• Current

  • Past

Jibade-Khalil Huffman

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

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

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

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

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

Chloe Wyma

Marguerite Humeau

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

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

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

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

Zoë Lescaze

Mountain River Jump!

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

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

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

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

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

Howie Chen

“Sites of Knowledge”

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

View of “Sites of Knowledge,” 2017.

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

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

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

Zachary Sachs

Myranda Gillies and George Herms

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

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

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

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

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

Kat Herriman

Meschac Gaba

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

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

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

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

Patrick Jaojoco

“Dream Machines”

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

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

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

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

Tausif Noor

“alt-facts”

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

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

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

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

Hannah Stamler

Satoshi Kojima

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

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

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

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

Yin Ho

Gelatin

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

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

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

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

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

David Muenzer

Gogo Graham

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

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

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

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

Haley Markbreiter

“The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin”

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

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

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

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

Zachary Sachs

Hadassa Goldvicht

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi Lev

“Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction”

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

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

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

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

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

Prudence Peiffer

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Vogel

Naama Tsabar

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

View of “Naama Tsabar: Transboundary,” 2017.

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

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

Wendy Vogel

Dana Powell

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blair Cannon

Megan Marrin

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

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

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

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

Zack Hatfield

“The World Without Us”

Brennan & Griffin
122 Norfolk Street
July 27, 2017–August 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

Alex Jovanovich

Myoung Ho Lee

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
June 29, 2017–August 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

Zack Hatfield

Syeus Mottel

SITUATIONS
127 Henry St
August 4, 2017–August 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

Nolan Boomer

“The Horizontal”

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
July 6, 2017–August 31, 2017

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

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

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

Tabitha Piseno

Sable Elyse Smith

Recess | ASSEMBLY
370 Schermerhorn Street
June 23, 2017–September 1, 2017

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

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

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

Nicole Kaack

Elaine Cameron-Weir

New Museum
235 Bowery
May 3, 2017–September 3, 2017

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

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

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

Vanessa Thill

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons

The Met | Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
May 4, 2017–September 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

Zoë Lescaze

Karl Salzmann

Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street
June 29, 2017–September 4, 2017

View of “Karl Salzmann,” 2017.

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

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

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

“Sticky Fingers”

Arsenal Contemporary | New York
214 Bowery
July 14, 2017–September 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

Blair Cannon

Sara Rabin

Larrie
27 Orchard Street
July 30, 2017–September 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

Yin Ho

Charlotte Greene and Lionel Maunz

Bible
19 Monroe Street
August 13, 2017–September 10, 2017

View of “Charlotte Greene and Lionel Maunz: Lamerica,” 2017.

Imagine Alice falling through the rabbit hole into a cyberpunk dystopia, and you might have something like Charlotte Greene and Lionel Maunz’s current exhibition, “Lamerica.” It is housed in a subterranean, bunker-like gallery space, a fitting arena for posing questions about living in an age when humanity’s destructive traces can be felt everywhere. Gathering materials that include fake leaves and real butterfly wings, Greene’s diminutive works call to mind Bruce Conner’s assemblages yet feel largely their own, evoking a fascinating range of ecologies. The oddly appealing Cyborg (all works 2017) collapses the artificial and the natural by combining a gray and feathery wasp’s nest with a deflated Mylar party balloon. IUD (Manufacture, Succeed), a collage on a narrow plank of wood, features a striking image of a gorilla with impossibly elastic limbs. One can imagine the artist using spit to glue the different elements together, the way wasps wet the fragments of wood that become their papery nests.

Maunz contributes one large work: the H. R. Gigeresque sculpture Annunciation. Cast in steel and iron, there is nothing angelic about this work’s mechanical exoskeleton, readying itself to descend upon the headless, fleshy body of a human male. Maunz’s monument suggests the scary outcome of human-machine amalgamations, perhaps necessary to armor oneself against an uncertain, Terminator-style future. By contrast, Greene’s more delicate and fugitive pieces present a vision of posthuman existence that is more pragmatic about our temporary stewardship of this planet. Both artists conjure new forms of survival as they project themselves into a tomorrow that is already, frighteningly, here. Both also undo, in different ways, the polar opposition between nature and culture that has led to our current environmental impasse.

