographs present show El Helicoide today. Surrounded by a tawny shantytown, the settlements push against the concrete monster, a token of past promises and megalomania.

Nolan Boomer

Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz

PARTICIPANT INC
253 East Houston Street, Ground Floor
June 2, 2017–July 16, 2017

Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, Telepathic Improvisation, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 20 minutes.

Anita Pallenberg is dead, long live Anita Pallenberg.

I couldn’t help but think of the sublime rock goddess, a mere two days after her passing, upon entering Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz’s exhibition (organized by Alhena Katsof and Mason Leaver-Yap), a glamorous sepulcher that calls to mind a sex dungeon, an abandoned cabaret, and a dressing room—Alice Cooper’s perhaps, during the height of his power. Near the entrance is a rotating stand of microphones, he ear r (all works 2017), glittering in the darkness, while a screen of imitation blond, black, and ombre hair, Wig piece (whose body? – whose thoughts?), functions as a kind of billboard, guiding you to a sleeker, kinkier life. A giant pair of handcuffs suspended from the ceiling in the back of the gallery, Untitled (prop), accentuates this feeling.

The shackles reappear in Telepathic Improvisation (also the title of a musical work created in 1974 by the late composer Pauline Oliveros), a twenty-minute video of a haunted floor show, and the exhibition’s centerpiece. Here, four artists walk out into a black-box space: Marwa Arsanios, Werner Hirsch, MPA, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. Except for Hirsch, all wear garments in Kraftwerk crimson. Together, they perform as if anesthetized. A smoke screen appears; a motorized trio of squat white plinths crawls across the floor; a strobe occasionally blinks. During the last quarter of the film, we receive a message from another dead sister: Red Army Faction cofounder Ulrike Meinhof, talking through MPA. The words are from a famous text Meinhof wrote after the 1968 shooting of Rudi Dutschke, the face of the German student movement. “Right-wing politicians will be able to carry on their hate campaign, they will continue to encourage the police to attack,” says MPA / Meinhof. “They want politics as destiny, masses of disenfranchised people and refugees, a helpless passive opposition.” At the end of the dialogue, the actor disappears. A spotlight then flashes, helplessly, pathetically. No more theatrical artifice—indeed, the fun is over.

Alex Jovanovich

Jibade-Khalil Huffman

Downstairs Projects
1713 8th Avenue, Brooklyn
May 19, 2017–July 20, 2017

Jibade-Khalil Huffman, Figuration (A), 2017, single-channel video, color, sound, 20 minutes.

“Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.” This disclaimer, lifted from Michael Jackson’s 1982 Thriller video, serves as the epigraph to Figuration (A), 2017, the title work of Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s exhibition. The single-channel video is a mediatic dumpster dive through the not-yet-historical past, its fantasia of purloined images flowing to an interruptive, channel-surfing logic. A petite Darth Vader superimposed on a young Seth Rogen’s audition tape; the opening credits of the 1980s African American sitcom Amen; Rick James’s appearance as a plaintiff on Judge Joe Brown; Damon Dash and Cam’ron debating the (now-disgraced) Bill O’Reilly on the merits of rap: All are woozily doubled and played backward and forward, spasmodically dissolving into pink fuzz and throbbing triangles.

The anxiety and violence percolating between the nostalgic comforts of 1990s television boil over in First Person Shooter, 2016. As the video’s title suggests, the relevant structure here isn’t TV but videogames, and the struggle for black lives its political condition. Positioned in the driver’s seat, the viewer navigates through a nightmare Sim City besieged with cops and exploding digital kitsch.

For all the accessible humor, pop imagery, and antiracist politics of Huffman’s work, its poetic excess of aesthetic, cultural, and semantic input accumulates into an opaque mass, overwhelming expedient readings. But the lyrically suggestive text interpolated throughout First Person Shooter’s high-octane surrealism hints at a possible bicameral meaning between the likelihood of a “black fantastic” and a cosmic pessimism contained in the notion of “freedom as a condition for slavery.” Anxiously vibrating between these two modalities, Huffman’s monster mash of cultural refuse puts a materialist accent on the occultism Michael Jackson invoked and immediately repudiated—a haunting not by paranormal forces but by history.

Chloe Wyma

Marguerite Humeau

C L E A R I N G | New York
396 Johnson Avenue
May 25, 2017–July 23, 2017

Marguerite Humeau, HARRY II (BODY), 2017, high-density foam, fiberglass, resin, paint, spray-painted steel, glass, rubber, plastic tanks, artificial human blood, audio equipment, sound, dimensions variable.

Dystopian daydreams and arcane myth collide in Marguerite Humeau’s particle accelerator of an exhibition. The French artist probes mass surveillance and modern warfare through sleek new sculptures made of synthetic media, including eight gargantuan polystyrene masks that crowd one room. Their white wrinkled faces are grotesque, pinched and puckered like those of hare-lipped chimpanzees. They grimace, snarl, and stick out their tongues. Behind each mask, a milky-pink sci-fi cylinder emits a pulse. These heartbeats merge with the surge of jet engines in the following room to create a soundscape simultaneously urgent and hypnotic. There, a single imposing sculpture titled HARRY II (BODY) , 2017, dominates the space. Six semitranslucent slabs containing artificial blood flank a central totem. They suggest hospital beds or sacrificial altars, conjuring unseen casualties. The conjoined heads of three carnivorous birds framed by one pair of wings are mounted above them. The mutant predator presiding over the piece feels both futuristic—the freakish result of a cloning experiment gone wrong—and fantastical. The raptors evoke not only aerial warfare but imperial heraldry and insignia, recalling the eagles of the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburgs, the Third Reich, and the United States. The hook-beaked birds also resemble vultures, reinforcing Humeau’s ominous, ambiguous commentary on conflict and its costs. Below the birds, spiky forms sprout from the base of the sculpture like three-dimensional fractal renderings of the barbed biohazard symbol.

The show, with its chilly, clinically presented content, contrasts with Humeau’s recent, more viscerally affecting exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo. Where there was pathos in Paris, one finds dispassionate restraint in Bushwick. The shift suits the subject matter, however, with Humeau’s detachment effectively emulating that of the lethal drones, chemical attacks, and airstrikes suggested by her sculpture.

Zoë Lescaze

Mountain River Jump!

SLEEPCENTER
9 Monroe Street, Basement
June 10, 2017–July 26, 2017

View of “Mountain River Jump!: REALITY CHECK 鬥法,” 2017.

We are in a struggle of competing realities. The Guangzhou-based collective Mountain River Jump!—comprising identical twin sisters Huang Shan and Huang He—locates this conflict in a dimension where transcendent forces govern complex relations in our world. “REALITY CHECK 鬥法” is an exhibition bearing two names (the Chinese portion can mean “battle of magical powers”), embodying the strange agonism at play. A series of sculptural and diagrammatic works presents a syncretic cosmology that analyzes the mythical, political, and technological realms we experience.

In Chinese Immortal Cards of the 21st Century, 2016–17, a circular cosmogram made of divination cards maps the crossroads of traditional beliefs and secular modernity. Each card connects a modern cultural icon with an esoteric Chinese god. High-profile figures such as movie actors, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals represent various themes, including death, power, and justice. In this new mythical universe, the ascendance of technology is undeniable. On one card, the image of the world in ancient Chinese cosmology is replaced by Instagram’s logo. This syncretic system becomes a tool for Mountain River Jump! to interpret the meshing of traditional, Communist, and Western life. Each scenario in the exhibition demonstrates how this divinatory practice is a form of cultural psychoanalysis—as both spiritual cartomancy and Western psychology have long sought access to a collective unconscious. The father/mother and Son of psychoanalysis, 2017, is a kind of Buddhist altar to this project, in which a lenticular image of Sigmund Freud and an image of the Greek urn containing his ashes face off under breast-like shrine lights.

This exhibition can be seen as an addendum to Bruno Latour’s concept of secular modernity, defined not only by the radical separation of natural and social phenomena but also by the exclusion of the supernatural. By combining these elements, including ghosts, their new worldview may be the true parliament of all things.

Howie Chen

Meschac Gaba

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
June 22, 2017–July 28, 2017

Meschac Gaba, Memoriale aux Refugies Noyees (Memorial for Drowned Refugees), 2016, blankets, electric lanterns, 25 1/2 x 60 x 21".

