“Bay Area Now 7”

YERBA BUENA CENTER FOR THE ARTS
701 Mission Street
July 18–October 5

View of “Bay Area Now 7,” 2014.

How can one render the invisible visible? This question stands out in this group exhibition that preserves the leftovers of show preparation. In it, a minor collection of unattributed works fills a small gallery set aside for the Bay Area Art Workers Alliance: a yellow-and-gray moving blanket hangs from a wall as a flimsy monochrome; a lensless projector fades in and out during a color test; drill holes from the previous month’s exhibition await drywall spackle. The twenty-three works on display extend the parameters of an exhibition’s “work” to include both the preparator’s labor and the support structures involved in the work’s installation.

By emphasizing these elements of show preparation, the exhibition is suspended in a state of potentiality. For instance, the color test is projected at a frame rate that is unsynchronized with its recorded image. A CCTV camera records and feeds a CCTV CRT monitor at a different rate than the projected image. In a sense, the image appears as an aura of its own failure. Likewise, in another part of the exhibition, a video fades through all the possible hues and tones used to smooth images over the course of an exhibition. These tests serve as necessary experiments during preparation and maintenance, but in this particular iteration they are noninstrumentalized—excessive and unfinished.

Andrew Witt

“Painter’s Painters: Gifts from Alex Katz”

HIGH MUSEUM OF ART
1280 Peachtree Street, NE
June 14–November 2

Spencer Sweeney, Untitled, 2011, oil on linen, 66 x 66”.

“Painter’s painter” is a term of praise for artists who forcefully push the medium to generate new expressive possibilities. This exhibition, assembled over the span of three years, thanks to a gift from the Alex Katz Foundation, gathers works by thirteen contemporary painters plus several by Katz himself. These include skillful imitations of surfaces and materials (Jan de Vliegher, Man with Gigantic Bee, 2012), reimaginings of pop-culture images (Joyce Pensato, Daisy, 2007), and private visions bordering on psychological puzzles (Wilhelm Sasnal, Untitled, 2012). Also noteworthy is one of Ronald Bladen’s rarely seen impastoed paintings, the gritty and chthonic Space Landscape, 1955.

Among the strongest works is Laura Owens’s Untitled, 2013, which illustrates the possibilities of a simple black-and-white palette. Two large-scale grids overlap like Photoshop layers, scribbled across with thick lines rendered perfectly three-dimensional by drop shadows. Her precise control of line and shading makes the occasional blob of raised paint look like material intrusions into a realm of digital brushstrokes. Charline von Heyl’s symbolically charged Idolores, 2011, is dominated by an enigmatic figure that wavers between a stone totem and a blinded skull topped with a black spiky crown. The figure seems trapped between the woven grating that covers it and the background of pale bars, but at times it reverses itself, becoming part of a larger underpainted pattern that is only partially revealed. Spencer Sweeney’s Untitled, 2011, draws on Grace Jones’s iconic Island Life cover, portraying her as the ghostly shadow of a painter’s model, a barely outlined form seemingly dissolving under the lascivious red-eared artist’s gaze. The work’s multiple lines of sight depict the painted subject as not quite a person, but rather something between an object and an idea.

Daniel A. Weiskopf

Todd Hido

BOSTON UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY
855 Commonwealth Avenue
September 5–October 19

View of “Excerpts from Silver Meadow,” 2014.

Todd Hido’s current exhibition, “Excerpts from Silver Meadow,” pursues a disjointed narrative about midwestern suburbia in the 1960s and ’70s. From the puzzle pieces—nearly one hundred photographs, pulp novels, and ephemera—we discover an anxiously normal boy with a dark side. The uneven sizing and hanging of the images augment this collage effect, with the works by turns manifesting fear, banality, and lust. Many of the blurred landscapes taken from inside a car bleakly outline a particular upbringing—Hido’s own. In fact, the show as a whole productively commingles the tale of a fictionalized character and a re-creation of the artist’s upbringing in Kent, Ohio.

In one grouping, a reproduction of a torn and taped photo of a woman with her dress yanked up is positioned between a photo of a handwritten notecard showing the measurements of a young man’s body, and a black-and-white photo of two boys playing in front of a suburban house. In another cluster, the viewer finds a decomposing, yellowing home; a fallen red tricycle (in a tribute to Eggleston); a lushly wallpapered interior desolate of objects aside from an off-the-hook telephone; and a final, fading memory from a fragment of a party banner: COME HOME.

