GCC’s first exhibition with the gallery, which features multiple wall pieces, a sculptural installation, and sound work, is concerned with the evolution of various holistic practices—such as alternative healing and life coaching—that are gaining significant influence in Arab Gulf states. The eight artists who make up the collective are all strongly connected to the UAE and the Middle East, and their acronym loosely references that of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Here, they examine the multifocused, multifaceted synthesis of philosophies that fall under the rubric of “Positive Lifestyle” and the implications such Western, New Age ideas have in the context of the Gulf’s ultramodern, constitutionally Islamic societies. Central to GCC’s investigation of the sociological dimension of this phenomenon is the question of how this lifestyle movement is being adapted to and swayed by the region’s economic, religious, and political apparatus.
With respect to the utility of “positivity” conditioning within a culture repeatedly associated with a variety of inherited melancholic conditions, GCC observes that influential parties interpret the apparent conflict between theistic, noetic, and mystical ways of understanding body and self as a coupling of piety and productivity. Positive Pathways (+) (Version II), (all works cited, 2016), a plaster and sand sculpture that expands on the group’s installation for the Berlin Biennale, presents a woman performing the Quantum Touch technique on a child in the center of a racetrack. Scenes of practitioners performing ceremonies, taken from YouTube stills and rendered in 3-D on flocked thermoform (“Gestures”), blend digital broadcast imagery with iconographic motifs. Messages of ascendancy, devotion, and conquest delivered by a voice in the audio recording Victory, Triumph & I Love You, are eerily suggestive of the occult techniques from which mind control developed, exploiting the powerful appeal of being part of a love-filled communion. Expressed as feminine, the voice of authority and the power it exercises—to reference Foucault’s ideas on the favorable mechanisms of power—is presented as constructive and sanguine, rather than juridical, repressive, and negative.
If primetime is the ultimate venue for product placement, then shouldn’t it also work for plugging art? So wondered Mel Chin, who in 1995 contacted the set decorator of the sexy Los Angeles soap Melrose Place with an offer to make props for the show. She agreed, and Chin, with a network of artists collaborating under the moniker “The GALA Committee,” began a two-year project of churning out artworks for the series. In return for their unpaid labor, they demanded just one thing: the license to respond, subtly, to social issues.
In “Total Proof,” more than ninety-four of the group’s pieces are on view for the first time in New York, staged in rooms built to resemble the original sets. TV monitors scattered throughout the galleries add to the Universal Studios effect and screen clips of Committee items in their natural habitat––peeking out from behind Heather Locklear’s blond mane, or clasped in the well-manicured hands of her costars.
Like the show’s different plotlines, the works range in drama and intent. RU 486 Quilt, 1995–97, a blanket embroidered with the abortion pill––made for a character grappling with an unplanned pregnancy––issues a bold political statement. Other objects are far more tongue-in-cheek: When the show’s creators requested “optimistic, California-lite” paintings for a budding artist introduced during the fourth season, the Committee delivered Hockney-style canvases based on archival police photographs of famous Angeleno crime scenes. Some of the cleverest props took aim not at current events but at TV itself. A dartboard titled Target Audience, 1995–97, features only numbers between eighteen and forty-nine, in reference to the program’s target age demographic––it’s the same group that, for a time, became unwitting consumers of Conceptual art.
An architect with a subdued affect discusses his meticulous archiving process in a looping video outside the main exhibition. For him, a project can be a sketch, a study, or even meeting minutes, just as much as it can be a completed building. This video, as well as the majority of the artifacts in the main exhibition room, are untitled. A dense collection of archival studies, including thought maps and various ephemera, created by prominent spatial thinkers since the 1960s, are held side by side on shelves and a large vitrine. Curated by Giovanna Borasi and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, the works speak collectively. Drafts and preliminary thinking are argued as the site of critical debate, where the architect escapes the drudgery of development.
Many works take the form of a diagram—a pen-scrawled map by the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, Study of Harlem, 1968, shows the various collaborators recording a moment when the architect slowed down to understand the players in a multifaceted inquiry. Critical capacity is also located in the early experiments of computer-aided architectural design of the 1980s. One study of the Oceanside Civic Center, created by the firm UIG and Charles Moore, shows a rendering of a half-made structure, expressed by a Tron-like perspective grid. Its illegibility suggests the computer’s potential to render space in ways that are not directly applicable to practice.
While well-made art has always been expected to perform critically, the same cannot be said of architecture. The GSAPP has debated the critical (or postcritical) position of the practice for a decade or more—its very existence depends on doing so. The surprising success of the argument reveals the blasé and business-oriented underbelly of the profession at large. One cannot shake a certain yearning behind the work that at first appears without affect—toward what should have happened or what still could.
For Warhol’s aging Superstars, underground-legend status doesn’t pay the bills. Ivy Nicholson—the gorgeous, angular, eccentric Brooklyn-born fashion model and actress of the 1950s who became a Factory regular in the ’60s—has spent her golden years in poverty. Conrad Ventur’s seductive and unsettling color photographs (all works cited, 2010–14) show her still glamorous, with winged black eyeliner and a henna-red fringed hairstyle, uncannily photogenic even in difficult circumstances. His fascination with Warhol’s queer orbit is longstanding; previous projects include a collaborative series with drag performer and superstar Mario Montez, and a restaging of the Pop artist’s famous screen tests—forty-five years later—with many of his original subjects, from Jonas Mekas to Ultra Violet and Billy Name. But Nicholson may raise the thorniest issues. In this group of photographs, we see her in humble, precarious domestic interiors with her adult twin children Gunther and Penelope Palmer; there is also a shot of her lying on the street, curled up in a dark green sleeping bag.
The discomfort prompted by such intimate, exposing images is mostly allayed by Nicholson’s apparent command of the photographer–subject relationship. Other shots, however low budget and curiously improvised, are clearly planned. In one untitled photo, Nicholson strikes a coy pose at the bottom of a playground slide on a sunny day, wearing a beaded tiara, white thigh-high stockings patterned with red lips, and beat-up silver flats. In another, she’s an oracle offering handfuls of leaves to the sky. In one more, she’s a taunting vision in pleather. Age is not an impediment to her, and she loves the camera’s love.
High above Martha Friedman’s three-piece exhibition “Some Hags” is a seventeenth-century Flemish tapestry that depicts the moment after Circe used her magic to turn Odysseus’s men into swine. Freaked out and pissed off, Odysseus looms like a hulk behind the sorceress, sword in hand, as she sits before a large book. It is one likely source of her power, a tome of spells that Friedman renders as the sculptural Circe’s Book (all works 2016), an enormous, odd, and interactive collection of elastic pages on a table below, its sticky-smooth rubber sheaths requiring some strength to turn. The work riffs off different sections of the tapestry, from the brandished weapon to the pattern of the weaving itself.
Opposite a nineteenth-century plaster bust of a woman is Magician’s Assistant, made from three blocks of spiky and smooth steel pipes—tactile yet rather uninviting. Barbed protrusions extend from both outward-facing sides of the object, while hollow cylinders act as insertion points for rubber tubing. This thing of primitive circuitry sits on a red rubber sheet, the draping of which echoes the cloth where Circe’s volume rests in the tapestry.
There are some variations in how Odysseus’s crew were returned to human form: One is that Circe was threatened by the warrior; another, that in exchange for an enchanted antidote, she requested that the Trojan War hero be her lover. Either way, he stayed on willingly for a year, even after the spell was broken. Friedman has long focused on the female body—here, we’re given a rich tableau of people and objects that remind us of feminine allure’s mesmerizing power.
For this compact installation, Honza Zamojski formalizes a new idiom, which is also the title of the exhibition: “Ghostism.” The term refers to a haunting and crippling doubt instigated by inspiration and influence—a “negative reflection,” says the artist, of spirituality. Zamojski’s ghostism takes literal form in Curtain, 2016, a white floor-to-ceiling drape perforated by two large eyeholes through which we can partially view a picture of a brick wall constructed out of interlocking magnets.
This black-and-white photograph, along with seven others here, belongs to the artist’s “Magnetic Sculpture” series, 2011–16, which depicts simple figures and architectural forms made out of magnets. The sculptures, only a few inches tall, are likely coursing with energy and constantly shifting—yet the photograph lends an illusion of monumentality and stability. Though Brassaď’s photographs of Picasso’s sculptures are cited as a reference, Zamjoski’s images more directly share the leaden tones and matter-of-factness of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work, as well as the deadpan humor of Fischli and Weiss’s “Equilibres” (Equilibria), 1984–86, another series of balancing acts performed for the camera.
As successful as these images are on their own, Zamojski undercuts them with destabilizing interventions. A photograph showing one column of magnets leaning against another is hung askew—“tilted” by a rock drawn on the wall—turning the leaning column into the supporting column. Another picture shows us a stepped structure installed in, quite literally, a problem area: a patch of wall painted red and labeled “PROBLEM.” The only issue for Zamojski in this engaging exhibition, however, is trusting his instincts (or ghosts) enough to let his photographs speak for themselves.
Sondra Perry’s crucial exhibition “Resident Evil” registers systemic, racialized violence and viscous identities under surveillance. Against the chroma-key blue walls of postproduction and computer operating system screens of death, a majestic animation, which shares its title with the show, smears the artist’s skin cells like molten lava, giving shape to our structural meltdown. Perry seamlessly choreographs an unnerving network—Fox News Baltimore coverage, a YouTube relaxation trance, a televised exorcism—that offers possibilities for rewiring power relations. Deconstructing righteousness as whiteness and badness as blackness, Perry doesn’t advocate bodily transcendence; she wants Eartha Kitt singing, “I want to be bad.”
Kitt appears as “Bad Eartha” on a TV broadcast in Resident Evil (all works cited, 2016), pressing her hands against the camera glass with come-hither seduction, calling to herself as a representation. The diegetic sound contributes to a shift in subjectivity, and Perry’s subtext proposes to subvert social binaries by occupying them. Captured by Blair Witch–style shaky camera pans and overlaid with accounts of police brutality, the dimly lit domestic scene becomes ominous.
Surrogates for depleted bodies repeat throughout: a rowing workstation mired by globs of hair gel (Wet and Wavy Looks—Typhon Coming on for a Three-Monitor Workstation) and a malfunctioning cyborg that twitches and fades, seemingly with emotion (Graft and Ash for a Three-Monitor Workstation). The automaton, Perry’s avatar, is exhausted by the risks of being itself and by running hardware beyond its specifications. It’s a potent metaphor for projections that white norms graft onto black culture, corrupting the flesh of physiological health with symptoms in perception and behavior. As public truth devolves and consciousness morphs with fraudulent news and faulty algorithms, the latent virus erupts on every surface—and Perry exposes its entrenched complexity.
Dave swims in and out of view over a rocking sea of yarn-festooned burlap. Dancing in the double vision of overlaid video, Dave’s face becomes the center of an increasingly tight frame, zooming in on eyes that gaze bleakly below a sweaty forehead. It’s time for Hooking up with Dave, 2016, artist David Kramer’s attic installation.
On the gallery’s rickety third floor, Kramer’s tableau feels like a crawlspace/derelict boys’ club, complete with a Mad Men–style liquor selection, sans the 1960s ritz. Hanging across from a miniature pool table, a hook-rug tiger skin glows in neon green. And laid directly on the floorboards is a rather suspect bed, sporting an oversize pillow illustrated with the cartoonish faces of a couple necking with abandon.