A brilliantly colored tent sits in the large first-floor room of the gallery. You’re invited to draw, write, and discuss inside; the environment is quiet, reminiscent of an elementary-school classroom during recess. The kids are out, but that’s not exactly what’s missing here. Meschac Gaba’s interactive sculpture, Reflection Room Tent, 2017, references the architecture of refugee camps. Its kaleidoscopic stripes, brilliant and gorgeous, are, in fact, stretched images of sundry national flags placed close together. It is Gaba’s utopia, a no-place between countries that simultaneously represents the potential of New York art viewers and the shifted concept of “home” for refugees.

Presented on the second floor are thirteen multicolored wigs in the shape of Washington, DC’s iconic buildings, including White House, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial, all 2017. An accompanying video, Perruques of Washington, DC, 2017, shows a procession of the mythic structures worn by residents of Cotonou, Benin, a country whose current problems can in part be traced back to its history as the Slave Coast. America’s involvement in that colonial history of forced maritime migration weighs heavily upon the quiet parade and lingers like a ghost. Contemporary tragedy emerges poignantly in Memoriale aux Refugies Noyees (Memorial for Drowned Refugees), 2016. The simple monument is drawn from a tradition in which a stack of blankets and a set of glowing lanterns are laid out on a beach for those lost at sea. It almost distracts from the exhibition’s bright colors, forming an immense gravitational and conceptual pull that utterly unmoors you.

Patrick Jaojoco

“Sites of Knowledge”

Jane Lombard Gallery
518 West 19th Street
June 8, 2017–July 28, 2017

View of “Sites of Knowledge,” 2017.

The opaque construction of meaning in art has long posed itself in opposition to more direct performances of verbal language. Both practices can resemble board games, as units of visual or linguistic significance can be reduced to tokens that can be lined up and rearranged. This group exhibition, featuring works from Guy Laramée, Enrico Isamu Ōyama, Michael Rakowitz, Karen Schiff, and Sophie Tottie, among others, surveys the variety of atomic units that make up words, or art, or word art.

A sequence of Henri Chopin’s works from the late 1970s and early 1980s, which he called “dactylopoems,” are assembled from typewriter characters that form shapes through repetition and color sequencing. The flickering quality they achieve at scale is echoed in Kristin McIver’s Indebted To You, 2017, in which a projection scrolls through spelled-out numbers that represent the incomprehensible ebb and flow of the US national debt—from a distance, the letters appear as indistinct as the reality of the figure they represent. Jen Mazza’s oils, including // Aria )) ), 2013, bracket existing reproductions of prior artworks, quite literally, with punctuation marks.

Appearing as a corrective to Richard Artschwager’s uncharacteristically pat floating wooden Exclamation Point, 1970, the most arch (or oblique) work in the show may be Simone Douglas’s Promise, 2014, an eleven-foot-long assemblage of yellow pine that resembles the skeleton of a giant beast picked clean, or the torn-open spine of a book. Its vertebration resounds, suggesting that a topology of variance in wood might be as articulate as any string of Latin letters.

Zachary Sachs

“Dream Machines”

James Cohan Gallery | Chelsea
533 West 26th Street
June 24, 2017–July 28, 2017

Jon Rafman, Poor Magic, 2017, mixed media, video, dimensions variable.

In this group exhibition, dreams are a vehicle into the psychological and corporeal recesses of the self. Take Jon Rafman’s Poor Magic, 2017, in which viewers sit inside a dysmorphic egg-shaped seat to watch a video that is an exercise in body horror: CGI figures hurl themselves at a wall repeatedly before we are taken on an endoscopic journey into various orifices. As the video progresses along the surfaces of slick pink innards, a voice whispers bleak phrases on the distinction between dreaming and waking life: “If you can’t sleep at night it means you’re in someone else’s dream. . . . It feels like someone or something has entered our heads. It strolls through the recesses of our minds surveying our scars.”

In the same room, Fred Tomaselli’s Behind Your Eyes, 1992, presents a vascular portrait of a human figure—echoing Rafman’s fleshy explorations—situated in outer space, perhaps floating in an alternate universe. Mernet Larsen’s suite of twelve paintings, The Philosophers, 1984, consists of abstracted and color-blocked geometric forms, a turn away from the body to a Freudian playground of associative symbolism. Lee Mullican’s gray and blue acrylic sketches on magazine pages (Untitled, 1963) similarly convey the enigmatic process of translating subconscious desires into more legible terms. In these numinous works, Mullican leaves traces of the material world intact, with advertisements for radios, car parts, and other electronics peeking out behind his abstract embellishments. “Dream Machines” is fueled by the capacity of the imagination to produce visions both familiar and fantastic, as what constitutes reality is often much harder to see.

Tausif Noor

Myranda Gillies and George Herms

Susan Inglett Gallery
522 West 24 Street
June 9, 2017–July 28, 2017

View of “Myranda Gillies and George Herms,” 2017.

George Herms built his career on refashioning the odd, the ordinary, the found—his vision fit perfectly within the West Coast Beat movement and its lyrical compounds. In this exhibition, Herms is in dialogue with a new generation: his granddaughter Myranda Gillies and her handwoven textiles.

The tapestries that Gillies created for the exhibition honor Herms’s affinity for local trinkets. Each of her textiles incorporates ingredients one could find at a local bodega: Untitled (El Dorado) (all works cited, 2017) has embedded chili peppers and strips of lemongrass; Untitled (Top City #1, No. 2) carries cigarettes. Like her grandfather, her materials serve to orient the viewer in time and space. The strict warp and weft of Gillies’s work highlight the way that interruption and pattern coexist in her grandfather’s sculptures—for example, his So Anyway, where bottle tops infiltrate strings of beads. The connection between the artists seems to go beyond blood, which is the exhibition’s great success. Both Herms and Gillies use abstraction to point outward to the world around them rather than inward to some meditative self. The work, therefore, doesn’t spin a specific narrative but rather asks the viewer to travel through free association, letting memory and familiarity inform meaning.

In the context of the white cube, the overlooked objects that the artists choose—beads, matches, tinfoil—take on revelatory importance, as if they were characters of some deranged code that Herms and Gillies share. While it’s impossible to crack, the experience of looking at it reminds one of hearing people speak in foreign tongue: The words pour over you, but what sticks is the feeling of humanity they impart.

Kat Herriman

“alt-facts”

Postmasters
54 Franklin Street
June 17, 2017–July 29, 2017

William Powhida, Didactics (Thieland), 2017, digital print on aluminum, 20 x 20". From the series “Didactics,” 2017.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe. Celebrating an image’s fictitious nature may have been cool nearly a century ago, but is it ethically imperative in 2017, the heyday of spin and “alternative facts.” In this exhibition—a summer group show done right—work by seven individual artists and four artist duos, centered on Kellyanne Conway’s noxious phraseology, demonstrates the continuing social and political worth of artistic sleight of hand.

Matt Johnson’s Untitled (Amazon Box), 2016, is an exacting replica of a crumpled delivery carton, made from carved and painted wood. The sculpture enshrines the debris from online purchases and attempts to transform it into something solid, lasting. In New York Times, 2008, a mock edition of the titular journal of record, dated July 4, 2009, and produced and distributed by the Yes Men, similarly employs deception as a means of promoting a sustainable and just world. In a riff on the paper’s slogan, the issue is dedicated to “all the news we hope to print” and features the optimistic headlines “IRAQ WAR OVER” and “Maximum Wage Law Succeeds.” William Powhida takes the opposite approach with his digital print series “Didactics,” 2017, made up of spoof magazine tear-outs and Web pages whose dystopian contents––such as an ad for Art Basel 2025 in Peter Thiel’s own country, “Thieland”––caution against the rapid overexpansion and corporatization of the art world. These pieces indeed constitute fake news, but their intent is to sow seeds of introspection, not misinformation. There’s a reason we grant creative license to artists, not campaign managers.

Hannah Stamler

Gelatin

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street, Ground floor and 8th Floor
June 23, 2017–August 4, 2017

View of “Gelatin: New York Golem,” 2017.

In Paul Wegener’s 1925 silent film Der Golem, the titular construction comes to life when a magic word, written on paper, is inserted into the clay creature’s chest. Gelatin’s exhibition “New York Golem” takes consecrated insertion to an absurdly literal end, as ceramic totems shaped by the artists’ genitals are supported by an array of improvised pedestals.

The sculptures are each titled New York Golem (all works 2017), and some have only the barest hint of figuration. Display apparatuses throughout the show seem to be frantic amalgams of studio supplies and readily available materials. The equation of sexual and creative energy, along with the claim that artistry endows form with life, is a foundational myth of modernism—Auguste Rodin’s The Hand of God, ca. 1896, with its rough marble abutting a miniature sleeping woman in the clutch of a veiny oversize hand, might be a paradigmatic case for both. Gelatin’s objects perform a hyperbolic version of these values.

