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The Manhattan Art Review's Best & Worst Art Shows of 2021
A Response to Eric Schmid's Press Release for Henry Fool @ Triest
The Rules of Appropriation; Liz Magor, For Example, Liz Magor @ Andrew Kreps
Cézanne Drawing @ MoMA
The Aesthetics of the Refusal of Aesthetics, Sara Deraedt @ Essex Street (2016)
Cameron Rowland @ Essex Street
Paul McCarthy and the Negative Sublime, Paul McCarthy @ Hauser & Wirth
The Manhattan Art Christmas Movie Review Special: Notes on Eyes Wide Shut
In Search of the Worst Painting on the Lower East Side
Isa Genzken @ Galerie Buchholz, Art Club2000 @ Artists Space, Jef Geys @ Essex Street
Josiane M.H. Pozi @ Gandt
Eric Schmid @ Triest
Magnus Peterson Horner & McKinney @ Gandt
Gerhard Richter @ Marian Goodman & Lise Soskolne @ Svetlana, Park McArthur @ Essex Street, The Cleaners of Mars @ Reena Spaulings - Addendum: Notes on Psychedelic Art
Jana Euler @ Artists Space
Concerning Superfluities @ Essex Street vs. Georgie Nettell @ Reena Spaulings
Alex Da Corte @ Karma
Florian Pumhösl @ Miguel Abreu
Robert D. Scott @ The Middler
The Manhattan Art Book Review
Meter-Wide Button - Lillian Paige Walton
Mercury Retrograde - Emily Segal (The Question of Coolness)
Theodor Adorno - Aesthetic Theory - *****
Andrea Fraser: Collected Interviews 1990-2018
Amalia Ulman's El Planeta
Andrew Newell Walther:
The Manhattan Art Comic
Bruce Nauman - His Mark - Sperone Westwater - **.5
An old guy fucking around, running his fingernails over a scratched up table. Seems like his faded garment dyed shirt is nice. It's in 3D, apparently just to cost the gallery some more money. It's boring and half-baked, but unlike his last Sperone show it's so lazy that I kind of respect it. I like that he doesn't care, but that doesn't really make the videos any better than they are.
Elliott Puckette - Kasmin - **
Squiggles can be a surprisingly fraught practice, the struggle of not crossing the "line" between too affectated, too self-similar, too general, and so on. This tends towards the latter two, they remind me of that thing you see in children's science museums where there's a pen and paper on weights and when you push them they make perfect spirals. These works are familiar because they're what squiggles look like, they're not recognizable as a distinct hand. The ones on the panels are at least pleasant, the wires and drawings are terribly nondescript. The best you can say is that it's inoffensive.
Etel Adnan - Discovery of Immediacy - Galerie Lelong & Co. - ***.5
I'm sad I missed her Guggenheim show, it seems like that one had the good stuff. These black-on-white still lives are enjoyably offhand, but the few instances of added color activates those works so pointedly that it's almost tragic that the rest are colorless. This is how it's done I guess, a gallery alley-oops off of a good museum show with some of the artist's decidedly lesser works. I don't hold that against either Etel or the gallery, I'm just calling a spade a spade, or a mediocre show by a good artist a mediocre show. Also, as someone who just about grew up in the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, I was sad that there weren't any mountain paintings. Wow, what a procession of disappointments...
Leon Kossoff - A Life in Painting - Mitchell-Innes & Nash - ***
Good old goop portraiture, like a low-tier Michael Werner artist. Maybe it's not actually low-tier, and Michael Werner just has a nicer space? As I like to say, when you use this much paint the texture automatically becomes interesting to look at, but beneath that the paintings are pretty run-of-the-mill. Not bad, but really, would I be rating this higher if it was at Michael Werner? I wonder.
Alice Aycock, Beverly Buchanan, Agnes Denes, Dan Graham, Hugh Hayden, Anish Kapoor, Tatsuo Miyajima, Hélio Oiticica, Laure Prouvost, Tony Oursler, Pedro Reyes, Thomas Schütte, Andrea Zittel, Per Kirkeby, Lawrence Weiner - Pavilions - Lisson - ****
There's something funny about the pavilion format, the scale model always feels a bit like a joke no matter how serious the artist is being. The grand projections of the artist's mind are reduced into a miniature scale, throttled and put in their place as servants to the real powers that be, like architects that actually build big buildings and the art collectors who make money in those big buildings. Anyway, this is a good conceit for a group show because it's a well-traversed mode of working that's been addressed by a wide range of artists, so the scope of the treatments feel like they're filling out the concept of the show rather than operating as a vague pretext to justify putting some artworks together. Laure Prouvost's Venice Biennale model is funny, and Anish Kapoor's models look pretty good and are also funny in spite of themselves. Agnes Denes' and Alice Aycock's drawings are beautiful in their usage of the draftsman's diagrammatic attention to detail, utilizing a precision that's usually contrary to an artist's desire for freedom but turned towards an end that's not stuffy or conservative. Dan Graham, Beverly Buchanan, etc., etc. Quite good!
Haroon Mirza - A Dyson Sphere - Lisson - **
I couldn't figure out how to position myself relative to the work, which I guess is intentional, but, like the QR code for an AR object in the back, this mostly feels like a technological fetishism that just doesn't interest me. I'm sure the technology used was complicated in a way that earnestly interests the artist, but from my perspective it seems like a silly waste of effort. It doesn't look good either, especially the tacky ferns with the neon lights in the back. What is this, an LMFAO video in 2011?
Carl Andre - Paula Cooper - ***
Holy shit, Carl Andre is alive? I had no idea. I like him more than Judd (less sterile) but I can't say this stuff gets me off. I prefer the miniatures and the concrete poems to the bigger pieces. I just look at them think "Yep, there it is. Carl Andre. Uh huh."
Marina Adams, Mel Bochner, Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, Carroll Dunham, Chris Ofili, Elizabeth Peyton, Dana Schutz, Stanley Whitney, Terry Winters - Unrepeated: Unique Prints from Two Palms - David Zwirner - ***
Maybe I've just been looking too much at Jasper Johns' monotypes recently (I have), but yeah, he's a hard act to follow. Most of these don't feel much like prints, which makes them generally seem more like a half-assed gesture towards attempting an expansion of one's practice, because they were offered access to the print studio and they didn't really have an idea of what to do with it. Winters is an exception that feels intentional, especially his nine part work in the back room, as is Cecily Brown's trio of prints of variations on the same base image. The Carroll Dunham of a tree is decent too. Most of it isn't bad, although I could do without the Mel Bochner and Chris Ofili pieces, so it's not like this is a trainwreck. The real problem is that the framework for the show isn't very curatorial, so works don't really make any sense together.
James Castle - David Zwirner - ***.5
Nice, quaint. There's one drawing of his box people near the fireplace which I think is very beautiful, the rest are good but this is more of a curio with a good backstory (not that it doesn't deliver on that story) than it is a grand revelation.
Damien Hirst - Forgiving and Forgetting - Gagosian - *
Well, it did make me laugh!
Magnus Peterson Horner - Boy - Jenny's - ****
This is a series of portraits of a boy Magnus used to babysit, a simple idea deployed as a generative conceit. Unlike his Gandt show, there's little to no irony, which worked there and the lack of it works here. The art historical range of reference (Rembrandt, Titian, maybe symbolism or early impressionism, etc.) is both clear and sufficiently oblique to not smother the content, taking inspiration from rather than simply copying, and the treatment is consistently proficient across the range. The subject matter is similarly productive, boyhood as a broad context for images and situations that suggest the specificity of childhood memories without resorting to an explicit coming-of-age setting. The simplicity works in contradistinction to much of contemporary painting's crisis of subject, a perpetual worrying over what one can paint that doesn't feel like it's already been done. That anxiety, though, is self-perpetuating inasmuch that the crux of the struggle is the staleness of newness itself, the exhaustion of innovation. But the vitality of a good painting does not come from depicting something that hasn't been depicted before, it comes from the earnest interest of the artist in their relationship to their subject and the act of painting. Here, the artist was inspired to paint something not at all new, and in doing so captured something fresh in its uncomplicated disinterest towards being new.
Peter Schlesinger - David Lewis - ***
Nice pots, good colors. But is it Art? I'm usually not very particular about that distinction but this is so decorative that it does beg the question. Not that it's really a "problem," I do like how they look. There's just not much going on.
Paige K. B., Claude Closky, Graham Hamilton, Bradley Kronz, Spencer Lai, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Molly Rose Lieberman, Carlos Reyes, John Sandroni, Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven - You're Finally Awake! - Theta - ***
By and large this work is mostly good: the Hershman Leeson video, Claude Closky's 1997 question game, and Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven's digital painting are all older technological works that have aged well (no small feat), and Brad Kronz's bed is graceful, although I'm skeptical at best of Paige K. B.'s reference assemblages and Lai's constructions don't do much aside from asserting a style, one that I'm not particularly attracted to. Although I can't complain of the quality, there's no apparent through-line outside of the curator's sensibility so the whole feels a bit busy and unfocused.
Pardiss Amerian, Hannah Celli, Coco Young - Magic Mountain - Jack Hanley - *.5
Where Schlesinger's pots are inoffensively decorative by virtue of being pots, these sculptures and paintings are offensively decorative by virtue of pretending to be more than decor. The colors are considered, but in a way that tries too hard. I imagine this is how rich people decorate their homes, with a palate that's cohesive but "unique," i.e. composed with colors that you can't get from regular stores. I almost like Pardiss' paintings but they don't go beyond a surface niceness, and the others are dumb. Why is this named after a Thomas Mann novel?
Milford Graves - Fundamental Frequency - Artists Space - ***
I like free jazz, but the problem with this presentation, one common to many archival shows and my usual complaint with Artists Space, is that it feels one step removed from the artist's energy. His psycho electro-circulatory system sculptures are open to being experienced, but even that feels more like a byproduct than a document of his essence, and the rest is more or less indigestible. I prefer listening to music at home, no shade to Graves. To put it differently, a show like this is supposed to familiarize you with the breadth and scope of his life's work, but I think that sort of research-based experience is better done on your own when you can actuall absorb it. That might not be Artists Space's fault, and it's certainly not Milford's, but I think I'd only be able to properly immerse myself in this if I was already intimately familiar with his work and getting a chance to see in person what I've already read about. As someone who's only vaguely familiar with his work, my main takeaway is that I want to look up the Japanese documentary they were playing when I get home, and that's not nothing, but as an exhibition it leaves a little to be desired.
Paul Chan - A drawing as a recording of an insurrection - Greene Naftali - *
Wasn't art once supposed to speak truth to power? Wasn't it once an outlet for people with a revolutionary impulse, a space to voice perspectives that were too incendiary for the mainstream? Leaving aside the obvious idiocy of acting like registering to vote or supporting Nancy Pelosi is at all socially edifying, it's absurd to act like anything of importance happened last January 6th. In the '70s artists rubbed shoulders with and were interested in radical groups like the Weather Underground, let alone the much-beloved artistic subject of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, which, whatever you opinions on their methods, at least represented a desire for something beyond the crushing despair of the capitalist status quo, which has only become exponentially more crushing in the last 50-odd years. The "insurrectionists" made no bombs, had no real plans, and mostly flopped around like decapitated turkeys before heading home. I wouldn't call them more revolutionary than liberals in some reactionary galaxy brain gesture because they're simply sad and incompetent, too unaware to address the sources of their very real suffering in any real way, which, again, was a struggle 50 years ago and now feels effectively impossible. But it's even more egregious to act as though it's culturally productive to pull this cute little flip stunt of invading the personal privacy of people in the art world by texting us (How did they get our names and phone numbers? Did they not think that this would come off as a creepy surveillance state move?) in the guise of an ironic formal gesture that's turned around into a gut-wrenching act of liberal earnestness. It's the height of stupidity, something only a completely out of touch (i.e. rich) artist could cook up with their brain that's been irreparably damaged from hitting the NYT crack pipe for too long. This isn't to say, however, that Chan is the sole actor in this crime against our collective consciousness, because it simply represents our culture's downward trend into a senescence that is just as present on the so-called Left as on the Right. What politics should do, in concept, is uphold civic values and instill a societal belief in ideals that are held by all people, to alleviate suffering and protect the things we hold dear, etc. But precious few people have any sane idea left of what these ideals could possibly be, which leads to our current predicament. My main critique of the insurrectionists is that they weren't angrier, and to react with liberal status-quo condescension is nothing less than a disgusting exposure of one's lack of character and cluelessness regarding the state of humanity. I usually find Paul's drawings to be moderately enjoyable, but considering my feelings the subject matter I obviously do not enjoy this. What I tend to like is the spontaneous spatial/formal organization that comes from the tossed-off relaxation of his depictions, but here it feels labored and inert, the layout reflecting the strained moralism of the subject matter. The forced gravitas of the single piece is stupid too. (P.S. When I went to the gallery I was told by the attendant that the text messages people received about the show were not sent by Greene Naftali. So was it a troll or did Chan do it himself? I had already written most of this before I went, but I didn't rewrite it because if it's a prank it makes Chan look just as bad as it would if it was his idea.)
Namio Harukawa - Femdom - ATM Gallery - **.5
Pretty funny, but I thought he was more varied than this. Maybe I'm wrong or the curation is too conservative. Either way, it's a one note show. The press release seems to imply that the fetishized inversion of gender roles is progressive or radical, so I guess someone's never heard of autogynephilia...
Tomer Aluf, Tyler Dobson, Lise Soskolne - My Machine - A.D. - ****
Painterly abstraction revisited as farce, which isn't an insult to the artists; when society is farcical, art should be too. Aluf's paintings are like an unpolished Kandinsky/Miró/Suprematism impression, which is fortunate in my book because I tend to think that type of work suffers for its dedication to polish. Dobson's tongue-in-cheek blue painting references both Joan and Joni Mitchell, which is already a clever enough joke to avoid referential dead-ending, but it's also good enough in its own right to stand on its own by inhabiting that ever-narrowing space of an abstract painting style that's simple enough to not be stepping on anyone else's toes. I'm not sure I fully grasp what's going on in Soskolne's Gallery (happening), in a good, Cubist kind of way. I also appreciate an artist showing work that's nearly 20 years old, it's good practice for an artist to accept/appreciate/revisit their past. Her other moon/flower/bath tile(?) painting also demonstrates her refinement as a colorist. I had this rated a bit lower initially, but it grew on me and I remembered that a show like this, not particularly adventurous but solid across the board, is deeply, distressingly rare lately.
Raymond Saunders - Andrew Kreps - ****
I was worried about these scrap assemblage/scrawlings feeling dated, like a sub-Basquiat imitator, but most of the chalk work is surprisingly delicate and the assemblage is surprisingly rough in a Yuji Agematsu "decades of built up trash" way that keeps it from being corny. In general the trashiness of it feels like the productive element, a post-Twombly aggressive sensibility towards his working surface that generates a formal freedom and complexity that stops it from falling into techniques that might otherwise feel forced or trite.
Rosalind Nashashibi - Darkness and Rest - Grimm - ***
I guess my tastes for painting are somewhat conservative, I like Cézanne, Degas, etc., and from that comes a taste for sketchier, more impressionistic rendering. This is in that vein, but here the artist's art historicality ends up feeling constricted and overly domestic. It reminds me of Sanya Kantarovsky, there's technical talent and knowledge but she's perhaps too secure in her practice so the resulting work is polite and pleasant and not much else. This isn't to say it's bad, though, I like the one with the legs and a horse and the word "dumb," and the two in the back alcove.
Robert Janitz - Library of a Dream - Canada - *.5
Nice enough to look at (well, sort of. The colors turn my stomach a little.), although the formal language of the pipes is dry to the point of boredom. I guess the intent is to suggest a serial language with the shapes, but the presentation doesn't inspire me to contemplation. It's just a bunch of folded sticks in gaudy colors. The works that deviate from the main theme show that he can do other stuff, but it's an acquiescent demonstration of range.
Olivia Vigo - Information Rich - Larrie - **.5
It's a little refreshing to see someone working in a novel format, namely industrial design. It does smell of undergrad (why is there a video?) but I think that's mostly an age thing. The felt wardrobe is funny and the arches are nicely assembled even if the inlay imitation drawings are a bit perfunctory, although the daybed text is too cute for me. I'm being harsh but this is good for a 22 year old.
Jimmy Raskin - Stations of the Last Eccentric - Miguel Abreu - ***
I was expecting to hate how dumb this is, but I actually think it's pretty funny so I like it. I don't know if the artist intended the humor I find in it, but regardless it doesn't have that Abreu self-seriousness that usually bothers me. A couple of the prints have some subtle details that reward a close look.
Satoru Eguchi, Franck Lesbros, Aislinn McNamara, Mieko Meguro, Michael Smith - Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year! - 3A Gallery - ***.5
People should make more art about Christmas, I think that would be nice. Leave it to 3A to think it up and pull it off without any undue affectation. Michael Smith's drawings and his video of senior citizens getting tattoos stand out, as do Mieko's Coke can Christmas trees, but the whole thing is just cozy. As ever, Mieko's press releases are unimpeachably the best in the city.
The Yes Men - Carriage Trade - ****
The problem of art as activism is, of course, that a gallery is an idiotic place to attempt activism. The Yes Men, knowing this, are more of a media terrorism group than artists, although their interventions are more art-inflected than Michael Moore or The Daily Show, the best remembered examples of the early oughts consciousness-raising political humor trend that The Yes Men are a part of. Consciousness-raising doesn't turn out to be very useful when we don't live in a democracy where the political system is actually beholden to its citizens, but things were less cynical back then. Their impersonations of media figures and advertisements has a clear conceptual lineage, although putting them in a news/popular media context makes those moves more effective than if they were done in the art world, not to mention funnier. The show itself is mostly an archival document of their activities, and the jokes have aged better than the aforementioned references. A gold bodysuit with a giant gold penis/tv monitor for more efficiently tracking employees is very dumb symbolic humor, but it's followed through with enough persistence that the execution outdoes the initial joke. It's also integral that The Yes Men actually put the work into understanding the protocols and legal structures of the things they were messing with, which proves the seriousness of their joking. Unlike most political art these days that is predicated on an artist's presumption of significance and moral rectitude by virtue of their subject matter, they engaged materially with the systems they were critiquing instead of just being condescending.
Vito Acconci, Lynda Benglis, Jake Berthot, Regina Bogat, William Burroughs, John Chamberlain, Peter Dean, David Diao, Martha Diamond, Tom Doyle, Robert Frank, Max Gimblett, Michael Goldberg, Brenda Goodman, Adolf Gottlieb, Bryon Gysin, Eva Hesse, Gerald Jackson, Valerie Jaudon, Lester Johnson, Ronnie Landfield, June Leaf, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kazuko Miyamoto, Malcolm Morley, Loren Munk, Elizabeth Murray, Joe Overstreet, Harvey Quaytman, James Rosenquist, Mark Rothko, Robert Ryman, Archie Shepp, Billy Sullivan, Lynn Umlauf, Tom Wesselman, Stanley Whitney - On The Bowery - Zürcher Gallery - ***
Pat Passlof - Memories of Tenth Street: Paintings by Pat Passlof, 1948-63 - Eric Firestone Gallery - ****
Michael Snow - *Corpus Callosum - Anthology Film Archives - ****.5
Even outside of the basic strangeness of everything that happens on screen, this is a mindfuck of a movie. Snow was already in his 70s, yet it's a technical masterwork of digital cinema. Moreover, it uses brand new technology of a very strange breed that existed for a small blip of time in the late '90s and early '00s before the industry created a normative straitjacket that excised the unpractical charm and weirdness of effects like these. As I watched it I thought of a few musical metaphors: from a technological standpoint it made me think of Fontana Mix, a quixotically ahead of the curve attraction to the nascent capabilities of new devices, but where Cage's tape music was something you could still make a decade later with much less effort, what Snow did with his digital experiments seems like it was only possible at the time that it was done. That his use of the software is consistently inventive and well-executed, then, is all the more impressive; what could have easily been a series of timid and awkward experiments is instead presented as fully-formed and consonant. As such it feels like one of the rare true examples of the idea of harnessing the possibilities of "new" media, but at the same time it contravenes it because the success lies with Snow, not the media. His cinematic approach that he had been refining for the past three plus decades had a breadth that could make use of this newness, but his conception of filmmaking predated these means so that the innovation lies more in his mind than in the revolutionary capabilities of the technology. Formally, the work recalls a theme and variations, more Diabelli than Goldberg in that the original theme, a circular pan around an office, is not particularly compelling on its own but is made so through the relentless inventiveness of the variations. Almost every introduced element is presented with such an inscrutable logic that it feels as though it came out of nowhere, excepting a few passages such as the compositional exercise of cycling through disappearing objects on the wall of the living room. This game, a near free-association of the simple elements of an office, a camera, and people in recurring outfits, becomes an astonishing exercise of how many bewildering situations can be presented in the span of 90 minutes. Like the sine waves of the soundtrack and the rhythmic "rules" of camera movement in this and his other films, Snow's approach to the materials of filmmaking is uniquely organic, deconstructing the material considerations of the camera to its structural elements instead of the usual end of verisimilitude. Likewise, his sense of what can loosely be called narrative is broken down to fundamental elements: man, woman, parent, child, coworkers, work, school, leisure, sex, etc., in a way that abstracts the depiction of the real and invites a sense of surreality. The feeling at times is like something out of David Lynch, especially in the employment of cinematic effects to create emotional effects, but where Lynch is constrained to his very specific sense of horror, Snow's taste for the weird is less myopic. Like the silent comedies that clearly influenced him, his inventions revolve around the gag, a particular type of creativity that consists of inventing deviations from normal reality. Buster Keaton built a fantastically dysfunctional house to get a laugh, and Snow uses similar constructive conceits for his films but the goal is less clear. There's plenty of humor in his work but his main interest seems to be a reflexive exploration of the dialectic between the camera and reality, a dilation of the experience of the cinematic and the real that gives both a feeling of unreality. It's kind of like tripping balls. As I said, a mindfuck.
Keith Mayerson - My American Dream: This Land is Your Land - Karma - ***.5
This is hard to rate because I think it's a very funny and kind of awesome show, but I suspect it's for reasons that are alien to the mind of the artist. I read it as a brilliant portrait of brain-dead NYT liberalism, the incredible thickness of those people (rare in my world but apparently common) who trust politicians and believe that the American political edifice isn't rotten to its core and inherently broken. But as far as I can tell, Mayerson is actually one of those people and he wants to paint slightly awkward reproductions of photos of public figures due to his earnest emotional attachment to them. The thing is, as humor painting, this is hard to beat. Edgelord artists would kill to think up a show combining The Muppets, a Google Earth shot of the US, some nuns who died from Covid, and politicians. That seems to be the problem with ironic humor in painting; irony is critical and functions from a distanced perspective. Making fun of something can be funny, but putting the humor of mockery into an artwork is difficult because it has no distance, it is something. To get a little Platonic about it, making art is affiliative, an expression of a desire for the Good by whatever means the artist thinks is adequate. It's fine if the artist thinks making fun of bad painting is good, but the artist can't then make one of those bad paintings because what they enjoy is the failure of the bad painter to make a good painting. They can't achieve that same failure because they know it's bad, their failure becomes inauthentic because bad painting is their goal instead of an authentic failure to achieve a different goal. To put it simply, bad paintings aren't funny when the artist is in on the joke. Mayerson isn't though, so his paintings stay funny, but does that make them "good?" Hard to say, and although the one with all the Muppets is pretty great I don't think much of the rest as painting. Anyway, my metric for rating a show is my enjoyment, and I did enjoy this even if it was at the artist's expense.
Wade Guyton - Supply Chain - Reena Spaulings - ***.5
I'm usually wary of prints on canvas being referred to as paintings, but Guyton's compositional sense for his perennial "line split" images is refined and precise enough that I don't mind knowing that these are easy to make. As a series they cohere, or rather, they don't cohere in a cohesive way, which keeps them interesting. Singly they're all appealing images and look effortless, although it's actually very easy to come off as trite with photos of your studio and in-scanner lens feedback, or whatever it is he's doing on the abstract ones. I like these, but since it's my job to nitpick: the formal consistency of the pieces and the ease of inkjet printing makes the curatorial whole into the locus of the content, which is a classic conceptualist move. However, without any conceptual complications to abstract the pieces from their imagery, they remain fundamentally aesthetic objects. As a result, that quality of the whole ends up being not very conceptual. Instead of an exploration of elements beyond the works themselves, like space or their intellectual ramifications, the "meta-content" is just curation. It's well done, but in the end there's a subtle aftertaste of slightness to the objects due to their quasi-mass produced quality.
James Ensor - An Intimate Portrait - Gladstone - ****
Very nice, a beautiful still life and a decent selection of his classic figures and caricatures. Somewhere between Impressionist lightness and Cézanne's heaviness, but more modern than either (pictorially, not technically). His parodic sense gives him some room to classicize in a way that wouldn't be possible through a more conventional means.
Milton Resnick - Paintings 1954-1957 - Cheim & Read - ****
For all their crude heaviness and the muddy palette, there's a formal delicacy to his compositions. Some are almost a return to figures, close to Monet's water lilies in a "if you squint they could be representational paintings by someone going blind" kind of way. I dunno, there's a lot of big names this week so I'm not sure I'll have much to say about some of them. These are great though.
Hilma af Klint - Tree of Knowledge - David Zwirner - ***.5
I don't particularly love Klint, I saw a lecture on her around 2014 and the argument of an alternate history where she's the first abstractionist seems to me a little forced. The logic goes that her place in art history was stolen from her because she's a woman and she didn't hide the spiritualist influences in her imagery, unlike Kandinsky and Mondrian who hid those elements from their art in spite of being similarly involved in those weird turn of the century esoteric occult groups. I'm sure sexism negatively impacted her career, but I think the fact that those artists hid the spirituality of their abstractions is precisely what made their work groundbreaking and important in art history. This overtness still reads to me as just proto-new agey, and although art can be transcendent I don't think being explicit about depictions of spiritual transcendence is the best means of achieving it. Imagery is secondary to depiction and when imagery becomes the focal point of the work the depiction suffers. All the same, I actually think I like these little watercolors more than what was in Guggenheim show.
Dan Flavin - Gagosian - **.5
I think of Flavin as one of the great hacks of minimalism. He expanded the sculptural into the use of (one type of) mass-produced products and instigated thoughts about site-specificity, but I think those instigations were followed out to much more interesting ends by other artists like Dan Graham whereas Flavin just kept coasting on his fluorescents. It's rather one-note and I think his historical importance is due more to lucky timing than brilliance. Sure, they're pretty, but especially just tossing two pieces into this kind of awful Gagosian space just isn't interesting. It's just a bait and switch by using a big name, which happens a lot uptown. For instance, the next show:
Braque | Picasso - Nahmad Contemporary - **
It's two paintings!! Come on man. It's a bad sign when you walk into a gallery and feel cheated. I prefer the Braque of the two, for what that's worth.
Eugène Leroy - About Marina - Michael Werner - **.5
By comparison this makes Resnick look polite and reticent, but not necessarily for the better. The density of this much paint is always something that's easy to enjoy, but it's all so muddled that the paintings become indistinguishable from one another. It reminds me of ambient tapes I used to listen to in college. If you like someone with a few delay pedals going "ooh ahh" into a mic it's easy to enjoy just about anyone doing it interchangeably, but that doesn't mean it's good.
