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“The Keeper”

New Museum
235 Bowery
July 20–September 25

Howard Fried, The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe, 2014–, 294 wardrobe items, dimensions variable.

Grandpa, kids, the rich, serial murderers: Everybody collects! Freud said it has something to do with toilet training—that losing one’s shit, quite literally, can be a traumatizing experience, and collecting is a way of cauterizing that early-childhood wound. That’s stupid, and deeply ungenerous. It doesn’t explain the eerie profundity of self-described “super-medium” Vanda Vieira-Schmidt’s Weltrettungsprojekt (World Rescue Project), 1995–, a small edifice comprising more than three hundred thousand drawings created to save humanity from supernatural forces of doom, or The Sketchbook from Auschwitz, ca. 1943, a handheld catalogue of horrors illustrating life at the most infamous of Nazi death camps, rendered by a phantom known only as “MM.” These works appear in “The Keeper,” a sprawling group exhibition that interrogates the impulses behind creating and, more specifically, amassing. There are plenty of trenchant offerings from sharp contemporary makers, such as Carol Bove (with Carlo Scarpa), Ed Atkins, Henrik Olesen, and Aurélien Froment. But really, the show belongs to the “outsider artists” (such an irritating appellation), whose obsessions and sorrows emanate freely—even suffocatingly—from their gorgeous, haunted objects.

Arthur Bispo do Rosário spent the majority of his life institutionalized, fashioning sublime sculptures and ecclesiastical garments from all manner of castoff in anticipation of the Last Judgment; Hannelore Baron’s delicate, scorched-looking Wunderkammern feel as though they were salvaged from hell; and the modernist quilts from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, made by descendants of slaves (Loretta, Quinnie, and Missouri Pettway here) are cold comfort pieces, borne of ingenuity, certainly, as well as a great deal of suffering. First-wave Conceptual artist Howard Fried, however, might win the prize for Most Startlingly Tender . . .and the Creepiest: The Decomposition of My Mother’s Wardrobe, 2014–, a memorial display of the artist’s dead parent’s clothes, shoes, and handbags, fastidiously organized and entombed behind glass. Through a byzantine selection and authorization process, you can get several pictures of yourself taken by Fried while wearing the deceased matron’s togs and, later on, attend a “celebratory event” in her honor. Filial adoration with a light powdering of necrophilia—moms aren’t easy to please.

Alex Jovanovich

A. R. Penck

Michael Werner | New York
4 E. 77th Street
June 9–September 3

A. R. Penck, Untitled (Group), 1961, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 51”.

The painting at the entrance of the gallery, Elektrischer Stuhl (Electric Chair), 1960, sets the tone for this offering of A. R. Penck’s early work. A baby-faced man sits strapped in an electric chair while an anonymous crowd looks on. In the front row, a woman covers her face with her hands in agony. Hands and heads form visceral motifs in this exhibition, where the artist’s trademark stick figures and symbols are already present as sophisticated visual agents tracing a history of violence.

In Untitled (Group), 1961, a small being is flanked by two towering men. The man on the right, with a distinctly erect penis, is cracking a whip over the tiny subject, while the other man raises an enormous finger, like a shrill pedant. The latter holds up a framed depiction of the scene that the (possibly?) sadomasochistic pair is trapped in, which causes a subtle mise en abyme of confusion and terror. Systembild (System Image), 1966, shows conjoined twins, one of which is writing the letter A, with other beings who display the letter as if it were unimpeachable law.

The darkly political underpinnings of Penck’s pictographs don’t go unnoticed. A room full of his sculptures, many of them named “Standart-Modell” (“standart” being a portmanteau of the words standard and art) and most created between 1972 and 1973, are composed of mundane objects, like aluminum foil, painted glass bottles, and boxes. The materials, seemingly fashioned to highlight their commonness or ubiquity, were the only items readily available to Penck as a nonestablishment maker in the former German Democratic Republic.

Yin Ho

“DIS-PLAY / RE-PLAY”

Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street
May 4–September 5

Hermes Payrhuber, Ode to the Rope with a Knot with a Hole, for Thomas Bernhard, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

A loose inspiration for Hermes Payrhuber’s multimedia installation Ode to the Rope with a Knot with a Hole, for Thomas Bernhard, 2016, is the titular author’s 1971 novella, Walking. The book, which is about a man triggered to madness by a questionable set of trousers in a storefront, contains frantic and labyrinthine monologues on perception, experience, and the state. Walking is an apt metaphor for this show, which seeks to corrupt the white cube’s displacing capabilities, despite the modern exhibition’s attempts to divorce viewers from realities beyond its parameters.

