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Wayne Thiebaud

ALLAN STONE PROJECTS
535 W 22nd Street, 3rd Floor
April 28–June 18

Wayne Thiebaud, Five Chocolate Cookies, 1989, oil on canvas board mounted on plywood, 9 x 12''.

Sunglasses, ice-cream cones, nudes, bolt cutters, and, of course, layer cakes are just a few of our favorite things depicted in this airy, career-spanning sampling of Wayne Thiebaud’s work. The sophisticated whimsy of the painter’s realism is reflected not just in his choice of charming subjects but also in his meticulous renderings of them. Via his multicolored outlining technique, which the artist refers to as “halation,” the works are imbued with a subtle Kodachrome radiance. And up close, one finds a fanciful mini-sunset at the edge of each object. In the magnificent and never-before-exhibited painting Five Chocolate Cookies, 1989—which is not much bigger than a sheet of loose leaf paper—Thiebaud defines a row of dark glossy disks (Thin Mints?) with confetti-like marks of crimson, tangerine, and turquoise. White paint, meant to suggest a pristine plate or a Formica countertop, arcs around the cookies and moves in velvety horizontal strokes, like an infinite plane of vanilla buttercream.

While the artist is best known for his perfect takes on the post–World War II American quotidian, he frequently branches out. In the surreal Up Street, 1993, multiple lanes of traffic take a sharp vertical detour, as if on a roller-coaster track, and a funny palm tree teeters at the top in the distance. Mound and Cloud, 1972, is an otherworldly landscape in which a meringue-like puff floats in a bright blue sky above a snow-topped mountain with a cliff face of what looks like rainbow-flecked ganache. An adroit and subtly trailblazing literalizer of the frosting/oil paint parallel, Thiebaud, as the range of this lovely exhibition proves, can apply his signature unfussy delicacy to anything at all.

Johanna Fateman

N. Dash

CASEY KAPLAN
121 West 27th Street
May 3–June 18

View of “N. Dash,” 2016.

Certain artworks can’t help but hint at the affect of the bodily actions that shaped them. Many of the iconic process-based sculptures of the 1960s—those shredded webs, tangled filaments, and crisscrossed threads of “Eccentric Abstraction,” for example—suggest a touch of psychic or manual frenzy. Such knotted fibers make an appearance in N. Dash’s current solo exhibition, but only in a twice-removed, two-dimensional form, in paintings silk-screened with images of cloth scraps that the artist rubs to the point of disintegration between her fingers, a daily practice that has occupied her since childhood. While Dash literally worries her diminutive textile sculptures to pieces, the majority of these works (all Untitled, 2016)—composed primarily of stacked or beveled arrangements of jute-stretched canvases, quantities of gessoed or hand-painted fabric, and lengths of twine embedded in or hanging from troweled-on adobe grounds—feature tactile surfaces manipulated by the sure hand of composure.

Underscoring the work’s poise may imply that it’s a bit too well-behaved, too withholding, but in fact any perceived surfeit of restraint gives way, on closer inspection, to a distinctly physical avidity: A strip of pink Styrofoam wedged between shaded areas of graphite and a blush-tipped wooden dowel lying within a flap of black canvas evoke intimate flesh secreted within dark cavities; the fields of New Mexican clay are marked by dermal wrinkles and puckers; and expanses of monochrome paint are rippled by broken adhesion, as if two clinging skins have been pulled reluctantly apart. (It’s hard to resist the urge to run a finger across these planes to test the feel of that cool earth, those viscid oils.) Against the grain of so much hyperarticulate, studied art, Dash’s resolute materiality gently disdains academic prudishness or defensive cleverness. It stays mute, understanding that so much can be said with the mouth firmly shut.

Claire Lehmann

Josh Kline

47 CANAL
291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor
May 3–June 12

View of “Josh Kline,” 2016.

The scene is set in what looks like a futuristic cemetery, only it’s today—we encounter 3-D-printed and CNC-carved bodies, based on real people, in see-through plastic bags. Of the four on display, one’s a bookkeeper; another, a humble entrepreneur (Productivity Gains [Brandon/Accountant]; By Close of Business [Maura/Small-Business Owner], all works 2016). They lie on the floor, shriveled in fetal positions. Expressions of loss—or is it peace?—appear on their synthetic faces, and their attire’s tidy and wrinkle free. In Josh Kline’s world, obsolescence is the law of the land, and humans are a passé fad . . . or just literal garbage. It’s an entirely sinister and familiar display, and one that doesn’t require much reading between the lines. Its grave humor is explicit—it’s the death of the middle class, a wide swath of the country, rendered as expendable creatures ready for the discard pile.

