Michael Stamm

DC Moore Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, 2nd Floor
January 4–February 3

Michael Stamm, Virtue Vest, 2017, oil, acrylic, and flashe on linen, 28 x 21".

Woe to the modern young urbanite who tries to remedy his existential queasiness with the sundry potions and palliatives offered up through the wellness-industrial complex. Is there any homeopathic pill, miracle woobie, blessed fruit, or chill yoga teacher that can coax you out of your rarefied malaise, your bummer ennui, as the world around us continues to burn?

Michael Stamm uses these conditions as a pretext for his exhibition of paintings here. Thank goodness it’s flimsy. Stamm is a painter of exceptional skill and finesse who has the preternatural ability to synthesize the lessons of Alex Katz, George Tooker, Domenico Gnoli, and two Walters—Sickert and Gay—into exquisitely wrought pictures that feel simultaneously out of time and of the moment. Everyday items are suffused with a deep magic: Jewels, buttons, and various comfort beverages (steaming, on the rocks, or fizzy with Alka-Seltzer) function as divine symbols. Virtue Vest (all works cited, 2017) depicts a garment of quilted black diamonds, based on one Stamm’s therapist wears, that doubles as a portal. The entrance is guarded by a crafty-looking necklace in the form of a woman’s face, an oracle with sleepy eyes that likely refuses to appease her interlocutors with easy answers. The pullover besieged by hellfire and death in Saint Sweater features a bannered message in Latin that reads “CONSILIO FIRMATEI DEI,” or, “It is established by God’s decree.” The phrase, along with an illuminated crown rendered across a man’s arms drawn up defensively, is taken from Joan of Arc’s family crest—signs of unbelievable devotion and, unfortunately, grisly ends.

Stamm is a fabulously eccentric image-maker who loves to warp history. His paintings are playful and sharp in all the ways we expect a contemporary artwork to be. But they’re also fussy, sentimental, and stubbornly old-fashioned—a great deal better than clever, and so much more gratifying than “cool.”

Alex Jovanovich

“Josef Albers in Mexico”

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
1071 Fifth Avenue
November 3–March 28

Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square: Consent, 1947, oil on Masonite, 16 x 16".

Josef Albers’s series “Homage to the Square,” 1950–76, oil paintings of the titular form in three or four colors on Masonite, are icons of modern art—printed in textbooks, on posters, and, in the 1980s, on US postage stamps. We are familiar with these works. We have memorized their contours. We have learned the principles of color theory and geometry they make manifest. And yet, what remains exceptional about them is precisely what we cannot immediately perceive—the infinity of reactions their disarmingly simple designs cause. What will lingering in front of an Homage piece make us see, and how it will make us feel? Will the squares nest inside one another, as in a set of Russian dolls? Or will they expand out toward us, like an accordion in play? Will they make us serene? Alarmed?

This exhibition, pairing the artist’s paintings with photographs he took in Mexico, hints at even more of what lies in wait beneath these cool exteriors. He and his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, saw an attentiveness to form in pre-Columbian design similar to their own aesthetic principles, and took frequent trips to Mexican architectural ruins from the 1930s on. Might Josef’s squares be about the vertiginous sensation of gazing up at ancient flights of stairs? Or how the sunlight curves over intricate and labyrinthine stonework patterns?

No cultural translation is neutral, and the Albers’ zeal for all things Mexican can feel fetishizing or appropriative. But this in and of itself is part of what makes “Josef Albers in Mexico” tick. Are Josef’s squares original? Are they “modern”? The exhibition prompts these questions and more.

Hannah Stamler

Katherine Bernhardt

333 & 331 Broome Street
January 5–February 11

Katherine Bernhardt, Lima Cola, 2017, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 11 x 16'.

There’s a lot to parse in “Green,” Katherine Bernhardt’s enormously bananas show of paintings and sculptures. Take, for example, Climate Change (all works 2017), a spray-painted picture filled with melty Nike swooshes, cigarettes, deranged fruit, and rectangular birds. It could be a riff on poisonous consumerism and how it’s upsetting nature’s delicate balance. Or, seeing as Bernhardt is an artist who works with a very particular set of colors and shapes from the contemporary landscape that pique her interest (or gag reflex), it could be a straightforward example of unencumbered formalism. Bernhardt’s paint handling is equally yummy and yucky: Gross pools of toxic violets and bile greens commingle with euphoric blasts of spray paint that give some of her subjects an auratic quality, causing them to feel like celestial bodies from galaxies far, far away.

