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Clayton Colvin

MARGARET THATCHER PROJECTS
539 West 23rd Street, Ground Floor
March 27–April 26

Clayton Colvin, Canine Sensibilities, 2013, acrylic, graphite, charcoal, pigment, and linen collage on linen, 20 x 16".

The nine paintings that comprise Birmingham, Alabama–based Clayton Colvin’s “Put Down Your Stars” operate within that inchoate space between stoic, Apollonian formalism and exuberant figural expression. Shapes—particularly squares, rhombi, strokes, and arabesques—vibrate and twist on the canvas in response to Colvin’s manipulations of color, depth, and repetition. At times, painting seems to give way to drawing, and at other times, drawing seems to give way to painting. Erasures and additions reveal and conceal other layers, complicating ideas of before and after, original and addition, right-side up and upside down. The paintings thrive in paradox: They can seem crowded and full of movement, a sense of unsettled energy populating their spaces; after sustained viewing, however, a calm and measured contemplativeness saturates the canvases.

Beneath Light and Shadow, 2013, a painting on watercolor paper, foregrounds two bright and floating coral-colored acrylic forms, seemingly sentient masses of curlicues lit in their empty spaces by vivid markings of crayon; they resemble cellular membranes enlivened by the activity inside them. One of the forms is centered, and the other, as though entering or exiting, is almost entirely off the edge of the canvas. Graphite, charcoal, and inks create an interrupted and rather busy study of perspective.

Canine Sensibility, 2013—which, like all works in the show, are graphite and acrylic on linen—is scored by purple, pink, and white rhombi extending diagonally from the top left of the canvas to the bottom right, like a slanted peninsula, across its sea-blue background. Brain Wash, 2013, is similarly shaped but drifts toward the left from the top center and is striped by thick lanes of oranges, reds, grays, and whites, its background a faded blossom of overlapping colors. There is cohesion within the chaos, slight rhymes of gesture or intent. The paintings seem to move when you don’t look at them and stand still when you do—each striving to represent both the noise in which contemporary life finds itself ensnared and the quiet meditation that can free it.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Malick Sidibé

JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY | 524 WEST 24TH STREET
524 West 24th Street
March 28–April 26

Malick Sidibé, Danseur Méringué, 1964, silver gelatin print, 20 7/8 x 14".

Malick Sidibé’s current exhibition of photographs offers a glimpse into the dynamic youth culture that emerged in Bamako during Mali’s post-Independence era. Though trained as a studio photographer, Sidibé was lured into the city’s streets and dance clubs, where his clients wanted to be seen participating in Bamako’s thriving nightlife. There, Malian youths forged a uniquely diasporic aesthetic, finding inspiration in American Black Power icons and musicians, including James Brown and Angela Davis. As his subjects began to imitate the styles and gestures found in magazines and album covers, Sidibé, in turn, closely emulated those sources in his compositions. “He was internalizing the history of photography without knowing it,” filmmaker and art historian Manthia Diawara asserts—this was instrumental towards the creation of a 1960s “Bamakois” visual culture.

Sidibé’s images capture the vibrancy of this moment in visual, sonic, and tactile registers. You can almost hear the sound track emanating from his nightclub snapshots, in which flirtatious young couples dance and twist in unison. In several images, albums by Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Smith are held up like trophies for the camera. The records are even lugged to the beach; one photograph captures boys in swimsuits displaying a set of 7" singles.

The real gem in the exhibition is a series of rare color Polaroids and vintage prints (Sidibé’s photographs typically circulate in the form of enlarged reprints from an archive of negatives). Some of these are mounted in wooden frames that have been colorfully hand-painted, complementing the richly patterned textiles worn by Sidibé’s sitters. In one yellowing print from 1970, a teenage girl models a minidress sewn from a patchwork of wax fabrics. While its composition is consistent with traditional studio portraiture in West Africa, the subject’s provocative outfit and subtle confidence express the sense of freedom felt by many who came of age in a newly independent Mali.

Allison Young

Leigh Ledare

MITCHELL-INNES & NASH | CHELSEA
534 West 26th Street
March 21–April 26

Leigh Ledare, An Invitation: Friday, July 22, 2011, 2012, photolithograph on archival newsprint, silkscreen and pencil, 91 1/4 by 47 3/4".

