reviews

  • View of “Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away,” 2018. Foreground: 08:03, 28.05, 2009. Background: Christmas (Rome), 2012, 2013. Photo: David Heald.

    Danh Vo

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    THE ART OF DANH VO consists of objects either acquired and modified or fabricated by the artist—and also, in a sense, explicated by him. The extensive labels in his exhibitions tell us how Vo procured these things, the histories and persons they represent, and how we might interpret them. Vo’s objects and images are testaments to public and private histories so intricately interwoven they must be explained; otherwise, these things (some are barely “things”) and their significances would elude our grasp. Many shows of contemporary work require discursive framing; Vo takes this convention to an

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  • Zoe Leonard, Strange Fruit, 1992–97, orange, banana, grapefruit, lemon, and avocado peels; thread, zippers, buttons, sinew, needles, plastic, wire, stickers, fabric, trim wax. Installation view. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

    Zoe Leonard

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    THE TITLE of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Survey,” immediately positions both her practice and this presentation as elusive and defiant. Even the word itself freely slips between noun and verb. Organized by Bennett Simpson with Rebecca Matalon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and debuting at the Whitney under the guidance of Elisabeth Sherman, the show is billed as the “first large-scale overview of the artist’s work in an American museum.” In both its austerity and its refusal of chronological order, the installation suggests that this is not

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  • Mariko Mori, Plasma Stone I, 2017–18, dichroic coated layered acrylic, Corian, 76 3/8 x 31 1/2 x 44 1/8".

    Mariko Mori

    Sean Kelly Gallery

    The indelible avatars for which Mariko Mori gained fame in the early years of her shape-shifting practice—cyborg teenybopper, anime ingenue, extraterrestrial geisha, digital mermaid, 3-D empress—were, despite the outsize way they figure into most accountings of her career, actually a fairly short-lived aspect of her conceptual program. Mori’s celebrated masquerades gave way after only a half decade or so, following which she withdrew as a subject of her own work and redirected her pursuit of extravagant otherworldly hybridities into seamlessly finished structures and sculptures. The

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  • Cyprien Gaillard, Nightlife, 2015, 3-D HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 56 seconds.

    Cyprien Gaillard

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    “I was born a lo-ser.” Whether indicative of a profound lack of self-esteem or of an unflinching fatalism, this wrenching declaration loops throughout the first three acts of Cyprien Gaillard’s 3-D film Nightlife, which made its American debut at Gladstone Gallery this spring. (It was first released in Europe in 2015.) Sampled from Alton Ellis’s 1969 rocksteady single “Blackman’s Word,” which itself sampled the line from Derrick Harriott’s 1967 track “The Loser,” the keening vocal is immersed in a fuzzy dub pulse that makes for a suitably hypnotic accompaniment to the film’s oneiric visuals. In

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  • Deana Lawson, Seagulls in Kitchen, 2017, ink-jet print, 71 1/4 x 56 3/8".

    Deana Lawson

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

    In her highly acclaimed 2007 book Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman observes that the black diaspora has, out of necessity, mythologized a shared past: a Mother Africa. When one’s ancestors, as well as the stories they carried, have been violently effaced, speculation and lore are all that remain. “Slavery,” she writes, “made your mother into a myth, banished your father’s name, exiled your siblings to the far corners of the earth.”

    For her first solo show at Sikkema Jenkins, Deana Lawson exhibited two landscapes and eight portraits that explore what a

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  • Cosima von Bonin, HERMIT CRAB, 2018, steel cement mixer, fabric, rubber, 52 x 50 x 38".

    Cosima von Bonin

    Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

    In the paintings gallery at Kunsthaus Zürich, there is a wonderfully odd work from 1892 by the Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin titled Saint Anthony Preaching to the Fish. It depicts the Franciscan friar addressing a beached, slack-jawed shark, grumpy groupers, and confounded barracudas; a couple of crabs raise their claws in praise. A poem by the seventeenth-century Augustinian priest Abraham a Sancta Clara tells the story of the friar, who found his church empty and went to the river to preach to more willing subjects. The poem was set to music by Gustav Mahler in 1893, and in 1979 Glenn Gould

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  • NTU (Bogosi Sekhukhuni with Nolan Oswald Dennis and Tabita Rezaire), Thus Saith the Lord (Overunity), 2015, digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes 59 seconds.

    Bogosi Sekhukhuni

    Foxy Production

    So much for small talk. For his solo debut in North America, Bogosi Sekhukhuni positioned the exhibition’s unwieldiest artwork at the gallery’s entrance. The video by NTU (Bogosi Sekhukhuni with Nolan Oswald Dennis and Tabita Rezaire) Thus Saith the Lord (Overunity), 2015, opens with a narrator arguing in voice-over that science’s rationalist paradigm fails to account for the multiple historical figures who have attributed their major discoveries to visions or dreams. Blurry jpeg portraits of Dmitri Mendeleev, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Albert Einstein flash across the screen, leading finally to

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  • Miyoko Ito, Heart of Hearts, Basking, 1973, oil on canvas, 44 x 31".

    Miyoko Ito

    Artists Space

    In the painting Heart of Hearts, Basking, 1973, the viewer finds herself in an immensurable yet sensuous concrete space. In the extreme foreground, two molten pools of red paint swell upward, dammed on either side by brown embankments and above by a barrier of stacked elongated cylinders. A sweeping, prohibitive diagonal line girdles the picture, its upper register marked by a rectangular aperture that opens onto contiguous passages of tan and translucent blue that reflexively read as sand, sea, and sky. As this distant, elusive beach materializes, and categorical distinctions of abstraction

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  • Zoe Pettijohn Schade, Rainbow Tornado, 2008, gouache, silver leaf, and composite leaf on paper, 60 x 40".

