reviews

  • Gretchen Bender, People in Pain (detail), 1988/2014, silkscreen on paint and heat-set vinyl, neon, transformers, 7' × 46' 8“ × 11”. © The Gretchen Bender Estate and OSMOS

    Gretchen Bender

    Red Bull Arts New York

    GRETCHEN BENDER MOVED to New York in 1978 and had her first solo show there in 1983, when she was thirty-two. She fast became a fixture of an East Village art scene centered on the Nature Morte gallery and the tireless publishing and curating efforts of Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo, a milieu that featured artists such as Sarah Charlesworth, Jessica Diamond, Kevin Larmon, Peter Nagy, Steven Parrino, David Robbins, and Julia Wachtel. Perhaps not all of those names ring a bell, and it’s likely Bender’s wouldn’t have, either, only a few years ago. Which raises the question, Why was she almost

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  • Jasper Johns, Untitled (detail), 2018, twenty-four drawings in ink on paper or plastic, each 11 1⁄2 × 8 1⁄2".

    Jasper Johns

    Matthew Marks Gallery | 522 West 22nd Street

    Jasper Johns’s “Recent Paintings & Works on Paper” at Matthew Marks Gallery, featuring thirty-eight pieces made between 2012 and 2018, was simultaneously a tour de force and a last hurrah—an understated meditation on Johns’s vast artistic legacy that also seemed to reckon with the artist’s own mortality. (Johns is, after all, almost ninety years old.) Amid the shadows and subtle anxieties expressed in this show was Untitled, 2018, a suite of twenty-four small ink drawings hung in a well-lit backroom/sepulcher, each of which depicted a grinning skeleton. The bony figure looks like a bit of a

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  • Ian Cheng, Bag of Beliefs (BOB), 2018, eighteen monitors, computer hardware, artificial-life-form software. Installation view.

    Ian Cheng

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    There seems to be a long, tongue-in-cheek tradition of giving machines with artificial intelligence monosyllabic names that hover somewhere between the casual sobriquets of garden-party guests and the vanilla acronyms of corporate lingo. Consider HAL 9000, the murderous AI in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Or Tay, Microsoft’s ill-fated chatbot. Playing along, perhaps, Ian Cheng has dubbed his latest simulation Bag of Beliefs (BOB), 2018. A digital-age gargoyle with a catfish-like head and a spindly, segmented body textured like red coral, BOB was set loose in a beige-walled virtual vivarium, left

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  • Carol Rama, Appassionata (Marta e i marchettoni) (Passionate [Marta and the Rent Boys]), 1939, mixed media on paper, 13 × 11".

    Carol Rama

    Lévy Gorvy | New York

    Born in 1918 in Turin, Carol Rama stayed there for close to a century, until her death in 2015. Accounts of her life insist on her engagement with artists and writers in her hometown and on the Italian scene more generally, yet she comes across as something of a recluse. Whatever her social life was, her career was quiet until relatively late: In the catalogue for this exhibition, “Eye of Eyes,” Robert Lumley writes that her work reached wide visibility only in 1980, with a show called “L’altra metà dell’avanguardia, 1910–40” (The Other Half of the Vanguard, 1910–40) in Milan and Stockholm. Rama

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  • Charles LeDray, Free Public Library, 2015–19, paper, cardboard, fabric, thread, acrylic paint, ink, acrylic varnish, acrylic gel medium, brass, patina, bubble gum, glass, metal, wire, wood, cement board, cement, granite, glue, fiberfill, Mylar, 10 1⁄8 × 97 1⁄8 × 50 1⁄4".

    Charles LeDray

    Peter Freeman, Inc.

    Charles LeDray works with granite and leather, copper buttons and human bone. For decades now, the artist has played with scale, creating miniature replicas of everyday objects using mortar, embroidery floss, and stainless steel, among sundry other materials sourced from hobby shops and hardware stores. His works—replicating cinder blocks, suspenders, wrenches, barbells, and rabbits’ feet—are obsessively detailed, down to the hand-sewn vents and hems on tiny houndstooth jackets and the ribbed handles of finger-length umbrellas.

    If this is beginning to sound grossly twee, consider The Janitor’s

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  • Robert Goldman, untitled, 1991, ink on paper, 5 1⁄2 × 8 1⁄2". From “Notebook.”

    “Notebook”

    56 Henry

    The request was simple. The artist Joanne Greenbaum, the curator of this show at 56 Henry, asked each contributor for a “notebook drawing,” defined as a work that they would “never show to a dealer or pull out during a studio visit.” The notebook page is a site of experimentation; it affords a glimpse into the mind of the practitioner while s/he is dreaming and creating. Sheets of modest size—containing doodles, scribbles, diagrams, calculations—ripped from sketch pads, notebook drawings are typically studies for something else, or nothing at all. Their status as “art” is uncertain; this

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  • David Byrd, Auctioneer, 1970, oil on canvas, 34 × 28". White Columns.

    David Byrd

    Anton Kern Gallery

    For most of his life, the painter David Byrd (1926–2013) was known not as an artist but as a hospital orderly. After serving in World War II, he worked odd jobs before settling in at the Veterans Administration facility in Montrose, New York, laboring there for thirty years before retiring to paint full-time in 1988. In 2012, Byrd’s art was discovered by a neighbor. He was eighty-six years old and had only a year left to live. A 2013 exhibition at the Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle was the first step in the familiar choreography for a so-called outsider artist striding to prominence. Byrd was

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  • View of “Squeak Carnwath,” 2019. From left: Unlock Love, 2018; Send Help, 2017; No Longer, 2017; Message in a Bottle, 2018.