“Things I want—not to do mother again. Things she wants—to do mother again . . .” These words are scrawled underneath a black-and-white photograph of a mostly nude woman seated spread-eagled in elegant surroundings with her face redacted by a black bar, part of Leigh Ledare’s multiplex series “An Invitation,” 2012. The photograph is backed by an enlarged reproduction of the front page of the day’s New York Times, which, coupled with the woman’s blacked-out face and suggestive stance, charges the work with a preternatural mixture of standardized and subjective temporalities, public and private boundaries, anonymous and familial modes of representation—all trademarks of Ledare’s practice. The “mother” to whom the artist refers in scribbling script is his own; his earlier body of work “Pretend You’re Actually Alive,” 2000–2008, depicts her in a variety of erotic scenarios. In contrast, the woman in “An Invitation” was a stranger who solicited the artist to take these photos for her husband (a contract on display stipulates that the couple and Ledare each receive one set). There is no more mother here, but in Ledare’s debut show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the artist’s fraught relations with female subjects are visible everywhere.

The second series on view, “Double Bind,” 2010/2012, consists of two sets of photographs of the same woman—Meghan Ledare-Fedderly—taken by Ledare (Ledare-Fedderly is the artist’s ex-wife) and Adam Fedderly (Ledare-Fedderly’s current husband) in the same remote location several months apart. In a brief, text Ledare describes the series as a “comparative structure” that then overlays with advertisements and erotica collected by the artist. Three vitrines in the center of the gallery show Ledare’s and Fedderly’s photos, and the collected print ephemera. Among the highly idiosyncratic archive one document is particularly elucidating: a Life review of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age, 1970, the feminist chieftain’s tome on society’s discordant relationship to the elderly and aging. While the female muse obviously continues to be Ledare’s sustenance, the passage of time as it is refracted through both the camera lens and webs of human relations appear to be the force driving his work.

Chelsea Haines

Laurie Simmons

SALON 94 | BOWERY
243 Bowery
March 7–April 28

Laurie Simmons, Blonde/Pink Dress/Green Room/Close-Up, 2014, pigment print, 28 3/4 x 21 1/4".

If Laurie Simmons’s early works from the late 1970s function as a microcosm of repressed societal woes, many depicting miniature figurines of apprehensively posed housewives, she has today a poignant commonality in Japanese cosplay. A subculture of “costume play” known as Kigurumi, the hobby brings together men and women who prefer to socialize while dressed as their favorite Anime characters. They are depicted here in thirteen photographs as physical apparitions of Simmons’s previous dollhouse muses.

Simmons here equates “Dollers” with our own personal experiences with social media—in which the participant voluntarily forfeits aspects of reality in favor of a more attractive and fascinating persona. This relationship is best illustrated in three photographs titled Selfies, 2014, presented in the gallery’s entrance space, each of which images a Doller in an eerily familiar pose—chin at a slight tilt and an extended length of an arm trailing the camera’s descending perspectives. In a fourth photograph on the wall, Orange Hair/Snow/Close Up, 2014, a pair of enormous green eyes is mesmerizing and uncanny—synthetic of course, in archetypal Simmons design.

Within a second room, besieged by fetish latex, we at last see actual skin. In How We See/Look I/Daria, 2014, a well-known fashion model poses for a portrait with eyes closed and faux pupils painted upon her eyelids. Her makeup performs inverse to the Doller’s plastic facade and is evocative of unrealistic expectations of beauty, especially in the realm of commercial fashion. Elsewhere in the gallery, Simmons arrives full circle with Brunette/Red Dress/Standing Corner, 2014: After nearly four decades of mining dollhouses for motif, this iteration of a doll appears no less a proxy than its depiction—adrift in a gray between identity and persona, seemingly more comfortable as a surrogate than an actual human being.

Gabriel H. Sanchez

Petra Collins

CAPRICIOUS 88
88 Eldridge Street, 5th Floor
February 28–April 27

Petra Collins, Love it when you eat it, 2014, neon, 80 x 60”.

There is nothing coy about the title of Petra Collins’s debut solo show, “Discharge.” For evidence, see the sculptural array of stiffened, blood-stained underwear on two pedestals, a gesture that implicitly extends into Collins’s photography displaying an unabashedly feminine vision for both its subjects and the rendering of their existence as essentially visual and tactile. Her images focus on the teenage gaze, which could refer to either her subjects’ vantage point or her own. Rather than through a nostalgic look back to adolescence—note the artist is twenty-one years old—the works derive their strength from directly capturing experiences of the private and social bodies of young girls. Girls who may lawfully be adults, but as inMommy, 2013, which depicts an incoming call from said figure, are still bound by childish connections. Also, the photos show slight pixilation as inkjet prints, making for a pointedly un-precious contrast to the diaristic intimacy of the images.