Storm troopers, watermelons, R2-D2s, and Coke bottles juicy with airbrushy brown soda invade the AbExy surface of Lima Cola. The incongruous jumble of things intensifies in the painting Siesta, where a languid Garfield—Jim Davis’s acerbic cartoon kitty—is surrounded by a swarm of live-wire bees. It’s the only canvas in a section of the gallery that’s jam-packed with wooden birds and flowers, all untitled, and colored hot pink. These constructions, oddly furniture-like, willfully take up room: Wings, beaks, leaves, and petals jut out into space, which makes walking around them challenging, even dangerous. But hey, if you have the guts to get close, then do—after all, that’s how Bernhardt rolls.

Yin Ho

Ebecho Muslimova

Magenta Plains
94 Allen St
January 7–February 11

Ebecho Muslimova, Fatebe Self Possession, 2017, acrylic and gouache on canvas, 42 x 60".

It’s one thing for a woman to be nasty; it’s quite another thing for her to be unapologetically fat. A little over a year ago, before the #MeToo movement showed the power of collective voices by calling out sexual abusers, Donald Trump deflected criticism, during the presidential debates, about his misogynist attitudes by throwing Rosie O’Donnell’s body up as a rhetorical shield. Add Rosie to a list of full-figured feminists who are brash, excessive, and unafraid of men’s opinions of their bodies. Also enter Fatebe, the flexible, bug-eyed, ultravoluptuous avatar of the Russian-born artist Ebecho Muslimova. This exhibition is Muslimova’s first to include both drawings and paintings of a ribald character that, through an assortment of poses both banal and coquettish, frequently flashes her vagina or anus.

In the ink-and-gouache drawing Fatebe 2017 Show (all works 2017), Muslimova makes artistic doubt a poignant subject: Fatebe tumbles headfirst down a flight of stairs into a basement gallery—namely, the exact space where this show is installed. One breast flops around as another gets dipped into a fecal-looking liquid covering the floor. In Fatebe Asparagus Pee, Muslimova depicts Fatebe as a fertility goddess that is as modern as she is abject. She clutches stalks of the vegetable—once grouped into the same family as the lily, a classical fertility symbol—in her arms, while dozens more are shoved down her throat. She also straddles a pyramid of toilet paper.

Several other paintings return to the theme of self-examination. In the colorful Fatebe Rack, a take on Narcissus, she seems to be examining her vagina in the surface of a kiddy pool while trapped in a laundry rack. Fatebe Self Possession satirizes Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo: Fatebe films into her wide-open vagina, where three miniature Fatebes navigate a winding spiral staircase that exposes some carpeting (get the joke?) right out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Wendy Vogel

Patty Chang

Queens Museum
New York City Building, Flushing Meadows
September 17–February 18

Patty Chang, Configurations (Bread), 2017, ink-jet print, 28 x 40''.

For more than twenty years, Patty Chang has consistently put her body on the line. From her early Riot Grrrl–tinged performances and videos to her later filmic investigations, she’s always been in her work, and not just via some dreary collapse of art and everyday life. I mean, in it—exposed but viscerally aware of her vulnerability. This ethics infuses her output with a buoyancy, even while she throws anchors into deep, murky waters. It’s certainly the case in her current retrospective, which weaves together various pieces from her epic eight-year multimedia project, The Wandering Lake, 2009–17, a meditation on the death of her father, raising her young son, and her travels to disparate parts of the globe, including Central Asia and Fogo Island in Canada, among other things.

