reviews

  • Paul Stephen Benjamin, God Bless America, 2016, forty-six monitors with three-channel video (color, sound, indefinite duration). Installation view, 2017. Photo: Adam Reich.

    “Fictions”

    The Studio Museum in Harlem

    "FICTIONS” marked a set of endings: It was the fifth in the Studio Museum’s “F-show” series, which began with the landmark 2001 exhibition “Freestyle” (curated by Thelma Golden, the show proposed the contentious, generative term post-black), and was the last to be on view in the museum’s current home in Harlem. (A new, David Adjaye–designed building is due to open in 2021.) But the show, curated by Connie H. Choi and Hallie Ringle, was also a space for beginnings: None of the nineteen artists, all of African and Latin American descent, had previously shown at the venue, and the exhibition focused

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  • Gordon Parks, Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1952, gelatin silver print, 20 x 16". © Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

    Gordon Parks

    Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street

    In an untitled photograph from 1978, the model Iman casually rests her elbows on two tall stacks of ancient African artifacts. In another, from 1966, a young Muhammad Ali leans against a stairwell bannister in London, gazing intently toward the upper right-hand corner of the frame. In another still, from 1960, we see Duke Ellington through the television monitors of a recording studio. In 1957, the photographer Gordon Parks made a vivid color portrait of the painter Helen Frankenthaler, vamping for the camera on a drop cloth in her studio. In 1952, he shot the hand of Alexander Calder, reaching

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  • Elizabeth Murray, Wake Up, 1981, oil on canvas, 111 1/8 x 105 5/8". © The Murray-Holman Family Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Elizabeth Murray

    PACE

    An unexpected, utterly unstable synthesis of Chicago’s unruly, almost lowbrow Imagism with the more calculated approach—and blockbuster scale—of New York abstraction: That’s what Elizabeth Murray achieved at her best. The twenty-five works in “Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ’80s” made it absolutely clear why she became one of the leading American painters of that decade, even though her work—no more neo-expressionist than neo-geo—didn’t really fit in with anything else going on. The frenetic energy of these paintings is simply undeniable, and it’s the energy of a formidable

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  • LaToya Ruby Frazier, Shea’s Aunt Denise and Uncle Rodney in their home on Foster Street watching President Barack Obama take a sip of Flint water, 2016–17, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24".

    LaToya Ruby Frazier

    Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

    This recent exhibition of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s, which filled three floors of Gavin Brown’s new building in Harlem, included photographs from one much-acclaimed body of work—“The Notion of Family,” a thirteen-year project that Frazier began in 2001, when she was not yet twenty, and that eventually became a prize-winning book—and two more-recent groups, “Flint is Family” and “A Pilgrimage to Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum” (both 2016–17). “This will be Frazier’s first solo gallery exhibition in New York City, her first solo commercial gallery debut in the United States, and her largest

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  • Kathe Burkhart, Mindfuck: from the Liz Taylor Series (The VIPs), 1988, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 82 x 96".

    Kathe Burkhart

    Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

    Elizabeth Taylor’s penis dangles beneath her coattails in Cunt: from the Liz Taylor Series (Raintree County), 2010, one of eight bold, brassy paintings selected by curator Piper Marshall and exhibited from Kathe Burkhart’s ongoing, decades-long series devoted to the superstar. The painting’s profane title is emblazoned across the top in red letters, polarizing the male member between Liz’s legs. Between the cock and cunt, an impertinent, flatly painted Taylor stands against a brick wall with her hands on her hips, her famous violet eyes gazing disaffectedly beyond the picture’s surface.

    Burkhart

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  • Judy Chicago, Crippled by the Need to Control/Blind Individuality, 1983, acrylic and oil on linen, 108 x 72".

    Judy Chicago

    Salon 94

    In one startling painting from Judy Chicago’s show “PowerPlay: A Prediction” at Salon 94’s Bowery space this winter, a proud nude—a muscled and hairless man with his dick out—pisses deep into the ground. Thanks to the psychedelic, multi-perspectival composition of the scene, we can see a cross-section of the earth and his amber stream of pee flowing and widening until it runs out of canvas. His silhouette glows as the sun sets on a strange desert. It’s almost as if he stands at the base of the viscous formation in Georgia O’Keeffe’s Rust Red Hills, 1930—as if, were we able to zoom

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  • Sondra Perry, IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection, 2017, video projection, color, sound, 16 minutes 21 seconds. Installation view.

    Sondra Perry

    Bridget Donahue

    The words “It’s in the game” are typically the aggressive opening credits of video games made by EA Sports, at least they were the last time I played one. The phrase’s use in the title of a recent video by Sondra Perry, the centerpiece of her debut exhibition at Bridget Donahue, reminded us that it is only half of the original slogan, which promises a Borgesian duplication of the world of sports: “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.” Perry explores the implications of such doublings in IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection, 2017.

