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Leslie Hewitt

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street
April 7–May 13

Leslie Hewitt, Topologies (Fanon mildly out of focus), 2017, chromogenic print, 30 x 30".

Memories continually recalled take on a bleary specificity. A similar kind of dissonance suffuses Leslie Hewitt’s current exhibition, in which photographic still lifes of single objects betray the nuances and slippages needed to make meaning of both personal and social histories. On one wall, artifacts on top of hardwood and photographed from above build up subtle narratives through association and texture. Topologies (Fanon mildly out of focus), 2017, takes the dog-eared cover of the titular writer’s provocative anticolonial manifesto The Wretched of the Earth (1961) as its subject: “The handbook for the black revolution that is changing the shape of the world,” the paperback announces. Its apocalyptic ambience is offset by a gossamer cloth’s floral embroidery in Topologies (folded memory object), 2017. Nearby, four chromogenic prints of dahlias hang in a series titled “Color Study,” 2016. Their variations are sometimes imperceptible, though three photographs are black and white while one depicts the petals in vivacious yellow. All materialize against a backdrop of blackness, a nod, perhaps, to seventeenth-century bodegónes.

Gravelly footage of rippling waters, disco stars on Soul Train, and the fleeting Manhattan skyline—shot from a moving car’s window—appear in Hewitt’s video Static, 2017, which is also a part of IWIWT (Extended Break), 2017, a video collaboration with William Cordova, whose own exhibition runs concurrently with this one. Voices become incomprehensibly layered as imagery is punctuated by television snow. A photograph of a wooden Bible box with foliate carvings (RAM, 2017) appears in the gallery’s sparsest room. A slip of paper peeking from its lid reveals indecipherable handwriting. On the floor, a minimal, rectangular sculpture, Untitled, 2017, is held in place by oak joints, like a copper blueprint for a room in which we’ll never set foot. That the metal is an electrical conductor feels pertinent, but then again, it’s easy to read too much into Hewitt’s elliptical illegibility.

Zack Hatfield

Sara Cwynar

Foxy Production
2 East Broadway, 200
April 7–May 14

Sara Cwynar, Tracy (Grid 2), 2017, pigment print mounted on Dibond, 30 x 38".

In Sara Cwynar’s pigment print Tracy (Grid 1) (all works 2017), the artist’s titular friend reclines in an outfit of pale, foamy pink against a studio backdrop of multicolored squares. The bright, syrupy composition seduces from a distance, but up close you can see its flaws: the rips in the backdrop fabric, the chips in Tracy’s nail polish, the web of wrinkles in her shirt, and the hollow, far-off look in her eyes, more dead than dreamlike.

The piece is one of many standouts in “Rose Gold,” Cwynar’s meditation on color. Throughout a small selection of photographs and one film of the same title, she asks a kaleidoscope of questions, among them: How does color captivate and manipulate us? Why do we react differently to hues over time? As she observes in the film, today we crave Apple products in rose gold but abhor as kitschy and fusty any item in harvest gold, a shade of mustard yellow trendy during the 1970s. And while a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, its color can convey a range of feelings, from sympathy to romantic love. It’s unclear what Cwynar’s Flower, a rose in vibrating, acidic purple, signifies. But as an object, it is no less “real,” no less natural than the cultivated, hybridized stems we consume by the dozen.

In the second grid photograph on view, Tracy (Grid 2), we see this woman once more before the same backdrop. Her pose is identical, save for her eyes, which stare questioningly out at the viewer, and her hands, which are downturned in front of squares of light, almost fleshy orange. Is she searching for a trace of herself—her body, her skin, her matter—amid the Pantone sea?

Hannah Stamler

Eva O’Leary

CRUSH CURATORIAL
526 West 26th Street, Suite 709
April 6–May 6

Eva O’Leary, Hannah, 2017, archival pigment print, 21 1/2 x 27".

It’s getting old—young women and girls being appointed our go-to champions of bravery, pluck, solidarity, or whatever. If only all of us could be as unafraid as Fearless Girl, or as incomparable as Kendall Jenner in her desire to quench a cop’s thirst—would we then overcome? Put a smile on, these corporate mockups of girlhood seem to say. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Thankfully, Eva O’Leary’s portraits of adolescent girls, currently on view in the artist’s first solo show in New York, honor a more complex reality. Framed at close range and mostly shot through a two-way mirror against a glowing, internet-blue backdrop, O’Leary’s subjects aren’t exactly self-possessed. (Were you as a teenager?) With mouths relaxed and gazes a bit distant, the girls have been captured in a quick moment, likely unaware of the camera’s shutter. There’s a wariness in their wide-eyed, blank expressions: O’Leary has been careful not to let any cautious instincts or—gasp—self-consciousness go undocumented, as they so often do on social media. No filters here—blemishes, acne, and the true texture of skin have stayed put.