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Maureen Gallace

MoMA PS1
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
April 9, 2017–September 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

Alex Jovanovich

Wesley Martin Berg and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Olsen Gruin
30 Orchard Street
August 13, 2017–September 10, 2017

View of “Wesley Martin Berg and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri,” 2017.

The sad-clown painting functions as a sort of postmodern joke: an ironic gesture that dives into bad taste while subtly nodding to art history—the clown’s origins can be traced back to the stock character Pierrot of the commedia dell’arte, after all. Wesley Martin Berg’s paintings of clowns are informed by this tradition, but he also imbues his subjects with a solemn grace. Rendered in thick gray, white, and black impasto, these singular paintings, charged by a sly gallows humor, invoke a nostalgia for a grittier America that, once upon a time, overflowed with all manner of strange entertainments via traveling circuses and carnivals. The dark comedy is particularly evident in Berg’s cartoonish pictures of floral bouquets, such as Medicate, 2017, where dead-looking blossoms are interspersed with smiley-face balloons. In the sculpture A Warm Place, 2017, Berg renders a macabre arrangement of flowers in a funereal vase. The work suggests melting and decay, to an equally grim, and funny, effect.

The show is rounded out with Untitled, 2016, a large canvas by the Australian Aboriginal artist Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. With its deep-red background and vertiginously detailed surface full of psychedelic, wobbly squares (think James Siena, but more unabashedly metaphysical), the work interacts beautifully with Berg’s monochromatic images. Tjapaltjarri’s meditative and methodical approach enhances Berg’s painterly surfaces. Overall, the exhibition unfolds like a good joke: a wily setup of contrasts that lead, ultimately, to a harmonious frisson.

Tausif Noor

Maira Kalman

Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, Sixth Floor
June 1, 2017–September 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

Darren Jones

Cortney Andrews

Gallery 106 Green
104 Green Street, ground floor
August 12, 2017–September 17, 2017

Cortney Andrews, Setup #2, 2017, C-print, 20 x 15".

Like the Joan Didion book it’s named after, Cortney Andrews’s exhibition “Play It as It Lays” is a feat of emptiness, alert to the threats posed by fragile things. If Didion’s characters skirted the moral void of Hollywood—an inner blankness represented by white space on the page—the absence in this show is even more overt, manifested in hundreds of unfilled glasses that cover the gallery floor, an installation titled Play It as It Lays, 2017. Chalices and tumblers, flutes and grails—the shadows don’t play on the wall, they just loom. The work is darkened so that viewers are brought to the main gallery area via a dim corridor. The ambience feels paranormal, optimized for hexing.

The centerpiece video, Play It as It Lays, 2015, is projected behind the installation and depicts an enigmatic parlor game where people balance glasses atop one anothers’ foreheads. Without music or dialogue, the footage ratchets anxiety through a crescendoing silence, though the occasional splash of glass and grit of shoes treading on the pieces lend further unease. The players’ movements—a zombified sway based on an allegiance to the empty cups that sit above the brain—suggest the absentmindedly sober decorum found throughout art spaces. For a long instant, the camera pans too close on a woman’s dress, and blackness eclipses the lens.

In the photograph Setup #2, 2017, a woman holds a glass stem, positioning the cup on another woman’s brow—the picture is rinsed in an eerie chiaroscuro. An ink-on-paper work, After Joan Didion (Play It as It Lays), 2017, makes a poem of the novel’s closing lines, though Andrews renders names as blanks. “I knew something ___ never knew,” goes one line. “I know what ‘nothing’ means, / and keep on playing.”