Martin Beck’s one day after another, 2014–15, reproduces his notes and philological meditations regarding the words exhibition and display on letter-size pigment prints. They confront the show’s overarching theme: Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (1976), a text examining the history and atemporalizing effects of this (by now) very familiar context for art. Judith Barry’s video installation They Agape, 1978—depicting two female architects talking against a sound track with songs by Gang of Four and the B-52s—comes to life via a motion sensor, forcing spectators to complete a piece projected across two adjoining walls. Similarly, Beck’s appropriation of his own writings highlights what O’Doherty calls the “flow of energy between concepts of space articulated through the artwork and the space we occupy.” Beck literally reframes his texts within the idiosyncratic gallery, while Barry employs silence, punk rock, blank walls, and the mundanity of architectural work to reveal the labor of spatial production, and, more pointedly, the erasure of women in said production by the very institutions of representation.

Tyler Curtis

Yanyan Huang

Tomorrow
106 Eldridge Street
June 24–August 5

View of “Yanyan Huang: Giardino del Tempo,” 2016.

Spectral shapes manifest in light clouds of color through the undulating barrier of Trace Fields (all works 2016), which hangs from a brass rod in the gallery window. Heralded by this luxurious patch of printed silk, Yanyan Huang’s effervescent show, organized with Alex Ross, follows like an exotic garden path. Swimming through colors and amorphic blobs, visitors are immersed in a space tricked out with inscrutable designs.

Huang’s paintings are as mesmerizing as they are impenetrable, overflowing with hairline strokes and fern-like bursts. Calligraphic characters of vibrant hues pulsate in decadent works that are neither referential nor abstract. Being become present II offers a swathe of watery brown paint reminiscent of the beady-eyed head of a dolphin and a yellow patch like a four-fingered cartoon hand. Being become present III is home to a feisty squiggle that raises its head with a precocious tilt. Like a jungle to get lost in, the wallpaper piece Untitled (Spoonflower) is a sultry forest of graffiti-like marks whose lushness befits the opulent humidity of the summer swelter. Violent fuchsias and jaundiced greens peek coyly from the background, made alien by digital effects; Photoshop’s lasso tool leaves a muddy stamp upon this work.

A faux-marble shelf sports an array that marries ikebana to the stateliness of an old-estate solarium, all part of an “Untitled (ceramic set).” The artist’s formal flexibility allows her to map any medium. Skillfully flowing between the digital and the dimensional, Huang proves—if, indeed, we remain unconvinced—the unity of art and design.

Nicole Kaack

“Empirical Intuitive Absorption”

Andrea Rosen Gallery
525 West 24th Street
June 28–August 5

Matthew Ronay, The Kernel, 2016, basswood, dye, gouache, steel, 18 x 31 1/2 x 11''.

As an extension of a lecture he gave in March 2016 at Miami’s Pérez Art Museum, Matthew Ronay contextualizes his own recent wood sculptures with works by Fernand Léger, Serge Charchoune, Terry Riley, and Graham Marks to investigate how abstraction can intuitively tap into and communicate elemental concepts. With the exception of Léger’s foreboding, nebulous form in Green Foliage, 1930, the artist’s graphic, object-centered works struggle to transcend their subject matter and are the least effective here. But we do get a rare opportunity to view the work of Léger’s contemporary, Charchoune, an overlooked painter and poet who hopscotched between genres, eluding categorization.

Ronay’s selections illustrate Charchoune’s eclectic approach to abstraction, from doodled symbols to dense monochromes. Charchoune’s vibrant, symmetrical seascape, La croix marine (The Navy Cross), VII-VII, 1950, looks like the direct inspiration for Ronay’s sculpture The Kernel, 2016, a boat of stacked tongues carrying a spongy egg across a rippled slab of azure-stained basswood. Ronay transforms his material into supple, velvety forms that playfully allude to the body—arterial tubes, porous sacs, and juicy folds. In contrast, Marks embraces the imperfections and grittiness of clay to create heavy earthen sculptures that resemble overgrown seedpods or geological specimens.

As Riley’s undulating and hypnotic compositions wash over the exhibition, ebbing in and out of our awareness, Marks’s sculptures lie in repose, functioning as punctuation marks. Performed on an electronic organ modified with digital delay loops, Riley’s drone-heavy, raga-like pieces, including Shri (Mister) Camel, 1980, play from a wall-mounted turntable, though they might as well be transmitted from an interstellar church. For Ronay, these varied abstractions are more than a reduction of forms—there is a consciousness that connects the works to one another, and forces far greater.

