An astute visitor entering Fused Space—a two-year-old venue hosted by designer Yves Béhar and curated by dealer Jessica Silverman—might notice three small organic forms clinging to fluorescent lights like insects drawn to a glow. The tiny delicate structures are cast-bronze lavender stems patinated with iron by K.r.m. Mooney, one of seven artists in this visually eclectic group show of works loosely united by a focus on the intersection of the human body and the industrial world.
Like Mooney, Jason Benson combines natural and mass-produced materials—snail shells, cardboard, and plastic twist ties, for example—in his three resin collage lamps that conjure the somatic grotesque. Hanging at the artist’s ear height, three delicate shells painted in pastel colors by Alex Dordoy, all titled Sleepwalker, 2015, are an exquisite foil to Benson’s messiness. Thomas Wachholz’s abstractions also engage with unconventional materials: Scribbles evocative of Cy Twombly are actually residue from striking matches on phosphorus-coated wood panels. Nearby, the frenzied diagrams of a manic creative mind bring together skeleton reptilian heads, springs, screws, and gears in Abu Bakarr Mansaray’s large fantastical drawing Hell, 2015. Sydney Shen’s sensuous “F-Hole” series, 2015, an homage to Man Ray, and Paul Kos’s “Emboss” photographs, 1995, share a droll sexuality. Shen pairs F-holes cut from suede with Internet-sourced images of objects like a lamp and a martini glass, while Kos’s life-size black-and-white prints depict nude women, their backsides bearing the pattern of adjacent chairs. This desire to grant commonplace items greater significance resonates throughout.
“What art does black life produce?” This is the question posited by curators Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete for the exhibition “The Freedom Principle.” Key figures from the black avant-garde of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and AfriCOBRA are shown alongside contemporary artists, such as Stan Douglas, Catherine Sullivan, and Rashid Johnson, in a welcome dose of inspired poetry, music, politics, and psychedelia. This adroitly organized show examines the social fabric woven in the aftermath of the civil rights movement that generated a synthesis of life and art.
DIY aesthetics resound in Rio Negro II, 2007–15, a mystical, kinetic installation of rain sticks, bamboo, and earth by AACM musicians Douglas R. Ewart, George Lewis, and Douglas Repetto. Nari Ward’s gothic script of dangling shoelaces in We the People, 2011, pokes through drywall like braided locks of hair or regal tassels worn by an army about to burst forth. Across the hall, Jamal Cyrus’s untitled, 2010 ode to the Black Panthers, is a black leather-bound bass drum surrounded by microphones gathered close, ready to receive its thunder.
Furthering the legacy of influence, Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s La Grande Oreille (From Eye to Ear to Ass to Memory and Back), 2015, is an installation inspired by her father’s jazz-record shop in France that carried AACM artists’ music. Its booth of mirrored walls embedded with large speakers plays a soundtrack by a Chicago local band, Tiger Hatchery. The incredible dimensionality and ingenuity of the Black Arts Movement makes this an exhibition that will reverberate in the mind, just as the ink bubbles and vibrates inside the Tam Tam stools installed here.
While once thought unusual, sculpture constructed from unpretentious, everyday objects is now deeply familiar to art viewers. Sarah Sze, Jessica Stockholder, and Thomas Hirschhorn are just some of the recognizable names of this ubiquitous genre. Phyllida Barlow, as senior stateswoman, belongs at the head of this list. In her playful installation at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Barlow describes her approach as being analogous to a ship in a bottle—the proverbial bottle in this case being Renzo Piano’s graciously elegant architecture. Yet unlike a delicate model ship encased in glass, Barlow’s sculptural interventions prove unruly, with their raucous and unwieldy forms that demarcate the constraints of the light-filled space.
For the series “Untitled:stiltedcrates2015,” Barlow has constructed polyurethane foam and polystyrene-encased container boxes held aloft with wood and steel to create abstract, animal-like edifices that suggest nonsensical building construction sites. With the works gathered at the entrance, one is forced to walk under these heavy and seemingly precarious structures in order to enter the larger space of the exhibition. Highlighting a basic property of large-scale sculpture, this work uses its imposing presence to create a powerful link between person, object, and building. In the most dramatic work of the show, taxonomically named Untitled:100banners2015, the artist deploys a forest of flags or quasi-protest banners lacking slogans in the single downstairs room. As one descends the wide staircase, a coppice of cheap lumber that’s paint splattered and held upright by sandbags raises contrasting colored fabric and beckons one to enter, or perhaps threatens with riot and complaint.