Zack Hatfield

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

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
April 21, 2017–September 17, 2017

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

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

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

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

LMCC’s Arts Center at Governors Island
Governors Island, Building 110, near Soissons Landing
May 27, 2017–September 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

Wendy Vogel

“Pearls”

Lubov
373 Broadway, 207
August 20, 2017–September 24, 2017

Sofiyah McCormack, Chin up, 2017, watercolor and collage on paper, 15 x 11".

“I don’t enjoy it here / squatting on this island / looking picturesque and mythical,” says the narrator of Margaret Atwood’s 1974 poem “Siren Song,” a second-wave-feminist retort to Homer’s amphibious temptresses in the Odyssey. Today, it appears that sirens have been culturally domesticated, seen less as femmes fatales than as ethereal beauty inspirations for #mermaidhair and #seawitch looks. “Pearls,” curated by Natalie Yang, brings together works by seven female artists in their early twenties who reclaim the siren as a symbol of desire, ecosorcery, and vulnerability.

A recent New York transplant from California, Yang includes two of her own works in the show. The rainbow-colored whorls of her weaving Untitled (all works cited, 2017) recall oceanic eddies and the recesses of the female body, while the photograph Brianna captures a dark-haired Ophelia submerged in water. Photographers Lula Hyers and Grace Hazel also depict lithe sirens in unspoiled nature, updating the sexualized tableaux of Gen X-ers such as Ryan McGinley and Justine Kurland for the Instagram age.

More piercing, however, are the quasi-surrealist works that consider the sea as a site of mystery and danger. In Grace Milk’s gouache-and-collage painting Bedtime Bacchanal, narrow-eyed nymphs frolic with maritime creatures and a nubile aardvark-woman hybrid, bedecked with a body chain. Sofiyah McCormack, who lives in Sydney, shows watercolor-and-collage compositions based on the shape of the poisoned Citarum River in West Java, the region from which her family hails. Imelda, named after her grandmother, traces the river’s shape over three sheets of paper. McCormack’s angry Chin up shows us a tributary split into two dangling, ovarian forms, one bearing the cut-out image of a shark’s mouth dripping blood.

Wendy Vogel

Willa Nasatir

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
July 14, 2017–October 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

Cat Kron

Kiluanji Kia Henda

International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)
1040 Metropolitan Avenue
June 27, 2017–October 6, 2017

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

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

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

Patrick Jaojoco

Christian Marclay

Paula Cooper Gallery | 521 West 21st Street
521 West 21st Street
September 7, 2017–October 7, 2017

Christian Marclay, Extended Phone II, 1994, telephone and plastic tubing, dimensions variable.

As anyone who has ever used a telephone knows, it doesn’t always make communication easier. Here, Christian Marclay teases out the medium’s shortcomings in four works from the 1990s while broaching broader questions of how we attempt to convey meaning to others. Extended Phone II, 1994, involves a black telephone receiver stretched to Seussical proportions. It loop-di-loops around one room, filling the space with coils like an out-of-control garden hose. The effect is funny, but the exaggerated distance between the speaking and listening ends of the receiver underscores the gulf between those on either end of a call.

Marclay delves further into the fractured nature of phone communication in Telephones, 1995. The seven-and-a-half-minute video offers a more concentrated dose of the droll wit and nimble editing that distinguish the artist’s famed twenty-four-hour video piece The Clock, 2010. We watch actors from various films approach phones, dial numbers, answer, talk, listen, sign off, hang up. The characters speak to one another across decades and from radically different plotlines, forming a comically disjointed conversation. “Darling, it’s me,” says Ray Milland. “What?” responds a perplexed-looking Tom Hanks. “The girl’s dead,” says James Bond. “I’m so confused!” wails Katharine Hepburn. Later in the mash-up, one despairing brunette clutching a white receiver laments, “If I could just see you, talk to you.” Talking on a telephone, it seems, isn’t actually talking.