Catherine Czudej - Hippie Puke - Egan & Rosen - ***
Bismuth is a funny material to use and, to my surprise, it makes me like the title. Unsurprisingly, it seems hard to work with because there's very little composition to speak of, but as a one-off "joke" I think it works.
Susan Rothenberg - On Both Sides Of My Line: Susan Rothenberg's Early Horse Paintings - Gray - ***.5
There's only so many returns to figuration you can see and still have your breath taken away, which I don't hold against Rothenberg personally, of course. I don't really know her body of work, maybe I'd appreciate these more if I did. Some friends of mine do and enjoyed it a lot. Regardless, I don't find the system she sets up to be very exploratory. It's sort of hemmed in by the conservatism of the motifs: the adobe orange, the horses always facing left, the bisecting line. She has a good touch and does sensitively explore the variations of the figures, but compared to the other post-abstractive jumps evoked in the press release I find her methods to be sort of personal and limited rather than magnificent leaps into the possibilities of paint. I'm also extremely jaded and joyless in my evaluations of art because of doing these reviews every week.
Dorothea Rockburne - Giotto's Angels & Knots - David Nolan - *.5
I liked her older pieces I saw a Van Doren Waxter a couple months ago, but these ones have a craftiness that feels very tacky, like something you'd see in an art gallery in an affluent coastal town. I guess it was easy to age out of the sensibilities of taste dictated by classic minimalism and bring in ill-advised elements as the era waned.
Lutz Bacher - The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview - Galerie Buchholz - ***.5
It's hard to review a Lutz show because she's so vibey and her work is so cumulative. I think as the first entirely posthumous exhibition they did a good job of preserving her sensibility, but even though I love Lutz I can't say I can think of a show that sticks out in my mind as brilliant on its own. I guess I've always wondered about Crimson & Clover but I've never seen it. Everything I'm familiar with feels a little too oblique and withholding if taken outside of the larger context of her body of work, so I'm not sure how to approach rating something like this. The work itself is nice to see and as her first exploration of interviews as a form it's an important touchstone, but it's also just a bunch of xeroxes (well, photostats, but they look like DIY punk xeroxes). They look good, but I don't think I can rate the show higher without it feeling like "I have to love the Lutz show because it's Lutz." The archive, though, as the fullest of accumulation of her work that anyone will ever have, is completely incredible and overwhelming.
Richard Aldrich, Ei Arakawa, Virginia Overton - Bortolami - ***.5
A good trio, surprisingly "cool" for Bortolami? Overton pulls the "minimal gesture found item" move in a way that works by not imposing too much onto the simplicity of the objects themselves, the Aldrich triptych is funny for its resistance to cohesion (I heard an employee mention to a collector that everyone wants to buy the painterly middle panel, but you have to buy all three), and Arakawa's LED's are willfully pointless, always a good strategy. A well-chosen trio, three artists "just fucking around," in a good way, in different ways.
Jacqueline De Jong - Border-Line - Ortuzar Projects - ****.5
I often pick on political art, but not because I think political subjects should be forbidden from art. It's just that these days it's all too common for an artist to attempt to substitute a political message for the content of an artwork instead of being a choice of subject matter that is approached by the means of art. De Jong uses the European immigrant crisis as a starting point for her subject, but from barbed wire and people living in tents she quickly accelerates into a barely restrained evocation of the most violent human impulses. Like Grünewald or Breughel's darker works, the non-documentary pieces are portraits of the demonic, inventive deformations of the body that give shape to the all-too-imaginable horrors of living, caricatures that express what a faithful image never could. The images themselves are not unceasingly bleak, however, also recalling Renaissance grotesques like those in Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, so that these half-human half-animal orgies of violence as as much an exercise in the play of invention (see the recurring image of a skeleton on the ground with blood coming out of its head) as they are in the nightmarish. More than the subjects of violence, what makes these paintings so captivating is this playfulness, the constantly striking means of rendering figures that feels barely contained by the limits of the canvas. Their strangeness seems to be an aleatoric process, taking the impulsive gestural movements of pure abstraction and molding those marks into figures after the fact, making the paranoid compulsions of pareidolia into a game. In some ways it recalls the other great show I saw recently, Maria Lassnig's '60s paintings at Petzel, but the two explore the psychosexual imaginary of the body in opposed ways. This is less aloof and considered, more generous and impulsive. That's not to put one over the other, both artists unlocked adept means for exploring the representational unconscious. And that's one of the goals of painting, right?
Tony Chrenka, Jason Hirata - Plot - Theta - ***.5
Jason's silhouettes and flattened shelves are a good conceptualist joke, aesthetically clean and subverting the self-seriousness of the lineage he's referencing. The shelves feel kind of isometric, like Tony's drawings, which are vaguely architectural even when they're just masses of squiggles. The glasses and car are particularly fun as deconstructions of sketching and the schematics of representation. The abstractions approach the territory of street art, but that's not the end of the world. Showing drawings as complete works is somewhat aggressive, and demanding in a weird way. Traditionally, drawings are preparatory, practice for the serious work of painting, I guess because paint has color and its own textural levels that lend it more finality whereas pencil on paper is always on a spectrum of adjacency to doodles in the margin of a notebook. The size of the paper and framing makes sure that these drawings won't be confused for doodling, but all the same they are a little "quiet" as an artistic practice. The works look good together, they preserve the visual austerity of conceptualism while excising the presumption that tends to gum up people working in this style these days.
Anna K.E. - Blowing From the East Fallen Leaves Gather in the West - Simone Subal - **.5
The layout is fun and the architectural model thing made out of metal and magnets is too. The wall pieces seem like collage even though they're not, which is why they feel compositionally haphazard and maybe a little overworked. The parts don't cohere into a whole.
Agustin Fernandez - Drawings and Collages (1960s - 1980s) - Mitchell Algus - ***.5
Classic Surrealist collage-y stuff, which I don't tend to love because I usually get the feeling like it's trying too hard to be weird. Here it's restrained enough (there's minimal drawings as often as there are collages) that it's enjoyable. The hallmarks are all here, Greek statues, angularity and scale, playing cards, smudged graphite, hair, strings, and, naturally, near constant sexual innuendo. It's minor, maybe, but it's playful enough that who really cares? I like this more than his breast-armor paintings.
Irwin Kremen - Works - Klaus Von Nichtssagend - ***
Cute little trash collages, kinda like proto-Yuji Agematsu if he just used flat paper. The metal pieces are cute too.
Paul Laffoley - Thoughtforms - James Fuentes - ***.5
I've known about his stuff since college, I can't say I ever bought too far into this New Age impulse to systematize the spiritual but he goes so crazy with it that it's enjoyable to try to make sense of what he's saying no matter what you think about it. It's also interesting to see it in person because reproductions feel as precise as digital renderings, but he really did it all by hand, pasting the lettering and everything. I don't think the schematic harmonies of hippie symbolism are good for art even at their craziest extremes, but this is its craziest extreme, which counts for something, and I always have to give credit to art that demands you give it a hard look.
Lutz Bacher, Judith Barry, Contemporary Art Writing Daily, Jana Euler, Renee Green, Hans Haacke, Esteban Jefferson, Louise Lawler, Jeff Preiss (in collaboration with Andrea Fraser, Nicolas Guagnini, Josiah McElheny, Moyra Davey, Isaac Preiss & Barney Simon, and Anthony McCall), Carissa Rodriguez, Gili Tal - Exhibition as Image - 80WSE - ***
It's all very smart and tasteful, of course, all the "right" artists, but inasmuch that they're right it's a bit dated, i.e. the ghost of late institutional critique. Reflexively re-presenting the art world through art is less dry than your average didactic critique, but it still feels grounded in a slightly expired idea of criticism as a revolutionary interrogation into the socioeconomic structures of the arts. This isn't really a complaint inasmuch that educational institutions and archival shows shouldn't be held to a contemporary standard of relevance, but some of the works are contemporary and those still feel ensconced within these older modes of reflection. The problem with critical art is that is abstracts itself from the imminent experience of artworks; it emphasizes the distancing act of thought about something other than the art instead of the work itself. The implication of critical art seems to be that we should suspend our engagement with art until we have enlightened ourselves and the systems we criticize have been fixed. But this moment never comes to pass, and in the meantime the attitude negates what art offers to us on its own terms. I may be cynical about this work because I'm already familiar with much of it, so maybe younger artists will find more to glean from being introduced to these artists for the first time. As it is, though, I think the spirit of this work suffers from the distance of closeness, by which I mean work that's between 5 and 20 years old tends to feel the least relevant because it has so recently fallen out of fashion. Despite its dry austerity, this work is grounded in a political optimism, a belief that critique can create change, something that's exceedingly difficult to believe in presently. Contemporary Art Writing Daily's piece, a printed excerpt from their recent book, is not politically optimistic but illustrative of the limits of critique: the passage begins in a discussion of the increasing popularity of masochistic subject in pornography like orgasm denial, which then segues into the popularity of Google searches for the word "anhedonia." The implication is that the increase in sexual perversity reflects our society's disassociation from pleasure, which is of course true on many levels. However it seems to me that fetishism is precisely hedonic rather than anhedonic (not that I'd know...), and that fetishists participate in these conventionally unpleasurable sex acts because it gives them pleasure, not because they're alienated from pleasure. Like psychoanalysis, the interpretation of the subject is predetermined by the thesis, i.e. the truth of Freudianism or the truth of alienation, and therefore precludes the possibility of escaping their fatalistic conclusions. My point, ironically as a critic, is that art primarily operates through its being experienced, and that criticality within art often contravenes that function.
Andrei Koschmieder - On Broadway - 80WSE - ****
This is oblique, which I like. It takes a particular kind of delicacy to end up with work that's willfully inarticulate, obscure by design rather than incompetence. The show, in a set of windows on Broadway, consists of a series of handmade, slightly clumsy imitations of neon signs hanging in the front of the window, backgrounded by a pattern of inkblot-type shapes. The signs read "CLUB" above "ESPRESSO," "COME" above "HERE," "LIQUOR," "COME" and "HERE" on top of each other, "LANDLORD" above "RENT AGAIN," and "SALAD" above "SALAD" above "SALAD." The press release is a short poem by the artist about a fender bender in the intersection the windows look out on. It's all about life in the city, then, but what does that mean? Obviously Koschmieder works downstream from Fischli and Weiss, but where their artist's studio objects aspired to a trompe-l'oeil confusion, his are self-evidently handmade and unconvincing. The neon lights don't even turn on! The second half of the show at the Washington windows (which feels a bit like an afterthought) is an imitation of the Nauman piece Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten Inch Intervals, which gives the joke a clear point: reference as travesty, an inverse Sturtevant. The imitation/invented store signage isn't so clear. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Fanelli Cafe sign, a vague nostalgia for our hazy conception of the old New York, but that couldn't be his point. If anything, the point is its pointlessness, an appropriation of mundane advertising without the weight of critique or commentary, making use of a form that has no content on its own and not imposing any content on it, letting its nothingness ring. Like a bell made of stone, the ring isn't satisfying. But unlike most art that tries to chime, Andrei makes objects that fail on purpose so their failure becomes a success. As a non-referential false appropriation it subverts expression, reference, even subversion itself, like a thud so dull that you notice it. It's weird.
Maria Lassnig - The Paris Years, 1960-68 - Petzel - ****.5
The figurative works are "surreal" in the way that scratches an itch that surrealism itself never does, i.e. it's actually weird, not just quirked up. The fleshy, deformed penis-head people deconstruct figuration in a way that produces room for earnest exploration without abandoning the subject in a way that reminds me of Picasso, of all people (well, I've been watching some lectures on him recently...), and almost recall the psychosexual confusions of H.R. Giger without all the horror and anxiety (well, I was reading Armond White's reviews of the Alien movies last night...). The earlier pieces, which are sketchier and more abstract, don't suffer for their lack of finish, they're just rawer and less constrained, as abstract works should be. This is refreshing and exciting painting that doesn't feel once-overed, which, I assure you, is a rare pleasure for me.
A lot of artists, I'm not going to copy paste each name from this 20 page checklist... - Seen in the Mirror: Things from the Cartin Collection - David Zwirner - ****
Nice collection, it's fun to see the classic outsiders (Ramirez, Wölfli, Yoakum), and Charles LeDray's hundreds of little pots are fun. I even liked the LeWitts, which are usually too dry for me. The Albert Yorks are devastating on the order of Da Vinci or Botticelli; I cried a little, which usually happens when I go to the Met but almost never at a gallery. Still, it's just a rich guy showing off that, for once, he has money and taste, which, to be fair, isn't nothing. But it's just a flex, a chance for us peons to look at a store of treasures we can't imagine owning, not a revelatory or even particularly focused art exhibition.
John Chamberlain - Stance, Rhythm, and Tilt - Gagosian - ****
Sure it's all a car crash frozen in time, but like, say, the end of Zabriskie Point, it's a beautiful psychedelic array of chaos, controlled and tasteful in spite of the means, even delicate in its sensitivity to color. Monumentality is an easy word to use for big sculptures, but considering other big art I've seen this year, like Carol Bove, you can't say it's a given. Chamberlain earns his monumentality, implosions and explosions that resemble bouquets or towers, meteorites or a den of snakes. I'm sure this was harder to pull off than you might think.
Alex Katz - Gladstone - *
I don't get it!!! It looks bad!!!
Arshile Gorky - Beyond The Limit - Hauser & Wirth - ***
As I mentioned earlier with Lassnig, the surrealities of surrealism never really did much for me, and these angular complexified doodlings are no exception. I guess there's something futurist about it all, the sleek imaginings of a streamlined alien city. I do like that the paintings are rough though, shitty even. It's not like it's bad but I'm not very interested in what's being offered.
Robert Gober - "Shut up.""No. You shut up." - Matthew Marks - **.5
The scrappy drawings (a foot and a prison window, what more could you ask for!) are enjoyable, the dumb Restoration Hardware looking ass boxes are annoying, the waterfall back thing is cool. Two for three isn't too bad, but the bad part dominates. I like old Hollywood movies as much as the next guy, probably more, but I don't think the archetypal all-American windowsill on which the proverbial cherry pie is placed is an interesting subject. I guess it's silly to ask an artist to regress, but I wish he would...
Svenja Deininger - In Between, Repeated - Marianne Boesky - **.5
Tastefully restrained abstraction, although the simplicity would be overbearing if not for the range of surfaces. Still, it's more like a parlor trick than an accomplishment of sensibility, so I'm not quite sold.
Stanley Whitney - TwentyTwenty - Lisson Gallery - ***.5
His formal straitjacket allows for a wonderful coloristic exercise, and it's just rough enough to feel loose in a good way where the fun seeps in. Is it a revelation? Not quite. If Chelsea wasn't doing well today I'd probably give it a 4, but there's some stiff competition for once.
Paulina Olowska - Haus Proud - Metro Pictures - *.5
Uh oh, here comes my femme-phobic blind spot! I d-d-d-don't care about this! She's good at painting, but only to the end of showcasing fantastical clothing, which I'm very much not interested in. There's some Carl Th. Dreyer quote somewhere along the lines that style is tasteful only when it doesn't draw attention to itself, which is, of course, an absolutely stereotypical austere straight white guy thing to say, but that happens to be what I think about style. So sue me! If you want a better review you're going to get someone on the Opulent Tips list to start writing reviews, because I can't do it.
Tomm El-Saieh - Toma - Luhring Augustine - **
Nice from a distance. They get more banal the closer you get because you notice that the detailing is kind of dull.
Brice Marden - These paintings are of themselves Gagosian - ***.5
I don't care much for Marden's line, it's too controlled, like a subway map or state lines. In person the application is less polished than I realized, which helps, and I like the colors and his sense for layering. I prefer the Michaux-style pictographic underlying scribbles to the top level elements, and likewise the drawings. It's tasteful and well done but I don't think it's great either.
Donald Judd - Paintings 1959-1961 Gagosian - **.5
Judd has the same line problem (for me) as Marden, but Marden is a painter and Judd clearly wasn't. I like the red one on the back wall, the rest is anodyne.
Michael Krebber - New Work - Greene Naftali - ***.5
The smaller ones have his funny/graceful lack of effort, the bigger ones feel overworked even though it's Krebber. But they're still alright, they just aren't as charming. Comme ci comme ça.
John Chamberlain - Process & Material - Pace Prints - ***
Like Richter, it's revealing to see his work on paper to give you a sense of how he thought about throwing hunks of metal together, and how he managed to be good at it. They're fine on their own terms, although they're mainly interesting as context.
Joel Shapiro - Paula Cooper - *
What is this, an 80s arcade game? No, thank you.
Alex Katz - Tramps - ***
I still don't think I get it, what is Katz exploring? His style is so dry that the iterations feel more arbitrary than productive. They're pared down to the point of inexpressiveness. If the canvasses weren't big it would look to me like the work of a Sunday painter. Nevertheless, unlike the crappy Gladstone trees, these portraits still have a charm in their simplicity, and they work well in the space, so I like them fine.
Maggie Lee - Vintage Paintings - Jenny's - ****
It's very hard to make painting-shaped wall works that aren't actually paintings without coming off like a cop-out, but Maggie makes it look easy. Making it look easy is integral to the work: getting into the right headspace where a simple gesture, maybe even a dumb one, is totally sufficient because of the grace of execution and implied internal logic. One could say it has something to do with "coolness," but not in a derogatory sense. Who am I anyway to cast aspersions? I'm as much a downtown hipster as anyone else. There is, after all, something instinctual about being cool, an inborn substance that gives people their appeal. For instance, teenagers are always cool because they dictate the cutting edge of the cultural tide; they belong to the pop cultural moment and as one ages one becomes more and more remote from that oneness with the times. Why that is is hard to say, probably something to do with raging hormones and the narrow window where one has transitioned from the marginality of childhood to the mainstream of adulthood without having yet been crushed by the drudgery of working life. You don't have to like what the kids are up to, but it's a fact of life that everyone stares at groups of teens and wonders what those kids are up to. Anyway, these "paintings" are cool, which is actually a considerable achievement. They articulate a singular sensibility where the end result is simply a perpetuation of that sensibility, and that lack of concern for any goal outside of itself is what makes the work singular. Anyone who felt like it could copy Maggie's style because her signifiers are easy enough to identify, but it isn't actually about the signifiers, it's about the authentic relationship between herself and her art, the tangibility of her engagement with it. Maybe that isn't what good art is always about, but it is a lot of the time. I don't know, maybe that is what it's always about. I'll have to think about it.
Joseph Kusendila - La Loutre - Essex Street - ***
Eight photos of a window and a dark room, one of the room with the light on, two empty vitrines, two Congolese newspapers, a catalog of indigenous jewelry, a sticker of the Brother printer company logo on the door. It's oblique and minimal, as an Essex Street show should be, but I'm not sure what's being suggested. At first I thought there might be some political undertone to the work centering around the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but then I decided it was presumptuous of me to assume something about Africa has to necessarily be activism. I do like the photos, but the rest is so ambiguous that as a whole the pieces tend toward dissipation. Austere post-conceptualism often plays with the negative space of its own lack of content, which is something I tend to like, but there still needs to be an implied sense to give direction to the pieces and lift them above the status of some stuff in a room. This isn't a total failure in that regard, I just can't say I feel it's a total success either. Maybe I just think presenting a vitrine with nothing in it as if it's a meaningful gesture is pretentious.
Marina Rosenfeld - Partials - Miguel Abreu - *.5
Editions Mego looking-ass, who gives a shit? It's not 2011 and a sound installation better be doing something besides some annoying bleeps and bloops and aahs because I'm sure as hell not going to pay any attention to that. An audio piece and some ultra-minimal sculptures involving microphones aren't a meaningful investigation of acoustics just because you say it is.
Tishan Hsu - skin-screen-grass - Miguel Abreu - **
I'm surprised how rough most of this looks, the digital distortions recall 90s drum and bass comp album covers and the gloopy elements look crafty and cheap. That's not to suggest that art needs to look expensive, but the quality seems in opposition to the intent of the work. The imagery of Black Lives Matter protests, old Asian family photos, computer interfaces, distorted bodies, and Gold Spa seems to be an attempt to reincorporate a sense of the real into the otherwise digital/virtual concerns of his working methodology, but it's mostly just campy. I mean, throwing in a loading bar is just a corny sci-fi sensibility that's out of touch by multiple decades. I say this about almost every Abreu show, but I just don't see where this concern with technology stops being a limitation that's hemmed in by the vagaries of technological and sociocultural progress and starts being an expansion beyond the conventional means of artmaking. In other words, I think tech-art ages poorly and there's nothing in these pieces that interests me from a compositional standpoint.
Rose Marcus, Andy Meerow - Haze Machine - Bodega - **
"In this exhibition, Rose Marcus and Andy Meerow complicate the process of looking and understanding. Both artists draw from what is readily available in the public sphere: monuments, municipal and commercial signage, and pre-existing art objects." Hold up, I don't know about that. Blurring isn't really complicating, nor is layering collage. Density isn't complexity, a crucial distinction. A blurry sign is just a sign plus blur and mood buzzwords put on top of each other is a collection of words, they're the sum of their parts. The artist's method may be a complicating process, but the results are still rather simple.
Atticus Bergman, Craig Kalpakijan, Thomas Laprade, Mira Putnam, Irina Jasnowski Pascual, Micaela Carolan, Jessica Wilson, Pedro Wirz, Tracy Molis, Jan Kiefer, Elliott Jamal Robbins, Robert Sandler - Missing Target - Kai Matsumiya - ***
The press release frames this a as a show about ruin and fragmentation, which is, I think, a good frame for the Matsumiya ethos. I wouldn't necessarily say that the theme is obvious in all the pieces themselves, but the cumulative effect is suitably and intentionally disorienting. If i were to nitpick I'd say I prefer the reconstruction of sense to the deconstruction of sense, but I'm not the curator here. I think "Amelia Earhart Eaten By Crabs" is pretty funny.
Manoucher Yektai - Karma - ***.5
Thickly painted still lives, predictably tasteful historical figuration as is usual with Karma. His technique is controlled and deliberate in spite of the unwieldy application, which becomes clear from the abstractions in the back room being no less effective for their lack of subject. It's "just" good though, enjoyable enough for people who like painting, like me, but not something I'm about to go to bat for.
Julian Schnabel - Self-Portraits of Others - The Brant Foundation - *
You can't see me but I'm soyfacing as fuck right now. Just kidding this is so fucking stupid
Satoru Eguchi, Nicolas Guagnini, Benjamin Horns - Men's World- Desire, Mysticism, and Preposterousness - 3A Gallery - ***
Mieko once again drops what is easily the best press release in town, which is a tough act to follow. The show is funny, though, and masculine in its way: Rorschach test mountains (mountains are manly), paper plants and fountain (men can't take care of real plants) and a pile of limp penises. A good joke if not a great one, which fortunately it's not trying to be. 3A's modesty continues to work in its favor.
Kandis Williams - A Line - 52 Walker - **
The collages feel overly simple in the sense that they're more about the source images than the artist's composition of them, although the ones with notes and paint at least involve some interpretation. The dance videos are more interesting and feel like the real meat of the show, but as usual with multiple video works in a gallery context they're impossible to absorb. The spiritual jazz and fake plants make the whole thing feel bourgeois, which I guess was unavoidable. It is Zwirner, after all.
Gregory Kalliche - Buncha Hells - Helena Anrather - **.5
IMAX as art, which is certainly impressive from a technical standpoint, but I don't care much for digital multimedia. Hell, I barely even watch movies anymore; after a decade and a half of the Criterion Collection I've reached a state of indifference to cinema in general. I'd make my standard diatribe against virtuality but I'll spare us because I'm just a Luddite who lacks the mental equipment to engage with this. The score is more subjective than usual and basically meaningless.
Christopher Knowles - Christopher Knowles in Two Acts - Bridget Donahue - ***.5
I wrote a review before I found out he's autistic, which changes things somewhat. I had assumed the naivete of his drawings was carefully affectated and the serial elements were influenced by minimalism, but I suppose both come naturally and, considering Robert Wilson's use of his poetry, he probably influenced minimalism more than minimalism influenced him. As with children's drawings, the work has an unfiltered purity of essence that makes them more potent than your average professional artist. The ski lodge pieces in the back are particularly enjoyable in tandem. It's charming work, if not major, as is usually the case with naive art.
Alan Prazniak - Field Recordings - Geary - ***
Blocky fields of color that are sort of ambient, as the title implies. They're enjoyable like a field recording inasmuch that just about any recording of rural ambiance is automatically pretty, and slapping some bright colors together also tends to be pretty. I don't detect any particular eloquence on the part of the artist, though, and the branches on some of the canvases upsets the effect of the abstracted landscape. I liked the one called Coals.
Alison Wilding - Alabaster and Other Stories - Betty Cunningham - **.5
I seem to have a bit of a soft spot for the organic semi-minimalism that Betty Cunningham tends to deal in, but a soft spot isn't a bias so I never know what I'm going to think about these shows. The wall sculptures are mostly strong but the table pieces look like decorations for a hall table or a dining room in a mansion where the owners are abhorrently rich but tasteful enough that you can't criticize the decor, at least. The bat collage drawings are ugly, the circles on the opposite wall are better. Artwork from the place where art and furniture blur.
Larry Rivers - Works on Paper from the 1950s and 1960s - Tibor De Nagy - ***
Unassuming, mostly student-y drawings. The kind of ephemera you only see from someone who got famous later, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Peter Bradley - Karma - **
Okay, so he's kind of like the Pollock of gel acrylic, which is, I think, a pretty ugly medium. The colors in particular are sort of sickening, and the texture feel more industrial than organic, like petroleum or spray foam. It's hard to appreciate a painting when you're repulsed by looking at it...
Tom Doyle - Tom Doyle in Germany 1964-65 - Zürcher Gallery - ***.5
Goes the opposite of Alison Wilding, instead of taking sculpture in the direction of decor he takes lawn furniture and industrial machinery in the direction of sculpture. Angular, classically post-cubist sculpture from when modern sculpting was in its heroic age. Fun, although I wouldn't say I was excited by it.
Tacita Dean - The Dante Project, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Painting, Pan Amicus, Significant Form, Monet Hates Me - Marian Goodman - ***.5
Images-as-images are a hard line to toe these days, but she's good at it. The drawings pull off a convincing Twombly scrawl, but they feel sort of empty where his always feel full. That's appropriate for the Inferno pieces because they were made for ballet backdrops, but as artworks they feel oblique and a little impenetrable. The negative images of trees are a bit banal, but I'm not sure if it's in a good way or not. The film Pan Amicus is very beautiful, but the aesthetics of it, and of the work in general, begs the question of the larger problem of classicism. A great part of the appeal of the Greco-Roman is that it's fragmentary; we can only imagine what it was like when it was complete, so our attachment to it is directly involved in a fetishizing of an ungraspable ideal of the sublime. The issue with this idealizing is that it abstracts the concept of beauty out of the materiality of the present and locates it in a past that cannot be reclaimed. This is classic golden age logic: the notion of a fall from grace, or of "Music used to be good back in my day" YouTube comments, which is a self-defeating conceptual straitjacket that ensures failure by denying the possibility of success. To some degree art is always caught up in the problem of abstracting the ideal from the material, but the real consequence of this logic is that it leads to art that seeks to imitate a historical style instead of operating in the present. Classicizing aspires to the classical but ends up only deriving from it, so the logic is self-defeating. Obviously, Dean works in a contemporary mode, but in spirit it's historicizing, just as Twombly's abstraction was. That isn't to say that this work isn't appealing, or that I don't like Cy Twombly, so I'm not trying to argue that there's a rule where art can't touch Greco-Roman imagery. Really all I'm getting at is that I used to be a lot more of a classicist than I am now, so these are my own misgivings on the subject.