And yet, as Linda Nochlin wrote, “realism and loveliness are not mutually exclusive.” Many of the girls have long hair, which O’Leary lets fill the frame and take on a striking, Pre-Raphaelite quality. Faces are divinely illuminated, with highlights from the strobes landing softly on cheekbones and foreheads. Bright headbands, lipstick, and treated hair create densely saturated, almost painterly swathes of electric color. Nearby, O’Leary has projected videos of her subjects onto opposite walls (Concealer, 2017). The girls remain still, but their eyes dart, and their hands sometimes fiddle. The energy contained within these tiny, nervous gestures is both magical and startlingly real. That’s the problem with Fearless Girl—it props up a false ideal of a feminine character who prioritizes sangfroid over self-preservation. But is there no truth in beauty? Luckily, O’Leary has shined a light.

Juliana Halpert

Stephen Irwin

INVISIBLE-EXPORTS
89 Eldridge Street
April 7–May 14

Stephen Irwin, Untitled, 2008, altered vintage pornography, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2".

Pornography isn’t often concerned with subtlety and wistful reflection, but Stephen Irwin treated it, in works on view in this posthumous exhibition, as a vehicle for elusive delicacy that repels our expectations. Pages from vintage magazines, gay and straight, have been removed, treated with solution, bleached, and carefully scrubbed of most imagery, transforming them into sculptural sheets of sepulchral timelessness. The remaining visual elements open the work to a reading as something like classical statuary, after the inevitable compulsion to discern the original compositions has been overcome. Irwin moves the source material from woozy Vaseline romance into ghostly academic studies, most fully realized in Untitled, 2008, where a Renaissance-style hand emerges from the creamy background, augmented with creases and tears suggesting age.

Several works permit partial detailed observation of a mouth, hair, or a patch of fabric, but voyeuristically so, via glory-hole motifs. Only another Untitled, 2008, seems incongruous here, showing sex too clearly and losing its balance in doing so. These works insist on dispassionate consideration of their marbled solemnity, an engagement utterly resistant to the impatient clicking and furtive snatching of internet-era pornography viewing.

A related suite of untitled graphite and pastel drawings, mostly from 2003, depicts faces on heat-treated plastic, warped and crinkled into haunting grotesques, evoking death masks. Their brittle appearance makes palpable the difficulty in accurately preserving memory, and the emotional value we place on rites and objects of remembrance such as this very exhibition.

Darren Jones

Rene Ricard

Half Gallery
43 East 78th Street
March 29–April 26

View of “Rene Ricard: So, Who Left Who?,” 2017.

The poet Rene Ricard, who died in 2014, was once called “as hip as it gets . . . but he wasn’t cool.” There’s nothing cool about staking your own heart before a hardened audience. And in a post-Barthes world, neither is lavishing your authorial signature all over everything. “Rene Ricard,” or his initials, often scrawled on the works here, are at the same scale as his painted poems, which are accusations, recriminations, reproaches, and, of course, odes. Over and over, spoken and written, he insisted on his name, not as a point of pride but rather as resignation to an inescapable fate. What a pity, having to be nothing but yourself when everything else can be taken away.

Quite a few of these paintings, dating back as far as the 1980s––in addition to a 1977 video of the artist reading on a DIY TV program called Public Access Poetry—have never been shown before, and they don’t feel like they were made to be shared with many. These bombastic, declarative things seem best suited to showing up unannounced and unasked for, like missiles. The oil-on-canvas Untitled (‘Then If God Is Love…’), 2003, takes that first phrase over a generic black-and-white landscape and finishes it off with “There is no god.” R. R. was not here to help a girl out. The hasty look of Ricard’s works would seem to confirm that they didn’t have to be paintings at all. But we might listen better when the message is writ large, hung, and awaiting our reception. The targets we hope to reach via poetry are often missed, “and the heart slithers back under its rock,” as Ricard eloquently states in the video. At least the painted messenger can hover in your periphery, or color your vision.