Additionally, neon works arranged throughout the gallery electrify excerpts from text messages between Collins’s friends and from Rihanna lyrics. The neons project sass, but the photos dare to risk sincerity, as in Sofy Tear, 2013, in which a girl clasps her textbook over her chest with a tear running down her cheek. Her expression implies a certain melancholy satisfaction though, perhaps because this moment is about allowing an honest feeling, comfortingly embraced in another girl’s camera lens.

At times borrowing the playful erotics of Richard Kern’s work or the essayistic style of Lauren Greenfield, Collins’s aesthetic is an overall quieter counterpoint. Her tone is soft twilight clinging to an outline of a girl shyly undressing, as in Michelle Window, 2009, or coolly distanced curiosity as in Selfie #1, 2014, where two girls take an iPhone photo together in a garishly lit institutional bathroom. A representation of mediated presentation, it typifies technology’s feedback loop through which both the drama and the banality of girls’ lives are played out.

Paige K. Bradley

Sarah Lucas

GLADSTONE GALLERY | WEST 24TH ST
515 West 24th Street
March 7–April 26

View of “Nud Nob,” 2014.

For her first New York solo exhibition in nearly a decade, Sarah Lucas delivers a sangfroid, Freudian slip of a show, anticipating and upending the lurid expectations of her audience with a hard-edged humor much darker than her one-liner premise. The exhibition’s title, “Nud Nob,” refers to the artist’s 2009–2010 series of “Nuds,” anthropomorphic sculptures fashioned from panty hose. She has now cast similar forms in bronze, as if to trade fetish for finish and the weight of art-historical reference points. All sloppy sausage limbs and Brancusi-bird erections, the figures still carry on their contorted coitus, but the show’s central thrust comes from a semiotic showdown between two sets of sculptures, all 2013. The first is a pair of gleaming bronze squashes, spanning an impressive seventeen feet and fifteen feet, respectively, and bearing names—Kevin and Florian—more reminiscent of maybe-bedmates than of pantry staples. The more modestly sized (eleven feet and nine feet) Eros and Priapus are cast-concrete phalluses, impeccably rendered and mounted on compacted car parts, like hijacked John Chamberlains. In lieu of testicles—the exhibition has balls only in the idiomatic sense—Priapus boasts a handle similar to a dagger, or perhaps a turkey baster (a comparison encouraged by the backdrop of Chicken Knickers, 2014, a photograph of a slender pelvis, its crotch blocked by plucked poultry).

For all its brash, whip-’em-out swagger, “Nud Nob,” actually champions innuendo, with the power of vegetal suggestion more compelling than anatomic articulation. Lucas may call upon the almighty Phallus, but she does so with an irony that skirts the lines between veneration and castration. In the back room, the second of the concrete sculptures, Eros, the grand inquisitive, is attended by the muses of Eating a Banana, 2014, six floor-to-ceiling photographs of the artist fellating the half-peeled fruit. Potential titillation is held in check by Lucas’s gaze, dead-eyed and defiant, as if to say: “What, haven’t I given you what you wanted?”

Kate Sutton

Christoph Schlingensief

MOMA PS1
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
March 9–August 31

Christoph Schlingensief, Animatograph, 2005–2006, mixed media, dimensions variable.

A time-based media crackerjack, the late Christoph Schlingensief (1960–2010) seamlessly roved between the disciplines of experimental film, theater, television, radio, opera, and performance art. In the charged atmosphere of 1968, at the age of eight, Schlingensief had already directed his first work, a twenty-minute short in which a farmer waves a handcrafted flag to German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s renowned Wedding March—the film’s eerie political undertone and focus on a specifically German context would come to define his entire oeuvre. A champion of a post-Brechtian attitude, Schlingensief often tried to assault his audience out of complacency, tackling gritty subject matter such as neo-Nazism and the unification of Germany with anarchic verve. A household name in his native country, he is still little known in the United States.

This is thus a timely overview of an inimitable career. Featuring documentation of approximately two dozen performance works, the exhibition comes head to head with the complexities of presenting such a prolific, ephemeral practice. The subversive qualities of this enfant terrible’s provocative output are best communicated in the interactive displays. Highlights include Animatograph, 2005–2006, a pulsing, dark, rotating tree house meets postapocalyptic bunker in which viewers confront disturbing films and props as they climb up and around the fun-house installation. See too Talk 2000, 1997, the peculiar talk show Schlingensief founded in the basement of the Volksbühne (People’s Theater), which is shown here on two cubic television monitors on a revolving platform arranged like a living room with sofas, side tables, and lamps.