Ordered and unordered liquid abjection is a theme: In the photographs from the series “Letdown (Milk),” 2017, we see the pumped breastmilk that Chang collected in found vessels while traveling around the shrinking Aral Sea. The local government had prohibited her to film there, so she documented the weaning of her child instead. In the picture Configurations (Bread), 2017, she stands somewhere along the longest aqueduct in the world (which brings water from southern to northern China, including Beijing), urinating through a hotdog bun as if it were a bespoke Shewee. Nearby is an elegantly minimal installation of thirty-two similar urinary devices, each mimicking plastic bottles in exquisite blown glass, complete with caps and labels—some of which were collected from the same region. The liquid that sustains us and that we purge are contrasted, then transformed into a sinuous metaphor on the sociopolitical regulation of bodies—of humans and of waters.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

89 Eldridge Street
December 15–February 4

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Untitled (Tree of Life 23), 1975, Magic Marker, ink, stickers, tape, Canadian postage stamps, envelope, 8 x 9".

Perhaps at the very heart of your subconscious rests Snoopy. Or a scribbly crescent moon with a smile and winking eye. For Genesis Breyer P-Orridge—pandrogyne (a two-spirit being of malleable gender), soft pornographer, and so-called wrecker of civilization—it’s a cartoony little tree that looks like a four-leaf clover, sitting next to a simply rendered house: an image straight out of kindergarten, or the verdant environs of Teletubbyland. It’s the first thing the artist draws when zoning out and doodling—an elementary scene that is at the center of many striking and extraordinarily complicated projects. Don’t scoff: If an oyster’s to create its sublime pearl, it needs that ordinary grain of sand to get started.

Breyer P-Orridge recently unearthed thirty of these almost forgotten tableaux—laden with trippy patterns and fluffy clouds—for this exhibition. Made between 1974 and 1975 and executed in Magic Marker on flayed envelopes from mail-art works sent to h/er, they are soul-healing bits of jewel-toned psychedelia: Friedensreich Hundertwasser–meets–Yellow Submarine–style pictures that are genuinely perverse for their unembarrassed, family-friendly sweetness. Well, mostly sweet: Untitled (Tree of Life 28), 1975, is addressed to COUM Transmissions, the artist’s Dada-inspired think tank (the works were made near the end of the collective’s existence), with the quote “The greatest human catastrophe since Adam got a hard on.”

Taking in these pieces, I like to imagine a twenty-something Genesis with exquisitely shaped eyebrows, clad in studded leather, and wearing a dog collar, gently pushing h/er tangerine and lemon yellow markers around. Though “Tree of Life” reveals yet another rich facet of this multihyphenate maker, it does nothing to codify h/er strange and marvelous depths.

Alex Jovanovich

Elizabeth Catlett

Burning in Water
317 10th Ave.
November 28–February 3

View of “Elizabeth Catlett: Wake Up in Glory,” 2017–18.

The Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor once said that “everyone must be mixed in their own way.” That idea, according to the philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne, in his book African Art as Philosophy (2011), was central to Senghor’s belief that African art was the expression of an aesthetic, a philosophy, an entire cosmology, and that it would only have meaning if it were open to the world and had access to freedom. The art of Elizabeth Catlett seems to take up that line of thinking and push it further, producing it anew.

For this show, titled “Wake Up in Glory,” twelve of Catlett’s sculptures and two of her prints are gracefully arranged in a long and improbably narrow storefront. The works—in wood, bronze, and marble—cover more than sixty years of the artist’s fascinating life. Born in 1915 in Washington, DC, Catlett studied at Howard University after the Carnegie Institute of Technology rescinded her scholarship upon learning that she was black. She was also the first African American student to earn an MFA from the University of Iowa. In 1946, she moved to Mexico, where she married her second husband, raised three sons, and joined an influential artists’ collective. She renounced her US citizenship, only to have it restored in 2002, a decade before she died. In her vast oeuvre, Catlett combined elements of West African and pre-Colombian art with European modernism and the graphic clarity of political posters condemning racial injustice.

The sculptures here are wholly indicative of Catlett’s breadth, ranging from the powerfully figurative, such as Political Prisoner, 1971, a bronze of a woman standing with her hands tied behind her, leaning back as if to scream, to the mesmerizingly abstract Magic Mask, 1970–80, a smooth, oblong, anthropomorphic piece with five large circles carved through the wood.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Cathy Wilkes

22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
October 22–March 11

View of “Cathy Wilkes,” 2017–18.