This sentiment is keenly felt in an age when many of us are rarely without our cell phones. Viewing these prescient works decades after Marclay created them makes one wonder where we’ll be in another twenty years. Together, the works recall President Hayes’s alleged reaction to the telephone in 1876. “That’s an amazing invention,” he reportedly told Alexander Graham Bell, “but who would ever want to use one of them?”

Zoë Lescaze

Bernadette Mayer

CANADA
333 & 331 Broome Street
September 8, 2017–October 8, 2017

Bernadette Mayer, Memory (detail), 1971–72, 1,100 snapshot prints mounted on museum board, 6-hour audio recording, 4 x 36'.

In July 1971, the prolific poet and occasional Conceptual artist Bernadette Mayer set out to shoot a thirty-six-frame roll of film each day of that month and to document her undertakings in an exhaustive written account. The resulting work, Memory, 1971–72, is composed of 1,100 photographic prints, arranged in a grid, and an amplified narration voiced by Mayer that she adapted from her writings—a six-hour, breath-stretching Steinian chronicle, later published as an unillustrated 1975 book of the same name. (Mayer remains best known in the art world as the coeditor, with Vito Acconci, of the late-1960s experimental magazine 0 to 9.)

If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ve had a New York summer idyll like the one Mayer depicts: driving up the Saw Mill or the Taconic to greener points north, making films with friends, drinking Jack Daniel’s till late on the deck. Her snapshots furnish a feeling of recognition: You have likely taken casual pictures of similar forms of evanescence, or realized, too late, that you should have––of the man you loved in a convertible or shirtless in bed, of cigarette soft-packs half crushed on the dash, of garden tomatoes, a spider web, or the hurried blaze of a downtown taxi. The installation of images, if followed sequentially, forces you to crisscross the gallery multiple times, the transit from the end of one row to the beginning of the next becoming a languid carriage return of the body. (Mayer herself writes on a Smith-Corona typewriter to this day.) One moment of ’70s period-piece bohemianism in Mayer’s writing—“This is the part of the sky that cleared first blue / got two tabs of sunshine then”—inadvertently conjures the present material condition of these fading color prints, now tinted by palls of cyan or carmine. As the wavelengths of light-emitting bodies shift blue or red as they approach or recede in outer space, so Mayer’s age-tinged snapshots both advance into the present and draw back into history, like all the ficklest, best memories do.

Claire Lehmann

Alex Sewell

TOTAH
183 Stanton Street
September 7, 2017–October 8, 2017

Alex Sewell, Street Fightin’ Man, 2017, oil on canvas, 76 x 64".

Painting teenage spleen with a Photorealist’s skill, Alex Sewell creates trompe l’oeil works on canvas and wood that interrogate the bulimic visual culture that bombards today’s youth with toxic and violent images. A steadfast irony, however, keeps his critique from becoming preachy, as symbols of beloved pop culture (video-game heroes, rock stars) are conflated with those of high art (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Philip Guston) and peppered with references to religion, sex, and resistance movements.

Though the artist’s oils are in your face and over the top, his messages are subtle, intelligent. His politics don’t throttle you in the way political art can. Sewell maintains an expert balance between refined craft, authentic curiosity, and self-questioning. In Street Fightin’ Man, 2017, for instance, a reproduction of a campaign poster depicting a shriveled Reaganesque character hangs next to a paper doll of a doughy white boy in fingerless black gloves, low-top Nikes, and a silly red headband. The figure is a limp combination of John Rambo, Snake Plissken, and The Karate Kid’s Daniel LaRusso—a caricature of 1980s macho bravado that undermines the era’s embrace of male aggressiveness and patriarchy. You can detect a child’s heart in these pictures, though it’s wrapped in an adult’s rage. But what prevails is tenderness, not cynicism. Sewell is not a misanthrope, as his reflections on male failure are deeply felt, melancholic. The artist, seeing through our demons, renders poetic visual tales touched by the absurd.