Erna Rosenstein - Once Upon A Time - Hauser & Wirth - **.5
Some of the so-called "biomorphic abstraction" is good, there's a geographic inscrutability that reminds me of Joseph Yoakum. The surrealism is a bit trite, which, to be fair, is my usual response to surrealism. Oddly, this feels very contemporary to me as a precursor to the current downtown group show trend that I've referred to elsewhere as stoner symbolism: vaguely mystical figuration that idealizes the untutored and intuitive generation of imagery as a form of unmediated authenticity. The valorization of dreams and doodling, basically. I'm of the opinion that acting like your self-expression is unmediated just means that you're naively unaware of your influences, although self-awareness isn't necessarily a prerequisite for good art. Here, that impulsiveness results in an inconsistency of approach that's all over the place. It's not explicitly bad, but only a few in the show really do it for me. If artists these days are too eager to brand themselves and reduce their practice to unadventurous repetitions of the same work, there's another risk at the other end of the spectrum of not refining one's practice into exploring a discrete subject, too diffuse to settle on anything in particular.
Marsha Cottrell - Van Doren Waxter - *.5
Attempting this level of minimalism these days is such a conservative rehash of old methodologies that it just feels timid.
Dorothea Rockburne - Special Presentation, Works on Paper 1972-1974 - Van Doren Waxter - ***.5
Graceful, angular formalism from back when minimalism wasn't a dry rehash. Nothing more, nothing less.
Daisy Youngblood - Tender Mercy(s): Early and Late Works in Clay - Van Doren Waxter - **
The clay has a nice texture, but there's not enough here to get a good sense of what the artist is going for. The press release mentions "light-body/portraits," but your guess is as good as mine as to what that's supposed to mean. The two portraits of Tibetan Lamas imply that classic minimalist heritage of a white person who loves Buddhism, but the feeling is less minimalism and more hippie naturalist. The mask with the wire through the eyes has some emotive weight, but it's just a bad idea to combine work from the 70s and 2020 in a show made up of six pieces. Also, there's something about a sculpture of a gorilla that doesn't "feel" like art?
Cynthia Bickley-Green, Gene Davis, Sam Francis, Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis, Howard Mehring, Kenneth Noland, Alma Thomas, Kenneth V. Young - Primary: The Washington Color School - Edward Tyler Nahem - ***.5
Great looking obscure and humble abstractions that don't try too hard to be distinct but succeed, fittingly, by their clearly refined sense of color. A modest success, something you don't see much these days.
Per Kirkeby - Overpaintings - Michael Werner - ****
Painting on other paintings is pretty funny, and it feels surprisingly fresh as an effect. I guess Jef Geys did some similar works but those are more conceptually aloof and emphasize the act of looking at the original painting, this is more painterly and subjective. The result is oddly unique, paint as paint but also as intervention or highlighting, both changing and sitting above the ground of the other painting. I think my surprise at the work comes from the sense that it manages to be an approach that makes painting feel new, which is of course almost impossible. They look good too, and that his technique is somewhat anonymous helps to pull the strategy off because he's not trying to assert his own style onto the material. As is sometimes the case, this works stylistically as a move that avoids style and inventively as a kind of stupid non-invention.
Pablo Picasso - Seven Decades of Drawing - Acquavella - ****.5
What the heck!? This guy was crazy...
John Kelsey - The Pea Stakers - Galerie Buchholz - **.5
Kelsey's impression of Degas is surprisingly competent, but... what's the joke, exactly? Pastels of dog shit and a Netflix show as subject matter for a French turn of the last century pictorial style doesn't really go anywhere beyond the parodic. Maybe working from life is just inherently more interesting than working from screenshots? But the invention of a style is also more interesting than the appropriation of one. The essay in the VR headset asserts a notion of freedom along the lines of "I could write anything right now, I'm so free," but the beginner's mind doesn't actually contain everything in potential because there's a lot of things that can't be done by beginners. The logic of the position seems to be that one enjoys a greater scope of possibilities by refusing a consistent subjective position, but choosing to not choose is a choice that discards every route that a decisive stance would create. Being free to make art that combines cultural material more or less arbitrarily is an accomplishment of a kind, but focusing on an avoidance of formal conventionality neglects the other side of art, its affective substance. I guess I'm just restating the modernist authorial vs. postmodernist anti-authorial argument, and as time rolls on each side takes turns seeming to make more sense than the other, but at present the offhandedness of this approach is hard to feel enthusiastic about.
Ei Arakawa - Social Muscle Rehab - Artists Space - **.5
It's kind of fun to watch people have fun as performance art, but you can also have fun in real life and that can be more fun than watching people have fun as performance art. Building a Covid patio inside is pretty funny, but I heard that karaoke at the book release was kind of lame because there was no alcohol and everyone kept their masks on. Just because the whole thing is vacant and goofy on purpose doesn't mean it isn't slight for being vacant and goofy, although the aqueducts are nice decor.
Joe W. Speier, Dani Arnica, Jamie Lynn Klein, Jake Shore, Eric Schmid, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Walter Smith, Jack Lawler, Devon Lowman, Ryan Forester, Brock Bierly - Henry Fool - Triest - *
What is good painting, what's bad painting? Judging by what I read of the 20 page press release/improvised manifesto, this show seeks to argue that the distinction does not exist, or in other words they're recapitulating, again, the Kippenbergian methodology of excess as avant-garde. But the juvenile glee of willful tastelessness doesn't "solve" art because avant-gardism is not an end in itself, it functions by confronting the burden of history to attempt to create authentically in the present. These works posture as avant-garde by their coarseness, but their strategy is simply a tired, dated imitation of painters in the 80s in Cologne. The latter may have been able to pull off the so-stupid-it's-smart stunt, but that was 40 years ago, and nowadays acting stupid because you think it's smart to act stupid is just stupid because that attitude isn't novel, it's fucking institutionalized. By "pulling off the stunt" I mean that the approach resulted in good paintings, which is why the refusal of qualitative thought doesn't work here. Just as the Duchampian innovation of readymades leads to the mistake of "everything is art," Kippenberger's indifference to quality leads his followers jumping to the conclusion that "quality is meaningless," which ignores that Kippenberger was a good artist who incorporated his excesses and persona into making good (and sometimes bad) art. By contrast, this 3rd or 4th wave copy of that technique isn't attempting anything, it just sets up the same tired formal strategy of nihilistic disinterest and watches it flop on the floor. Jake Shore's parodies of abstract expressionism are simply bad abstract paintings, Joe Speier's painted appropriations of the mundane have gotten denser and sloppier since his King's Leap show and suffer for both developments, and Eric Schmid's printouts amount to little more than harassment. He's unable to differentiate between his compulsive frustrated mapping (from his computer in Chicago) of the spectacle of the New York art world and the fact that downtown microcelebrities are actual human beings, so he also mistakes being a creep for some vague idea of a transgressive "critical statement." Everything else looks like literal trash or a children's drawing. Good bad art is good, which means it still needs some acuity to something that makes it succeed. This stuff confuses the signifier for the signified and winds up being bad bad art. Put it this way, if art were sex, none of this work would know how to make anyone else cum. In a pinch, that's a semi-functional definition of good art: whether the work has the ability to affectively get through to others, something that requires awareness, sensitivity, and refinement. Unfortunately, all this masturbatory self-indulgence isn't going to get through to much.
Mitchell Kehe - Who's the Best at Believing - 15 Orient - ***.5
The consistently askew hanging matches the formal inventiveness of the work itself, which seeks to avoid falling into an overly branded regularity while remaining identifiable. Kehe has an adept visual language that utilizes formalism for the sake of expanding form rather than simply picking a "move" to use as a gimmick. All the same, the motifs and colors don't always succeed in avoiding repetitiveness, and a technique like cutting and pasting fragments of canvas works well sometimes, like the large gray painting in the back room, but not as well with the subway car piece in the front room. The painting is of good quality, but the overall impression is a bit conservative; the success of the bolder works makes the others feel comparatively complacent, a little too comfortable in its muted palate and ovals. If his inventiveness were more consistent the work would quickly jump from pretty good to very good, and this does seem to be a step up from his last 15 Orient show so hopefully he's on the right path. It's hard to break with what you already know you're good at doing consistently, but it's also necessary to challenge that consistency to stay in the depths of art and avoid washing up on the shore.
Helen Marten - Therefore, An Ogre - Greene Naftali - **
The linguistic complexity angle feels pretty warmed over, and although the drawings are decently detailed they don't particularly cohere. That appears to be the point, but the feeling is all quirked up, like "Wow isn't life crazy, there's so much stuff in the world," which just makes me tired. Post-internet art in spirit if not in form, mercifully, but post-internet all the same, which I don't think is what anyone wants at this point. I certainly don't!
Jasper Johns - New Works On Paper - Matthew Marks - ****
Deborah Solomon quotes Johns in her Times article on his new painting Slice, which is at the Whitney, not here, but is the source of the central motif in this show: "One wants one's work to be the world, but of course it's never the world. The work is in the world; it never contains the whole thing." The quote is from 1988 and evidently unrelated to the works he's making over 30 years later, but as is usual with Johns, his words and works tend to feel like a world unto itself where things disappear for decades before coming back in as naturally as if they had never left. That the principal source image for Slice is from a map of the universe, then, feels appropriate as a metaphor for his constellating practice. The motif itself, with a collection of dots that vaguely resembles a stick figure, didn't immediately appeal to me, although I'm coming around to it as an image of the tension between the organic arrangements of nature and the scientific urge to map, also accentuated by the Da Vinci knot patterns in the background. Most of the insert images, for instance a knee diagram, or a shockingly explicit shunga print of a semen-covered penis entering a vagina, seem to revolve around this wavering between the human and the cosmic, which is a surprisingly symbolic subject for such a famously distant artist. It seems to connect with this aspiration for one's work to be the world, and the question of what exactly that sentiment means. Participation in humanity generally feels disassociated from the natural and the cosmic, or anything in general that's not caught up in the self-replicating alienating systems of society. But sex isn't (or shouldn't be) part of this alienation, which is why people like it. Art is, in the final instance, perhaps a fundamentally solitary and doomed pursuit of things that cannot ever truly be realized, but, in rare instances, connecting with others can sometimes feel like it contains the whole world. Is this, and I can't believe I'm saying it, Johns' "All You Need Is Love" moment? Well anyways, all of this is completely overintellectualizing his work, but it is what the show made me think about, and that Johns' work lends itself so readily to being overintellectualized in spite of his active resistance to the personal and interpretative is a great part of its charm. I quite enjoyed the show, but it's also more of a footnote to his retrospective for the completists, unlike his last tour de force at Matthew Marks from 2019.
Winfred Rembert - Winfred Rembert: 1945-2021 - Fort Gansevoort - ****
Rembert is an archetypal folk/outsider artist, driven to create by an inborn need to express and successful by virtue of his natural talent. The works in the show are made out of hand tooled leather, a craft he learned from a fellow inmate in prison, a laborious and painstaking medium that he works with surprising economy. The perspective is often flat, likely in part due to the materials, but the figures are composed into well-structured arrangements that are at times rhythmically harmonious, like in Picking Cotton with Boss Man, or shockingly complex, as with All Me. Some of the pieces, particularly the ones of police brutality, have moments of technical crudity but this works in their favor. Rather than a sensationalized "extreme" presentation, he documents his abuses as a simple matter of fact which makes them feel all the more visceral and disturbing. Being beaten by police officers is not a dynamic cinematic event, it is sickeningly banal, and showing these actual events from his life in this way manages to convey the violence of the Jim Crow South in ways that tend to be abstracted by conventional storytelling. Sadly, the story of Winfred Rembert is very similar to that of many other Black people's lives, but his portrayal of this experience through his paintings articulates a singular perspective, an enunciation of experience that makes the reality of what he went through into something tangible and moving.
Julien Ceccaldi - Centuries Old - Jenny's & Lomex - ***
I assume it goes without saying that anime isn't to my taste, but cartoons are just a formal approach here even if Ceccaldi does really love cartoons. Like anime itself, or literature, or art, the style is something that should be generated out of the material process of working. Although he's working within a preconceived style, he's so comfortable with the form that it isn't an affectation, it's the means. So what's the goal? There's a sort of Gothic decadence married to teen shopping mall fashion sense, which is all pretty kitsch/banal but elevated by the freedom of approach in some places such as the perspective of the bug holding onto the heel and the stained glass. It's a cohesive approach and it doesn't bother me as much as it very easily could, but the adventurous moments are the exception, not the rule. Most of it is anime skeleton girls.
Paul Thek - Relativity Clock - Alexander and Bonin - ***.5
A singular approach to 60s headiness, neither conceptual nor fantastical in favor of a tactile materiality. There seems to be some sort of thematic of the studio as Frankenstein's laboratory where the body, or more specifically the flesh, is treated as a material substance to be operated upon in an almost alchemical way, but with too much of a surgical sense to flirt with risking any hippie spirituality. The paintings work as an expression of the artist-as-Frankenstein's-monster executing elemental outbursts of paint. The work itself is good but I don't feel as though I'm getting a good sense of his oeuvre, for the size of the exhibition they tried to squeeze in too much archival ephemera.
Richard Rezac - Pleat - Luhring Augustine - ***
Roughly a third of these works are nicely obscure objects, resisting referential context enough that they become explorations of form, and those are quite nice. The rest feel like an abstraction of kitchen decor, in part because of the pastel color palate, but a lot of it just feels like shelves or banisters or wall tile and that domesticity limits the function of the work as sculpture. Artistic freedom can be a terrible thing, and the freedom of post-post-Judd minimal sculpture lacks any coherent anchor for formal exploration these days. That's why Rezac convinces himself that the familiarity of the domestic is an interesting personal touch to introduce into his sculpture, but just the title referring to pliable fabrics isn't interesting just because it contrasts with the rigidity of the sculptures, sculptures being reminiscent of kitchen decor isn't necessarily a useful experience of art.
John Currin - Memorial - Gagosian - ****.5
I like this a lot more than Yuskavage, but why? There's a Balthusian shameless extremity to it, a precision of the explicit that still manages to feel transgressive in the present day against all odds, like The Guitar Lesson. Where Yuskavage transgresses like an old sexed-up Abercrombie & Fitch ad, there's a primal sexual discomfort in these paintings. The poses are obviously pornographic, and while the bodies are caricatured through exaggeration of breasts and legs and the conscious simplification of the genitalia, the distortion of the idealized woman-as-sex-object doesn't quite have a clear goal, which is why it's so uncomfortable. He's toying with the image functions of the pornographic presentation of the female form, retaining its conventions and pushing their limits without descending into the intentionally repulsive or parodic, so we're left in a space of the sexually uncanny. His technical mastery works perfectly to this end, the half-art historical half-sexual bodies, like the masturbating woman with her head framed by a medieval disc halo, and the simultaneously idealizing (with a bygone beauty standard) and inhuman ivory grisaille of the skin. Technique in the Renaissance worked towards an idea of the sublime in the portrayal of the bodily, and no matter how much we lament our loss of it, that spirit is no longer our own. Currin's subversion of the sublime beauty he could very easily paint if he only wanted to is in fact a truer use of his skill than a nostalgic classicism, because if he wanted to make a Titian it would read not only as hubris but out of step with the spirit of our time. Our imaginations are distended and excessive, not balanced and harmonious, and by showing this he comes as near as we possibly can to a contemporary classical painting, which, to be sure, isn't very close, but it is an achievement.
Thomas Nozkowski - The Last Paintings - Pace - ***
Nice, but too static and polished.
Robert Rauschenberg - Channel Surfing - Pace - ****.5
Funnily enough, these are reminiscent of the Prince show a block away, but the application of collage is infinitely more painterly and therefore more engaging. Where Prince collects and deploys his imagery at an ironic arm's length, Rauschenberg's almost corny insistence of living within the accumulated detritus of living is successful because he really meant it, really thrived on having the TV on all the time, like the visual counterpart to John Cage when late in his life he found the sound of traffic interesting enough that he didn't have to listen to music anymore. He fed on the speed of life and its images, something hard to fathom these days with our collective motion sickness induced by our oversaturated internet brains. He could discover novelty in images, but novelty isn't novel for us anymore, which is a troubling double bind to say the least. The joy of Rauschenberg is that the breath of life that he put into his images is still palpable today, because no amount of saturation can erase sensibility. The upstairs paintings are particularly strong in the way that they emphasize their own emptiness, placements of images and lines that serve to make the blank areas feel blanker instead of using the blankness to emphasize the images. It's all great, though.
Janice Nowinski - Thomas Erben - ****
Very nice physical portraiture (the Bathers after Cézanne are instructive) that manages a sensual tactility in spite, or because of, its crudity. The human body is a perennial subject in painting because it's a form that's infinitely articulable, any pose of a sudden moment can capture something of the body that reflects the experience of living through the medium of paint, and that capturing has surprisingly little to do with polished technique. It's also nice how small they are. If I had any money I'd buy one.
Matvey Levenstein - Kasmin - *.5
And I thought Yuskavage was boringly over-technical! Lord save me from her husband!
Elliott Hundley - Balcony - Kasmin - *.5
They get worse the closer you get, the more I see the less I want to see. The pieces in the side room are decently composed but the main room feels like those pictures that come up when you google trypophobia.
Ron Gorchov - Spice Of Life - Vito Schnabel - ***
So, Gorchov reduced his palate to a narrow scope to magnify secondary qualities like scale and texture. Certain details pop out, like the spiral in the orange piece at the top of the stairs, and deviations like the four stacked canvases in the corner become jarring, like a sudden intrusion of red into a late Ozu film. But this is all a standard minimalist trope and his serial methodology doesn't have a particularly clear focus on what it is he's exploring; color, tactility, the generation of symbols? My mom really wanted me to explain this one to her.
Lisa Yuskavage - New Paintings - David Zwirner - **
My mom said these paintings reminded her of the first time she saw photos in National Geographic of topless African women in their traditional dress; that feeling of transgressive uncertainty where you're not sure if you should be looking at something or not. I've also talked to a few friends about Yuskavage and it seems roughly half of them enjoy that sensation and her work, the other half don't. I'm in the latter group. Maybe my tastes are conservative but I can't get into art that's so abject and surface-oriented. Technical skill is just a means for transmitting substance, but it seems like Yuskavage's substance is a self-conscious trivializing embrace of the vacuousness of the pop cultural, the caricatured, and the pornographic, like a commercialized death of the baroque. It's compositionally complex and the execution is flawless, but I'm a traditionalist in the sense that I don't like soullessness.
Jesse Murry - Rising - David Zwirner - ***.5
I much prefer Murry's textural explorations of color to Yuskavage's uptight imposition of finish. They're sort of "minor" as a simplification of J.M.W. Turner landscapes, but the sensitivity of application and color is just nice painting. Humble and successful, like an approach to abstraction as genre painting in the way that landscape painting was in Turner's day.
Alice Neel - The Early Years - David Zwirner - ****
I missed her big show at the Met so I've been curious to see what I'd think of her work in person. These earlier paintings, particularly the city scenes, have a sort of hobbyist weekend painter feel to them but the human figures immediately have more investment so it's self-evident why she gravitated to portraiture. The portraits themselves are jarringly uneven, which is interesting, but that also means that there's winners and losers. Her apparent indifference to consistency and general near-misanthropy complicate her body of work and make it hard for me to come to a conclusion of what I make of it all, but considering that I'm generally not that drawn to portraiture (even those Bronzinos at the Medici show at the current Met show didn't interest me much) I do think this has a lot of character. My mom said the content was too dark for her.
Richard Prince - Blasting Mats - Gladstone - ***.5
Pretty funny, and it manages to pull off both its ironic dumbness and the Rembrandt Slaughtered Ox comparison from the press release at the same time.
Philip Guston - 1969-1979 - Hauser & Wirth - ****.5
My mom seemed to have a hard time with this one.
Avery Singer - Reality Ender - Hauser & Wirth - *.5
There's some weird effects with the light but the digital figures are terribly kitsch, and the fact that those weird effects are from the digital elements is also kitsch. The 5th floor really kicks it into high gear with the wojaks and the wastoid drugs-and-phone-alienation imagery, not to mention a painting titled China Chalet. It appropriates those signifiers with the complete disregard for their contextuality that only arrogant rich kids trying to sell "authentic youth" to rich old people can manage, which is not to say that I think a sensitively appropriated wojak painting would be better because it's a stupid idea in the first place. Post-internet art was bad enough when it was relevant, now it's just ugly.
Richard Prince - Gangs - Gladstone - ***
I guess it's always a cheap trick with Prince, sometimes he pulls it off and sometimes he doesn't. The iteration is a good system for exercising his sensibility through curation, and the repetition/cropping/exposure shifts keep it, narrowly, from feeling like a raunchy 70s hard rock-themed Tumblr. Nice enough, but I'm sure it felt a lot edgier the first time around. Being the bad boy of conceptualism doesn't feel transgressive anymore because whatever's left of art's intellectual self-seriousness at this point isn't taken seriously by anyone.
Louise Lawler - Lights Off, After Hours, In The Dark - Metro Pictures - ****.5
Her other show from a few months ago felt pro forma, this feels inspired. Her approach electrifies the use of photography as a document of reality, something both banal and material as well as expressive of the singularities of the moment, light, and formal composition. There's something about seeing an exit sign, or the light fixtures, or the familiar floor grain of MoMA that takes you out of the artistic just enough that you re-enter it and it becomes jarring, physical, and thrilling.
Laszlo Horvath - Idiot Tend - The Cooper Union - ***.5
Doing the post-Cologne painters move these days is like squeezing water from a stone, but isn't art always? The desire to harness the Kippenbergian id is a natural one, although the maneuver becomes delicate when you have to distinguish between expressing your own id and copping the strategies of other painters that represent "id" to you. I'm not ragging on Laszlo for having clear influences, this is an undergrad show so naturally the artist doesn't have a fully formed personal style. But he also doesn't try to act like he has one either, which is to his benefit. He's trying out a lot of things, which is what one should do when they're young and still have the time and energy to do so. The works themselves may not be a functional system of expression but the range of possible directions the works go in indicates the distinct possibility that they could become one. I like the obscurity of the brown ones, they feel like the possibility of something that could feel fresh. Just a twinkle in the eye, but it's there nevertheless and I don't expect more from artists this young, especially painters. Since I'm usually subjected to the varying degrees of staidness of work by people in their late 20s or 30s it feels refreshing to come across a young artist with potential.
Sven Loven - Hell is Hot and the World is Cold - No Gallery - ***.5
Loven's depictions of hell are somewhat cartoonish, which I suppose is a natural consequence of depicting hell. The figuration is a bit flat as a result, but the application of paint is so textural that the flatness doesn't become a limitation. The backgrounds create the implied glow of hellfire through a functional use of abstraction, and the fleshy details and purplish palate effectively draw in the eye. There is a slightly jarring range in the degrees of finish between the pieces, but I guess it's not damning to see that he worked harder on the bigger paintings. The old text paintings in the back room are an interesting counterpoint but more in terms of career arc than interaction within the show.
Ryan Cullen - Mess - Situations - ***
The man pouring pudding on his head is nicely rendered, the others are a little sketchy but still pretty nice. The whole thing leans too heavily on mud as a conceptual justification, viz. his essay about how mud fetishism is a metaphor for global warming, but it still functions materially. I preferred his show at The Meeting but both shows felt overthought, like he's convinced he needs an idea to legitimize the work when I suspect he might be better off without any ideas. Concepts are great but they need to justify themselves as integral to the artwork instead of being a interpretation imposed on top of it. It's okay to just make paintings, I promise!
Alice Gong, Fanni Somogyi, James Warren, Kaijie Chen, Lita Poliakova, Maximilian Thuemler, Paul Mok, Ryan Rennie, Sally Lewis - Salon #1 - New Collectors - *.5
Landscape/microscopic organics, slightly more aware of art history but fundamentally not too different in spirit from undergrad work at a liberal arts school not known for its arts program, or the kind of stuff you see in galleries in vacation towns.
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys - Emperor Ro: Report of a Coup in Belgium - Essex Street - ****
A fun throwback to the end of the Soviet Union, like a parody of Videograms of a Revolution. A simpler time in spite of itself, when the deathly seriousness of reality could be negated by mockery. The show is funny and stupid in a smart way, but I also wonder if this looks good now because it's easy for us to aestheticize this era. The artists aren't liable for that of course, this is a restaging of a show from the 90s. But anyways, what's important is the act of trivializing history, poking fun at the mythologies of "great leaders" and national pride as the accumulation of details that are really just meaningless stupidities that only command the respect of those who are gullible enough to give it to them. The thing is that that sort of historicity is now dead, so it's a struggle for me to see what a young contemporary artist could learn from this show. This kind of critique that worked on someone like Ceauşescu didn't work on Trump because where Cold War dictators imposed a moral facade, no matter how out of step it was from reality, Trump was unconcerned with morality and therefore immune to mockery. The only good Trump-based artworks that I know of, by Paul McCarthy and Lutz Bacher, succeeded because they utilized him as a symbol instead of as a value system. Critique doesn't function like it used to in our post-end-of-history post-value system condition. Again, that's not the fault of de Gruyter and Thys, I'm just thinking out loud. It's interesting how old art is so much easier to make sense of than new art; the social dynamics that were unresolved then are now resolved and we can see clearly how they worked in a historical moment that was different from our own, whereas the present is always in flux so it's much harder to pin down what works in real time. So yeah, it's a good historical show. I don't know why I'm digressing so much. Also, big year for low pile carpets in art shows!
Barbara Ess, Dan Graham, Daniella Dooling, Glenn Branca, Heidi Schlatter, Laura Battle, Les LeVeque, Maximilian Goldfarb, Mieko Meguro, Radio/Guitar - The Secret Life of Objects - Magenta Plains - ***
These are mostly material presentations of object as objects, and sticking to the mundane is a relief sometimes. Mieko Meguro's bags, for example, are the simple accumulation of daily life, and this curation kind of feels the same way. Barbara Ess accumulated these friends and put them together, which kind of works because these accumulated friends come from a noteworthy New York scene pool. It's not a brilliant vision and I don't particularly like the geometric drawings, but it counts for something as an agglomeration of a social world and the things in it.
