Zoe Leonard began her ongoing “Sun Photographs” series in 2010, the year after finishing Analogue, 1998–2009, an exhaustive photographic archive (on view at MoMA this summer) that documents decaying bodegas and other stores fading from the urban landscape. Whereas Analogue is rooted in the elements of daily life, Leonard’s pictures of the sun mark a departure from the tangible for the ethereal. They also adapt Analogue’s approach of shooting a subject head on, and in this Leonard breaks a fundamental rule of photography. The results on view in this show capture the sun’s brightness, registered in film as a glowing orb hovering near the center of each print.
Leonard composes each of these works so as to exclude details that might reveal where it was shot, and by thus deemphasizing context, she draws the viewer’s focus to the quality of the photograph. This allows Leonard to highlight the formal elements of each work: the grain of the paper, and the subtle variations of gray and white across the surface of the print. Further enhancing Leonard’s directness, each sun picture is nailed to the wall, with no Plexiglas or frame. In this way, these works are less about documenting the sun—an impossible feat without sophisticated equipment—and more about what we expect when we look at a photograph.
“Who needs bondage? Isolation will do.” Julia Heyward (also known as Duka Delight) is a master at talking dirty. Her words are seductive, to be sure, but more so unctuous and often defiled. In performances and videos made between 1971 and 1984—the purview of her first monographic survey, curated by Jamie Stevens—she lends an incantatory cadence to skeins of metonymy, rhyme, and alliteration. Buoyed by her southern drawl, language revels in its own slipperiness, a fish the artist is quick to gut.
Heyward’s penchant for volte-face is also visual. After all, she pioneered the genre we now call music videos, primers in transforming teenage lust into quotidian—and therefore nefarious—forms of capitalist desire. The exhibition’s titular video, Conscious Knocks Unconscious, 1979, features a surreally spinning Venus de Milo. Contra the literally “unarmed” sculpture, the artist boasts that she has an army replete with privates (smacking her breasts and crotch to percussive effect). Shake Daddy Shake, a hypnotic 1976 performance, tells the story of yet another doomed limb. After a lifetime of shaking hands with his congregation, her pastor dad has developed an involuntary—you could even say unshakeable—tremor. Heyward’s vocal acrobatics commandingly rail against the patriarchy while doused in familial sweetness, her dulcet tones edged with an enraged timbre girls reserve only for their fathers.
A leather costume of battery-operated LED lights (used in her 1984 performance No Local Stops) hangs from the gallery ceiling. Devoid of a wearer, the empty carapace is both threatening and erotic. Who needs bondage when you’ve got chains of signification? Heyward’s oneiric monologues—though seemingly stream of consciousness—insist that association is in fact never free.
There is a scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Masculin Féminin (1966) in which Chantal Goya leans over to the handsome Jean-Pierre Léaud and remarks, “You dummy, I love you.” Léaud’s attention, however, is held by the action playing out on the cinema screen before him. Not surprising for Ian Wallace, the symbolic separation of the sexes, a mediation of experience through film, and the foreclosed gaze of a desired subject are motifs as recurrent in his ongoing body of work as they are in Godard’s oeuvre.
In the case of Wallace’s series “Masculin/Féminin,” 1996–, the artist also looks to explore themes of disjunction. In Where Are You (Masculin/Féminin), 2015, two black-and-white photolaminate stills from Godard’s film are affixed atop intersecting monochromatic planes of white and yellow acrylic. The abutting fields of color amplify the disconnect between Léaud and Goya, whose opposing gazes foreground their isolation from each other. Wallace’s deployment of this medium would seem to evince Gilles Deleuze’s notion of the freeze-frame as representative of a greater “logic of disembodiment.”
Utilizing actors for his series “Event Structure,” 2007–, Wallace photographs everyday Parisian mise-en-scènes, mounting the resulting color images onto color-blocked canvases in a manner similar to the works belonging to his “Masculin/Féminin” project. And while his male and female protagonists are here depicted in the same image, as in Event Structure III, 2015, their gazes nonetheless fail to align. For Wallace, the look of love is more like a cold stare.
The repeated circle patterns that top Brendan Fowler’s two large, layered wall pieces are made with an industrial embroidery machine—the kind that stitches logos onto sports jackets and baseball caps. This process translates the traditionally decorative craft associated with leisure and personalization into an automated, mass-market context. Though the wall pieces could technically be called photographs due to the blurry digital ink-jet prints that comprise the base layer of each, their disorienting stratification is demonstrated by the materials list: rayon and printable polyester on archival pigment prints mounted on dyed canvas. The photographs’ subjects are barely recognizable, as in Nancy Getting Birthday Cake with Empty Polka Dot Motif, Notebook and Sampler Piece Instructions, 2015, in which a human figure is eclipsed by blurs of light and stitched over with circles—a stock image from the quilting software Fowler uses—as well as the outline of a notebook, labels, and instructions for using a digital sampler.