The air is cold and heavy with desperation: Witness the tattered cloths, the dirty dishes. A 2006 painting with an overturned saucer affixed to its jejune surface spells out its title in thin pencil strokes: “She’s pregnant again.” The piece is a womb and a void. Look at the children: Their legs are thin or absent, their toys worn, shredded (see the brown Beanie Babies bunny whose velvety ears lie a little too close to that tarnished Swiss Army knife, in Non Verbal, 2005/2011). Their TV is turned off, with a faded red towel thrown on top of it—did it put out a small fire? Cathy Wilkes’s show is full of sparks, both deadened and vibrant. Life is glimpsed through assemblages of used and abused containers, discarded items, and household goods.

But the kids can still draw and write: “All things were made by it and without it was not anything made that was made,” says a carefully transcribed passage on wide-ruled paper in a youthful hand (Untitled, 2017). It’s part nonsense, part faith—a story about creation that rhymes without reason. And Wilkes eschews reason. She intends for her work to be experienced as a vast mystery, unfolding as a kind of maternal detachment. Mannequin mothers stand stiffly in ripped stockings, float above dead nettles, dance while possessed by some cleaning routine, or sit hunched over an alcohol bottle while the young ones watch hungrily nearby. In their wake are those fragments of narrative—crusty residues, shards of mirror—rearranged and broken again for this haunting retrospective.

Mira Dayal

“Dream of Solentiname”

80WSE Gallery, NYU Steinhardt School
80 Washington Square East
December 1–February 17

Mariita Guevara, Jesús expulsa a los mercaderes del templo (Jesus Expels the Merchants from the Temple), 1981, oil on canvas, 15 x 22".

This group exhibition tells a story of the Nicaraguan Civil War through the lens of Solentiname, a utopian community established in 1965 by poet, sculptor, and priest Ernesto Cardenal. It features works by community members and other artists sympathetic to their mission. Cardenal is a focal point. His sculptures, vibrant depictions of plants and animals, have a gallery to themselves, as do the community’s paintings. These brilliant works, such as Marita Guevara’s Jesús expulsa a los mercaderes del templo (Jesus Expels the Merchants from the Temple), 1981, reimagine biblical stories in Nicaraguan settings, evidence of religious practice and artmaking as means of survival and direct political actions. Cardenal recalls as much: “Meditation led us to revolution; that was how it had to be, otherwise everything would have been false.”

Curator Pablo León de la Barra presents the conflict explicitly yet remains aware of the power of the image to reduce war and its survivors to something spectacular yet distant. While Susan Meiselas’s powerful war photography receives significant standing, ephemera from the antiwar efforts of New York–based art collective Group Material demonstrate the show’s considered approach: to provide a glimpse into pockets of hope from and for Nicaragua, not simply retell a bloody drama.

The exhibition is a testament to faith in the face of violence, manifest through interconnected artist communities and their work. The profound aspirations of Solentiname are done justice, and this combination of disparate objects allows for a narrative to emerge, something greater than a sterile report on the proceedings—something true.

Lucas Matheson

René Magritte

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Third Floor
November 30–January 27

René Magritte, Le rendez-vous, Georgette Magritte, Bruxelles, 1938, gelatin silver print, 9 x 7".

René Magritte and his wife, Georgette, never had children—that kind of production wasn’t high on the Surrealist agenda—but they did keep a menagerie of pets, including dogs and cats and much-beloved pigeons. In one of the most striking images in this closet-size but museum-quality show of Magritte’s little known photography, Georgette poses against a black background, her arms crossed high in front of her chest, a bird perched on each hand.

Magritte’s Le rendez-vous, Georgette Magritte, Bruxelles, 1938, carries the same mischievous spirit, the same intimation of magic, that characterizes Surrealist photography all over the world. One wonders if Magritte took his own photos or films seriously. Did he consider them more than just the stuff of family albums, playful experiments with friends, or a tool for documenting paintings in progress? He took pictures all of his life and enthusiastically picked up an 8-mm camera in his last decade. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, when a cache of previously unknown work turned up, that Magritte’s experiments in photography and film were discovered and came to be studied.