On a screen to the right of the bed, the artist gives us hook-rugging pointers from a YouTube tutorial that shows him in slow progress on the aforementioned tiger skin and cushion. Innuendo meets hobby talk in Kramer’s avid effusions: “Soon enough, you’ve got a whole project under your belt” or “I can spend hours just hooking up.” Slowly, the infomercial quality fades as the video takes on a confessional atmosphere. With the unsettling fervor of a middle-aged man seeking escape in childlike petulance, Kramer’s character describes the double demons of a shrewish wife and an estranged son. It remains uncertain, however, if they’re the symptom or cause of his obsessive new hobby. This is an American Beauty sort of midlife crisis that finds illicit satisfaction in a ball of yarn, not seducing a child’s pretty, precocious friend. Despite craft’s wholesomeness, Kramer’s creations are not for volunteer librarians or even the office Secret Santa pool. Rather, they bespeak a struggle for virility, doomed by an absurd, tragic dream that a better man can be conjured with hook and thread.
The portable hole is a deus ex machina of sorts, a black circle that doubles as a teleportation device. Cartoon characters use them to effortlessly escape from or banish their adversaries—and petty annoyances. The void’s blackness seems infinite, governed by the character’s will.
In Quentin Morris’s current solo exhibition, black limitlessly absorbs constraint. The show collects unstretched canvases and framed drawings, all untitled, from 1975 to today, and surveys the painter’s career-spanning meditations on the color black as well as the notion of blackness as it pertains to race. Five monochromatic circle paintings hang symmetrically in the first gallery. The contrast between silk-screen ink and acrylic paint emphasizes their folds and textures, and the paintings’ dappled surfaces suggest that they were pressed together then pulled apart. In direct sunlight, one 2016 painting resembles an eclipse—a halo emanates from the white wall behind it. These works are reactive and present to their surroundings, and the gallery space yields to the magnetic depths of their dark surfaces. Standing between them, it feels as if you’ve passed into the void.
Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings are an obvious touchstone, but Morris eschews that artist’s antagonism. In a pair of drawings from 1987, graphite delicately adheres to its blueprint-paper substrate, creating a tension that sustains the solid, metallic-looking drawing material’s momentary grace. And a painting from 1986 faces a bank of windows in the fifth-floor south gallery, the earliest of five separate rectangular works on view. While nonreferential, the paintings unassumingly observe something of their respective years. As the powdery matte surface of the painting above swallows up the abundant sunlight, our vision remains complicit in the production of blackness.
No other year in recent history has exposed so starkly the complex views of democracy in the United States, in private selfhood and social community. And so this gallery’s inaugural showing of William Eggleston, with selections from The Democratic Forest, ca. 1983–86, his epic project of thousands of photographs taken around the country (and a few overseas), could not be more timely. Last year, Steidl launched the resurgence of this work with an elegant ten-volume anthology, the largest compilation of such images to date (the original book was published in 1989, with an introduction by Eudora Welty; Zwirner Books has published its own selection to accompany this show). And if Eggleston’s preferred mode of seeing his photos is flipping through a box of prints, this chance to view some forty hanging on the wall (in two sizes, the largest just over five feet) is not to be missed.
Most of the images in The Democratic Forest were taken on road trips across the US or in intervals between travel—red vinyl rest-stop booths, a swimming-pool astroturf oasis in a parking lot. The selection on view here emphasizes interiors, too, whether a cluster of condiments on a checkered tablecloth or faded lace curtains. These pictures aim to show things as they are when no one is looking at them, which is no small feat. Eggleston’s quest for the subtle truths of the ordinary—he has said that he is “at war with the obvious”—is apparent in his framing of local color and quotidian detail: The facemask hanging idly over tomatoes ripening beside a turquoise sink; a plane cutting through a blue sky near a bright green roof, trailing a message we can make out only the beginning of: PICKLES; a rotary phone resting off the hook on floral sheets stippled with light; a young boy in overalls perusing a gun catalogue. These are quiet novellas, often with a kick of unease and a beauty that would seem accidental if we didn’t know better.
The dull throb of light from the neon sculpture that spells out the title of Eve Fowler’s latest exhibit and of the artwork itself––with it which it as it if it is to be (all works 2016)––bathes the entrance in a soft glow. The artist’s other piece that shares the same name, a black-and-white 16-mm film transferred to video, consists of a series of studio visits with women artists in New York and Los Angeles. Fowler captures each maker doing her particular actions, workaday on the surface, that produce art. Different sets of hands, like dancers, shape clay, pour paint, attach drill bits, and cut through space. The only sound is a recitation of Gertrude Stein’s 1910 text Many Many Women, a hypnotic parade of sensible words rendered utterly nonsensical, but meaningful nonetheless, via repetition and rearrangement. An excerpt: “Each one is one, there are many of them. Each one is one. Each one is that one the one that one is.” These lines gain strength by being heard, not by being read silently—and it’s fitting that Stein’s language has found a new life, performed as music.
Fowler’s film, as delicate as filigree, shows women as numinous beings who unashamedly love, give birth, and feel. They are artists simply talking and doing, formulating ideas and inventing things. It is a quietly explosive work: a subtle, simple document of female camaraderie and process, and the subdued magic of everyday life.
What is the female nude anymore? In Loie Hollowell’s idiom, female orifices are conflated with elements of the natural world: a canyon might be spread legs, or the sun, an anus. Her unflinchingly direct paintings sublimate aspects of the female experience in compositions that are both landscapes and anatomical abstractions, echoing a long tradition of feminist painters who claimed the female body for their gender’s own demesne. Synthesizing Judy Chicago’s hard-edge symbolism, Hilma af Klint’s diagrammatic visual language, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s sense of the iconographic, the fourteen paintings presented in Hollowell’s first exhibition here are powerfully referential of her forebears. Perhaps that’s why the emerging Queens-based artist’s works, despite their electric palette and vivid style, can seem solemn—in 2016, gender politics are still very real, and expressions of female sexuality are endlessly misunderstood and/or maligned.
Hollowell and O’Keeffe, despite appearances, differ considerably. It’s not just that the latter disavowed eroticized readings of her work, but the former points to the sexual subtext of her paintings with titles such as Full Frontal (In Green) and Thick Pound over Green Mound, both 2016. Inspired by tantric painting and other esoteric styles, Hollowell’s luminous, tonal delicacies set up formal contrasts between figure and ground, flatness and depth, fallowness and fecundity. Her surprising use of relief, created with sawdust and foam, adds an unexpected textural quality to her smooth handling of acrylic. Unlike many practitioners of the straight male imagination who violently deconstruct and distort the female body (think Picasso, de Kooning, Koons, Currin, and Carroll Dunham), Hollowell suspends body parts not as isolated sexual organs but as elements of a vital and coherent cosmology.
In the years after New Hollywood cinematographers popularized lens flare as an acceptable filmic glitch, a certain strain of color photography—as seen on moody LP covers and ad pages for muscle cars or cigarettes—seemed to dwell almost exclusively in the magic hour, that pre-twilight moment when the sun emanates diffraction spikes and gentle melancholy. Roughly the same period marked the apex of utopian design’s perfusion in popular culture, as geodesic domes materialized everywhere from Expo 67 in Montreal to Colorado’s legendary Drop City commune.
Matthew Porter mines and merges these aesthetic strains in the exhibition “Sunclipse,” titled after Buckminster Fuller’s non-geocentric term for sunset. Taking contemporary photography’s genre eclecticism as a given, Porter sets off hazy, image artifact–laden pictures of nature and decay in equatorial zones with ambiguous fashion shots and cinematic cityscapes, generating a productively inscrutable mix that implies civilization’s impending dusk. A series of late-afternoon photos (“Cape Romano,” 2016) taken in southern Florida features a quirky coastal vacation home composed of bubble-shaped pods on stilts—vaguely space-age structures that are being reclaimed by the rising sea, their futuristic curves defaced by graffiti sporting distinctly American appellations: KAYLA, KC, and COBI were here. In Frigatebird, 2014/16, sun shrouds the perched avian subject with the golden mist of a veiling flare, more typically applied to glossy editorials as a dreamy postproduction effect, while Porter’s actual editorial-esque shots depict a female model shielding her eyes from bright light or fringed by tropical plant fronds.
The exhibition’s fulcrum, however, is Porter’s photograph of the United Nations headquarters at nightfall, UN, 2016, which exposes an inadvertent, possibly divinatory ghost: The contour of the camera’s aperture blades is doubled in the form of a crimson pentagon—sly metonym for American militarism?—suspended in midair, haunting the monolith to global peacekeeping in the dying light. Ascendant darkness has never looked more radiant, or more terrifyingly apt.
For her recent exhibition, Sara Deraedt photographed vacuums in store windows in various international locations. These are the sort of window displays in which the device is just placed and lit—no sales props. Therefore, besides the fact that some of the pieces depict prices in different currencies, we might not consider geography. Deraedt is like an anti-anthropologist, traveling around the world and concluding with, “I got nothing.” There is a gentle absurdity and humor to this project. In dyson animal, 2013, there is some lint near the nozzle, which suggests either the appliance’s past failures or its future accomplishments.
By using three different kinds of prints and different border sizes to create elegant transitions from piece to piece, Deraedt positions herself closer to formalists such as Joseph Albers and Edward Weston than content-heavy image-makers—think Christopher Williams, Anne Collier. Lynne Cohen’s photographic roamings from neutrality to neutrality also come to mind. The machines themselves, in different colors of plastic, vary as invisibly as the photos. There is a sense of aesthetic choice being automated. To query the physical differences between the photos seems similar to wondering of a vacuum, “Why is that one green?” Because it is—it’s like the sky.
The foregrounded window acts as a lacquer, its specularity impeding clarity and preventing the dust of content. We have become addicted to content. “What is the work about?” This is a question that renders most experience impossible. So it is a great pleasure to look at photos that don’t want to be recognized.
You enter the gallery, and the sound of a capella singing, without warning, echoes throughout—sweet, jubilant, evanescent. The vocalist, casually dressed like a patron, comes in, faces a wall, and starts doing his thing. The song gently defamiliarizes the exhibition context. This scene is just one element of Jim Hodges’s installation I dreamed a world and called it Love, 2016, a painfully heartfelt proposition against the wretched anxiety of the day. Lining the perimeter of the room is a series of tall polished-glass panels mounted on canvas. Hodges conceptualizes the exhibition as a slippery totality: Even the artist himself doesn’t know when the music is scheduled to happen. There is also no checklist, which pushes us further into an undefined terrain. Hodges does, however, provide a handwritten card with the show’s title. It’s a small gesture, but one that suspends the authority of “information” in the age of endless data and poetically perverts the conventions of Chelsea shows.
The shimmering surfaces of the glass panels are etched with a camouflage pattern—marbleized colors collide into one another, creating a kaleidoscopic spectrum. Within this intricate lattice, reflections crisscross—the camouflage absorbs the viewer into its fluid reflections. This immersive work cuts off reality to make room for fantasy, marvelousness, and indeed love. Hodges’s offering here is not the sum of a clean arithmetic—it is a heady, blossoming thing, as unintelligible and beautiful as a whirlwind romance.
Ree Morton flew her own flags—for proof, see a whole wall of them displayed here. Made of nylon and emblazoned with the names of her nearest and dearest, Something in the Wind, 1975, was strung up on a ship docked at the South Street Seaport that same year, gaily sending affections and affirmations in the breeze. Morton dealt in giddy ideals—if a rose could last, then a prince for a princess, always. For Kate, 1976, a bouquet of roses frozen mid-scatter and made of her sensational celastic—a plastic-impregnated fabric—is a dedication. Hers were works that were always made for. Rather than staging a dialogue, blurring a boundary, or any of those other tiresome parlor games, Morton’s works, in all their unassuming loveliness, mark their own territory wherever they stand. But, indeed, their borders are porous—observe Column Piece, 1972, where there’s a break in a ring of geranium-stained wooden blocks, topped with canvas, and a painting lying flat on an elevated platform. That wheeled wooden slab, coated in charcoal, watercolor, and acrylic, depicting some vague coordinates like a map to a place unnamed and unknowable, sits in the center. It commands so much space yet remains so quiet. The blocks’ ranks don’t close, as if daring the viewer to step in—an enormous gesture in comparison to Morton’s Minimal contemporaries.
