reviews

  • View of “Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction,” 2016–17. From left: Dances à la source [II] (Dances at the Spring [II]), 1912; Les pins, effet de soleil à Saint-Honorat (Cannes) (Pine Trees, Effect of Sunlight at Saint-Honorat [Cannes]), 1906. Photo: Martin Seck.

    Francis Picabia

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    JOINING FORCES with Cathérine Hug of Kunsthaus Zürich, curator Anne Umland of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, assembled roughly two hundred opinion-shifting works by the wildly mercurial Franco-Cubanartist Francis Picabia (1879–1953). Some 125 of them were paintings; the rest comprised drawings, illustrations, film, and period ephemera. The exhibition’s title, “Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction”—a Picabia aphorism—underscored the jarring discontinuities that marked the painter’s seemingly discordant sequence of styles. Perhaps, given the spoiled, vain, uxorious

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  • Francis Picabia and Erik Satie, Relâche, 1924. Performance view, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1924.

    Francis Picabia

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    FRANCIS PICABIA is famous above all for his flamboyant stylistic and ideological diversity. This diversity has created a legend. The legend has to do with freedom: Picabia is heralded—especially by artists—as the insouciant trickster deity of modernism, the Aquarian hero of artistic self-determinacy in the face of all sorts of orthodoxies, even (especially) the right ones.

    The legend is productive and, given the pictorial efficacy of so many of his best works, deserved. It does, however, confuse the central problem of Picabia’s career. It mistakes the symptom (the artist’s matchless

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  • View of “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” 2017. Photo: Maris Hutchinson.

    Raymond Pettibon

    New Museum

    IN RAYMOND PETTIBON’S HANDS, the pen does double duty—writing and drawing, verbalizing and depicting.This could explain why his massive five-decade survey, aptly titled “A Pen of All Work,” includes only three paintings on canvas. The majority of the more than seven hundred selections on view—which represent a fraction of the estimated twenty thousand works made by Pettibon to date—are his trademark pen-and-ink drawings on paper, which push the medium’s capacity to encompass both line work and protean wordplay. Handwritten texts, ranging from pithy statement to ranting paragraphs,

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  • James Coleman, Working Arrangement—horoscopus, 2004–, eight-channel video installation, color and black-and-white, sound, 54 minutes. Photo: Cathy Carver.

    James Coleman

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    This multipartite show by the Irish artist James Coleman included two fairly new works (Untitled, 2011–15, and Still Life, 2013–16); a mini-retrospective of five works from 1970, the year of Coleman’s first exhibition; a loner work bridging the turn of this century (D 11, 1998–2002); and a work begun in 2004 and still in process (Working Arrangement—horoscopus). The show, then, was a kind of primer, running from early to present in Coleman’s career. And while all of these works were projected images, his signature medium, they involved quite different forms and methods, from 16-mm film (

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  • View of “Wangechi Mutu,” 2017. Photo: David Regen.

    Wangechi Mutu

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    Absent from “Ndoro Na Miti,” Wangechi Mutu’s latest exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, were her signature collage elements—the magazine lips, eyes, and limbs and the cut-up animal imagery that have previously marked the fantastical, hybrid female protagonists in her work. The only paper on view was in the form of pulp. The Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based artist mixed it with wood glue and red soil to form many of the austere and otherworldly objects in her show, whose title translates from Gikuyu as “Mud and Trees.” With her striking installation of figurative and abstract sculptures, most of

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  • Richard Oelze, Statt Blumen und Blut (In Lieu of Flowers and Blood), 1963, oil on canvas, 52 × 64".

    Richard Oelze

    Michael Werner | New York

    A determinant piece of good luck during my high school years—the early 1950s—was a class pass offering free admission to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a privilege I availed myself of virtually every afternoon. This meant I was able to absorb the collections as Alfred H. Barr Jr., the famed founding director of the institution, had installed them—tightly organized according to country and style.

    One work in particular stuck out like a sore thumb from Barr’s didactics—Richard Oelze’s Erwartung (Expectation), 1935–36. That piece, loaned to Michael Werner Gallery for this

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  • Sergei Eisenstein, Untitled, n.d., colored pencil on paper, 10 5/8 × 8 1/4".

    Sergei Eisenstein

    Alexander Gray Associates

    Throughout his thirty-year career, the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein made drawings in many different modes for many different purposes. Estimates suggest that more than five thousand images varying in size and finish—some drawn on mere scraps of ordinary paper or on stationery filched from Mexican hotels—remain in his archive or in other private and public collections. Along with filmmaking and film theory, they constitute a crucial, though largely underrated, third pillar of his artistic achievement.

    Eisenstein sketched from his earliest years and was essentially self-taught.

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  • Richard Mosse, Idomeni Camp, Greece, 2016, digital C-print on metallic paper, 40 1/4 × 120". From the series “Heat Maps,” 2016.

    Richard Mosse

    Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street

    Susan Sontag wrote that “photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks.” Richard Mosse’s unorthodox approach to recording the world—beginning especially with his photo series “Infra,” 2010–15, and its related six-channel video, The Enclave, 2012–13, and continuing with his new body of work, “Heat Maps,” 2016–, recently on view at Jack Shainman’s Twentieth Street space—engages with some of the central notions underlying Sontag’s well-known dictum,

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  • View of “Marisa Merz,” 2017.

