reviews

  • Lucas Samaras, AutoPolaroid, 1970, ink on Polaroid, 3 3/8 × 4 1/4". From the series “AutoPolaroids,” 1969–71.

    Lucas Samaras

    MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM/CRAIG F. STARR GALLERY, NEW YORK

    TWO CONCURRENT EXHIBITIONS devoted to the early work of Lucas Samaras underscore the artist’s adoption of mediums often perceived as odd, even marginal, when compared to the more familiar tropes of easel painting. Born in Greece in 1936 and enduring a war-ravaged childhood, Samaras arrived in the United States in 1948. His ceaseless drawing as a boy presaged an output whose quixotic estrangements are perhaps traceable to his immigrant experience. While a scholarship student at Rutgers University in New Jersey in the late 1950s, he fell in with a troupe of artists exploring the expressionist

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  • Carol Rama, Autorattristatrice n. 9, 1969, glass eye, spray paint, mixed media on canvas, 39 3/8 × 31 1/2". © Archivio Carol Rama, Torino.

    Carol Rama

    Fergus McCaffrey

    Tongues, serpents, penises, orifices, and eyes populate the wonderful and terrifying world of Carol Rama’s art. Lewd and menacing, they’re there even when they’re not—one senses them lurking just outside the frame, smothered by strips of tire rubber, or abstracted into scabby, flaccid shapes. Rama (1918–2015) was born in Turin and worked there her entire life, producing paintings, drawings, and assemblages with protofeminist, antifascist vigor in an untrained, sophisticated style that defies easy categorization. Her frank sexual content, Surrealism-inflected figuration, and evocative

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  • View of “Andrea Zittel,” 2016. Floor, from left: Linear Sequence #2, 2016; Linear Sequence #1, 2016. Photo: Pierre Le Hors.

    Andrea Zittel

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    It’s been twenty-five years now since Andrea Zittel initiated her eponymous “A–Z” enterprise, the generative Gesamtkunstwerk that has become, for all intents and purposes, indivisible from her life. Run out of a complex she’s built over the last decade and a half in the desert a couple of hours east of Los Angeles, the artist’s “institute of investigative living” has grown to encompass furniture and home design, as well as clothing, textiles, food, and more. Descended from both Donald Judd’s experiments in Marfa, Texas, and such counterculture-era utopian communities as Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti

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  • View of “Pierre Paulin,” 2016. Wall and floor: Diwan rug, 1992. On rug: Tongue chairs, 1967. Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli.

    Pierre Paulin

    Perrotin | New York

    If the most primordial purpose of a chair is to keep your butt off the ground, then Pierre Paulin’s 1967 Tongue chair is an abject failure. This icon of 1960s design, which was recently on view among a handful of Paulin’s most famous works at Galerie Perrotin, is something closer to a cushion than a proper seat; the undulating form suggested by its name leaves its user in a semi-reclined posture, with his or her posterior separated from the floor by only a few inches of foam padding.

    This arrangement is the result of Paulin’s singularly audacious decision to eliminate the legs, along with any

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  • Stuart Davis, Fin, 1962–64, casein and masking tape on canvas, 58 7/8 × 39 3/4". © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

    Stuart Davis

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    If awards were given for best wall text at an exhibition, this year’s winner would be the placard inscribed for Fin, 1962–64, from “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. (The show, curated by Barbara Haskell and Harry Cooper, was co-organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, where it opens on November 20). As one read along, things swiftly took an unexpected turn: We learned that on June 23, 1964, Davis watched a foreign film that concluded with “Fin,” the French equivalent to “The End,” and decided to add the word to the painting he’d

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  • Caitlin Keogh, Repeating Autobiography, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 84 × 63".

    Caitlin Keogh

    Bortolami Gallery

    Like that of many painters seeking to replicate the conditions of our hypernetworked moment—its recombinatory and citational visual culture, and the material disconnect between the depths of seemingly infinite information and the flat, hard reality of a screen—Caitlin Keogh’s methodology is something of an ahistorical exquisite corpse. Her work brings to mind a multitude of art-historical references: She appears to pull her sharp but voluptuous line from Jean Cocteau’s fashion illustrations from the 1930s; her dismembered figures from the dolls of Hans Bellmer and Cindy Sherman; and

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  • Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #368, 1982/2016, color inks and india ink, dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Steven Probert. © Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Sol LeWitt

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 521 West 21st Street

    Over a multifaceted career that spanned more than five decades, Sol LeWitt executed hundreds of wall drawings, scores of sculptures, and countless drawings, prints, photographs, and books. An exhibition on view at Paula Cooper Gallery’s multiple locations in Chelsea showcased LeWitt’s amazing range—and, by including work by Liz Deschenes, reminded us of his generosity toward younger colleagues. (A concurrent presentation at Miguel Abreu Gallery also paired LeWitt’s work with Deschenes’s.) His art was variously sumptuous, obsessive, inventive, gentle. Ever since LeWitt died in 2007 at the

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  • View of “Arlene Shechet,” 2016–17. Background: Arlene Shechet, Bug Plate, 2013. Foreground: Model attributed to George Fritsche, Mounted Meissen Group, ca. 1729. Photo: Michael Bodycomb.

