A collaboration between the YBCA, the Kadist Art Foundation, and the Guangdong Times Museum in Guangzhou, the ambitious group show “Landscape: the virtual, the actual, the possible?” defamiliarizes an influential trope in recent cultural theory: the Anthropocene as a new global era characterized by fundamentally new human/nature relations and even by a new conception of “nature” itself. The curators shrewdly present works that, rather than serving as evidence of this changed world, treat the Anthropocene as a hypothesis meant to engender exploratory thinking.
“Landscape” offers a careful balance of relevant art-historical references (such as the large photographic prints of human figures in eerily barren terrain by Elina Brotherus and Robert Zhao Renhui made in the last decade) with rigorous attempts to rethink the space of landscape using contemporary digital technologies, like Toby Ziegler’s The Fifth Quarter, 2005—architectural painting that appears to have been rendered flattened and pixelated—and Vidya Gastaldon’s conical yarn sculpture Floating Mountain, 2006, which twirls from the ceiling like a three-dimensional abstracted mountain.
The most unexpected element in the show is an array of conceptual video and performance pieces, especially Anthony McCall’s Landscape for Fire, 1972, which follows a hybrid of map and score to set fire to objects in a field, and Paul Kos’s 1970 The Sound of Ice Melting, an audio amplification of melting ice cubes in the gallery space using an absurd number of microphones—only funny for the first few seconds, then impossibly piteous. Against this thinking, more familiar approaches to nature after culture—approaches that reference detritus, erasure, and artificial borders—are cast in a fresh light.
In its first several rooms, “Secondhand” appears to embody a diligent curatorial argument about notable trends in contemporary photographic practices surrounding found images, with by canonical work from Richard Prince and John Baldessari, as well as Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s Evidence (1977), the groundbreaking conceptual book culled from massive police and science archives. The show quickly moves to a noteworthy group of recent photographers working with Photoshopped, decontextualized, vernacular images—in particular Matt Lipps’s collaged archive from the now-extinct magazine Horizons and Erik Kessels’s inexhaustible compilations of found snapshots, which have gone beyond his famous Flickr repositories into more intimate documentations of personal lives, the work’s sentiment and sheer volume both anchoring the show.
But what makes “Secondhand” remarkable is the range of vernacular photographs from numerous other collections and archives: shrewd counterpoints to the more manifest practices on display. The first show at Pier 24 to feature a majority of works on loan, “Secondhand” includes grease-marked minor-league baseball pictures (showing crop-marks, pre-Photoshop) and lowbrow postcards, exquisitely embroidered by hand. Perhaps most moving of all are the deeply subtle interventions by Melissa Catanese, who has arranged a series of found snapshots into a free-associative timeline along one wall. In contrast to these quieter creations of narrative order out of chaos, the wild abundance of the more dramatic work feels impersonal by comparison.
The paranormal romance genre thrives on selling teenagers fantasies of transformation in which lonely outsiders only find their true selves and true loves by becoming something monstrous and strange. Saturated with a jittery mood of adolescent anxiety, this exhibition, curated by Hamza Walker, explores variations on these themes of mutability and self-creation.
The sculptural works on view have deep affection for marginal materials that range from thrift-store discards to near-trash. Guyton\Walker’s mattresses printed with colorful abstract digital images lean like soft monoliths, and Chris Bradley’s Grease Face, 2011, meticulously replicates a stained pizza box, in bronze, aluminum, and spray paint, overlaid with a circle and two dots that suggest an outlined cartoon head. Bradley’s work jokingly toys with teen anxiety over potentially blemished skin, and Jack Lavender’s sculptures similarly depict faces as unruly and ill-shaped conglomerations cobbled together from junk food remnants and other found objects. With adolescent visages and bodies being such unreliable things, the search for acceptance is sometimes anchored elsewhere, in social rituals such as taking the perfect hit from a beer bong—as depicted in Jill Frank’s Bong (Shawn), 2014—or in performances for others, like the face-to-face confrontation between two fenced-in walls displaying graffitied bear heads in Kathryn Andrews’s Friends and Lovers, 2010.