One might ask if amplifying the latent ridiculousness of masculine vitalism constitutes a critique. But the physical comedy of some works is undeniable. Take, for instance, one sculpture on a curving wooden tripod—perhaps made of old bannisters—supporting a glazed ceramic. The sex act seems to have entailed grasping a cube of clay while thrusting. The handholds, now fired, become ersatz ears. It is easy to address the lamb-headed octopus as a creature, but staring into the pube-print-circled hole that uncomfortably constitutes its face is a gross-out gag worthy of Mike Meyers, or Rabelais.

David Muenzer

Satoshi Kojima

Bridget Donahue
99 Bowery, 2nd Floor
June 7, 2017–August 4, 2017

Satoshi Kojima, Beautiful Things, 2013, oil on canvas, 98 1/2 x 62 1/2".

Satoshi Kojima’s exhibition of pastel-drenched, otherworldly oil paintings here—his first show in New York—speaks of being a stranger in a strange land and liking it. The artist moved from Japan to Germany to study art, and found in Düsseldorf a city where “it’s quite normal for numbered women in lingerie to strike poses in windows,” according to Peter Doig and Parinaz Mogadassi’s text for the show. Pleasure-seeking, primal instincts and a trippy search for self are the subjects of these pieces.

The settings, futuristic-looking and Op-inspired, are hallucinatory. In Last Dance, 2016, a pair of groovy figures wave their hands against a disco-glitter landmass—or is it a sky?—while posing on a train track that leads to nowhere. Beautiful Things, 2013, gives us blue-skinned aliens catching smiling, sperm-like objects being shat out by floating women—Lucys defecating from a sky full of yellow diamonds. The kaleidoscopic galaxy space in which the shirtless, jorts-clad disc jockey moves in DJ Box, 2017, vibrates. The anal-retentive construction of the background in this work is lightened by the painter’s soft-edged sensibilities. With ONO, 2014, the phrase “OH . . . NO . . .” appears as a pattern behind a man embarrassed by his hard-on, likely caused by the pretty male sylph reclining seductively on the grass in a thought bubble. Among all the negatives is one “OH . . . YES . . .”—a crack in the brittle armor of sexual frustration, a moment of giving in to lust’s supple embrace. Oh yes, yes . . . YES.

Yin Ho

Gogo Graham

67 Ludlow
67 Ludlow Street
July 14, 2017–August 5, 2017

View of “Gogo Graham: drgn ldy 1.1,” 2017.

Gogo Graham studied evolutionary biology before switching to fashion and starting her own line exclusively for trans women. Because most clothes aren’t made for trans women’s bodies, Graham’s one-off pieces are fitted to the person who wears them. The clothes are gifted to the models post-show. Two weeks prior to the opening of the artist’s exhibition here, Graham presented “Dragon Lady,” a one-night sculpture show at Romeo Gallery. Pushing against her experiences of being exoticized as a “dragon lady”—a white Western stereotype of Asian women as stubborn and manipulative—Graham presented drywall composite mannequins sheathed in thongs and furniture wrap, faces modeled after Kabuki and Noh masks. Styled with long beauty-shop hair, some mannequins were gnarled and bone colored; others were painted red, hunched like congealed foam.

In an interview with Out magazine, Graham said that the mannequins were “intended to convey my interaction with normative and horrific femme archetypes that exist within Japanese folklore.” Here, Graham fastened similar Noh masks to gas meters lining the gallery’s main space. The masks anthropomorphized the room into another kind of grotesque body, re-embodied (or perhaps possessed) by art viewers. And while the masks change expression based on the wearer’s head position, Graham’s stationary pieces—such as Chiyoko, 2017, named for the artist’s grandmother—required viewers to move their own heads instead, thereby rendering it impossible to view an entire work at once. Recalling Anicka Yi’s critiques of Western ocularcentrism, Graham’s opacity felt like a protective gesture as well, allowing the masks to shield themselves from the white gaze’s constitutive violence. Were viewers to remove a mask—hoping, perhaps, for a coherent interiority passively waiting to be mined—they would only find the meters, and basement walls lit like a postapocalyptic bunker.

Haley Markbreiter

“The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin”

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue
March 17, 2017–August 6, 2017

Mary Reid Kelley, Charles Baudelaire, 2013, ink-jet print, 22 x 16".

For Walter Benjamin, Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century, not only a center of cultural production but a capital as metaphor—a metonymy for modernity more generally. The contrast between its chaotic street life and the orderly arcade passages that framed its shop windows became the structural concept for his last work, the unfinished Arcades Project, written between 1927 and 1940. This compilation of quotes and original writings is, in turn, the organizing principle for this show combining wall texts by Kenneth Goldsmith and works by Walead Beshty, Andrea Bowers, Nicholas Buffon, Cindy Sherman, Mungo Thomson, and others.

Benjamin’s book is organized into chapters he calls “convolutes,” with headings ranging from “The Theory of Knowledge” to “Idleness.” Curator Jens Hoffmann has matched each of these with an artist. Thus, four photographs from 2009 to 2011 titled New York City by Lee Friedlander are grouped under “Convolute M: The Flâneur.” Friedlander’s camera captures mannequins glimpsed through shop windows. The interior layering with the cityscape is captured in reflection—an equivalent to how Benjamin’s flâneur might have seen the arcades of Paris. “Convolute J: Charles Baudelaire” is represented by a Mary Reid Kelley ink-jet print portrait of the poet (Charles Baudelaire, 2013). If Arcades had a hero, it was the ragpicker, a person who Baudelaire championed as the custodian, and curator, of Paris: “All that the city has rejected, all that it has lost, shunned, disdained, broken, this man catalogues and stores. He creates order, makes an intelligent choice . . . he gathers the refuse that has been spit out by the god of Industry.” The conversation, literal and ironic, between these widely varied works and Benjamin’s text is an argument for W. B. Yeats’s claim that “the living can assist in the imagination of the dead.”

Zachary Sachs

Hadassa Goldvicht

Meislin Projects
819 Madison Ave, 4C
June 15, 2017–August 11, 2017

Hadassa Goldvicht, Taking Care (Turtles) #1, 2014, video, color, sound, 2 minutes 5 seconds.

In 2013, artist Hadassa Goldvicht was invited to participate as an artist-in-residence at Beit Venezia, a Jewish cultural foundation in Venice established to celebrate five hundred years of the diaspora’s existence in the city. Since then, the artist, who resides in Jerusalem, has been returning to Venice for interviews, meals, and prayers with the local community. During this time, she met Aldo Izzo, an eighty-six-year-old former sea captain who, for more than three decades, has been the caretaker for Venice’s two Jewish cemeteries (he is also the person many in the community turn to for their burial preparations). In the midst of the city’s glorified beauty, Goldvicht managed to find something profoundly intimate for her show here, one part of a larger exhibition being held at Venice’s Fondazione Querini Stampalia in conjunction with the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale.

“No, I am not afraid of death. Not at all,” says Izzo as he finishes naming his collection of mummified turtles in Taking Care (Turtles) #1, 2014, one of the four videos presented at the gallery. We also see him sitting at home, chanting a Jewish prayer for the dead (Psalms, 2014). The House of Life, 2016, a large video projection on a nearby wall, captures a graveyard’s ancient tombstones from a bird’s-eye view. Religion, art, life, death, the past and future—all facets of existence are intertwined.

In the gallery’s office spaces are photographs from Izzo’s lively personal diary: In Aldo’s Log (Purim), 2017, the festive Jewish holiday is noted alongside a picture of a Venetian carnival, while Aldo’s Log (Soles in Terrazzo), 2017, features a portrait of the man sunbathing on a balcony. Another extraordinary document from the show is the enchanting exhibition catalogue, published for the Venice exhibition—it carries snippets of conversations the artist had with her newfound tribe. One person talks about how beautiful it is to get to the Lido by boat, look at the birds, and think of freedom—the pleasures of being alive.

Naomi Lev

“Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
April 15, 2017–August 13, 2017

Běla Kolářová, Five by Four, 1967, wood, paint, metal paper fasteners, 56 x 39 1/2".