Ida Panicelli

Tom Burckhardt

Pierogi
155 Suffolk St
September 6, 2017–October 8, 2017

Tom Burckhardt, STUDIO FLOOD (detail), 2017, cardboard, acrylic paint, dimensions variable.

Ashes, photographs, and an antique lamp were among the items that residents reported being relieved to find in their homes after Hurricane Harvey. Tom Burckhardt’s current installation, STUDIO FLOOD, 2017, was likely planned well in advance of the near-apocalyptic natural disasters of the past month, considering, at least, the production time that the show evidently required. Yet the disturbing synchronicity of the show and the floods themselves does not eclipse the resonance of the presentation, which composites elements of the artists’ studios Burckhardt saw destroyed by Hurricane Sandy into a life-size cardboard sculpture, installed upside down, with floodwater overhead. Complementing Burckhardt’s earlier work for an exhibition titled “A World in Cardboard,” what the artist investigates here is not the floods but the Flood, the end of all as we know it. “Climate deniers have [the] administration’s ear,” reads a faux newspaper clipping. A copy of An Inconvenient Truth (2006) sits on the shelf. Black paintings abound. The studio is for rent.

Still, Burckhardt seems just as interested in the damage as he is in the remains: the forms of the studio, its ornaments and textures, its spatial organization and precarity, even drawings-as-blueprints for the scene, a noteworthy series clustered outside the studio replica, in the second gallery. Indeed, what is rendered intact gestures toward the very subjects that Burckhardt has always engaged as a painter—surfaces, supports, illusions, and the history of painting (see his faux book collection). Burckhardt’s deluge feels most real not inside but outside the studio’s windows, in exterior dioramas where details are lost and the water still rises.

Mira Dayal

Amy Yao

47 Canal | Grand Street
291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor
September 8, 2017–October 8, 2017

View of “Amy Yao: Weeds of Indifference,” 2017.

At the entrance of Amy Yao’s exhibition here, the viewer is blocked by a chain-link fence draped with laser-cut, red-and-yellow, faux-silk brocade. Though the work’s title, Foreign Investments (Bottarga in Costa Mesa) (all works 2017), refers to a city in Orange County south of Yao’s Los Angeles home, the swags of low-rent chinoiserie index the gallery’s address at the crux of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and its rapidly gentrifying Chinatown. Two smaller draped fences—Foreign Investments (Good Ramen) and Foreign Investments (Baked Alaska)—likewise work as metonyms for the real and symbolic boundaries erected by real-estate capital.

In the show’s press release, Yao muses on the way that hipster fetishes of authenticity— “healthy food,” “good coffee,” ceramic plates “made by real craftsmen”—squire the displacement of local populations, often the merchants and consumers of mass-produced kitsch. This contradiction, explicit and racialized in that faux Chinese silk, is also manifest in the other deflationary objects that make up Yao’s assemblages, such as the artificial flowers encased in Plexiglas in Revolution Within and those scattered on the floor alongside Crocodile Tears Made in China, models of the titular reptile filled with dollar-store junk.

Refusing the readymade’s historical and contemporary postures—the cynical/ironic critique of the commodity form, the mystification of materials—Yao’s gnomic, desublimated sculptures are sometimes puzzling and not always easy to love. Nonetheless, their difficulties reflect honest questions: “What is even real?” she asks, speaking of when “the new authentic is used to eradicate what came before.” Corralled inside her upholstered fences, two desultory piles of glazed ceramic eggs and slime-green polyurethane, Weeds of Indifference and Weeds of Indifference (Fertile Ground), conjure associations with toxic waste and environmental panic. These twin works suggest something we all know and increasingly can’t escape: These days, the real—whatever else it might be—is apocalyptic.

Chloe Wyma

Deborah Brown

Geary Contemporary
185 Varick Street
September 7, 2017–October 14, 2017

Deborah Brown, Nixie, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48".

