reviews

  • Laura Owens, Untitled, 2015, acrylic, oil, and vinyl paint on linen, powder-coated aluminum strainers, five panels. Installation view, 2017–18. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

    Laura Owens

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    AS THE CULMINATION of Laura Owens’s midcareer retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, her masterful five-canvas frolic Untitled, 2015, stood upright on the otherwise pretty empty eighth floor, topping the exhibition like the bouncy ponytail of a debate-team captain full of ambition and Fruit Roll-Ups. With Untitled’s monumental emblems of store-bought cuteness, Owens pulled viewers into surprisingly heavy semiotic traffic, first by playing with categories of the literal and the virtual: She heaped up some brushstrokes in thick dollops of paint, and rendered others as cartoonish,

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  • Laura Owens, Untitled, 1999, acrylic and oil on canvas, 102 × 122".

    Laura Owens

    Contradictions should be appreciated for letting change emerge.

    —Carolee Schneemann

    WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT LA, but my first reaction to the Laura Owens show was, Wow, this is so West Coast. Paintings made in LA always struck me as being these huge, clean things, which I figured was because they were designed to be visible from the highway. In New York City, we walk around, so our painting surfaces aspire to the condition of sidewalks—dirty, scruffy, and layered. In fact, painting history generally reflects a city’s local conditions, its techniques of the body; consequently, some cities

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  • Peter Hujar, Boy on Raft, 1978, gelatin silver print, 14 x 11". © Peter Hujar Archive, LLC.

    Peter Hujar

    The Morgan Library & Museum

    In one of the most enduring passages from Teju Cole’s 2011 novel Open City, the protagonist, a young man named Julius who has recently arrived in New York from Nigeria to complete a psychiatry fellowship, takes a series of ever-longer walks around the island of Manhattan. His observations are cool and detached until he hits upon a singular and exasperating fact: This is a place surrounded by water that has totally turned its back on the flow of its rivers and the ocean beyond them. “The shore was a carapace,” thinks Julius, “permeable only at certain selected points. Where in this riverine city

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  • Thornton Dial, Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye, 2002, clothing, enamel, spray paint, and epoxy on canvas, 76 1/2 x 108 x 4". © Estate of Thornton Dial.

    Thornton Dial

    David Lewis

    “Mr. Dial’s America,” the second gallery exhibition of Thornton Dial’s work since his death in 2016 at the age of eighty-seven, included seven paintings dated between 1990 and 2011, as well as a freestanding sculpture, The Top of the World, 1998. Dial is often referred to as an outsider, or self-taught artist, and while it is understandable why commentators resort to such handy but potentially misleading labels, this exhibition made the best possible case for seeing Dial as, simply, an artist of his time, with no need for further qualification. Like most artists, Dial considered art itself as

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  • Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition # 9 0 To the Top diminished, 2011, casein on Mylar, 20 x 13 3/4".

    Channa Horwitz

    Lisson Gallery | 138 10th Avenue | New York

    “I hope I didn’t lose you in this minutia,” concludes Channa Horwitz in a 2002 description she wrote of “Sonakinatography,” her method of graphic notation. This statement’s air of self-deprecation makes it easy to disregard, but I’d wager its inclusion warrants its significance. It was the Los Angeles artist’s intention not to lose anyone who might be inclined to engage the series of polychromatic scores she produced for five decades, from 1968 until just before she died in 2013. She used an explicitly simple language to chart time and motion for any discipline that might find it useful, and

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  • Carissa Rodriguez, The Maid, 2018, 4K video, color, sound, 12 minutes 22 seconds.

    Carissa Rodriguez

    SculptureCenter

    The production quality of Carissa Rodriguez’s twelve-minute 4K video The Maid, 2018, is as impeccable as its main characters—Sherrie Levine’s crystal and black-glass “Newborns,”1993–95. Commissioned for Rodriguez’s first solo exhibition at a New York museum and projected onto a screen suspended at a tasteful diagonal in the center of SculptureCenter’s cavernous main gallery, The Maid tracks Levine’s sculptures over the course of a day, with brooding shots of the works in several upscale homes. In one scene, white-gloved attendants delicately remove a pristine, protective cloth from the

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  • Hannah Levy, Untitled, 2018, nickel-plated steel, silicone, 71 x 30 x 30".

    Hannah Levy

    C L E A R I N G

    “Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.” This passage from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610–11), describing a human body undergoing an underwater metamorphosis, has particular significance for twentieth-century art. In 1947, Jackson Pollock made Full Fathom Five the title of one his most materially dense drip paintings, suggesting a kind of transubstantiation. The nails, tacks, and cigarette butts embedded in the canvas had been raised up

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  • Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, Orphaned (AMY-14-SC-081), 2018, ink on rice paper, wood, LEDs, clip-mounted light, 65 x 47 1/4 x 19 1/4". From the three-part suite Orphans, 2018.