Though it feels like a side gallery, this exhibition is more than a side note of inclusion, thanks to curators Starr Figura and Sarah Meister and assistant Hillary Reder’s thoughtfully pared selection from the museum’s holdings. There are few surprises but some terrific anomalies in these five rooms, grouped roughly by theme (Gestural Abstraction, Geometric Abstraction, Reductive Abstraction, Fiber and Line, and Eccentric Abstraction). To wit: Helen Frankenthaler’s Trojan Gates, 1955, opens the show with a hardened enamel luster and feels like an entranceway to something other than her most famous muted stains. Many paintings in this early field, including Elaine de Kooning’s scrappy Bullfight, 1960, and Joan Mitchell’s magisterial Ladybug, 1957, hint pointedly at these doyennes’ fierce struggle for acceptance without any asterisk.

Things cool off in the next room, in which geometric precision takes over from gestural impulse. The stripe shadows of Gego’s stacked iron sculpture Eight Squares, 1961, is a wonderful complement to Gertrudes Altschul’s photographs, which compose abstract geometry from everyday objects. A discovery for me: the unexpected, severe beauty of Běla Kolářová’s Five by Four, 1967, with the punctures and twists of its gridded metal fasteners. Anni Albers’s Free-Hanging Room Divider, 1949, is used to do just that in a hallway of textiles, ceramics, and Lina Bo Bardi’s iconic Poltrona Bowl Chair, 1951. The corridor opens into the clean Minimalism of Jo Baer, Yayoi Kusama, Agnes Martin, Eleanore Mikus, Bridget Riley, and Anne Truitt.

Yellow Abakan, 1967–68, a magnificent ten-foot sisal wall sculpture by Magdalena Abakanowicz, who just passed away, appears in my favorite room, with Ruth Asawa’s great suspended wire sculpture (Untitled, ca. 1955) and Lenore Tawney’s Little River Wall Hanging, 1968, whose delicate linen streams form the shape of a coffin. With a collection this strong, there’s no excuse not to make more space for these artists to hold their own in the main fourth- and fifth-floor painting and sculpture galleries.

Prudence Peiffer

Naama Tsabar

Paul Kasmin | 297 Tenth Avenue
297 Tenth Avenue
July 12, 2017–August 18, 2017

View of “Naama Tsabar: Transboundary,” 2017.

For all the comparisons between musical instruments and human bodies—especially the guitar as a stand-in for a wasp-waisted woman—relatively few sound artists confront the gendered history of musical performance. Naama Tsabar is an exception. In “Transboundary,” her first solo exhibition here, she shows four monochrome sculptures in felt, strung with piano wire and attached to amps. Like Robert Morris’s felt sculptures from the late 1960s, their scale evokes the body. But unlike Morris’s felts, which were arrayed in folds that often resembled the female form, Tsabar’s sculptures are pinned to the wall and stretched taut. At first glance, they appear more related to hard-edge painting than to sound sculptures, such as Rebecca Horn’s Concert for Anarchy, 1990, a piano whose keys “explode” outward every few minutes, with a loud bang.

Tsabar’s details slyly nod to formalism. Work on Felt (Variation 18) Burgundy (all works 2017) features diagonal slashes, à la Lucio Fontana. Work on Felt (Variation 16 and 17) Dark Blue and Burgundy, a diptych, feels like an Ellsworth Kelly, but groovier. When activated, Tsabar’s sculptures have a unifying, transfixing effect. During the opening, several female musicians (including Tsabar, who used to be in a punk band) played a set composed especially for the sculptures, accompanied by Lindsay Powell (aka Fielded) on vocals. The felts stood up to Powell’s full-throated voice, with a surprising range of dynamics and emotions. The pieces were stroked, struck, or played with a bow, and had the capacity to respond and resonate with movement—as vivid and alive as the people playing them.

Wendy Vogel

Dana Powell

Allen & Eldridge
55 Delancey Street, Located below James Fuentes
July 18, 2017–August 18, 2017

Dana Powell, Ghost drive, 2017, oil on linen, 9 x 12".

Refreshingly, Dana Powell’s twelve oil-on-linen paintings here are titled to succinctly convey their subjects: for example, Pale pool or Smoke screen (all works 2017). The approach is confident, allowing the viewer to engage visually without superficial complication. Subjects include seemingly benign situations, such as the white cloud in Puff or earth’s celestial companion in Daymoon, both delicately rendered and modest in scale. Test site and Hotbox, however—a picture of an explosion and closed elevator doors leaking smoke—complicate matters with their deadpan representations and grim humor.

Night drive, Lot, and Ghost drive depict the cinematic isolation and unease of road journeys undertaken in the dark. This is particularly strident in the latter piece, wherein the car’s headlights are all that pierce the pitch black of night, illuminating the highway and a wisp of something occupying the right lane. These shadowy paintings, along with Hotbox and Test site, cast the artist’s more picturesque images in a less comforting light. Why is the water in Pale pool rippling? Is someone out of the frame swimming? Drowning? And are the bright flashes in Rockets celebratory fireworks or distress flares?

Only Punch, made to appear as if a fist has been put through it, mounted on a strut behind a cutout section of wall, is overdone and unconvincing in its supposed violence. Otherwise, the tight effectiveness of this exhibition is due principally to the sly, undermining influence Powell’s sundry narratives have on one another.

Darren Jones

“So I traveled a great deal. I met George, Ebbe, Joy, Philip, Jack, Robert, Dora, Harold, Jerome, Ed, Mike, Tom, Bill, Harvey, Sheila, Irene, John, Michael, Mertis, Gai-fu, Jay, Jim, Anne, Kirby, Allen, Peter, Charles, Drummond, Cassandra, Pamela, Marilyn, Lewis, Ted, Clayton, Cid, Barbara, Ron, Richard, Tony, Paul, Anne, Russell, Larry, Link, Anthea, Martin, Jane, Don, Fatso, Clark, Anja, Les, Sue, and Brian.”

Matthew Marks Gallery | 522 West 22nd Street
522 West 22nd Street
July 6, 2017–August 18, 2017

Joanne Kyger, Descartes, 1968, single-channel video, black-and-white, sound, 11 minutes 14 seconds.

One of the pleasures of this exhibition is seeing artists deviate from their typical mediums: Witness the suite of trance-inducing drawings by the filmmaker Jordan Belson, poet Joanne Kyger’s heady video that riffs on Descartes, and a series of low-res street photographs by the poet Tisa Walden. A romantic sense of freedom blossoms here, which could be linked to the fact that all of the featured artists hail from Northern California (and were alive during the Summer of Love fifty years ago). Also on view are brightly hued taxonomic paintings of nudibranchs on pitch-black backgrounds by Isabella Kirkland, exquisite abstract wooden sculptures by Robert Strini, and large-format photorealist paintings of domestic interiors by Jack Mendenhall. All sing the body electric.

Organized by the artist Vincent Fecteau and the curator Jordan Stein, the elegant show takes its lengthy title from a line in Kyger’s video, wherein she recites her poem Descartes and the Splendor Of via voice-over. Like the rest of the works, her piece is an excellent prompt for thinking about ekstasis, a philosophical standing outside the self and testing the limits of finitude, which in some mystic traditions leads to a union with a nonhuman divine entity. In Descartes, 1968, the only video Kyger ever made, she articulates her ontological argument of “Mother God,” who has “created all.” “I think hence I am. Or I doubt hence I am. Or I spin hence I am. Or I reject hence I am. You get the picture,” she notes. Each section of the work’s six parts is distinguished by varying early video effects, and throughout she reconciles the quotidian with the ecstatic––by puffing on a cigarette and lounging on a couch in one scene, while the voice-over lays out her heuristic proof. In a way, the show feels like a memorial to the free-form thinking of this undervalued poet-mystic, who passed away this past March in Bolinas at eighty-two.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

“Elaine, Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here”

Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
327 Broome Street
June 29, 2017–August 18, 2017

Joan Snyder, Dear Irene, 1970, oil, acrylic, pencil, and spray paint on canvas, 15 x 15".

The snappy title of this summer group exhibition—“Elaine, Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here”—comes from an anecdote relayed by Elaine de Kooning in response to Linda Nochlin’s feminist essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (both Nochlin’s essay and de Kooning’s tale were published in the January 1971 issue of Artnews). The painter recalled an incident when a boorish man at a party began to ask her and Joan Mitchell, “What do you women artists think . . . ?” Not waiting around for him to finish his query, Mitchell—as famous for her uncompromising attitude as for her take on Abstract Expressionism—grabbed de Kooning’s arm and split.