Libby Rothfeld - Junker - Bureau - ****
Libby (disclaimer: a friend of mine) knows how to take objects and reinvent them. Paintings of clocks that read as clocks instead of paintings, trees that read as vaguely anthropomorphic, sleeping or dead, barrels in the ceiling that read as something you've never seen before. Appropriation can be a delicate process because the tactic often turns into the artist leaning on the qualities of the objects themselves to do the work for them, but here the artist has precisely envisioned and constructed everything to deliver a particular experience. The Germanic associations of the cuckoo clocks and Thomas Mann serve as a loose aesthetic frame, but the show as a whole refuses to cohere around it which makes the strangeness of the works playing off of each other all the more inscrutable. The trees, lying supine in oddly shaped, plastic covered mattresses are particularly uncanny as compositions that refuse to "make sense" no matter how long you look at them. The shapes of the frames seem as though they should be referential to something but are apparently just sculptural abstractions, the school desk carvings into the wood are either a clue to the source of the wood or, more likely, a red herring. The pieces refuse sense because they don't make sense, which is an all too rare quality. Art is one of the few venues in life where intelligibility is not a prerequisite to success and is in fact often a hindrance to it. Good art resists reduction, exhibiting qualities and effects that can't be explained away by rational analysis. I think that's the whole point of art, but I'm continually surprised by how often I see work that seems to disagree. Junker is in agreement with me though, an oblique collection of objects that expresses the confusion and mystery inside of every thing and points towards the possibilities in exploring those intangibilities through art, which is something that only artists of talent can manage. The angel sculptures do feel sort of conventional in comparison to the rest, but that's more of an observation than a criticism.
Diane Simpson - Point of View - JTT - ***
Artists used to love architecture but now they don't, so it's kind of fun to see someone leaning in on that mindset these days. The pieces aren't particularly architectural in a spatial sense though, which is what seemed to attract all the classic conceptualists. These are more exercises in design, objects that are decorative and meant to be looked at rather than experienced as a three-dimensional intervention into space. The color palate is pleasantly restrained and most of it is nice to look at, although the barred window is trite. There's also a bit of discomfort in the question of where exactly the work is trying to go because it straddles art and architecture in a neither/nor awkwardness instead of a both/and enrichment.
Diane Arbus, Anthony Barboza, Peter Bradley, Jared Buckheister, Alice Coltrane, Somaya Critchlow, Brett Goodroad, Louise Fishman, Marley Freeman, Lee Friedlander, Reggie Burrows Hodges, Andrew Lamar Hopkins, Peter Hujar, Siobhan Liddell, Glenn Ligon, Jesse Murry, Ana Mendieta, Alice Neel, Senga Nengundi, Dan Nicoletta, Edward Owens, Paul Pfeiffer, Ntozake Shange, Gertrude Stein & Virgil Thomson, Tabboo!, Paul Thek, James Van Der Zee, Stacy Lynn Waddell, Kelley Walker, Frank Walter, Jack Whitten - Get Lifted! - Karma - ***
A lot of this work is very nice, particularly the paintings (fingers crossed this launches Brett Goodroad's career) but from a curatorial standpoint it feels cluttered because Als was trying to cram in too many angles and ideas. Each wall has a separate theme, the hanging is crowded, the different forms of media clash with each other. He has good taste but this feels like his curatorial bucket list, which had grown so long that he had material for four or five different shows and tried to fit them into one. Maybe it's because the new Karma space is kind of awkward, a little too big for a normal gallery show but not quite enough wall space for a proper survey. In essence it feels like Als tried to do a synthesized self-portrait of all the different chapters of his life related to art, which is just too ambitious to work as a framework for curation.
Rosemary Mayer - Ways of Attaching - Swiss Institute - ***
I have to admit I've always had a difficult time with Mayer's work. I don't know how to engage with folds and drapery in the way that she does. Her drawings prove the depth of her involvement with the compositional process, but I can't see the actual works as much more than "abstract curtains." One of the wall texts mentions her interest in Pontormo and Grünewald, which contextualizes her points of reference, but neither are among my favorites so I have to just confess a difference of taste. The upstairs works cross the line from feminist to "motherly" and start to recall greeting cards and concert fliers, unfortunately. Not for me, but I can imagine someone else liking her work more easily than I usually can with work that I don't like.
Tobias Spichtig - Good Ok Great Fantastic Perfect Grand Thank You - Swiss Institute - **
Mirrors on the wall and empty jewelry cases don't feel particularly operative, nor do the paintings of sunglasses and "sculptures" of constricted clothing. This seems to be an attempt at an edgy challenge to the gallery context, but its vacuousness doesn't work in its favor. I think this is supposed to be funny, but the joke feels forced, or maybe out of date. A knowing attempt at subverting content is a poor substitute for content.
Kieran Daly - Triest - *****
I don't really follow contemporary music anymore, but in light of Eric Schmid's now deleted post regarding the concert I thought I'd offer a response. If music, like history, repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, Kieran Daly is the farce of modern composition, which I mean as a compliment. At the heart of contemporary experimental music there is a crisis of novelty, the problem of how to do anything that isn't a tired rehashing of the past. In the absence of the ideological frames of composition in the 20th century, such as serialism, post-Cagean experimentalism, musique concrète, minimalism, spectralism, up to and apparently ending with the Wandelweiser Group, musicians are left in the uncomfortable position of a fully expanded field where any semblance of musical rules has been eliminated without any direction to orient the work. Composers like Xenakis and Feldman adopted microtonal techniques to expand their musical palate into subtler dimensions, and did so, but such an expansion carries with it the risk of falling into senselessness, i.e. becoming so harmonically subtle that the composition becomes indistinguishable from random unintentional noise. Without a historical position to anchor such abstracted tools, it becomes almost impossible for contemporary musicians to retain a compositional perspective where one note justifies itself over another, at least if the artist seeks to be truly contemporary and avoid simple historical imitation. Simply put, the 20th century so expanded the limits of melody that composers no longer have a sense of melody, and Kieran knows and accepts this as his foundation. Rather than despairing over the impossibility of composition, he leans into an aggressive process that could credibly be called decomposition. He resists formal structure beyond the limits of even the aforementioned modern schools by employing repetition, noodling, awkward timing, harshness of tone, micro note bends, indifference to harmony, etc., towards the end of making the music sound "wrong," avoiding as much as possible any musical reference points outside of a loose employment of jazz standards and the occasional Alan Holdsworth cover. It certainly helps that he's a guitar prodigy, but fundamentally his music works through the power of farce. The farce embraces the meaninglessness of melody and creates a meaning out of it; it provokes a structure through the rigor of its avoidance of structure. On paper this sounds insufferable, and to most people I'm sure it is because it actively lacks nearly everything that most people want out of music. During the show, however, the audience was both rapt and convivial. The listeners hung on to every detail of the performance, laughing at the voices off the street that accompanied the music, like a slapstick version of that one Christian Wolff anecdote from Cage's Indeterminacy, laughing at his self-deprecating banter, even laughing simply at him bending a note. That's not to say the music is a joke, although it is funny. Like a Chaplin film, the humor works through timing, which is both subtler and more instinctive than a punchline. This timing, instead of the smooth linearity of conventional music, takes on an irregularly meandering pace that moves by fits and starts and takes on a unique dynamic quality. Like the lilt of an individual's voice, his mostly spontaneous compositions take on structural qualities that are more organic than architectural, as though he were working out different stand-up impressions rather than performing pieces of music. These audio organisms (much of his recent work uses incessant microtonal note bends that sound like the wah-wah talking of the adults from Peanuts) take on discrete qualities of character that articulate a physical, materialist approach to sound as a temporal event; a Zen-like acknowledgment that each performance is purely unique by virtue of it being now, a moment that is occurring now for the first time and never will again. This articulation of the infinitely possible iterations of the Real is one of art's greatest aspirations, and Daly has achieved it. It's not every day that you get to see someone do something undeniably new. Easily one of the best art-oriented experiences I've had this year.
Zoë Argires, Alex Bag, Eva Beresin, Alex Berns, Keith Broadwee, F P Boué, Daniel Boccato, Jessica Butler, Susan Classen Sullivan, Jan Gatewood, David Gilhooly, Peter Harkawik, Yasmin Kaytmaz, Jack Lawler, Mike Linskie, Liz Markus, Chris Martin, Joshua Miller, Justine Newberger, Mimi Park, Andrew Ross, Kira Scerbin, Kenny Schachter, Joe Speier, Haim Steinbach, Jesse Sullivan, Michelle Uckotter, Dana Wood Zinsser - The Frog Show - Real Pain - **
Frogs, like horses, are a classic excuse for a summer group show, although here there is a mostly cartoonish theme to the rendering which makes the curation feel less like a cheap pretext than your average summer group show. That doesn't quite absolve it of the pitfalls of the format, though, because it concerns itself only with frog-as-image instead of any sensitivity towards representation as a means towards an abstract, aesthetic end. Thus we have the inevitable ill-advised Pepe painting, the childhood homework pieces, and the general image-forward sentimentality. Any show that operates off of a personal attachment to imagery fails to function inasmuch that art should convince the viewer on its own terms, not presume interest by virtue of its subject matter. In other words, art is about depths, not surfaces; or in other words, fuck a frog, show me painting.
Kyoko Hamaguchi, Ray Johnson, Tony Matelli, Gordon Matta-Clark, James Rosenquist, Maximilian Schubert, Cedar Sigo, Sue Williams, Christoper Wool, Erwin Wurm - Good Clean Fun - Off Paradise - **
The Matta-Clarks are horny in a nice way that matches the youthful fervor referenced in the press release. Most of the rest consists of sloppy and scribbly random marks that are perhaps youthful but in a way that I wouldn't characterize as positive, and certainly not as horny by my standards. The Sue Williams in particular is a gross Juxtapoz-core type of drawing that was around a lot in 2009 and has no business being revived now. The show might actually fare much better without it, everything else reads as at least casually minimal/conceptual but her neon pink flayed guts stick out like a big pimple that upsets that through line.
Yasi Alipour & Cy Morgan - Mutual Convergence - Geary - *.5
Materiality is a problem in art, and both artists here lean into excesses that collide with that problem, albeit from opposite ends. Alipour's overworked geometry on paper doesn't transcend the bare facts of geometry, she simply measures the lines and as a mathematical fact they cohere without her help "as an artist," by which I mean through the assertion of any particular artistic subjectivity. Morgan, on the other hand, glues together found junk from hardware stores and fails to make the globs cohere into anything more than a collection of globs. Tweaker art, as an old roommate of mine used to say; a compulsion to work without a vision of what that working will result in.
Bruce Bickford - The Uplands - Andrew Edlin - **.5
I don't really enjoy this kind of cartooning, in spite of the invention and shapeshifting it feels static, trapped within the field of the page with that sort of Zap Comix stoned claustrophobia that comes from a purely invented mental space. The video work is better, the psychedelic quality of the animation supplies the movement and energy that he tries to imply in the field of a single image in the drawings. That impulse is kind of interesting because it recalls the narrative techniques of late Medieval and early Renaissance painters, like something out of Duccio or Francesca's True Cross cycle, but ultimately painters dropped that methodology because it just doesn't read as movement.
Lee Lozano - Drawings 1959-64 - Karma - ****.5
Starts right off the bat with straight portraiture that in the course of a month fogs and blurs before exploding into a distended exploration of skulls and dismembered torsos, a delirium of bodies, household objects, mouths, ramping up steadily into new plateaus of ambiguous masses of wires, knives, and blood, before settling into a refined palate of phallic imagery, bird-airplanes, penis-hands, penis-noses, penis-horns, penis-crosses, cigarettes, good old regular penises, before bringing it all back to an uneasy marriage of tools and body parts. Genius.
Serge Poliakoff - Gouaches 1938 - 1969 - Cheim & Read - ****
Classic shapely abstraction that plays tastefully with alternations between depth and flatness and indulgence in color and restraint of palate. Aside from the earlier works that have some slightly schematic color wheel and jigsaw woodcut elements, the compositions toe the line between a suggestion of abstract figures and pure paint without falling into either, which is the balancing act of real abstraction. Very enjoyable, a case study in painting as painting, which is what we're all (I'm) dying for these days.
Markus Lüpertz - Recent Paintings - Michael Werner - ***.5
A modern Arcadian indeed, but the danger of a historically-oriented approach is that a true bucolic dream has to be dreamt, not suggested through reference to past bucolic dreams. He knows that his despairing figure on the rock, "Adam," is his strongest invention, which is why he repeats it four times. Most of the other figures feel like borrowed studies or are simply awkward. His plastering them into the foreground of a disconnected space seems to be intentional, but many of the stances themselves are somewhat stiff, although the breasts of "Im Sonnenlicht (In the Sunlight)" are beautifully rendered. Basically he seems to be throwing Italian Renaissance nudes into German Romantic-Modern landscapes, most of which are too morose for the figures, i.e. they look like they'd be cold. Learning from history is useful, even vital, but like every vital procedure in art it carries with it many pitfalls. The nice ones are very nice, though, and the others aren't bad by any stretch. They just leave something to be desired.
Elizabeth Neel - Arms Now Legs - Salon 94 - *.5
Unpleasantly sleek and futuristic abstraction, it may be made through a complex system of techniques but they've been schematicized into a formula of repeated gestures with no room to breathe. A commodity. Sometimes when your color palate gets too tasteful you just end up looking like decor for some billionaire's mansion in Napa or wherever, which I'm sure is where these are destined to end up.
Ruth Duckworth - She's Clay - Salon 94 - ***
Pretty, Brancusi/Noguchi minimal/organic sculpture. Some moments like the bird's feet upset the purity of the rest, and while it's all relatively pleasant it isn't quite mining the fundamentals it aspires towards because it takes a left turn towards the slightly too complicated, which holds it back from becoming capital-S Symbolic.
Ken Okiishi - Vital Behaviors - MoMA - ****
A video consisting solely of a model hanging out a recreating poses from photos on his Facebook is a great idea because it hammers out a very strange dialectic that we don't think about much: models are weird because they're real people and it takes a very particular headspace to achieve the apparently naturalness of their unnatural poses, especially in front of a camera. Photoshoots require a particular "vibe curation" to function, something akin to seduction, which is why so many photographers have been famously rape-y. This isn't rape-y of course, but the interaction of mood, music, posturing, naturalness, the synching up of subject and sound, sets up an extremely satisfying middle ground between the unaffected Real and the virtual affectations of media, whether in art, video, or modeling. It did drag by the end though, the one long shot that takes up most of the movie was probably enough.
Jean Dubuffet, John Chamberlain - Dubuffet/Chamberlain - Timothy Taylor - ****
A pretty good pairing, both are scrubby and focus on a restrained kinetic violence, a sort of response to modernity that makes me think of Tati movies. They work because the dumbness of the masses of colors, marks, metal, and bodies are energetically stretched taut. Chamberlain's pieces in particular feel like bombs about to explode, Dubuffet's feel like mid-explosion or the aftermath.
Reza Abdoh, Jean Genet, Nash Glynn, Elliot Reed, Torbjørn Rødland, Heji Shin, Nora Turato - Wish - Metro Pictures - **.5
The whole theme of sex and mythology doesn't coalesce into much, although I do like Torbjørn's photo of the girl with her feet touching her head, and the Genet is of course a classic. The issue with the appropriation of the mythological is that it requires a sensitivity to the content of the original myth to reuse it effectively instead of just appropriating for a little associative gravitas. A good example from film: Godard's Hail Mary and First Name: Carmen are adaptations of the stories of the virgin birth and Bizet's Carmen only in the loosest formal sense, but he devoutly adapts the passion and piety of each, which is what really matters. Putting some clothes on a pile of salt doesn't really reactivate the wife of Lot in any mythological sense, and turning Orpheus and Eurydice into a tale of adultery trivializes the original's moral on the inevitability of fate. It's not like any of the work is glaringly bad, and the themes are clear and cohesively interrelated, but the end result is still ineffectual. The curatorial ideas aren't justified by the works themselves, they've been shoehorned together and don't really land as a collection of artworks. You know that quote, "Typography isn't a collection of beautiful letters, it's a beautiful collection of letters"? Like that.
Raymond Hendler - Raymond by Raymond (Paintings 1957-1967) - Berry Campbell - ***
Pretty funny paintings that play on the edge of returning to form after abstraction, although his squiggles tend to gravitate towards a flower-cauliflower theme that feels somewhat limited. He fares better when he gets into other shapes like waves or semi-hieroglyphics and it's pleasurable as a whole, but it's nothing special.
Janine Antoni + Guadalupe Maravilla, Tomm El-Saieh + Myrlande Constant, Christina Forrer + Evan Holloway, Sanya Kantarovsky + Chadwick Rantanen, Allison Katz + Camilla Wills, Ragnar Kjartansson + Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir, Jason Moran + Matana Roberts, Richard Rezac + Rhona Bitner, Salman Toor + Doron Langberg - Plus One - Luhring Augustine - **
The classic summer group show bad idea of sidestepping the responsibility of curating with a gimmick, which never works. It's kind of interesting that the artists (and gallery) chose so much flat semi-garish figuration because it's pretty "lowbrow" for the likes of Luhring Augustine. But a show that's curated with a dice roll will always feel like a dice roll, and that doesn't amount to much.
David Adjaye, Zalika Azim, Allana Clarke, Kenturah Davis, Theaster Gates, Linda Goode Bryant, Lauren Halsey, Titus Kaphar, Rick Lowe, Christie Neptune, Alexandria Smith, Carrie Mae Weems - Social Works - Gagosian - *.5
Well okay, now that it's at Gagosian I guess we should address the elephant in the room: work about race in general and Blackness in particular is what's selling. That's not a problem in itself, of course, but, aside from the obvious consequence that, as always, bad work that's on trend gets a boost, it probes the issue of identity's relevance to art when the blunt fact of race becomes a criterion of quality instead of the work itself. Lauren Halsey's appropriation of advertisements associated with Black culture are particularly glaring as an inept utilization of art as a means inasmuch that her works are simply derivative of a more authentic actually existing thing, namely murals on the side of a bodega. Zalika Azim's piece is shamelessly stealing wholesale from Deana Lawson, but Lawson uses her methodology much more effectively and is a much better artist than anyone here. At root, the problem is that there's a persistent assumption that the work has meaning by virtue of cultural associations that stand outside of the artwork's own qualities. Pictures of Black celebrities and public figures on a mirrored box or Frankie Knuckles' record collection don't do much except to defer to culture outside of the gallery, and as such they don't accomplish much more than a poster of the same figures in a high school history class or a Spotify playlist of the same albums, except that these are more expensive and for sale. Art is a product of culture, but here the work functions in reverse as an attempt at edifying a culture rather than acting as an expression of that culture. Black artists in music and film, for instance, articulate the sensibility wrought by the culture they associate with, but here much of the work is simply an appropriation of cultural signifiers without any expression. Bodega murals are an expression of a local folk culture, but to recontextualize that folk art into a blue chip gallery doesn't serve to legitimize the work. It only removes the naturalness of the art's casual context, which is the source of its charm, and makes for an experience where the viewer would rather be at a bodega. That's my point with this show's relationship to culture, rather than accomplishing something inside of itself, it points towards another thing, a world that exists whether or not art is made about it, apparently unaffected by the existence of this work.
Claes Oldenburg & Coosje Van Bruggen - Il Corso del Coltello - Pace - ***
Comical in an Italian way, it makes me think of something like a polite European version of Paul McCarthy? The mashing together of architecture and clothing, Swiss Army knives and boats, luggage and letters, that classic poetics of art move where two different objects are connected by a physical rhyme or metaphor. The problem is it takes too much pleasure in its own pleasure, like rich people overly assured in their ability to throw a fabulous ball. When wealth inures one from risk it also symbolically castrates the work's ability to be anything more than a polite diversion. Isn't throwing a big stunt like this in Venice of all places inherently already an overripe exercise in vanity?
Lutz Bacher, Julie Becker, Tony Cokes, Lucy Gunning, Candy Jernigan, John Knight - No Place Like Home - Greene Naftali - ***.5
The domestic is always a safe choice for an easy-win group show, and I don't mean that disparagingly even if the press release tries to ill-advisedly tie in some stuff about being stuck at home during COVID. Lucy Gunning's video is funny and Lutz's snow video has that quiet grace that she inexplicably managed with such bizarre consistency, which is the only thing keeping it from the complete banality the same video would have in anyone else's hands; John Knight's slideshow is as exceptionally dry, as usual, although the advertising angle feels like a bit of a stretch for the theme, and the Tony Cokes seemed entertaining but too long for a gallery piece. Julie Becker and Candy Jernigan are a bit boring by comparison, but they're not embarrassing. I don't expect anything from phoned-in summer group shows and this exceeded those expectations.
Knox Martin - Hollis Taggart - ***.5
This looks more to me like a dense impression of Picasso than anything to do with Goya, like Guernica if he was a fill-the-page doodler, or maybe a scrappier Chagall. He has a pretty good spatial sensibility in spite of how densely packed it all is, which is impressive, so I guess there's a method to his madness. Some parts of some pieces look like blown up JPEGs which I'm confused about, but in a good way. The more line-dominant pieces are on the edge of a Yellow Submarine-type imaginary monsters thing, which is a bit fantastical for me, but his feeling for the orgiastic is potent and all of the works are compositionally strong.
Andrew Cranston - Waiting for the Bell - Karma - ****
Pleasant, tactile post-post-impressionism. This borders on the edge of slightness but Cranston's sense of scale, shadow, and color reinvest the quotidian with a sense of depth and simple beauty that stops a beach scene from turning into a postcard image. The larger canvasses are naturally more impressive but in a way the modesty of the smaller works convey more effectively the pleasures of the paint itself, his economy of line and palate that represent the quiet happiness of loving to paint and being good at it. There's always something that feels so obvious about good art, that the enjoyment this work expresses is always around the corner and ripe for the taking, but of course there's nothing in the slightest that's simple about that taking.
Borna Sammak - Beach Towel Paintings B/W Year in Words 4 - JTT - **
Collecting a bunch of social media posts is very off-trend, although I guess this is trying to own our collective fatigue with digital media rather than mistakenly thinking we're still into it. Nevertheless it feels like trying to own taking an L, which doesn't make it any less of an L. It doesn't redeem itself by knowing no one wants any of this. How could we? This level of abjection isn't funny anymore. I saw some tweet recently that said something about how watching porn is an expression of one's own frigidity rather than their actual sexual appetite, and this show made me think of that. I couldn't remember the other half of the tweet, though. Laughing about living in an intolerable hellscape is thin consolation, basically. Personally, I'd much rather feel like a human being. I haven't done Adderall in years, maybe I'd relate to this if I had.
Andrew Forge - The Limits Of Sight - Betty Cunningham - ***.5
Post-pointillism to Cranston's post-post-impressionism, it's fun to think about how his abstract method of abstract painting resembles something semi-figurative, like dense foliage or a zoomed-in forest floor, in spite of that making no sense after you look closely and think about it for a while. But figuration is always abstract and abstraction is always figurative in some sense because the arrangement of shapes and colors is something beyond both categories and is simply integral to our experience of space and paint. All the same, despite this being quite nice, it is a bit samey and a few are just bland. Some even recall Terry Winters a bit, although that comparison serves mainly to show that Winters paints with a less restrictive and ultimately more successful system.
Satoshi Kojima - Akashic records - Bridget Donahue - ***
There's a weird dynamic here of extreme three-dimensionality combined with absolute flatness, the tension between the way op art manipulates our perception of space combined with our understanding that paint on a canvas is totally flat. The figures and imagery themselves are pretty cartoonish, like a weird video game, which doesn't appeal to me much, but his control of an expanded spatial palate is engaging. In particular I like the piece "morning of the death," where the rectangle lip background pattern seems on the verge of coming into contact with the figure and cutting it apart, especially when you look from an angle.
Yuji Agematsu, American Artist, Nairy Baghramian, Dexter Sinister, Trisha Donnelly, Isa Genzken, Tishan Hsu, Pierre Huyghe, Flint Jamison, Jonathan Lasker, Sam Lewitt, Scott Lyall, Helen Marten, K.R.M. Mooney, Jean-Luc Moulène, Florian Pumhösl, R. H. Quaytman, Wacław Szpakowski, Cheyney Thompson - The Poet-Engineers - Miguel Abreu - ***
It's hard to evaluate a show with a thesis, especially when you disagree fundamentally with that thesis, and I happen to think the notion of technology as a decisive means for artistic "progress" is one of the biggest lies ever told. Sure, as our means change the forms of work change, but I don't think the content of artworks, or for lack of a better term, "the substance of the human soul," has changed in the slightest since we started making cave paintings. None of this is to imply that the work is bad, much of it is quite nice. If anything, the use of technology here often works more towards an end that expresses something organic and tactile rather than sleek and inhuman, which is fortunate. K.R.M. Mooney, Trisha Donnelly, Tishan Hsu, Yuji Agematsu all work with a kind of gradient materiality that's quite pleasurable in a way that recalls being on mushrooms at the beach without any corny overt psychedelia and constitutes a somewhat unique aesthetic position. As a whole, however, in spite of the mostly coherent combination of works and a generally high level of quality, I can't help but feel that the show is too didactic, too driven by the insanely long accompanying PDF that stitches the artists together as a philosophical project instead of simply being an art show put together by some sense of affective affinity. The document begs the question of the utility of explaining art (a question I often ask myself) because, aside from the problem of the sheer length which makes me wonder who the fuck cares enough to actually read it, Alain Badiou's pronouncements on the nature of art have always seemed to me to be of questionable utility, at best. As I read earlier today in Aquinas, quoting Augustine (quoting Varro): "What other reason is there for doing philosophy but to be happy?" One's happiness is subjective, naturally, but the philosophy posited by Miguel Abreu has never been of the sort that's made me happy. I think I've made it clear though my writing that I'm a fan of Deleuze, but my attraction to him lies less with his concepts than in his sensitivity to what he writes about and his ability to deepen one's understanding of art, film, literature, etc., through the application of his conceptual system to a subject, which is the sort of thing that makes me happy. I never liked the CCRU and all that because it seemed to constitute an aestheticization of Deleuze's methods which renders his system into an end of itself, a fetishization of deterritorialization and so on which imposed itself onto one's view of the world rather than the use of those ideas to explain the already existing world. Badiou is certainly no Deleuzian and Negarestani has repented in favor of Neoplatonism, but if I have a critique of those philosophers (as an art critic, not a philosopher), it's that whenever I've heard them speak about art it seems that they force art within their philosophical systems instead of using those systems to reach out and touch the art itself. That brutish treatment of art serves only to reduce the art to philosophical ideas, and in doing so expose the blunt force of an application of rationalist philosophy to the materialist project of art, which is, at root, my misgiving about the ideological position of Miguel Abreu Gallery in general. Materially speaking, this translates to simple things like the thematic narrowness of the artists represented by the gallery and an apparent tendency to curatorial insensitivity, but this concern with a philosophical program in the arts also begs some other questions. For instance, how one can take such a pedantic outlook on art seriously when Miguel Abreu is the only "philosophy gallery" in New York (or anywhere?) and other galleries do just fine without any explicit championing of a philosophy. If a philosophical program only serves to narrow one's artistic purview and cloud one's curatorial judgment, then, to my mind, this program doesn't lead one to be happy in a real sense. But that's just my opinion. And as I said, most of the work in the show is still pretty good.
Enzo Shalom - Jenny's - ***
Frottage, the retroist dandy's Xerox machine, has its own unique semi-specific set of references. I gues this is the kind of thing that the Surrealists had to use to be trippy back when you didn't have much more for your assemblages than your mother's sewing kit and stray handwritten letters, à la Schwitters. It's a novel means for 2021, a nostalgia for a small sliver of European history that's hard to pin down but feels like turn of the (last) century France, I guess. There are some bits like the curve of a ribbon that are nicely conveyed, but, like Ryan Cullen, another semi-recent Städel grad, this feels more like a clever "solution" to the problem of artistic means in the contemporary than a realization of affective ends, which is what really matters.