Hido also has a propensity for voyeuristic night imagery. In #7373, 2009, tire treads in light snow lead up to a darkened home in which only a room on the second floor is illuminated. This image also appears on the cover of a Vintage reissue edition of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories (1989), which is displayed in a vitrine alongside novels such as Sin Drenched and Driven Desire. Throughout, the small-town vernacular of Hido’s American landscapes becomes charged with a compelling friction.

Cole Tracy

Jasper Johns

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
465 Huntington Avenue
July 8–January 4

Jasper Johns, Pinion, 1963–66, color lithograph printed from two stones, shaped aluminum photographic plate, 40 1/4 x 28".

Jasper Johns: Picture Puzzles” presents a focused look at the artist’s output from between 1960 and 2010, pointing to a sense of inwardness not generally associated with his practice. It is immediately clear that something more complex is occurring in this group of prints. Johns harkens back to the ethos of “A Name for All,” a poem by his frequent inspiration Hart Crane: “Moonmoth and grasshopper that flee our page / and still wing on untarnished of the name / we pinion to your bodies to assuage / our envy of your freedom.” The lithograph Pinion, 1963–66, exhibits a similar urge to come up for air, to find a means of self-expression. Impressions of Johns’s body are submerged under the flotsam and jetsam of color—a simultaneous aesthetic and physical drowning. The same exploration of something underneath both the medium and the body occurs in Johns’s prints of layered crosshatches or overlapping numbers. Johns invests in his work’s capacity for unveiling and erasure, an operation akin to our own daily self-fashioning of gender and sexuality.

Like Glenn Ligon, who uses text to emphasize the erasure of bodies and legacies, Johns stacks digits on top of each other and makes allusions to a queer voice taken far too soon—all in an effort to illustrate the multiplicity of meanings that can be derived from work that could be described unitarily as quintessential Pop imagery. It could be, in fact, that the “puzzle” has nothing to do with images or numbers or disembodied limbs. Rather, this exhibition considers the puzzle of identity, a constantly shifting process of legibility and illegibility, mutability and fixity.

William J. Simmons

Magalie Guérin

CORBETT VS. DEMPSEY
1120 N. Ashland Avenue, 3rd Floor
September 5–October 11

Magalie Guérin, Untitled (Hat—Ears), 2013, oil on canvas, 16 x 20".

Back in 2006, wealthy magnate Steve Wynn accidentally elbowed Pablo Picasso’s Le Rêve, tearing a hole through the painting. The rambunctious manner in which Magalie Guérin sets abstract body parts swinging around the compositions of her modestly scaled paintings could recall such a gaff. In Untitled (Hat—Ham), 2012–14, for instance, engorged lavender and lemon appendages jab beyond the rectilinear framing devices the artist has deeply incised into the canvas’s surface.

Guérin parodies pictorial devices from painting’s history and employs clunky color schemes in choice moments as if engaging them in goofy games of dress up—a comedic affront to any supposed endgame for her cherished medium. A shape resembling a three-leaf clover is debossed in the middle of some of the eight paintings on view. This consistent repetition amid a chatter of loudly contrasting formal modeling shows a keenly attentive methodology, which sets the tempo for her wilder explorations. In sweetly puzzling works, she inches her abstractions as close as she can toward recognizable imagery, as with the carnivalesque bicorne in Untitled (Hat—House), 2013–14. From canvas to canvas, she tests the assumptions that divide authenticity and appropriation. Moreover, she squeezes her wonky shapes into a playful zone between the looming presence of her abstract-painter forebears on one side and depictions of the material world on the other. Even the comically exaggerated facial features in Untitled (Hat—Ears), 2013, would seem to propose that contemporary painting is a shared costume closet chock-full of positions, profound impersonations, and sly subterfuge that may be layered in endless variations.

Matt Morris

Amy Vogel

CLEVE CARNEY ART GALLERY AT COLLEGE OF DUPAGE
425 Fawell Blvd.
September 4–October 25

View of "Amy Vogel: Paraperspective,” 2014.


One of the more tired arguments regarding nature is that it is simply our own construction. It’s not. It is a collaboration. “Paraperspective,” a fifteen-year survey of Amy Vogel’s work, which is curated by artist Joseph Grigely, lends credence to this conviction. The exhibition traffics in the interplay between kitsch, art, the paraphernalia of display, and representations of nature. All the work retains an air of potentiality about it—with some pieces still partially wrapped in packing material, while others sit respectfully beneath vitrines (a hallmark of Grigely’s own practice).