The spacious, light-drenched galleries of the School in Kinderhook, New York, provide an ideal setting for El Anatsui’s current retrospective surveying his prolific fifty-year-long career. One senses an increasing self-reflexivity in his latest output, which is perhaps most apparent in works such as Generation Mix, 2014, wherein the shimmering metal fragments used in his most celebrated series of the last decade are affixed to wooden assemblages that recall his “Old Cloth” series of the 1990s, examples of which are also on view.
Anatsui’s “Broken Pots” series, first shown in 1979 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, reflects on cultural fragmentation and resilience. Inspired in part by Nok terra-cotta sculpture, works such as Chambers of Memory, 1977, and Gbeze, 1979, invoke the chaos of colonization and affirmed the promise of independence for new African nations. Thirty-five years later, echoes of this series are legible in the artist’s metal constructions. One such sculpture appears as a giant suspended orb punctured with gaping holes, marking a departure from his flattened wall hangings. Titled Womb of Time, 2014, it also links the global unrest felt during the postwar era to that of our present day.
While only a small number of works are directly figurative, many of the artist’s most abstract sculptures are treated as bodies that may be wounded or healed. Stressed World, 2011, one of the largest works on view, appears worn and neglected, as if embodying the strain placed on our natural environment. Anatsui’s handling of found materials is both violent and conscientious, consistently evoking themes of disorder and reinvention while inviting an awareness of the consequences of ecological and cultural destruction.
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.
Shelley Spector’s exhibition “Keep the Home Fires Burning” exists in an archival mode—as seen in other recent shows by Krüger & Pardeller and Willem de Rooij—in which the artist turns toward a museum collection as the basis for her practice, incorporating historical works in her exhibition to tease out their relevance in the present moment. Drawing from this museum’s textile collection, Spector juxtaposes her new works with a large embroidery of Pennsylvania German motifs that was designed by folk-art historian Frances Lichten in 1943 and donated to the museum by Lichten’s partner, artist Katherine Milhous. The tapestry hangs front and center in the gallery between two entranceways, giving the impression that Spector’s many sculptures emanate from it spatially, aesthetically, and conceptually. Among the sculptures are a carved mustard-colored bird; a tiny wooden church on a green with two modeled women at its door, Frances Loves Katherine, 2014; and a plush round maroon rug on which visitors can lie and look up at the huge hand-knotted lamp shade–like flowers of From Seeds to Seeds, 2014–15, that echo the embroidery’s village scenes, curvilinear design, and colors.
Each work is a microcosm of the exhibition’s push and pull between past and present that calls up the previous lives of Spector’s secondhand domestic materials, such as cane chairs, thrifted T-shirts, and sewing tins. Together with a looping sound track of love songs, the whole installation evokes the ideal comfort and safety of home. The exhibition’s title, however, invokes Ivor Novello’s 1914 wartime anthem of the same name—a reminder that we crave domestic warmth in fearful times. Kindling our own desires, Spector creates empathy.
“It Takes a Village,” Alejandro Diaz’s latest solo exhibition, pulls together a seemingly disparate variety of references from Minimalism, Conceptualism, Abstract Expressionism, and even British Pop to unapologetically expose the reality of quotidian life in the artist’s own personal interest in South Texas, and specifically San Antonio.
Immediately, three sculptures steal the polemical spotlight. Together titled Muebles Diaz (Furniture Diaz), 2015, they comment on the power structures governing migrant labor in South Texas by mimicking the methods of objectification in the sculptures of British Pop artist Allen Jones. Rather than depicting hypersexualized women in submissive poses, Diaz’s sculptures shed light, specifically, on class’s relationship to power, evoking situations where money buys physical labor in the form of a human body. His sculptures represent presumably Mexican American laborers: one man who might be a gardener for a wealthy family supports the glass of a coffee table on his back, a woman supports a chair with the back of her thighs, and another woman—the exhibition’s central figure—extends her arms out indifferently, suggesting her own body for the role of a hat stand.