Paige K. Bradley

Trish Tillman

Asya Geisberg Gallery
537B West 23rd Street
April 6–May 13

Trish Tillman, Afterschool Locker (detail), 2017, hand-printed vinyl, wood, metal, horsehair, resin, tacks, 66 x 37 x 6".

Imagine a ménage à trois between a suburban thrift store, a midcentury modern furniture salon, and a sex shop—the love children born of such a hot-’n’-heavy session might be Trish Tillman’s sculptures. The artist’s current exhibition includes eleven deliciously queered, carefully composed objects. Longhorns, horsehair, metal studs, tassels—Tillman’s decorative references are eclectic but with a Texan flair, and ready for all manner of action with their helpful orifices and prongs.

Her wall-mounted modular pieces seem like headboards from the world’s kinkiest hotel. Afterschool Locker (all works 2017) is anchored by something fin-like wrapped in vinyl and hand-printed with Dioresque, graffiti-like scribbles. A pink wooden hook in the shape of a tulip protrudes from the base; two hanks of thick black horsehair, threaded with silvery chains, sprout from either side. In Housekeeping, the fabric cover of an ironing board is partly unzipped, its golden suede skin exposed to a phallic, gold-plated base. Tillman’s libidinous objects are rife with absurdity: At the center of First Class Quick Fix, a rainbow assortment of dog leashes pokes through a pipe that rests inside of a luxe and vaguely orthopedic-looking cushion.

In Good Morning Farewell, Tillman abandons the readymade for the rococo. Here, she tops a geometric teal and metallic-leather spaceship—flattened—with an expressionistic resin crown. This extra bit of ornament, however, is a needless diversion. Her work with familiar forms extends an important lineage of feminist assemblages, from Lynda Benglis’s cunt-celebrating “Peacock” works of the 1970s to Liz Collins’s fabric installations, complete with bungee cords, waterfalls of fringe, and unrepentant eroticism.

Wendy Vogel

Sebastião Salgado

Sundaram Tagore Gallery | Chelsea
547 West 27th Street
March 30–April 29

Sebastião Salgado, Kuwait, 1991, gelatin silver print, 60 x 81".

The annihilation of life—it is war’s brazen raison d’être. The splattering of blood and flesh, the smell of decaying bodies on burning land, a permanently ruined environment—the trauma of such horror marks survivors indelibly and gets passed on to subsequent generations. This is the natural outcome of any armed conflict.

Sebastião Salgado’s black-and-white photographs of Kuwait (all titled Kuwait, 1991), shot toward the end of the Gulf War, feel otherworldly. They capture the spectacular violence of smoldering desert landscapes where nearly seven hundred oil wells—set alight by Saddam Hussein’s murderous forces as they were scrambling out of the country—are engulfed in flames. The presence of a human element in most of them, however, grounds these images in a harsher and far less alien reality. Through billowing clouds of smoke, we see firefighters drenched in crude. Their desperate faces are contorted in anguish by the carbon-monoxide-filled air that they’re inhaling. In one picture, a man is lying on the ground, seemingly lifeless, gazing into a blackened sky.

The pieces on view are an unsettling time capsule—they vividly bring back memories of the Bush Senior era and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Governments give many reasons for why war is “necessary,” a “moral duty.” Yet these photographs shed light on what wars really are: legitimized massacres.

Lara Atallah

Erwin Wurm

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

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

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

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

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

Gabriel H. Sanchez

“The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin”

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue
March 17–August 6

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

Postcommodity

Art in General
145 Plymouth Street
March 25–May 6

View of “Postcommodity: Coyotaje,” 2017.

In the thick velvet darkness of the gallery, a voice whispers, “oyes vengan acá.” Mounted wall speakers take turns asking us to “come over here” in Spanish, echoing the decoy tactics used by the US Border Patrol to seize migrants trying to cross over from Mexico under the blanket of night. On maps, boundaries appear as thin lines, but this exhibition places the audience inside the rich, textured, and opaque sliver of landscape between the communities of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Mexico.

The aforementioned sound work is half of the two-part installation Coyotaje, 2017—the title is a colloquial term used by Mexicans for people-smuggling. The second part of the piece consists of a giant inflatable monster wearing military night goggles, inspired by the chupacabra, a mythic vampire creature. The animal is illuminated only by the queasy green light of a closed-circuit television that captures images of gallery attendees and projects them back onto the body of the terrifying alien being. From a distance, border agents are very much like chupacabras—their glowing eyes give them away and instill fear.