The exhibition also shines in its simultaneous presentation of The Germany Trilogy, 1989–92, and 120 Days of Bottrop—The Last New German Film, 1997, in a darkened chamber on the museum’s second floor. The cacophonous clatter—an alarming mixture of rumbling chainsaws, shrieks of terror, and gasps of pleasure—that bounces between the jutting, angled walls is true to Schlingensief's unruly spirit.

Natalie Musteata

“Witness”

BROOKLYN MUSEUM
200 Eastern Parkway
March 7–July 6

Jack Whitten, Birmingham, 1964, aluminum foil, newsprint, stocking, oil on plywood, 16 5/8 x 16".

“Witness,” as its title proclaims, is a bold admixture of radical voices attesting to the spirit and conscience of the 1960s. The decade has often been revisited as a period when artistic earnestness and social efficacy prevailed in spite of an increasingly commercialized market. Rarely has the result been as intriguing as in this exhibit, which brings Pop art, Abstract Expressionism, neo-Dada, and the Black Arts Movement into conversation.

Outliers of canonical movements command center stage, from Robert Indiana’s brash The Confederacy: Alabama, 1965, to Norman Lewis’s Double Cross, 1971. Sam Gilliam’s Red April, 1970, is a shimmering curtain of pastels punctuated by splashes of blues, yellows, and a prodigious use of red. Part of a series about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that followed, Gilliam’s large painting lures the viewer into its fluid veil of color only to press discomfort with the violent application of vermillion. Philip Guston’s return to figuration in works such as City Limits, 1969, whose comically charged Klansmen have been dually interpreted as symbols of protest and apolitical reflections of the artist’s inner self, makes sense in this context. The slick oil residue of a body lingers on David Hammons’s The Door (Admissions Office), 1969 a symbolic threshold of Jim Crowism.

The stars of this show are rarely seen works that include Melvin Edwards’s Chaino, 1964, Pauline Boty’s Countdown to Violence, 1964, Jack Whitten’s Birmingham, 1964, Jae Jarrell’s Urban Wall Suit, 1969, and Joe Overstreet’s Justice, Faith, Hope and Peace, 1969. Reminiscent of scholarly reassessments of ’60s art in the ’90s, the exhibition, curated by Teresa Carbone and Kellie Jones, manages to incorporate works that are often marginalized because they do not fit neatly into established art-historical movements. Here, however, elegant visual connections, such as those between Elizabeth Catlett’s 1969 lithograph Negro es Bello II, and Indiana’s Black Yield Brother 3, 1963, allow familiar formal idioms—seriality and the use of popular signage among others —to reemerge in light of a shared engagement with the central issues of their time.

Andrianna Campbell

Martin Kippenberger

SKARSTEDT GALLERY
20 E. 79th Street
March 3–April 26

Martin Kippenberger, Untitled, 1996, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 94 1/2”. From the series “The Raft of Medusa,” 1996.

JE SUIS MÉDUSE. I am Medusa. These words hover, graffiti-like, in a speech bubble on the choppy blood-red ground seething through the chaotic central painting of Martin Kippenberger’s causa mortis series “The Raft of the Medusa,” 1996. It is here—in this layered, macabre scene—that Kippenberger depicts his own figure modeled after each dead, dying, or deranged crew member of the wrecked ship Medusa immortalized in Théodore Géricault’s 1819 epic painting. Inspired by the French masterpiece, Kippenberger feverishly produced a series of forty-nine paintings, drawings, lithographs, and even a rug printed with the image of the raft itself, all during the year before his death. Displayed together for the first time in the US, they show the kaleidoscopic nature of the artist’s tragicomic brilliance.

A robust grouping, the paintings are as psychologically multivalent as the series itself. Compartmentalized by geometric blocks of color, these self-portraits externalize what is perhaps an effort at order amid entropy. Yet Kippenberger’s unbridled treatment of paint—thinly layered, violent scratches that carve out a gaping mouth or armpit or, in other places, thick, toothpaste-like scrolls that engorge figuration—implies a heated reckoning with fate; and comic moments, such as cartoon-like ocean waves, jest at death itself. On a final lithograph, Kippenberger scrawled THE END as though sardonically turning the page of a fable.

Taken by his wife, the accompanying photographs of the late artist are haunting, bringing to light his embodying process. In each of them, Kippenberger is pictured assuming various positions, imitating Géricault’s deserted men and their uniquely splayed bodies. Though the word myth often buoys Kippenberger’s name, here it is unveiled: The Medusa’s delirious reincarnation plays perfect artifice for Kippenberger’s looming mortality that was plagued by corporeal extremes. Je suis Méduse, or better, I am Kippenberger—excess, ruin, The End.