Chris Murtha

Francisco Ugarte

Cristin Tierney
540 West 28th Street
July 7–August 19

View of “Francisco Ugarte,” 2016.

Slow, accident-prone, temperamental, occasionally indistinct—the slide projector is an endearing thing, as it mimics a range of clunky human idiosyncrasies familiar to us all. It is evocative, nostalgia-inducing. It takes us through the rabbit hole of dreary art-history surveys in overwarm auditoriums, or the dusty rec rooms of distant relatives, where we vicariously relive their vacations, birthdays, barbecues, and graduations. When a projected image hits a taut surface, we can’t help but fall into the rhythms of narrative, picture after picture after picture.

It’s not that Francisco Ugarte’s “Slideshow” is haunted, but the absence of representational imagery from the four projector works in the dimly lit gallery, indeed, unsettles. Words cannot make sense of the projectors’ incessant chatter. Nonetheless, Ugarte’s strange environment allows us to witness the malleability of light and color through hundreds of manipulated slides. In Untitled (Light and Corner), 2008, the slides are printed with geometric shapes that get flashed into the corner of a wall. The Kodak Ektagraphic’s lens finds no focal point on the slide’s glassy center, but it never stops attempting to locate one, so the light gently pulses on the wall with every successive image-form. For Untitled (Primary Colors), 2015, three projectors offer up abstract, modernist compositions made from the titular hues—so scintillating, so seductive. A plinth near the exhibition’s entrance holds a light box where rows of Ugarte’s altered slides can be viewed (Untitled [Light Box II]), 2016. It’s here that the secrets of the artist’s compositions reveal themselves very quietly by the illuminated traces of tiny cuts and humble bits of tape.

Kaitlyn A. Kramer

“Repossession”

Lehmann Maupin | Downtown
201 Chrystie Street
June 24–August 12

Mickalene Thomas, Angelitos Negros (Black Little Angels), 2016, 8 two-channel HD videos, sound, color, 23 minutes 18 seconds.

A Tim Rollins and K.O.S. installation—Darkwater III (After W.E.B. Du Bois), 2013—sets the tone of this show. Pages of the titular author’s essays are mounted on twelve panels hung side by side, partially obstructed by gold acrylic and “furnace black” watercolor. Indeed, the work looks as though it were recovered from a fire. One of panels reads “Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery.” This statement, written in 1920, could not be more apropos now, where black men and women are still part of a ruthless cycle that subjugates and victimizes.

Just past these pieces is Kader Attia’s collage series “Modern Architecture Genealogy,” 2014. It reminds us that colonization boils down to a twisted rewrite of the Pygmalion and Narcissus myths. Here, the artist offers up representations of conquered, non-Western bodies who are expected to become mirror images of their rulers in order to be deemed “civilized.” The architecture here seems like a prison for fragmented, vulnerable identities. Elsewhere, the indefatigable Mickalene Thomas’s multichannel video Angelitos Negros (Black Little Angels), 2016, comments on femininity and sexuality by revisiting Eartha Kitt’s performance of Antonio Machín’s song of the same name. The video—Pop, yet transcendent—is a message of empowerment for women forgotten by the system.

At a time when levels of xenophobia are painting a racial landscape that echoes the first half of the twentieth century—or, frighteningly, even earlier—exhibitions like this one are vital and necessary. “Repossession” asks us to fight against a hatred that’s become far too normalized.

Lara Atallah

Alice Tippit

Nicelle Beauchene Gallery
327 Broome Street
June 30–August 12

Alice Tippit, Part, 2016, oil on canvas, 24 x 20''.

Alice Tippit’s boldly graphic, hard-edge paintings are refined and puzzle-like. In these sketchbook-scale works, she offsets a cool, formal harmony with a wry and cryptic language of symbols, arabesques, and geometry. Irregular vases, decontextualized fruit, elongated hands, and weird animals populate her spare compositions, evoking vintage textile design and antique sign painting as well as art history. In Iris (all works 2016), a Victorian crescent moon hangs facing down—like a happy, Cyclopean eyelid—in a velvety-black sky. A canary-yellow banana under it makes a big clownish smile. Flat is the profile of a forest-green boob with an inverted nipple, set against a coral-flesh background. Or is the nipple-dip not negative space but a protruding part of a concave object in green space instead? Tippit’s paintings ask us to toggle between myriad readings. And hues of sepia, peach, and terra-cotta pop up in most of the works on view, so we seek out the body everywhere.