The work of Postcommodity—an indigenous artist collective comprising Raven Chacon, Crístobal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist—consistently cracks open the bipartisan US narrative of the border to reveal a tangled web of microeconomies and competing desires. Since Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” the US-Mexico landscape has been under increasing national scrutiny. Postcommodity responds to this escalating surveillance by imagining the edges of the nation-state as a conversation, not a cut.

Katherine Brewer Ball

Keith Smith

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Third Floor
March 9–May 6

Keith Smith, Untitled, 7:12 PM, 24 Dec 71, 1971, mixed media on paper, 4 x 5".

Postcards don’t usually say much: On the front, there may be a picture from the museum or country your friend is visiting; on the back, a few lines that convey some small affection. This delicacy is what makes postcards special. They carry feeling but not the freight of too much personality—they delight and ask for nothing in return. Or at least that’s what I felt about Keith Smith’s postcards, which the artisan bookmaker has been sending to friends for five decades now, a number of which have been brought together for this exhibition.

The postcards sit well in the gallery precisely because they aren’t intimate. They’re certainly not overburdened with text—some carry the artist’s signature, neatly printed, or poetic non sequiturs, such as “LATHER WAS THIRTY YEARS OLD TODAY . . . ” Smith uses the cards as little canvases or bulletin boards for his imagination. With photo negatives, drawings, cutouts, and stamps, he creates modestly sized collages from images that happen to surround him (often they are images of the artist himself).

The form is important. Collages retain the verisimilitude of their sources but displace them from continuity and order. As a result, such works convince us that the original arrangement was arbitrary or at least changeable. Smith’s postcards suggest as much about our lives. Untitled, 7:12 PM, 24 Dec 71, 1971, for example, is entirely blank but for a tiny, tilted drawing of a bird. Charming enough—but the real message reveals itself when you find a bird-shaped hole on the card’s stamp. The liberated bird reminds us to liberate ourselves from boring habit. There are other ways to live, it says, other places to visit.

Ratik Asokan

“ONE.”

WE BUY GOLD
387a Nostrand Ave
March 19–April 24

Harold Mendez, let X stand, if it can for the one’s unfound (After Proceso Pentágono) II, 2016, ink and toner on paper mounted on Sintra, 29 1/2 x 19 1/2".

Inaugurating a Bedford-Stuyvesant art space named after the neighborhood’s cash-for-gold shops, the exhibition “ONE.” traffics in sobering monochromes rather than glittery baubles. The three exhibiting artists are united in their desire to explore how political abstractions become tools of oppression. Yet that doesn’t mean their works rely on representational tactics that are easily digestible. Torkwase Dyson reveals how environmental degradation, architecture, and racial injustice are intertwined. The artist gives us two new reliefs, subjective interpretations of black architecture, such as nomadic structures, that relate to her concept of black compositional thought. She affixes wire forms to simplified, architectural-seeming abstract panels. Before Black Mountain and the Anthropocene (Tuareg Women: Namadcity), 2017, references the Tuareg Saharan tribe, a matrilineal society that favors radical female sexual liberation.

Renee Gladman’s drawings are composed of letter-like forms that arc into sketches of densely populated city skylines. Some are overlaid with expressionistic washes of gouache. The effect recalls Conceptual forebears such as Robert Smithson’s A Heap of Language, 1966, or Jackson Mac Low’s densely scrawled, illegible poems from the 1990s. It also suggests the ultimate incommensurability of text and lived experience.

Los Angeles–based Harold Mendez’s work, also currently on view at the Whitney Biennial, finds more breathing room here. Untitled (Death Mask), 2015, consists of an oxidized copper replica of a pre-Columbian death mask in a singed cardboard container. For let X stand, if it can for the one’s unfound (After Proceso Pentágono) II, 2016, he distressed and reprinted a photo by the Mexican antiauthoritarian art collective Grupo Proceso Pentágono. The image shows decontextualized violence—a man being punched in the face and electrocuted by attackers whose identities lie outside the frame. It’s a staggering image, especially in a moment when the question of representation (in the sense of who speaks for whom) is igniting the art world.