    Playing on a loop in the gallery, which

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  • Survival Research Laboratories, Fanuc Robot Arm, 1992, steel, aluminum, HD television, Fanuc RT3 robot, electronics, dimensions variable.

    Survival Research Laboratories

    Marlborough Contemporary | New York

    It was a brutally frigid Saturday afternoon in early January, but a few hundred people were nevertheless gathered on a blocked-off stretch of West Twenty-Fifth Street in New York’s Chelsea. They were huddled against the cold in front of Marlborough Contemporary’s story-high garage door like a class at recess ringing a pair of schoolyard combatants, their focus on a gaggle of jerry-rigged machines that had been let loose to brawl between the dirty curbside snowbanks. The contraptions—including a tall wheeled carriage with a swinging articulated arm that terminated in a grasping claw and a

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  • Barbara T. Smith, Xerox, Birth, 1965–66, Xerox, 14 x 8 1/2".

    Barbara T. Smith

    Andrew Kreps Gallery

    Barbara T. Smith, and her definitively SoCal brand of corporeally oriented Conceptualism, has until recently been underrepresented on the East Coast. In 2015, the artist’s first exhibition with Andrew Kreps Gallery centered on her work in resin, a medium she was drawn to in 1968 for its seemingly contradictory qualities of transparency and resilience. This, her second exhibition with the gallery, examined these qualities in regard to her visionary engagements with technology in the 1960s and ’70s. Archival materials documenting three cultish performances were shown alongside a suite produced

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  • Maryam Jafri, Boy & Boy Continued (detail), 2017, ink-jet prints, two sheets, 6 x 9“ and 7 x 5” (depicted).

    Maryam Jafri

    Kai Matsumiya

    I confess I’ve always secretly lusted after the giant, wall-hung crossword puzzles sold by such estimable purveyors as SkyMall and Hammacher Schlemmer. Measuring seven by seven feet and containing tens of thousands of squares, this is the kind of crossword that would require true commitment and would provide an unrivaled source of procrastination. Imagine my delight, then, upon seeing Maryam Jafri’s crossword installation Where We’re At (all works cited, 2017). Built within a one hundred-inch-square wooden frame in collaboration with New York Times puzzle maker Ben Tausig, Jafri’s thirty-six-clue

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  • View of “Ahmed Mater,” 2017. From left: Road to Mecca II, 2017; Road to Mecca I, 2017. Photo: Jonathan Dorado.

    Ahmed Mater

    Brooklyn Museum

    One of the standout collateral exhibitions during Art Dubai 2017 was by Saudi physician-turned-artist Ahmed Mater, based on his extensive research on the recent development and expansion of the holy city of Mecca. Conducted over a decade and compiled in his book Desert of Pharan: Unofficial Histories Behind the Mass Expansion of Mecca (2016), this work provided the foundation for Mater to create a rich, visually annotated timeline that simultaneously tracked the city’s history alongside that of mankind’s ambition to build the sort of grand structures that eventually became skyscrapers. For “

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  • Mirtha Dermisache, Untitled (Letter), 1970, ink on paper, 11 x 9".

    Mirtha Dermisache

    Henrique Faria Fine Art

    Mirtha Dermisache’s artist’s books and myriad works on paper all sparkle with the suggestion of glyphs and characters that we might be able to discern if we only had the right key to crack their code. Yet, ultimately, none are legible. The under-known Argentinian artist, who passed away in 2012, always referred to her pieces as “writings.” Does it matter if we can’t read them?

    Dermisache titled and grouped her works according to their easily recognizable format—Text,  Book,  Letter, Sentence, and so forth—and all play with the architecture of language through invented lexical and

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  • André Cepeda, Untitled E0014, São Paulo, 2015, ink-jet print, 19 5/8 x 25 1/2".

    André Cepeda

    Benrubi Gallery

    Portuguese photographer André Cepeda offered us two groups—and kinds—of photographs, nearly all untitled (but numbered) and all, in their different ways, more or less detached musings on aspects of his native country (his hometown, Porto, and São Paulo in Brazil, once a part of Portugal’s colonial empire). The color photographs of the latter, made in 2012, have a conventional clarity and obviousness; the former, mostly colorless photographs made in 2015, are more mysterious. The former feel self-conscious; the latter seem to spring directly from the unconscious. The muted light in 

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  • Leigh Ruple, Nightlight, 2017, oil on canvas, 16 x 20".

    Leigh Ruple

    Morgan Lehman Gallery

    However improbable—given the bleak current national mood—the self-congratulatory strain of American modernist painting known as Precisionism is again in vogue. The Jazz Age movement, known for its sleek depictions of industry that tend to fall just on the romantic side of Photorealism—which mostly subsided in favor of more comforting figural works as the Great Depression (and American Regionalism) rolled in—is the subject of an upcoming survey at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. Less surprisingly, the aesthetic has popped up in contemporary painting, where its signature,

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