reviews

  • View of “Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise” (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League), 2017. Photo: Kyle Knodell.

    Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

    SculptureCenter

    A DUTCH ARTIST decided to help Congolese agricultural laborers by training them to be artists and then selling their artistic output overseas, generating revenue with which to transform the workers’ wretched plantation world into an art-tourism and research haven. In 2012, he established the Institute for Human Activities (IHA) at KASK/School of Arts of University College Ghent, Belgium, where he and his associates planned their Congo mission, and whence they still direct it. This, in a nutshell, is the backstory and business plan of artist Renzo Martens’s Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de

    Read more
  • Artists from Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League) meet with Institute for Human Activities staff members Laurens Otto (second from left) and Nicolas Jolly (right), Lusanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 22, 2016. Photo: Léonardo Pongo.

    Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

    SculptureCenter

    IT’S A COLD JANUARY AFTERNOON at SculptureCenter in Queens, New York, and a lineup of top-notch intellectuals are arrayed before a small audience. Their task is to make sense of an exhibition of work by the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League, or CATPC), brought here by Dutch artist Renzo Martens: twelve chocolate sculptures, a handful of drawings, and an enigmatic forty-one-minute video. No one on the panel can really come to grips with the project. Anthropologist Michael Taussig avoids the issue by discussing preplantation agriculture

    Read more
  • David Reed, #90, 1975, oil on canvas, 76 × 56". © David Reed/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    David Reed

    Gagosian Gallery | 821 Park Avenue

    The exhibition “Painting Paintings (David Reed) 1975” was cocurated by Katy Siegel, an art historian drawn to renovating the reputations of American figures of the 1970s—see her 2006 show “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967–1975”—and Christopher Wool, an old friend of David Reed’s and a painter of considerable note. This particular event reconstructed Reed’s first New York show, held in 1975. At the time of his Knickerbocker debut, the West Coast–born and –bred Reed was twenty-nine, hardly a kid, though there is something endearingly gullible in the painter’s adoption of

    Read more
  • Vija Celmins, Untitled (Falling Star), 2016, oil on canvas, 18 × 13 1/8".

    Vija Celmins

    Matthew Marks Gallery

    In college, I kept a postcard of a Vija Celmins’s graphite wavescape taped to my door. In part, I missed the ocean, but it was also a reminder that the things you love should be done well, and with a care that might even border on obsession. (It’s no surprise to learn that a copy of painter Ad Reinhardt’s 1953 article “Twelve Rules for a New Academy,” with its disciplined promotion of “pure” painting and disavowal of expression, is pinned to Celmins’s studio wall.) And at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s inaugural downtown exhibition in 2015, Celmins’s stark, realist painting of a heater

    Read more
  • James Casebere, Empty Studio, 2017, ink-jet print, 44 3/8 × 66 1/2".

    James Casebere

    Sean Kelly Gallery

    When Louis Kahn visited Luis Barragán in 1965, their meeting marked one of the greatest meetings of architectural minds in the twentieth century. The American and Mexican masters shared an undeniable affinity—both placed a high premium on tradition and craftsmanship; displayed a preference for rugged building materials, particularly concrete; and had become famous for highly original styles that blended the language of modern architecture with a range of vernacular influences. They did find one point of profound disagreement, however: color. When Kahn saw the brightly painted concrete walls

    Read more
  • Dara Friedman, Mother Drum, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 33 seconds.

    Dara Friedman

    Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

    The question of ownership lurks at the edges of Dara Friedman’s new three-channel HD video, Mother Drum, 2016. The work seems to ask: To whom does this land, this neighborhood, this building belong? Having begun the project after the 2014 discovery of an ancient Tequesta Indian village not far from her home in downtown Miami, Friedman traveled to several American Indian reservations in the Northwest to film dancers and drummers. Mother Drum may not explicitly address the connections between its origin (the unearthing of sacred ground at a high-rise construction site) and its screening room (

    Read more
  • Vik Muniz, Buttons (L), Handmade, 2016–, mixed media, 73 3/8 × 49 1/2". From the series “Handmade,” 2016–.