Fikret Atay, Steve Bishop, David Flaugher, Kate Mosher Hall, Rose Salane, Gedi Sibony, Hanna Stiegeler - Tacet - Gems - **
Like the press release, this show presumes the ascertainment of meaning through accumulation, which is not actually a given. Rambling about Kind of Blue does not necessarily imply anything of interest about Kind of Blue, just as a combination of photographs, found objects, a stray painting, a video, and some music does not imply curation. The gallery space itself is entertaining enough, and the works themselves are "aware," but I just don't know what I'm supposed to get out of all of it, and I suspect that's not my fault.
Violet Dennison - Freak Like Me - Theta - *.5
A shower curtain by any other name is still a shower curtain. Language is itself a coded system for the communication of abstract phenomena we refer to as meaning, the significance of which can only be conveyed through the intangible qualities of articulation, eloquence, timing, etc. Everyone can, and often does, say a bunch of words that don't amount to anything. The expression of meaning through language requires a sensitivity to the words themselves, the subject being conveyed, the person to whom the information is being conveyed, etc. In a word, it's complicated. The problem with the encryption of language into squiggles is that it does not encode the meaning of that language into those squiggles, it simply reduces language to squiggles, which are meaningless to the viewer. As such, in spite of the artist's thoughts about the transmutation of linguistic meaning, the works here amount to little more than a recollection of flowers doodled with a gel pen on a plane of wires that recall notebook paper from middle school. Or a shower curtain.
New Red Order - Feel At Home Here - Artists Space - *
Words fail me, dear reader. Distressing.
Bill Gunn - Till They Listen: Bill Gunn Directs America - Artists Space - **
Gunn is an interesting filmmaker and I'd like to see some of his movies, but unfortunately this isn't the place to do so. The archival ephemera and four TVs playing at the same time can only serve to rouse a curiosity that one has to pursue properly on their own time, which begs the question of this staging. Why do a show to support the works of an underappreciated filmmaker if you can't actually do him justice with the show?
Oto Gillen - Wax Gourd - Lomex - ***
Sorta futuristic photos of New York, alternately sleek and organic, sometimes both at the same time. It looks cool and the range of imagery resists coalescing into an explicit style, which is good. It's a bit unreal, like walking through a dream of the city, which isn't bad, although it is pretty Instagram-friendly which is not a good look these days. I can't tell if my favorite or least favorite is the one of the shadow of carriage wheels; it stands apart from the rest because it borders on amateur coffee shop photography in opposition to the unambiguous hipness of everything else. The artist's custom printing/display method looks good.
Robert Smithson - Abstract Cartography - Marian Goodman - ***
I've always liked Smithson's approach to the spatial, the dialectic between the map and the actual space. His videos and earthworks of course realize this exploration, but I find most of his drawings and mapworks less successful because of their diagrammatic impulse that smothers the space he was seeking to explore. To be fair, these works predate his classic pieces and at the time he was still figuring out his ideas. Something that is compelling about this show that's pervasive is the presence of thought, the intellectual engagement that at time overpowers the actual works. His aspirations are frustrated in just about all of his gallery works because they mostly exist as sketches and ideas for "actual" things that would or do exist outside of a gallery as discrete spaces. It becomes clear where the impulse to the earthworks came from through these pieces because their inadequacy is obvious. For instance, his sculptures of geometric forms aspire to some primeval or Platonic elementary ideal, but in this context they prove simply illustrative, like examples of ideas in the way that maps are simplified documents of an infinitely complex space.
An-My Lê - đô-mi-nô - Marian Goodman - **
Pretty pictures of soldiers, but everything looks pretty through a large-format camera. The "conceptual" bit with the oversized lighters feels like an obligatory touch of the interdisciplinary, but I think sticking to nothing but photography would have been the bolder choice, not that that would have saved it from being nothing more than pretty pictures.
Le Corbusier & Charlotte Perriand, On Kawara - Chambre Du Brésil - Leo Koenig Inc. - ***.5
It's very funny to be reminded how simple the idea of real design and architecture is because it's almost entirely absent from the public consciousness these days. The care that goes into the details and harmony of the objects lend a cabinet, a bed, a bulletin board, and a shower door distinct identities as opposed to the prefabricated anonymous sleekness of Ikea furniture. (Whether or not any of this careful design is actually convenient or comfortable is another question.) It's simply interesting to remember that living spaces can be nice, that a lamp can be beautiful and in some way enrich a life. In this way architecture interrelates with art as a system of sensibility, something that just about everyone, or at least everyone I know, is excluded from because they're too poor and transient to build a space for themselves. What's interesting about the On Kawara pieces is how comfortably they sit with the rest of the room, like the aesthetics of the living space match the austerity of the paintings in a way that's hard to imagine otherwise. It's certainly not an Alex Da Corte in Ivanka Trump's living room.
Cady Noland - THE CLIP-ON METHOD - Galerie Buchholz - ***
Okay, so it's a big deal that she's having her first solo show in two decades, but do people love Noland because of her work or because she's intractable? This isn't bad by any stretch, the plastic barricades feel very sculpturally of the moment for someone who's been out of the game for so long and her transformation of Buchholz's normally pleasant air of uptown affluence into a claustrophobic purgatorial office space is effective. My question, rather, is to what end her bleak adversarial attitude serves in 2021. In the 80s and 90s there was a point in critiquing America, the art world, articulating a sense of hopelessness and anger towards systems that only certain artists on the vanguard felt while the rest went on telling themselves that things were okay. Nowadays that despair is ever-present and unavoidable, and as such this hopelessness feels redundant to me. In Noland's defense, her near withdrawal from the art world perhaps reflects her realization of this, and the show itself is really more of a space for the presentation of the books that are a retrospective of her career than a new development. A common issue with critically-oriented art is that it can lead to a position of simple cynicism, where the constant negativity of resistance against structures of power smothers any hope for the power of art itself. In other words, she hates the art world more than she loves art, and that's untenable. Lutz Bacher's work shares some superficial similarities but on the whole distinguishes itself by being fundamentally concerned with the continuum of "Lutzness," a complex system of humor and subterfuge that engrossed her in the work itself. Her process may have involved more narcissism and complacency with the market than Noland's, but perhaps the lesson of Noland is that some degree of complacency is better than getting entangled in years of lawsuits because of your self-righteous purism. Aspiring to purity implies that one thinks absolute autonomy is possible, and, in the art world at least, it absolutely isn't. As an artist, it's ultimately less important to become an individual martyr by raging against the system than it is to build something through the work itself, because if making work doesn't sustain you, why not quit? But then again, what do I know, I've never experienced the pitfalls of being trapped in a career by success, and it's not like I think the art world is a worse place because she's in it. And anyways, wasn't the art world better when there was a chance of someone like her becoming successful? To my mind the field of battle in the arts has shifted from her front, but we've certainly made no footholds since she started fighting so maybe her cynicism is justified.
David Hammons - Basketball & Kool-Aid - Nahmad Contemporary - ***
Funny, although to some degree the surprising painterliness of art made with Kool-Aid and basketballs undoes something about the process inasmuch that the result becomes kitsch. What's the value of mom-hobbyist abstract watercolors whether or not they're made with Kool-Aid? I mean, they are funny, I guess that's the value. The Japanese writing is very funny. But maybe it's too funny? Humor is good in art but I think it crosses a line when it turns into an outright joke with a punchline and everything.
Elise Duryee-Browner - Vibe of the Era - Gandt - ****
I couldn't make sense of this at the opening, and for good reason. Openings are hard for thinking about art already, the place was packed, the lights were off, and the art was small. Moreover, this is particularly withholding work that doesn't immediately present itself. It requires thought and consideration, and in particular thought and consideration about Duryee-Browner's own thoughts and considerations. The show only began to materialize between my first and second visits when I read the press release, which is, among other things, about the sentiments of anti-semitic thinkers. Maybe it isn't entirely controversial to suggest that modernity eradicated our capacity for an intuitive cultural consciousness in favor of a brutish capitalistic rationalism, but it certainly is to do so by quoting Alfred Rosenberg. The quote becomes a compelling investigation by prodding the limits of our culturally accepted discourse; it is forbidden to consider that Nazi rhetoric (like all rhetoric) can contains the potential for shared concerns for society, no matter how obliquely. This controversiality touches on the unresolved and unresolvable contradictions in human life, which are beyond the scope of normatively accepted discourse. Publicly condoned thoughts preclude their own ineffectuality by being condoned, i.e. resolved. It is only when an idea pushes towards a limit that the animating force of thought traces a new direction and becomes productive. Similarly, art concerns itself with unresolved, irreducible affects, but Duryee-Browner approaches her art in an oddly writerly sense inasmuch that the works serve mainly to express the tightly wound chain of thoughts that led to their creation and display, which reminds me more of the deductions of essay writing than the holistic intuitions of your conventional artist. This is another way of saying that the works are small and insubstantial by regular gallery standards. The centerpiece is a gold coin on a stand, spotlit on the room's back counter. On the coin is a nose, a cast from a doll of Gal Gadot that happens to resemble the artist. On the left wall are images of Andrew and Rachel Jackson. There are a number of obvious "meanings" or "interpretations" one can apply to and between these works, none of which reveal much: the interaction between Duryee-Browner's own Jewishness and her resemblance to the IDF's Hollywood poster child, the stereotypes surrounding Judaism and gold, Jackson's advocacy for the gold standard, the simple difficulty of casting with gold, the weight of history, etc. Unlike most artists that claim to be investigating ideas when they are really just appropriating them, the artist here grapples with problems of identity and social structure that are irreconcilable and which carry over from her writing because she is, in fact, investigating them. The other half of the show is concerned mainly with subtleties of light: a bone-colored globe rotates near a spotlight facing the wall, which is initially underwhelming until one notices the movement of the ball's surface under the edge of the reflected light and the precision with which the effect has been curated. This less than obvious specificity that becomes clear only after paying attention is what elevates the show above being some tiny stuff in a dark room and turns it into something challenging and intelligent.
Ryan Cullen - The Ecstasy of Discipline - The Meeting - ***.5
A smart riff on photorealism, pilgrim village reenactors blinking, yawning, etc. Materially it's funny too, painted on drywall with fancy little stands. Painting the wrong thing is always a good move, but these are also the right wrong things so it's merely clever. It's sort of conceptual in the sense that it's about these paintings as objects, as the idea of painting these photographs as artworks, rather than being about the painting itself. Like I keep saying, painting is a real puzzle these days. This is a solution of sorts, but the problem is that painting isn't about solutions.
Huma Bhabha, Joe Bradley, Jennifer Paige Cohen, Jason Fox, Daniel Hesidence, Rodney McMillian, Xie Nanxing, John Outterbridge, Dana Schutz - Time-Slip - Petzel - **
This alternate reality pseudo-psychedelia feels perfunctory, like the artistic distortions of space and perception are failed attempts at reconfiguring reality that didn't quite break through to the other side. On the other hand, the Outterbridge and Bradley pieces succeed because of their relative sobriety and immersion within their materials. A painter becomes free though paint, not through their choice of subject matter.
Terry Winters - Table Of Contents - Matthew Marks - ****.5
Really quite wonderful. His painterly process of overlaying mathematical space in a dot grid system has been pushed so far that it starts to look something like traditional African art. Crucially, there's not just a visual resemblance because it also shares a sense for the primordial (the precisely correct combination of messy and ornamental?) which is the source of traditional art's potency and something that contemporary art lacks almost entirely. Put it this way: I stopped thinking about the art and actually just looked at it for a while, which basically never happens when I'm doing reviews.
Frank Bowling - London/New York - Hauser & Wirth - *.5
I thought I was going to like this, but the second I saw the outline of South America my heart sunk. Maybe he's a good painter but I thought the continents were so stupid that I couldn't see the paint after that, I just started getting mad about money. (Note for posterity: I changed my mind, the continents are funny and this show was good.)
Julien Nguyen - Pictures of the Floating World - Matthew Marks - **
There's a quote in the back of my head that I have no hope of remembering the source of, I think it was Allen Ginsberg's poetry professor in college? Something along the lines of "If you're going to write a sonnet, it has to be perfect." What he meant is that if you're going to be a classicist, you can't approach your work with a modern laissez-faire attitude, you have to be utterly pure. In other words, don't reference da Vinci unless you're a da Vinci, and, sorry, we're not in any kind of a renaissance right now so it might be best to let it alone. Historical European painting was a process of perfecting surfaces to convey immense depths beneath those surfaces, but here I see a preoccupation with surface to the detriment of an attention to depth. Perhaps it's the elements of cartoonish flamboyance that break with the art historical and negate the quality of portraiture here; the bodies shown become characters, the faces function as masks, reflecting their own surface instead of creating an invitation to interiority. The more serious issue, however, is that the execution simply isn't perfect, which is what this approach needs. Certain details are affectated and overworked while other portions are comparatively rushed, instead of an attention to the harmony of the whole composition. To paint like an old master requires mastery, an unwavering attention to every detail rather than the impulsivity of youth. Anyway, I've been giving serious thought lately to whether the real problem with young painters these days is that you need two or three decades of experience before you really get good at painting, not just one. If that's the case, it would answer a lot of unresolved questions in the arts right now, and I might also like what he's doing in a decade or two.
Aria Dean - Show Your Work Little Temple - Greene Naftali - *
It's never been a worse time to be a post-internet artist.
Monika Baer - Loose Change - Greene Naftali - ***
Her work seems to be about the presence of absence, which is impressive in the sense that it's hard to paint what isn't there. The technicality is nice as an exercise in precision, but I can't really find much to cling to in its knowing vacancy. Knowing vacancy is still vacancy, and I never really liked J.M.W. Turner so the whole ethereal clouds thing doesn't work much for me, personally. Similarly, the coins pasted on the paper works feel embarrassing and childish, which I assume is the point, but I'm still embarrassed. Maybe I would have found it a more convincing gesture if they made it onto the paintings too.
KAWS - WHAT PARTY - Brooklyn Museum - ***.5
The People like KAWS because he operates on a level of media that the public understands. In addition to all the pop cultural referentiality, it operates as a cultural spectacle, like a game show or the ball drop in Times Square, and the very act of cyclic appropriation and recontextualizing is no longer a heady high art move but rather the kind of thing you see these days in ads for car insurance. And the thing is that this works, because he has indeed created a spectacle. Craven commercialism is the norm in art galleries these days, but what KAWS has over other artists who are desperately trying to sell out is that he's not desperate. He's not even selling out, he's not trying to appeal to the market. He IS the market, he IS the spectacle, and people want him. Sure it's stupid, but so is our culture. This work doesn't do us a disservice, as his art world critics like to claim; he's presenting the crassness of our society back to itself. I don't particularly think that's a commentary on his part but he knows what the people want and he's giving it to them, which isn't something you can say of many other artists. The art world wants art to tell us that we're smarter than this, less inhuman, more reflective, less superficial, etc., but we're not. It's just the New York Times delusional liberal mindset reassuring itself that things aren't as bad as they are, but they are. Money is king, shopping is king. People don't want art, they want Mickey Mouse and t-shirts and keychains. I'm not happy about the state of things either, but refusing to call a spade a spade won't get you anywhere. I must say I was expecting more work though, pretty expensive admission for that much stuff. No press discounts either!
Hardy Hill - Almost Blind Like a Camera - 15 Orient - ****
The "sculpted" male body, as is signified by the term, occupies a middle space between a pictorial ideal and representative figuration that seeks show the real as it is. Similarly, sexuality in general exists in a space of the repetition of nude forms, the tension between the inevitable banality of cycling indifferently through different bodies (no matter how ideal they may be) and the obscure subterranean pull of desire. I personally gravitate towards the sketchier works for their weight of figuration, but I also appreciate the formal system the show takes on as a whole from the combination of the sketches, the more angular tableaux, and the cutouts with their photographs. A successful formal exploration of the forms of form. It's also surprising and impressive that he doesn't use models, the figures are all invented.
Alex Hay - Past Work and Cats - Peter Freeman - ***.5
It's kind of interesting how resolutely experimentalists tend to grow up and refine the broad creative excesses of their youth into something kind of "boring" like fur textures. His early pop-domestic works are good for having a distinct, less puritanical minimalism than the classic minimalists, although the preparatory drawings prove his similar degree of rigor. The later works aren't bad but they are indeed a little boring. They're abstract images instead of abstract paintings, which makes them somewhat less dynamic in my estimation. I guess you're only young and free once, then your earlier freedoms become the corner you paint yourself into.
Devin Troy Strother - Smoking and Painting - Broadway - **.5
The first of two explicitly Guston-derivative shows, here the Guston cigarettes function as a purely appropriative symbol like the recurrent cartoon cat, i.e. just another cipher. Similarly, the rainbow palate functions as an appropriation, a thing used as a "thing" rather than being employed thoughtfully. This isn't terrible but it's bouncing around on the surface without approaching the depths of someone like, say, Guston. It's mostly irksome as a textbook example of the difference between learning lessons from an artist's work and simply stealing it. Learning is qualitative, i.e. about the use of color and space in Guston's paintings. Copying doesn't preclude learning but it doesn't necessarily imply it either.
Oren Pinhassi - Lone and Level - Helena Anrather - **.5
The sculptures are of a pretty decent Brancusi-ish type, although the sand quality and shower rack domesticity don't necessarily improve their overall effect. The rocks are nice though. If you're going to go monumental you better go all the way, which it almost does, to be fair. I'm less sure about the sand installation because it mostly just fills the space, and the press release's stated associations with sand as a queer and amorphous substance are negated by putting it in plastic bags that render it close to the form of the larger rocks they once were. Both sides of the show are really about a transmutation of the granularity of sand into the solidity of stone. I must say, to my own surprise and in spite of myself, that I kind of like it when galleries make me take off my shoes.
Ben Hall - Jives & Gambles - Essex Flowers - *
This is the second Guston-derivative show, though here the work as a whole becomes so appropriative that it borders on pure incoherence outside of a vague interest in race. Like I'm always saying, my first question regarding a political show is whether it's doing something best done as art. I'm not sure what a wheat-pasted image of a man in an American Indian headdress, a shirt stretched over a car tire, and a video vaguely riffing on the KKK are supposed to be doing, or where Guston fits into it.
Kelly Akashi, Neïl Beloufa, Candice Lin, Candice Lin & P. Staff, Patrick Jackson, Christine Sun Kim, Cassi Namoda, Em Rooney - The Future in Present Tense - François Ghebaly - **
This looked more conceptual or something online but in person it's a bit twee and heavy on Hyperallergic cartoonishness. I like the Em Rooney pieces and Patrick Jackson's is decent. The rest doesn't do much for me but it all hangs together in some sense.
Anne Daems, Kate Harding, Frances Sholz - Place, Space, Void - 3A Gallery - ***
A nice little collection of aleatoric mark-making tied together by the sense of fabric. Drawings of the clothes the artist wore that day, gestural abstractions that look like draped scarves, dense drawings recreated as embroidery. Work this dedicated to draftsmanship is rare these days, and I always appreciate a change of pace.
Peter Saul - New Paintings - Michael Werner & Venus Over Manhattan - ***
Ok, so it's funny, but how funny? The press release claims that the show is about climate change, but it seems to me that it's about narcotics (just cigarettes and alcohol), money, violence, etc., i.e. society's excesses, which is about climate change in a roundabout way, I guess. He also throws in some good ol' parodies of the artist's temperament, though to be honest a Van Gogh ear joke isn't so tired that it's funny, it's just tired. The humor does hit the correct tenor for funny art, namely where you look at it and think to yourself "Oh, this is funny," rather than actually laughing, and his style is of course distinctive and pleasant. The whole thing isn't particularly incisive for all that, and I think that's what Saul is supposed to be.
Richard Prince - Family Tweets - Gagosian - *
For fuck's sake. Old guys trying to be funny online is one of the worst things there is, especially if they're horny.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Diebenkorn, Lee Krasner, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mark Rothko, (Mark Bradford) - A Perfect Day - Lévy Gorvy - *.5
I've got to stop falling for these uptown group shows with a bunch of big names in them. It's not like Diebenkorn suddenly becomes bad, but the works are all so aggressively discrete that it hardly constitutes an art show. Case in point, they swapped out the Krasner for a Mark Bradford for no apparent reason (I guess it sold?) because one expensive painting is just as good as another in this context.
Carol Bove - David Zwirner - **
Carol again, the works here are less monumental than they are in Chelsea, more colorful, and unfortunately, perhaps inevitably, more commercial. Most of the pieces are displayed on tables to demonstrate to prospective buyers how appealing they'd look on the side table in their foyer, and the series of the scrunched steel tubes with hatboxes is more of a saleable line of products than it is an exploration of anything. The draped room and the one almost Klee-like collage/drawing piece are nice, though. The whole series begs the question of the problem of the series in art, the way that codifying a working process and repeating it always runs the risk of falling into an assembly line process. I specifically wondered if she just teaches her assistants to fold and coat the metal in the way she likes and then says "Cool, good job," after each one. Maybe she does it herself, but the point stands that rather than truly exploring color and form she's simply making a commodity; it feels more like the folds and colors are oriented to "fit the brand" than they are to grapple with art's capacity to represent affective qualities.
David Smith - Follow My Path - Hauser & Wirth - **.5
Most of this looks like a bunch of stools to me. I think the addition of archival ephemera mostly serves to reinforce the classical heroic notion of the male avant-garde artist in the 50s (viz. his copy of Finnegans Wake in a vitrine) that the work might not carry otherwise on its own. This kind of post-Cubism is just so thoroughly historical, and I don't think he really transcends the basic tropes of Modernism unlike, I dunno, Frank Lloyd Wright or Tanguy, the latter of whom makes an appearance here. I just don't think reducing the human form to a parallelepiped is that interesting. I like the billiards player ones but isn't that just because I like the image of men in tuxedos playing billiards, even when they're abstracted?
Terence Gower - The Good Neighbour - Americas Society - **.5
I don't really get it, he's a Canadian artist who lives in Mexico and restages classic works of Mexican Modernism and Modernism made in Mexico by other non-Mexican artists? It's strange, this presentationist deadpan carries with it shades of Christopher Williams-type late conceptualism, which makes me want to like it, but it just feels like self-conscious White appropriation towards an end that I don't quite grasp. I can tell he's smart enough to know what he's doing, but I also don't know what he's doing. It's like he's leaning in so hard as an appropriator of a culture he considers more authentic than his own that it's trying to come out the other end as also authentic? I think this is a case of taking something that's basically not art and waving the wand of Institutional Critique over it to transform it into profundity. I do like it formally, and there are a couple nice pieces, like the record sounded good and the photos of the artist with copies of Brancusi sculptures were funny, but I still don't feel like I get it and I'm not entirely convinced that that's my fault.
Hanne Darboven - Europa 97 - Petzel - **.5
Indeed, math can be beautiful, or I guess just numbers in this case. But isn't this just the classic German compulsion to schematicize and force things into a system? I'm not a Hegelian, or German for that matter, so I find these kinds of heroics a bit histrionic. That's not to say this is bad work, just that I can't relate to it and the idea of relating to this sort of mental straightjacketing gives me a headache. Well ok, I admit it, I think this is boring.
Hanne Darboven, Wade Guyton, Allan McCollum, Stephen Prina, Samson Young - Petzel - **.5
Press release: "In these chronicles,[sic] lays a complicated web of feeling, memory, and diverse lived experience. In turn, Darboven and those who have followed in her footsteps, declare fiercely the importance of transparency, documentation, and reflection. Notions that in these current discorded times, are needed more than ever." But isn't transparency precisely the opposite of the point of these works? Seriality serves not to expose but to underscore the resolute opacity of objects, that not only is one image unknowable but that when you put a few dozen together their unknowability multiplies exponentially until it becomes a subject worth contemplating. As a collection of serial obliques it's better (less boring) than the solo Darboven, but it's still an exercise in boredom for boredom's sake, and Samson Young's inclusion is a glaring misstep that mucks up what would otherwise be a cohesive show.
Arthur Jafa - Gladstone - *.5
Sleek and aestheticized but still raw minimalism of the sort that, well, you can see why Kanye likes it. Inasmuch that it's purely aesthetic it's also not doing anything outside of looking a certain way, like fashion, and that's why it's the kind of thing people like to vibe out on in a moodboard. That's all it does, and I call that facile. A photo of your flaccid penis isn't edgy or controversial, sorry.
Nan Goldin - Memory Lost - Marian Goodman - ****
Spooky dreamy (i.e. blurry) photos of the Leica variety, but good, a found footage cautionary tale of drug use that goes from the high of garish 60s psychedelia à la Anger/Cohen/Smith to a pensive withdrawal, but good, sunsets, but good, nudes of an attractive young person, but good, some "regular Nans" of people at gay parties, which are always good, etc. The work avoids becoming silly and superficial by the force of sustained attention, but isn't that always the case with good art?
"100 Famous Books In Typography" - The Grolier Club - ****
Erhard Ratdolt fucks, Nicolas Jenson, Aldus Manutius (of course), etc., although the less said about the 18th century the better, excepting Calson. I mean, my actual knowledge of the history of typography is amateur at best, but I do love it. I just wanted to shout out The Grolier Club, check it out if you're in the area.
Robert Polidori - Total Gnosis Enigma - Kasmin - ***
Susan Weil - Now, Then and Always - Sundaram Tagore - **
The rainbow-y fold pieces are nice, a good "feminine" kind of minimal abstraction, as are the older walking figures. The multi-canvas works are resolutely terrible crafty mom stuff, like the kind of thing you'd see in a coffee shop owned by someone who self-identifies as quirky. It's almost startling how little the works cohere with each other, as though all of her middle period was spent flailing desperately for new ideas. Fortunately for her, the newest works are the best ones.
Georg Baselitz - Springtime - Gagosian - *.5
Sadly, I think the iteration at work here skews into the crassly commercial, I can't process this series as anything more than a range of products for sale, like a dozen dresses on a rack at Macy's in different colors. The pieces don't interact, I don't see him exploring anything, he just had to churn out a bunch of big paintings to fill the walls of Gagosian and make an assload of money. His supposed formal innovation of pasting stockings onto the canvas feels more like a cop-out than a development in his process. Tragic!
Gerhard Richter - Cage Paintings - Gagosian - ****.5
Yeah yeah it's stunning, he's a modern genius. I already wrote a little bit about his Marian Goodman show last year, I didn't have much to say then and I don't now. I preferred that show a bit but it's a question of degrees, there were more paintings in that one. The paintings here are bigger, which counts for something, and there's more drawings, which are a revealing glimpse into the complexity of his conception of space that's his secret to always staying interesting. It's not even "always the same, always different," he's just always the same. That the paintings are still great regardless is the eternal mystery of art but that's what looking at the paintings is for, I can't write about it.