Nearby is Universal Early Retirement, a fictional three-minute commercial for a federally subsidized income. Its spirit seems to ricochet off the many political campaign ads that have been assaulting our retinas of late. The tone is jovial, the music uplifting, and the American flag is blowing in the wind. People from different ethnic backgrounds laud a new kind of New Deal that would give them enough free time to pursue their true passions. This promise of a utopian kind of social reform is, alas, vaguely believable.

Since consumerism is the cornerstone of any capitalist economy, naturally, elimination is necessary for keeping such a system alive. The future belongs to those who can monetize expendability. And if you think otherwise, Kline’s dark poetry suggests, the heap still awaits.

Lara Atallah

“Diálogos constructivistas en la vanguardia cubana”

GALERIE LELONG | NEW YORK
528 West 26th Street
April 28–June 25

Loló Soldevilla, Carta celeste: Noches en el cosmos (Celestial Letter: Nights in the Cosmos), 1958, oil on canvas, 27 x 28''.

In the youth of the Soviet Union, Constructivism gave form to the new society’s most utopian ideas about style, labor, and family—a science fiction of everyday life. Little as this endeared the movement to Stalin, not even he could disappear the spiraling geometries of filmmaker Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita (1924) or the Shabolovka Radio Tower. “Diálogos constructivistas en la vanguardia Cubana” (Constructivist Dialogues in the Cuban Vanguard) reveals how these satellites were received on the other side of the planet. Amelia Peláez was born shortly before the end of Spanish rule, and the thick black lines embroidering her paintings annex domestic scenes to the surrounding colonial architecture. Naturaleza muerta en un interior/Las Puertas de la Habana (Still Life in an Interior/The Doors of Havana), 1948, feels like a stained-glass window for a church not yet founded. Light spills across the canvas in delirious crystals.

Loló Soldevilla’s geometric sculptures seem to restrain themselves to the spare palette of a chessboard, their squares and circles paused mid-motion, like the vertiginous obstacles in a 3-D Super Mario level. Her oil painting Carta celeste: Noches en el cosmos (Celestial Letter: Nights in the Cosmos), 1958, is a partially striated circle with two smaller orbs floating within. For Zilia Sánchez, still active at ninety years old, her lunar imagery is a portal to more terrestrial bodies. She stretches canvases over wooden armatures until they pant soft colors. Shapes undulate against one another. I thought of that TV screen bulging outward in Videodrome (1983), a throb loosed from flesh. The first Constructivists dreamed of building to distant planets; after seeing Sánchez’s art, you may fantasize about caressing one.

Chris Randle

Richard Tuttle

PACE | 510 WEST 25TH STREET
510 West 25th Street
May 6–June 11

Richard Tuttle, Fiction Fish I, 1, 1992, graphite, pigment, and modeling paste on cardboard, graphite line, 4 x 4".

“26,” the title of Richard Tuttle’s solo exhibition here (which refers to the number of previous one-man shows the artist has had in New York since 1965) gives us a deep view into a fully substantiated system with a coherent internal logic—fifty years of artistic hits that have subtly bent and shaped art history. These works, though profound in effect, are humble in facture. For instance, in Red Dots, Deep Maroon over Green, 1986, the hot glue doesn’t hide its job as binding. The work’s materials, such as stickers, masking tape, and Styrofoam, don’t fuss with pretenses—they are what they are. And in 10th Wire Piece, 1972, the artist feels virtually absent, but in the best way: The torqued wire delineates space simply and directly while quietly revealing some ineffable truth. At times, however, his configurations feel more distinctly wrought, particularly in the sprawling Systems, IX, 2012—one senses that Tuttle steadily kneaded this piece from concept to object.

The show’s strongest works, such as the aforementioned wire piece or Fiction Fish I, 1,1992—a graphite line leading to baby-blue modeling paste and a hot-pink rectangle, hung just above the gallery’s floorboards—materialize with an almost supernatural elegance. The curved, green-painted paper intersecting with a dribbling brown splotch painted onto the wall in Titel 3, 1978, snaps the background plane into focus while simultaneously confusing figure and ground. Knottier still is the sense that these grounded abstractions are numinously harnessed manifestations: nonlinear, contingent realities of what’s right here and yet to be.