    Vik Muniz

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    It’s no great challenge to name recent exhibitions in New York that have drawn their power from expert illusionism. One featuring Vija Celmins’s obsessive conjurings of the night sky and ocean surface, for example, coincided with another presenting Matt Johnson’s painted carved-wood simulacra of packaging materials and studio detritus. Our appetite for near-exact copies of extant objects and images—from the sublime to the banal—appears as powerful as ever. Vik Muniz is an artist for whom precise representation has long been important as both strategy and theme, specifically as a way

    Read more
  • View of “Fia Backström,” 2017. Photo: Adam Reich.

    Fia Backström

    Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

    For her recent exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery, curated by Piper Marshall, Fia Backström put together a group show that used a strange scaffolding of the artist’s own design as its armature. Comprising gray metal dowels coming off a central shaft—something like a towel rack if one had a bathroom big enough to put it in—each of the six custom contraptions sported outstretched arms on which Backström hung photographs. Outfitted with clamps that grabbed the photos and thrust them out into space, the devices had a dynamic quality that might have reminded some viewers of the avant-garde

    Read more
  • Mary Beth Edelson, Many Breasted Great Mother (Lucy Lippard), 1973, ink, grease pencil, and paper on silver gelatin print, 10 × 8". From the series “Women Rising,” 1973.

    Mary Beth Edelson

    David Lewis

    The seventeen photographs in this show offered a morphing, moving image of subjectivity. Drawn from Mary Beth Edelson’s 1973 series “Women Rising,” they were all self-portraits of some kind or other: black-and-white pictures of the artist standing naked on a beach in North Carolina with her legs spread and her arms held up and bent at the elbow. Most incorporated the same picture, printed from the same negative, though a couple of others offered variations on the theme. But the photographs served only as the ground for figures to come: With marker and paint, Edelson went to work on them,

    Read more
  • Sara Magenheimer, Best Is Man’s Breath Quality, 2017, aquarium, Glo-Fish, vanity mirror, video camera, tripod, two-channel HD video projection (color, sound, 15 minutes 30 seconds). Installation view. Photo: Jason Mandella.

    Sara Magenheimer

    The Kitchen

    Louis Agassiz, 1862: “I have never felt more deeply the imperfection of our knowledge of some of the most remarkable types of the animal kingdom than in attempting to describe the beautiful representative of the genus Cyanea found along the Atlantic coast of North America. I can truly say that I have fully shared the surprise of casual observers in noticing this gigantic radiate stranded upon our beaches, and wondered what may be the meaning of all the different parts hanging from the lower surface of the large gelatinous disk.” Claude Monet, 1924: “It took me time to understand my water lilies.”

    Read more
  • View of “Allyson Vieira,” 2017. Center: You. Us! It’s personal., 2017. Netting: Neither Here Nor There, 2017. Photo: Kyle Knodell.

    Allyson Vieira

    Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery

    In her two concurrent gallery exhibitions, sculptor Allyson Vieira leveraged the kind of aghast grief induced by images of whale autopsies—when we’re shown the colorful array of plastic bags cut from their stomachs—with a dose of the approving wonder inspired in us by straw-into-gold recycling feats. There’s a sober classicism to her strange urns and square, tapestry-like works made from postconsumer waste, as well as an efficient, impersonal quality to their mysterious serial production. These qualities fend off the threat of discordant wackiness that often curses such found-material

    Read more
  • Jeff Donaldson, Wives of Sango, 1969, mixed media, 36 × 24".