Louise Lawler - One Show on Top of the Other - Metro Pictures - ***.5
Like I always say, conceptualism is a means to an end, that end being art worth looking at. Lawler's practice manages that admirably, her approach to processing/distorting/repeating images ends up consistently appealing in spite of what could very easily end up in insufferably corny net art territory were it not for her clear-eyed sensibility for what her processes actually do. Good example: the photo of the cat on a dog's back (beautiful) blown up and repeated in the back room is a "reveal" that becomes both funny and disorienting by forcing the viewer into her system of artifice through a contrast of the memory of the normal image with the blown-up version in the next room. The system itself is somewhat austere and rigid, like she's almost written herself out of her work, but it still delivers and "feels contemporary" which is I guess what I always think about good photography.
Lucy Raven - Dia Chelsea - **
I'm not really a fan of the whole Dia "ecstatic materialism" thing, like La Monte Young and The Earth Room and all that. I mean, I like La Monte Young because it's good reading music. But this video piece is basically a YouTube videos of a mine with a big old budget, and I find the resulting cleanliness less compelling than what a miner in Carrara can make with a consumer-grade camera. Essentially this is a spectacle, a grandiose idea of pure experience that I find tiresome. Some of the shots reminded me of steadicam stuff from Breaking Bad or whatever, and I don't think that kind of mass-media professionalism elevates the work. Sure it looks and sounds nice but it reeks of money.
Deana Lawson - Sikkema Jenkins & Co. - ****.5
Very beautiful, toes the line of turning the Real into something aesthetic without crossing over into the fetishistic affectation of stylizing. Even the 16mm projectors feel materially-oriented, avoiding the obvious retro nostalgic connotations. Formally the exhibition is pretty shocking, from the mirrored frames that reflect light onto the ground to the waterfalls pinned in the corner the whole system of the work speaks to a level of conceptual liberation that's very rare. I mean, that older woman sitting in her closet wearing a blouse and ski boots has got to be one of the best looks I've seen in years. Fantastic work.
Willem De Kooning - Drawings - Matthew Marks - ****
I feel like every mark De Kooning ever made was secretly tracing the outline of a penis. I guess that's why he's good? Maybe the coffee started hitting different at this point. I don't know, do I really have to review a De Kooning show?
Douglas Huebler, Sherrie Levine, Walid Raad - No More Than Three Other Times - Paula Cooper - ***
Pretty, didactic, pretty didactic. Conceptualist sobriety is nice in this context because that kind of clarity lends itself to being informative, but it also sort of negates itself by its refusal to get its hands dirty. I like it but I'd also call it quaint, and I don't like Raad's bird pieces.
Carol Bove - Chimes At Midnight - David Zwirner - ***
Sculpture, huh? Interesting. The orange parts look fun. It's kind of like a less toxic masculinity version of Richard Serra, but I mean duh, it's steel. You don't see much monumentality these days. It's a nice change of pace, but I also have trouble finding an avenue of approach where I really care.
Rose Wylie - Which One - David Zwirner - ***.5
Wylie loves her images, which is something you can't necessarily say about a lot of artists. There were some expensive-looking people making a lot of noise while I was in here and my hangover had started to make a comeback, so I had trouble thinking. It's good.
Ben Schumacher, Georgia Gardner Gray, Marc Matchak, Horacio Alcolea Crespo, Kate Sansom, Emma Battlebury, Joanne Robertson - Speaking Esperanto - Triest - ***.5
So what the hell is individuality anyways? Doesn't it become a case of "if everyone is an individual, no one is?" The void of selfhood that I feel like I'm always talking about is the condition of art today because a proliferation of means leads to a dissolution of specificity. Being locked into a movement used to help, no one had trouble distinguishing Pollock from Kline. Anyway, this show succeeds because it accepts as pretext the meaninglessness of painterly moves, abstract, figurative, representative, imaginary, expressive, formal, etc. None of the choices are correct, because there isn't a correct choice in spite of many artists seeming to think otherwise. The only right decision is to make a decision and to, as they say, do the work. I like that Horacio's painting is upside down because the "tasteful" choice would be to avoid stepping on Baselitz's toes, but who says you can't put a painting upside down because someone else has done it? That's my whole point, people feel so anxious and stifled by history because they think repeating history is wrong, but all art is a repetition of affects that have always existed, a renewal of feelings. There's never been anything new under the sun, and until you accept that you'll never make anything new. People should paint because they love painting, and I think the artists here love painting. This is a painter's painting show, and since I'm not a painter I do feel on some level that I'm excluded from some of the finer interactions between the works, but I'm sure it successfully surveys and grapples with the present.
Sanya Kantarovsky - Recent Faces - Luhring Augustine - ***
Pretty good painting, absinthe in the French cafe-core, which stands up pretty well as an aesthetic framework because unlike most aesthetic frameworks it's a style that can only be realized through execution rather than the usage of blunt signifiers. All the same, imaginary portraiture inevitably flirts with the cartoonish, which undercuts painting as representation and becomes painting as painting, which makes this into a (very sophisticated) game of Mr. Potato Head. It's well painted, but so what? I think he's too confident. Van Gogh was good because he was tortured, not because he was a Post-Impressionist.
Deborah Remington - Deborah Remington: Five Decades - Bortolami - ***.5
Her later work is skeletal, organic not affectively but clinically, like a medical student's textbook that's been blown apart, rib cages and lungs and hooves distorted and crushed. The effect pushes the process of abstraction back into representation by its unavoidable suggestivity of objects, which places the paintings in a strange limbo. To be sure, her earlier work also manages this balancing act through its cleanliness, conjuring imaginary mirrors and advertisements from the future. What's difficult to parse is their undeniable contemporaneity, to the point of feeling more like the played out digital sleekness of graphic design circa 2015 instead of post-abstraction from almost 50 years ago. As such it seems she was so ahead of her time that she's of our time, which I respect in theory but tempers my enthusiasm in practice. The late paintings have less of this slightly dated futurism to them, so they fare better, but I still feel some disappointment in my inability to see them as abstractions and not still lives of body parts, crumpled paper, and unmade beds.
Sascha Braunig, Jules Gimbrone, Brook Hsu, Piero Golia, Anicka Yi - Transmutations - Bortolami - *
Technology/organic art of the bad Deleuzian variety, artists who fail to realize the body without organs and deterritorialization are interesting concepts when applied to conventional life but become insufferable when you use them as an aesthetic ground in themselves. Free-association and technology fetishism doesn't excuse you from navigating problems of quality and affect. As is inevitable with this kind of group show, there's also a figurative painting of Sada Abe for no apparent reason (I guess, as Deleuze says, drug addicts and sexual fetishists come closest to realizing the BwO) which doesn't serve to reintegrate the show into a historical lineage as much as the painting simply sticks out like a sore thumb. What I'm really trying to say is that I think this show is ugly.
Katherine Bradford - Mother Paintings - Canada - ****.5
Motherhood, like most things, is an interesting subject when it's approached intelligently. As a methodology it affords Bradford a breadth of potential matter, a means of approaching figures as figures, using bodies as ciphers for the qualities of human experience abstracted beyond discrete individual persons, a process that reminds me of the likes of Bacon or Guston. Motherhood itself is a similar condition, a specific form of interpersonal relation, and the paintings trace this "shape." Carrying, hugging, touching the forehead, the architecture of touch in general, the distinct quality of motherly contact, she mines this rich vein of affect, letting its emotional forms push and shape what occurs on the canvas.
Han Bing, Gabriella Boyd, Guglielmo Castelli, Bendt Eyckermans, Daisuke Fukunaga, Lewis Hammond, Behrang Karimi, Dominique Knowles, Dana Lok, Megan Marrin, Leslie Martinez, Matt Morris, Sophie Reinhold, Henry Shum, Kate Spencer Stewart - 15 Painters - Andrew Kreps - **
Well, the title doesn't leave us with much to be surprised about. I recently said to a friend that the central problem of painting today is the search for a subject, and that's on full display here. I don't think really figuration is a zombie these days, rather it's a specter of anxiety that articulates our illness at ease and aimless malaise. Painters will try literally anything and the problem is that it feels like they're trying. Trying to find a voice, trying to come up with a recognizable (and salable) brand, trying to figure your life out, trying to be sketchier, trying to be dreamer, trying to be more art historical, trying to be more photorealistic, trying to brighten things up with some nice little decorative patterns, trying to really get "in touch" with the paint through abstraction and intuition, etc. But as Borges describes somewhere, the creative act is easy. The preparation that gets you there can be the hardest thing in the world, but the act of really making is a joyous perception that opens out onto a vista of life's fecund possibilities for a glorious and tragically brief moment. I don't see the breadth of possibility in these paintings, I see the tortuous nervousness of people in denial of their own meaninglessness. A wealth of options, not one of them sufficient. As Archilochos liked to say: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
Chuck Nanney & Joel Otterson - Martos - ***.5
A central tenet of gay aesthetics is presentation, which makes obvious sense. Having a closeted identity forces a superficial relationship to how one presents oneself, which reinforces the processes of self-aware affectation and campiness. Artifice becomes a game and a source of pleasure, a liminal hall of mirrors of self, unlike us sad straights who are expected to look and act in affiliation with our normative selves. This is why straight men can't dress, we aren't allowed to take pleasure in our appearance lest we come off as self-congratulating. Gay men can play dress up, though, and the game becomes a process of shape shifting and subversion, willfully ignoring the bounds of conventional taste in favor of the joys of choice, indulgence in the gaudy and garish, the adoption of impressions of others as elements of one's self. Seems fun!
Daffy Scanlan & Chiara Ibrah - Delayed Green - Lubov - ***
Scanlan's prints/videos/paintings are "closed eye visuals" style works that rather impressively avoid the pitfalls of the form by feeling hard-wrought, i.e. actually visualized and not simply inherited from the long tradition of drug-induced imagery like some bland stoner notebook doodle. That the prints and videos are aggressively low-fidelity works in their favor because it introduces a texturized visual "third dimension" that plays up and complicates their ambiguity, not to mention that drug-induced imagery is generally more addled and foggier in the mind than it's usually represented as being, at least in my experience. Ibrah's sculptures are more conventionally in the club kid artist mode, which is to say their representation of weirdness is less mediated and more sentimentally imagistic, and they don't appeal to me because I'm not a club kid.
Josiah McElheny - Libraries - James Cohan - **.5
The main mirrorbox works are a nice elaboration of the whole Kusama thing, done in the sober manner of a tasteful Borgesian psychedelia rather than something more traditionally acid-inflected. The four-channel video piece seems like it might be sort of cool but I always feel like a three hour long video in a gallery is misusing the format: not enough content to make you stand there for three hours and not a profitable experience in the minute or two you spend watching it. This looks good as far as overly austere and cranial art goes, but it's also overly austere and cranial. That the press release goes to great effort to differentiate the central pieces as unique only serves to prove that they're all pretty much the same. Namedropping De Chirico, Duchamp, Sun Ra, et al. doesn't make a cool mirror any cooler.
Talia Chetrit, Spencer Sweeney, Satoshi Kojima, Romeo Klein, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Peter Doig, Matt Sweeney, Matthew Higgs, Marie Karlberg, Lizzi Bougatsos, John Kelsey, Haley Wollens, Hadi Fallahpisheh, Florian Krewer, Dylan Solomon Kraus, Chloe Sevigny, Brian Degraw, Avena Gallagher, Aurel Schmidt, Alastair Mackinven - Its not what you think - Tramps - N/A
This isn't really an art show, I'd criticize it for being dumb and ambivalent but they already know it is. This is sort of the exhibition equivalent of a gallery having a famous person who's a terrible artist on their roster, by which I mean it's the social dimensions of the art world/market laid bare. Not that it's a sin to acknowledge those facts, this just isn't really an art show.
Contemporary Art Writing Daily - Anti-Ligature Rooms - Plea Press/Cabinet - **
Pleasurably written, but the pleasure it takes in its own words reflects the recursion of the content at hand: an empty obsession with society's empty obsession with itself, an aimless riff on aimless riffing. There's a recurrent idea in the text of the lack of categorical difference between pornography and art, which is an almost legitimate comparison except for the fact that art isn't made as an aid for masturbation. Pornography is a means to an end and can serve that end with little to no qualitative consideration from those involved, whereas art has no such explicit goals. Qualitative consideration is art's end unto itself, so this post-post-internet dissection of our own cultural hot air becomes exasperating by its demurral from consideration. Like waxing poetic about the rancid smell of spoiled meat, taking an interest in the conditions of our abjection while refusing to pass judgment is an exercise in futility. This is the problem of the art world: contemporary artists feel disaffected and confused about art because all they really know is contemporary art, which is disaffected and confused. A project on the arts that limits itself to the purview of Contemporary Art Daily may have made some sense in 2014, but now our affliction has become so sad and tired that it no longer feels relevant to scrutinize our malaise. Between then and now we hit cultural rock bottom and it's time to move on to something else. CAWD is aware of this and I won't fault them for continuing their project's internal logic, but what's really frustrating is that the stray half-page where they stop free associating and eke out some thoughts on Judd and Acconci is the only passage that grabbed me. If they hunkered down and tried to just say their thoughts about art this might be worthwhile, but as it is I find it amorphous and annoying.
Aika Akhmetova, Henry Anker, Catalina Antonio Granados, Roni Aviv, Patrick Bayly, Eric Brittain, Fontaine Capel, Susan M B Chen, Joanna Cortez, Mónica Félix, Baris Gokturk, Jenn Hassin, Yifan Jiang, Clare Koury, Lau Wai, Yushan Liu, Paula Lycan, Cara Lynch, Erica Mao, James J. A. Mercer, Kathryn Ann Miller, Bradley Pitts, Stipan Tadić, Kiyomi Quinn Taylor, Meredith Pence Wilson, Mark Yang, Yi Sa-Ra, Rosana Cabán, Lauren Covey, Julian Day, Joan Hacker - Columbia University Class of 2020 MFA Thesis Exhibition - Columbia University - N/A
MFAs are a hard situation because it puts artists in a position where they're obsessed with figuring out something that isn't happening in their context, namely the art world. Naive kitsch painting, vaguely not-quite-in-the-tradition performance art, tactile abstract wall art, politicized material assemblage, object appropriation, all tentatively executed, serves mostly to signify the rawness of the struggle of making art in an MFA program, with its frustration and insecurity and overthinking. Working without an intimate grasp of the current trends of art dooms artists to the terrible realm of "infinite possibilities," which is much more a punishment than a boon, an involuntary solipsism that attempts to disregard the fact that almost nothing can occur in a vacuum. By my count three separate artists made paintings primarily of branded objects in their living spaces, one painted their living room, another their bathroom, the third their kitchen, which speaks to the problem of art school, being fully preoccupied with form and having little to no mental space left for content and expression. Theories, forms, and concepts should work in service towards the expressive qualities of an artwork, and when an artist is caught up in those intellectual categories it smothers the expressive content of the work, which is another way of saying that art school is about killing your love of making art by overwhelming you with information. The real growth is when the artist can recover their love of making after going through the gauntlet of school, of integrating (or discarding) the theory you read for class into your process rather than anxiously scrambling to apply it. In other words, MFA art is "immature" more often than not because art school doesn't clarify an artist's process, so that even students who aren't just out of their BFA are generally in a confused state because of it. It's this state of flux that makes thesis exhibitions interesting, if not necessarily "good," because very few of the works manage to express more than their own confusion. For example, Joan Hacker's participatory piece where you take off your shoes, walk in to a roped off area, and scan a QR code that places a phone call to the artist who asks you to describe your "happy place" struck me as successful mostly because of the real discomfort imposed on the audience by pressuring them into a phone call, which was (I think) only an innovation introduced into the piece by the logistical necessities of social distancing to what would have otherwise been simply a kitschy show-and-tell performance. Other artists, less forced into surprising shifts in their work due to COVID, are mostly left to lay bare their own anxiety, although Eric Brittain's video is another highlight, an auto-generated slideshow of pictures of his cat and accompanying essay explaining that the piece is mostly a product of his frustration with the school and their treatment of their students, and his realization that he would be granted his Master's no matter what he produced, which strikes me as a successful critique of MFAs themselves.
Maggie Lee - Daytime Sparkles - Nordstrom - ***.5
Unsurprisingly, Lee's work feels comfortable at Nordstrom. The boutique soft-club pop soundtrack of the videos meshes well with the store's "official" soundtrack, and the videos themselves, footage of riding a train across a bridge with an effects filter on it, riding a Citibike with a lit Diptique candle, playing around with moisturizer, etc., all evince the quotidian playfulness of a kid hanging out at the mall, which is a deceptively complex state of mind. The hypothetical kid is aesthetically subsumed by the imagery of commodified pop cultural media without any apparent resistance on their part, but they nevertheless subvert that aesthetic norm by the simple force of their teenage enthusiasm that carries them beyond that imagery. Having fun at the mall is not about an aspirational affiliation with the advertisements and mannequins, it's about using the mall as a liminal space, an unreal delirium of media that allows for an indifferent utilization of this content as a space of possibility, i.e. playing around. The conscious frivolity of the work is its own goal. For instance, the video of riding around on a Citibike with a lit patchouli candle is a "sacrifical" act of freedom, subverting the expressed utility of a mode of transportation and a candle (which I assume was ruined in the act) for the simple fact that it was a funny idea and fun to try to do it. I certainly respect the approach, but personally I never liked the mall much. I'm not naturally "hyper,"" which is I think the mentality on display here.
Richard Maxwell - Port Authority Bus Terminal, hosted by Six Summit Gallery (though I couldn't find any acknowledgment of it on their site) - ***
Rather unlike Maxwell's brilliant and often touchingly disoriented plays, his paintings are perfectly serviceable urban landscapes that border on the edge of quaint. They feel like hobbyist works, which makes sense because I assume they're more of a playwright's pastime than a serious pursuit, not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact the inherent modesty of art as a hobby is refreshingly low-key, but that doesn't mean the works themselves are particularly compelling in the sense of what I'm supposed to be considering as an art critic. However, as a friend noted to me, they're the kind of paintings he'd like to have in his apartment, which isn't something he'd say about most paintings, even those that he likes. That disconnect is a nut worth cracking, the fact that good work often only functions well in a gallery setting and makes the entire logic of the art market questionable, but I'll address that some other time.
ANNOUNCEMENT: The Manhattan Art Review will be broadcasting a conversation with The Sober Canal on Montez Press Radio on Wednesday, April 21st at 7:00 P.M.
Igshaan Adams, Yuji Agematsu, Francis Alÿs, Romare Bearden, Kevin Beasley, Louise Bourgeois, Jordan Casteel, Rachelle Dang, N. Dash, Jason Dodge, Haris Epaminonda, Sacha Ingber, Brian Jungen, Caroline Kent, Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Hannah Levy, Mateo López, Tammy Nguyen, Diego Perrone, Mariana Garibay Raeke, Loïc Raguénès, Simon Starling, Diamond Stingily, Johanna Unzueta, Ella Walker - Where The Threads Are Worn - Casey Kaplan - ***
The domestic is always an easy cop-out for a group show concept because, in fact, buyers often display artworks in their homes. It's also a sensible theme from an artistic standpoint, but anyways it's not obviously what the works themselves are about so it doesn't matter. Rather, the show, like most generally aware but not particularly "intentional" group shows, is about the constant, desperate struggle of artists to find some possibility of expression under the crushing contemporary burden of art history. The general standard of quality is higher than usual for this tier of smorgasbord group shows, i.e. Yuji Agematsu, Louise Bourgeois, Diamond Stingly, but there's no real cohesion and there's some howlers too, i.e. Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Jordan Casteel. I wonder how much money these curators make, and for what, exactly? (Making sales, I know. It's a rhetorical question.)
Rebecca Warren - V - Matthew Marks - **
Bronze flags covered in graffiti. I don't care what the artist thinks, that's all it is. I guess they're tasteful?
Dan Graham - Three Models, Three Sizes, Three Price Ranges - 303 Gallery - ****.5
King Dan, back in Chelsea. Minimalism is, in the end (2021), about selfies and architecture, which is why all the great minimalists feel so insipid these days. Dan, however, understands this and calls the bluff by making sculptures that are more architectural than sculptural and explicitly engage the viewer's reflection in what are probably the only compellingly complex selfie-ready artworks ever made. Sure, these constructions are just what he does at this point, and he threw in some stuff like runway design, an interview, and a park installation because that's some stuff he's done in the last dozen years or so, but who cares? This is Dan Graham, so the offhand amalgamation speaks to the breadth of what he's accomplished rather than coming off as the desperation of an artist who doesn't have enough work to fill the room. The title and his description of the show as a car showroom evince his sense of humor, which is prodigious, and the interview contains more content than most artists have in their actual art, let alone their conversation.
Ray Johnson - WHAT A DUMP - David Zwirner - ****
An interesting question, who has a better sense of humor, Dan or Ray? Both are funny artists even if their work is seldom so explicitly. Ray is more clever, perhaps even a prodigy of puns and wordplay, but Dan seems like a naturally funnier person where it just comes out of him. I don't personally have much affection for mail art because I think its "random" nature is inherently lacking in intention and therefore not particularly generative, but you have to give him credit for being the proto-pop art proto-zine guy. In other words he's the king of a style I'm not quite sold on, though I'd much prefer contemporary artists with a professed interest in Zen to take up this sort of work than the gallery version of a massage therapist's kitsch new age decorations. It reminds me of psychedelia in a way, in the sense that the media accumulates density without necessarily accruing meaning, even in a "non-meaning as meaning" sense. I don't think his work flourishes in a gallery setting, its true life was in the process of its making, which is both its conceptual virtue and the weakness of this staging. I respect Johnson even if I don't particularly idolize him, which is roughly the way as I feel about someone like Warhol, who makes more than a couple appearances here. At any rate, what art needs now more than anything is this kind of lust for the act of making.
Gerald Jackson - White Columns - ****.5
Oh, so this is where scrap fashion comes from! Jackson's blunt rawness delivers in a way that doesn't work for the young girls making these moves now. His scrappiness coheres into a cohesively loose visionary aesthetic, whereas theirs postures towards a looseness meant to imply wistful visions that either end up cliché or simply unarticulated because the artist couldn't differentiate between a vision and the idea of having a vision. His crumpled minimalist color-word pieces and collages come off as more authentic than the more self-conscious attitude of, say, Henrik Olesen, who always feels like he's trying very hard to be "punk," whereas Jackson simply is. His explorations of color are both conceptually simple and affectively oblique in a way that's subtle and deceptively complex, and his collages and clothes are simply beautiful. I bet he looks fucking amazing in them.
Daisy May Sheff - A Mountain Girl with Skyblue Teeth - White Columns - ***.5
Sheff lives in Inverness, CA, which explains a lot. That's a Bay Area locals-only reference but it explains her acid-fried neon hippie-turned-painter compositional style. Not usually my cup of tea, but there's a potency in how densely the images and colors are packed onto the canvas. It rewards close inspection without clarifying itself, as painting should, and it does reconcile figuration and abstraction in a successful way that avoids feeling self-conscious or forced. All the same, it's merely good painting in that it doesn't so much distinguish itself as it doesn't do anything wrong. The artist is young, so with any luck she'll develop further and foster a place for her own distinctiveness.
Matthew Schrader - M. Obultra 3 - White Columns - *
Pictures of plants and some leaves in a vitrine. This is barely art, hippie excess is infinitely preferable to hippie minimalism.
Retro 1999, Tsohil Bhatia, Bri Brooks, Jesse Clark, Cindy Conrad, Justin D'Acci, Jamison Edgar, Luciano Flor, Ry Fyan, Joe Greer, Tamen Perez, Ben Podell, Jonathan Rajewski, Rebecca Shippee, Mina System, Curtis Weleroth, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung - Staycation - (temporary location, no website) - *.5
Ah, I detect the fragrance of student art. The sweat on the brow, the painstaking consideration of color palate, the sloppiness, the impotence. I overheard an artist explaining how her piece, a sort of bucket with some toy dolphins in a pool, was inspired by a book on a man who sexually abused dolphins, and which her class discussed in crit as being about castration and toxic masculinity. Unfortunately for the artist, the piece is about some toy dolphins in a bucket. All of this desperate effort doesn't cause an effect, which is surely the simple condition of being an art student processing one's own anxiety alongside a vertiginous compulsion to grasp the essence of the current moment. Self-assured making takes experience and maturity, which is something that's only painstakingly attained. That crit, though, is beyond the pale. If art school taught students what art is about instead of filling their heads with middling press release "theory" interpretations to foist on their work then they wouldn't have to spend years (hopefully) unlearning all that fluff to get back to the material phenomena of art itself. Art doesn't mean anything, it does something.
Chantal Akerman, Harold Ancart, Jef Geys, Dan Graham, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Robert Lebeck, An-My Lê, Otobong Nkanga, Marina Pinsky, Claudia Peña Salinas, Adam Simon, Momoyo Torimitsu, Hil Yeh - Hearts and Minds - Carriage Trade - ****.5
Speaking of art doing something, this show is a great example in that it's one of the exceedingly rare examples of a good political art show. This is materialist/documentary/archival as opposed to ideological/dogmatic, oriented towards showing the world as it is in a way that leads one to identify injustice and formulate an ideological perspective instead of presenting a predetermined value judgment on a silver platter. Control, propaganda, plants, sex, media, administration, rebellion, architecture, these are simply facts of our existence that must be made sense of in some way to make life navigable. The fact of the matter, though, is that life is simply unnavigable for many due to these forces conspiring to deceive and maintain their opacity to the general public. Political analysis comes from understanding of a political context, and understanding comes from observation. You can read every volume of Capital, hell, even the Grundrisse, but if you can't apply those ideas to the real existent facts of lived experience then there's no point. A political outlook that rejects the murky complexity of life in favor of ideological purity is useless, no matter how righteous it may be. Photography in this sense serves as the vehicle of sight, of something that shows without the ability to embellish on the material fact. A historic moment of a sword being stolen from a politician as an act of resistance to colonization is presented just as profoundly and banally as a child being fingerprinted. Each is simply a fact, a moment in the past, and as such inaccessible to us in the present. They are monuments to events and phenomena that may happen similarly in different forms but are themselves expired, like the ritual sculpture that once contained profundities and now persists as a garden attraction. Our seeing of these monuments, however, exists in the present and our experience of them is tangible if we use our eyes to see them. Jef Geys' framed plants assume organic forms that echo the figures in the Marquis De Sade's baroque sexual poses, something the viewer can only appreciate if they first notice it. To see is to apprehend a fact, to know rather than think what one is expected to think, and it is this apprehension of firsthand experience that denotes the essence of the politically radical, and the artistic in art.
Volk Lika, Chris Retsina, Ian Swanson, Jenna Beasley, Joe W. Speier, Jake Shore, Kevin Tobin, Brian Oakes, Marc Matchak - Group Show - Always Fresh - ***
As is always the case with "alternative spaces" the room here is in competition with the art, and here the pizza shop setting creates a quaint, semi-ironic 90s retail setting. Some of the work invites this, such as Marc Matchak's cereal box sculptures that are so unserious they end up as compositional exercises, or Joe Speier's skyscrapers-in-an-eyeball painting which could credibly go in the background of the coffee shop from Friends. Some others, Kevin Tobin and Ian Swanson in particular, are serious paintings that become camp in the context, apparently unintentionally. The rest of the work feels a bit ill at ease, like they're trying to fit in without quite pulling it off. Despite the mixed bag, it feels thematically coherent, if only because its arbitrariness is contextualized.