    Zoe Pettijohn Schade

    Kai Matsumiya

    The seven densely layered paintings on paper that made up Zoe Pettijohn Schade’s exhibition “Shifting Sets” produced a distinctly disorienting effect, especially since the works themselves, all sixty by forty inches, were hung close together in Kai Matsumiya’s small storefront space. There was something dizzying about their shifting patterns, and about the way so many of the multitudinous images out of which those patterns are formed seemed to want to jump out and fix themselves in the viewer’s gaze as individually significant; they kept the viewer’s eye and mind off-balance. In some ways,

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  • Joe Overstreet, St. Expedite II, 1971, metal grommets, cotton rope, acrylic on constructed canvas, dimensions variable.

    Joe Overstreet

    Eric Firestone Gallery | New York

    Joe Overstreet’s experimental paintings from the early 1970s were made to be suspended from ceilings and tied to floors using a system of ropes and grommets. As a result, they occupy a good deal of three-dimensional space, and by design their shapes change every time they are installed, depending on how they are stretched out, draped, or crumpled. In some works, such as St. Expedite II and Untitled, both 1971, and Untitled, 1972, Overstreet has painted squares of canvas in solid colors—red, green, navy blue, deep purple—edged in contrasting stripes. Other works, such as the enormous

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  • Fia Backström, Fossil; x4.5 View (Food remains, unknown content, extracted from gap between teeth), December 14, 2017, 2018, ink-jet print on Plexiglas, 17 1/2 x 20 1/4".

    Fia Backström

    Callicoon Fine Arts

    Despite its title, “A Vaudeville on Mankind in Time and Space” was more of a poetic observation of our strange present moment on earth. To the right of the gallery’s entrance hung two shelves lined with Plexiglas plates that appeared to be smeared with a white substance, as if they were slides of bacteria being prepared for laboratory testing. These “smears” were in fact engravings, each spelling out a prefix or suffix for describing intersections of the body, politics, and the environment: SOCIO-, -ROTIC, E-, -ZONE, POLY-, -TICAL, BIO-, and –DEMIC. This installation, flexible fragmentation-compression

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  • Monica Hernandez, scene 6, 2017, oil on canvas, 72 x 96". From “For Us.”

    “For Us”

    BronxArtSpace

    Years ago, when I first moved to Brooklyn, my downstairs neighbor told me he was having a party. I was welcome to come, he said, but I should understand that if no one engaged me, it wouldn’t be personal. “The party’s for us,”was how he put it. I never forgot the precision of his message: As a white woman in a predominantly African American neighborhood, I wouldn’t be excluded, but my inclusion wasn’t a priority. I remembered this as I walked into “For Us,” a group show of eight female artists of color under thirty, curated by Kiara Ventura at BronxArtSpace. And while the particulars of who

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  • Inka Essenhigh, Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2017, enamel on canvas, 32 x 80".

    Inka Essenhigh

    Miles McEnery Gallery

    When I come across a work of art as weird and seductive and startlingly beautiful as an Inka Essenhigh painting, I haven’t the faintest desire to engage my critical faculties. I just want to be overcome by the supple, erotic strangeness of her surrealist narratives; the chitinous sheen of her works’ surfaces; her Prada-meets–Star Trek palette; and the gelatinous, ectomorphic figures. You want to dissolve into an Essenhigh painting, in the same way that she dissolves virtually all solidity within her forms and spaces. Every body, every thing looks as though it’s made of melted caramel, or flowing

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  • Brian Conley, Cairo Oblique (detail), 2014, eighty ink-jet prints, each 24 x 36".

    Brian Conley

    Pierogi

    On March 28, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won his second term as Egypt’s president in an absurdist victory for Western-style democracy: The counterrevolutionary strongman garnered 97 percent of the vote in what was essentially a one-man race. Three days later, San Francisco–based artist and educator Brian Conley’s solo exhibition of photographs, “Cairo Oblique” (in which Sisi’s mug is a recurring motif), opened at Pierogi. Egypt receded from the international news cycle long ago, so why this exhibition would appear in as navel-gazing a city as New York was puzzling. Why would anyone care?

    I myself cared:

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  • Erwin Blumenfeld, Vogue Paris, Eiffel Tower, May 1939, gelatin silver print, 11 3/8 x 8 3/4". © The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld.

    Erwin Blumenfeld

    Edwynn Houk Gallery | New York

    Vogue Paris, Eiffel Tower, May 1939 is Erwin Blumenfeld’s most famous fashion photograph. After moving to New York in 1941 to escape the Nazis, the German-born photographer contributed extensively, and for decades, to an international array of Condé Nast publications including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The model in the aforementioned image, dressed in a glorious white gown billowing like the wings of an angel or a dove, evokes the famous Hellenistic sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace, which resides on a staircase in the Louvre in Paris. Blumenfeld’s female figure reflects a singular historical

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  • Barnaby Furnas, Rally No. 2 (The Octopus), 2018, dispersed pigments, acrylic, colored pencil, and pencil on linen, 65 1/2 x 51 1/2".

    Barnaby Furnas

    Marianne Boesky Gallery

    Barnaby Furnas’s recent exhibition “Frontier Ballads” explored stereotypes of American national identity, from the deceptively romantic ideals of the Wild West to the terrifying reality of Trump rallies. All but one of the twelve paintings portrayed white figures, and subjects were repeated throughout. The show included two works depicting Mount Rushmore, two of women singing and holding farming tools (echoing the composition of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, 1930), and two of men with lassos riding large steeds. The viewer first encountered The Gunslinger, 2018, in which the image of a cowboy’s

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