reviews

  • View of “Walead Beshty,” 2017. Photo: Christopher Burke.

    Walead Beshty

    Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

    With an intermittent soundtrack provided by the futile jittering of wrecked office equipment displayed like broken bodies skewered on pikes, and colossal flat-screen displays that had been mortally injured and then strung up in the fashion of cold-room carcasses, the opening rooms of Walead Beshty’s recent exhibition at Petzel suggest a Dr. Moreau–style project updated for the digital age—a ruthless program of mechanical vivisection designed to forcibly bestow an organic bearing on a set of captive entities. Yet if this ambitious show initially seems to wear its high-tech-abattoir vibe a

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  • R. B. Kitaj, Arcades (After Walter Benjamin), 1972–74, oil on canvas, 60 × 60".

    R. B. Kitaj

    Marlborough Contemporary | New York

    In 1994, the Tate Gallery in London mounted an immense survey of R. B. Kitaj’s work. Intended to be the American-born painter’s English apotheosis, it resulted instead in the brutal rejection of his achievement. And then Kitaj’s wife, the American painter Sandra Fisher, died. For Kitaj, she incarnated the indwelling Shekinah, the Kabbalistic personification of the female nature of God. In the current exhibition, titled “The Exile at Home,” she was present in works such as I Married an Angel, 1990, and Los Angeles No. 16 (Bed), 2001–2002. These works also reveal a folkloric mode found, say, in

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  • Sarah Charlesworth, Trial by Fire, 1992–93, Cibachrome, lacquered wood frame, 41 1/4 × 33 1/2". From the series “Natural Magic,” 1992–93. © The Estate of Sarah Charlesworth.

    Sarah Charlesworth

    Maccarone | 630 Greenwich Street

    In 1993, Sarah Charlesworth completed “Natural Magic,” her first series of photographs made entirely in the studio. By that time, she had spent almost two decades collaging found images to expose and manipulate the ideological structures that underpinned photography, crafting series such as “Modern History,” 1977–79, for which she excised the text from the front pages of newspapers so that the size and position of the remaining images—of statesmen or a solar eclipse or a masked Sandinista guerrilla—laid bare a visual grammar of power. Likewise, in “Objects of Desire,” 1983–88, Charlesworth

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  • View of “Evan Holloway,” 2017. Photo: Steven Probert.

    Evan Holloway

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    Still indelibly associated with Los Angeles, sculptor Evan Holloway broke through in the late 1990s by combining high-modernist form with subcultural and mundane imagery, manifesting a nimble strand of post-Pop that revealed the clear influence of his former teacher Charles Ray. But while Holloway’s artistic lineage is readily apparent, a certain lightness of touch continues to set him apart from his predecessors and extend his influence beyond the West Coast. Holloway is that rare artist who can address the state of the natural world without preaching, and the condition of the built environment

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  • Thiago Rocha Pitta, seascape with cianobacteria, 2017, pigmented plaster on cement, 28 × 35 7/8". From the series “Seascape with Cianobacteria,” 2016–.

    Thiago Rocha Pitta

    Marianne Boesky Gallery

    For those growing fatigued by contemporary art’s ongoing invocations of the Anthropocene and its attendant aesthetics of detritus and scorched-earth urban sprawl, Thiago Rocha Pitta’s show “The First Green” offered something of a reprieve. The sculpture, video, photograph, and series of paintings in this Brazilian artist’s second solo endeavor at Marianne Boesky Gallery together formed an arcadian vision starring an unlikely subject: cyanobacteria.

    Before the Dawn, 2017, a video Rocha Pitta shot at Australia’s Hamelin Pool, features a sea of rock formations known as stromatolites, or layered

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  • Kevin Francis Gray, Seated Nude, 2017, Carrara marble, 43 3/8 × 48 1/8 × 59 1/2".

    Kevin Francis Gray

    Pace | 537 West 24th Street

    The Irish artist Kevin Francis Gray is a master carver of marble in the grand tradition of Michelangelo, Antonio Canova, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, and Rodin, among other great masters of that material—and what a welcome wonder to encounter such durable, “classically” inspired sculptures. This is especially true given the abiding proclivities of contemporary practice toward the provisional—the unfinished and the ephemeral. It is also a pleasure to see an artist so fully committed to the art of the past: Time moves faster today than it used to, the modern world being more future oriented,

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  • Karlo Kacharava, English Romanticism, 1993, oil on canvas 39 3/8 × 39 3/8". From “Sputterances.”

    “Sputterances”

    Metro Pictures

    “A poem should not mean but be,” a poet formerly famous once wrote: The line is a perfect example of one that does the opposite of what it says, since the dictum’s force lies in its all-too-seductively self-evident meaning. Language only begins to reveal its being when meaning trips itself up, when communicative urgency interferes with its own expression. The Dutch artist René Daniëls must have had something like this in mind when he coined the delightful portmanteau sputterance—the term denoting, apparently, an enunciation whose very resistance to completion or closure constitutes its

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  • Thomas Trosch, Japanese Lesson #23, 1993, oil on canvas, 48 × 68".