The embroidery machine’s imprecision can create blips and flaws, especially where shapes overlap partially. A loop of sampled sounds in various combinations also expands the show’s theme of layering and pastiche. Using a digital sampler that has been central to the artist’s previous performance work, here placed on a large wooden bench constructed for the show, Fowler improvises variations of pre-set sounds. As with the generic imagery in the two wall pieces, Fowler uses the vocabulary of variable and repetition, choosing from ready-made elements to explore the uncanny effects of creating through permutation, playback, and machinated glitch.
Curating a show to posit the idea of artists following in another’s footsteps is always a difficult feat that runs the risk of facile didacticism. Yet Katy Siegel steers clear of such a fate here, tracing a legacy of Helen Frankenthaler that is consistently surprising. Anchored by her 1962 canvas Hommage à M. L., the show divides into a variety of media and styles. Ulrike Müller’s miniature paintings–turned-jewelry, from 2011 to 2014, are wonderfully unexpected, as is Cheryl Donegan’s classic video Head, 1993; they seamlessly enter the conversation and amplify Frankenthaler’s voice rather than distracting from it. Marilyn Minter and Andy Warhol collide with Judy Chicago, and the result is a visual treat.
The most striking addition to the show, however, is one of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s trademark beaded curtains. Untitled (Beginning), 1994, is installed at the entrance to what Siegel deems the “Men’s Room,” which also includes contributions from Carroll Dunham, Christopher Wool, and Mike Kelley. This green membrane that one must pass through to enter the room bisects the exhibition; it acts as a threshold. Industrially produced, glittering, and cold on the skin, Gonzalez-Torres’s work is far from the warm exuberance of Frankenthaler’s painting. Yet both artists point to a productively tenuous life, a shifting between presence and absence: The penetrating, stained, vertical blue hues of Hommage are reminiscent of the capacity of Untitled (Beginning) to surround and invade the body. These surprising and aptly observed affiliations expand our understanding of the legacy of the ever-multivalent Frankenthaler and inspire unexpected curatorial possibilities in a time of increasingly univocal exhibitions.
When America sneezes, the world catches cold. In this show of five new bodies of painting and sculpture by Nate Lowman, that cliché of superpower economics summons the spirit of the American working class. For instance, front and center is Untitled, 2013–15, a colossal installation of a map of the United States with each state made out of a bit of soiled drop cloth wrapped around a shaped stretcher. Excepting Alaska and Hawaii, all are installed on a wall inclined away from the viewer. The best seats in the house for this work are atop a set of found bleachers that Lowman chose for their ubiquity in Texas.
Moving through, Lowman’s air-freshener paintings—canvases shaped after the rearview mirror’s best friend—playfully introduce modernism’s nonrectilinear substrates to the zingy forms of cartoons. Accompanying these are seven works with titles such as Mellow Yellow and Ghost of Indiana, both 2014, for which the artist stitched together the scraps of canvas leftover from the air-freshener works using unscented dental floss.
Eight paintings of Lowman’s studio’s ceiling flank the final gallery’s walls. Made by filling in areas traced from projected photos with dapples of latex, these works—all titled after his studio’s address—pair with the drop-cloth pieces to represent the upper and lower boundaries of an artist’s workplace. They radiate in the light cast by the central installation of makeshift lamps, Rave the Painforest Again, 2015, which fuses blue-collar materials such as construction boots filled with cement, Gatorade coolers, and coffee cans stuck with leprous Garbage Pail Kid decals with vintage lightbulbs containing hand-wound tungsten thread, illuminating once again the artist’s déclassé alchemy.
Full of productive juxtapositions and sight lines that bring together Conceptual, Fluxus, Neo-concrete, and classic Pop works from four continents, “International Pop” presents a complex interpretation of postwar art. The works exhibited are surprisingly heterogeneous, with one common denominator: a desire to reimagine everyday life in an era transformed by consumerism, media, and new forms of political domination and liberation.
Viewers first encounter Shinohara Ushio’s Oiran, 1968, a portrait of a courtesan whose face has been left blank. Hanging nearby are a few dozen plastic coats on Thomas Bayrle’s Clothes Rack 1 and Clothes Rack 2, both 1968–70. In each, the model is missing. This might seem like an odd, ghostly overture for an exhibition bursting with flesh, from Marjorie Strider’s pinups and Jana Želibská’s veiled nudes to David Hockney’s prone lover. But even in the lustiest, most corporeal works something’s absent. They reduce the human figure to a silhouette, a caricature, or a fragment. Expressions are hard to read, and skin extends into the commodities that surround it, as in Richard Hamilton’s Hers is a Lush Situation, 1958, whose painted curves simultaneously outline a car and a woman’s body. By showing us half-present collaged and appropriated bodies, these works reveal that the true subjects of Pop art were ways of life that hadn’t yet fully coalesced and that pointed beyond their present toward the beginnings of something stranger.