Yin Ho

Alwar Balasubramaniam

TALWAR GALLERY | NEW YORK
108 East 16 Street
March 5–June 4

View of “Alwar Balasubramaniam,” 2016.

Any clear distinction between the human and the natural in Alwar Balasubramaniam’s refined sculptures has become increasingly blurred since he abandoned Bengaluru, India, for his ancestral village in Tamil Nadu. His latest exhibition features a series of textured monochromes, the surfaces of which uncannily resemble geological formations shaped over millennia. A trio of cast fiberglass panels—two unique but similar works, both titled Rain in the midnight, 2015–16, as well as Under current, 2015—re-create rippled beds carved by water flowing over earth and stone. Graphite gives the surface of the former works their inky sheen, while the latter, smaller in size, approximates the patina of oxidized copper or bronze.

Privileging sedimentation over erosion, the craggy surfaces of a different group of panels—a diptych titled Dunes, 2012; and three more cast fiberglass pieces titled Wind Waves, 2012; Wings of the wind, 2014–16; and Burst, 2015—are built up through the slow, careful addition of acrylic (and occasionally pigment, soot, and glue) subjected to the artist’s artificial air currents carefully orchestrated in the studio. The colors—synthetic-looking red, blue, and white—are the sole overt indications of his hand. These objects quietly introduce a sense of nature’s longue durée into the process of artistic creation, making the cumulative effects of imperceptible forces visible.

Other works return to familiar Balasubramaniam territory: the existential relationship between self and corporeality, which the artist has previously interrogated through works in various media that usually begin from a cast of his body. Body as shell, 2011–15, presents a figure as a deflated sheath crumpled on the floor, carved from sandstone. Shell as body, 2015–16, a large, broken, cowrie-shaped terra-cotta pot, reinforces the idea of body as vessel. Neither work, however, dictates what exactly they might hold.

Murtaza Vali

Amie Siegel

SIMON PRESTON
301 Broome Street
May 1–June 19

Amie Siegel, Double Negative (detail), 2015, two black-and-white synchronized 16 mm films, silent, looped, 4 minutes.

Amie Siegel’s latest works probe the pathos of preterit things. Shot in crystalline HD, Fetish, 2016, documents the annual cleaning of Freud’s London home, preserved since the early 1980s as a museum. Bronze sibyls, ceramic sphinxes, and ivory Buddhas line bookshelves and Biedermeier cabinets like patients awaiting analysis. Two conservators, outfitted in Freud Museum fleeces (the only confirmation of context), methodically remove, dust, and return each figure to its site. Yet the true protagonists are the objects themselves, which Siegel images from their best angle, straight on and centered in the frame. Close-ups silhouette Freud’s artifacts against shallow fields, while parallel tracking shots cultivate distance, enclosing each specimen in a solipsistic world. In these hermetic, eclipsed spaces, the viewer can only trespass.

Freud conceived the fetish as an undecided object: a substitute for the absent phallus, at once mnemonic of and protective against its loss. Siegel’s artwork dilates the “both-and” quality of its namesake, treating the museum’s miscellany as sachlich things and animate actors. Displaced from its perch, a metal porcupine seems less threatening than forlorn: a pocket-size Pierrot. Moments earlier, Siegel’s camera scans an emptied shelf, recording its punctuated topology of sediment. The work closes with a long shot of Freud’s infamous couch. Conservators successively strip and restore its carpet overlay in a choreography by turns tender and mundane. Disused and sagging, the settee makes a musty odalisque. Similar care is taken by the preservationists seen in Double Negative, 2015. Their headquarters in Canberra, Australia, occupy a black replica of Le Corbusier’s modernist icon, the Villa Savoye. The doubled building tropes the doubled nature of object existence that Siegel’s camera discloses. Her pieces tempt us to slip into the histories of things—to imagine the analysands supine on Freud’s sofa or the faithful who fondled his sphinx—yet hold us indefinitely at the surface.

Courtney Fiske

Cindy Sherman

METRO PICTURES
519 West 24th Street
May 5–June 11

Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2016, dye sublimation metal print, 44 1/2 x 33 1/2''.