The dark heart of the exhibition is Ed Atkins’s giddy and bleak Even Pricks, 2013, an exemplary slice of Dada teen spirit packaged into a commercial montage narrated by a digitally rendered chimpanzee, featuring a wayward, intermittently erectile thumb with a habit of penetrating navels, ears, and eyes. Even in this uncanny, high-definition world, there is no escape from our chaotic, monstrous bodies.
“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.
By connecting selections from culture with instances from earlier years in her own creative practice, Lucy McKenzie scrutinizes both the apparatus of history and conceptions of selfhood. A shop window from Fritz Lang’s M, the 1972 Olympics, and Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange are among McKenzie’s source materials in this exhibition, and—as a hallmark of appropriation’s effects—she destabilizes these references through their duplication and recontextualization. But the mystery set forth is why these touchstones have been evoked, a query that McKenzie anticipates pointing back to herself, the author whose appearances are mischievously elusive. Leotards displayed on mannequins correspond to those worn by McKenzie and friends in photographic documentation from art school projects on view here. In one corner of a gallery, several previous paintings are stored in a rack rather than hung, including Mates, 2004, one of several large canvases throughout the exhibition painted to imitate lustrous, veined marble—a repeated sign of the show’s coy subterfuge. In the marble trompe l’oeil Quodlibet XXXII, 2014, McKenzie has reproduced pages torn from Riot Grrrl zines she made as a teen in the early 1990s in studied oil-painting renditions. Mediums have been mismatched in these re-creations of previous bodies of work, and in switching modes of production, McKenzie levels out any unselfconscious personal expression that may have been legible.
Finally, The Girl Who Followed Marple, 2014, a video installation produced in collaboration with Richard Kern (for whom McKenzie modeled when she was young), introduces a faux Marple into the mix—among the faux-marble paintings in the show—with the artist herself disguised as Agatha Christie’s beloved sleuth, who leaves her audience in search of effective strategies for constructing meaning that need not rely on spent art-historical value systems.
Despite America’s espoused celebration of family values, the boundary between professional and family life is generally strict, especially within artistic occupations for which “motherhood in particular is often seen as the endpoint of a serious career.” So begins the curatorial premise stated in the catalogue of Glass Curtain Gallery's current exhibition, “Division of Labor,” curated by Thea Liberty Nichols and Christa Donner.
The mess of parenting appears unapologetically, as does the energy of play, as well as practicality; Claire Ashley’s soft sculpture and neon-light installation, Sleepovers and Playdates, 2014, consumes the front window display with such exuberance that a few tendrils of the inflated fabric creep over a partition into the main exhibition. Cándida Alvarez’s napkin paintings hang nearby, made and framed in homage to bygone years of child rearing when going to the studio to paint was impossible. Each work inadvertently reveals an intersection of accumulated choices that ultimately reflect parenthood’s deeply personal logic. Looped through a speaker overhead, the disembodied voices of Alberto Aguilar’s family sing together; despite evident improvisation and the absence of any coherent lyrics, their abstract musical accompaniment is harmonious, even if we cannot hear the original Enya song with which they’re singing along.
There are sentimental moments as well, such as Andrew Yang’s index of materials that weigh the same amount as his daughter at birth. Or the shoes of Lise Haller Baggesen’s family, left outside her tent-cum–reading room/womb installation, Mothernism, 2013. Grouped together, the sixteen artists on view acknowledge the complex influence relationships—particularly custodial ones—have on the creative process.
I had an epiphany about Sabina Ott’s sculptures while riding a rollercoaster. Sliding through the Swiss Alps on Disneyland’s Matterhorn, beneath the Southern California sun, I saw it: pastel lights glowing on faux snow. Ott’s similarly garish, mystical mist of neon spray enamel on carved polystyrene and spray foam is an environment-design technique she may have smuggled from Los Angeles’s happiness industry during her tenure there in the 1990s. “Here and there pink melon joy” is her sensational debut large-scale solo exhibition in Chicago.
Ott’s vision of candy-hued icicles as hanging lamps is a welcome reverie in a city with so much dirty snow. The sculptures on view are embedded with round mirrors, dead clocks, exposed light bulbs, plastic and real houseplants, drums, and drum music composed by artist Joe Jeffers, whose rhythm echoes the ticktock beats of the bucket drummers on the adjacent Michigan Avenue. Like a funhouse, “here and there pink melon joy” takes visitors on a momentary journey; in three galleries Ott leads us through her versions of hell, purgatory, and paradise in a nod to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The show culminates with the video installation to perceive the invisible in you, 2012, a swirling tangle of ecstatic love poems by Rumi, William Blake, and Gertrude Stein among others projected on four walls.
