reviews

  • View of 2019 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. From left: Eric N. Mack, Proposition: for wet Gee’s Bend Quilts to replace the American flag—Permanently, 2019; Jennifer Packer, Untitled, 2019; Jennifer Packer, An Exercise in Tendernesses, 2017; Jennifer Packer, Untitled, 2019; Jennifer Packer, A Lesson in Longing, 2019. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

    View of 2019 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. From left: Eric N. Mack, Proposition: for wet Gee’s Bend Quilts to replace the American flag—Permanently, 2019; Jennifer Packer, Untitled, 2019; Jennifer Packer, An Exercise in Tendernesses, 2017; Jennifer Packer, Untitled, 2019; Jennifer Packer, A Lesson in Longing, 2019. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

    2019 Whitney Biennial

    Whitney Biennial

    THE 2019 WHITNEY BIENNIAL will go down as one of the most consequential in the event’s history—though for reasons that, frankly, make reviewing the art, some of which nearly came off the gallery walls two months before the show’s close, a thorny undertaking. The Biennial is always a critical flash point, and indeed this year’s edition seemed curated to anticipate and respond to the conflict over representation that scarred its predecessor. But even before the 2019 exhibition began, anxious meta-discussion over art’s audiences, its subjects, its spokespeople, and its paymasters had overdetermined

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  • Josh Smith, Scholes Street, 2019, oil on linen, 84 × 72 1⁄8".

    Josh Smith, Scholes Street, 2019, oil on linen, 84 × 72 1⁄8".

    Josh Smith

    David Zwirner | 525 & 533 West 19th Street

    Philosophers addressing the problem of infinite regress—the impossibility of finding a first cause, since every cause must itself have a cause, which in turn must have a cause, and so on ad infinitum—make a turtle joke: If the world is supported on the back of a giant turtle, as posited in Hindu mythology, what in turn supports the turtle? The answer: It’s turtles all the way down. To think Josh Smith had that joke in mind while working on his exhibition “Emo Jungle” is tempting, not just because of the show’s surfeit of turtles—one part of the exhibition contained fifty-five paintings of them—but

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  • Heidi Bucher, Der Schlüpfakt der Parkettlibelle (The Hatching of the Parquet Dragonfly), 1983, textile garment, latex, mother-of-pearl pigment, 51 1⁄8 × 41 3⁄8".

    Heidi Bucher, Der Schlüpfakt der Parkettlibelle (The Hatching of the Parquet Dragonfly), 1983, textile garment, latex, mother-of-pearl pigment, 51 1⁄8 × 41 3⁄8".

    Heidi Bucher

    Lehmann Maupin | New York, W 22 Street

    “We, all women, have quite a primeval relationship to textiles,” said the Swiss artist Heidi Bucher (1926–1993) in an interview from 1975. She draws a connection between fabric as women’s labor (“We’ve made it all ourselves”) and as capital (“the [bridal] trousseau and all that”), a frank reference to women as chattel passed from father to husband. At the time of the interview, Bucher was navigating a radical shift in her creative practice and personal life. Following her divorce in the early 1970s from the artist Carl Bucher, who collaborated with her on various fashion and art projects, she

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  • Alex Israel, Solo, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes 6 seconds. Photo: Joerg Lohse. Reena Spaulings Fine Art.

    Alex Israel, Solo, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes 6 seconds. Photo: Joerg Lohse. Reena Spaulings Fine Art.

    Alex Israel

    Reena Spaulings Fine Art | New York

    Some encounters with art merit an autopsy report more than a review. I confess that, in those cases, I have a hard time parsing whether it is the work that is DOA, or my interest in what it’s doing, or both. Attending two shows by Alex Israel—the born-and-bred Los Angeleno who has made his reputation among collectors as one of that city’s brightest sons—I wondered if he is now feeling as stiffed as I do by the selfie-conscious, celebrity-grazing spectacles he’s been producing for half a dozen years or so. Having cast himself as a kind of Narcissus for our shallow, oversharing, materialistic

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  • View of “James Nares,” 2019. Photo: Christopher Stach.

    View of “James Nares,” 2019. Photo: Christopher Stach.