In Cindy Sherman’s eagerly awaited new show, older women—played by the artist, as always—appear in photographs reminiscent of 1920s Hollywood glamour shots or movie posters. Costumed and posed as younger women might be, these bobbed, finger-waving, and stylishly hatted women with precision-painted eyebrows—think Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, or Lillian Gish—seem to be reliving their heydays, in color. Or, maybe, this evocative psychological premise is simply a fortuitous byproduct of Sherman’s age. She’s sixty-two now and continues to work as she has for decades: alone and as a master of all trades, her own model, makeup artist, art director, and stylist.

Shot before a green screen, the photos feature Photoshopped backgrounds, such as hazy skyscrapers, suggestions of wisteria, a length of creased pastel brocade, foreboding skies, digital abstractions, and possibly Athens. These manipulated “sets” throw the artist’s hyperdetailed, brazenly unretouched, and unforgivingly lit form into relief. Impasto foundation collects in her fine lines, plows over her real, intact eyebrows, and is not blended past her décolletage. Also, her hands don’t look young. This wonderful combination of self-assured “age inappropriateness” and classical Hollywood themes produces moments of campy, ramshackle eroticism, with bluish raccoon eye shadow and red cupid's-bow lips, in tresses à la Mary Pickford with a headband and a sexy loose tunic, perched before a storybook tree (Untitled, 2016). But such images are more stately, poignant, or contemplative than funny. One wants to add that Sherman looks great, which she does, but that’s never been the point. As she proceeds to use herself as a convenient mannequin for conceptual endeavors, or, alternately, exploit her exceptional gift of chameleonic dexterity, she further illuminates the cultural conditions of the so-called blank slate. In ignoring the unspoken edict to age out of her self-defined project, her work becomes mysterious and confrontational all over again.

Johanna Fateman

Jocelyn Hobbie

FREDERICKS & FREISER
536 West 24th Street
April 28–June 18

Jocelyn Hobbie, Stream, 2015, oil on canvas, 22 x 42''.

Jocelyn Hobbie’s variations on boredom could make a viewer lie awake at night. Her painted depictions of women frozen in their tedium offer no reference for this absence of joie de vivre, and each flawless beauty appears slightly displaced among her eclectic, patterned wallpaper and vibrant linens, her perfectly made-up face, her icy gaze. This gaze never seeks contact outside of the canvas and it is always vacant. It makes one insane, attempting to rationalize the origin of each woman’s ennui.

Hobbie’s technical prowess in the fourteen oil paintings on display mesmerizes. Her ability to combine scintillating, clashing designs—draping them together into backgrounds, pillows, and skirts—is enviable, and aids in shielding these elegantly aloof figures against our desire to better know them. The artist crystallizes the kind of dissatisfaction that tends to linger and then lift during mundane routines . . . like, perhaps, living. Her beautiful girls reveal a contemporary condition that is felt all too often, a twenty-first-century limbo that no amount of overstimulation could break. (Never has a dense, sweet slice of something that looks like cinnamon raisin bread, tenderly held by a freckled Lolita in a stripy boat-neck top and gingham tie [Untitled, 2014], appeared so simultaneously delicious and dull.)

Stare at the canvases long enough and it’s easy to imagine the scaffolding of supersaturated ornamentation that keeps them together utterly falling apart. Stream, 2015, calls to mind John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, 1851–52, where Millais’s tragic heroine floats vacantly, helplessly down a stream. Hobbie’s paralyzed sylph, despite her seeming emptiness, or perhaps because of it, makes one want to curl up near her limp arms and grow mad together.

Kaitlyn A. Kramer

Rashaad Newsome

DE BUCK GALLERY
545 West 23rd Street
April 21–June 25

Rashaad Newsome, YAAAAAAAS!, 2016, collage in custom frame with leather and automotive paint, 72 x 72''.

“Stop Playing in My Face!”—the title of both Rashaad Newsome’s show and its mesmerizing queer Afrofuturist video centerpiece—is taken from a rebuke/mantra invented by Samantha James Revlon: black trans woman, YouTube luminary, and camera-phone diarist. In Newsome’s four-minute loop, Revlon’s vivid vernacular becomes a springboard and framework for theoretical discussion. Set to an eerie dance beat, the cut-up voices of feminist cultural critics, such as bell hooks and Janet Mock, debate the practical and philosophical potentials (or pitfalls) of sexual self-commodification. Meanwhile, the nearly floor-to-ceiling projection shows a dancer in red stiletto boots and a black turtleneck leotard, voguing solo in a blankly grand virtual setting (somewhere like the Parthenon, or a mall at night). Strangely paced animated camera movements heighten the video-game feel and eventually dramatically zoom out to reveal the dancer as one of many moving parts in a cosmic entity of rotating architecture, diamonds, pearls, and giant glossy-red talking lips.