Wendy Vogel

“March Madness”

Fort Gansevoort Gallery
5 Ninth Avenue
March 16–May 7

View of “March Madness,” 2017.

The culture of the mind (art) and the culture of the body (sports) have stereotypically been pitted against each other. But might female-identifying artists, whose own bodies and gender performance are under constant scrutiny, have a more nuanced perspective on the pursuit of athletic prowess? This is the premise behind “March Madness,” a survey of works by thirty-one female artists. The exhibition title references the NCAA basketball tournaments and calls to mind the political ramifications of the recent Women’s Marches.

The main thrust of the show addresses the clash between the aesthetic ideals of femininity and those of athleticism. Portraiture is a common thread: Cindy Sherman appears in the guise of an ice dancer, Jamaican-born Renée Cox depicts herself as her superwoman alter-ego Raje, and Collier Schorr’s and Catherine Opie’s photographs portray androgynous young sports players. Collage and assemblage also feature prominently, from Martha Rosler’s compositions of female athletes juxtaposed against nature (from the “Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain” series, 1966–72) to Deborah Roberts’s collages of young black female pugilists. A highlight is Pamela Council’s Flo Jo World Record Nails, 2012, an abstract sculpture made from two thousand long acrylic nails and based on patriotic designs favored by the African American track-and-field star Florence Griffith Joyner.

A quieter strain examines the intersection between nationalism and athletics. A still from Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, 1936, is tucked next to a set of Jean Shin’s revamped trophies from the series “Everyday Monuments,” 2009, which show trophy figurines engaged in activities such as gardening and baking. Gina Adams, of indigenous Ojibwa, Lakota, and European heritage, gives us two bodies of work related to sports and land dispossession. In O$ Osage 6, 2015, a midcentury archival image of an Osage girls’ boarding-school basketball team, whose sweaters—creepily and incongruously—bear dollar signs.

Wendy Vogel

“Speech”

Pace/MacGill Gallery
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor
February 9–April 29

Jim Goldberg, Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008, gelatin silver print, 19 1/2 x 15".

A brutal truth: Images have long maintained an unyielding tyranny over words. The notion is relayed at the entrance to this show, where a colorful heap of anti-Trump protest signage is quietly arranged. It’s a curatorial ploy apt for this photography ensemble concerned with depictions of speech, a theme vague enough to let a stark image of a young, sinewy Congolese refugee cradling a radio (Jim Goldberg’s Prized Possession, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008) hang near Irving Penn’s swankily gothic portrait of Carson McCullers, whose own devastating possession is a luxe cigarette holder (Carson McCullers, New York, 1950). A literal and intellectual toothlessness are implied in Gregory Halpern’s Untitled, 2016, in which a brown, manicured hand holds out an upper set of dentures, a bit of plaque accumulated between a cuspid and a premolar. Two naked men, one masked, converse in Duane Michals’s A Man Talking to God 1975, a photographic quintet that charts an existential crisis with handwritten dialogue. In one frame, the unmasked man asks why he doesn’t know that he’s talking to himself. The masked man’s retort: “You choose not to know. You’d rather make noise.”

Elsewhere, the First Amendment is celebrated more directly. Photojournalistic images of Civil Rights revolutionaries and representations of queer culture amplify countless citizens’ abiding struggles to be heard. In an exhibition that can sometimes feel like a greatest hits of photographic expression—though the show is clearly a response to our current political perils, only six of forty-three works were made in this century—the less thematically obvious works resonate longer. Take, for example, Susan Paulsen’s Wilmot, 2013, in which an older woman stands at a church pew, arms raised halfway, fingers straightened, mouth partially open. One would be forgiven for believing that speech had ineluctably slipped into song.

Zack Hatfield

Arthur Russell

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) | Peter Jay Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Avenue
March 1–May 14

View of “Do What I Want: Selections from the Arthur Russell Papers,” 2017.

The exhibition “Do What I Want: Selections from the Arthur Russell Papers” is a posthumous homage to a pioneer of electronic music who spent most of his career overlooked. Russell, nearly penniless toward the end of his life, died from AIDS in 1992. This show, an invitation to glance at the various facets of a musical genius, is a visual elegy filled with posters, snapshots, and letters from record producers, such as David Berson of Warner Brothers and Jan Abramowitz of Metronome. And the exhibition’s intimate setup is brilliantly designed to make viewers feel as though they’re part of an exclusive inner circle.