Up close, you see the paintings are carefully, subtly constructed, containing rich areas of barely-there color gradients and cross-fades. Part might be the most detailed piece. Rendered in a vaguely familiar illustrational style, a sullen face with precise features emerges from a field of beige. The “part”—a midpoint of the subject’s striking hairstyle—doubles as a butt crack. It’s hard not to notice that the dark, wavy shoulder-length hair looks like the silhouette of a person from the back, bent over. Pointed toes and shapely calves raise an ass into the air. Such genial lasciviousness along with painterly lushness lends the artist’s unsolvable riddles rare appeal.

Johanna Fateman

“It’s Not Your Nature”

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
100 Eleventh Avenue
June 2–August 5

Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Trees), ca.1945, oil on canvas, 29 x 23''.

Summer shows can feel like that other seasonal occurrence, the stoop or yard sale. “It’s Not Your Nature” is a hodgepodge of art under a vague sign. But when you’re dealing with Lee Krasner, Harry Bertoia, and Norman Lewis—and when your view is Fairfield Porter’s, across the barrier islands in Maine—it’s compelling stuff to sift through. It’s also a rare chance outside of a museum to see so many modern American masters up close and personal.

The show’s title is a confusing pun, as the pieces seem very much in the nature of the twenty-two artists on display and incorporate an expansive conception—whether petroglyph, bird, branch, or sky—of what one thinks of when it comes to the natural world.

But it’s the work that matters, and there are wonders. Lenore Tawney, a fiber-arts pioneer who was a confidant and studio neighbor of Agnes Martin at Coenties Slip in New York, is represented here by a stunning unraveling of Minimalist line, Arbor #1, ca. 1960: a profusion of golden flowers that climb up rambling vines of wool, linen, and silk open-warp weaving. In delightful directional counterpoint, Hale Woodruff’s painting Landscape with Fallen Star, 1979, hangs next to it. Another strong cluster includes a knockout small Joan Mitchell, Untitled, ca. 1967, that carries in its blue-green abstraction the tonic viridity of two adjacent works: Beauford Delaney’s Untitled (Trees), ca. 1945, and Alma Thomas’s Lake Reflecting Advent of Spring, 1973. Depending on your nature, you’ll find your own treasures.

Prudence Peiffer

“The Highs of Everyday Life”

Reena Spaulings Fine Art
165 East Broadway, 2nd Floor
July 1, 2016–July 30, 2016

View of “The Highs of Everyday Life,” 2016.

The year in American media has been nothing if not a shrill, torrential fever dream: an obsessive and escalating news cycle reflecting a savage reality torn apart by killer cops, active-shooter rampage, virulent right-wing populism, and a looming American vote of world-historical consequence. A sardonic reversal of political discourse, then, arrives in the deliberately patchy whirring of this group exhibition during an election year, a time when many galleries exert themselves to prop up their best approximations of politically motivated art. This show is different. Organized by Monika Senz, it critically examines daily life under advanced capitalism, in tones that seem to irreverently fly in the face of the dour nation. The works feel almost vintage in their listless tranquility, a kind of stoned obsession with decor, wellness, lifestyle, and cocktail parties.

A series of photographs by London-based artist Georgie Nettell, “Opportunity,” 2015, showcases elegant, deeply unremarkable interiors by the artist’s friends, belonging to their well-to-do parents’ orderly homes. Two photographs of highbrow galas by Josephine Pryde, warped and printed on aluminum tubes (Style, My Daughter and Have I Got My Shoes On - Am I Still Me?, both 2009) require a more rigorous scrutiny—they seem like a hissing reply to the instant legibility and rapid dispersal of images today. Sam Pulitzer’s five anxious, introspective wall texts, “Untitled,” 2016, are scattered throughout the gallery, and echo his memorable 2014 Artists Space exhibition, where visitors were also directed through the gallery by a prescriptive wall text. Two video works, one by Loretta Fahrenholz (Que Bárbara [That Bárbara], 2011) and another by Nettell and Morag Keil (The Fascism of Everyday Life, 2016), capture la vie bohčme from vastly different class perspectives, from indulgence to restraint. Restraint, in fact, may be this show’s major strength, gleefully scaling back ambition and intellectual density to lead us toward the docile, Kracauerian politics that script contemporary experience.