A succinct selection of archival materials is presented in two vitrines, testifying to the artist’s sincere collaborative tendencies and forthright struggle to make her way as an artist with three children to raise. A typed narrative of her career pecked out for a grant application rests in the middle of a partially unfurled scroll of wallpaper with painted enamel celastic bows—or, as the artist liked to call them, “beauxs”—placed just so, framing the request for funds. Next to it is a photo of herself, with a similar beaux pinned to her sweater—a token of commitment to her vision.
Marilyn Minter is what some would call a “nasty woman”—a term that has made quite a few waves this past election season. And depending on who you are and where you stand, that epithet can either be the highest form of flattery or a scathing misogynistic insult. Minter’s “nasty” work demands respect from its audience, and the large scale of these in-your-face paintings serves to reinforce this idea.
The women depicted here—seen through a misty haze, as if in the midst of a scalding-hot shower—stunt the male gaze and its obsession with bodies that are polished, waxed, nipped, tucked, and Photoshopped into oblivion. Minter’s subjects flaunt their untended pubic hair, bare breasts, and luscious lips. Her bathers face the viewer directly. The artist’s palette is hypervivid, and the blurriness caused by the pane of glass that she rephotograhed these ladies through for her paintings render her subjects as impossible fantasies, well out of range for any common boy’s stare. Works such as Big Breath, 2016, and Thigh Gap, 2015, defy centuries of male leering and dictate their own rules of representation.
Exhibitions like this one are necessary—Minter’s art is crucial. Women are going to be thrust into plenty of darkness in the coming years, and her pictures remind us that a society cannot call itself free until all women—regardless of their dimensions, sexualities, and ethnicities—have full control over their own bodies.
“Zombie Formalism, 1970–2016” is a group exhibition that switches out Clement Greenberg for Roger Corman and skewers the work of all those (mostly) hot young dudes of recent vintage who’ve made process-based abstraction so insufferable. Mark Prent’s morbidly hilarious sculptures of desiccated, flesh-hungry creatures, His Final Statement and Five Stuffed Crows (both 1970), reimagine aesthetics as a horror show and artistic production as brain-eating. They also broaden the much-maligned term under which these pieces are being shown, helpfully putrefying notions of fashion and market cool.
Nods to this stripe of making’s sleekness and chicness, however, are here, but they’re decades old: Boyd Rice’s diamond-shaped swath of enamel-sprayed cotton that looks almost photographic, Untitled, 1975, and Jeff Way’s psychedelically striated Untitled (Red-Green), 1971, are juxtaposed with more recent iterations of zombie styling, cleverly perverting what could be mistaken as an exhibition of homages to something more incestuous, necrophilic, interesting. Megan Marrin’s juicy rendering of a corpse flower, Those three days (titan arum), 2015, imprints itself quite indelibly upon the mind. Her take on large-scale Photorealism is shot through with a Novalisesque romanticism that revels in the erotics of absurd phallocentrism.
The younger generation’s works on display are not critical of zombie art. And they certainly aren’t dismissive of their senior peers, either. Here, many queer minds gather together to inhabit all kinds of worlds—idiosyncratic, camp, and hallucinatory—in ways that your typical walking-dead crapstractionist could never imagine.
“The house protects the dreamer,” Gaston Bachelard wrote. “The house allows one to dream in peace.” Andrea Grützner is drawn to visual liminality: to the moment, or rather the angle, at which physical reality threatens to dissolve into aesthetic abstraction. Though these photographs are all shot in the same East German village guesthouse, it’s often hard to tell just what the artist is looking at. Her carefully geometric shots—devoid of any messy human traces—are closer in spirit to László Moholy-Nagy’s abstract paintings than the feature spreads of Dwell magazine.
Their effect is initially disorienting—dimensions blur and flatten. The guesthouse becomes a mysterious labyrinth of lines and shadows. But Grützner’s hospitably bright colors hold our attention, and slowly we come to make sense of what’s before us. Untitled 5, 2014, for example, is neatly divided into two vertical panels: one largely white, the other an amalgam of colored polygons. For a long while we bathe in pleasing ignorance: Is that an incomprehensibly painted ceiling? Then a line near the top reveals itself to be a water pipe, seemingly going into the photograph. We are facing a wall—no, two walls, at differing scales. Which means there’s a third, perpendicular wall hidden from us.
The visual discovery has a metaphysical echo. Depth, we realize, hides at the surface. Look hard enough and your reverie will yield meaning. The guesthouse’s transient nature is especially relevant in this context. Facing her own walls, Grützner might have dwelled on more personal history. But this common refuge confronts her with universal questions.
In his last exhibition here, James Hoff showed how computer viruses could “infect” digital paintings to striking, sensuous effect. For his new show, he considers the banal side of technology with two series addressing how contemporary forms of photography dull our experience of the natural world. “Life Cycle” (all works 2016) comprises rocks painted a black-and-white camo pattern to confuse and escape the flattening, miniaturizing gaze of aerial photography. For his second and primary body of work, “Useless Landscapes,” Hoff translated cell phone pictures of upstate New York into copper etchings on fiberglass—material substrates used in circuit boards. Seven narrowly framed images present groups of thin golden trees against gauzy skies. Although each image is different, the variations between them are so slight as to seem unremarkable.
Nature, once seemingly vast and majestic, and a hallmark of Romanticism, is here easily captured in the tiniest of mobile lenses. At first glance, “Useless Landscapes” inspires indifference, not exaltation. But don’t be fooled by the suite’s generic, monotonous feel. If you stare at the etchings long enough, their properties shift: The copper starts to look like gold leaf, a material favored in devotional art; and the fiberglass seems thick and springy, like glycerin or fat. Current research indicates that forests possess a manner of intelligence, with trees and fungi communicating via a complex network nicknamed the Wood Wide Web. Maybe our circuit boards and nature snaps (edited, uploaded, and distributed) actually mimic Mother Nature’s divine, organic essence as much as they rob her of it.
For Joan Mitchell, painting was a suspended kinesthesia, an act that both dilated and disallowed bodily control, like riding a bicycle with no hands. Displayed here in a four-decade sweep alongside pastels and watercolors, her canvases make a case for the mnemonic. Though never explicitly figurative, they suggest scenes less seen than remembered. Each collects moods manifesting as gestures: dense clots, gooey smears, and wispy sprays. Together, they vex binaries of facture and image, positing the mark as a device that joins materiality and affect.
In 1959, Mitchell quit New York for France, eventually settling on 12 Avenue Claude Monet in Vétheuil. Heel, Sit, Stay, 1977, channels the founding Impressionist’s favored theme—nature, imaged on water—creating a surface that we both skip across and peer through. Each side of the ten-foot-tall diptych riffs on the other. The right side collects tufted, saturated strokes; the left responds in a springy staccato. Complementary colors organize the scheme: Rusted greens round into bruised reds, and cobalt blues appose acid yellows, like sunshine hitting shade. All around, paint piles up and runs down, obtaining a state between stillness and motion.
Nearby, an untitled eight-part pastel from 1978 asserts a tenuous horizon. Dashes of fuchsia and lime hyphenate adjoining pages, while tangles of black anchor their spread, obeying borders. White scumbles passages of lavender and azure, dissolving discrete strokes into a cumulous haze. Spread across so many sheets, space resolves into a fragmented continuity. As in the best of Mitchell’s paintings, the composition sinks toward the edges of our vision, immersing us in a realm where landscape loosens into feeling.
Lodged in the cavity of a commercial-grade washing machine in Aki Sasamoto’s installation Washer (all works cited, 2016) is a copy of the Book of Insects (1921) by nineteenth-century entomologist John-Henri Fabre. The volume is open to a passage on the life and labors of the dung beetle, which is recited off-camera by the artist in the single-channel video Birds, Dung Beetles, the Washer looping overhead. “The peasant of Ancient Egypt,” it reads, “as he watered his patch of onions in the spring, would see from time to time a fat black insect pass close by, hurriedly trundling a ball backwards.”
This humble creature, which folds its filth and food into a spherical mobile home, provides the central parable for “Delicate Cycle,” Sasamoto’s solo exhibition here. In the installation Shoelightbox, viewers reencounter Fabre’s text, this time printed on wadded-up sheets of tissue paper visible through peepholes cut into a wall of designer shoe boxes. Through shifts in color and scale, the beetle’s fecal loaf becomes something immaculate in The Ball, an enormous boulder of white cotton bedsheets blockading a vaulted corridor. Laundry motifs continue upstairs, where crisp white sheets hang ethereally from a clothesline in the courtyard (Laundry Line) and an old-time washboard, suspended by a leather harness, doubles as a kinky surrealist object (Washboard Belt-Maidrite). On some level, these works are about the cyclic, mundane labor of maintaining and reproducing the self—the compulsory hygiene of our bodies, clothing, and habitats. But there’s also an obdurate materiality to Sasamoto’s sculpture that resists metaphorical elevation. According to Fabre, once celebrated as the “Homer of insects,” the ancient Egyptians believed the dung beetle’s ball to be “a symbol of the earth” and that the beetle’s actions “were prompted by the movements of the heavenly bodies.” Be that as it may, it’s also an animal that makes things out of shit, and that logic of agglutination is what drives Sasamoto’s earthy pleasures.
What if paradise wasn’t just for the individual—what if we could all go together, hand in hand? This seems to be the proposition of the Haas Brothers’ “King Dong Come.” The exhibition takes the form of a static zoo populated by puckered-mouth amphorae and doll-size snow beasts, but the atmosphere is that of an erotic party. Hand-thrown vases from their “Father” series (all works 2016) try sucking each other off, while yetis—such as Jessica Yang and Dick Drake—admire their own silver sex organs, teeth, and toenails. The shelves lined with shaggy creatures bring to mind a cartoon strip of Noah’s Ark—the original apocalypse parable.
Like Noah and his ark story, “King Dong Come” roots itself in a kind of cosmic virility. The animals aren’t going two by two, but there is an inescapable sense of infinite reproduction. The beasts multiply in the second room, where a nine-foot-tall monster, King Dong, holds court. His leg is extended to visitors like a mall Santa’s or some benevolent prophet’s.
A fittingly psychedelic fantasy for these dystopian times, the show seeks a more harmonious relationship between objects, nature, and people, introducing a model for utopia defined by openness and humor. Shangri La is not only within reach, but it is soft and fuzzy. In Bruno Latour’s 2004 article “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” the philosopher writes: “The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naďve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather.” With “King Dong Come,” the Haas Brothers have created a temporary sanctuary in which to dwell on our collective dreams, and nightmares, of the future.
Are there hidden messages in the handwritten letters of the dead? Perhaps one can find them at those interstitial points between vowels. Golnar Adili’s work speaks to loss and memory through a personal archive of family documents that she came across after her father—an Iranian intellectual forced into exile after the 1979 revolution—passed away.
In Eleven-Page Letter, 2016, the artist covers her father’s epistolary correspondences with sheets of vellum, cutting out small windows to reveal the Persian vowel “ye,” a letter that curves up to form what looks like an empty embrace. “Edits,” “freedom,” “food,” “separation”—Adili records English translations of his words as well. To see them written in different languages by two different members of the same family is to look at pieces of a larger puzzle woven across time and generations—the continuation of a narrative only few are privy to via the palimpsest created by the vellum’s semi-opacity. On the opposing wall, collages such as Embrace and Concentration, both 2013, utilize pictures of Adili’s father’s arms, taken from old photographs. Her patterned arrangements of these fragments manage to create a rich and mysterious visual alphabet.