    James Nares

    Kasmin | 509 W 27th Street

    James Nares’s eight ingenious and materially intriguing paintings at Kasmin Gallery—made from twenty-two-karat gold leaf applied to a ground of black Evolon, a microfilament textile—created a richly existential space with the most elemental of contrasts: light and dark, symbolizing life and death. The surfaces of his abstractions—stippled or covered with striations that vaguely resemble the hides of cheetahs, tigers, and other exotic cats—are resolutely flat, in the grand modernist tradition. Yet they are profoundly expressive, rich with personal and social meaning, as evidenced by the pictures’

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  • View of “Marina Adams,” 2019. From left: OZ, 2018; Days and Nights, 2018; Cheops, 2018.

    View of “Marina Adams,” 2019. From left: OZ, 2018; Days and Nights, 2018; Cheops, 2018.

    Marina Adams

    Salon 94 | Bowery

    Although Marina Adams began exhibiting in group shows as early as 1983, she has only lately come to prominence. If her 2017 solo exhibition “Soft Power,” also at Salon 94, was, as the poet and critic John Yau noted at the time, “her breakthrough,” then this show, “Anemones,” will likely be remembered as the one that cemented her reputation as among the best abstract painters around. In particular, with the six large canvases in the gallery’s main space (seven small ones were in its upstairs reception area) she used scale to achieve something that’s been rare in contemporary painting: a sense of

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  • Olga Balema, 1, 2019, elastic bands, paint, glue, nails, staples, dimensions variable.

    Olga Balema, 1, 2019, elastic bands, paint, glue, nails, staples, dimensions variable.

    Olga Balema

    Bridget Donahue

    10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 . . . The integers titling Olga Balema’s thirteen works, all produced this year, descended unsteadily in a clockwise direction from Bridget Donahue’s entrance. Each number corresponded to a diagrammatic composition of thin elastic strips, some of which were stretched out in lengths of up to forty-five feet, raised slightly above the floor by the nails and staples that held them in place. In some areas the strands were split in two or glued together to create intersections, mostly at right angles; elsewhere, extraneous bands curled underfoot, like crimped ribbons or dried flora,

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  • View of “Harry Dodge,” 2019. Photo: Jackie Furtado.

    View of “Harry Dodge,” 2019. Photo: Jackie Furtado.

    Harry Dodge

    Callicoon Fine Arts

    Poised in a sweet spot between ugly and beautiful, kind of dumb and rather brilliant, Harry Dodge’s dense, idea-rich show at Callicoon Fine Arts proposed incongruity and indeterminacy as a tonic for worn-out subjectivities. “User” was Dodge’s first exhibition with the gallery and included a range of formats typically deployed by the artist: sculptural bricolage for the tabletop or floor; lo-fi video in the service of hi-fi philosophical queries; and works on paper, especially his Raymond Pettibon in the Land of Ooo–style drawings, which often contain wry, heady commentary by sentient inanimate

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  • Todd Gray, The Haunted House of Olympia (Francis), 2019, four ink-jet prints in artist’s frames, UV laminate, 66 3⁄8 × 54 3⁄4 × 5".

    Todd Gray, The Haunted House of Olympia (Francis), 2019, four ink-jet prints in artist’s frames, UV laminate, 66 3⁄8 × 54 3⁄4 × 5".

    Todd Gray

    David Lewis

    In pristine, almost clinically precise photographic sculptures, Todd Gray confronts savage, tangled histories. The works comprising “Cartesian Gris Gris,” his debut exhibition at David Lewis, addressed the colonization of Africa, the economic and cultural hangovers of foreign rule, and Western concepts of the exotic. These are daunting themes, enough to sink less adroit artists—but Gray’s efforts felt neither leaden nor didactic. If anything, one could overlook the conceptual heft of these polished, unapologetically attractive pieces, which take a sidelong approach to their thorny subject matter.

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  • David Driskell, Memories of a Distant Past, 1975, egg tempura, gouache, and collage on paper, 21 1⁄2 × 16".

    David Driskell, Memories of a Distant Past, 1975, egg tempura, gouache, and collage on paper, 21 1⁄2 × 16".