Just outside the glass wall of the gallery, Painted Rock (all works 2014), an installation resembling a pigment-spattered Japanese rock garden, extends and confuses tropes of landscape painting by refashioning the medium with artificial objects. This jumble of associations feels at once familiar and strange, and it extends into other moments in the exhibition that compete for the viewer’s attention in a manner that is more gleeful than desperate. For example, Horizontal Storage Rack, a collaborative piece by Grigely and Vogel, is a table-like structure cluttered with a range of objects: nickel-plated animal traps, a mauve swan, and a cast of a tire planter, all arranged in various states of assembly, questioning conventions of contemporary art display. These works are all indicative of what feels—in the end—like a natural collaboration between Vogel and Grigely, one that walks a fine line of being delicately off-balance, making the distinction between kitsch and contemporary art moot.

Zachary Cahill

“Phantoms in the Dirt”

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY AT COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO
600 South Michigan Avenue
July 24–October 5

Richard Mosse, Beaucoups of Blues, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, November 2012, C-print, 72 x 90".

Photography is dead, or so “Phantoms in the Dirt” might suggest. After nearly two centuries, photography finds itself in a predicament similar to what it inflicted on painting—questioning its significance in light of changing technology and the escalating reproduction of images that are redefining the ontology of a picture. Photographic practices are foregrounding materiality more than ever in order to stand out from the wash of virtuality surrounding them.

Curated by Karsten Lund, this exhibition features artists whose work remedies this digital overdose. Bark, bronze, rust, and dirt are just some of the photographed and physical materials present here, creating an atmosphere of decay throughout the exhibition. A sculpture by Shane Ward, Barrel, 2014, includes a rusted oil container with a glossy spill of cast-aluminum, which speaks to the similarity between sculptural casting and photographic reproducibility as well as evokes war for natural resources. Upstairs, the viewer encounters two enigmatic C-prints by Shannon Ebner, Untitled, Blank No. 1 and Untitled, Blank No.2, both 2008, of a figure erasing himself from a landscape by holding a white board in front of himself. Harold Mendez’s compelling work Let the Shadows in to Play Their Part, 2012, is an ink-stained eucalyptus bark scrim that occupies an entire wall. In Beaucoups of Blues, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, November, 2012, Richard Mosse uses discontinued Cold War–era camouflage-detecting film to photograph Congolese landscapes haunted by war. Rendering the land an acidic pink inversion of a documentary photograph, this work, in concert with the others, testifies that through a rigorous examination of earthly substances and rerouting of traditional processes, photography may yet render the spirit visible.

Zachary Cahill

Nairy Baghramian

THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
111 South Michigan Avenue
May 14–October 5

Nairy Baghramian, French Curve, 2014, cast aluminium, epoxy resin, styrofoam, concrete, paint. 55’ x 18’ x 1’ 10”.

Nothing plain is simple. This apparent paradox encapsulates some of the mercurial magic found in Nairy Baghramian’s first foray into the Midwestern United States. Curated by Susanne Ghez, the exhibition demonstrates Baghramian’s particular deftness with sculptural form and savvy in an engaging exhibition context.

Take the large low-lying sculpture French Curve (all works 2014), which occupies the Art Institute’s terrace. Opting not to battle with the Chicago skyline, the artist created a work that, from the initial approach, conjures up associations of a scooped-out corporality—linking the human body’s internal grossness to industrial manufacture. Viewed from another vantage point, it evokes a line of concrete barriers with a nod to Minimalist sculpture. If the piece is modest in it’s verticality, it remains elegant and spare. French Curve is made all the more striking for it’s odd use of color, a blanched yellow, which is dull and flaccid. This might be misconstrued as a shortcoming. Yet it is precisely this quality that causes the work to linger.

In a slightly jangling (and rather immediate) shift in context to the museum’s upscale restaurant is a series of seven sculptures titled Slip of the Tongue, which press up against their vitrines and appear as waxy, bandaged, and bruised limbs—not phantoms, but haunting. The odd is in the particular and the banal is often equated with generality; the two together in this exhibition are, for a lack of a better term, beautiful.

Zachary Cahill

Harmony Hammond

REDLINE
2350 Arapahoe Street
August 2–September 28

Harmony Hammond, Muffle, 2009, oil and mixed media on canvas 98 1/8“ x 79 1/2”.