    Enzo Camacho and Amy Lien

    47 Canal

    “It’s hard to get kids to cooperate . . . ,” a woman laments in Enzo Camacho and Amy Lien’s short video Mother Holding Taobao Child (all works 2018). “My kid is only two and a half years old.” In a photography studio located on the outskirts of the Chinese city of Yiwu, she speaks between the sounds of shutter releases and camera flashes, as her child is photographed modeling for an e-commerce website. This eastern metropolis in Zheijiang Province is home to a vast emporium of more than seventy-five thousand shops and stalls selling cheaply produced goods, most of which can be had for about a

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  • Ilana Harris-Babou

    Larrie

    “Home decor corrals time,” Ilana Harris-Babou writes in her artist’s statement for “Reparation Hardware.” Through the delicate and strategic acquisition and display of objects, “we can conjure a perfect past and fold it into an aspirational future.” The show’s eponymous video parodied the slick, desirous collection videos of the upmarket home-furnishings retailer Restoration Hardware, juxtaposing the company’s breathless appeals to timeless quality and artisanal craft with the political demand for the delivery of reparations to African Americans in recognition of the stolen labor of their enslaved

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  • GCC, Mahd (Gesture II), 2017, MDF, baby powder, sound, 47 x 47".

    GCC

    The Amie and Tony James Gallery

    Much of the recent work of GCC—the group of artists whose eight members hail from various Persian Gulf countries, and whose name references the acronym for a regional political and economic alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council—has focused on the growing popularity in the area, among both governments and the wider populace, of the “positive energy” movement. Their 2016 solo at New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash included five bas-reliefs, in a maroon, velvet-flocked thermoformed styrene, based on 3-D renderings of stills derived from YouTube and other online sources of various

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  • Gil Batle, Kite Deck, 2017, ostrich egg shell, 6 1/2 x 5 x 5".

    Gil Batle

    Ricco / Maresca Gallery

    Gil Batle used to go to Walmart in Southern California and scrutinize the cashiers. He’d keep his eyes peeled for anyone who was new, bored, or unremittingly sloppy. When he found his mark, Batle would visit his or her checkout line with some expensive appliance in tow and would pay for it with a money order. But the piece of paper he’d hand over for his big-ticket item was an exquisitely made drawing—a counterfeit. Batle would then sell his stealthily looted merchandise on the street for cash to support his crystal meth addiction. His skills as a master forger got him into a lot of trouble;

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  • Artist unknown, Astrological birth chart used to name a baby, ca. late 19th century, gouache and ink on paper, 4 1/4 x 8 1/4".

    “Indian Drawings”

    33 Orchard

    Ritual acts—personal and parochial alike—are meant to free the practitioner’s mind from worldly concerns. The meditational Tantric scripts and yantras (mystical geometric diagrams) assembled for this jewel box of a show had the additional effect of producing a hushed calm that engulfed its viewers. “Indian Drawings,” curated by artist/collector Alexander Gorlizki with 33 Orchard’s Jane Kim, closely followed New York’s Outsider Art Fair (where Gorlizki had a booth), but it quietly sidestepped the burrs that tend to adhere to the term outsider (and to the dealers who position their wares

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  • Wayne Thiebaud, Ripley Ridge, 1977, oil on linen, 48 x 36". © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

    Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud

    Acquavella Galleries

    This exhibition contained twenty-four paintings—nine by Richard Diebenkorn and fifteen by Wayne Thiebaud (the two were lifelong friends)—all ostensibly engaging particular places in California. Berkeley appeared in four of Diebenkorn’s works (Berkeley #21, 1954; Berkeley #39 and Berkeley #44, both 1955; and Driveway, 1956), as did Ocean Park, an area of Santa Monica (Ocean Park #40, 1971). But, as Thiebaud’s nameless places, among them Urban Freeways, 1979, and Fields and Furrows, 2002, made clear, these images could be almost anywhere that there are big cities and rural areas. The

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  • Jamian Juliano-Villani, Gone with the Wind, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96".

    Jamian Juliano-Villani

    JTT

    The act of opening a door seems stupidly simple, but that’s exactly why it’s particularly nerve-racking when you’re uncertain about how to do it. When anxiousness leads to overthinking, even the most straightforward things become complicated. This same anxiety could be found in Does This Slide or Do I Pull (all works 2018), where a frog sits on the second rung of a ladder, contemplating the titular question. In a zine produced for the occasion of the show, Jamian Juliano-Villani’s second at JTT, the work was captioned with a different title, After School, pointing to another anxious moment of

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  • Chris Oh, Palace, 2018, acrylic on coral, 9 x 6 x 5".

    Chris Oh

    Sargent's Daughters

    Like a novel with several intertwining plots, Chris Oh’s exhibition “Interiors,” organized by Fortnight Institute and presented at Sargent’s Daughters, complicated our perceptions of space, time, and material through the appropriation of seven allegorical works by Dutch old masters. Oh deconstructed and reimagined the paintings as installations, reconfiguring the compositions and rendering different sections of a single work on multiple sculptural elements. Referencing works by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Rogier van der Weyden, and Robert Campin, the artist chose unorthodox and difficult surfaces

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