    Arlene Shechet

    The Frick Collection

    In her last New York solo show, in 2013, Arlene Shechet showed clay sculptures in a vein of abstraction that indexed the Rabelaisian—forms here swollen, there constricted, here biomorphic, there ambivalently geometric, the colors sometimes flat and sometimes violent, the surfaces now smooth, now scraped or stucco-like. These objects stood on bases as considered as themselves, in materials from raw wood to cement, in structures from short and stubby to tall and spare, and in heights that brought the tallest works up to a total of almost six feet. What, then, would be the subject of Shechet’s

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  • Ellen Altfest, Leg, 2010, oil on linen, 8 × 11". From “The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men.”

    “The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men”

    Cheim & Read

    In the all-women group show “The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men,” the topic is a great maw into which much (good) art is forked: figurative and gestural painting, photographs, sculpture, and embroidery, all spanning 1927 to 2016. Excellent are the aesthetically pleasing portraits of sweetly somber men, all nudes with trusting eyes: Catherine Opie’s photograph of a shirtless Ryan McGinley, posed against a dramatic dark curtain, as if a school photo for a lover; Sylvia Sleigh’s Paul Rosano in Jacobsen Chair, 1971, a pinkish nude self-conscious of his role as gazee, a fitting companion

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  • Jennie C. Jones, Red Measure, Muted and Clipped, 2016, acrylic on canvas, acoustic panel on canvas, 12 × 60".

    Jennie C. Jones

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    Gray dominates Jennie C. Jones’s paintings, seven of which comprised her exhibition “Amplitude.” Cool and crisp, it is the color of the sound-absorbing panel layered atop canvas in Dark Tone, Red Pause, Gray Hush; warm and woolly, it is the color of the rectangular panel that she uses as her base for steely stripes of acrylic in Gray Measure with Muted Tone Burst; light and tinged with blue, it streaks a ground of white in Emanating Hum (all works 2016). But it is never just a color. Gray, Jones has written, is a “non color all color mixed together with a drop of light,” a “reflection of

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  • Cao Fei, La Town, 2014, video, color, sound, 41 minutes 58 seconds.

    Cao Fei

    MoMA PS1

    Recently in these pages, artforum.com associate editor Dawn Chan argued that for many East Asian artists, success on the international exhibition circuit is contingent on their willingness to appeal to the “techno-Orientalist” fantasies of Western curators. Few artworks seem more indicative, if not outright parodic, of this predicament than Cao Fei’s RMB City, 2007–11, a floating island constructed in the simulated ocean expanses of Second Life. Much like the Panzani pasta ad that Roland Barthes decoded as connoting “Italianness,” renderings of RMB City abound with Sino-signifiers. A panda, a

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  • Victor Vasarely, Phobos, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 63 × 63".

    Victor Vasarely

    Maxwell Davidson Gallery

    Victor Vasarely (1906–1997) has been accorded the historical distinction of being labeled the first Op artist, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, the usual ideas about Vasarely—that he was a Systemic artist, to use Lawrence Alloway’s term, or a kind of graphic artist or designer (in 1928 and 1929 he studied both disciplines at a Bauhaus outpost in Budapest), or a serial artist specializing in what he called plastique cinétique—ignore the emotional depth and power of his works, and with that undermine their significance. Vasarely was a technical virtuoso, but his work is

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  • View of “Nancy Shaver,” 2016. Photo: Adam Reich.

    Nancy Shaver

    Derek Eller Gallery

    Though not billed as a group exhibition, “Dress the Form” contained multitudes, featuring contributions from nearly thirty individual artists alongside numerous collaborative and found efforts. In an exuberantly busy installation inspired in part by the catholic formalism of Henry, her antique shop in Hudson, New York, coordinating artist Nancy Shaver endeavored to further collapse the differences between professional and amateur, conceptual and formal, and—especially—functional and decorative. Shaver intended that the show’s objects be considered for their immediately apparent qualities

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  • Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunseinde in collaboration with Derek Schultz, Iyapo Films (012), 2016, video, color, silent, 1 minute 27 seconds. From the series “Iyapo Repository,” 2015–. From “MAMI.”

    “MAMI”

    Knockdown Center

    Organized by Dyani Douze and Ali Rosa-Salas, “MAMI,” an exhibition of work by five artists and one collective—all woman-identified artists of color—was an “offering” to the water deities known as Mami Wata. Often depicted as half-female, half-fish, Mami Wata were central to the precolonial matriarchal spiritual systems of West and Central Africa. Their image eventually spread to the Caribbean via the slave trade, and they are worshiped throughout the African diaspora today. Mami Wata are power incarnated: They reign over fertility, sexual desire, and material wealth, but are also

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