This expansively ambitious show curated by Claire Tancons and Krista Thompson is based on a fresh postulate for history and an apt query for today. The exhibition proposes that carnival—that great tradition of pre-Lenten partying in public, endemic to former slave societies in the Caribbean basin—has played a crucial role in shaping modern culture everywhere. It’s not only people in Trinidad and Rio and New Orleans, these days, who build stylized lives around Fat Tuesday’s “farewell to flesh”; Caribbean-style carnivals are also New York and London’s biggest and best-attended yearly public events.
That’s the postulate. The question is trickier: How might carnival’s attendant forms of aesthetic practice and ritual modes of masquerade—the performative arts that Trinidadians call mas’—be synthesized with the larger contemporary discourse of performance art, with its genealogy presumed to originate in the bodily economies not of chattel slavery but of Europe’s avant-gardes?
To find out, the curators commissioned nine artists from the Caribbean and its diasporas to create performance pieces for their respective islands’ main carnival streets (or, in the case of London-based Hew Locke, for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall). The exhibition here gathers both photographic documents of and materials used in the resulting pieces—decorative coffins from Jamaican artist Ebony G. Patterson; Locke’s faux riot-cop shields, riffing on carnival’s contradictions in now-gentrified Notting Hill—to at once refigure the artists’ work and ask “how carnival might be critically re-inserted,” Tancons writes, “within the history of the exhibitionary complex.”
The answer to that, on evidence here, remains fuzzy. It is telling that the two strongest pieces in the gallery context are films, by Cauleen Smith and Christophe Chassol, which were conceived as such. But one leaves the show convinced of both its guiding questions’ import and of the key role that its revitalized host institution—sited in a city that has both sprouted a real restive art scene, ten years from Katrina, and retains the country’s richest well of folk performance tradition—can play in the asking.
In the 1970s, Edna Andrade traded in her involvement with the vertigo of Op art for a more restrained exploration of geometry. In this, she recast the movement’s emphasis on perceptual uncertainty into highly abstract landscapes and still lifes that hover between the terrestrial and the cosmic.
The stars of her current exhibition, “Astrologer’s Garden,” are a group of canvases from the 1980s and early ’90s that explore the semantic potential of simple geometry: how a circle can stand for the eye of a telescope or the body of a meteor, a sine wave for a trail of smoke or a mountain ridge. The spare pyramids and empty steps of the titular painting (from 1988) could be a de Chirico cityscape redrawn in a Bauhaus workshop, while the pastel classicism of Acropolis, 1993, finds Andrade searching for the minimum of planes that make a flat form coalesce into an architectural volume. In earlier, more purely abstract works such as Moongate A, 1966, shapes in shades of gray hover between foreground and background, as if beaming in from other universes. Incorporating references to the Jantar Mantar observatory, Native American patterns, and Buckminster Fuller’s utopian domes, the works are animated by an Aby Warburg–like impulse to find connections among disparate times and places.
A strong selection of drawings and small-scale paintings rounds out this show. Here, Andrade’s obsessive, meticulously constructed patterns call to mind her time as a professor at the Philadelphia College of Art. These are satisfying formal puzzles in which each square and half circle snaps perfectly together, producing a precision at the service of a dizzying ambiguity.
“Word & Image”—one of two shows together presented as “Framing Fraktur”—sprawls throughout the Free Library’s lobby, corridors, and archives, exploring ties between historical fraktur—eighteenth- to nineteenth-century Pennsylvania German manuscript-based folk art—and the practices of seven contemporary artists who treat words as visual or material compositional elements as much as carriers of verbal information. Curated by Judith Tannenbaum, the exhibition interweaves conceptually—and sometimes spatially—with the concurrent archival presentation “Quill & Brush,” organized by Lisa Minardi. Vitrines, tucked in a first-floor corridor and filled with contemporary works alongside fraktur facsimiles, provide a primer on the exhibition’s themes. Anthony Campuzano’s case, for example, includes a drawing with text, Autobiography: Emily Dickinson via Frances Farmer, 2004, next to the watercolor fraktur Spiritual Labyrinth, 1785. Both works crush text as mark making into claustrophobic, repetitive layouts that reinforce their words’ emotive subject matter.