Snapshots narrate the more charmed parts of a difficult life. In one of them, Russell is with his mother on a sunny day, riding a sailboat. The light hits his face, and his insouciance is palpable within the grain of this old picture. Elsewhere, a black-and-white photograph shows Russell timidly smirking as his boyfriend’s hand rests gently on his shoulder. The artist’s stare is terribly arresting.

You can sit on one of the three comfortable gray couches in the space, put on headphones, and take in the surroundings as Russell’s music plays (the artist’s 1980 just-after-disco classic “Is It All Over My Face” is among the offerings). Nearby, a songbook encased in Plexiglas is open to a page with a line that reads: “What does God know ‘bout divine I’ll twist and shout.”

Lara Atallah

Ken Tisa

Gordon Robichaux
41 Union Square West, #925, Enter on 17th Street)
February 26, 2017–April 23, 2017

View of “Ken Tisa: Objects/Time/Offerings,” 2017.

For “Objects/Time/Offerings,” Ken Tisa has transformed the gallery into a magical grotto, decorated with all manner of beautiful and funny things from his extensive collections. Dolls, puppets, masks, devotional objects, trinkets, and artworks from every continent mingle in dense, layered arrangements along with campy ephemera, dollar-store treasures, and the artist’s own small colorful paintings from the 1980s and 1990s. A wall-spanning grid of more than three hundred of the paintings, each just eight inches tall, is the result of a long-standing daily practice, reflecting Tisa’s sponge-like reverence for diverse styles and cultures, as well as his wry attunement to mass media. The weird, ebullient figuration of artists such as Kiki Kogelnik or Jim Nutt comes to mind, but Tisa’s cartoony faces, body parts, and domestic vignettes are more spontaneous and scruffy. In one inspired repeating picture-within-a-picture suite, he inlays a photographic collage element into the screen of a whimsically rendered television set: A Jetsons-ish hot-pink TV on legs displays a spaceship landing; a bright-blue one, placed behind a jack-o’-lantern, is lit up with an extreme close-up of a dick.

These paintings, made in an era of AIDS devastation and Helmsian anti-art crusades, push back obliquely with their droll enjoyment of gay sex and bodies of whatever gender, while the larger installation they inhabit, in all it’s cacophonous excess, also delivers a message. Glancing around the room, you might spot a Noh mask, an exquisite pair of cardboard sneakers, ornate shadow puppets, carved Makonde figures, a few silver Jenny Holzer stickers, and a red-and-yellow decal that reads “God made me Queer.” With his nonhierarchical, loving arrangement of absorbing material, Tisa comes off not as a curatorial mastermind but as a voice in the crowd, happily agitating for more beauty.

Johanna Fateman

“Rotative Repository of Latin American Video Art: Mono Canal”

El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue
January 11–April 30

Joiri Minaya, Siboney, 2014, HD video, sound, 13 minutes 20 seconds.

This group show from fifteen Latin American artists presents an impressive and sometimes deeply affecting series of video works that is hampered by an ill-conceived and amateurish exhibition approach. Given that the videos rotate over a total running time of nearly two hours on a single LCD screen in the Museo’s café, the show’s title is appropriate, though the quiet intimacy evoked by many of the works calls for—and deserves—a more sophisticated exhibition style that would give each work its own space to subtly operate on its viewers. Margarita Sanchez’s As I Inhale, 2013, a mysterious and silent meditation on loss and grief, suffers the most, as its wispy, spectral forms got lost in the glare cast on the screen by the café’s large windows on the day that I visited the exhibition.

Including early-career and globally known artists from throughout Latin America, many of the show’s works focus on the body as a locus of trauma, libidinal tension, and the construction of cultural identity through performance, music, and everyday actions. Eduardo Gil’s 2010 work Muscle Memory (Books of David Alfaro Siqueiros), 2010, features Gil volleying tennis balls against the gallery walls of the famed Mexican muralist’s former studio, interspersed with rapid shots of the ball striking books from Siqueiros’s private library. Joiri Minaya’s Siboney, 2014, also explores bodily movement within a cultural context, showing the artist painting a mural of lush tropical vegetation while the artist, subtitled, angrily questions the Western-centric cultural narrative that traps her as a representative of the exotic and the sensual. She eventually wets her body and wipes the mural from the wall, smudging the leaves and flowers in a smear of color and motion.

Dan Jakubowski