Emily Clayton - NAG NAB - Love Club - ***.5
My first reaction was that this is tongue-in-cheek, but maybe that's presumptuous of me. At any rate, the imagery functions ironically in the sense that it feels abstracted from the artist, but then there's the sex and Chantal Akerman and psychotherapy notes, which feel earnest. I guess that's one thing about irony these days, life itself is alienated and ironic whether we want it to be or not. Theory books and art films are supposed to be productive media for the sake of self-betterment, but they don't necessarily fill the void. I guess they filled the void for me but I'd never recommend my joyless mind to anyone else.
Izzy Barber - Maspeth Moon - James Fuentes - ***
I only came to this because the promo image is a painting of a liquor store I used to frequent when I lived in Ridgewood. That's pretty indicative of the show as a whole, semi-retro Impressionist paintings of Brooklyn and Queens, i.e. easily satisfying and saleable work in a classic sense, the kind of painting your mom would like. It's certainly pleasant and well-executed even if it is some of the most conservative work imaginable.
Phillip John Velasco Gabriel, Shaun Motsi, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Eli Ping, Andra Ursuta, Takako Yamaguchi - The Cure - Ramiken - **
Feels like a random stuffy Tribeca group show except it's right off of Essex. Pretty minimal, pretty aware, pretty lifeless. Eli Ping is the standout with post-Trisha Donnelly organic abstraction, but even that feels pretty once-overed. Safe, in a word.
Stephen Lichty - Foxy Production - *.5
Post-Smithson formalism, or zombie land art. The press release claims the sculptures "suggest buildings, mountains and plains, relationships among people, and dynamic currents," but isn't that just as true of actual construction sites? At least a construction site isn't this precious and austere.
Martin Wong & Aaron Gilbert - Martin Wong & Aaron Gilbert 1981-2021 - P.P.O.W. - ****
Martin Wong's work endures because his approach is extremely peculiar, less figurative and more diagrammatic even when the painting is literally figurative. His scenes are incredibly flat and rectangular, resisting their own spatial depth while applying his well-known layers of semantic content: text, constellations, and sign language, which furthers the flatness of his canvasses as a map or schema. His sense of detail is also dense and evocative, small things like apartment windows remind me a bit of Guston and some of his figures look like miniature people from an arcade game like Metal Slug while still managing to articulate the person's character in spite of their cartooning. Gilbert, by comparison, is conventionally figurative in spite of his psychedelic colors and details. He's certainly competent and he doesn't come out embarrassed in the pairing, but he leans on narrative to push his work across whereas Wong's documentary sense comes simply through the force of his sensibility.
Joe W. Speier - You Likey? - King's Leap - ****
Irony is the new materialism in the sense that ironic distance is necessary to approach painting without bias these days. Distanced emo LiveJournal/DeviantArt-core, distanced abstraction, distanced glitter. Joe doesn't "care" about these things and that's why we can see them simply as things. His process works, the source images are dutifully abstracted in his copying process, his splatters are perfectly controlled and intentional in their lack of control. It's a challenge to approach a canvas as simply a canvas these days, you need to build a system to break down painting's historical baggage and get back to paint, and that's what he's done.
Jim Lee - The Peel Sessions - Nicelle Beauchene - **
Another Gen X artist with the ill-advised music references, though I'll allow that referencing Kim Gordon is a funny counter-reference to an art-music referencer. In general though this is very "I used to go to Sonic Youth shows" art, which means it has a good amount of grit paired with a pretty twee use of fabric, and its attempts at a sense of freedom feel pretty constrained. It's also just ugly.
Caroline Walker - Nearby - Grimm - *.5
If Izzy Barber was a reactionary of the Monet Impressionist school, Walker is a reactionary of the Bouguereau realist school, meaning she's utterly banal and bourgeois by comparison. She's also the Manhattan mom to Barber's Brooklyn/Queens mom, as in a rich woman who thinks the young women who make her coffee and fold her laundry are "poetic" as a way of negating encroaching thoughts about her outrageous privilege. A masterclass in the vacuity of representational accuracy.
Lisa Ponti - Drawings, 1993-2018 - Ortuzar Projects - ****
Ah, those delightful Italians!
Omari Douglin, Elizabeth Englander, Ian Markell - Deathbound and Sexed - Theta - ****
This feels a bit like an abstraction of a middle-American living room, what with Markell's empty TV stand, Englander's crucifixes on the wall, and Douglin's paintings to tie the room together. And it does tie together as a revolving system of various ontologies, bikini-erection-Christ, wood paneling and leather seats, a woman on a motorcycle, each signifying variously the networks of clothing/religion/sex, decor/technology/sex, and culture/attraction/sex. As to what these signifying chains signify is anyone's guess, but that's the nature of significance. In the end what really matters is that the pieces pair well. Douglin's paintings probably carry the show as a whole, but they do so in a way that doesn't overshadow the others so that the artists interact and reciprocate with each other to their mutual benefit.
Orion Martin - Pressure Head - Bodega - **
I have a hard time with this sort of machinic, tightly rendered, almost constructivist approach to psychedelic art because it smothers the loose freedom of affect that's a main feature of the psychedelic in general. It teeters on the edge of Alex Grey areas without ending up there, which is to say it's less vibey and more oriented towards the austerity of someone like Paul Laffoley. Apropos of Laffoley, whose assemblages of symbolic orders tend to approach some contingent system of meaning, I don't see the meaning in Martin's eye-fishes or a shower-penis-machine paired with a constellation-spine-pregnant woman. It's all very reminiscent of the body-as-machine imagery from Anti-Oedipus, which I never liked very much. There's a depersonalized body horror aspect to it that makes my skin crawl, maybe this works for other people but it's not up my alley.
Irina Janowski Pascual - Sonic Prolapse Kai Matsumiya - ***
More machines, but since these are actual "machines" it's more engaging. The sculptures aren't quite doing something and aren't quite doing nothing in a nice little fucked up liminal way, I enjoyed that the water piece was spilling over onto the floor in a way that didn't seem intentional. Even though the assemblages feel haphazard they don't make me think of what an old roommate used to call tweaker sculpture, it's more acid-fried sculpture. The mesh face with the light is nice and surprisingly graceful within the context of the show, but the inclusion of some figurative(ish) wall pieces feels like a misstep. I suspect they're there because of the admittedly sound logic that no one wants to buy a weird water pump sculpture that drips everywhere, but it makes it feel like the artist is being multidisciplinary out of a sense of obligation. The whole show is spazzed out and erratic, which is interesting, but it would have benefited from some more focus and restraint.
Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, K.R.M. Mooney, Kate Spencer Stewart - Soft As Velvet Eyes Can See - Bureau - **.5
K.R.M. Mooney's work always has a wonderfully abstract precision where although the pieces tend to resemble quotidian objects like tools or light fixtures, they carry an obscure affective weight that decisively distinguishes them as artworks, which is not something you can say about much installation art these days. Unfortunately, they're paired with some incredibly bland swampy abstractions that look like Monet's water lilies if you sucked everything interesting out of them, and photographs that look somewhere between an x-ray and a Vaseline-lensed 90s album cover. Their haziness is totally out of step with Mooney's attention to detail, by which I mean an emotional, perceptual sensitivity to the work's effect, not just its form. The haze wins out, as evidenced by the My Bloody Valentine show title and press release, which is embarrassing. I think musical references are pretty much always ill-advised with art.
John Lees - New Work - Betty Cuningham - ****.5
Unlike Kate Spencer Stewart's rote abstract mud, this has an admirable grit to it. Lees' approach to representation is pictorially figurative and technically abstract, which resolves the figurative/abstract dichotomy more successfully than straddling the two, which is what they tend to do in Chelsea these days. The blurriness to his paintings is attractive and, crucially, expressive, which becomes obvious from the comparative flatness of his cleaner paintings. He's a good painter of nature because he grasps the dialectic of seeing and representation, that one should be concerned with the phenomena of paint and the eye, not simply getting getting the "correct" image down on canvas. There's one painting of a house where I can barely tell what the building looks like but I can tell the nice way the sunlight hits the facade at the right hour. It's very like Cézanne in that sense, and I love Cézanne, so I may be rating this a bit high from a purely objective standpoint, if anyone's keeping score.
Beverly Buchanan - Shacks And Legends: 1985-2011 - Andrew Edlin - ***.5
Buchanan's shacks are quite enjoyable, particularly the sculptures. The drawings are a bit fauve for my tastes but the models have a great material sensitivity. Like Michelangelo seeing the sculpture in the marble, the houses develop a form that seems governed more by the facts of the things she was making them out of than a preconceived form, which I guess is how some the actual shacks she's imitating were built. The photography and ephemera are nice too.
Monique Mouton - Inner Chapters - Bridget Donahue - ***
There's a lot of swamp/pond art out today. Though this is gesturing towards abstraction it doesn't feel very abstract to me, more minimal, like a figuration of details. The device of the "split" doesn't really activate the work for me because the two sides being juxtaposed are so reserved to begin with. I suppose the intent is a tactile engagement with the paper and watercolor, the framing, etc., as material, but that's getting it pretty close to pure "here's a piece of paper" minimalism. At root I think my issue with is that while the pieces do feel like corners and fragments, they don't feel like implied fragments of a whole but simply fragments in themselves, which is what stops them from interacting with each other.
Nicholas Sullivan, Ficus Interfaith, Elizabeth Englander, Amra Causevic, Alex Eagleton - DOMINO - Shoot The Lobster - *.5
Much like the parlor game concept for the show where artists invite other artists to add to an indefinitely ongoing exhibition, a lot of the art in the show feels like a game or a toy. Art may be a form of play, but this playfulness approaches the childish, which isn't good. One could argue that the whole point of art is to refine the instinct of play into a complex, adult form, but making some monsters out of paper bags and an old sweater is pretty damn regressive. It's impossible to judge the artworks discreetly because the format shirks the gallery's responsibility to curate and that flippancy overshadows the art itself.
Gregory Kalliche & Kristen Walsh - The Manner of Working Events - Helena Anrather - ***
Kalliche's sensitivity to tight audiovisual sequencing gives the show a dynamic effect that makes the work go beyond the normal scope of digital art, the triggers of light and sound render a real world effect instead of simply trying to seduce with virtual escapism, but as 3D animation it's still naturally very aestheticized. Walsh's streetlights are similarly intrusive, strange even, though the press release trying to politicize them by virtue of the artist having to navigate the aluminum price market sounds like theorizing after the fact of the practicalities of being an artist. And they are, again, aestheticized. By aestheticized I mean imposing a stylistic sense onto the work instead of producing a style through the work itself, which is something that tends to happen in digital media, like those old aesthetic Tumblrs that would post pictures with a consistent color scheme that overshadowed the content of the images themselves. I'm really biased against this kind of work in general, so I'm not being backhanded when I say I'm impressed that I didn't hate this. You can't do much better in my book when you're operating in this mode.
Darja Bajagić, Gretchen Bender, Karin Davie, Nico Day, Cheryl Donegan, Bill Jacobson, Gary Stephan, Michael St. John, Mark Verabioff - I was looking at the black and white world (it was so exciting) - Ashes/Ashes - *
Oh no no no no no. Speaking of Tumblr aesthetics, here we have the vaporwave gallery trying to grime it up with some noise stylistics, which translates to edgelord art and minimalism in oppressively stark black and white. The only pieces that aren't rendered totally ineffectual by the oppressive color palate, by (I think) Nico Day, were quite easily the worst thing I've seen in the past month. Two stark black canvas collages with a couple photos, the words "QANON" and some obviously tongue-in-cheek pins that say "Non-Binary" and "How DARE you presume my gender," all of which might have been offensive if it wasn't so pathetically sad and impotently angry. It's like this guy only got interested in art after reading on Reddit about Boyd Rice's show getting canceled. Some of these older artists aren't even bad, but curating by color sucks all the life out of the room. This feels like the artistic equivalent of a 13 year old Hot Topic goth getting bullied at a water park. I guess I'm the bully in that metaphor.
Women's History Museum - MORT de la MODE....Everything must GO! - Company - N/A
Maybe I was just hungry at this point but I couldn't process this show at all. I'm sure I didn't like it but I wasn't able to come up with a single coherent thought while I was there, and looking at the documentation now doesn't help. First time that's happened. Huh. I guess it's so thoroughly "not for me" that I can't even bridge the gap to form an opinion on it.
Nour Mobarak - Logique Elastique - Miguel Abreu - **.5
As always with organically-oriented artwork, the question becomes one of how much the artist did and how much the organics themselves are doing the heavy lifting. The wall pseudo-painting works as a composition, but the rest are just a bunch of mushrooms, though the deflated beach ball is pretty funny. If the audio piece was more involved it may have carried the show through, but as is often the case with audio installations it just feels like background.
Zak Prekop - Mirrored Weeks - Essex Street - ***.5
From the photos online I thought I'd hate these because the composition reminds me of nothing so much as screwing around in MS Paint, but in person the colors and details work much better. When looking at documentation you apprehend the painting as a whole which makes the negative space of the strokes dominate, but the point is the edges of the marks, the movement of the contours and the textures, and they're quite engaging up close. The fineness of detail in the lines gives the work an interesting amount of definition in distinction from the more malerisch qualities of traditional abstraction. That said, explaining the titles of your works is shooting yourself in the foot because it just demystifies the mystification that is supposed to be set up by giving oblique names to the works in the first place, and as I mentioned with the Bureau show, musical references never seem to work with art. For instance, I grew up near Mt. Tamalpais and I might have been better disposed to him naming a painting Tamalpais if I hadn't known he got it from a David Crosby song and not the mountain itself.
Lucy McKenzie - No Motive - Galerie Buchholz - ****
Most of the press release and the first and third rooms of the show concern themselves with mannequins. In the front room are mannequins sporting the face of a Soviet martyr wearing 20s couture dresses, which is supposed to be some kind of commentary about high fashion and Soviet low proletarian culture but I don't really get it. I think she's just fascinated by mannequins in a way that I can't relate to, and her symbolic justification isn't helping me understand it. The third room has paintings of mannequins wearing 20s couture again, which look nice but still feel pretty inactive except as exercises in painting. The divergent works in the middle room fare much better, trompe l'oleil reproductions of wall sculptures that her parents had in their home from the 70s and 80s, with additional painted reproductions of childhood photos with the said sculptures in the background. In large part the works are successful because the original pieces she's imitating are good, strange collections of boxes, masonry, and wadded up fabric that are engaging to look at and impressively rendered by McKenzie. Overall, the show feels somewhat overcomplicated with all of its applied meanings that end up mattering very little to the experience of the works themselves, but the result of the complication is that the show is pretty weird, in a good way.
Francisco Goya - Goya's Graphic Imagination - The Metropolitan Museum of Art - *****
Mike Egan - Lana - Meredith Rosen Gallery - ***.5
The show consists entirely of 10 distorted images of Lana Del Rey which as a concept strikes me as a bit too funny, like it's almost but not quite entering the territory of memes. The distortions themselves are largely pretty interesting, as in a couple of cases where her jaw becomes so exaggerated that it begins to recall masculine Greek statuary, but there are also a few that are more restrained and end up looking more like a botched plastic surgery job or a caricature. Those pieces bring to attention the goofy slightness of the show's general concept and prevent it from succeeding entirely, but to be honest I'd expect much worse if you just told me the idea and asked me to imagine what the work was like.
Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Georg Baselitz, George Condo, Willem de Kooning, Eric Fischl, Alberto Giacometti, Mark Grotjahn, Martin Kippenberger, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Thomas Schütte, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol - Faces and Figures - Skarstedt - ***
Yeah, I don't know, there's a bunch of names that are big enough that pretty much all of the work is good to great, but as usual with this kind of gallery we're not dealing with actual curation, this is just a boutique. You can go to Vacheron Constantin and look at all the pretty watches you can't afford and get about the same experience. The only thing that's really interesting is that this treatment of the work gives me a sense of how these pieces would feel in a rich person's house behind the couch, though of course it's always nice to see a Bacon or Baselitz in person (they didn't have the Kippenberger, seems like they silently rotate the works). The Richard Prince print is terribly grainy, which makes it pretty funny to imagine someone buying a picture of freaking child pornography and it doesn't even look good.
Chloe Wise - Thank You For The Nice Fire - Almine Rech - **
Well, I thought I'd give it a chance, but this is as stupid as I was expecting. Food replica sculptures don't work because they're the classic sort of work that photograph well (if that) but look fake enough in person that there's no chance of being convinced by the illusionism they're shilling. Similarly, I'm realizing while looking back at the documentation that her paintings also seem optimized for photography, as in person I noticed a consistently sketchy lack of finish that I don't see in the photos. Which isn't to say she can't paint, the effect reminded me a bit of Tintoretto where the hasty brushstrokes correctly imply details of light and folds rather than painstakingly completing them. The issue is that the subject matter of her friends' boobs and sticks of butter is mind-numbing, and moreover only representational in a technical sense as they're entirely dry from an expressive standpoint. For instance, a close-up of the model's ear and hand brushing back her hair has no intimacy to it, the only feeling is "oh, a hand and an ear." It'd be sad how much quantity over quality there is here if it wasn't abundantly clear that she's trying to move units. The press release is very funny too, trying to pass off the show as related to the current political climate as if she hasn't been doing the exact same thing nonstop for years.
William Eggleston, John McCracken - True Stories - David Zwirner - ***.5
Pretty, boring, pretty boring. McCracken is usually an eyeroll for me but the works do manage to "virtualize" the gallery space and shift perception so that the sculptures feel more like abstract ideas than just the boxes that they are, which works unlike Wise's food sculptures because they actually look hyperreal in person. Eggleston's photos are nice but they're "hard to see" as art at this point, if you know what I mean. In deference to Zwirner, while this pairing isn't exactly inspired it's a good deal more interesting than a lot of the soporific minimalist shows they've been doing recently in Chelsea. The only piece on the 3rd floor is literally just a full-length mirror, is that supposed to be witty?
David Byrd - Montrose VA, 1958-1988 - Anton Kern Gallery - ****
Byrd has a very nice command of space, most of his figures punctuate but are fundamentally subsumed by the enveloping force of the building, which makes sense considering he's painting a psych ward. Even in the paintings that emphasize the figures over the space treat them more as static sculptural masses rather than as people, and in such cases each figure is often painted so unevenly that they seem to be occupying entirely discrete spaces. The garden painting is a striking exception for its sensitive warmth as a gentle idyll, and likewise the upstairs paintings have a surprisingly different, more textural approach that reminds me of Braque's cubism. That much range is rare to find in "outsider" artists, but the outliers are less distinctive than his more emblematic pieces.
Josephine Pryde - The Flight That Moved Them - Gandt - ****.5
Photos of cephalopods in bathrooms, what more could you want? It's funny how obvious good work often feels, like it was a totally natural undertaking unlike all those other shows that are over/underworked and desperately shoehorned together with some symbolic meaning in the press release. What I like about photography is that it feels entirely contemporary, unlike painting which for better or for worse always has to grapple with history. The sequence of photographs has a subtle range, one bathroom on one wall, another on the other, two nearly identical pictures next to each other, one in black and white, and one with a red towel to break up the otherwise drab color scheme. Those choices serve to articulate the breadth of possibilities in taking the photographs but also the precision of decision-making of what ended up in the show. There's freedom in it, which is one of art's main aspirations, though that's pretty easy to forget about these days because it's so rare.
Lee Krasner - Collage Paintings 1938-1981 - Kasmin - ***.5
Ah, abstract expressionism, yes, I've heard of it! The thing with abstractionsts and other artists in general from New York in the 50s is that they tended to hone in on and amplify very specific qualities, such as texture, as is the case here. Consequentially the best pieces are the densest, the sparser ones feel like Matisse's cut-outs without his pictorial acuity. This is nice, better than your average painter now who's cursed with too many techniques/references to choose from and tends to end up in a middle-of-the-road amalgamation of styles. All the same, she's no genius, for instance a couple of the pieces in the small room feel like wallpaper. It's good to be reminded that not every artist from the past was a figure of towering brilliance, it just feels that way because the greats are the ones that get trotted out all the time.
Cory Archangel - Century 21 - Greene Naftali - *
He's laughing, but what's the joke, exactly? I guess the "joke" is supposed to be something about the toxic effects of social media, but I feel like Cory's strategy is the most toxic thing in the room. The popularity of the show makes it clear that heavily featuring some dumb meme game and Instagram serve less to stage a critique and more to build a fanbase out of lobotomized people who think they're experiencing art because an Instagram feed is familiar to them. Trash!
Jana Euler - The Traveling Legends of the Morecorns - Greene Naftali - ****.5
This isn't quite the equal of Jana's other recent tours de force of the shark paintings and her Artists Space show, which is not to say it's a disappointment, just a step back from the empyrean to the extremely good. The morecorns, unicorns with more horns, don't recall the rippling, incredible phallic intensity of Great White Fear and instead turn to a more quotidian set of references: birthday cakes, electrical plugs to go with the power socket painting at the gallery's entrance, maybe a police baton or a leg at most. To make up for that (relative) relaxation of the work's charge she employs an overtly garish iridescent rainbow palate and a more varied range of forms and poses for the morecorns than with the sharks. The imagery also feels more referential, to romanticism and the rococo as well as the more downstream post-romantic genre of children's fantasy book covers. Even if these paintings aren't as jaw-droppingly intense as some of her others, there's still a level of formal dynamism and kinetic power here that's pretty much unrivaled with contemporary painters. Interestingly, the paint here has been applied thinly, either as a consequence of the weird iridescent paint she's using or in haste, as though she was in a rush to capture the image while it was still fresh in her mind. Even the press released didn't piss me off, bravo.
Alicia Adamerovich, Joseph Samuel Buckley, Maho Donowaki, Hilary Doyle, Clark Filio, Caroline Garcia, Eliot Greenwald, Exene Karros, Nat Meade, Tammy Nguyen, Louis Osmosis, Georgica Pettus, Johanna Robinson, Sistership TV (Jessica Mensch, Emily Perlstring, Katherine Kline), Alicia Smith, Astrid Terrazas - The Symbolists: Les Fleurs Du Mal - Hesse Flatow - **.5
I guess my coinage of the term "stoner symbolism" is catching on, judging by the show's title. I wanted to check this out to see how all these LES artists feel when they're in Chelsea, and my verdict is I still don't really care about this nascent "movement." It's telling that these artists almost always end up in group shows because their work feels almost the same but just different enough that they feel tailored to be played off of each other. Lord help me though if I ever have to see a solo show by whoever painted the Beats Pill speaker that's turning into a perspectival triangle. This stuff runs together so much that it's a couple steps away from turning into a radical critique of artistic individuality, but they're still trapped in the comforting straitjackets of their personal historical references, John William Waterhouse or the female surrealists, etc., which stops them from taking the leap into a true engagement with the contemporary.
Jim Shaw - Before and After Math - Metro Pictures - **
This kind of feels like an inflation of the cringey side of David Lynch, where his suburban 50s nostalgia bleeds into his aesthetics of exploring "the dark side of the American psyche," but keeping it explicit negates the actual darkness and renders it simply pulpy/campy. Paintings aren't scary anyways so there's nothing to be done about it. I mean, he's literally painting one stock 50s image foregrounding another stock 50s image. Who cares? The video of the artist's band, retro rockers all dressed in white complete with drawn visuals of crystals, is so dumb it makes me hope I never go to Los Angeles again.
Boyle Family - Nothing is more radical than the facts - Luhring Augustine - ****
A rare exercise in technical virtuosity where the skill in execution totally works as an end in itself. It's "trippy as hell" to see how accurately they recreate years of caked in trash in a London gutter, or just dirt. If this was built on the ground for a movie set we wouldn't look twice, but placed vertically on the wall it becomes extremely impressive to look at and simply enjoyable.
(FYI in case you plan to go, Olafur Eliasson at Tanya Bonakdar and Carl Andre & Meg Webster at Paula Cooper are the only shows I've been turned away from for not having an appointment.)
Andrea Fourchy - Girlfriends - Lomex - ****
Unlike Jim Shaw, this is actually successfully campy because it plays with the pop cultural references with irreverent irony instead of nostalgic reverence. A series of paintings of mostly the same collaged image of Divine, Charlotte Rampling, Angejica Huston, and Isabelle Huppert, reapplied with different pop art painting techniques. Like the aloof formalism of the pop techniques, the images are repeated with an arbitrary sensibility that turns the work from an ironic gesture into something technical and painterly. It's also pretty funny, like maybe the paintings won't make you laugh but you can tell the artist has a good sense of humor.
Joshua Boulos - Poi Dogs/At Play - Triest - ***
Post-Cologne music art collage, contact info, detritus, bedside junk, etc. Yes, I like Dieter Roth too, and it's true that accruing a bunch of stuff will eventually develop its own logic. I prefer this kind of junk logic to misguidedly reverent preciousness, but by that same token this has much more logic and restraint than, say, Roth's bloody-minded stupidity. Recreating a previously avant-garde gesture isn't avant-garde. This isn't bad but I wish it was either more curated or much less curated. There's a bit of a preciousness to this, the stacks of books are a bit literary, coconuts and pandas, band references, and that holds it back a bit. Idiotic raw materialism takes a lot more work than it looks. Anyway, the artist is still in college, so by that metric he's doing great and has plenty of time to work things out.
Heidi Schlatter - 80/20 - 3A Gallery - ****
The centerpiece of the show is a set of four photos taken by drone of luxury condo construction sites, backlit in the way property photos are displayed at real estate agencies. They're self-consciously vacant images of wealth's vacancy that also recall Robert Smithson's ideas about the temporality of construction sites: any site can be designated as a discrete complete object at any point, no matter how incomplete. Drones also mediate space in a somewhat vacant way, reducing the world to a simplified geometric plane while simultaneously expanding our access to it. The idea of the artist and her hired drone operator remotely trespassing is also quite beautiful, a single drone illegally hovering in the middle of the night between the skyscrapers. There's also two blurry night photos of the famous Herzog & De Meuron Jenga building. The show as a whole might be too austere if not for the discordant masterstroke, a piece consisting of three small repeated images of bloody hyenas, staggered in a way that makes it resemble wrapping paper. The "developers are greedy hyenas" metaphor could have been heavy-handed, but treated in this way it's very funny and cinches the show as a success.
Ry David Bradley and Hanna Hansdotter - Once Twice - The Hole - *
I was obligated to see this because, per the press release: "Shattering art market norms, Bradley's tapestries in Once Twice will be for sale both as physical objects and simultaneously as unique files via SuperRare." Unsurprisingly, the work fucking blows. His pieces are hideous MS-Paint style digital paintings printed as tapestries, presumably just shipped off to a fabricator who presses a button. There's no apparent reason for them to be tapestries except for the classic post-net art problem of awkwardly making digital work saleable, which is ironically no longer a problem now that NFTs are the hot new thing and the artist now gets to sell his crap twice. I don't really have a hot take on NFTs, from my perspective they just perpetuate two existing problems without resolving either: digital art is still a stupid and bad commodity, and a glut of hype and money in the arts inhibits people from developing any judgment or taste. Having said that, I have nothing against people making some money off of gullible crypto-nerds. For good measure, Hansdotter's glass pieces are garish and ugly but also too restrained, they'd be better if she went for some Chihuly over-the-top goofiness.