Acting as a backdrop for the three figures is a bright-yellow monochrome titled Color Field, 2015, under which sits a line of papier-mâché flowers ubiquitous in celebrations among Mexican American communities in South Texas. While there seems to be a sense of play among the myriad references, the cultural allusions to the racial, class, and hierarchical issues that exist in South Texas become transparent.
“A Room of One’s Own” offers three site-specific video works, by artists Melanie Smith, Katri Walker, and Jaki Irvine in order to explore postcolonial Mexico through the moving image while exposing the antiquated gender divides inherent to the quotidian experience of Mexico City. Two works in particular, purchase without E (all works cited, 2015) by Jaki Irvine and Trip the Light by Katri Walker, reflect, respectively, on the nuances of sound throughout the city and on the gender binary. Trip the Light is a two-channel video piece highlighting two protagonists of a bullfight—the bullfighter himself and the female seamstress of his uniform. One channel zooms in on the bare feet of the matador rehearsing the intricacies of his dance to an empty arena. Simultaneously, the other video focuses on the movement of a seamstress’s hands during the painstakingly intricate process of beading and embroidering his elaborate costume. Each depends on the other.
Elsewhere, Irvine’s purchase without E documents an urban landscape accompanied by the sounds of a recorded female voice blaring atop the noise of a truck lurching down the streets or broadcasts of advertising for used mattresses and home appliances for resale. This compilation methodically entwines the chaotic phonic nuances, through which the city somehow still functions, into the foundation of a sound track to the video. “A Room of One’s Own” does not critique the city but rather illuminates the profundity of its systems beyond the surface, exposing the multiple layers that exist beyond what we actually see.
Jorge Méndez Blake’s work has always incorporated architecture, books, and archive fever as a haunting exquisite corpse. Perhaps this is best distilled in his recent exhibition, “Topographical Transferrals from the National Library,” in Mexico City. Here the artist plays with the physical act of translation, which, as in his video The Topographer (Marking a Series of Points from the National Library to the University Museum of Contemporary Art), 2015, can be quite a painful and arduous process: In the piece, Méndez Blake attempts to move straight through the brush between the National Library and this museum. Also addressed is the act of translating works by memory: The artist invites us to choose a couple of verses from poetry books at the aforementioned library, memorize them, then retype them inside the museum. Finally there is the act of transmitting ideas from one medium to another, most successfully enacted in The Great Poem of Twentieth Century (Mexico), 2015, where he converts each millimeter of each letter from the titles of twentieth-century Mexican poems available at the library into a sculptural installation of thin aluminum poles.
The exhibition circulates among institutions—invasion or hospitable permeability?—and thereby changes our way of perceiving each space as well. A smart and playful nudge at establishments that often seem like dead repositories—for instance, usually one cannot borrow books from the National Library—the exhibition might first appear a little dry, with a few typewritten verses here, a black-and-white video there, a thick book, and an architectural model of the library, but in the end Méndez Blake reveals that translation, like art, is a relationship that is sometimes difficult but very much alive.
As people gathered for the opening of “Monomito” (Monomyth), Dr. Lakra’s second solo exhibition at this gallery, one thing became clear: Lakra is an artist who straddles two worlds—of underground, punk-oriented transgressors and the contemporary art scene—simultaneously and with great success. No coincidence, surely, since “the tattoo is primal parent of the visual arts,” as Kathy Acker writes in Empire of the Senseless (1988). One could imagine Lakra uttering a very similar phrase.
The adjective primal certainly comes to mind when entering this show as both a welcome surprise and a congruent development of Lakra’s practice. His avid collecting and his research on tattoos have led him to an entirely new body of three-dimensional work. Focusing on the taboos, myths, and rituals that surround not only tattoos but also pop culture, he offers here seventy totem-like sculptures in bronze and wax casts of layered objects that might have been found in any flea market from Mexico City to Pyongyang.
Blurring the boundaries between fetish and pastiche, art and folklore, these sculptures are calmly poised in vitrines and on pedestals against large black-and-white wall murals of photographs of the newly created deities for our global village: ancient masks from all over the world atop classical antique sculpture bodies or classical antique heads over bodies that belong to a different culture entirely, Mexican over Thai, African over Greek, and so on. Overall, the exhibition gives a double meaning to monomito: no longer just the single myth of the mono or primate that we are, but also ironically anything but. This show is as poly as they come.