Ott succeeds in building her own sort of Fantasyland. It’s a place where, like a Disney movie, objects might come alive to play with and protect you. But this dream is no escape from reality; Ott builds the type of world she wants us to live in.
Curated by Tobias Ostrander, “Jardim botânico” (Botanical Garden) is Beatriz Milhazes’s first major North American survey. It includes more than forty large-scale paintings from over the past twenty years that picture the Brazilian artist’s signature luscious compositions of flora and fauna. Milhazes’s unique transfer technique, wherein acrylic is applied to plastic sheets before they are glued to then peeled off the canvas, is most readily apparent in the show’s earliest work, Sem título (untitled), 1993. A lone, ornate frond, made up of intersecting shapes in yellow, aqua, and pink, abstracts nature’s anatomy, the tropical contour unfurling in an otherwise empty canvas. Though predominantly monochromatic, the work’s white ground is punctuated by specks of aqua peeking through, recalling the flaking walls of an old, repainted building, here a result of the layered, acrylic transfer.
Milhazes’s subsequent works increasingly incorporate the grid of city streets, inverting the upright ground to a horizontal expanse, as in Beijo (Kiss), 1995. Large blocks of gray, black, white, turquoise, and gold leaf support the circular, blossoming buds in the center of this painting, and a similar effect is achieved in the more organically populated Beleza pura (Pure Beauty), 2006. In Praga (Prague), 2003, the line gains greater primacy as the organizing structure within the painting, like spears that prop up its fluid and ovoid forms, while in Lampião (Lamp), 2013–14, alternating lines optically build the coils from within. In Milhazes’s transferred environments, geometry stands in for the associative effects of multidirectional globalization.
Even ghosts require a medium in order to take form. This seems to be in part the operative logic of Egan Frantz’s current exhibition. At once liminal and concrete, seven sculptural pieces are installed decisively across the four walls of the gallery. Stark and design influenced in look, these sculptures call to mind enormous razor blades from a distance. Evenly spaced, judicious in presentation, they are intriguing in their deceptive simplicity. At first glance, one gets the impression of looking at monochrome paintings connoting a brooding Gerhard Richter in their grayness. Upon closer inspection, the weight of the installed presences becomes unavoidable, as the monochromes reveal themselves to be suspended slabs of heavy, dark marble.
Hung against the backdrop of prefabricated, idiosyncratic, quilted elevator liners, references to floating apparitions abound. Using strategies of seriality and banality, traces of personal dry-cleaning receipts are etched into the lower right-hand corner of each hard stone. Their inclusion is humorous in one sense but also suggestive of the revealing ephemera that haunt the monotony of quotidian life. Atop these receipts is the hidden pièce de résistance—Frantz’s logos—an image of a low ghost. This spectral icon consolidates the poetic eloquence of this exhibition. It exemplifies the richness of metaphysical puns oscillating between Lowghost #22, Lowghost #24, and Lowghost #26 (all works 2014). With their repetition, like the ghosts they conjure, combined conceptual and material concerns evocatively fade in and out of being.
In 1968, Amiri Baraka’s harsh sentencing for purportedly inciting civil unrest in Newark, New Jersey, was symptomatic of the racial discrimination that led to the riots. He was guilty of “formulating a plot”—the judge’s words that inspired the subtitle of Haitian-born Adler Guerrier’s first solo museum exhibition. While themes of racial iniquity loom large in his exhibition, truth and fiction are blurred, preventing the work from becoming didactic.
For instance, the mixed-media installation Untitled (BLCK-We Wear the Mask), 2007–2008, is a collection of artifacts from a fictional artist collective BLCK based in Liberty City, a predominantly African American neighborhood of Miami, that Guerrier imagined to be in solidarity with other radical Black movements across the country in the 1960s. The assemblage includes monochromatic photographs, black text on black protest signs, and prints with half-obscured urban scenes.