    Marisa Merz

    The Met Breuer

    “Marisa Merz has always been careful to do very little,” writes Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in the catalogue to the artist’s first American retrospective, curated by Connie Butler, chief curator of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (where the show travels, June 4–August 20), and Ian Alteveer, associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. But the show, titled “The Sky Is a Great Space,” proves that doing very little for a long time is a good way to accomplish a great deal.

    After seeing this retrospective, one will find Merz’s accomplishment as hard to define as it ever was, and that

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  • Edward Clark, Untitled, 1988, acrylic on canvas, 56 5/8 × 69 3/4".

    Edward Clark

    Tilton Gallery

    This show of ten canvases and three works on paper ranging in date from the 1960s through 2012 demonstrated, at minimum, an unusual consistency across decades—a consistency of idea and feeling as well as of quality. One might almost speak of a career without development. With nearly any other artist, such a phrase would carry an implicit reproach: a charge of complacency or monotonousness. In Edward Clark’s case, it’s quite the opposite: One senses that he has never ceased casting a critical eye—what Ernest Hemingway famously called the bullshit detector—on his own work. And far

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  • Jenny Perlin, The Crystal King, 2016, 16-mm film, color, silent, 3 minutes.

    Jenny Perlin

    Simon Preston

    The Child of the Cavern, or Strange Doings Underground is one of more than fifty novels in Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages series from the late nineteenth century. In the story, a miner discovers a young woman in a pit and takes her to the earth’s surface for the first time. Despite her wonder at the world above, she returns happily to her subterranean home, astutely declaring that darkness is as beautiful as light. Artist Jenny Perlin named Verne’s book as the point of departure for her exhibition “The Long Sleepers,” but it was clearly more than that: Like a spirit guide, the narrative

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  • Matthew Buckingham, Celeritas, 2009, screen-printed letters on chalkboard enclosed in wooden cabinet, natural light, 27 × 22 × 4". From “January Show.”

    “January Show”

    Murray Guy

    Back in 2008, on what now seems like the cusp of a fleeting golden age, the gossip blog How’s My Dealing? boasted a section devoted to the casualties of for-profit cut-and-thrust. DeathWatch collated advance reports of the closing of various enterprises, and reading it now induces twinges of nostalgia for such outfits as Bellwether, Roebling Hall, and Rivington Arms, as well as for much-missed individuals such as the late, great Daniel Reich. As the depth of feeling attached to the list demonstrates, the role played by commercial galleries is far more than purely financial; their influence over

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  • Bonnie Lucas, Smiling Girl, 1983, mixed media, 30 × 21 1/2".

    Bonnie Lucas

    JTT

    Since the 1970s, Bonnie Lucas has been reconfiguring the icks and discomforts of feminine aesthetics, revealing the precise flavor of subjugation imposed by sweetie-pie girlishness. Combining frilly garments, plush animals, hair grips, jelly shoes, flowers, bunnies, decorated eggs, wedding cake figurines, sequins, baby toys, and ballet ribbons, the artist constructs unstable bodies that burst open at the seams. “Young Lady,” at JTT, curated by Marie Catalano, was a timely presentation of works made by the artist between 1983 and 1987: intricate, wall-based assemblages she calls “object collages,”

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  • Dragana Jurisic, Paris Fog I, 2016, ink-jet print, 14 × 14".

    Dragana Jurisic

    Rawson Projects

    In “My Own Unknown,” photographs formed provisionary sketches of elusive subjects. Launching the second iteration of A Process Series, organized by Jessamyn Fiore at Rawson Projects, in which four women artists received two-week solo shows to “reflect on how politics influences their artistic practice,” Dragana Jurisic seemed to play with the exhibition’s abbreviated life-span through material and displays that foregrounded the ephemeral: instant Polaroids, unframed prints tacked to the wall, handwritten scrapbooks with pasted-in photos. But these notes formed a deceptively complex narrative,

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  • Pipo Nguyen-duy, Untitled F40, 1998, cyanotype, 15 × 11 1/2".

    Pipo Nguyen-duy

    ClampArt

    The show is a kind of wonderland: Fifty cyanotypes, all made in 1998, all untitled, and all portraying flowers, seeds, soil, and water from Monet’s garden at Giverny, France, neatly line the walls of the narrow gallery. They are the creations of Pipo Nguyen-duy, a political refugee from Vietnam and now a professor of photography at Oberlin College in Ohio. One can’t help but admire the sheer beauty of the ghostly images, each hovering in space like a mirage, each coolly composed and self-sufficient, each alive with immediacy and formal verve. The specimens sparkle like stars in a cyan sky.

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  • Ann Greene Kelly, Untitled (bricked chair with drain), 2016, plastic chairs, Magic-Sculpt, steel mesh, fabric, Hydrocal, aluminum, colored pencil, 32 1/2 × 22 × 27".

    Ann Greene Kelly

    Chapter NY

    Of all the words that have suffered the abuses of our new administration’s slippery rhetoric, drain might have it the worst. In October, Ronald Reagan’s “Drain the swamp” refrain entered the MAGA camp’s repertoire of chants, and in January we learned that the promise to kick bureaucracy and big money out of Washington in fact meant building a cabinet of Republican establishment goons and Goldman Sachs executives.

    Drains—burdened as they are with the GOP’s semantic disassociations and destabilizations—were everywhere in “May Not Be Private,” Ann Greene Kelly’s second solo exhibition in

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