reviews

  • Lisa Yuskavage, Golden Couple, 2018, oil on linen, 77 1⁄8 × 70".

    Lisa Yuskavage

    David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

    The baby-faced blonde with big pink breasts spreading her legs in Lisa Yuskavage’s Split, 1995, wears nothing but a tiny tangerine shrug and a “come hither, Humbert” look. The invitation might be erotic, but the scene is not: Her legs taper into tentacles, her nipples point in opposite directions, and a mouth is not her only missing orifice. Even the pubescent cutie-pies with intact anatomy who populate Yuskavage’s paintings are made repellent by their saccharine trappings. More than thirty years of underage popsies rendered in Jordan-almond pastels and smoldering shades of red, gold, and acid

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  • Amar Kanwar, Such a Morning, 2017, digital video projection, color, sound, 85 minutes.

    Amar Kanwar

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    To retreat into sleep during times of political cataclysm is to concede to failure, but in thus surrendering, the sleeper is ultimately able to rebroker reality in her dreams, the Egyptian author Haytham el-Wardany proposes in The Book of Sleep (2017). What Jean-Luc Nancy describes as the illogical, ungraspable state of slumber has become a conceptual touchstone for some interlocutors of Egypt’s wrenching revolutionary experience (see Anna Della Subin’s book-length essay Not Dead but Sleeping [2016] or the exhibition “When the whites of the eyes are red,” curated by Shehab Awad at the CCS Bard

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  • View of “Paulina Olowska,” 2018. From left: Vitebsk Station, 2018; Univermag GUM, 2018; Prospekt Niezalezhnosti, 2018. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.

    Paulina Olowska

    Metro Pictures

    Nostalgia is a dodgy gambit when it comes to contemporary art. After all, it is, in its evocation of the past, not contemporary and, in its inherent familiarity, not in and of itself art. What’s more, as with kitsch and cliché, the accompanying emotion tends toward a mawkishness that smothers exegetic impulse, leaving one to wallow in simplistic pleasures. Even its ironic deployment would seem a spent gesture, post-post-Pictures generation: Is there anything more referentially threadbare at this point than pulp fiction or dystopian sci-fi? Yet in my book, Paulina Olowska gets a pass. In bringing

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  • Lorraine O’Grady, Cutting Out CONYT 04, 1977/2017, diptych, collage on paper, each sheet 41 3⁄4 × 30".

    Lorraine O’Grady

    Alexander Gray Associates

    Frames within frames: For a lecture in 1969, Jacques Derrida distributed copies of “Mimique,” a prose poem written by Stéphane Mallarmé in 1897 describing a theatrical scene involving the pantomime character Pierrot, whom Mallarmé had read about in a pamphlet purportedly authored by the mime himself. In the scene, Pierrot learns that his wife, Columbine, has betrayed him, and he resolves to murder her—by tickling her to death. Pierrot performs this fanciful deed onstage, playing the parts of both tickler and tickled, alternately wriggling his hands ferociously and giggling with helpless delight.

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  • Leonor Fini, Divinité chtonienne guettant le sommeil d’un jeune homme (Chthonian Deity Watching over the Sleep of a Young Man), 1946, oil on canvas, 11 × 16 1⁄4".

    Leonor Fini

    Museum of Sex

    “Theatre of Desire, 1930–1990” is the first American retrospective devoted to the Argentinean-Italian painter and illustrator Leonor Fini (1907–1996). Across two floors and sixty years, precious Italianate portraits of friends and lovers morph into macabre fantasies of witches’ sabbaths and half-flayed bodies, crystallizing at last into kinky, acrid-pastel paintings of women and girls locked into flattened, compressed spaces and ambiguous erotic relations. Pornographic illustrations for works by Jean Genet and the Marquis de Sade, costume designs for operas and ballets, and extravagant photo

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  • Lyle Ashton Harris, Afropunk Odalisque, 2018, dye sublimation print, 18 × 24".

    Lyle Ashton Harris

    Salon 94

    On the gallery counter at Lyle Ashton Harris’s show were two books for the public to leaf through, Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit (1983) and Amber Musser’s Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (2018). Harris named his new project after the first of these, an influential, even inspiring attempt to describe aesthetic and cultural continuities between Africa and the African diaspora, but his work in general seems closer in temper to the second—a more theoretically informed book than Thompson’s, and addressing complexities of queer identity that were not Thompson’s

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  • Helen Mirra, Straw bale construction, 2016, linen, wool, 12 1/2 x 9 7/8".

    Helen Mirra

    Peter Freeman, Inc.

    “In the context of this exhibition, there will be backwards walkings every morning the week of 5 November.” Those familiar with the oeuvre of Helen Mirra will recognize this odd announcement—appended as a note to the show’s mostly blank press release—as entirely consistent with a life and practice for which the act of walking (backward or otherwise) has long played a crucial role. (On the artist’s website, she dubs herself a “walking experiment.”) For Mirra, as for Stanley Brouwn, Douglas Huebler, and a handful of other artists before her, this routine, while outwardly simple and repetitive,

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  • Hedda Sterne, Untitled, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 64 × 64".