    Jeff Donaldson

    Kravets Wehby Gallery

    Jeff Donaldson (1932–2004) attained many distinctions in his lifetime. In addition to chalking up a highly impressive list of academic and pedagogical achievements, culminating in a Ph.D. in African and African American art history from Chicago’s Northwestern University and, later in life, a long-standing deanship at Howard University in Washington, DC, he played a defining role in the development of a “trans-African” aesthetic that endeavored to help shape attitudes toward the African diaspora via unifying signs of protest, positivity, and cultural pride. A founding member of the Organization

    Read more
  • Morgan O’Hara, LIVE TRANSMISSION: movement of the hands of JONAS MEKAS performing at the Fluxus Festival / Anthology Film Archive / New York City / 30 October 1994, pencil on paper, 11 × 14".

    Morgan O'Hara

    Mitchell Algus Gallery

    Across the past three decades, Morgan O’Hara has produced more than five thousand examples of what she calls her Live Transmission works, a strand of her practice situated between performance and drawing. These renderings are the product of a process whereby O’Hara “records” movement—of musicians, orators, actors, and fellow artists; of workers of all sorts, from gardeners to bakers to stonemasons; of bees and carp and turtles—in real time with only pencils and paper, tools that function for the septuagenarian artist as a mediumistic interface between herself and the world of space

    Read more
  • Vikky Alexander, Ecstasy (detail), 1982, triptych, framed C-prints, overall 24 × 102 3/4".

    Vikky Alexander

    Downs & Ross | 106 Eldridge Street

    What happens to a copy as it ages? This show of Vikky Alexander’s photographs from 1981 to 1983, produced at the apex of appropriation art, put the question front and center. Though Alexander’s work was not included in 2009’s lauded “Pictures Generation” overview at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, her photographic strategy from this period maps neatly onto that of the loosely affiliated group (most of whose members hailed from California and were slightly the Canadian artist’s senior). Alexander culled these photographic images—pictures of leggy women—from fashion editorial

    Read more
  • Ernest Mancoba, Untitled (2), 1963, oil pastel on canvas, 24 × 19 1/2". © The Estate of Ernest Mancoba and Galerie Mikael Andersen.

    Ernest Mancoba

    Aicon Gallery New York

    The first North American solo exhibition of Ernest Mancoba included four small paintings ranging in date from 1958 to 1985 (one is undated) and some twenty works on paper (many of them likewise undated, but the others are mostly from the early 1990s), giving art lovers on this side of the Atlantic at least a nodding acquaintance with an oeuvre I suspect we are going to get to know much better in coming years: The artist’s work is included in this year’s Documenta 14. Mancoba, who was born in Johannesburg in 1904, began training as a wood-carver in 1925; his academically styled 1929 Bantu Madonna

    Read more
  • Christopher Le Brun, Goldengrove, 2015–16, oil on canvas, 8' 10 1/4“ × 11' 2”.

    Christopher Le Brun

    Albertz Benda

    In this exhibition, Christopher Le Brun, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, offers twelve new compositions, all painted in the past two years—some, such as Vocative, Score, and Symphony, all 2016, alluding explicitly to music, and others, such as Strand (thus the light rains, thus pours), 2016, and Goldengrove, 2015–16, to nature. (The show was presented in conjunction with an exhibition at the Gallery at Windsor, Vero Beach, Florida.) The title of White, Blue, White, 2016, simply names the colors—often richly tonal, sensitively nuanced, and atmospheric—that

    Read more
  • A. K. Burns, Living Room, 2017–, wood, metal coils, plastic webbing, underglow lighting, two-channel HD video (color, sound, 36 minutes). Photo: Maris Hutchinson.

    A. K. Burns

    Callicoon Fine Arts

    In recent months it has been dispiritingly difficult to visit exhibitions without applying the lens of American politics, but “Fault Lines,” A. K. Burns’s show at Callicoon Fine Arts, couldn’t have been read without it—literally. Language was a focal point of the presentation: Steel fences featured the Rusmfeldian terms knowns and unknowns; a cast-concrete foot on a rebar leg bore the words YOU’RE FIRED; and a similar hand gracefully offered a gold-plated brass IUD in Hand Out (She Was Warned), 2017, its title echoing the silencing of Elizabeth Warren as she opposed the nomination of Jeff

    Read more