Riotous storms of thrashing color formed into woodland scenes are the hallmark of Brooklyn-based artist Deborah Brown’s paintings here. Among forested tableaux under tempestuous skies are recurring motifs: birds, a dog, and a lone female figure. While there are notes of modern civilization—a railing, a pathway—the bent of this exhibition is toward natural, rather than human, architecture.

In Birch Trees (all works cited, 2017), the woman, arms hanging limply by her side, looks forlornly at a bird perched on a nearby branch. As close as she is to her avian friend—a signifier of beauty, freedom, the inexplicable—she cannot touch or possess him. Our heroine almost achieves union with the landscape in Nixie, where she stands naked in water up to her waist, framed by dense foliage and cradling a small dog. Though we see her reflection in the pond, she does not gaze into it. She is an anti-Narcissus, staring directly at the viewer, at ease with her pet and wearing what could become a contented smile.

These arcadian settings are not gently rendered, however. Brown’s palette-knife facture is anxious and harsh, rife with thick daubs and slashes. Such frenetic energy is more akin to the tumult of city life. These works suggest a peaceful emancipation, something for which many enervated New Yorkers secretly ache, but perhaps cannot voice it for fear of being perceived as lacking resolve, or worse, betraying treasonous disloyalty to the city’s often suffocating embrace.

Darren Jones

Colette

Mitchell Algus Gallery
132 Delancey St, 2nd floor
September 12, 2017–October 15, 2017

Colette, Love in Ruins, 1987–90, mixed media, dimensions variable.

In 1977, the shape-shifting artist who goes by Colette—or Colette Lumière since 2001—staged herself in Olympia-like repose at the center of an unwieldy installation in lavender satin and silk titled Let Them Eat Cake (Marie Antoinette au Petit Trianon). It was the same year Douglas Crimp’s exhibition “Pictures” identified the coolly conceptual vocabulary of artists who came of age in early 1970s New York, Colette’s adopted part-time home. Fashioning a decidedly more florid vision on the downtown scene, she remained an outlier for nomadic work produced under different personae and pseudonyms across performance, staged photographs, and lurid objects/environments.

Amid disenchantment with public institutions of the post-1960s era, the dark comedy of Colette’s absurdist theatricality and material excess seemed to give Antoinette’s alleged words and the artist’s work an ironically subtle resonance. Today, we have a convincing new Marie Antoinette at the helm, and the Baroque echo eerily repeats. In Colette’s current exhibition here, charged valences not just of femininity (for which she is best known), but also of privilege and its delusions, unravel in facsimiles of class and royalty for the masses. Love in Ruins, 1987–90, for instance, is attributed to Countess Reichenbach and features a large faded photograph of Colette posed lewdly as the titular character. Framed by swathes of ragged tulle, the portrait projects a fantasy of nobility while its luxe trappings become the floor remnants of a riotous night out. In Beautiful Dreamer (Décapité), 1981–2017, she decollates a life-size cutout of herself and hangs an ornate wall sconce above the body. The constellation of seemingly discrete assemblages retains a gratifyingly hot-mess scrappiness. Marrying deadpan criticality to the hyperbolic, the artist circumvents the nightmarish fate of “immersive art” and conjures a hauntingly perverse self-mythology of aristocratic grandeur.

Margaret Kross

Victoria Fu

Simon Preston
301 Broome Street
September 10, 2017–October 15, 2017

Victoria Fu, Double Curtain 1, 2017, dye sublimation print on silk, 17' 1“ x 8' 4”.

The California-based artist Victoria Fu appropriates the tactics of illusion used within theater, film, and digital media. Double Curtain 1 (all works 2017), a dramatic piece near the entrance to her exhibition, is coldly spotlit on one side by a digital projector. Printed images on the work’s two diaphanous curtains—hanging back-to-back from a rod suspended from the ceiling—appear to match. But the front-facing curtain, its imagery originally filmed on 16-mm and then digitized, depicts a still from an abstract screen saver full of colorful paint daubs floating against a heavily pixelated backdrop. The second curtain shows what a CGI-animation program predicts the back of the other surface looks like.