The digital collage aesthetic of this glam deity is reflected in the works on paper in the front gallery, but these pieces are constructed the old-fashioned cut-and-paste way. The artist cleverly cobbles together cyborgian figures from appropriated images of opulence—jewel-encrusted surfaces, custom rims, made-up mouths, models’ limbs, flames, and gold-domed buildings. Playing with layers and modes of realness, Newsome pairs these condensed photographic representations of fabulous excess and gendered artifice with veritable luxury materials. In YAAAAAAAS! (all works cited, 2016), a portrait of a glittering humanoid occupies an ornate octagonal frame made from black leather and automotive paint. In this sharp and effervescent show, tropes of conspicuous consumption mingle with reflections from trans and feminist voices on what it’s like to be conspicuously consumed; and Revlon’s nuanced, boundary-setting, space-making edict resonates with both interpersonal and intergalactic import.

Johanna Fateman

Lui Shtini

KATE WERBLE GALLERY
83 Vandam Street
April 23–June 4

Lui Shtini, Skin I, 2016, oil on board, 29 x 24''.

Like George Condo portraits stripped of specificity and affect, the Albanian-born, New York–based painter Lui Shtini’s whimsical, bulbous abstractions are centrally positioned against monochromatic backgrounds. While meticulously labored, Shtini’s works are refreshingly spare. They are also explicitly spiritual—an attempt to make manifest the aura of the supernatural jinni beings who, according to Arabic mythos, influence the fates of those in our own realm.

Shtini’s works are best when they explicitly evoke the corporeal “skins” of these supernatural creatures. His careful etchings and concise palette marks in color fields of wet oil evoke body hair and feathers. Despite their physicality, these paintings, weirdly, are somehow unphotographable. Their vivid textures dissolve under most lenses, and flatten them into Pop iconography, making them lose their psychic verve. Up close, the brushy buildup of paint that forms the inverted crescent of Skin I, 2016, for instance, suggests a mustache à la Nick Offerman, bristling below a symmetrical black, vaguely facial form.

Shtini’s works demonstrate a sculptural consideration of his oil medium—with hatched carvings into dense areas to reveal the layers beneath and knifed impressions to produce the illusion of scales. These paintings operate like Rorschach inkblots, revealing facial features, torsos, molars, bare bottoms, or genitalia—indicating the jinn’s shapeshifting powers, or the viewer’s preoccupations and interests. Choose your own adventure.

Cat Kron

Dor Guez

JAMES GALLERY, CUNY GRADUATE CENTER
365 Fifth Avenue, The City University of New York
April 8–June 4

Dor Guez, (Sa)Mira, 2009, video, color, sound, 13 minutes 53 seconds.

Created by Dor Guez in 2009, “The Christian Palestinian Archive” invites the titular community to scan their family photographs, in an attempt to trace their histories and journeys. As part of this project, fourteen black-and-white photos tell the family story of Samira Monayer, the artist’s grandmother. These images, from a series titled “Scanogram #1,” 2010, were scanned multiple times and reassembled using a variety of digital programs to accentuate the original photos’ rips and tears. Guez, the inventor of the scanogram technique, seeks to emphasize the creases of time and convey the natural decay of these pictures as objects. In doing so, he deconstructs the images and therefore the past.

Nearby are five large scanograms of broken and vandalized Christian Palestinian graves from a cemetery in Israel (40 Days, 2012). The photos, shot by Guez’s grandfather, have been affected by time and humidity, and in the process have become colorful abstractions full of ghostlike forms, as if to indicate the instability of this dispersed populace.

In the back of the gallery is Sabir, 2010, a twenty-minute video about Samira’s life and journey. Raised in Jaffa, Samira and her family fled their home in 1948 and moved to al-Lydd, known today as Lod. Samira reveals her fascinating story in Arabic and Hebrew, generating a document of what today is considered a “controversial” history. In the video (Sa)Mira, 2009, Guez’s young cousin, named after their grandmother, shares how her Israeli boss asked her to change her Arabic name to the more common Israeli name Mira. By repeating this story over and over again, Samira gradually realizes the racist reality she lives in, and how it feels to be an Arab in Israel today.