Embracing fraktur’s blurring of fine art and utilitarian design, artist Marian Bantjes has created the show’s ornate primary-colored graphic identity, which flutters on tall banners between the library’s exterior columns, heads up marketing materials, and graces the catalogue’s cover. On the second floor, three of Bantjes’s Framing Fraktur, 2014, pencil studies on gridded paper, adapted from archival fraktur letterforms, hang not far from Elaine Reichek’s modest needlepoint work Sampler (Kruger/Holzer), 1998. Serving as a critical microcosm of the exhibition—and positing that formal similarities between fraktur and current art belie significant differences in values—Reichek’s work places oft-embroidered eighteenth-century idioms (“Do as you would be done by”) in contentious dialogue with appropriated contemporary phrases, such as Jenny Holzer’s 1977 truism “Abuse of power comes as no surprise.”
The prints in this exhibition explore the instability of memory, formally and contextually effacing personal imagery until it becomes abstracted and foreign. Allison Bianco’s work attempts to reconcile her own childhood recollections of Rhode Island with the lived experience of returning as an adult. Landscapes that informed her youth are represented in bold, fluorescent tones that would seem lighthearted if not for the expressive formal processes involved—such as in the intaglio and silk-screen prints of Yosemite, 2009, in which a picturesque mountain scene is printed over with thick smears of black. Regardless of scale or detail, each print in the exhibition is realized across a series of combined, separate sheets, forcing the images to accommodate a specific scale in much the same way that reality conforms to one’s own recollection of it.
In the diptych intaglio and silk-screen print Zeppelin, 2013, a blimp hovers over the popular beach town of Narragansett, presenting an aerial view dotted by architectural landmarks. While the landscape and the opaque, screen-printed fields of color used to depict it appear bright and ornamental, a closer look reveals that a diagonal swath of blue actually represents the sea threatening to overtake the coastal area. On the other side of the diptych, parts of the image are almost entirely obscured by inky, smudged fingerprints. Amid these painterly marks, identifiable buildings and ships are represented with such precision that the viewer, like the artist, is forced to search within density to mine the obscured memory.
Daniel Leivick’s exhibition underscores the necessity of seeing photographs in person. Offering richly composed aerial photocollages that allude to cartography, systemization, and early twentieth-century abstraction, these sixteen photographs maintain at their core a uniquely physical presence. Posed between fact and fiction, Leivick’s digitally altered pigment prints construct grand-scale narratives loosely tied to the history of the ancient Egyptian city Heliopolis. Leivick uses this site as a metaphor for broader ideas about culture, time, and myth in order to critique peoples’ relationship with our planet.
These works focus a critical lens on surveillance, machines, and environmentalism, emphasized by the choice of titles such as Slums and Panopticon Prison, 2012, or Bombing Range, 2014. Each large photograph is strikingly beautiful and allows viewers access to patchwork landscapes, as in Fossil Water Irrigation, 2012, or Abandoned Earthworks, 2013. Crisply rendered details of suburban minutia such as swimming pools and modular homes are juxtaposed against the vast terrain of the American Southwest, as seen in Encroachment #3, 2014. This fosters a constant tension between the macro and the micro, the man-made and the natural. With this push and pull, viewers enter Leivick’s vision of a timeless environment mostly devoid of human figures but nevertheless affected by humanity. Without the works’ titles, the locations are ambivalent and strangely neutral. Open-ended and enigmatic, each visceral landscape allows us to follow Leivick’s suggested narrative, or more alluringly, to create their own myths about its people and the events that took place there.
New York–based artist Amy Feldman’s exhibition “Mirror Cool” features four large paintings in two colors: cool gray pigment against stark white canvas. Each work is a 6.5-foot square canvas, but the painted images—bubbling rectangles in Mock Zero or cartoonish biomorphic shapes in I Is for Idiot, both 2015—emphasize verticality. Feldman, who works from preparatory sketches, quickly completes each painting in one sitting: the gestural brushstrokes, dripping paint, and swooping lines that compose the simple subjects underscore the sense of motion and speed.
Although these are new works, Feldman has returned to previously used subject matter. For example, Former Future, 2015, a massive rectangle composed of large circles overlapping one another, is nearly identical to Holy Over, 2014, and very similar to O, 2014, and Owed, 2011 (the earlier works are not included here). With this repetition, Feldman seems less concerned with the image, resigned instead to highlight the act of painting itself.
Indeed, these works are smart and intentionally elusive. Feldman claims influence from semiotics and wordplay, irony and stand-up comedy, and Robert Ryman’s monochrome. Really, these works rely on much more: the history of painting from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism. If irony is at play, it at first seems disingenuously aligned with the exploitation of the viewer. On closer inspection, perhaps irony and repetition are tools for reconsidering the proliferation of images. But, then, to what end? While Feldman offers visually straightforward images, subversion and critique linger just beneath the surface.