This exhibition is more than just an homage—indeed, it is an affectionate familial portrait. But it is also a careful study of the body as an extension of language. The longing here is palpable, and much of what is said transcends the written word.
Canvas masks with square polycarbonate welding lens eyes and two tubes, each dangling like strange appendages, line one wall of the gallery. The masks, together titled the Garrett Morgan safety hood allowing the wearer to breathe in a hostile environment (all works 2015), are replicas of air-filtration hoods––originally conceived to protect firefighters from smoke––created by African American inventor Garrett Morgan. Here, James Crosby reinterprets them as defenses against both atmospheric and social threats. A large black-and-white photograph of a figure donning the hood highlights its capacity for disguise (Take care of your mask and your mask will take care of you). Although the gallery text affirms the wearer is Crosby himself, his face is completely obscured, making this claim impossible to verify.
Crosby’s decision to frame Morgan’s legacy around this particular invention—rather than another of his innovations, such as the electric stoplight—allows the artist to engage the subject of blackness. Though Morgan symbolizes African American achievement, Crosby’s emphasis on the hoods as Morgan’s defining civic achievement seems to imply that becoming part of the Black American historical canon requires deemphasizing, or even effacing, race. A pair of hoodies cut open––one resembling a soft exoskeleton, the other concrete-dipped and hardened, like armor—emphasizes this tension between visibility and concealment. Clothing and camouflage can protect the vulnerable, though not always, as the hoodie, now a haunting symbol of police brutality, reminds us.
Crosby offers no finite answers for how blackness should present itself in society or, for that matter, in art (notably, none of the pieces on view directly represents the black body). His refusal to try to neatly resolve such vast and difficult questions only makes his debut exhibition more compelling.
Opposite the entrance to this photography-focused exhibition are six portraits from nearly a century ago, each attributed to an “American Unidentified.” A kitschy print of two white male baseball players, standing before a painted-green background (Baseball Players, ca. 1920s), neighbors a portrait of an African American soldier posing before a similarly cool-hued, airbrushed backdrop (Soldier, ca. 1920s). Beneath him is a collage of flower-seed packets sandwiched between black-and-white photos of a woman and a man, contributing to the work’s enigmatic nature.
This theme of unknown identity takes a break in the center room. A series of five poolside photos of Marilyn Monroe by Weegee—“Untitled (M Monroe),” ca. 1952–53—clearly depicts the star, but some of the images have her legs disproportionately stretched. In another, her head is duplicated eightfold into a sunflower-like shape in place of her torso, juxtaposing the actress’s classic beauty with surreal grotesquerie. On the same wall is an unattributed work, this one a woven tapestry based on a popular propaganda image of Mao Zedong playing ping-pong, taken by his personal photographer Lü Houmin.
The exhibition ends with a portrait by an anonymous American artist, installed within a small black enclave near the middle room, titled Man in Box, ca. 1960s. The obscurity of the bearded subject’s identity is doubled by the blurred glass vitrine in which he stands cross-legged with a cane. Is he trapped, or merely protecting himself from the strange, distorted world outside? His nonchalant pose suggests the latter.
“ROACH FARTS OF SHARK STAMPEDE” reads a collage in this modest exhibition of Jack Smith’s drawings, photographs, and assorted ephemera. The phrase is mysterious, funny, Instagrammable—and it nicely summarizes the late artist/filmmaker’s mischievous imagination, which was always more fabulous than real life. Smith is best known for his 1963 film Flaming Creatures, an erotic romp filled with all manner of homosexy lasciviousness. Fliers for screenings appear alongside notes, printed materials, and correspondences—an unexpected letter from Playboy discloses the magazine’s endorsement of the artist. A trio of untitled photographs from circa 1958–62, which were reprinted in 2011, highlights Smith’s blend of camp and ritual. They feature a creepy couple—in tatty, flamboyant costumes and Day of the Dead makeup—on a butterfly-catching expedition.
Smith’s drawings on napkins and craft paper just hint at the breadth of his experimentation. Though he made things from junk, he turned it all into gold—or beautiful fool’s gold, anyway. The undated Mirage Publications gives us covers for made-up erotic novels, with titles such as Pasty Glamour, Tales of Uranus, and Slavery Stories; while an untitled and undated bit of roundabout doodling calls to mind ancient Egyptian devotionals. But . . . Who Would Punish Us? (From “The White Pig of the Medina”), ca. 1967, is an endearing portrait of a fat prostitute reclining, smoking and smiling. L.B. was really loving Shirley . . . (undated), shows a doctor clutching a needle, his lovely patient strung out on “munchkin glands.” It makes your skin crawl. Most of the exhibition’s framed materials are “date unknown,” an ambiguity which enhances the show’s intimate scope. Smith’s jouissance—or explosive mental orgasm—does wonders for our dreadful postelection malaise.
Diane Simpson’s sculptures are part translation, part fantasy, and pure pleasure. The octogenarian artist begins each work by creating isometric drawings on graph paper. She uses the drawings, with handwritten instructions for assembly, as blueprints for artworks with interlocking components. While they reference articles of clothing, the sculptures are constructed from hard angles, often in materials with an architectural heft. Simpson’s efforts result in a sophisticated, homespun modernism that channels the Midwestern cosmopolitanism of her hometown, Chicago.
Her second show with this gallery showcases seven sculptures and two drawings from her “Samurai” series, 1981–83. This was only her second body of work after finishing her MFA in 1978, at age forty-three. Simpson took inspiration from a scene in Akira Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha (1980), in which she observed the intricate folds of seated samurais’ skirts. In her works, the skirt’s function switches from modesty to protection; feminine concealment of the body becomes masculine containment. Her highly photogenic and life-size warriors, made from MDF and wood, project a squat, robotic, almost flat image of power. And yet the objects beg to be encountered in their rich dimensionality. Here, surprising details of their hardware-less construction emerge. Samurai 9, 1983, references Art Deco architecture in its stepped peaks and frontal solidity, while its sides reveal elegant, sloping planes. Simpson also indulges her painterly sense of color. Samurai 10, 1983, and Samurai 5, 1982, nod to Agnes Martin with their delicate grids, both incised and drawn, in pale red, salmon, and white. Samurai 6, 1982, features a dramatic enamel gradient that goes from white to gray. Conceived more than thirty years ago, Simpson’s work feels newly conversant with recent sculpture that refuses to pit structural concerns against beauty.
Between 1969 and 1973, Rosemary Mayer’s art underwent a dramatic transition. Abetted by the arrival of feminism, its investment in the body and the recuperation of craft, the laconic beauty of her early text-based works effloresced into the voluptuous fabric sculptures for which she is best remembered. Curated by art historian Maika Pollack, the gallery’s founder, with Marie and Max Warsh—Mayer’s niece and nephew—this exhibition tells the story of this sea change while also shining a light on a significant yet under-recognized figure in feminist and post-Minimalist art.
During the late sixties, Mayer (who passed away in 2014) contributed to 0 TO 9, a mimeographed journal of Conceptual art and poetry, with her sister, the poet Bernadette Mayer, and her then husband, Vito Acconci. Several works on paper from this period traffic between image and text. In Untitled [12 columns], ca. 1969, compositions of colored squares drawn on graph paper are paired with black-and-white typewritten pages detailing those same patterns in words.
Semiotic games give way to atmospheric affect in The Catherines, 1972–73, a gauzy matrix of peach and purple veils draped on a teardrop-shaped wooden support. Created the year Mayer cofounded the all-female cooperative gallery A.I.R., the work is titled in honor of notable women from European history: the warrior countess Caterina Sforza, the empress Catherine the Great, the mystic Catherine of Siena. Openly feminist and unapologetically ornamental, its flesh-colored swags of various transparent fabrics make sartorial and genital insinuations. More subtly, The Catherines also suggests the ethereal forms of Mannerist painting, to which—as Marie Warsh and Gillian Sneed have noted—Mayer likened the art of the 1970s after the dissolution of Minimalism’s spatial certainties. “Once surfaces were clear, ordered and opaque, surfaces that quickly answer questions,” she wrote in the introduction to her 1975 translation of Jacopo da Pontormo’s diary, “then forms dissolved, colors paled, began to float in uncertain atmospheres.”
Rotting, wounded, smiling—watermelons, in Valerie Hegarty’s latest exhibition of paintings and sculptures, are depicted as sentient objects: carnal, threatening. Several wedges of the fruit, done in ceramics, rest on a plinth, their pink flesh resembling gums and growing teeth, tongues, ribs, stalagmites, barnacles. They make one think of the chemically modified watermelons that spontaneously exploded across fields in China in 2011—a warning about the perils of mutant capitalism.
The title of Hegarty’s exhibition, “American Berserk,” comes from Philip Roth’s 1997 novel American Pastoral, where the writer describes the darker aspects of this idyllic genre. Hegarty intelligently references Raphaelle Peale, considered the first painter of still lifes in America, in a number of her grim watercolor works, such as Watermelon Gothic 1, Fruit Face, and Picnic Body (works cited, 2015). In the latter pair of edibles-as-people pictures, one can’t help but see homages to Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the sixteenth-century Italian painter whose portraits of notable Renaissance figures, rendered as agglomerations of vegetables, fish, and books, among other items, are more horrifying than charming.
Like Roth, Hegarty is drawn to this country’s damaged history, its warped psyche. Her watermelons are the stuff of colonialism, racist stereotyping, US avarice, and gluttony. Her fruits aren’t juicy, they’re bleeding—a lacerated bounty. The show, divided into four sections, feels a bit fragmented, as each area could be its own exhibition. But these separations only aid in reinforcing our sense of distance between the idealism of the American past and its sad, corrosive present.
These photographs, shot between 1988 and 1992 in Grapevine Branch (a small community in West Virginia) were made collaboratively. Not wanting to rehearse the old narrative of “poor isolated rednecks,” Susan Lipper involved her subjects in the storytelling process, visualizing their personal myths. It’s surprising, then, that her work features those familiar tokens—guns, Klan hoods, bibles, booze—that decorate the liberal’s imaginary tableaux of the rural South. How did these props end up there? And, more to the point, what is it that is so unsettling about the results?
For a start, we might observe that Lipper’s characters never directly confront the camera. They look at us through masks, or look past us, or blankly stare at the ground. These are postures, and yet their effect is menacing. And it’s precisely that tension—between real and imagined fear—that forces us to engage, not retract. Untitled (Grapevine), 1992, for example, shows an old man looking at us through the broken window of a ramshackle pickup truck. His face and particularly his eyes are hidden by shard patterns. This framing is too perfect to feel circumstantial; it’s practically iconic. Yet the scene’s physical realities—unrepaired window, worn-out clothing—ineluctably evince a lifestyle in decay.
Lipper and her subjects are staging the relations between lived reality and its representation. We are invited not so much to look at these photographs as through them, at the social significance of the forlorn rituals they recount. Though Lipper’s scenes are evenly distributed between nighttime and day, they all unfold at a mysterious, timeless twilight hour. Revelation is within reach, but it remains one frame away.
My punishment for being a voluble child, overflowing with words and song that grew louder and angrier as I reached adolescence, is a voice slightly down-pitched by small vocal nodules. They were discovered at fourteen, when I—a natural soprano—had trouble hitting my highest notes. “It’s like a boy’s voice cracking,” a vocal teacher joked, to my great embarrassment. I was diagnosed through an uncomfortable laryngoscopy. Once inserted up the nose and down the throat, the scope makes it impossible to breathe normally, let alone vocalize.