Naomi Lev

Kenneth Josephson

GITTERMAN GALLERY
41 East 57 Street, Suite 1103
April 6–June 11

Kenneth Josephson, Chicago, 1960, vintage gelatin silver print, 6 x 9''.

“Life is not a dream / Beware! Beware! Beware!” So wrote Federico García Lorca after a night of fitful walking through Manhattan. But life is a dream, especially for Chicago-based photographer Kenneth Josephson, and a lovely one at that.

Multiple exposures, collages, time lapses, and doctored colors: Since he began working in the late 1950s–early ’60s, Josephson has used just about every available technique to question our accepted notions of reality. Which is to say that in his best work—much of which is on display at this greatest hits–style exhibition—formal experiments are really metaphysical provocations.

In Chicago, 1960, for example, pedestrians walk down a sun-drenched sidewalk, followed by a tangle of eerie, diaphanous humanoid shapes. Josephson exposed the photograph more than once, certainly, and somewhere along the line, shifted the frame. What we’re actually seeing, then, is the same group of people in different places. In another artist’s hands, this could be a pedantic effect. But by combining it with an exquisite gossamer texture, and conjuring a mood of ethereal solitude, Josephson persuades us that spirits are floating past the street. Similar otherworldly beings appear throughout his work.

Josephson often includes photographs within his photographs. Held in a free hand, lying in the grass, tacked on the frame as in a montage—their self-reflexive presence unsettles us like an LSD revelation. A revelation of what? Of the fact that our world, so intimate and heavy, might well be little more than a greater someone’s photo album.

Ratik Asokan

Nasreen Mohamedi

THE MET BREUER
945 Madison Avenue
March 18–June 5

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, ca. 1975, ink and graphite on paper, 9 1/2 × 9 1/2".

In her landmark essay on the grid, Rosalind Krauss outlined the form’s reductive modernist ontology, and its exemplary capacity to align the work of art with its material support. In several diaries presented in Nasreen Mohamedi’s inaugural exhibition here, some of the artist’s supports are commercial notebooks, whose ready-made matrices she used to create linear inked compositions sometimes interwoven with strings of words that read like poetry.

The strong showing of Mohamedi’s signature drawings, which have been steadily gaining international attention, however, departs from Krauss’s reading. In these works, created with architectural drawing instruments that delicately distributed ink or graphite in millimeter-thin lines, the grid is deployed repeatedly, but in ways that resolutely resist the flatness of the picture plane. Instead, gridded lines tilt inward or are interrupted by geometric voids. The resulting optical effect is not one of illusionistic volume, exactly—it is more an intimation of unbounded space that the grid, in its strictest iterations, does not provide.

The survey also includes photographs in which, again, the line roams free of its supporting context: The separation of the beach and the ocean seem to be of gestural intention (Untitled, ca. 1960), while the markings on pavement appear to relieve the ground of its horizontality (Untitled, ca. 1970).

The curatorial narrative emphasizes Mohamedi’s suffering from the debilitating shakes of Huntington’s disease to mark a division between her landscape-based freehand abstractions of the 1960s and the rigorously precise works of the 1980s. Wall didactics and the show’s catalogue also note influences from Islamic, Sufi, and Bhakti traditions’ of geometric nonrepresentation and notions of emptiness. These contextual determinants are important for considering Mohamedi apart from other Minimalists with whom she is often cursorily lumped in. Each work’s obstinate space for attentive reflection simultaneously causes such cadres to recede toward an indeterminate horizon.

Sarah Lookofsky

David Hammons

MNUCHIN GALLERY
45 East 78th Street
March 15–May 27

View of “David Hammons,” 2016.

In the catalogue that accompanies this show, there is a photo of the artist David Hammons in Harlem in 1980. From behind a pair of sunglasses, he is reading Tales of Power (1974), a volume in Carlos Castaneda’s account of the teachings of an indigenous Mexican shaman. Though presented without comment, the photo is a winking nod to Hammons’s reputation as a kind of art-world sorcerer and also to his own anthropological interests: For five decades he has deployed conceptual jokes and everyday materials to reflect on the paradoxes and complexities of African American life. Although by no means exhaustive, this exhibition offers an important opportunity to survey the artist’s career, including his early “body print” Spade (Power for the Spade), 1969, and his sardonic riff on Minimalism, Untitled, 1989, a sculpture of fortified-wine bottles.