With works spanning fifty years, this show poses a provocative question: How can artwork serve the politics of liberation (of race, gender, or sexuality) without explicit representation? In the older works, identity politics often remained subtle. Consider de Kooning’s portrait of the queer dance critic Edwin Denby, 1960, or Joan Snyder’s Dear Irene, 1970—a sly love note scrawled in graphite and colored pencil, surrounding expressionist daubs of rainbow-colored paint. Rosemary Mayer’s resplendent sculpture Balancing, 1972, with swags of peach and pink fabric hung from acrylic tubes and cords, evokes flesh. Yet despite her feminist inclinations—she was a cofounder of the all-women A.I.R. Gallery—she insisted her work wasn’t solely focused on depicting the female body.

Other artists embrace abstraction as a site of resistance, such as the African American artist Al Loving, represented here with a multicolored paper collage (Untitled, 1976). Feminist abstraction features prominently, with a canvas from Deborah Anzinger adorned with mirrors (I told you, 2017), Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s painting bedecked with T-shirts (Lurch, 2009–14), and a rope construction by Sheila Pepe (On to the Hot Mess, 2017). Among the youngest artists, no single formal approach dominates. But Sable Elyse Smith’s poetic video Untitled, 2012, stands out as a defiant collaboration in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers. Made with a student from Baghdad, the work features washy images of war and prayer. A voice-over ponders failed jokes, crying as cleansing, and the body as a “totem to loss.”

Wendy Vogel

“Body, Self, Society: Chinese Performance Photography of the 1990s”

The Walther Collection Project Space
526 West 26th Street, Suite 718
April 14, 2017–August 19, 2017

View of “Body, Self, Society: Chinese Performance Photography of the 1990s,” 2017. From left: Cang Xin, To Add One Meter to an Unknown Mountain, 1995; Ma Liuming, Fen-Ma Liuming Walks The Great Wall, 1998.

A major performance-art exhibition opened in Beijing on February 5, 1989, with a bang—the young artist Xiao Lu pulled out a pistol and fired two shots at a mirror in her own installation, prompting her arrest. Thereafter, the government cracked down on all unauthorized public performances, a move that was exacerbated by the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, which started only two months later.

The artists’ colony that formed in the wake of these events (called the Beijing East Village, after their New York counterpart) used private performances to illustrate the political situation and recorded them on camera, perhaps to be exhibited later in a less rigid world. In 1998, Ma Liuming’s gender-fluid alter ego, Fen-Ma, trekked naked along the Great Wall, donning lipstick and, eventually, bleeding feet—an illegal body traversing the most grandiose symbol of China’s state rule. In Cang Xin’s photograph To Add One Meter to An Unknown Mountain, 1995, ten nude artists are piled atop one another, organized according to weight. Per the video of the work’s execution, another collaborator used a tape measure to verify the bodies’ collective form as one meter off the ground of Miaofeng Mountain, where the artists were able to address their surroundings by their own methods and systems, west of their censored city.

East Village member Zhang Huan once said, “The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is the proof of identity. The body is language.” These artists documented their work to comment on the interaction between their bodies and the social and natural landscapes they struggled against. If performance and its photography were radical and unsettled genres in the West, their presence in this context takes the political power of such image-making to an unprecedented level.

Blair Cannon

Megan Marrin

David Lewis
88 Eldridge Street, Fifth Floor
June 28, 2017–August 20, 2017

Megan Marrin, The Legacy (STL), 2017, oil on canvas on Styrofoam, 72 x 96".

If the art world had to be reduced to a single smell, the pungent fumes of freshly slathered white paint would make a strong candidate. Its redolence plays an unwitting foil to Megan Marrin’s latest show, “Corps,” a septet of Photorealist paintings that take as their muse the Amorphophallus titanum, or corpse flower. Thousands of people descend upon botanical gardens to bask in the flower’s languid bloom—which occurs every seven to ten years—that is celebrated for a rancid fragrance often likened to that of a spoiled carcass.

This pageantry is transformed into sexual farce on Marrin’s large oil, canvas, and Styrofoam images, where peeling spathes resemble shy stripteases and spadices are tape-measured or cordoned off like talent on a porn set. Given B-movie titles such as The Breed and The Hunger (both 2016), their debt to the floral abstractions of O’Keeffe originates not in reductive Freudian readings, but in how both artists approach an individual subject from various perspectives in order to glean its essence. While deep mauves and a healthy chartreuse appear triumphantly in The Invitation, in The Legacy (STL) (both 2017), our subject is imbued with a sense of destined wilt—erupting from a bed of blackened petals, the deflated spathe, in seasick beige, resembles a chewed-up ballet slipper. Elsewhere, the occasional human figure is smoothed and faceted, as though run through a Prisma filter—ironic, since the allure of this painterly time-lapse resides in the toilsome attention paid to what is so often memorialized with an iPhone snapshot.

Zack Hatfield

“The World Without Us”

Brennan & Griffin
122 Norfolk Street
July 27–August 25

Lin May Saeed, Lioness Relief, 2015, Styrofoam, paint, wood, 23 x 33 x 7".

If you’ve been at all conscious since the start of this dreadful year and never once wished for Armageddon, you probably shouldn’t be trusted. “The World Without Us,” the darkly suggestive title of this group exhibition, casts the assembled works as detritus from a civilization—ours, of course—gone to hell. This is not a negative assessment of the pieces on view, but rather a testament to the misanthropically groovy black energy they radiate as a whole.

Upon entering the space you notice Lin May Saeed’s fabulous Lioness Relief, 2015, a Styrofoam and wood sculpture of the titular creature wading through a body of water, maybe in the jungle. It’s such a lonely and desperate-looking thing, both the artwork and the cat. Painted in an array of Midwestern dialysis clinic blues, browns, and greens, it makes one think of a display for a natural history museum culled from a destroyed future, built from trash and a vague memory of a PBS wildlife special. Flanking this work are TM Davy’s trio of crayon-and-watercolor phantom stallions (all to be titled, 2017) and Akira Ikezoe’s marvelously sick oil painting Coconut Heads-Happy Go Lucky, 2017, a hieroglyphic arrangement of emaciated humans—one of the few representations of actual people in the show—shitting, fucking, and torturing one another, among other activities.

On the opposite wall is Jeni Spota C.’s Spaghetti Poodle (Pink) and Spaghetti Poodle (Blue), both 2017, a painterly pair of cheery but creepy dog pictures that could’ve been salvaged from a 1950s bomb shelter, and Trevor Shimizu’s canvas of a cold-comfort transitional object in soiled-panty pink, Nordstrom’s Bear, 2016. Close to the gallery’s entrance is Karen Heagle’s painting of four doom-ready carrion birds, Untitled (Vultures Scrying), 2017. One has its wings outstretched against a field of gold leaf—a flash of tomorrow’s landscape, perhaps, shimmering and dead.

Alex Jovanovich

Myoung Ho Lee

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
June 29–August 25

Myoung Ho Lee, Tree...#2, 2011, archival inkjet print, 41 x 60".

In 2015, environmentalists rejoiced after a new study estimated that there are three trillion trees on Earth—an unexpectedly immense tally. Meanwhile, the few remaining photography critics learned of a less joyous abundance: By the end of 2017, we will have collectively shot more than one trillion digital photos in one year—a glum statistic to reckon with in the campaign against a bumbling, illiterate image culture where photographs are taken, not made.

Myoung Ho Lee attends to both of these profusions with deceptive simplicity. For his “Tree Abroad” series, 2011–17, the artist enlisted industrial cranes and a large crew to install white canvases behind solitary trees in South Korea, the artist’s home country, and Mongolia. This costly, time-consuming performance remains vestigial in the actual images, which are doctored by Lee so that each tree appears backdropped by a levitating canvas—arboreal mirages amid pale skies, golfable pastures, pleasantly bland meadows. While the setup in Tree… #2, 2011, resembles a cherry-colored Rorschach test, others could be unlikely matinees at the rural drive-in.

Mirages, or billboards, portray what is desired, in theory. By advertising what is readily visible in nature, Lee’s stagings question the daily hierarchies of seeing, slyly conflating Korea’s tranquil landscape tradition with the bold style of studio portraiture perfected by Richard Avedon. But unlike Avedon—who plopped subjects into white backgrounds to relieve them of context, muddling ideas of neutral looking—Lee occasionally leaves traces of each spectacle’s production within the frame. Backdrops are wrinkled and shadowed. Gloved fingers can be seen curled around a canvas’s edge in Tree…#9, 2017. Electrical towers pock the horizon in Tree…#3, 2013, blued by distance and almost indiscernible. Totems of humankind’s giddy disregard for nature, the towers’ presence sobers up the artist’s wanderlust aesthetic, a reminder of the threats that loom over a tree’s gorgeous symmetry, over the very existence of a season.