    David Driskell

    DC Moore Gallery

    As a child, David Driskell gathered berries and flowers to help make dyes for the quilts his mother made. These reminders, as they seemed then, of meager living embarrassed him. Paper was scarce, so he drew with charcoal on the family hearth and filled the margins of his minister father’s theology books with cars and houses. Born in 1931 and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Driskell soon outpaced what opportunities existed for a black student in segregated Appalachia. In 1949, he arrived at the doorstep of Howard University in Washington, DC, without an application and, as

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  • View of “Rico Gatson and Baseera Khan,” 2019. From left: Rico Gatson, Panel Painting #41, 2019; Baseera Khan, My Family Seated, 2019; Rico Gatson, Panel Painting #42, 2019.

    View of “Rico Gatson and Baseera Khan,” 2019. From left: Rico Gatson, Panel Painting #41, 2019; Baseera Khan, My Family Seated, 2019; Rico Gatson, Panel Painting #42, 2019.

    Rico Gatson and Baseera Khan

    Jenkins Johnson Projects

    Conceptualized in the aftermath of the sociopolitical upheavals of the late 1960s and released in November 1972, Free to Be . . . You and Me was an award-winning children’s record album and illustrated book that promoted a vision of self-determination minus the strictures of traditional gender norms. Organized by actress Marlo Thomas, the album featured songs and stories recorded by celebrities such as Alan Alda, Carol Channing, Roberta Flack, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross. Drawing its title from that pioneering franchise, this two-person show, featuring Rico Gatson and Baseera Khan, subtly

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  • Roger Brown, Virtual Still Life #12 Modernistic Planter with Half a Desert Painting, 1995, oil on canvas, mixed media, 38 1⁄2 × 26 × 12".

    Roger Brown, Virtual Still Life #12 Modernistic Planter with Half a Desert Painting, 1995, oil on canvas, mixed media, 38 1⁄2 × 26 × 12".

    Roger Brown

    MAD - Museum of Arts and Design

    “The mainstream art world hierarchy—a system of dealers, writers, artists, critics, and pundits—presumes to define what art is for the rest of us,” Roger Brown (1941–1997) wrote in 1990. “. . . Whatever category one chooses—folk, naïve, outsider, or so-called regionalist—it is very evident that real artists exist and continue to be nurtured outside the mainstream hierarchy. In fact I would venture to say that the only real artists are nurtured there . . . on the outside.” Known as one of the leading Chicago Imagists, Brown could hardly be called an “outsider artist.” He was, however, a voracious

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  • Cover of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (Allen & Co. Ltd., 1977). From “As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now.”

    Cover of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (Allen & Co. Ltd., 1977). From “As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now.”

    “As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now”

    The Drawing Center

    In his book The Philosophy of “As If” (1911), the Kantian philosopher Hans Vaihinger argued that our collective understanding of reality is built on “scientific fictions” that help us “overcome difficulties of thought,” and thus “the ‘unreal’ is just as important as the world of the so-called real or actual.” In 1929, the term science fiction entered popular media, thanks to the inventor and pioneering advocate of the genre Hugo Gernsback. Esoteric philosophy was the last thing on Gernsback’s mind when he started circulating the phrase—but the speculative literary works he published seem inspired

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  • Rasmus Myrup, His Sperm, Angiosperm (Maple), 2019, soft pastel and conté crayon on paper, custom frame, 41 × 29”. From the series “His Sperm, Angiosperm,” 2018–19.

    Rasmus Myrup, His Sperm, Angiosperm (Maple), 2019, soft pastel and conté crayon on paper, custom frame, 41 × 29”. From the series “His Sperm, Angiosperm,” 2018–19.

    Rasmus Myrup

    Jack Barrett

    In Rasmus Myrup’s exhibition “Re-member me,” denuded saplings were installed at the center of the gallery, while others were arranged and fastened to the walls by short lengths of metal. Each tree was adorned with brittle, pressed leaves from a different perennial—beech, maple, rowan—attached to its limbs with adhesive, or dangling from copper wire, as if they were decorations for a mildly festive holiday. One hybrid featured both green and brown leaves, confounding seasonal logic; another bore square-cut bracts. The skeletal copse and its sparse foliage were not dense enough to transform the

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