Inevitably reframed by the discourse around the Black Lives Matter movement, the show hits hardest with In the Hood, 1993, a severed hood of a black cotton hoodie—the supposedly “hood” garment that Trayvon Martin dared to wear while walking in a Florida suburb. Hung high on a wall, it connects contemporary black bodies to the histories of both lynching and trophy hunting, and suggests that art collecting itself is a blood sport. Though no stranger to success, Hammons remains elusive, and his work is marked by a similar resistance to being visually mastered: Veiling, hiding, and obscuring are rampant here, and the tension between presence and absence in works like In the Hood speaks to the dangers of both visibility and invisibility, in life as in art.

Tina Rivers Ryan

Hilton Als

THE ARTIST'S INSTITUTE
132 East 65th Street
March 2–August 7

View of “Hilton Als,” 2016.

Hilton Als’s “One Man Show: Holly, Candy, Bobbie, and the Rest” is strung together loosely, just like the celebrated New Yorker critic’s personal essays. Voice is structure; memory comes in vivid rushes; friendship is a seismic force. This, the first phase of the artist’s six-month season at the Artist’s Institute (also the inaugural project of the Institute’s new UES address), is a dreamy paean to, as the artist writes, “various personages who lived in a pre-Transparent, pre-Caitlyn, pre-anything world.” Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling, the figures named in Als’s title, were trans Warhol Superstars; but Bobbie, we learn, was not famous—just a luminous friend, represented here by a small image in a corner of this elegantly makeshift installation. In Bobbie, 2016, an old-fashioned projector shows vintage slides of an angelic blond, a gender-indeterminate young person. In one picture, they are standing in the sun on the street, almost smiling, gazing at a point slightly above an unknown photographer.

The gallery is kept dim, lit by all manner of budget mood lighting. In one room, colored bulbs with messy, exposed cords accent Judy Linn’s striking black-and-white portraits of drag legend Ethyl Eichelberger from 1990, while a loop of louche art films plays on an adjacent wall, as a disco mix made by Als pumps from little computer speakers. Elsewhere, a handful of flickering liquid tea lights sit on the floor, not too far from the piece Stormé, Bobbie and the Rest, 2016, in which a classroom overhead projector throws a faint image of Bobbie onto the wall—and onto Diane Arbus’s 1961 portrait of butch dreamboat and Stonewall hero Stormé DeLarverie.

This is not a photography show, though photos anchor it; and it’s not a group show, though many artists haunt it. This is curating as artistic practice, as shrine-making—a “one-man” exhibition that engenders so much more.

Johanna Fateman

Silvia Gruner

AMERICAS SOCIETY
680 Park Avenue
February 24–June 18

View of “Silvia Gruner,” 2016.

In the photographic diptych How to Look at Mexican Art, 1995, Silvia Gruner displays a punctured molcajete, or Mexican grinding mortar, atop bright-red plastic. Her hand grips the object from above in the first image and playfully penetrates it from below in the second. Not only does she juxtapose something typically associated with indigenous Mexican culture with a strictly contemporary material, but Gruner also inserts her body into her work to challenge assumptions about her artistic heritage. Similarly, in the adjacent film Centinela (Sentinel), 2007, the artist, her head shaved due to her recent cancer treatment, stares into the churning waters of a modernist fountain designed by Mathias Goeritz, Ricardo Legorreta, and Isamu Noguchi, a set of male modernist masters that the artist is confronting as much as she faces the imposing abyss.

Her early film pieces also centralize her body, poised between stasis and movement. In Arena (Sand), 1986, Gruner, naked, covers herself with a mixture of mud and pigment and repeatedly climbs up and tumbles down a dune on Cape Cod, in a Sisyphean loop that marks the surface of the sand. Cyclical repetition is also made visible in Re-Start, 2014, a brief stop-motion animation of the artist’s hands threading a knitting needle, yielding a kinetic set of tangled lines while subtly alluding to women’s association with craft. This more abstract engagement with feminist concerns is manifest in the show’s centerpiece, the two-channel video Hemisferios (Hemispheres), 2014, whose title conflates the artist’s psychic and physical spaces. Here we see Gruner’s assistant undoing two sets of yarn labyrinths that the artist set up in the front and back gardens of her home. One consists of a neat grid, laid out in thickly knitted red lines, while the other is a tangle of the same wool wrapped messily around tree limbs and stray objects. We watch as the two sets of fibers are respooled in real time, staging the tension between material permanence and ephemerality that permeates Gruner’s work, suggesting that artistic labor is always a process of doing and undoing.