    Squeak Carnwath

    Jane Lombard Gallery

    I walked into Squeak Carnwath’s exhibition just after hearing Carolee Schneemann had died. Raw from the loss of an artist who refused to smooth out her contradictions in the service of easy consumption, I was particularly receptive to the stimulating and unapologetic mixture of fatalism, anger, and humor that characterizes Carnwath’s work, much as it does Schneemann’s. Certainly, I had underestimated the Oakland, California–based artist’s ferocity.

    Carnwath builds her paintings on grounds of milky white, cream, beige, and light gray, layering alkyd oil colors so that the surface becomes a dense

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  • Shih Chieh Huang, T-24-L (detail), 2016–17, mixed media, 12 × 10 × 12'.

    Shih Chieh Huang

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    A heightened awareness of climate change and the inevitable ruination it will bring forth is producing a specific kind of emotional distress that requires a new lexicon of anguish. Mental-health workers now treat conditions such as “eco-anxiety,” “environmental melancholy,” and “ecological grief.” But there was little trace of such misery in Shih Chieh Huang’s exhibition “Incubate” at Ronald Feldman Gallery. This was surprising, since Huang utilizes materials (plastics of varied sorts) and forms (evocative of shimmering deep-sea creatures) one immediately associates with disaster: the waste of

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  • Vivian Browne, Little Men #70, ca. 1967, acrylic on paper, 23 3⁄4 × 17 3⁄4". From the series “Little Men,” 1966–72.

    Vivian Browne

    RYAN LEE

    The masculinity emanating from “Little Men,” 1966–72, a series of paintings by the artist Vivian Browne (1929–1993), is unequivocally toxic. In this exhibition at Ryan Lee Gallery, her subjects—a particularly vicious strain of businessman—stagger, shriek, and contort. They’re also white, and Browne, a supreme colorist, has availed herself of Caucasian flesh’s myriad hideous possibilities: ruddy pinks, contusive purples, jaundiced yellows, pallid grays, and a now-familiar tangerine hue. Whether these overweening barons of industry are in the throes of sexual ecstasy or death was hard to tell.

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  • Luke Stettner, Calendar Page (Lydia Ausstein), 2019, found paper mounted on museum board, 11 3⁄4 × 14".

    Luke Stettner

    Kate Werble Gallery

    Rich in damaged detail, formally austere, and affecting in often unpredictable ways, Luke Stettner’s exhibition at Kate Werble Gallery demonstrated both the potential and the limitations of language as a conjurer of personal and historical memory. The show’s stuttering title, “ri ve rr hy me sw it hb lo od,” sent an oblique signal about its organizing principles: incompleteness, misprision, false starts, and missed connections. Perhaps best seen as a kind of fraught, makeshift whole rather than a series of discrete works, the project argued that obliqueness should be understood as the default

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  • Bernard Gilardi, It’s a Draw, 1963, oil on Masonite, 36 × 48".

    Bernard Gilardi

    SHRINE

    The poet and critic Parker Tyler, in the 1943 issue of View magazine titled “America Fantastica,” observed that the fantastic in art, “while primitive, is also sophisticated, since it makes direct appeal to that anarchy of elements which binds the most rational man to the lunatic.” I believe Tyler would have immediately recognized Bernard Gilardi as an artist of this stripe, and, if labels are useful at all, I find this a more informative way to explain what kind of artist he was than trotting out more conventional rubrics such as outsider, self-taught, or naïve. Born in 1920, Gilardi spent his

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  • Natvar Bhavsar, BEGIN, 1968, powdered pigment and acrylic medium on linen, 8' 1 1⁄2" × 12’.

    Natvar Bhavsar

    Aicon Gallery

    Natvar Bhavsar’s exhibition at Aicon Gallery, “Beginnings,” focused on seventeen numinous abstractions—paintings and works on paper—made between 1968 and 1978. The artist, born in 1934 in Gujarat, India, has been a New Yorker for more than fifty years. But the use of dry pigment in his work, often combined with acrylic and oil mediums, can be partially traced back to the ancient Indian spring festival known as Holi, where revelers douse themselves in a vivid spectrum of powdered colors to celebrate love and solidarity.

    The front half of the gallery’s ground floor included eight of Bhavsar’s paper

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  • View of “Sonya Blesofsky,” 2019.

    Sonya Blesofsky

    Spencer Brownstone Gallery

    After Sonya Blesofsky’s show at Spencer Brownstone Gallery closed, the gallery’s walls had to be reconstructed. The bricks, concrete blocks, two-by-fours, heating ducts, electrical outlets, and insulation that had been temporarily revealed through cutouts in the Sheetrock and scraped-away paint were entombed once more. In 1933, the current site of the gallery was just a yard appended to the address of 172 Suffolk Street and zoned for commercial use: “monumental works and showroom,” according to a legal certificate. In 1945, the lot’s use was clarified for the “display and sales of monumental

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  • John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Fire-Writing, 1953, ink and pencil on paper, 10 × 8".

    “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth”

    The Morgan Library & Museum

    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973) was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to British parents, and from the age of three was raised in Middle England, moving between the industrial city of Birmingham and the surrounding environs of rural Warwickshire. His lifelong interest in Germanic lore and languages—Finnish, Gothic, Old English, Old Norse—was the genesis of his mythological cosmos, Middle-earth, and the staggeringly complex millennia of histories, races (of gods, elves, dwarves, and men), dialects, and crusades that he created. From an encyclopedic “legendarium” of Elvish civilization

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