reviews

  • View of “Sarah Lucas: Au Naturel,” 2018, New Museum, New York. Wall: Divine, 1991/2018. Floor: This Jaguar’s Going to Heaven, 2018. Photo: Maris Hutchinson.

    Sarah Lucas

    New Museum

    The two most famous works by the most famous women of the Young British Artists (YBAs) use as their springboard low-rent mattresses artfully composed—I mean that—to signify postcoital tristesse: Au Naturel, 1994, by Sarah Lucas, and Tracey Emin’s My Bed, 1998. A lot of art in the 1990s was about being disappointed, but they made malaise look and feel as dynamic and complex as it must have been to them in 1993, when they were two young art-school grads who felt like renting a studio was for wanks, so instead opened “The Shop.” The first T-shirts they sold said I’M SO FUCKY (Lucas’s

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  • Malcolm Morley, Tilting, 2017, diptych, oil on linen, overall 50 × 100".

    Malcolm Morley

    Sperone Westwater

    Malcolm Morley’s late oeuvre, which this show to some extent encapsulated, has an undeniably boyish core. Having worked his way through various isms and influences in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s to considerable acclaim, the transplanted Brit (Morley moved to New York in 1958 when he was in his late twenties) returned in the ’90s to an early preoccupation with nautical themes, wartime imagery, and model making. Repressed memories of traumatic events had bubbled up via psychoanalysis from the turbulent depths of his famously troubled childhood: As the Wiki-myth would have it, Morley spent the first

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  • Genieve Figgis, Olympia (after Édouard Manet), 2018, acrylic on canvas, 31 × 39".

    Genieve Figgis

    Half Gallery

    No one else coaxes paint to do the delicious, devilish things that Genieve Figgis does. The Irish artist tends to work quickly, in wet-on-wet acrylic, to tease ghoulish aristocrats, disfigured nymphs, and molten gods out of spindly trickles, ecstatic blurs, and swollen pools of pigment. She encourages the medium’s capricious whims and outright rebellions, wrangling these unwieldy effects into legible scenes. One imagines her skimming the contents of a witch’s cauldron and laying the swirling, sinister visions down on canvas. 

    Figgis has primarily shown two bodies of work since she rocketed to

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  • EJ Hill, A Commemoration, 2018, neon, 47 × 93".

    EJ Hill

    COMPANY

    A white neon sign announced the subjects of EJ Hill’s “An Unwavering Tendency Toward the Center of a Blistering Sun”: HERE STOOD HE, / STOICALLY AND VALIANTLY, / FOR THOSE WHOSE BURDENS LIE / DARKLY / IN EVEN THE HIGHEST OF NOONS. / JUNE 3 – SEPTEMBER 2, 2018. Given that the sign was rendered in capital letters, a viewer might have first thought that “he” referred to the almighty “Him.” The dates also suggested that this could have been culled from a eulogy. Both references are useful, as those days bracketed Hill’s performance at the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2018” this past summer, for

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  • Richard Bernstein, John Stamos, ca. 1984, airbrush, gouache, and collage on board, 23 × 18".

    Richard Bernstein

    Jeffrey Deitch

    Regime change is never good for the court painter. And shortly after Andy Warhol died, Richard Bernstein lost his gig as the artist for Interview magazine covers. (Four more of his covers, already in the can, appeared after Warhol’s death.) Was he always competing with Warhol, the one who many assumed was behind Bernstein’s covers? Yes, but the artist also served as a bright antipode to the portraitists of the New York Post, arbiter of both celebrity and criminality, and the house organ of Warhol’s dark antithesis, Donald J. Trump.

    Warhol’s layers and print techniques brought his portraits toward

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  • Katelyne Alexis, Ayiti malad (Haiti Is Sick), 2017, metal, plastic, tires, dolls. Installation view.

    “PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince”

    Pioneer Works

    When the Haitian artist Myrlande Constant was a teenager in Port-au-Prince, she went to work with her mother in a factory making elaborately beaded wedding dresses. When she left, she began using the beads to make extremely unorthodox versions of drapo vodou—the small embroidered and sequined flags that have been produced in Haiti for generations, as both religious objects and artworks for sale. Constant’s imagery drew equally from vodou mythology, current events, and popular culture, and her densely textured flags are large, more like quilts, crammed with figures, scenarios, and decorative

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  • Urs Fischer, PLAY, 2018, nine chairs, electric motors, electronics, sensors, software, fiberglass, lithium-ion batteries. Installation view. Photo: Chad Moore.

    Urs Fischer

    Gagosian | 522 West 21st Street

    For those of us who work in offices, the very sight of a swivel chair can be enough to launch a raft of anxieties. So the sight of nine of them, seemingly gifted with independent life and, worse still, attempting to interact with viewers like something out of Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1940), was uniquely alarming. For his installation PLAY, 2018, Urs Fischer worked with artist and choreographer Madeline Hollander—plus a crew of animators and programmers—to produce furniture that wheels around the gallery, responding to body heat and motion in such a way that the viewer and

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  • Ellen Lesperance, Stay Safe, 2018, gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper, 42 × 29 1⁄2".

    Ellen Lesperance

    Derek Eller Gallery

    “Woolly minds in woolly hats”: That’s how critics disparaged the female antinuke protesters who occupied the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in Berkshire, UK, from 1981 to 2000. As disdain mounted between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet general secretary Leonid Brezhnev in the early 1980s, a distaff coalition of pacifists rolled up to the perimeter of a Royal Air Force base to protest the installation of US nuclear warheads targeting the Soviet Union. Their encampments—destroyed periodically, but ever resurgent—persisted for nearly two decades. The women’s minds were not fuzzy,

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  • Ralph Humphrey, Armanda, 1959, oil on canvas, 72 × 60".