“Untitled (Overtown North),” 2006, is a photographic series of nondescript locations, largely of empty lots and streets at night that are lit by the eerie effulgence of lampposts. The title is instructive: It points to the Miami neighborhood Overtown, as well as to Wynwood, directly north. The work simultaneously evokes in mood the recent past of Wynwood—an abandoned warehouse turned gentrified arts district—as much as the recent present of Overtown—a center of urban decay that was once a bustling economic center for African Americans. As in much of Guerrier’s work, politics and poetics are held in tension—in this exhibition, by nimbly blurring past and present, here and there.
“A Hatchet to Kill Old Ugly” is a three-part exhibition in the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s storefront project space that comprises a Shaker-inspired domestic interior, a dim crawl space, and a back-room atelier swarming with colored light. It is the fifth and most collaborative dual show for Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck (a married couple), both professional museum preparators. They each present new works—Feasley’s are acid-hued landscape and still-life paintings; Swenbeck’s are jagged-edged, plant-inspired ceramics—in environments they built, which contain constellations of objects with distinct ontologies, such as historical artifacts, handmade replicas, and magician’s materials. With an auto-curatorial approach reminiscent of shows like “Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos” (2012–13), this is an essayistic exhibition-as-interpretive-text on the artists’ work.
In the austere domestic interior, replicas of a Shaker willow-branch broom and taupe felt cloak hang on wooden pegs alongside Feasley’s painting of a butterfly in a four-leaf-clover field. Crawling through a faux brick hearth, one enters a low, dark, mirrored closet in which a mechanized mobile—made up of turned wood, tiny bells, and twisted metal—clangs eerily. Seen from here through the storefront window, the outside world seems freakishly ordinary. The third room, in contrast, reveals the exhibition’s seams. The sink and the closet’s raw plywood exterior jostle with magical objects including primary-colored dowsing apparatuses. Taken as a whole, the show celebrates the illusionistic craft of exhibition making, while placing the artists’ individual works in conversation with their referents.
Mark Flood’s first solo museum exhibition coheres around ideas of trickery—political, financial, and artistic—and performs its own trick by aligning the artist’s anticapitalist pose with his trompe l’oeil painting chops. This show also includes one sculpture, a readymade missile suspended from the ceiling and stenciled KILL PEOPLE. Surrounding this literal bombshell are thirteen paintings, one a triptych, that feature nihilistic slogans, crumbling corporate symbols, and impasto acrylics of decorative lace. A grid of spray-painted fluorescent cardboard squares reads CHOOSE DEATH, OCCUPY MURDER, COMMIT SUICIDE, and VOTE EVIL. Two, which Flood made for this exhibit, are tacked to the wall. The others, borrowed from private collections, are mounted and framed. This grouping posits the alleged purity of production against the taint of commerce, but this is a codependent standoff Flood enjoys. He wields his décor-based sleight of hand to condemn the 1 percent, with faux-cracked surfaces as metaphors for the corrupt duplicity of Google, J. P. Morgan, and the like. Meanwhile, he seduces this same wealth pool with his lace paintings, which he says are blunt capitulations to bankability.
Flood seems to consider the lace project as separate from his less “beautiful” work, but this show makes a connection. One recent piece—ostensibly just another churned-out painting, as the exhibition title suggests—reveals a punk sincerity within the professed cynicism. Stenciled from lace depicting George Washington’s boat on the Delaware, The Crossing, 2013, nods to Flood’s more aggressive pieces with its historic image of rebellion, while the luscious, silver and multicolored texture somehow lends gravitas to the Americana kitsch. Like all the lace paintings, this one wows with how-did-he-do-it formal moxie. So does a large acrylic canvas from 2013 emblazoned with the words (and the work’s title) FEEL NOTHING. Its biomorphic splash shapes seem to explode from within the painting to declare something else.
This year, Site Santa Fe relaunched their biennial with a focus on contemporary art from the Americas. While this premise is far from radical, the new focus does allow for a deeper evaluation of place, using New Mexico as a starting context and branching north and south through the continents. Exploring themes of landscape, territory, and trade, this exhibition presents forty-five artists and collectives from fifteen countries.