Marianna Simnett’s exhibition “Lies,” exploring the gendered implications of voice and masochism, vividly evoked this memory of asphyxiation. In Faint with Light (all works cited, 2016), a stack of ultrabright LEDs is synced with an audio recording of Simnett trying to faint by hyperventilating. The intensity of her breath is registered by the lights, which illuminate fully with her deepest inhalations—taken before losing consciousness—and then go dark. Although the strobe-like installation made me queasy, it’s hard to ignore its erotic implications—with la petite mort being a euphemism for orgasm. Simnett’s video The Needle and the Larynx shows the artist undergoing a temporary lowering of her voice through a Botox injection to her cricothyroid muscle. Slowed to one-quarter speed, the procedure is hypnotic, excruciating. With her large blue eyes directed skyward during the examination, Simnett is much like Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film about the young saint.
The Needle and the Larynx begins with an empowering parable of a little girl forcing a doctor to lower her voice by summoning the natural forces of heat. At the end, Simnett speaks in a startlingly feeble voice two days after her injection. Rather than masculine strength, the procedure relaxed her throat so much that she couldn’t breathe. “You suddenly become conscious of all the parts of your throat,” she says, gasping for air. “They didn’t tell me that I was gonna be so we . . . weakened by it.”
Mulling over his American contemporaries and their shared reach for the sublime, Barnett Newman once wrote: “Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ‘life,’ we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.” Years later, Byron Kim seems in part to be taking Newman’s sentiment to its next logical, almost literal conclusion: Kim’s latest pieces consecrate our flesh and its sensations, via large-scale abstract renderings inspired by the bloom and flush of bruises on skin. The results will either seem mournful or erotic, depending on who’s looking.
To those familiar with his earlier output, Kim’s source material won’t come as a complete surprise: Previous works captured the skin tones of diverse sitters in grids of monochromatic panels. But whereas his interest in skin, before, yielded inquiries into socially constructed taxonomies, it now leads to visually lush records of violence and abuse—or accidents and missteps—and the ensuing limbo of recovery. While those former works’ Pantone-like precision helped make them convincing, these new pieces welcome tonal ambiguity.
Kim dyed his latest canvases with natural elements like sandalwood and ochre, then used oil- and hide-glue-soaked rags to apply more pigments. The results—stirring, almost lambent surfaces—seem to invoke the moment AbEx gave way to Minimalism’s monochromes. And if subtle folds on the canvases might resemble wrinkles, to narratively minded viewers, they also conjure painterly traditions of both measured and aleatory mark-making. But maybe art-historical references seem impotent after an election year that often felt like one long, persistent contusion. If so, Kim’s paintings also find resonance in the fact that the colors we use to describe bruises—black and blue—have racial, psychological, and musical overtones all at once. In this context, the series reminds us that bruising evinces a sort of power, too: to be responsive, sensate—alive rather than deadened. In “I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues,” a song arguably about reaching rock bottom, Ella Fitzgerald sang, “Ain't got no feelings to bruise.” We’re not there yet.
For his solo exhibition “Unavoidable Encounter,” John Dante Bianchi has made sculptures that initially register as paintings attempting to escape their supports. Concertina-like folds of what seems to be canvas—but is actually immaculately engineered strata of wood and aluminum—wrest from their stretcher bars, rising and jutting forth in sharply angled planes, revealing trusses and screws beneath. Acrylic paint is applied to the surfaces in layers, then sanded back to form warm clouds of pinks, purples, and oranges, with patches of iridescent gray where the metal is exposed. The abstract visual effect in each contused piece is at once cosmologically vast and intimate on a cellular level.
Bianchi’s work resuscitates that fatigued threshold between sculpture and painting. The canvas sections are made and colored first, and their stretchers are fitted afterward, reversing a painting’s construction. This is most strikingly expressed in the thrusting shards of Untitled (Torqued Panel #15), 2016. The suggestion of corporeal separation between the piece’s upper and underlying components, such as a tendon flayed from bone, renders the work strangely emotive rather than dryly academic, despite its architectural precision.
The ten works here are wall-mounted, except for a floor piece resembling the moldering, bleached husk of a redwood’s trunk, which plays at sculpture a bit too predictably. Pristine and restrained, yet unexpectedly vulnerable, Bianchi’s work arrestingly regards what is, and isn’t, a painting, offering crisp analysis on how porous the brink between these two media may be.
This necessary exhibition presents architectural and design responses to an increasingly precarious but basic human right—shelter—in our era of mass crisis, emergency, urgency, and hopelessness. The show begins with the immense issue of housing the sixty-five million displaced people and refugees across the globe, and it ends with more ethical questions than it can ever answer. Yet one thing is clear: Nothing on view can ever be a lasting solution to the anxieties faced by the stateless families and individuals who are having doors slammed in their faces at every turn.
The risk of aestheticizing crisis runs high here, but the most interesting works avoid this through representation and not mere documentation. Consider Woven Panel, 2016, a woolen rug made in collaboration with Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women, an organization spread across refugee settlements in southwestern Algeria. The piece depicts the Rabouni camp’s long-standing ministries of defense, interior, and education, as well as a museum. A portrayal of a government that’s been in exile for nearly forty years, the work moreover underscores the tradition of weaving among the Sahrawis.
A disquieting grid in the show presents pictures of historical settlements: from a black-and-white image of Dheisheh, the largest of the Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, to Gordon Welters’s 2016 photograph of cubical-like living spaces in Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. Across the gallery, another grid is offered: found news images of migrants on overcrowded boats in Xaviera Simmons’s Superunknown (Alive in The), 2010. Among the moral dilemmas echoed forcefully around the exhibition there are these: what it means to be in-between, without rights, and, most critically, to be positioned as superfluous.
A glass case full of household sprays and soaps—like a shaken-up medicine cabinet—opens Miguel Ángel Cárdenas’s first solo show in the United States. The assemblage, Nog schlechts enkele dagen (1) (Only a Few Days ), 1963, is a fickle and incomplete time capsule of the year it was created. The clutter seems arbitrary and provides little insight into the Colombian-Dutch artist’s life.
Cárdenas excelled at creating suggestive, elusive arrangements of everyday items. He explored the sensuality of the zipper—that teasing metal barrier between dress and undress—years before Andy Warhol’s infamous Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album cover from 1971. Open Fly Silver Star and Call Boy, both 1964, feature zippers halfway undone to reveal a collection of toys and mass-produced junk secreted beneath the works’ taut, shiny PVC shells. This erotic suspense is partially broken in later pieces. A plastic banana plays a vulgar game of peekaboo in Blue Lovers, 1965, protruding from the canvas’s cobalt-blue surface. In Hot Vagina, 1969, silver aluminum folds flank a vertical bronze coil that radiates heat.
If the assemblages are devoted to object fetish, then Cárdenas’s four films, played in the gallery’s back room, are odes to another Freudianism: oral fixation. The videos center on the artist’s mouth engaged in seemingly tame activities, such as slurping soup or sucking ice cubes. These gestures, through repetition, transform into processes both sexy and highly revolting. Examples of early food porn? If they turn you on, you’ll know.
At first glance, Hannah van Bart’s current exhibition of paintings appears to be nearly all portraits of one woman. A figure with soft breasts, solid legs, and a face of fleshy innocence stares out from the middle of each canvas. Depending on her garb and demeanor, she’s either louche or enticing, with clothes that cover or reveal a warm body ripe for bruising. The appearance of a lit cigarette held by an arm that’s slowly vanishing into the pinky-brown miasma of Untitled, 2016, seems subtly violent. The artist plays with an abundance of patterns as well, such as stripes and lattices. In Untitled, 2015, van Bart has painted a brick wall that bleeds into her foregrounded figure. All of the picture’s distinct features meld into one solid and strangely impenetrable image.
There’s a painting of a forest: Untitled, 2016. On the canvas’s left side, the quivering lines of branches and roots begin to appear anthropomorphic—are we looking at a face? This mysterious visage highlights the conceptual continuum in which the artist works, where designs melt into seemingly sentient bodily forms—the space between the two realms is purposefully murky. The exhibition’s title, “The Smudge Waves Back,” offers some insight. It is taken from David Mitchell’s 2010 novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. In the book is a scene where a father waves to his son from a distance. The boy waves back, but the father can only see an indistinct, animated form—a meaningful smear, abundant with love.
Lenore Malen’s current exhibition, “Scenes from Paradise,” is an eco-Gesamtkunstwerk, connecting our environmental crisis with the Bible’s declaration that man should have dominion over all nature. Countering this destructive injunction, the artist creates videos, photographs, and objects to present a vision of interspecies communion. In one video, Reversal (all works 2016), a woman with rein-like ropes dangling over her face addresses the camera with utter conviction. She speaks of humanity’s rule over the earth as barbaric: “It is a challenge using your language, but the real challenge for me and my kingdom is to distill the sublime nature of our existence into clumsy morsels digestible only to you,” she declaims. The video is played backwards, but subtitles decode her message. By the end, it becomes clear—partly through projections that flank her speech, where footage of horse races and county-fair rides flicker in and out of view—that the speaker is actually a horse, representing her species. (She isn’t wearing a horse costume, however, and she’s a far cry from any Disneyfied cartoon beast.) It seems that the audience’s task is to imagine another, more animal mode of being, to try to overcome human/animal difference.
Another video, The Reason of the Strongest Is Always the Best, offers up more scrambled anthropomorphism: Here, people clad in fluorescent snowsuits and animal masks run up a glacial rock in Central Park. At the end, the camera slowly zooms in on the ugly and omnipresent residential skyscraper on 432 Park Avenue, suggesting a disharmony between nature and culture.
Understanding language as political, Malen presents interspecies relationships without sentimentality. Her affective tools—satire, Biblical absurdism, and the compassion it took to found the New Society for Universal Harmony (which Malen did in 1999)—are worth holding onto in a moment when one stupid tweet could begin nuclear annihilation.
Four photographs document veils of chalk dust on abused blackboards. Abandoned bits of hastily written text appear everywhere. Chalk gathers in the slates’ cracks, while drips of water vanquish any worthwhile messages. Erica Baum gets intimate with these relics of language and pedagogy. She captures every detail, as if she’s quietly recording the discovery of a new language.
Baum made her “Blackboard” series, 1994–96, while studying at Yale. She photographed these slates in empty classrooms to reveal images—perhaps culled from the university’s subconscious—that get made when written language is destroyed, obscured, misremembered. Baum’s photographs are paired with Libby Rothfeld’s sculptural arrangements, visual riddles that seek out elusive answers. The tiled platforms of her floor-based “Option” sculptures, 2016, are stages for indifferent-looking clay faces in bas-relief, shot glasses half-filled with fake resin spirits, and shopping baskets nearly overflowing with sprouting raw potatoes. Her wall-mounted “Label” pieces, 2016, employ anodyne tiles similar to the floor pieces. They boast, prominently and unintelligibly, alphanumeric codes and warnings from the US surgeon general about the deleterious effects of alcohol for pregnant women.
Rothfeld’s and Baum’s texts call to mind the work of poet Ingeborg Bachmann, who once wrote that there can be “no new world without a new language.” These artists create aesthetic situations that feel circuitous, enigmatic, impossible. Another cipher can be found in the exhibition’s title, “AAa: Quien,” which seems to simply inquire, “AAa: Who?” A new world, Rothfeld and Baum suggest, begins with you.