Anne Prentnieks

“City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection”

MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
1220 Fifth Avenue
February 4–August 24

Lady Pink, The Death of Graffiti, 1982, acrylic on masonite, 19 x 22".

Here today, gone tomorrow. If last year’s overnight whitewashing of graffiti haven 5Pointz in Queens revealed anything, its that the fleeting form of graffiti tags is as susceptible as ever to the whims of property owners and real estate speculation. All the more prescient, then, was artist Martin Wong’s vision to amass his extensive collection of graffiti works on canvas, wood, Masonite, doors, and any other conceivable writing surface. Aspiring to be the “Albert Barnes of graffiti,” Wong donated his collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994—“City as Canvas” is the first selected display of these materials.

One of the earliest items exhibited is Wicked Gary’s Tag Collection from 1970–72. Compiled during the nascent years of graffiti’s ubiquity, the gridded display features the distinct signatures of almost one hundred pioneering writers. Among the more legible signatures indexed are Super Strut and Flint, For Those Who Dare; the posturing and bravado of both are a staple of the spirit of graffiti tagging. By 1981, the Metropolitan Transit Authority heightened police measures and installed razor-wire fences and guard dogs in train yards as initial efforts to “clean up” the city. Lady Pink, notable as one of the few female graffiti writers, foreshadowed the eventual effects of these developments in her 1982 self-portrait, The Death of Graffiti. The artist stands nude atop a mountain of spray cans pointing mournfully to a whited train as a graffiti-marked train passes behind it, the stark contrast emphasizing what has been covered in the first; a stifling feeling of inevitable gentrification pervades the scene.

Indeed, in 1989, New York City mayor Ed Koch declared the subway “graffiti-free” as a result of the cleanup efforts. That same year, Wong founded the Museum of American Graffiti in the East Village to bring archival attention to what he deemed his “aerosol hieroglyphics.” The project proved short-lived, closing within a year due to financial pressures. Yet the museum—the first of its kind in the United States—provides a lens into Wong’s sustained preservation efforts. An original vitrine from the museum’s inaugural exhibition is on display here. Covered in chain-link fences and signature scrawls, the case provides an appropriately urban, idiosyncratic display for a similarly alternative collection from a nearly bygone era.

Alex Fialho

“What Is a Photograph?”

ICP - INTERNATIONAL CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY
1133 Avenue of the Americas
January 31–May 1

Letha Wilson, Colorado Purple, 2012, concrete, C-print transfer, C-print, wood frame, 21 x 21 x 2".

Many of the artists in this expansive exhibition place an emphasis on the physicality—or lack thereof—of photography rather than on its capacity to represent the outside world. As a whole, “What Is a Photograph?” might be taken as a diagnostic inquiry, with the title reading as a rhetorical question. Curated by Carol Squiers, the exhibition includes twenty-one artists, ranging from Gerhard Richter and James Welling to Liz Deschenes and Eileen Quinlan, and has tasked itself with surveying the medium since the 1970s.

The work of both Matthew Brandt and Letha Wilson exhume a long-standing tradition of American landscape photography with fresh invigoration. In Brandt’s large-scale Grays Lake, ID 7, 2013, Technicolor abstractions stem from an actual processing bath in the depicted lake waters, while Wilson’s monolith Grand Tetons Concrete Column, 2012, employs industrial concrete to sculpturally engage her iconic views of the American West. Draped through the gallery’s foyer is Mariah Robertson’s 154, 2010. This single photograph measures one hundred feet in length and has been meticulously hand-processed by the artist in a highly toxic photochemical environment. The remarkable result validates its production, as every inch of this dangling photograph reveals a labyrinth of glowing hues and pictorial intricacies.

Parallel to romanticizing the darkroom are the several artists who wholeheartedly embrace the more conventional, digitalized avenues associated with the medium. Travess Smalley’s Capture Physical Presence #15, 2011, exploits the imaging systems of a flatbed scanner to manipulate his collages into what he describes as mind-numbing “feedback loops.” Kate Steciw’s approach in Apply, 2012, takes advantage of a Google-based research method, purchased stock imagery, and sculptural tack-ons that recall the slick advertisements of commercial photography. Elsewhere in the gallery, a wall text accompanying Jon Rafman’s eerie and unadorned busts reads, “The age demanded an image / Of its accelerated grimace, Something for the modern stage / Not, at any rate, an attic grace.”

Gabriel H. Sanchez