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

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway
April 21–September 17

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

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

The story of Rodeo Caldonia—as seen in the striking early photographs of Lorna Simpson, a member alongside the actress Alva Rogers and the historian Kellie Jones—gets tangled up in the longer narrative of black feminism in the United States, just one of the many fascinating threads in this landmark exhibition. 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 Jones. “A zillion sisters ain’t enough.”

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

“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–August 18

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

Myoung Ho Lee

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue
June 29–August 25

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

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

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

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

Zack Hatfield

“Sticky Fingers”

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

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

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

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

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

Blair Cannon

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

Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
327 Broome Street
June 29–August 18

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

Megan Marrin

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

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

Gogo Graham

67 Ludlow
67 Ludlow Street
July 14–August 5

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

Sable Elyse Smith

Recess | ASSEMBLY
370 Schermerhorn Street
June 23–September 1

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

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

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

Nicole Kaack

Gelatin

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

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

“alt-facts”

Postmasters
54 Franklin Street
June 17–July 29

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

“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

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

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons

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

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

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

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

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

Zoë Lescaze

Satoshi Kojima

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

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

Hadassa Goldvicht

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

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

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

“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

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Vogel

Maira Kalman

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

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

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

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

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

Darren Jones

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

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

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

Maureen Gallace

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Jovanovich

Elaine Cameron-Weir

New Museum
235 Bowery
May 3–September 3

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

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

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

Vanessa Thill

“Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction”

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

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

“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