    Ralph Humphrey

    Garth Greenan Gallery

    By the time Ralph Humphrey (then in his fifties) came to my attention in the late 1980s, he was already known as a painter’s painter, and this reputation only increased after his death in 1990. He remains for a certain cohort “someone to aspire to, and someone I want to continue the conversation with,” as painter and critic Stephen Westfall explained in 2012.

    I never fell in with this sentiment. Yes, Humphrey’s odd color choices could linger with the viewer like a musky perfume, but beyond that I could never get the hang of his work. Its heavily built-up relief surfaces, which for Westfall are

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  • Wes Larios, Acknowledgements (detail), 2018, vinyl text. Installation view. Photo: Mark Waldhauser.

    “A new job to unwork at”

    PARTICIPANT INC

    When Maria Gómez Chávez struck out on her own, her only option for getting by was to marry a man—and over the years, she kept getting married again and again to support her family. Wes Larios, her grandson, understands that he has the privilege of being an artist today because of her economic pragmatism. As part of the group exhibition “A new job to unwork at,” Larios’s text-and-photo installation Acknowledgements,2018, paid homage to his grandmother’s largely unseen labor and myriad sacrifices: Her name and the names of her consecutive husbands and their children, along with their birth

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  • Ian Hamilton Finlay, ROUSSEAU (Sour Vase)/A Wild Flower Is Ideological, like a Badge, 1991–93, cast bronze, ceramic vase; bust: 27 1⁄2 × 10 1⁄2 × 11“, vase: 5 1⁄2 × 3 3⁄8 × 3 3⁄8”.

    Ian Hamilton Finlay

    David Nolan Gallery

    A certain subset of modernists was eager to demonstrate that what seems newest is old, even archaic, and that what appears most radical in contemporary culture has its source in centuries past. Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) first came to attention in the 1950s for his innovations in concrete poetry. But the Scottish poet, gardener, sculptor, and prolific collaborator was equally influenced by the poetry of Virgil and the unfolding of the French Revolution. This show, Finlay’s tenth at the gallery, attempted to give viewers a sense of Little Sparta, a garden on a farm near Edinburgh, which

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  • Hannes Schmid, Cowboy #5 (Tailgate), 2007, oil on linen,
    48 × 71".

    Hannes Schmid

    Mitchell Algus Gallery

    The seventy-two-year-old Swiss artist Hannes Schmid—the subject of a compact, fascinating show at Mitchell Algus Gallery—is not a household name, but he can lay claim to a pair of intriguing distinctions in the postwar-image canon. First, he was among a select group of commercial photographers responsible for the pictures of handsomely weather-beaten cowboys in wide-open spaces in the iconic Marlboro Man ads, a campaign that turned a languishing brand originally pitched to women into the echt embodiment of consumerist masculinity and, not coincidentally, the best-selling cigarette in

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  • Jeff Whetstone, Still Life with Catfish, 2016, ink-jet print, 39 × 52".

    Jeff Whetstone

    Julie Saul Gallery

    If Jeff Whetstone’s recent photographs of the American South call to mind other kinds of light writing, it may be because the region’s literature, like Whetstone, reveals light to be history’s medium. William Faulkner observed that Mississippi rays seem to arrive “not from just today but from back in the old classic times.” Even California native Joan Didion mused that the air of New Orleans “never reflects light but sucks it in until random objects glow with a morbid luminescence.” Whetstone’s pictures channel the anomalousness of time and radiance in the South, how the land remains at a

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  • Rackstraw Downes, Outdoor Passageway at 15 Rivington, 2016, oil on canvas, 29 × 12".

    Rackstraw Downes

    Betty Cuningham Gallery

    “If something is real to you,” as the realist painter Rackstraw Downes writes—suggesting that things aren’t real until they are personally real—then the question is not, “What is this phenomenon I’m perceiving?,” as he says, but, “Why is this phenomenon real to me?” Or, how is something important enough to catch the eye and engage the mind? What is the motive, conscious or unconscious, that led Downes to paint what he painted here? We can understand why he chose to depict his studio, a sort of self-protecting inner sanctum eloquently realized in a trio of paintings: Skylit Loftspace,

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  • Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Guarded Secrets, 2015, sheep rawhide, nylon thread, porcupine quills, archival adhesive, dimensions variable. From “The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.”

    “The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.”

    Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery and President's Gallery

    During Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified to how he sexually assaulted her as a high school student. In support of Ford, Artemisia Gentileschi’s vengeful painting Judith Slaying Holofernes, ca. 1620, based on a Biblical story in which a strong-armed Judith and her maidservant behead the titular Assyrian general, was circulated on social media as a meme. Captioned with women’s empowerment hashtags, such as #SlaySisters, the artwork distilled contemporary feminist rage. 

    “The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary

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  • Alfredo Camisa, The Sickle, 1955, gelatin silver print, 23 3⁄8 × 19 5⁄8". From “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960.”

    “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960”

    Grey Art Gallery

    The word realism conjures the everyday, the unfussy, the small. But what’s real when the world has gone mad? It’s a question that gripped Italian photographers, directors, journalists, and writers around World War II and is surely worth asking again. This exhibition heralds artists who captured quotidian life in an era of daily shocks. With a street-level perspective on poverty and labor in the shadow of war, Neorealism became synonymous with Italian cinema’s golden age. If you’ve seen Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), you’ll know in part what to expect from the Grey Art Gallery’s survey

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