The process has been slow, the pace quickened only recently. Last summer, a public gallery in Australia opened an expansive show titled “René Magritte: The Revealing Image,” featuring 132 photographs and eight films, which considered how they might change history’s appraisal of the artist. This exhibition, by contrast, is decidedly intimate, with just twenty-six photographs and no films. The edit is nimble, however, and the sequence moves swiftly: from a self-portrait, René Magritte fumant une cigarette (René Magritte Smoking a Cigarette), 1914, to a pair of marvelous solarized prints from 1928—L’espion (The Spy) and L’usage de la parole (The Usage of Speech)—to later collaborations from the 1950s and 1960s. Magritte’s own assessment may have been correct, but the works here show the art of his leisure time to be formidable indeed.

Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

Raha Raissnia

The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
December 1–February 4

Raha Raissnia, Fountain, 2017, charcoal on paper, 36 x 60".

“All a blur”: We describe monotony the same way we describe chaos. Raha Raissnia’s drawings, despite their quiet consistency, have their genesis in revolution. Amid the 1979 uprising in Iran against Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the artist, then a child, accompanied her father to the streets of downtown Tehran, where he would photograph demonstrations. She inherited his interest in the medium, and in “Alluvius”—her debut solo museum show—Raissnia reckons with tensions of identity and form by rephotographing and then drawing found archival imagery amassed over time. Rather than contest the notion that the camera lays claim to utter truth, Raissnia unsettles distinctions between media to suggest how images are laundered into personal truths. Perception becomes a kind of skeleton key, one remade and remade again unto meaningful divergence.

“Alluvius,” 2016, one of two series here, consists of a dozen mixed-media drawings. One can make out urban architecture; a wraithlike face; and a spectral human hand cupped into a claw, reaching into darkness. The smaller charcoal drawings that form “Canto,” 2017, blurry and luciform, appear less drawn than impressed. Occasionally, shadows resolve into human silhouettes, slurred by Raissnia’s translation. The exhibition’s centerpiece is in the corner, where an analog projector relays a carousel of hand-painted, 35-mm slides onto a framed scrim. Slides depict faces and hands as time nearly stills, expiring in slow, satisfying ticks. The source image for a larger work, Fountain, 2017, was scavenged from the trash (a box of slides had been thrown out by a lab at Brooklyn College). The drawing, muddily Photorealist, depicts a seemingly abandoned mosque’s empty fountain. While a different artist might have used this backstory to evoke annihilative neglect concerning personal and national memory, Raissnia, through her process, suggests a more generative decay.

Zack Hatfield

José Leonilson

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
September 27–February 3

José Leonilson, O ilha (The Island One), 1991, thread and metal on canvas, 14 x 11".

José Leonilson was born in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1957––seven years before the military coup that kept the country under the rule of military dictatorship until 1985. He spent most of his career working in São Paulo and traveling around the world until his untimely death due to complications resulting from AIDS in 1993, at the age of thirty-six. While his career was coterminous with the rise of the 1980s generation of Brazilian painters exploring a postdictatorship Brazil, his complex and diaristic intimacies set him apart from his peers.

Leonilson once said that he only made work intended for people he loved. Works on view here include collage, fabric assemblages, paintings, and drawings that use poetics and other discursive strategies to grapple with an emotional self-portraiture under a death sentence. O ilha (The Island One), 1991, is a small, spare canvas with an enrobed figure embroidered onto the surface. He stands next to the Portuguese title—a combination of masculine article and feminine noun—atop the words “handsome, selfish.” The work processes Catholic religiosity, familial fealty, and desire through a queered metaphor for loneliness. Saquinho (Small Bag), 1992, is a vibrant orange pouch, cinched tightly with copper wire and embroidered with Leonilson’s initials, “J. L.,” and his age at the time, “35.” It is a rendering of the self as vessel, container, pocket. We are left to wonder if the bag is representative of him keeping his diagnosis from his family or if it is a work about trying to hold onto something of himself before cachexia set in.

This exquisite and intelligently curated survey also lays bare a certain institutional egregiousness. We are indeed lucky to be gifted with this first-ever solo exhibition of Leonilson’s work in the United States; however, it begs the question: Why, despite the commercial and institutional visibility of artists who deal with sexuality, mortality, and disease, such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres and David Wojnarowicz, has a body of work of this political importance and poetic urgency remained largely unknown?

John Arthur Peetz