While including established artists such as Allan Sekula and Andrea Bowers, it is perhaps the lesser known who stand out most. Patrick Nagatani presents three photographs from his 1990 series “Nuclear Enchantment,” which comments on the impact of nuclear energy and its industry on the landscape of New Mexico. These high-contrast collages incorporate artificial interventions into documentary photos, such as a vibrant red sky, to address aspects of this history not necessarily seen with the naked eye. Elsewhere, Gianfranco Foschino takes the viewer through the Guaitecas and Chonoas archipelagos off the coast of southern Chile in No Man’s Land, 2014, an uninterrupted video loop crossing remote landscapes once home to a nomadic people who became victims of genocide in the eighteenth century. Finally, Twenty-one Amazonian Maps, 2014, is a colorful, wall-mounted thread sculpture by Gilda Mantilla and Raimond Chaves. This piece combines real and intuitive cartography invented by the artists to map their experiences in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia, as well as the three-country intersection along the Amazon River.
As with most biennials, there is a lot of work, and the space is never large enough. “Unsettled Landscapes” is no exception, however, it is worth traversing the galleries and the offsite projects for how this exhibition couples international and local artists to expand one’s understanding of the Americas through contemporary viewpoints.
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.
Like chapters from a Nordic storybook, the works in the latest show by brothers Steven and William Ladd, “Mary Queen of the Universe,” layer narrative over tradition with folksy sincerity. Created via rigorous collaboration, the prints, topographical sculptures, books, and drawings here embody a meditative additive quality, repeating unique gestures and forms across invented landscapes that pay homage to the brothers’ shared memories. Abstractly functioning as allegory rather than illustration, the works are visually carved neatly into two- and three-dimensional compartments; grid-like drawings read like roughly hewn blueprints for their siblings in the round.
The Ladds acquired the soft materials to create their sculptural cubes from an old Brooklyn belt factory; each a feast for a magpie, the boxes pack in tightly coiled canvas straps in monochromatic palettes, which become gently undulating supports for shiny and metallic beads. At times the boxes mimic small terrariums, such as those in a series titled “Fire Ants,” in which colonies of tiny, wire spindle ants attack orange-glass flames. Ants, a formative image for the brothers, are overwhelmingly reproduced in nearly two thousand nine-by-eleven-inch panels that invade a full gallery.
Born just one year apart, the Ladds naturally developed their creative partnership after working individually as clothing and jewelry designers. Their process celebrates the collaborative legacy of folk art, crafts, and home arts such as sewing, as well as a tradition of brotherly alliances—e.g., the Starns, the Brothers Quay. An aesthetic of multiplicity beats steadily through the Ladds’ works; perhaps it is a quiet a testimony to the familial feedback loop that opens into tandem history.
“Teoría del color” (Color Theory) investigates social systems steeped in exclusion, racial differentiation, and discrimination, through the work of fifteen international artists in a variety of media, including posters, video, installation, photography, painting, and performance. These works reveal that there is no better testament to the racism deeply rooted in our time than the visual clues embedded in supposedly postracial societies. Take for example Daniela Ortiz’s 97 Empleadas domésticas (97 Domestic Employees) , 2010, a compelling photo album of snapshots documenting social and family gatherings of upper-class Peruvians collected by the artist from Facebook profiles. These familiar scenes expose a common yet perturbing practice of exclusion, as in all the photographs, housekeepers and nannies appear either in the background, out of focus, or cropped. While revealing a classist society, these images also expose the ambiguous, awkward conditions of domestic labor where intimacy paradoxically coexists with intentional distancing and estrangement.
Everyday and everywhere people are subject to racial differentiation and classification due to the omnipresence of biometric surveillance software. Zach Blas’s “Facial Weaponization Suite,” 2011–14, responds to these technologies by producing a series of masks modeled on aggregated facial data from a workshop’s participants. Creating the possibility to avoid facial identification through amorphous, colorful masks, Blas protests the digital systems that use categorizations based on gender, ethnicity, and sexuality to discriminately privilege and disadvantage people. Racism still exacts heavy socioeconomic, political, and emotional consequences globally, and this exhibition engages these issues in a critical discussion that is very necessary, not least for a country such as Mexico, which is characterized by both invisible and institutionalized mechanisms of discrimination that create destructive social inequality.