    Thomas Trosch

    Fredericks & Freiser

    Exemplifying truth in labeling, “Thomas Trosch: Paintings New and Old” presented a dozen paintings made between 2010 and 2017, along with two from 1993 and three dated 1996. Then and now, it’s been hard to know how to receive this work, which is almost ridiculously ambitious yet so eccentrically campy that some might dismiss it as vapid (or, worse, “idiotic,” as Benjamin Weissman worried in these pages in 1993). Perhaps as a result, Trosch has been shamefully neglected by the critics—myself included. His sheer incalcitrant originality has probably done his career as much harm as it’s done

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  • Michaela Eichwald and Max Schmidtlein, Frank und Pflaumi haben einen Traum (Frank and Pflaumi Have a Dream), 2017, acrylic on auto upholstery headliner fabric, 50 3/4 × 116".

    Michaela Eichwald

    Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York

    In recent years, demonstrating one’s own insouciant flexibility, whether professional or personal, has been a matter of economic survival; thus, the shrug emoji has reigned. We are all implicated in variously exciting or pernicious networks: What to do about it? Painting, in its dominant German/American vein—at least the type associated with the Cologne–New York axis and identified by David Joselit in 2009 as “networked”—has demonstrated commitments to awkward states such as ambivalence, and to its own poverties. Michaela Eichwald’s exhibition of paintings at Reena Spaulings Fine Art

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  • Eric Fischl, A Visit To / A Visit From / The Island, 1983, diptych, oil on canvas, overall 7 × 14'. From “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s.”

    “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    After seeing and in some cases reviewing a number of shows of the New York art of the 1980s over the past few years, from Arch Connelly back in 2012 to a show about Manhattan’s Pier 34 in 2016, through Alvin Baltrop, Greer Lankton, and others along the way, I’d gotten into my head a memory of that time as funky, inventive, and in some way modest, a period of doing a lot with a little and of making art that was often intimate and ultimately personal. “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s” might have been designed to rebut that idea: The literally big thing here was scale, from Kenny Scharf’s

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  • Hilary Pecis, Dinner Party, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 40 × 30".

    Hilary Pecis

    Joshua Liner Gallery

    The capacity to recognize patterns is what sets humans apart from other animals and from machines. Our ability to convert perceived arrangements into habits and inventions drives our looking and imagining, our reading and reasoning. We are hungry to intuit serial sequences everywhere, even where there are none—a condition known as apophenia, which is linked to gambling and conspiracy theories.

    On the brighter side of our brain function, Hilary Pecis’s paintings seem to celebrate the joy of discerning and interpreting patterns in the everyday world. Nine paintings made up her excellent if

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  • View of “Ed Fornieles,” 2017. From left: Radoll (Canadian Dollar, $), 2016; Radoll (Canadian Dollar, $), 2016. Photo: Greg Carideo.

    Ed Fornieles

    Arsenal Contemporary | New York

    The Finiliars are awfully cute. Genderless, possessed of pastel-hued Teletubby bodies and gumdrop heads, they live in a verdant valley where they adorably play soccer, blow bubbles, and roll about in the grass. They also carry out more mundane (but still adorable) tasks, such as cooking breakfast and performing morning stretches.

    However anodyne their affect, the Finiliars, created by the artist Ed Fornieles, do not exist in a void but are tied to real, if abstract, things: Each one represents a world currency, and its behavior is determined by calculations that analyze the value of the currency

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  • Erin O’Keefe, Things as They Are #42, 2017, ink-jet print, 20 × 16".

    Erin O’Keefe

    Denny Dimin Gallery

    More than a little of the considerable appeal emanating from Erin O’Keefe’s photographs lies in the difficulty we encounter deciphering them. With these works—razor-sharp depictions of abstract, brushily painted, sculptural tableaux, for the most part—not only does one struggle to identify the medium, but the compositions traffic in shadowy illusion and spatial ambiguity, making it hard at times to know exactly what is being portrayed. Consequently, the eye moves searchingly across the picture plane, propelled by the pleasures arising from the work’s bold construction and rich yet

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  • Baseera Khan, Braidrage, 2017, ninety-nine unique poured, dyed resin casts taken from the artist’s body; synthetic and human hair; hypothermia blankets; five unique harnesses made from wearable Cuban chains and rock-climbing cords; black chalk. Installation view. Photo: Thomas Barratt and Mark Waldhauser.

    Baseera Khan

    PARTICIPANT INC

    SOME FAMILIES STACK THE DOLLA BILLS. MY FAMILY STACKS THE TRAUMA. NOW I’M TRYING TO MAKE SOME MONEY OFF UNDERSTANDING MY MAMA’S DRAMA. These lines appear in the print Prayer (prostrating in submission five times a day to an entity outside of your body), the first work encountered in “iamuslima,” Brooklyn-based artist Baseera Khan’s New York debut. One of five works interpreting the five pillars of Islam (we see also Pilgrimage, Fasting, Oneness, and Zakat), Prayer has a brassy transparency that is typical of Khan’s project. The artist often levies the contradictions underlying contemporary

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  • Sophie Calle, Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery, 2017–, marble, 81 × 20 × 20". Photo: Leandro Justen.

    Sophie Calle

    GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY

    This past spring, French artist Sophie Calle inaugurated Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery, 2017–, a simple installation nestled within a sprawling graveyard in Brooklyn. The project, which was commissioned by Creative Time, comprises a white marble obelisk erected on a plot bestowed to the artist for the next twenty-five years. Visitors may deposit written secrets through a slot in the monument’s base; Calle will periodically return to the cemetery to burn the contents, making space for a fresh batch of secrets. For the opening, the artist, assuming the role of confidant

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