Boško Blagojević

Meriem Bennani

MoMA PS1
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
June 19–August 28

View of “Meriem Bennani: FLY,” 2016.

To be a fly on the wall at Meriem Bennani’s first institutional solo show is to adopt her perspective of contemporary culture. Her video installation FLY, 2016, mimics the mosaic structure of a fly’s eyes with a patchwork of projectors, creating an immersive experience. Resembling a concept room that a first-year architecture student might draft in SketchUp, the irregular, multiscreen theater requires the viewer to construct a strategy for digesting the seventeen-minute film. Seating is not a problem; Bennani provides benches.

The story centers around a wedding set in Bennani’s native Morocco. A fruit fly that resembles Clippy, the Microsoft Word mascot, serves as a guide for the peripatetic narrative that skips from genre to genre, scene to scene. The insect addresses the audience directly, pausing only to sing a baby-voice ballad hardly recognizable as Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” The short, something like a music video, is a reconstitution of television tropes. The young artist interrupts her Travel Channel–worthy shots of the souk with reality TV–style confessionals, blooper noises, and other cartoonish interventions. Pixelated flames lick unharmed actors—her family and friends—as they dance their way into the night. Reality and the virtual commingle.

A nod to the input streams that compete for our attention both on and offline, the kaleidoscopic installation accepts the oscillating gaze of the metamodern state and builds upon it. Looping in perpetuity, FLY invites allusions to Morocco as a developing nation caught between past and present. Bennani has a reverence for high and low culture, and the artist’s fluency across media allows her to make something that, though not entirely subversive, is universally enjoyable.

Kat Herriman

“The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men”

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
June 23–September 2

Celia Hempton, Ben, 2015, oil on polyester, 20 x 24''.

In a curatorial move akin to a Sadie Hawkins dance, this exhibition asks women to flex their female gaze and depict men. Thirty-two artists present varying perspectives on the male form—from neutral, detached portraits to ones steeped in obvious desire. Many offer up their sitters in attitudes historically reserved for female subjects, as come-hither nudes or odalisques. Others catch them in private moments of sleep or self-love, both literal and figurative, as in Grace Graupe-Pillard’s painting of a young artist mid iPhone selfie, hand curled in a manner that recalls Dürer’s Self-Portrait in Fur Coat, 1500.

The phallus persists throughout, though this emblem of masculinity is recast in the service of female pleasure or made delicate, even feminized. Celia Hempton haloes supple, skin-toned paintings of erogenous zones with pale blues, and Louise Bourgeois’s 1964 sculptural ode to male anatomy is cheekily titled “little girl,” or Fillette (Sweeter Version), 1968–99, a joke Lynda Benglis takes further in Smile, 1974, a smirking double-sided bronze dildo. Who needs men when we’ve already manufactured their replacements? Benglis’s comment on female self-sufficiency is echoed in Jenny Holzer’s marble bench, the sole nonfigurative work, engraved with “Men don’t protect you anymore.”

But hewing to gender roles can sometimes be fun. A 1965 Diane Arbus photograph brilliantly captures a teen couple in gendered self-fashioning playing at man- and womanhood. The girl raises dark, heavily penciled lids at the camera. Her boyfriend looks sidelong in studied aloofness, his hand on his belt loop and legs splayed in what this generation of female observers would unhesitatingly dub a manspread.

Hannah Stamler

Nan Goldin

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
June 11–February 12

Nan Goldin, Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984, silver dye bleach print, 15 1/2 x 23''.

In a second-floor gallery leading to a dark room where Nan Goldin’s epic slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1976–96, plays in a dedicated installation, vintage flyers from the artist’s archive highlight its start as an improvised and evolving performance staged in the long-gone clubs and alternative venues of New York’s downtown scene. This canonical masterpiece, shown here in its original 35-mm slide format, comprises nearly seven hundred images: fearlessly intimate snapshot-like documents of Goldin’s chosen family and a devastated demimonde at the height of AIDS. The photos—ordered in untidy categories such as couples, mothers, injuries, male nudes, and shooting up—are appropriately fleeting. Just as one recognizes Goldin’s luminous contemporaries (Greer Lankton, Cookie Mueller, and Mark Morrisroe, to name just a few), they’re gone. It’s impossible to absorb every charming or startling detail. And the enthralling parade is set to an eclectic sound track. You can imagine it playing in any of the cozily derelict East Village apartments or dive bars depicted.