Zack Hatfield

Syeus Mottel

SITUATIONS
127 Henry St
August 4–August 26

Syeus Mottel, Untitled, 1972/73, silver gelatin print, 5 x 7". From left: Matty Small, James Echevarria, unknown child, Roberta Fulton, Roy Battiste.

Syeus Mottel, freelance photographer and media consultant for Buckminster Fuller, spent the months between September 1972 and January 1973 documenting and interviewing the community of CHARAS, a grassroots organization made up of ex–gang members in the Lower East Side. After creating a storefront school for themselves and supporting local businesses, they wanted to tackle issues of affordable housing. They asked Fuller to give a talk to the group and, after deliberations, agreed to consider the geodesic dome as a model to challenge their community’s lack of agency over their urban space.

The photographs here, all Untitled, 1972/73, show CHARAS members watching television in their loft headquarters at 303 Cherry Street, a dome’s rain-protective polyethylene sheet inflating in the wind, and children and women holding 3-D tessellated models. One picture depicts an unlikely family-style portrait taken after the group constructed a sixty-foot dome on an empty lot—only two blocks from this gallery’s location—on a day when a jovial Bucky came to visit. Fuller is shown lovingly grasping a bored-looking child, flanked by his assistant, his wife, and the protagonists of the project; the dome in the background sinks into the earth like an asteroid.

Unlike the Southwestern dome communities born out of a hippie “turn on, tune in, drop out” ethos, the adoption of the dome by CHARAS can be read as more radical. The narrative, however, doesn’t account for what happened after Mottel’s part public relations, part documentarian stint. On the ultimate failure of the domes, Stewart Brand—publisher of the countercultural periodical Whole Earth Catalog—wrote that his generation left the domes behind like “hatchlings leaving their eggshells.” As the group watched Bucky climb into the back of a cab to leave the site, did they feel left behind, or led forward?

Nolan Boomer

“The Horizontal”

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
July 6–August 31

Al Held, Untitled, 1950–52, oil on canvas on board, 24 x 29".

The poetic use of the horizon for the purpose of abstraction can be traced back to early twentieth-century philosophy, when the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, took the concept of the horizon as a way to conflate experience with what is lived rather than perceived. This group exhibition expands upon the power of the horizon line in formalist, landscape-inflected imagery.

An oil painting by Jenny Holzer, compromised knowledge, 2014–15, made up of blurred horizontal bands of color appearing to redact faint traces of text on a white background, is strikingly uncanny. A darkly resolute painting by Al Held, Untitled, 1950–52—modest in scale and bereft of his usual brilliant coloration—hangs next to an ink painting by David Smith, ∆Σ 10/19/54, 1954, which bears seven thick swaths of horizontal lines in gloomy gradations of purple and blue. An etching by Richard Serra, Weight I, 2009, looms large; its more than six-foot-high surface is completely covered in dense black ink, except for a thin horizontal white band at the top. Prabhavathi Meppayil’s, Fourteen/Sixteen, 2016, an arrangement of copper wire embedded in white gesso, is stark and electrifying next to a seascape by Matthew Wong, Last Summer in Santa Monica, 2017. Composed of luminous strips of warm hues, Wong’s painting is so minimal that it could easily be passed over were it not for the gauzy trace of a bird in flight and a sun-like orb. This succinct exhibition provides a space where relative histories are subdued, and the experience of a horizon by a singular person is enriched by collective accounts.

Tabitha Piseno

Sable Elyse Smith

Recess | ASSEMBLY
370 Schermerhorn Street
June 23–September 1

Sable Elyse Smith, How We Tell Stories to Children, 2015, video, color, silent, 45 seconds.

A camera scans a dim, panoramic street scene, dogging but never catching the slight figure beyond the screen’s edge. An oscillating, angular elbow marks slowed time, leading us through an obscure landscape in the video How We Tell Stories to Children, 2015—a looping, exaggerated excerpt of a longer piece of a chase that appears to be a game of tag but could be something far more sinister. In poetry filtered through works executed in glaring light boards and neon, Sable Elyse Smith proposes parallels between this playground activity and another kind of hunt with much higher stakes.

A paragraph scrawled in black paint on the gallery walls, Untitled, 2017, is followed by an ellipsis of three white pages laid out on the gray tile floor. While kneeling to look at the papers, your position is mirrored by the pictures of six men crouched across two sheets. Three faceless bodies are spanned by a black shape, a “weird triangle of silence and smiles and pauses,” as Smith has written on the wall above. To their right, three other men pose in a casually synchronized row, an image taken directly from an album of Polaroids made by California inmates, which was sold for $45,000 at the Paris Photo Los Angeles art fair. The commodification of these photos mines new ways to survey the friendships that happen against a backdrop of chain-link fences and family reunions celebrated in guarded rooms. Pairing these tableaux with a picture of an enclosed basketball court in scapeG.O.A.T., 2017, Smith notes the material correspondences between this egalitarian urban arena and an oppressively supervised jail yard. In Smith’s hands, youthful amusements blend fluidly into horrifying realities of subjugation, cruelty, and capriciousness.

Nicole Kaack

Elaine Cameron-Weir

New Museum
235 Bowery
May 3–September 3

View of “Elaine Cameron-Weir: viscera has questions about itself,” 2017.

Elaine Cameron-Weir’s current exhibition, “viscera has questions about itself,” feels like the laboratory/dressing room of a cyborg goddess. Five otherworldly garments and seemingly sentient accouterments occupy the gallery, titled with chopped and spliced phrases such as “subcutanean tantric the skingrip palpable, it” and “body conduit (dish of) psyche’ dissolved” (all works 2017). A long bolt of enameled crocodile-like skin, Snake 8, is draped down to the floor. In the middle of the gallery is a chain-mail garment with metal breasts and spine, subtly echoing Snake 8’s sinuous verticality. Another piece features two mysterious death baguettes nested in twin beds of white sand that are themselves cradled by troughs that look like a pair of extra-long, lace-up slippers. Inside the work’s shoestrings, little pans cook a thick black liquid—labdanum resin that vaporizes a hint of musky perfume.

Toward the rear of the gallery, the sleeves of a parachute-silk tunic hug a blue-neon tube (Lamp with Garment). Elsewhere, a spherical heating mantle on a ring clamp bolted to a rod contains a glass clamshell (Vault). In this work, uncanny metal jaws, labeled a “dental phantom,” are perched atop something that resembles a beaker stand. Cameron-Weir’s objects conjure both the dark romanticism of sacred keepsakes and the sinister functionality of technical devices ready to spring into action. Indeed, modular elements such as electrical conduit tubes and generic sandbag weights temper the moody affect of more sensual materials. This merging of body and machine is characteristic of a paradigm shift toward hybridity that has occurred over the past several decades. As new ontologies and ideas of non-brain-based intelligence gain traction, perhaps we will listen more closely to our viscera’s questions about itself.

Vanessa Thill

Karl Salzmann

Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street
June 29–September 4

View of “Karl Salzmann,” 2017.

“I’ve been looking for freedom, I've been looking so long,” croons David Hasselhoff in his 1989 single “Looking for Freedom,” which the actor once sang before the Berlin Wall. Decades later, the Baywatch star’s desire for a happy world and personal autonomy remains unsatisfied, lending the cheesily infectious ballad some pathos. A few lines of the chorus are played on a short, booming loop as a part of Karl Salzmann’s exhibition here. The loop inevitably recalls the weaponization of pop at Guantanamo Bay, where music—especially anthems interpreted as jingoistic, like Bruce Springsteen’s hooky anti-Vietnam “Born in the USA,” dripping with satire misread by the interrogators—was used to torture inmates. Hasselhoff’s track emerges from a speaker hidden beneath a pile of wood, the wreckage of a bar that the show’s visitors were encouraged to destroy during the opening (Sorry, the bar is closed, all works cited, 2017). Around this tableau of Bacchanalian destruction is a pair of Roomba-like robot vacuums (Schergen[Henchman]) and a microphone crushed by a vise on a plinth (Kontrapunkt #2 [Counterpoint #2]).

