reviews

  • Isaac Julien, The North Star (Lessons of the Hour), 2019, ink-jet print, 63 × 84".

    Isaac Julien

    Metro Pictures

    “It seems to us next to impossible for white men to take likenesses of black men, without most grossly exaggerating their distinctive features,” Frederick Douglass wrote in 1849. “And the reason is obvious. Artists, like all other white persons, have adopted a theory respecting the distinctive features of Negro physiognomy.” Douglass, an escaped slave turned abolitionist writer and orator, understood all too well how the racist image-repertoire of white America structured its relationship with its black citizens, and the ways in which the literal dehumanization of people of color not only impelled

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  • View of “Arakawa,” 2019. From left: A Couple, 1966–67; Untitled (Webster Dictionary A & B), 1965; The Communicating Vases, 1964–65. Photo: Rob McKeever.

    Arakawa

    Gagosian | 980 Madison Avenue

    It’s hard to get a read on the artist-architect Shusaku Arakawa (known mononymously as Arakawa). The notorious self-mythologizer is best remembered for the architectural fantasies he designed and constructed alongside his lifelong partner, Madeline Gins, ostensibly to help people live forever. But he died in 2010 at the age of seventy-three. “This mortality thing is bad news,” Gins said afterward, only to pass four years later. Arakawa’s admirers have been evasive about his transhumanist predilection, explaining it away as poetic metaphor. Did he really believe in eternal life? Or was he playing

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  • Hannah Black, Beginning, End, None, 2017/2019, three-channel video installation, color, sound, 10 minutes 22 seconds. Installation view. Photo: Da Ping Luo.

    Hannah Black

    Performance Space New York

    The five large screens of Hannah Black’s video installation Beginning, End, None—a new iteration of a work from 2017—were suspended from the ceiling of the long, darkened gallery. They formed an austere procession of loosely edited montages, assembled from images of motes, slowly churning like stardust: ghostly computer-generated architectural renderings, scientific illustrations, a scorpion illuminated by a UV flashlight, and other found or casually shot material. While the configuration lent the space a hallowed ambience and gave the fragmented work a sense of order, it also had a disquieting

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  • Verne Dawson, Expulsion, 2019, oil on linen, 78 × 112".

    Verne Dawson

    Gavin Brown's Enterprise | Harlem

    Every deck of cards contains a secret calendar. We may pass the hours (or kill them) playing endless games of solitaire, but those kings and queens we’re shuffling symbolize time itself: fifty-two cards for fifty-two weeks in a year, parceled into four seasons. Jokers are leap days, and the thirteen cards comprising each suit represent the new moons. This is the kind of gorgeous arcana that informs the work of Verne Dawson, an Alabama-born painter fascinated by the allegories we have devised to make sense of the world and our place within it. The artist’s interviews and exhibition texts reflect

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  • Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, Ayoucha, Cairo, 1842–43, daguerreotype,
    3 3⁄4 × 4 3⁄4".

    “Monumental Journey: The Daguerreotypes of Girault de Prangey”

    The Met | Metropolitan Museum of Art

    In many ways, this was a stunning show of firsts. It was the US debut of Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey’s iridescent daguerreotypes, gathering 120 of the earliest images of the Eastern Mediterranean, shot between 1842 and 1845. (Louis Daguerre introduced his groundbreaking photographic process only a few years before these pictures were taken, in 1839.) The images tracked the Frenchman’s voyage and his desire to document Islamic architecture, while also capturing the effects of all types of upheaval—for instance in his pictures of the Parthenon in Athens with its destroyed mosque and its

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  • Simon Evans™, The World Again, 2017, mixed media, 29 × 41".

    Simon Evans™

    James Cohan Gallery | Lower East Side

    IMHO, a lot of text-based art is lame. It’s a field thick with glib one-liners and cynical quips, stilted poetry and borrowed—or, worse, homespun and failed—profundities. Neither edifying nor invigorating, such efforts elicit, at best, dumb chuckles and dulcifying consensus. Not so, Simon EvansTM (the faux-corporate moniker of the collaborative couple Simon Evans and Sarah Lannan). Sure, their work contains some of the above, but in such abundance, and organized with such wit and complexity—roping in all manner of quotidian and illustrative material—that, with rare exception, each piece constitutes

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  • Leon Kossoff, Demolition of YMCA Building No. 2, 1970, charcoal on paper, 23 1⁄4 × 33 1⁄8".

    Leon Kossoff

    Timothy Taylor NY

    Leon Kossoff’s London—where he was born in 1926 and still lives—is depressing, unwholesome, grim; indeed, a kind of hell. Cimmerian charcoal drawings, such as City Rooftops, 1957, and Railway Bridge Mornington Crescent, 1952, made the place feel as though it was suffocating under toxic ash. More pointedly, it was a metropolis haunted by death, as Demolition of YMCA Building No. 2, 1970, suggested. The work reminded one of the buildings destroyed by German bombers in World War II during the blitz, while King’s Cross Building Site Early Days, 2003, made one think of the city’s hesitant renewal

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  • Sangram Majumdar, expulsion, 2019, oil on linen, 44 × 38".