Lori Cole

“Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers 1570–1900”

THE STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN BUILDING | NYPL
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
October 2–May 27

Maria Louisa Catherine Cecilia Cosway, Music Has Charms, ca. 1785, crayon manner, 5 1/2 x 6 1/2''.

Of the many delights in this survey, my favorite is Der Raupen wunderbare Verwunderlung (The Wonderful Transformation of Caterpillars) from 1679 by Maria Sibylla Merian—an ambitious volume as lovely to see as it is fun to say. Open to a single spread of text and illustration, the book contains fifty such copperplates depicting the life cycle of caterpillars in great scientific detail, along with, according to the work’s caption, “the fruits and flowers on which they feasted.”

The exhibition, curated by Madeleine Viljoen, is a wunderbar feast, celebrating the extraordinary efforts of generations of women (from creators to collectors to curators) without glossing over the adversity and sexism etched in acid bite onto the most bucolic landscapes. The works were originally assembled by Henrietta Louisa Koenen between 1848 and 1861 and are part of a collection at the library that has not been shown since 1901. Koenen’s husband was director of the print room at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and she quietly began her own personal collection, buying works by amateur and professional female artists from the sixteenth to nineteenth century.

Viljoen gathers a broad array of styles, skills, and subject matter: Here are prints by the first woman to sign her work in the sixteenth century and women signing their work simply “his wife,” women copying famous artists’ compositions (a common printmaking practice), and women depicting themselves in frank self-portraits (Angelica Kauffman’s casual pose is breathtaking, as is the scale of Thérèse Holbein’s image of her sketching in Alpine scenery). There are botany studies, calligraphy, and abstract lace designs particularly suited to the exacting lines of engraving. There’s a garlanded portrait of a woman who was earning her doctorate in 1680 (though we know that it was never bestowed).

Cutting history open, the wall labels have just the right amount of juicy detail. Look for references to heterodox ménages; the story of a print depicting a lounging lion and putti in the woods, given as a “suggestive gift” to Thomas Jefferson by its maker, Maria Louisa Catherine Cecilia Cosway; delightful doodles of heads and horses by a seventeen-year-old princess practicing how to write her name backward to accommodate the etching’s printing; and the first female student at the University of Utrecht, who made the commanding Self-Portrait of Anna Maria van Schurman, Aged 33, 1640. This, in short, is a banquet you will leave hungry for more.

Prudence Peiffer

Robert Ryman

DIA:CHELSEA
535 West 22nd Street 5th Floor
December 9–June 18

View of “Robert Ryman,” 2015–16.

With only twenty-two paintings produced over six decades, this Robert Ryman exhibition is a summa of the artist’s process, via the reduction and synthesis of the fundamental elements of painting. Different mediums, textures, and supports—canvas, paper, aluminum, fiberglass, Plexiglas—are used to investigate the luminous frequency of white in all its possible gradations. The artist has chosen to exhibit the paintings under natural light, and he is right to do so. I viewed the show when the sky was clear, then when it was cloudy, and then under artificial light. The last condition was decisively the worst, since it imbued the works with a very disturbing pinkish tone. Under natural light, however, the gradations of white appear in all their shimmering, pulsating richness, with vibrations of gray, blue, or black, on surfaces that are highly tactile or smooth, absorbent or polished.

Ryman has been investigating methods and structures of painting since the 1960s. Carrying out an operation of progressive subtraction, he eliminates the stretcher frame and instead attaches sheets of paper or canvases directly to the wall or subverts the axis of vision by propping works, supported on the floor with metal rods, against the wall. He also experiments with the potential of industrial materials by contrasting shiny aluminum surfaces with matte white paint or by using steel bolts on the paintings’ surfaces. And the abatement of tones to the minimum degree of whiteness provides Ryman with a limitless field of freedom. Varying the paint’s density and methods of its application, he regulates the absorbency or the refraction of light, sometimes applying a variety of colors beneath the white to instill the deceptively monochrome surfaces with warmth or acidity. The result is an articulate and complex symphony of minimal tones, much like Brian Eno’s compositions of ambient music. This show, a place of reflection and expansion, uses essential examples to describe Ryman’s research. With a kind of magic and rigor that few can match, Ryman catalyzes perceptual processes, remaining attuned to the objective properties of materials and to the pure evidence of paint and light.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Ida Panicelli