A low hum regularly punctuates “Looking for Freedom”—it is deep and piercing enough to make being in the gallery uncomfortable. The hum comes from a large square speaker, flanked by white flags, at the back of the room (Lautsprecher Monument [Loudspeaker Monument]). If you stand directly in the sine wave’s path, it makes you feel like your head will explode. Standing to the side lessens the intensity and makes it more bearable. In spatializing the experience of sound, Saltzmann suggests how hearing can be reconfigured and turned into something monstrous. And the blank flags are not harbingers of surrender, but eerie reminders of all the violence that toxic patriotism produces: Witness the white nationalism in Charlottesville. The artist’s stark, grim vision is hypnotic, especially during brief moments when the whole room falls silent—every ninety seconds—while a strobe light, an element of Lautsprecher, relentlessly flashes.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons

The Met | Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
May 4–September 4

View of “Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons,” 2017.

Never mind that the dress, with fluffy black feathers bursting from an electric-blue halo, looks as though a giant scrunchie swallowed an ostrich. The piece from Rei Kawakubo’s “Blue Witch” collection, spring/summer 2016, is beautiful. With its opulent folds of fabric engulfing the mannequin, the dress is at once regal, farcical, and otherworldly. The Japanese designer is famous for spoofing traditional forms and subverting the conventional functions of women’s clothing. (This dress lacks armholes, while others sprout enough sleeves for an octopus.) Ever since she launched Comme des Garçons in 1969, Kawakubo has skewered binaries—male and female, luxury and kitsch—through designs that unravel such distinctions. In her embrace of opposites and contradictions, she regularly transforms catwalks into crossroads.

This exhibition assembles a cast of characters that could inhabit a phantasmagoric world conceived by Lewis Carroll or David Cronenberg, from mutant Stepford Wives in sheaths of picnic-ready pastel gingham bulging with bizarre humps to samurai sporting leather-daddy epaulets. One arresting coat from “Ceremony of Separation,” autumn/winter 2015–16, is a funereal confection of black polyester lace. Look closely and you will find children’s dresses and bonnets embedded among the curls and furls of fabric. The garment becomes a dying organism with offspring fused to its flanks, a creature supporting life even as it decays.

Viewers see Kawakubo’s designs through doorways and windows cut in white geometric chambers that form a futuristic labyrinth. This flashy presentation is a baffling choice for an artist whose radical imagination finds expression in three, not two, dimensions. Rarely does one get to fully circle a dress, to watch its audacious angles shift in space, and the installation drains the drama from many of the designs. Her works deserve to be scrutinized from multiple viewpoints, just as Kawakubo herself examines the world from unlikely perspectives.

Zoë Lescaze

“Sticky Fingers”

Arsenal Contemporary | New York
214 Bowery
July 14–September 6

Elizabeth Jaeger, Blonde Pots, 2017, ceramic, dimensions variable.

This exhibition views the human body through its dehumanization. The show’s title alone, “Sticky Fingers,” evokes all manner of flesh, tainted and tantalizing. Caroline Mesquita’s carnival of sheet-metal monsters, displayed here as sculptures, also surrounds the artist in her video The Ballad, 2017, where they engage in standoffs and sexual acts. An Te Liu’s sensual skull-like bronze abstractions (unexpectedly carved and cast from Styrofoam packaging and domestic artifacts) perch atop skinny plinths, while a dismembered body by Piotr Łakomy—multiple works composed of casts of himself and articles of clothing made from industrial materials—is scattered around the show.

The cellulite surfaces of Elizabeth Jaeger’s Blonde Pots, 2017, lovingly smeared with the artist’s handprints, carry the show’s undertone of female solitude—such lonely bodies, even as they stand together. This sense of estrangement crops up in Meriem Bennani’s iPhone-shot video as well: Ghariba (Stranger), 2017, is a stoner-TV-style document, à la Tim and Eric, of women from the artist’s family in her native Morocco. Like Jaeger, Bennani ponders female representation, but through a profoundly distorted lens, making her subjects alien. Bennani’s oblique message is felt by the incongruity of her content and her editing, that is, her life and her perspective.

The smallest yet most central of the works here is Louise Sartor’s Bolo, 2017, a gouache of a woman devouring spaghetti painted on a half-size egg carton. Her flaxen hair obscures her face, and thus her identity. Domesticity, debris, self, and isolation come together in Sartor’s piece, which illustrates not only slippery digits messy with spaghetti sauce, but also the “sticky fingers” of the show’s artists, meticulously forging an image of human life from raw material.

Blair Cannon

Maureen Gallace

MoMA PS1
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
April 9–September 10

Maureen Gallace, January Flowers, 2004, oil on panel, 11 x 12".

I would like to die inside of a Maureen Gallace painting. The New England of her intimately scaled canvases and panels—full of solitary beach shacks and desolate coastlines, summer homes, Christmas cottages, flowers, and trees—is irradiated by an endless midmorning sun. Her world is beautiful, sumptuous, yet just out of reach—every barn or verdant hedge seems dangerously close to being swallowed up whole by its vanishing point. The artist’s tableaux call to mind Paul Cézanne’s obsessive looking, the domestic surrealism of Lois Dodd, or Jane Freilicher’s rural poeticism. But the mood Gallace evokes is undeniably chilly. Her entire palette feels shot through with white. Though the months of July, August, September, and October show up in her works’ titles, the artist’s picturesque scenes are keenly touched by some kind of inescapable winter.

“Clear Day,” Gallace’s retrospective here, offers up more than twenty-five years of her brutally focused thinking and making. The show is spacious and elegantly appointed, but it’s hard not to feel anxious as you make your way through it. Gallace is a merciless editor of her own work, and some of these paintings have probably seen the business end of a scraper on countless occasions. It’s difficult to figure out the sweat equity of January Flowers, 2004, for instance, a delicate still life of three preternaturally lovely blooms (yellow roses? golden peonies?) resting in a clear glass vase. Its breezy facture is deceptive—it could’ve been made in one day or over the course of two thousand.

Gallace expertly suspends time for our luxurious perusal as well: The Woods, 2007, features Monet-tinged blossoms of the palest periwinkle hovering over a creamy field of lush foliage; Roses, Beach, 2008, depicts a wide-open sky streaked by a gossamer pink—the titular flowers gaze up in astonishment. In Summer Rainbow, Cape Cod, 2006, bands of prismatic color slice through an unusually dolorous firmament—necessary light to cut a grim heaven.

Alex Jovanovich

Sara Rabin

Larrie
27 Orchard Street
July 30–September 10

Sara Rabin, Face Swap II, 2017, oil on canvas, 12 x 12".

The drawings and paintings in Sara Rabin’s current solo exhibition illustrate the body as something curious, cute, stupid, or alien. The artist’s images are quite funny and very weird. The woman in Greetings, 2017—made with pencil and pastel on brown craft paper—gazes back at us, her ass facing the viewer while she’s on all fours with a pair of googly eyes drawn into the dark cloud of her bush. There’s a clown getting a blow job in That Girl; She a Real Clown Pleaser, 2014, and two more pop up as cappuccino art in the dopily titled I Had a Dream There Were Clowns in My Coffee, Clowns in My Coffee, 2015, a spoof on a line from Carly Simon’s 1972 radio classic, “You’re So Vain.”

In a number of drawings—such as Elevator Mirror, 2015, Shower Head, 2016, and Lamp, 2017—we see a topless woman snapping pictures of her distorted self in reflective surfaces. It’s fascinating to see Rabin take this familiar habit of self-obsession and -objectification into the terrain of utter self-estrangement.

Though her drawings call to mind the eroticism and humor of Tomi Ungerer, Rabin’s portrait paintings are influenced by German Expressionism. Otto Dix is specifically referenced in the show’s press release, but the artist’s deformed beings with nauseatingly large heads could also be the mutant babies of Yoshitomo Nara and Gustav Klimt, too. Face Swap I–IV, all 2017, are paintings named after the phone app that produces spongy distortions and waking nightmares. Too-big teeth, a droopy eye, and a cleft lip are skillfully rendered in oil on canvas. Matter-of-fact and of-the-moment, the paintings show contemporary narcissism to be a vertiginous—and certainly visceral—hall of mirrors.

Yin Ho

Maira Kalman

Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, Sixth Floor
June 1–September 16

Maira Kalman, Cream Teas, Sherborne Castle, 2017, gouache on paper, 12 x 9".

The county of Dorset in southwest England is characterized by rolling hills, rugged coastline, and wooded valleys. It’s this idyllic landscape that serves as the subject for Maira Kalman’s current show of ten gouache-on-paper paintings in the gallery’s project room, which focus on the gardens and domestic curiosities of the region’s stately, ancestral houses. (In the main space is a separate exhibition of paintings from Kalman’s 2005 edition of Strunk and White’s classic guide to writing, The Elements of Style.)