Harmony Hammond’s exhibition “Becoming/UnBecoming Monochrome” offers a sampling of the artist’s works, including fourteen large paintings from 2001–2014, fifteen smaller paintings from the mid 1970s, and Collection of Fragments, 1974–76, a display of baskets, shoes, and pottery. In some of the early paintings, such as the lozenge-shaped Ninja, 1976, Hammond created density, depth, and luminosity with oil paint and Dorland’s wax, working the viscous mass, perhaps with the butt end of the brush, into a honeycomb or spongelike pattern. Almost forty years later, the surface still seems wet and alive, as if the artist could dig in again to reshape it. For the near-monochrome Muffle, 2009, Hammond stretched mat covers from the dojo where she practiced and taught the Japanese martial art aikido for decades. Grommet-studded straps hold down the covers under thick layers of tactile black oil paint. The composition here, like the work’s title, suggests violence and restraint.

In her book Lesbian Art in America, Hammond writes that she has “always tried to work on the edge between abstract form and political content.” Being an artist and practicing aikido are inherently feminist pursuits for Hammond. Politics are manifest in the works’ controlled vehemence, the focused gestures of layering and wrapping that join art and craft, painting and self-defense. In a manifesto printed in this exhibition’s catalogue, she insists that her paintings “occupy some sort of fugitive or queer space,” even in their “refusal to ‘look’ queer.” Hammond doesn’t say what should be seen. She leaves us looking as she moves on, giving new forms to the embodied political tensions that have always motivated her work.

Patrick Greaney

Salvatore Scarpitta

HIRSHHORN MUSEUM AND SCULPTURE GARDEN
Independence Avenue at Seventh Street, SW
July 17–January 11

View of “Salvatore Scarpitta: Traveler,” 2014.

Salvatore Scarpitta, ever fascinated by the drug of extreme risk, spent many of his eighty-eight years testing the outer limits of mortality as a speed racer. His obsession with the mechanics of speed, and the emotional intensity it inspires, links the varied selections within this survey, which include race cars, sleds, and sculptural paintings. Though small, the show is comprehensive, beginning with Scarpitta’s wrapped and overlapping canvases. Swathes of fabric are woven in crude layers, each stretched so tightly along its weft that it curls along its warp—or vice versa. The suppleness of the fabric structure contrasts with the hardened patina of resin that burnishes it as if congealing once-elastic skin into a fixed, immovable surface.

Scarpitta’s oeuvre combines the material grit of Arte Povera, the postmodern physicality of works by John Chamberlain and Eva Hesse, and Andy Warhol’s Pop allusions to commercial marketing. Elements of sensuality, implicit violence, and physical constriction are magnified in Scarpitta’s sleds, built from wooden skis and rusted metal pieces, which he wrapped with canvas strips, as though bandaging wounds or preserving relics. Alluding to his later-life return to a focus on classical formal sculpture, they stand in striking opposition to his race cars—shiny, quick-looking but only occasionally functional vehicles, presented here as a high-gloss midpoint of the exhibition and branded by colorful sponsor logos. Scarpitta famously founded a speed-racing league (and convinced Leo Castelli to sponsor it), and his race cars are among his more accessible pieces on view. Sleekly interlocking art with the sense-heightening eroticism of a nearness to death, Scarpitta’s automobiles—as well as his painting-sculpture hybrids—capture the daring adventure and inherently affirming beauty of our elemental impulses.

Anne Prentnieks

Kate Newby

LULU
Bajio 231, Colonia Roma, Cuauhtemoc
August 2–October 5

Kate Newby, I Feel Like a Truck on a Wet Highway (detail), 2014, ceramic, string, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Kate Newby’s latest solo exhibition features a modest and contemplative sculptural installation that playfully exploits the conventions of the physical gallery and extends her ongoing investigation of linking different spaces in nuanced ways. Two components of I feel like a truck on a wet highway, 2014, manifest this idea. The first is a sculpture of bulbous silver bells hanging in the gallery’s entryway. The bells have a precious quality, which is heightened by the artist’s subtle fingerprints on the metal. They are suspended individually by thin, multicolored strings, the other end of which swoops up connecting them to a neighboring roof.

The second is a sculpture of ceramic wind chimes arranged from light to dark—white, creams, blues, then blacks—on a thin, white string in the gallery’s small main space. The pieces are long and narrow, but each is unique in shape and incorporates signs of process, such as air bubbles and fingerprints, while hanging from the same string as the bells. The chimes’ string loops through the bells’ knot before it passes through a door into a private bedroom and out to a patio space. With this gesture, Newby’s work becomes reliant on the walls of the gallery as much as it is dependent on an outside context for its meaning to be legible.

The installation as a single work highlights the mundane and commonplace, and much like works by artists such as Michael Asher and Francis Alÿs, Newby’s work examines where place becomes as much a part of art’s content as objects.

Leslie Moody Castro