Her meditations on artistic trickery are everywhere: Shadow, another digital projection, loops every few minutes behind Double Curtain 1. It reveals the artist in silhouette and a moment when her computer mouse pops into view. Télévoix 1, a video on a flat-screen monitor, mixes analog and digital processes in a mesmerizing mash-up. The video opens with grainy film footage of Fu’s desktop computer, paired with vaguely obscene squishing sounds offscreen. A male voice intones, “This is how I normally mix paint.” We see paper confetti raining down against a grid of pixels; stock footage of milk and cereal splashing into a bowl with liquid sounds played at a torrential volume; and a hand swooping past a dripping, gel-like substance to adjust the glass screen itself. What could be a purely ironic take on the romanticized artistic process is instead an expressive play of texture and surface, with a wink to the pornographic seductiveness of digital effects and, of course, our need to be seduced.

Wendy Vogel

Derrick Adams

The Studio Museum in Harlem via Countee Cullen Library
104 West 136th Street
May 3–October 20

Derrick Adams, Runway No. 1, 2017, mixed media collage on paper, 60 x 40".

Eleven medium- to large-scale collages on paper by Derrick Adams wrap around the mezzanine of the library here, competing for the eye’s attention with a quotation from Langston Hughes, a wall sign reading “General Fiction,” and a whiteboard advertising ample family programming for the day. It’s a perfectly unusual place for an exhibition that tests out different ideas about abstraction, fashion, art history, patterning, biography, and the archival impulse.

Adams is known for placing formal movements in art and architecture (Minimalism, deconstructivism) in playful dialogue with, say, the global trade in West African textiles or the history of racial stereotyping on television. He spent a year at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, next door to the library, poring over the work of the late fashion designer Patrick Kelly. A Mississippi native who slugged it out in New York before an anonymous patron bought him a one-way ticket to France, Kelly was a rising star in the firmament of Parisian prêt-à-porter, the first American designer of color to be accepted into the ultraconservative syndicate governing the world of ready-to-wear. Then, on the brink of financial stability, he died of AIDS, on New Year’s Day, 1990, at the age of thirty-five.

Adams’s show is rare among archival projects in that the formal propositions of the intervening artist confidently match the fascinating dimensions of the historical subject. The collages move from a strict red, yellow, and navy palette with works such as Runway No. 1 and Runway No. 4 (all works 2017) to an exuberant suite of images featuring animal patterns, glitter, and beading, including Prints Are In and Semi Formal. Two vitrines of source materials (sketches, magazine clippings) reveal the extent to which Adams has made visual motifs from the joyfulness of Kelly’s designs and the sorrows of his story. But save your tears—the show is a triumph of dignity, fun, and poise.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Meriem Bennani

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

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

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

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

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

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Barbara Kasten

Bortolami
39 Walker Street
September 8–October 21

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

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

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

Haley Markbreiter

Eliza Douglas and Anne Imhof

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

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

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

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

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

Annie Godfrey Larmon

Ruth Asawa

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

View of “Ruth Asawa,” 2017.

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

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

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Mira Schendel

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

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

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

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

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

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres

Alexander and Bonin
47 Walker Street
September 8–October 21

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

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

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

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

Ian Bourland

Sanford Biggers

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Vogel

Lucas Samaras

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Weinstein

Rosemarie Trockel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chloe Wyma

“Near & Dear”

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Chittenden Morgan

Jordan Casteel

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

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

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

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

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

Tausif Noor

Kahlil Robert Irving

Callicoon Fine Arts
49 Delancey Street
September 8–October 29

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

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

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

Patrick Jaojoco

Joan Brown

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

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

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

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

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

Beau Rutland

Genesis Belanger

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Kron

Ron Baron

Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street
September 23–November 5

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

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

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

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

Kiara Ventura

Jacob El Hanani

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

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

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

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

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

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

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

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

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

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

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

Johanna Fateman

Elia Alba

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi Lev