With illustrative flair and fondant-fancy colors, Cream Teas, Sherborne Castle (all works 2017) shows a Hyacinth Bucket–esque table setting in an elegant room, replete with plates of delicacies. In Hear a HA HA, Kingston Lacy, several women tour manicured pink flower beds, while in Who Didn’t Love This Place, Smedmore House, a tweed-clad gentleman and his dog walk away from a group of cows relaxing before steep, seaward land. But no bucolic setting, however tranquil, is all that it seems, nor can it be a comprehensive reflection of its human denizens. What lies beneath polite surfaces is a recurrent theme in British culture, providing the basis for television series such as Miss Marple (1984–92) and Midsomer Murders (1997–), set in seemingly benign English villages that are home to treachery.

Redolent of the rose-hued intrigue in Barbara Cartland novels or the protagonists of the board game Clue, the apparent Stepford cheerfulness of these works causes unease as to how safe the summer frosting is. Who is the food laid out for in that parlor? Why are all of the faces so solemn, unsmiling? What shadowy deeds are masked by the picturesque vistas and dainty treats of English country life—indeed, by the civilized facade of anyone’s?

Darren Jones

“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85”

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
April 21–September 17

Lorna Simpson, Rodeo Caldonia, 1986, photographic print, 8 x 10". From left: Alva Rogers, Sandye Wilson, Candace Hamilton, Derin Young, Lisa Jones.

In the mid 1980s, a group of about seventeen women came together in the regal Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene to create an avant-garde theater troupe named for an old B. B. King song and to needle the playwright Ntozake Shange, who had defected to Texas. The founding members of the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theatre described themselves as young, gifted, and black—but also weird, lonely, and in search of like souls, remembers the writer Lisa Jones, who penned the only two plays that ever made it into the collective’s repertoire. The work of Rodeo Caldonia was often outrageous, but it was also short lived. Just as they set themselves against other nearby artistic enclaves at the time, they acknowledged but broke away from the activism of their elders in the civil-rights and black-power movements. Their sense of entitlement was stronger but more complicated.

The story of Rodeo Caldonia—as seen in the striking early photographs of Lorna Simpson, a member alongside the actress Alva Rogers and the historian Kellie Jones—is just one of the many fascinating threads in this landmark exhibition, which follows the work of several such collectives through the history of black feminism in the United States. Another compelling story comes alive in the archival materials of Just Above Midtown, a gallery that worked with the artists Howardena Pindell, Lorraine O’Grady, and Senga Nengudi in the 1970s. Another story still is twined around the alluring self-portraiture of Ming Smith, the first (and for a time only) female member of Kamoinge, an association of black photographers established in the 1960s. Smith shot portraits of Grace Jones and Sun Ra as well as documentary-style imagery of everyday life from Harlem to the Ivory Coast. Her self-portraits here frame her body against a floral backdrop reminiscent of the Bamako school, with the added element of a defiant female gaze. Beyond the obvious importance of reviving lost history, the quiet insistence on collective action gives this show a timely political edge. “Give me a girl gang, a crew,” says Lisa Jones. “A zillion sisters ain’t enough.”

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island
Governors Island, Building 110, near Soissons Landing
May 27–September 24

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, A Supple Perimeter (detail), 2017, archival ink-jet prints, monoprints, Xerox copies, wheat paste, text fragments, self-authored poems, video, overhead projector, black Plexiglas, dimensions variable.

“This is a stout truth. Are you trying to die on that question?” This is printed on a piece of letter-size white paper, one of hundreds of black-and-white sheets covering a freestanding wall, like ads on a city street. The wall serves as an introduction to A Supple Perimeter, 2017, Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s installation here. But the “stout truth” cuts like a knife—especially following the recent acquittal of the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, a young black man, during a traffic stop last year.

Investigating race through text and images, Rasheed’s works take the form of writing in space. She installs framed or tacked pieces around the gallery’s perimeter, in clusters organized around a rough horizon. Like timelines or diagrammed sentences, some elements hover above or below this line. Many of Rasheed’s images appear warped or stretched to the edge of legibility, like they’ve been manipulated on the bed of a photocopier. (Occasionally, we see the artist’s fingers reproduced on the pages.) But abstraction doesn’t dilute the content, which ranges from the title of a book on black entrepreneurship to language possibly excerpted from a volume about gun protocols. Rasheed’s material choices also explore a taxonomy of blackness, from the inks of various kinds of prints to a reflective sheet of black Plexiglas, or a shadow thrown from an overhead projector.

Across the island, more of Rasheed’s text-based pieces occupy the exterior of the Fort Jay Theatre, constructed in 1939 as a cinema for military residents. Mimicking the cycle of runs for feature films, Rasheed will display new works every three to four weeks. In place of movie posters, she has displayed alliterative and stark black-and-white texts (If/Then, 2014–), seemingly targeting Governors Island’s hipster visitor demographic with phrases such as “Aggregated Apathy” or “Artisanal Anger.” Questions, 2017, is a marquee with a query that’s open to politicized interpretation: “Are We There Yet?”

Wendy Vogel

Willa Nasatir

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
July 14–October 1

Willa Nasatir, Conductor, 2017, C-print mounted on wood, 75 x 61".

Willa Nasatir’s photographs of her provisional and precarious studio assemblages reveal the artist’s ruminative tinkering—but the use of dramatic lighting demonstrates a tight control over her environment. Nasatir’s images are populated by the materials that frequently accompany artmaking, including hammers, stands, and brooms. And the interiority of these photos, whose configurations are distorted to the edge of recognition by her interventions, crucially echoes the personal nature of the studio itself.

The artist’s high-contrast, theatrically lit work is visibly indebted to the eerily intimate 1980s tableaux of photographers such as Barbara Kasten, Laurie Simmons, Vikky Alexander, and Ellen Brooks. Unlike these artists, however, Nasatir insists on analog manipulations, via mirrors and clear latex screens, which register as a pointed contemporary disavowal of postproduction software. Her latest set of ten large-scale C-prints, shown here alongside smaller black-and-white prints, comprises her most ambitious work to date, while also her most evasive.

Of the ten, at least six contain allusions to the human form. In several pieces, model wooden hands and amputated fingers sprouting from makeshift armatures wordlessly beckon to us for a closer look: A chubby doll leg rests inverted atop a crystal stopper in The Green Room (all works 2017), while a rubber-dipped work glove ominously adheres to a gauzy white surface stained with red in Coney Island #2. The objects’ physicality is further distorted by Nasatir’s use of the mirror—that jejune signifier of identity—in each of her compositions. Though the approach sounds heavy-handed, it is indeed useful, as the reflections of the props bleed beyond the pictures’ borders, allowing the artist’s haunted figures to slip out of view and indulge their own private whims.

Cat Kron

Kiluanji Kia Henda

International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)
1040 Metropolitan Avenue
June 27–October 6

Kiluanji Kia Henda, Rusty Mirage, 2015, inkjet print mounted on Sintra, 40 x 59".

A metal sign reading Miragem—the Portuguese word for “mirage”—once sat in the restaurant of a small desert community, rusted through from the billowing sands of southern Angola. A photograph of the peculiar sign, Rusty Mirage, 2015, is the centerpiece of Kiluanji Kia Henda’s current exhibition, a meditation on the failures of the modern city. In the main room, a four-channel video installation, Paradise Metalic [sic], 2014, outlines the birth of a mythological country. The Man with the Shovel, the hero of the story, seeks to answer the question, How do you build that which is God’s and not man’s? He lays claim to a small patch of land in the desert by driving a circle of stakes into the ground, then celebrating this simple success with his trusty assistant. In the subsequent chapters, however, the black-clad spirits of nature show their might: They push the stakes deeper into the earth, making them invisible, and obliterate a newly made concrete wall. This drama, with its focus on the assembly and destruction of simple geometric forms and architectures, plays out like a Minimalist soap opera.

Nonetheless, the Man with the Shovel manages to succeed, fabricating a skeletal steel utopia whose shape is derived from traditional Angolan sona sand drawings (other iterations of the structure are seen in photographs in the next room). But these bones cannot last. Henda illustrates humankind’s attempt at civilizing wilderness as an act of hubris. The artist’s tongue-in-cheek Instructions to Create Your Personal Dubai at Home, 2013, underscores this idea through a DIY Dubai construction manual, which tells us how to build a mini–Burj Khalifa with beer cans, or your own Palm Islands using carefully arranged matchsticks in a toilet. Magisterial cityscapes for cheap—no shovel required.

Patrick Jaojoco