    Hedda Sterne

    Van Doren Waxter | 23 East 73rd Street

    In Nina Leen’s iconic photograph The Irascibles, painter Hedda Sterne stands on a table behind a group of fourteen abstract painters, all men, who confront the camera with somber expressions. In her coat and hat, with a shiny purse dangling from folded arms, she towers over Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, and the rest. When it was published in the January 1951 issue of Life magazine, the picture bestowed upon the enigmatic Sterne a mythic status. She was posed at a slight remove from the group, her role unclear: Was she a fellow artist or a muse? Despite her extraordinary life

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  • Ilya Bolotowsky, Small Biomorph, ca. 1935, oil on board, 12 x 15 1/2".

    Ilya Bolotowsky

    Washburn Gallery

    In 1936, the painter Ilya Bolotowsky (1907–1981) cofounded American Abstract Artists, an organization instrumental to the advancement of European abstraction at a time when the form was “met with strong critical resistance” (according to the AAA) in the face of the then-dominant regionalism of artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. The Washburn Gallery’s presentation of Bolotowsky’s work, a selection of eight paintings created between 1935 and 1980, showed us an artist who was a staunch believer in the experimentalism and ideals of modernism, as well as a master of both the geometric

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  • View of “Gregor Hildebrandt,” 2018. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

    Gregor Hildebrandt

    Perrotin | New York

    If unheard melodies are sweet, as John Keats says, there was abundant sweetness in the imposing “total environment” Gregor Hildebrandt realized for his second New York exhibition. The Berlin-based artist has long specialized in outdated recording media—most notably cassette tapes and vinyl records—focusing not on their capacity for storing and conveying sound, but instead employing them as mute materials, elements with which to create paintings and sculptures that have music buried within them. The choice of media would seem restrictive, but by showing the impressive range of formal effects he

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  • Roy Arden, Hoard 2, 2018, cyanotype on cardboard packaging, 12 × 6 3⁄4". From the series “Hoard,” 2018. From “Anna Atkins Refracted: Contemporary Works.”

    “Anna Atkins Refracted: Contemporary Works”

    New York Public Library

    Anna Atkins, the Victorian botanist widely considered the first female photographer, created thousands of cyanotypes depicting white negatives of flora, often seaweed, suspended in atmospheres of Prussian blue. She made the pictures in the service of science, each one a spectral ode to the bounty of life and to what was then an innovative photographic technique. Like those of so many women of the time, Atkins’s breakthroughs fell into obscurity; she was “rediscovered” in the 1980s. The New York Public Library’s exhibition “Anna Atkins Refracted: Contemporary Works”—curated by Joshua Chuang and

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  • View of “Aura Satz,” 2018. Foreground: The Wail That Was Warning, 2018. Background: works from the series “She Recalibrates,” 2018. Photo: Adam Reich.

    Aura Satz

    Fridman Gallery

    In Aura Satz’s numinous exhibition “Listen, Recalibrate” at Fridman Gallery, pieces exploring generations of sound-making women—such as Delia Derbyshire, Pauline Oliveros, and Éliane Radigue—resonated profoundly, while elsewhere in the show the trauma of living with state-sponsored sonic warfare ominously hummed. The works, though unshowy, were rigorously conceived and continued to unfold weeks after viewing.

    The Wail That Was Warning, 2018, was a handsome, hand-cranked siren: a stainless-steel barrel laid horizontally on a stand shaped like an inverted V. I turned it at an unhurried pace, not

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  • Marcel Storr, Untitled, ca. 1968, graphite, colored ink, and varnish on paper, 20 × 24".

    Marcel Storr

    Andrew Edlin Gallery

    One can imagine self-taught artist Marcel Storr (1911–1976) in 1964, his head bent low over the Paris streets he was employed to sweep, as he studied the staggered patterns of the cobblestones. Back at his home in the ninth arrondissement, not far from the ornate Église de la Sainte-Trinité and the historic Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, he would dream up his own extraordinary ecclesiastical sites through a series of graphite and colored-ink drawings, roughly sixty-four in total, that he produced over the course of his lifetime. Though the significant gap in information about Storr’s life prohibits a

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  • Allen Frame, Ennio (detail), 2018, sixty-one found photographs, table, drinking glasses, seven gelatin silver prints, dimensions variable.

    Allen Frame

    Pratt Institute

    Innamorato,” an exhibition by the writer, filmmaker, and photographer Allen Frame, was dominated by Ennio, 2018, a room-size installation made up of more than fifty found Italian Mussolini-era photographs of an air force pilot, his sister, and a handsome young man. The pictures, hung salon style, were set into a variety of secondhand frames. The subjects of the photos appeared well off, beautiful, and youthful. They could be seen with skis in the mountains and cavorting on beaches, bringing to mind the bourgeois family in Vittorio De Sica’s 1970 film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

    Seven

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