Goldin has called her stark, bruised self-portrait, Nan One Month After Being Battered, 1984, the “central image” of “Ballad.” In it, the powder-blue wall and curtain of her background complement the subconjunctival hemorrhage of her left eye and her perversely matching, carefully applied vermillion lipstick. Such bold self-exposure grounds her diaristic magnum opus, giving it a heroic credibility that will forever distinguish it from all the Goldinesque knockoffs made since. This image is not an aestheticization of violence—it’s a refusal to be shamed by it. Her photos are not glamorizing but often undeniably glamorous, simply because her subjects are. The pervasive longing that suffuses “Ballad” parallels our own desire to know more about a very different New York and the minutiae of brilliant lives cut short.

Johanna Fateman

Roberto Burle Marx

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue
May 6–September 18

View of “Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist,” 2016.

At the entrance to this exhibition, one is seduced by a real garden of yellow bromeliads and pulsating, patterned walls, inspired by the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx is known for his animated biomorphic designs, such as the graphic pavement along Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard, and the scintillating, verdant discotheque that is the Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park—gigantic modernist arrangements that simultaneously disrupt and compliment their surroundings.

Burle Marx’s site plans, such as Design for the Minister’s Rooftop Garden, Ministry of Education and Health, Rio De Janeiro, 1938, or Design for a Garden for the Grand Hotel, Pampulha (Unbuilt), 1943–44, are pragmatic documents that are also masterly abstract paintings. His archive is vast, and his distinct vision suffused many facets of his creative endeavors, from Cubist oil paintings and ink portraits to theater sets and jewelry.

Works by contemporary artists that engage Burle Marx’s legacy also punctuate the space. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s video Plages (Beaches), 2001, captures lively images of Copacabana Beach—and Burle Marx’s adjacent mosaic boardwalk—during New Year’s Eve celebrations in 2000. Juan Araujo’s Pavimento exterior del Banco Safra Casa Central (Exterior Pavement of Banco Safra Headquarters), 2015, is an oil painting based on a photograph of Burle Marx’s mineral roof garden for the titular bank. And Nick Mauss’s glazed ceramic plaque, Askew, 2016, is situated near Burle Marx’s own ceramic tiles. Burle Marx was a multihyphenate maker whose design “practice” was, really, a guide for an immersive, aestheticized lifestyle. His rich imagination directs us toward a charmed way of life.

Grant Johnson

“Mirror Cells”

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
May 13–August 21

Liz Craft, Spider Woman Purple Dress (detail), 2015, papier-mâché, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“Emo is on the verge of a comeback,” I told a friend not long ago. And wouldn’t you know it, the next day I heard the unmistakable wah-wah melody of Modest Mouse’s “Dramamine” thudding through my floorboards, courtesy of my neighbors. Though it is not exactly twee, we are living in a moment of confessional culture, bolstered by important discussions about the social consequences of identity. “Mirror Cells,” the first group show of contemporary sculpture in the Whitney’s newish building, acknowledges this personal turn. The exhibition brings together five artists who realize inner worlds through hands-on and collage techniques. As curators Christopher Y. Lew and Jane Panetta argue, this work contrasts with the art world’s recent obsessions with technology.

The sensibility at play is more hermetic than polemic. Win McCarthy’s low-relief tabletop installations loosely depict shabby cities in miniature. They recall Joseph Cornell in their ambition to capture a fleeting moment in time. They are adorned with newspaper headlines, voodoo-ish dolls, photos, poems in everyday language, and daily horoscopes (the artist was apparently born under the sensitive sign of Cancer). Elizabeth Jaeger’s nearly flat, cracked ceramic vessels on sawhorses, “Jack Jaeger,” 2016, pay homage to her grandfather. And yet, politics (of selfhood and otherwise) aren’t completely abandoned. Rochelle Goldberg’s installation No Where Now Here, 2016, evokes environmental disaster through animal forms coated with an oily glaze, staged on a sprouting bed of chia seeds. Four video sculptures by Maggie Lee, playing chapters from her experimental documentary about her mother’s sudden death, Mommy, 2015, hearken back to avant-gardists such as Nam June Paik but also call to mind the funereal shrines of various Asian cultures. Liz Craft, the oldest artist in the show, presents her creepy “Spider Woman” figures, 2014–16; a series of “Little Lips,” 2016; and speech-bubble sculptures. While some of the latter works are free of text, others contain searing messages directed at women—notably, Your Pussy or Your Life, 2015.

Wendy Vogel

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