Like the labyrinthine, filigreed patterns of an illuminated manuscript, James Siena’s new drawings, divided into three series—“Wanderers,” “Nihilisms,” and “Manifolds,” all 2015–16—transmogrify their subjects into florid, and occasionally textual, tableaux. Nihilism XI, 2016, has the phrase “JUST ANOTHER EON OF CHAOS AND CONFUSION WELCOME ABOARD,” drawn in intricate curls of script. Interwoven forms, like Celtic knots, levitate throughout the artist’s “Manifolds.” They are as finely wrought and as visually meditative as mandalas and are made from interlocking, braided-together, jewel-toned ribs. The “Wanderers” suite of works, inspired by Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s observations about the function of the picture frame, is full of seemingly animated figures. They slyly crawl over their beveled matboards, slipping past the traditional picture boundaries allotted to them—take, for instance, Escaped Non-Map Fragment, 2016, where a dimensionally rendered lattice, in periwinkle blue, flares out beyond its tidy realm.
Siena has always been more of a draftsman than a painter, and the rigorous repetitiveness of his practice has often yielded comparisons to Agnes Martin. But he’s closer to Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella—less spiritual and bound to a more objective, systematic process of mark-making. Siena’s numinous images turn the flatness of the picture plane into something rich, strange, heady. His lines resist all manner of limit and indelibly etch themselves onto the back of your mind.
The vulgar doodle is a genre seldom given the chance to blossom outside of adolescence. Yet some, such as Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, carry the lickerish art well into adulthood, even becoming consumed by it. This exhibition offers a trove of the Battleship Potemkin director’s “pornographic” drawings, made during trips to Mexico and the US in the 1930s until his death in Moscow in 1948, and marks the first time they’ve been shown in the Americas.
Divided into small islands by theme or technique along the gallery walls, this erotica, enthusiastically unsexy, parades various styles. Manic, scratchily shaded compositions accompany orgies evoked in fewer, more assured lines. The most profound sketches exploit an elegantly primitive minimalism to convey both longing and what Eisenstein called, in his memoirs, an “ocean of brutalities.” Like depraved storybook illustrations for recurring wet dreams (or nightmares), these carnivalesque tableaux record fucking—bestial, heterosexual, and gay—in nightclubs, churches, and circuses. On paper ochred by time, graphite, ink, and colored pencil curl and zigzag, escorting lines into interlocked bodies frequently stained with rashes of lascivious crimson. In one vision scrawled onto hotel stationery circa 1931 (all works untitled), a caricatured pope is impaled by a steeple as furious hatchings and stray wisps of graphite cohere in squalid vertigo. In another, from 1943, a madame loyal dips her limbs into four nearby orifices, firmly etched in red.
Unlike the collectivism extolled by Stalinist ideology, Eisenstein’s ribald renderings celebrate individual desires. The fact that his motherland would never have exhibited or even condoned these drawings—the USSR outlawed sexually explicit imagery—grants them a curious heroism, a quality often furthered by the subjects’ gladiatorial physiques. At times tender and others gleefully sadistic—regularly both—these perverse pageantries tell no clear story, simultaneously relegated and exalted to baser pleasures, shameless and woozy with want.
The gallery feels still. Hanging from the ceiling are forty-nine globes, radiant with gently diffused light. Arranged in impossible orbits and strung with fishing wire, the installation is akin to a science-class diorama of an unknown solar system, illuminated by the glare of unknown suns. Little porcelain squares, unglazed and matte white, envelop the surfaces of these imperfect orbs. They are like the mirrored fragments of disco balls but utterly drained of glimmer and sparkle—eyes that once flickered and flashed now overcast, blind.
In Never Stop Dancing, 2017, artist and activist Phoenix Lindsey-Hall pays tribute to the forty-nine lives lost in the Pulse massacre that took place in Orlando last June. Answering the violence of this event with love and poetry, the artist literally recasts this staple of nightclub décor as a mute witness to passion, cruelty, and death. Her monochromatic warped slip-cast objects of mourning fail to capture the sensuality and ecstasy of nightlife. They are like dying stars, trapped in darkness and forced into silent rhythms. On the gallery’s eastern wall is an emphatic elegy written in white capital letters against a black ground. In an ominous portent of joy that becomes fear, the artist writes, IN THE DISTANCE A DRUM POUNDS OUT / AGAINST THE RHYTHM, / OFF BEAT AND OUT OF KEY. Lindsey-Hall’s installation is as hushed as the suffocating calm of outer space. This sepulcher—cold because of what it memorializes, yet warm by the artist’s scrupulous labor—is what remains after the dancing has ended.
“The grid glides, stammers, and blurts with different lengths and colours,” Brian O’Doherty wrote regarding his use of Ogham, an ancient Irish linear alphabet, in his paintings and sculptures from between 1968 and 1979. In groupings of perpendicular lines, Ogham vowels mark O’Doherty’s quizzical, skinny wall sculptures from this period, tethering abstraction to both language and the body. These wooden constructions adapt Mondrian’s modernist lexicon: Primary colors and black decorate their sides. Mirrored aluminum forms a V-shaped depression in each of their centers, with the Ogham marks etched into the material. This sets up a contradictory optics. One stretches and strains, past language, to see a reflection, with abstraction relegated to the peripherals. This is recognizably Duchampian: Rigid adherence to an obscure code produces mystery and humor.
This exhibition spotlights a little-known phase in the hybrid career of this artist, critic, novelist, and former director at the NEA of myriad alter egos. Cocurated by Prem Krishnamurthy and Simone Subal, the revelation here is O’Doherty’s proximity to, and deviations from, Sol LeWitt’s artist-free drawings of the same period. Consider the two paintings, both Untitled, 1975, based on O’Doherty’s “Hair Collages,” 1975, in which the artist would contrast the form of hairs from his head with straight lines of precisely the same length. The body is quantified, then rendered in line, for systematically impure abstraction. In 1976, O’Doherty would famously critique the “white cube.” These forgotten experiments exhilarate as provocations constrained by that very context.
The best antidote to boredom is throwing a party, which might as well be the motto of Will Sheldon’s daydreamy exhibition “Tales from a Drippy Realm, The Card Thrower.” Hella festive, the exhibition is microdosed with fashion and fantasy, and its druggy aesthetic signals a transformative celebration.
Our first guest? Cut outs, 2016–17, a suite of twelve small drawings installed in unconventional locations. Hiding in the gallery’s bookshelves are a goblin that covets a bejeweled egg; a mushroom-headed dancer sprouting up behind a radiator; and a craggy vine growing from a pile of skulls that envelop a crystal ball, placed above the back door. Styled like tramps and pixies, dandies and burlesque dancers, magicians and witches, Sheldon’s seemingly angst-ridden creatures populate the space. Intemperance is a major theme—in one drawing, a pink corset with a wrinkly potbelly longingly slumps forward. This symbol of restraint and authority transmogrifies into an illustration of pathos, longing, and lack.
Fagin, 2017, a collaboration between Sheldon and the fashion collective Women’s History Museum, is a massive pair of white felt fairy wings carrying a chaotic array of photographs, embroidery, and ribbons, drawn all over with scratchy magic marker. Deliberately dirty, the work’s title discomfitingly refers to the pickpocket leader in Oliver Twist, a black-market merchant often derisively referred to as “the Jew.” “The Jew” is the bullied kid in the stupid high school of history—but in Sheldon’s exhibition, with its blend of exuberance and haute abjection, he is the supercool Semite: louche, invincible, and the life of the party.
The drywall has been stripped from the side of the gallery’s entrance to expose the underlying brick and bright red scaffolding. White powder-coated steel and plywood beams populate the rooms, but instead of holding up the ceiling, they stand isolated, unattached. One beam wears a faux fur shawl draped over the top, while another stands on a crumpled floral-patterned doormat (Untitled Problem 15 and 8 [all works cited, 2016]). Omaskęko Cree artist Duane Linklater examines the oft-invisible framing that enables and prevents indigenous artwork from being seen. On one wall, a clear plastic tarp all but covers a framed digital print of an accession sheet (Accession) for a pair of white baby boots crafted from caribou, beads, and rabbit fur—valued at twenty-two Canadian dollars—by Ethel Linklater, the artist’s late grandmother. These boots were part of an exhibition in the 1980s, organized by the Ontario Arts Council, from which this show takes its name.
Paying particular attention to the structures that display and house indigenous art, from state museums to private galleries, Linklater constructs stainless-steel armatures and concrete bases to present these art objects and family heirlooms (Speculative apparatus for the work of nohkompan, 1–9; nohkompan is a Cree word that translates to “my grandmother who is passed on”). Detailed caribou, moose, and rabbit-hide mukluks, slippers, and mitts made by Ethel—owned by Ontario’s Thunder Bay Art Gallery and on loan to Linklater—are presented atop his pedestals. “From Our Hands” is a collaborative show that traces the cultural and genealogical relations between Linklater, his twelve-year-old son, Tobias (whose stop-motion video, Origin of the Hero, is also featured), and Ethel. A bouquet of flowers and a pyramid of Du Maurier cigarettes among Ethel’s belongings rest on Linklater’s dark concrete plinths. Interrogating the relationship between the materials that create the “neutral” gallery and the collections that fill it, the artist holds a space for his son while embracing his grandmother.
A black photographer who began her career in the 1970s, Ming Smith was always driven by strong social commitments. And as the titles in her present retrospective suggest—Rememberin’ Billie (for Billie Holiday), New York, NY, ca. 1977, and Farewell to Alvin Ailey, New York, NY, ca. 1989—she was an elegist, commemorating a community whose existence this country tries to deny. Indeed, her sense of social erasure is so strong that it accrues a metaphysical significance. Carefully blurred, often foggy or dim, sometimes so overexposed they resemble Rorschach blots, Smith’s black-and-white prints embody a deep awareness of transience, of mortality.
In Sun Ra Space II, New York City, New York, 1978, the jazz legend is shown in a swirl of motion, almost rushing past us, as if to suggest how quickly his song will end. Smith also freezes a timeless aspect of the present, the essence of music being made. She knows the performance will end, as well as what might remain once it has. She makes visible the “ghosts”—as photographer and activist Gordon Parks once put it—that transcend time.
Like her fellow Kamoinge members—she was the only female in Harlem’s legendary black photo collective—Smith set out to develop a novel visual idiom to document what Aimé Césaire would have called her “unique people.” This exhibition shows her experimenting with a variety of techniques, including surrealist montage, atmospheric blurring, and paint-based manipulation. The results are often an elegant convergence of form and content. No Money (from the Invisible Man Series), Harlem, NY, ca. 1991, for example, is an overexposed photograph of a young boy standing before the facades of closed shops. Light from the left of the frame threatens to erase our protagonist. But his defiant pose, almost a silhouette now, asserts that he isn’t going anywhere.
On November 20 of last year, the original site of this Brooklyn exhibition space in East Williamsburg, located in a former funeral home, closed its doors for the last time. The artist-run venue had an unquiet rest, however—another version of it currently exists as a projects space in Carroll Gardens, while its first body has been exhumed for a second life in Chelsea. “Cathouse FUNeral Harvested” (an extension of which will open on the Lower East Side on January 8) collects residue from twenty shows of murals and installations via fragments of sheetrock and other architectural excerpts, presented as collaborative works that have been three years in the making. Crowded with freestanding wall segments and framed remnants, the Tenth Avenue space is punctuated by dead ends and ersatz corridors. Zips of pink are in evidence from the 2014 group show “Shrink It, Pink It.” A mural by Brad Benischek begins with Harvesting: FUNeral Tryptic (w/ Brad Benischek) and ends in FUNeral Gallery-Object 2 (w/ Benischek) (both 2016), though the slabs are anachronistically joined (by David Dixon, Cathouse’s wallah, with the artist’s permission) to unlike parts. Excavated to stand like clean-cut monoliths, the “harvestings” present a mess of artifacts that refuse to straighten into a tidy narrative; even the three gypsum tablets that chronicle the Cathouse’s exhibition history are placed out of sequence. These structures share no design with their former digs and make no attempt at a documentary-like report. Although these assembled remains contain the potential for a whimsical archive, they are shown not as gestures of mourning or memory, but as celebrations of the vitality and opportunity of ending.