    Sangram Majumdar

    Geary

    Certain artists settle easily and without trepidation into a credible style that allows them to proceed in an unencumbered, linear fashion; Sangram Majumdar is apparently not among them. A decade ago, it made sense for the critic Jennifer Samet to discuss the Kolkata-born New Yorker’s work under the rubric “painterly representation”; at that time his art was rather academic in character, with an affinity for restrained color enlivened by a sensitive touch. Fellow painter Kyle Staver noted—and not without admiration—“a stubborn and humorless aspect” to this approach. By 2013, Majumdar had mostly

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  • Mira Schor, Bear Triptych (Part II), 1972, gouache on paper, 30 × 22". From the suite Bear Triptych, 1972–73.

    Mira Schor

    Lyles & King

    As a painter, writer, teacher, and recipient of this year’s Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award—in addition to being a dedicated cultural commentator on her blog, ayearofpositivethinking.com—Mira Schor freely roams between art criticism and artmaking. Her gestural renderings of text are as tactile as her fluid, figurative imagery, treating language and bodies as constitutive elements of consciousness. A keen feminist analysis is as present and salient in her images as it is in her thoughtful, clear-sighted essays. Schor’s show “California Paintings: 1971–1973” brought us back to

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  • Andrea Geyer, Feeding the Ghost, 2019, slide projectors, projector stands, books, sandbags, furniture, lamps, 60-minute voice-over. Installation view.

    Andrea Geyer

    Hales Gallery | New York

    For many viewers, the 35-mm slide projectors of Andrea Geyer’s Feeding the Ghost (all works 2019) evoked darkened college seminar rooms. Her use of multiple such devices was entirely consistent with the studious tone that they connote. In fact, Geyer’s project, shown as an installation at Hales Gallery, was originally presented as a performance lecture at Manhattan’s Dia Art Foundation in October 2018. It consisted of several functioning but empty projectors—some perched on stands, others teetering atop stacks of books—surrounded by wooden tables and chairs. It also featured an audio recording

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  • Lauretta Vinciarelli, Water Enclosure in Landscape, 1986, watercolor on paper, 22 1⁄8 × 29 7⁄8".

    Lauretta Vinciarelli

    Judd Foundation | 101 Spring Street

    Bringing to light the women artists who lived in the shadow of their more famous male partners is hard. To focus on Lauretta Vinciarelli (1943–2011), we must extricate her legacy from her ten-year relationship with Donald Judd as a professional collaborator, friend, and lover. Between 1978 and 2000, Vinciarelli was a distinguished professor at New York’s Columbia University, where she taught studio courses that questioned the values of modernist architecture through the study of building typologies. The Italian-born artist’s cultural interests were vast, ranging from Greek and Latin literature

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  • View of “Judy Fox,” 2019. On wall, from left: EdenPlant 9, 2018; EdenPlant 10, 2018; EdenPlant 14, 2019. Foreground: Eve, 2014–17.

    Judy Fox

    Nancy Hoffman Gallery

    Crepuscular, cancerous, unclean: Judy Fox’s eerie, life-size effigy of a dead Snow White, 2007, is nothing like Disney’s apple-cheeked version of the tortured young blueblood. Fox’s is grim—authentically Grimm—decked out in long, weedy braids and lying nude atop her glass coffin, surrounded not by seven mournful dwarves but by queasy, gonadal sculptures with tits for legs, physical manifestations of Christianity’s capital sins. Many moons ago, when I first encountered this tableau at New York’s P.P.O.W gallery, I was overtaken by the exquisiteness of Fox’s installation. Yet the artist’s black

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  • Chiara Fumai, The S.C.U.M. Elite, 2014/2019. Performance view, The International Studio & Curatorial Program, New York, February 12, 2019. Simone Couto. Photo: Manuel Molina Martagon.

    Chiara Fumai

    International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP)

    “A ‘male artist’ is a contradiction in terms,” wrote the radical feminist Valerie Solanas in the infamous SCUM Manifesto (1967). The quote appeared in black lettering on a white wall in a 2013 series of photographs by the late artist Chiara Fumai (1978–2017). In her self-portraits posing as various historical figures, Fumai impersonated the Venetian noblewoman Elisabetta Querini; Annie Jones, a bearded lady in P. T. Barnum’s freak show; the stunt magician Harry Houdini; and others. Fumai possessed the intensity and shape shifting abilities of the most charismatic performers. Her feminist art

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  • Photographer unknown, Construction of the Viaur Viaduct near Aveyron, France, 1899–1902, cyanotype, 8 3⁄4 × 11 1⁄4". From “Destruction and Transformation: Vernacular Photography and the Built Environment.”

    “Destruction and Transformation: Vernacular Photography and the Built Environment”

    The Walther Collection Project Space

    The fourth in a series of five consecutive exhibits at the Walther Collection’s New York project space titled “Imagining Everyday Life: Aspects of Vernacular Photography,” the show “Destruction and Transformation” makes demolishing structures and erecting newer ones look utterly routine. The images on view, taken mostly by commercial photographers from the past century who witnessed the altering of urban and rural landscapes alike for commerce and transportation, stand in contrast to the portraiture—ranging from mug shots to lost family keepsakes—that populated the previous three exhibits. This

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