Every hour, a drama plays out across a pair of huge screens in a project room strewn with cables, audio equipment, and some folding chairs. Frequently, the two screens subdivide into eight. Occasionally, the smaller screens go black, show vivid distortion, and clear to reveal a setting, or an actor: one of eight members in a theater company who are rehearsing a play in a space that looks like a former slaughterhouse. The action builds in fragments. About halfway in, one of the actors is shown frantically searching for something throughout multiple screens. Soon after, he appears on a single screen to the left, talking to a woman on the screen to its right. Their exchange is a lovers’ quarrel, piercing but at the same time clichéd. She has left him without warning. He wants to know why.
In fact, their dialogue is adapted from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which the actors improvise all the way through James Coleman’s video installation Working arrangement – horoscopus, 2004. One of nine pieces in a show spanning nearly five decades of work, Working arrangement is the most explicitly cinematic projection on view, braced between Still Life, 2013–16, a gorgeous digital projection of a larger-than-life poppy plant, and Untitled, 2011–15, a stutter-stop LED of revelers on a carnival ride.
These two works arc across the extremes of human experience—art, contemplation, and introspection on one side, and thrill-seeking spectacle and canned entertainment on the other. Working arrangement deals with the more delicate notion of passage in between. Filmed with a few hand-held cameras and a series of “button” cameras affixed to the clothes and glasses of the eight actors, the footage conveys the difficulty and magic of moving from camera to screen, artist to viewer, intention to reception. But transmission here is also a perilous journey to hell and back. Will art allow a lover to return? Perhaps, but it’s possible that she—like meaning, like myth—could be maimed or utterly changed by her travels.
If reality television took the romance out of rehab, then Cynthia Talmadge’s “Leaves of Absence” pumps it back in. Her installation, Leaves of Absence: McLean, 2017, based on Harvard Medical School’s psychiatric facility, can be seen from the street—but only those who enter get to take in the full picture. The artist envisions rehab as a kind of Ivy League dormitory outfitted with the requisite gear: a mug, a tote, a sweatshirt. It is a scene that belongs to Hollywood, perhaps in a Wes Anderson remake of Mark Robson’s 1967 movie, Valley of the Dolls.
The pastel dream doesn’t last long. The impossible neatness of the room suggests a kind of compulsion on the part of its maker. The cyclical nature of addiction and depression becomes the glue that marries the artist’s process with her concept. A matching print shows the room in a different colorway, with another treatment center emblazoned on its collegiate accessories (Hazelden [Winter], 2016).
Talmadge uses repetition and humor to discredit herself, but like any unreliable narrator there is something about the ambiguity that drags one deeper into the fantasy. The vacuousness of her one-size-fits-all bedroom has the same effect. Big enough to hold the viewer’s projections but too small for comfort, the installation encourages one to flirt with the threshold between sanity and madness. In Sylvia Plath’s semiautobiographical novel The Bell Jar (1963), her unraveling heroine, Esther Greenwood, muses: “I wondered at what point in space the silly, sham blue of the sky turned black.” Talmadge’s hospital-corner hyperrealism brings the viewer to this same precipice.
TM Davy’s suite of eight horse paintings comes from a blood connection to this gallery’s street address—the artist learned of his patrilineal great-great-great-grandfather’s livery stable via an old photograph that had “195 Chrystie Street, 1880” scrawled on its back. Three large canvases of equine bodies stand in the front gallery. One, horses (xo) (all works 2016), shows a mare and scared-looking foal bathed in a rainbow of colored light that streams in from the window of a claustrophobic stall. This otherworldly halo appears in horse (x) as well. Davy has long held a fascination with light, often depicting it, like a Dutch old master, as a painting’s greatest subject.
Everything from the horses’ breathing skin to their genitalia is lovingly rendered. Their eyes are crushingly realistic: exceedingly anxious, watchful of being watched. In the rear gallery are two paintings, horse (xoox) and horse (xox), where the horses’ eyes are covered with soft fly masks—admittedly, a welcome reprieve for the viewer.
Human evolution is closely tied to the ways beasts of burden have been used and, of course, misused. Horses—sometimes jumpy, sometimes gentle—can be ignorant of their own size and strength. The work horses (xoo) depicts another mare and foal grazing beneath an archway of leaves; it’s such an idyllic moment of painterly symmetry. In this serene setting, they look out at the viewer. You experience discomfiture at this, for these noble, enigmatic creatures seem to understand, profoundly, that this very moment of being looked upon is the only instant that exists.
John M. Armleder’s slickly designed Furniture Sculpture 230, 1989—made up of three antique-looking chairs on a monochromatic platform—evokes the culture of neoliberal professionalism via high-end decor. Flanking this work are several pieces that span a long career of formal upheaval. Among them are Untitled, Caput Mortuum (Untitled, Dead Head), 1968, and Haejangguk, 2016. They seem to have been capriciously produced and are quite different: The former is a minimalistic gouache drawing; the latter, a volatile splattering of paint, sequins, and glitter.
The element of chance in Armleder’s work—initially inspired by John Cage—and its proximity to luxury household commodities produce and expose a contradiction. Of course, Armleder is famously interested in the contexts in which art is displayed. “The artist has a very restrictive understanding of his own work because he’s so close to it,” he said in a recent interview. “So what binds it all together? It’s obviously time, space—areas. And all that would be wiped out by new time, new spaces.” So is there a radical autonomy exercised by the work? Not quite—significance arises when the form is conversant with its context. The yuppie culture of the 1980s embodied in Armleder’s chic appointments collides with the radical, painterly formalism around them. The effect is ironic and playful yet pointed: Fine art as commodity, regardless of its politics, is at least partly implicated in the indiscretions of financial markets—art is, after all, one of the most potentially lucrative luxury assets. The idea is hardly unique to this gallery space but is nevertheless teased out by Armleder’s collisions.
Well known for his minimalist approach to cartoony graphics and text, Carl Ostendarp’s hand-painted work harkens back to the early days of Pop. For his first show at this gallery’s new location, he employs a tool associated with blue-collar labor to make the washed-out, earth-tone-gray backgrounds of his paintings: a mop. The result is an abstract surface that resembles a cosmic soup, or an eruption of lava, possibly signifying a return to the primordial—or the end of the world.
Two types of acrylic-on-canvas work are present: long horizontal landscapes and word paintings. Unifying the first group is a craggy horizon line filled in with an opaque gray that could be read as a series of upside-down drips or a mountain range. Titled after classic Black Sabbath tracks, works such as Behind the Wall of Sleep and Hole in the Sky (all works cited, 2016), with their hazy backdrops, are perfect symbols for our uncertain future. The word paintings, consisting of onomatopoeia favored by comic-book artists—Mad magazine’s Don Martin comes to mind—represent what one utters when reading a daily barrage of disheartening news about the Trump administration. These guttural, gloomy renditions—two of which are titled Ech! and Agh! Argh! Ack! Gak!—would make great protest signs. (Auspiciously, the international Women’s Marches were held on the same day that the gallery opened this exhibition.) Ostendarp skillfully crystallizes the mood of our collective spirit in this grouping of works—totally nauseated.
Cobalt-blue and charcoal-colored rubber mulch cover the floor, cutting the space into two triangles of color. More ecosystem than exhibition, the artists in Prem Krishnamurthy and Anthony Marcellini’s postapocalyptic show, “The Stand,” play with light, firmament, plants, totemic forms, and animals. The show changes the doomed mood of the desert playground from Terminator 2 to one of strange playfulness.
Here, memories of sulky-dreamy Sarah Connor’s muscled arms clinging to a chain-link fence shape-shift. The outstretched arms of a black NBA player in Paul Pfeiffer’s luminous photograph Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (07), 2002, points to Basquiat’s pained meditations on black resilience and black death. We see the player’s head, wearing the crown of crowd support, ultralight beamed. The black athlete, name and team number digitally removed from his jersey, is not a commodity, not Samson tumbling the pillars of spectacular captivity. The booming digital glow acts as a shield from the arena’s mob, and the death knell of racial iconography. Beneath the hallucinatory blues and yellows flaring in Connie Samaras’s archival pigment print The Past is Another Planet: Huntington Desert Garden, Cacti; OEB 1723, Novel Fragment, Parable of the Sower, 1989, 2016, cactus soil mixes with lines from Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower (1993). While the show takes its name from Stephen King’s 1978 plague novel, Butler’s story of survival yields another insight: “We haven’t even hit rock bottom yet.”
Melancholia seeds this show, as does transformation, formally and materially: Beatriz Santiago Muńoz’s video Cinema, 2014, made in the movie house of a dilapidated US naval base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, loops on an iPad. Light filters into the theater through trees growing out of earth that holds undetonated bombs. Amid hysteria, dynastic decay, and clamors of uprising, “The Stand” poeticizes pluralities of living with death, playing in the US empire’s wake.
“Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades.” The carving of character by light, as the early camera was thought to do, and as this advertising slogan for photographers of the 1800s suggests, was especially trenchant for those who wanted to remember their dead at eternal slumber’s start, with astonishing veracity, via the daguerreotype’s unearthly powers. Memorial portrait painting is another kind of alchemy—venerable, yet stranger, as it tasks the artist with reviving a kind of familiar glow or personality from the deceased––sometimes using the corpse as a model––for the commissioning bereaved.
This exhibition, curated by the museum’s Stacy C. Hollander, is an extraordinary survey of memorial works—mostly painted and photographic—that were made by artists, both formally trained and self-taught, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America, a time when we were more intimately acquainted with mortality and the rituals surrounding death. Many of the works’ subjects are quite young—children and babies who died from illness, accidents. One of the most affecting is Thomas Wilder’s oil-on-canvas portrait of Anna Baylies Bushee, 1848, which depicts the girl, just barely five, sitting in a dour parlor near a window that looks onto two small angels—ugly, sickening things—awaiting her arrival in heaven. There’s Charles Willson Peale’s Rachel Weeping, 1772–1818, a painting of the artist’s wife crying over the body of their infant daughter, Margaret, who was taken by smallpox: Margaret’s yellowed lips are held shut by a silken chinstrap, her arms securely fastened to her sides by a swath of white ribbon, tied with a dainty bow. There’s even a plaster death mask by Hiram Powers made from his little boy’s face, James Gibson Powers, ca. 1838, who succumbed to “water on the brain.”
Pictures of headstones appear in the exhibition as well—some so crudely fashioned that they look considerably older than just two or three hundred years. Also on view: an ivory medallion featuring a watercolor and graphite rendering of a virginal teenage bride. A photo encased in a velvety, locket-like frame shows a young lady in her casket, lavished with flowers, with an aged paper fragment that reads “Death’s seal is on that cherub brow, and closed that sparkling eye.” Genteel language often poorly conceals such devastating loss.
The photograph Earthrise, taken from NASA’s Apollo 8 space shuttle in 1968, captured the Earth as seen from the distance of the moon. Half engulfed in shadow, our home planet looks radiant and fragile—a kaleidoscopic cobalt-blue-and-misty-white shard floating in a vast and unbroken pitch-black sky.
The picture’s capacity to transmit the beauty and vulnerability of Earth is credited with helping to launch the environmental movement of the 1970s. But today, decades after Earthrise and the advent of satellite imagery, we’ve grown accustomed to such all-encompassing aerial views of the planet and, with this familiarity, more confident that we can understand (or even control) its course. We’ve also set our collective sights higher—space missions now explore far beyond our world, plumbing the outer edges of the solar system.
Peter Campus’s black-box exhibition feels remarkable for directing our gaze firmly back to the ground and for imbuing the most minuscule pieces of the Earth’s surface with a sense of mystery and magnificence. On display for the first time in public are five monumental black-and-white photographs of rocks Campus collected in Montauk, New York. The images, all from 1987, illuminate the darkened gallery walls as glittering three-dimensional digital projections. Campus’s head-on, enlarged views of the rocks—with evocative titles such as affect, schism, and half-life—reveal their intricate patterns of pockmarks, grooves, and ridges. Through the artist’s lens, the beach pebbles are transformed into precious gemstones and meteorites that demand the same awe and rapt attention as a night sky.
In the back room of Sophie Hirsch’s current show is Reformer, 2017, a plaster arrow riding an industrial-looking body-shaping machine. The sculpture faces itself in a pair of mirrors, recalling a Pilates studio with its BDSM-like balance of pleasure and torture. Joseph Pilates considered Contrology, his tension-and-relief method, the only route to bliss. Martha Graham and George Balanchine swore by it. If her work is any indication, Hirsch does too.
The artist approaches quick-drying materials such as plaster and silicone with an interest in posture, gravity, and compromise between flexibility and resistance. Studio props such as straps and blocks give constraints to Hirsch’s floppy bodies, which would otherwise collapse under their own weight. Bending, folding, twisting—the abstract sculptures read as instructional diagrams. Her series of shadowbox works, “Muscle Test 1–5,” 2016, strengthens this allusion.
While at first her concerns feel largely formal and materialistic, they are not what one leaves with. Hirsch’s work brings oppositional forces together to create new equilibriums, whether it be a hard-edge feminine aesthetic or a wall-mounted sculpture that begs to be called a painting. Rather than going outside for inspiration and depth, the exhibition’s bodily overtones demand inward expansion. Starting with the figure and working outward, the show feels like a rally for enlightened navel-gazing. Hirsch encourages not only self-awareness but excavation. Her sculptures seem to ask, How can we extend ourselves safely? How can we be bridges?
Much Trump-related art pokes at the president’s perceived physical inadequacies, faltering at superficiality and failing to elucidate concerns within our body politic. Peter Caine’s exhibition “The Old Man and the Sheep” is an eviscerating exception.
Known for videos and installations of animatronic sociopolitical tableaux and pop-cultural critique, as well as animal husbandry presentations, Caine has an idiosyncratic on-screen persona lightened by cynical wit. Here, he shows three kinetic works with four life-size figures of a rapturous Trump in various stages of sexual degradation. Aping the protagonist’s theatricality, the mixed-media constructions operate only in response to spectators. With pendulous genitalia, the president variously brutalizes a sheep from behind; masturbates in an altered Nazi uniform into a melon; and seems ready to engage in rapey oral sex with a kneeling man. All of this is set to the pneumatic sound track of juddering, mechanical intercourse.
Despite this pungency, Caine’s principle assets are refined insight and layered meaning. As Trump rams the sheep, the term “golden fleece” gets reinterpreted—one wonders if the unfortunate beast represents America or his own voters. The kneeling individual in The Great Wall of Trump, 2017, wears a sign identifying him as homeless and offering to “suck dick” as Trump’s gripped phallus protrudes through a fragmentary wall. The subjugation and humiliation of marginalized groups raises Trump’s omnipotent tendencies and victory-mongering. Particularly horrific is the wretch’s face, which is a livid, pink mirror of Trump’s features, a detail that is biblically egomaniacal in recalling an earlier figure that cast man in his own image.
“I think that artists in the South must at some point confront the work of folk artists,” the late artist Beverly Buchanan said. But Buchanan, who is known for her colorful shack sculptures emulating Southern vernacular architecture, was anything but an outsider artist. In the early 1970s, she studied with Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden while working as a New Jersey health educator. She also gained the support of such curators as Lucy Lippard and Lowery Stokes Sims. Yet as a black woman artist who spent the height of her artistic career in Georgia, her work has not been given its historical due.
This exhibition, organized by curator Jennifer Burris and artist Park McArthur, surveys Buchanan’s practice, which commemorated the resilience of black communities while interrogating American racism. Separated into three galleries of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (triangulated around Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, 1974–79), the layout flips the script on Buchanan’s work. The show opens with her least known pieces—the series “Frustula,” 1978–81, made up of squat, cast-concrete sculptures—artworks in pointed dialogue with post-Minimalism’s industrial-ruin aesthetics. Buchanan pursued site-specificity when she moved to Macon, Georgia, in 1977. From 1979 to 1986, she created a number of humble concrete sculptures, mixed with local materials such as tabby (a cement made with oyster shells, water, lime, ash, and sand, once used for building slave quarters), which memorialized sites of racial violence. Three videos, created by McArthur, Burris, and Jason Hirata, June 10–19, 2016, 2016, document four of her Southeastern projects in situ.
This is an artist-curated show, and the second and largest section—containing more than one hundred archival objects—reveals an artist’s eye. Burris and McArthur include pieces such as the plaid shirt Buchanan painted in, adorned with white crosses and blue and red stars (Untitled, Church on Fire, 1995–96), and photo reproductions of her Guggenheim grant report for the public artwork Marsh Ruins, 1981. The final section, devoted to her miniaturized shacks from 1987 to 2010, is enriched by photos of the 1991 performance Out of Control. Buchanan enacts a conceptual score of symbolic brutality, setting a shack sculpture on fire, only allowing a friend to extinguish it.
The “born free” generation of South Africans—those born after the fall of apartheid in 1994—has recently come into the limelight as protest movements such as #FeesMustFall or #RhodesMustFall have swept university campuses and city streets. The country’s youth have rallied against the intensification of economic disparity and the lingering effects of historical traumas. As time passes, the Mandela-era dream of the “rainbow nation” seems to slide further away.
South African photographer Pieter Hugo offers a more enigmatic vision of this generation with his series “1994,” 2014–16, employing portraiture as a means to signify, however obliquely, the immense cultural transitions it has witnessed. While the eldest born-frees are in their twenties, Hugo’s subjects are younger children, some mere toddlers, from both South Africa and Rwanda (where 1994 marked the unspeakable horrors of genocide).
Hugo is lauded for his disquieting, almost feral aesthetic; he has photographed those on the fringes of society throughout southern and West Africa. Here, though, the work is somewhat more metaphysical: Children are made archetypes of contestation, survival, and hope. They face the camera, seated or recumbent, posed within verdant landscapes or against the looming edifices of rural schools. One of his most arresting images, Portrait #3, Rwanda, 2014, shows a Rwandan girl, draped head to toe in pale-pink fabric, seated on the ground. She gazes forward solemnly as she extends a flower branch and a green frond. Elsewhere, boys and girls in oversize soiled frocks recline against grass and dry earth or pose near mossy trees. These settings invoke the unpredictability and even the cruelty of wilderness, while the children’s clothing, mostly donated from Europe, locates them within a discordant contemporary moment. The photographer’s gaze is inquisitive and searching—his subjects respond with an onerous sense of clairvoyance.
Seated in overstuffed leopard-print armchairs, visitors to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s second solo exhibition at the gallery navigate, via remote control, the dumpy virtual living room of Lorna, a middle-aged agoraphobe whose experience of the world is entirely mediated through her television. Clicking on various objects unlocks bits and pieces of a schmaltzy vernacular media culture, such as boozy cowboy ballads, daytime talk shows, televangelical sermons, and amateur music videos. In one of the game’s three possible endings, its lonely heroine commits suicide.
The first interactive videodisk, Lorna, 1979–84, can claim importance in a broader media history beyond twentieth-century art, though Hershman Leeson has likened the piece’s random, nonhierarchical sequencing to “electronic cubism.” Even more fragmented and multiperspectival is Deep Contact, 1984–89, the first artwork to employ interactive touch screens. Viewers are invited to touch the virtual leather-clad physique of a Teutonic hardbody named Marion, whose various parts open onto a labyrinthine sexual fantasy with fifty-seven forking paths. In her 1985 essay “Interactive Technology and Art,” Hershman Leeson espoused optimism about the enfranchising potential of interactive technology. “The art world,” she wrote, “has long functioned on the presumption that viewing art is passive, while only making art is active. Technological change in the form of laser and video art, however, is changing this traditional way of viewing art.”
But Hershman Leeson’s avant-garde technologism is cut with camp, horror, and feminized abjection, undergirding an eerie feeling that interactivity is as much about capture and control as it is about activation and agency. Between the Snowden leaks and a Twitter presidency, the narrative around technology has acquired a dystopian charge, and Hershman Leeson’s work is increasingly recognized for its Cassandra-like premonitions of technological panopticism. Such anxieties explicitly structure her new installation, Venus of the Anthropocene, 2017. A grotesque mannequin torso faces a vanity mirror rigged with a camera and crude facial-recognition software that attempts—with modest success—to identify the viewer’s age, gender, and mood.
Fishing is a display of male sensuality that is supremely underrated. In Jonathas de Andrade’s thirty-eight-minute film O peixe (The Fish), 2016, the handsome protagonists are the ageless, chiseled fishermen of a coastal village in northeastern Brazil. Wet skin catches the glimmering sunlight on the surface of the water. They steer their boats and swing their hooks. Muscles swell.
Interrupting the tranquil ambiance of lapping water and wind drifting through the palms is the tug of a line, a ripple below. But then a sudden urgency to retract the net causes an explosion of violence and primal masculinity. From this point, de Andrade turns abruptly toward maximum absurdity. Each fisherman takes his catch and lifts it to his chest, entering a meditative embrace. As the fish struggles for its life, he strokes its scales, reversing the role of the midwife—rather than ease the entrance of life into this world, he lovingly assists in its departure.
As in much of de Andrade’s work, there is an intellectual subtext here about the relationship between modern and precolonial Brazil. But that pales in comparison to the many contrasting visceral impulses he forces us to confront at once. This imagined shamanistic ritual in which a hypermasculine, exoticized, and sexualized figure cradles an alien body—the size of an infant, with strangely human lips—is violent and bizarrely romantic. O peixe evokes a shock further heightened by the sounds of labored breathing from both parties. As viewers, we get the sense that our emotions are being played with—much to our delight.
In 1948, six years before her death at the age of sixty-five, the poet Anne Ryan discovered the collages of Kurt Schwitters and likened the artistic technique to a visual sonnet. One can see why; both modes often scrape together disparate materials—haptic or not—to evoke a highly compressed self-expression. Ryan soon became an ardent collagist, creating hundreds of works. Unlike Matisse, who approached the same medium in his own final years, Ryan kept her compositions small. Confected from textiles as well as scavenged objects such as twine, paper, mesh, and feathers, the twenty abstract assemblages displayed here are multitudinous, by turns amoebic and explosive, vibrant and subdued.
Untitled (No. 435), 1952, fashions a crude kaleidoscope out of pastel blues, greens, tans, pinks, and periwinkles. A couple of pasted papers appear to be singed. At its top, a piece of gilded foil, like candy-wrapper shrapnel, glints.
The show’s centerpiece and largest collage, Untitled (No. 618), circa 1948–54, is gauzed entirely with skin-shaded patches. Pale hues of sand and marmoreal bisque plunge softly into deeper tones of ecru and beige, where dried glue puckers beneath the surface into tiny alpine textures. In other works, fibrous honeycombs stretch across mundane and bizarre decoupage. A tender crescent moon makes an appearance. Embracing quieter colors and quotidian materials, the collages’ presence might feel humble—the artist even signed them in pencil—yet their aura lingers, like some half-remembered dream. Ryan’s late move to collage, itself a biographical volta, shunted her legacy firmly into the context of Abstract Expressionism, where she’s been relatively overlooked. Yet to say Ryan did not devote those last years to poetry begins to feel, after seeing this show, somehow mistaken.