Malia Jensen - Nearer Nature - Cristin Tierney - ***.5
Pleasurable in a "you get to use your rich friend's Aesop hand soap when you use their bathroom" kind of way, which is to say a tasteful, sanitized, and kind of absent way. It's still pleasurable, you can't deny that the hand soap smells good. The elk videos are beautiful, as videos of elk usually are, and the salt lick sculptures are more interesting than one might assume, but they stand on reclaimed wood pedestals that bring back the yuppie vibe. Good mom art.
Ten Izu, Sean Mullins, Penny Slinger, Joanna Woś - Common Nocturnes - Simone Subal - **
Joanna Woś is biting Pierre Klossowski so hard it's embarrassing. My thoughts on borrowing are pretty laissez-faire but in a blind test I'd be convinced most of the faces are his, and the paintings are of nuns having sex, so it's all a bit flagrant. Does she think people don't know his work or something? Regardless, she's got the best pieces in the show. The rest are some dull straight-up figurative paintings, feminist fashion collage, feminist nudity collage, some sculptures of body parts with a dog theme, and some fishbowl things, all of which is so arbitrary and tepid that I couldn't possibly be bothered to figure out where the artists are trying to come from.
Brook Hsu, Liza Lacroix, Heidi Lau, Nikholis Planck, Nazim Ünal Yilmaz - Earthly Coil - Magenta Plains - **.5
More "Stoner Symbolism," i.e. hippied-out semi-figurative, semi-abstract painting and sculpture. They get better the more abstract they are, and as such Liza Lacroix's fully abstract painting is the highlight. Otherwise everything else is kind of light and flighty, bodily or symbolic or ritualistic, etc., but what they are not is painterly. I'm not into this new "yeah I go to the farmer's market" type of work I'm seeing cropping up (all due respect to farmer's markets). One of Nikholis Planck's paintings has a tincture bottle in it, for god's sake. As someone from the west coast this NYC faux granola-style bugs me because it's a half-rebellious gesture out of step with the actual vibe of the city's context. It's like how I don't like the Rococo that much because I'm more of a classicist, but I hate Neoclassicism even more because I prefer a good decadent in a decadent age to a necessarily mediocre classicist in a decadent age.
Tiffany Sia - Slippery When Wet - Artists Space - *.5
Text and images about something about nostalgia and Hong Kong printed on dot matrix paper, for some reason. The entire show is filled with a romantic longing for early 90s Asian aesthetics that's only one step upstream from the destitute fetishization of vaporwave by virtue of the artist's cultural heritage. My problem with identitarian art is not identity but the way that its rhetoric clouds sensibilities to the point that this sort of wanton nostalgia is considered less vacuous than the aesthetic appropriations of net art when it really isn't. The irony of this sort of work that's focused on cultural identity is that it reifies cultural norms by leaning on them for meaning, which moreover isn't even a mechanism that succeeds in my book. I don't care about personal essays in any form if they're just about cataloging one's attachments, whether or not the author meditates on history and capitalism and inserts quotes from Benjamin and Barthes. The work has to do its own work, not take it from elsewhere. This reminds me of a comment a friend made recently about how they hate the trend where artists do a mediocre job at something else (writing, activist organizing, etc.) instead of doing art. To be perfectly honest, even beyond my theoretical problems with show's sentiments, the work is simply lackluster in an experiential and physical sense. There's very little to take in and the room feels barren even though the artist only used 1/3 of the whole gallery space. Very disappointing and falls far below the high bar Artists Space has set for itself.
Max Heiges - Buff - New Release - *
The artist made a bunch of barbells in different shapes like squares, stars, a palm tree, apples, bananas peeled and unpeeled, etc. A truly pathetic exercise in what can only in the most charitable terms be referred to as "imagination." Reminds me of the stupidity of people I knew in college who would get stick-and-pokes of a slice of pizza and whose art practice would consist entirely of repeating the exact same cartoon drawing of a dog wearing a hat and sunglasses. 2009 SXSW energy, basically. Completely abject in one of the worst possible ways.
Nathaniel de Large, Matthew Fischer, Rachel B Hayes, Gracelee Lawrence, Ryan Trecartin - LMNOP - JAG Projects - ***.5
A whole lotta rainbows, which is kind of refreshing because it's rare to see people working so indulgently with color these days. Trecartin's drawings are kaleidoscopic and childish in a good way but also slight by that same virtue, as are the rainbow quilt things and the rainbow fruits. The aluminum relief pieces overwhelm any content the images might have by their overt technicality, but they aren't bad either. The tollbox/church organ pieces are the nicest. This is for people who like bright colors and arts and crafts, which I don't mean derisively because the "minor" quality of the work is a self-conscious part of it and it's much better to be intentionally minor than unintentionally.
Yuki Kimura, Andrei Koschmieder, Gili Tal - Jenny's - ****
Thank god, Jenny's back in town which means I have a new addition to my very short list of the galleries I trust. This is a funny show in exactly the way that art should be funny, blurry photos taken through rainy windows printed on window shades, imitations of Bruce Nauman neon pieces that don't work, a fish hook/coat hook, and an Instagram filter-type zoom image of a gate opening mechanism. The thing with humor is that there's nothing arbitrary about it. If I don't understand why Ry David Bradley's artworks are tapestries or why Joanna Woś is ripping off Klossowski, I have no such difficulties here because it's clear to me that the artists did what they did because they thought it was funny. Maybe jokes aren't the "highest form of art," but in my book the difference between good and bad art is whether or not the artist had a precise intention that's expressed through the work, and I much prefer a good joke to nothing at all.
Angharad Williams & Mathis Gasser - Hergest: Trem - Swiss Institute - *
"Ooh how Lynchian!" Jesus Christ, shut the fuck up. If I wanted to experience a spooky bar I'd go to a bar or watch a movie. This show apparently confuses the experience of watching a horror movie and a behind the scenes tour where you get to see monster costumes, as though seeing the costume were as scary as the movie. This is just like that "the set up, the shot" meme, except there's no shot (no documentation on the site). I'd like to meet these artists and slap them upside the head.
Atelier Aziz Alqatami, Mohamed Bourouissa, Olga Casellas and Marco Abarca, Khalid al Gharaballi, Jumana Manna and Haig Aivazian, Nuria Montiel, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Oscar Murillo, Gala Porras-Kim, Alfred Roth, Cecilia Vicuña - The Space Between Classrooms - Swiss Institute - *.5
Architects are just graphic designers writ large, more grandiose and even more objectionable. I'm sure the archival interviews had some interesting content to them but I didn't have an hour to spare. Anyway, putting them next to contemporary works just highlights the embarrassing gulf between modernist utopianism and the vacancy of the commodified present. Oh cool you printed a LP sleeve to look like a knockoff of what PAN was doing in 2010 and has aged terribly? Oscar Murillo's collection of drawings by schoolchildren is cool, but only because children are much better at art than architects.
Hanna Umin - Hollow Core Kouros - Love Club - ***.5
Ritualized trash assemblage that borders on the line of sentimental aesthetics without crossing over by right of the labor the artist put into making it. She utilizes her aesthetic bank of imagery as a tool rather than making it do the heavy lifting. Still, the nicest parts are the crystal balls, which I assume were store-bought or otherwise acquired. Vaguely reminiscent of Eva Hesse.
Hilary Harnischfeger - Six Blocks Away - Rachel Uffner - ***.5
The monstrous older sister of gloopy pottery sculpture. They're pretty crazy to look at, psychedelic collections of pottery fragments, stuff that looks like stacks of paper or stone sediment, and literal stones and crystals. There's some riso printing on the surfaces and color choices that recall some vaguely triggering "zine fair" territory, but overall they're nice masses of physical information.
Maskull Lasserre & Lucas Simões - Theory Of Prose - Arsenal Contemporary Art - *.5
Fold-y paper sculpture things and musical instruments fitted with tactical weaponry accessories like scopes and bayonet knives. The mandolin-gun in the front is funny, then you walk in the back and there's like ten of them in rifle cases and shit and your heart sinks. Truly idiotic, which makes for a good one off idea but it's mortifying that someone thought it was a good enough to turn into a series. The paper things are okay, they kind of remind me, again, of David Lynch's lamps, which is to say romanticized retro-modernism, but they're far from enough to salvage things.
Kathia St. Hilaire & Austin Martin White - Celestial Transits - Derek Eller - *.5
This is ugly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the ugliness feels unintentional, which is a bad thing. I've been reading E.H. Gombrich's The Sense of Order, on the history of ornament, and something integral to the quality of ornamental art is the tradition of technical conventions that are inherited and improved from generation to generation. Machines ruined all that, of course, not just in terms of the deadened qualities of mechanical work but also in the techniques of those that continued on with handicrafts. Anyway this just looks bad and I don't care to elaborate, it feels like two sides of the alienated coin in denial of their own lack.
Stewart Uoo - used - 47 Canal - **
A crafty reproduction of mundane life plus some ginkgo leaves for cultural color. Point taken, Stewart, life is indeed banal and dull, but how exactly does repeating the banality on the street in the gallery do anything? Should a peach-colored street sign or a porcelain dog covered in feathers enrich my life? To put it another way, regarding the ginkgo leaves: everyone agrees the yellow leaves of a ginkgo tree are beautiful, but how does pasting a bunch of those leaves on a canvas modify or otherwise engage with the natural beauty of a ginkgo tree except in the sense of a derivative reference to something more beautiful than the art I'm looking at?
Diana Yesenia Alvarado, Cameron Cameron, Michael Cuadrado, June Culp, Anna Helm, Tallulah Hood, hooz, Elizabeth Jaeger, Aayushi Khowala, Maddy Inez Leeser, Kat Lyons, SK Lyons, Tala Madani, Larissa De Jesús Negrón, Narumi Nekpenekpen, Anjuli Rathod, Luke Rogers, Mosie Romney, Adrianne Rubenstein, Astrid Terrazas, Alix Vernet, Jacques Vidal, Julia Yerger - Speech Sounds - More Pain - **
A bunch of scrappy sloppy scruffy kids who just so happen to be artists! Gloopy sculpture may be long dead but this seems to be its inheritance, let's call it "Stoner Symbolism"? There's also some pottery sculpture stuff for good measure. The works on their own aren't that bad, honestly, but thrown together the amalgamation of increasingly narrow individual distinctions between the artists turns the end result into slop. It feels like a benefit show at a nonprofit where no one thought about how things were going to look.
Alfred d'Ursel, Samuel Hindolo, Sondra Perry, Maud Sulter - Museum - Essex Street - **
Hmm, pretty dull. My stance on conceptualism has always been that concepts are a pretext for content, not a replacement for it. I guess the artists have reasons for putting two of the same painting next to each other or two of the same projections facing each other, but I don't care what those reasons are because they're not going to make a boring piece interesting. I mean I get it, I volunteered at lot at Yale Union, I like conceptual work and I can appreciate the logic behind withholding forthright explanations in the press release. But if I'm not curious about what's happening then it doesn't matter in the first place.
David Butler, Sanford Darling, Mary T. Smith, Sarah Mary Taylor - Home - Shrine - ****
Quaint folk art, pleasurable and grounded in a way that you can't get these days, not (I don't think) out in the sticks and definitely not in old New York. Folk forms allow for a mode of uncomplicated expression, the content flows out easily because the artists fully embody their cultural context. They don't have to worry about what ideas are in fashion right now on the Lower East Side, they just had the idea to make some art so they sat down and did it for the fun of it. Which, in spite of everything, is what making art is actually still about. Good exhibition title.
Alastair MacKinven - Dlnrg [oeeey] - Reena Spaulings - ****.5
Symbolist psychedelia, the canvases are treated with some sort of iron powder thing that I don't understand which complicates the otherwise almost dryly figurative images with a complication of abstract texture that nevertheless feels integrated with the painting. The colors are employed well, like I wouldn't say I like his palate if you showed it to me on a set of paint swatches but his use of it is subtle and tasteful. There's an oblique classicism to his figures that he doesn't achieve through the means of literal reference, it's just by the means of his skill and sensibility. Maybe this sounds boring, I was expecting to be bored beforehand but it's done so well that it works wonderfully. The press release is pretty good too, if only for its delirium and not necessarily for the substance of what MacKinven is trying to say.
Sophie Larrimore & Jerry the Marble Faun - Other Matters - Situations - ****
This is, I think, the first completely random "no context, the photos on See Saw looked okay, I guess I'll go" show I've seen that I really liked. Great dog art (much better than 47 Canal), cartoonish and dense in a way that speaks to the pleasure of filling the picture plane. Larrimore's paintings' flat 3D quality makes me think for some reason of playing Zelda on my Game Boy as a kid, which is usually the kind of reference I'd keep to myself, but there's something about the spatial field that feels distinct in a way that I don't know how to articulate otherwise. Jerry the Marble Faun's sculptures are lovely and have the imposing weight of Greek columns, which may have a lot to do with the fact that the pieces are actual stone sculptures. The whole show is very physical and quite beautiful.
David Adamo, Silvia Bächli, Constantin Brancusi, Mary Corse, Jimmie Durham, Walker Evans, Dan Graham, Alex Hay, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Wolfgang Laib, Alfred Leslie, Sherrie Levine, Agnes Martin, Helen Mirra, Matt Mullican, Cady Noland, Sigmar Polke, Charlotte Posenenske, Medardo Rosso, Thomas Schütte, Richard Serra, Lucy Skaer, Joseph Stella, Myron Stout, Richard Tuttle, Ugo Rondinone, Andy Warhol, James Welling, Richard Wentworth - In Situ - Peter Freeman - **
zzzzzzzzzz...... Sure, the Polke and the Twombly hold up no matter the context and the Jimmie Durham (a jacket sandwiched between two pieces of granite) is funny, but the rest is shockingly dull considering the pedigree of the artists on display. The concept of the rotating exhibition speaks volumes as to how completely ambivalent the gallery is towards the work on display. Any minimalist looks just fine next to another, it's all so clean and beige and metallic that no one will notice...
Lutz Bacher, Frank Benson, Mary Manning, Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo), Frances Stark - The Ecology of Visibility - Anonymous - **.5
The current politicization of art conflates quality with political rectitude, which is entirely untenable from an art-critical standpoint. It's demographically obvious that there are more good artists on the left than the right, but to assert that leftist art is inherently good is self-evidently insane. Most artists are on the left, so most bad artists are too. This same attitude can occur with queerness in art, inasmuch that art that valorizes queer identities can sometimes disregard the actual content of art in favor of an activistic presumption that the work is inherently good because of the artist's identity. Case in point, the Puppies Puppies piece in the show is simply a vinyl print of the phrase "WOMAN WITH A PENIS" on a wall, something that, as art, doesn't have any more substance than graffiti of the anarchy symbol. The press release dwells on the idea that refusing predetermined identity is a radical act, and it certainly can be, but a dogmatic queerness that takes its own radicality as given is only marginally more radical than normativity. On the other hand, Lutz Bacher's genius always laid precisely in her incessant problematizing of her own identity. Her piece here, an interview with her art dealer, isn't, as the press release asserts, a politicized reimagining of a power hierarchy but a much weirder act of ironically distancing herself from her own subjectivity and interpersonal relationships, abstracting real life into an artwork. In doing so, she actually subverts the nature of individual identity itself, which is a radical refusal of predetermined identity. None of the other work in the show is self-evidently related to identity, except that I think the artists are queer, which underscores the curator's sense of entitlement to the rhetoric of the radical subversion of identity based, ironically, on the identities of the artists.
Matt Connors, Scott Covert, Olivia DiVecchia, John Fahey, Robert Hawkins, Richard Hell, Ray Johnson, Karen Kilimnik, Erik LaPrade (David Hammons), Nicholas Maravell, Marlon Mullen, Peter Nadin, Richard Prince, William S. Wilson - Nothng of The Month Club - Off Paradise - ***.5
I suspect Ray Johnson will never go stale thanks to his incredible gift for Zen humor, so it's very nice to see some of his work in person. Most of the rest of the art is funny, if not as funny as him, though he does function well as a context for bringing these works together. It's also fun to see a painting by John Fahey.
Alexander Carver, Tony Cokes, Raque Ford, Kate Mosher Hall, Manal Kara, Vijay Masharani, Pope.L, Walter Price, Michael E. Smith, Catherine Telford Keogh, Julia Wachtel - K as in knight - Helena Anrather - **.5
It's not sentimental, I'll give it that, but none of the work rises above its self-aware assertion of its own meaninglessness. Expanding your practice into mixed media fabrication isn't (in itself) a new form of freedom, it's an expansion of the number of dead ends available to artists who don't have a clear vision of what they want from their work. Freedom comes from technique and precision of articulation, not "ooh I don't think I've ever seen someone do this with plastic before, I'm so creative." A lot of the show isn't too bad but between the two galleries it wears out its welcome.
Michel Auder, Dodie Bellamy, Nayland Blake, Daniel Boccato, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Liam Gillick, Dan Graham, Raymond Pettibon, Joanne Greenbaum, Chris Kraus, Leigh Ledare, Sylvère Lotringer, Servane Mary, Suzanne McClelland, John Miller, Jorge Pardo, Alix Pearlstein, George Porcari, Aura Rosenberg, Lynne Tillman - Mise En Scène - Shoot The Lobster - N/A
I guess they don't get too many walk-ins because the QR code on the door led to a broken page, which I assume was supposed to supply the door code. Disqualified!
Luke Barber-Smith, Max Bushman, Drew Gillespie, Laura Hunt, Sophie Parker, Lizzie Wright, Jamian Juliano-Villani - The First Story: A Show About Twinning - JAG Projects - ***.5
Laura Hunt's paintings of letters are brilliantly dumb, as are Luke Barber-Smith's blueprint paintings, and Drew Gillespie's schizo diagram/wishing well/Zoom psychiatrist thing is so completely fucked that it rules. The fossil sconces and the dancer paintings are fine, but the painted plants are stupid. Jamian Juliano-Villani's work, two nutcrackers, two mirrors, and two walnuts, is referred to in the press release as a video piece about being a twin, which I guess is supposed to be funny, but it isn't. A mixed bag.
Yuji Agematsu, Rey Akdogan, Hans Bellmer, Alex Carver, Moyra Davey, Liz Deschenes, Tishan Hsu, Flint Jamison, Dana Lok, Jean-Luc Moulène, R. H. Quaytman, Eileen Quinlan, Raha Raissnia, Blake Rayne, Milton Resnick, Matthew Ronay, Cameron Rowland, Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet - Regroup Show - Miguel Abreu - **.5
I figured this would be good because the list of names was promising, but it feels less like a considered group show and more like they dusted off whatever was sitting around in the closet. Maybe I know Flint's/Yuji's/Straub & Huillet's work too well for them to elevate the rest of the show for me, but I would have been overjoyed if they had pulled out something obscure "for the heads," and they did not. Otherwise it's just the same old Abreu shtick, which remains oppressive. A lot of okay work by good artists and okay artists, but the curation is so bored that I resent it beyond the objective quality of the works themselves.
Nuotama Bodomo, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Francisco Goya, Melchior Grossek, Dorothea Lange, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Bill Miller, Diane Nerwen, John Schabel, Jim Shaw - Everybody Dies! - Carriage Trade - *****
I love photography and I love morbidity, so this is right up my alley. It delivers too, a broad historical overview of artistic approaches to death from the 19th century to the present, all of it consistently suffused with same sense of dour blackness but with a breadth of context and media that makes it feel rich and expansive. I feel like I say this every time I see a good group show, but it remains shocking how much good curation matters. I mean, my god, what are you supposed to say about a tiny room with a Louise Lawler skull on one wall facing a fucking Goya from Los desastres de la guerra? Sure, not every curator can get a Lawler, let alone a Goya, but sublime moments of curation have to be applauded. And as if that wasn't enough, the photograph of a mourner by Dorothea Lange is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a while.
Casey Reas + Jan St. Werner - Alchemical - Bitforms - ***
Digital blur videos/photos that are somewhere at the intersection of DeepDream, that one "name one thing in this photo" meme, and datamoshing. It's not very compelling conceptually given how clearly it echoes the kind of stuff you see in viral tweets, but visually it's liminal, strange, and rough in a way that makes it much more likable than most digital art. It's nice to look at, but at the end of the day it's just digital abstraction, which honestly feels less radical than abstract painting.
Robert Sander - Kai Matsumiya - **
Clowns are a cultural symbol that's more archetypal than sentimental, which is good, but the methodology at work here feels very, I don't know, Paul McCarthy or early Lynn Hershman Leeson, using the artwork as a modifier of identity that's more nostalgic for the conceptual explorations of artists of that generation than illuminating anything that feels contemporary. One wall is just made up of vinyl bugs with letters on them and audio of laughing, which is stupid and transparently just a cheap way to fill up some blank space. The video in the back of a guy with clown makeup attempting to jack off is almost funny and triggers a little pathos, but it presumes putting pornography in a gallery is transgressive which, like the 70s conceptualist nostalgia, is a few decades behind.
Harry Gould Harvey IV - The Confusion of Tongues! - Bureau - ***
Very Massachusetts. Mining that heritage of churches and decayed industry, aesthetically dwelling on the churches and technically dwelling on the blue-collar labor of woodworking. It's a bit sentimental in its subjective attachment to the artist's own local heritage, like, instead of being a carpenter who goes to church, he's an artist who trips out on how crazy churches and woodworking are. Not that that's really a problem but, as in most cases of tripping out, it's a vacant loop of self-reinforcing enthusiasm, a formal interest in the negative space of religious ornament without the "soul" to fill it, a church without a preacher. This New England vibe works for someone like Susan Howe, but I think it's just a style that works better with writing. Like the whole obsession with the Shakers, artists tend to fixate on the visual trappings instead of the spiritual sensibility that led to the creation of those trappings.
Diana al-Hadid, Alma Allen, Huma Bhabha, JB Blunk, James Lee Byars, Saint Clair Cemin, Max Ernst, Vanessa German, Rachel Harrison, Robert Indiana, Isamu Noguchi, Beverly Pepper, Per Kirkeby, Ugo Rondinone, Tom Sachs, Bosco Sodi, Marie Watt, Premodern artists - Between The Earth And Sky - Kasmin - *****
A fantastic collection of traditional sculpture from Africa, the Americas, and Oceania, modern sculpture that looks kind of ancient or megalithic, and modern sculpture that looks modern but feels megalithic. It can be very exciting to see premodern art mixed with modern art, unfortunately a rare event for obvious logistical and economic reasons, because when it works something crazy happens where both sides decontextualize each other in a way that feels "transhistorical," removing them from their respective lineages and placing them in a purely phenomenological space where the works can be uniquely enjoyed on their own terms. The Noguchi sculpture looks as ancient as the 1500 year old Mexican column, etc. Really just a triumph of curation, an ideal Chelsea show where a gallery of means uses its means to exhibit a singular collection of work too ambitious for smaller galleries and too capricious for institutions. The opposite of the Shaker furniture show at Essex Street from last winter, where furniture, combined with art that looks like furniture, made for a gallery that looked like an antique shop. Shows this pleasurable don't come around very often.
Petah Coyne, Ficre Ghebreyesus, Andy Goldsworthy, Jane Hammond, Alfredo Jaar, Rosemary Laing, Cildo Meireles, Ana Mendieta, Jaume
Plensa, Carolee Schneemann, Kate Shepherd, Michelle Stuart, Juan Uslé, Catherine Yass - Rhe: everything flows; - Galerie Lelong & Co. - *.5
I only went to this because everyone who went to The Evergreen State College couldn't graduate without having at least three separate teachers screen that one Andy Goldsworthy movie, so I felt a little nostalgic. Organic rich hippie art for people with smooth brains.
Eddie Martinez - Inside Thoughts - Mitchell-Innes & Nash - ***.5
All right let's get into it, the wild world of abstract figurative painting in Chelsea. I guess this qualifies as some kind of post-Basquiat thing, a street art-influenced deconstruction of figures on a flat plane where the objects and persons are more cartooned than represented. Clearly the artist likes to paint and the paintings have range, but there's an unresolved tension between the attention devoted to the paint and the attention to the subject which makes the whole fall apart into doodling. Like Walter Price's recent show at Greene Naftali, it's good painting, but at the end of the day it's all a bit by rote. I thought one painting (I don't know the title, it's not in the partial documentation) was great, the rest are good. The press release is a hoot though, get a load of this: "The themes are still rooted in tradition and art historical precedents, yet are expressed with a contemporary sensibility," or, "Think about it. Eddie Martinez is making visual poetry." I try not to think about the careers of catalog essay writers, it makes me too upset.
Tara Donovan - Intermediaries - Pace - ***
Classic post-minimalist "her assistants HATE her" work. It's nice to look at and, you know, meditative, but art shouldn't be this purely experiential. Art isn't music, it shouldn't be ambient, it needs to be animated by thought.
Adrian Ghenie - The Hooligans - Pace - ***.5
Baconian where Martinez is Basquiatesque, which neatly summarizes the issue of these abstract figurators. They're good at what they do, but what they're doing is reviving past glories of the canon without taking a single step beyond ground already covered by their forebears. They're imitators, poseurs even. The work is still well enough executed that I can't rip it apart, but that makes it almost more maddening than if it was just bad. I guess this is Chelsea's bread and butter, competent but safe to the point that it teeters on the edge of insipidity without crossing over. They save crossing over into insipidity for the Upper East Side.
Kate Pincus-Whitney - Feast In The Neon Jungle - Fredericks & Freiser - *.5
Well okay, this is insipid. Ugly Day-Glo of the Dead-colored still lives of yuppie organic food and middlebrow New Age-y books. "Enlightened consumerism" is still just consumerism, and you're not supposed to acknowledge the existence of Herman Hesse after high school.
Frank Auerbach - Selected Works: 1978-2016 - Luhring Augustine - ****.5
Here's a guy all the ab-fig artists in Chelsea wish they were. His ugly, swampy color palate turns fascinating after a few moments (I'm no artist but it reminds me of finger painting as a child and what I got when I mixed all the colors together) and his fervent "line" is huge, not only in the three-dimensional accumulation of paint but in its sculptural force within the picture plane. Line doesn't even feel like the right word, it's so thick that they're more like stripes, a brushstroke made of huge slaps of paint applied like a fist. One of the faces in the back room reminds me of one of those conspiracy theory photos of a mountain range on Mars that looks like a face, maybe that get across my point about the sculptural force of the work. Great painting, if not exactly revelatory.
Alex Da Corte, Robert Gober, Charles Ray, Nayland Blake, Thomas Demand, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Lucian Freud, Nan Goldin, Ken Price - Home Life - Matthew Marks - **
I'm a big supporter of the art of domesticity and the quotidian, but what that strategy is supposed to accomplish is a domestication of art, pushing art's boundaries by dragging it down from its lofty post of idealization into the mire of real life. All the work here is domestic but none of it pushes any of art's boundaries, likely because so many of these artists are big names. Sitting at a table is an inexhaustibly mundane subject, but Nan Goldin's eye is entirely within the conventional artistic purview and if her approach was once radical it is no longer. I kind of can't believe there's a fake pile of clothes made out of aluminum in a Matthew Marks show in 2021, yikes. The Lucien Freud drawings are nice but they're just drawings.
Angel Otero - The Fortune of Having Been There - Lehmann Maupin - *.5
At this point all the ab-fig is starting to blur together, if you put all the paintings I've already seen today into a blender you'd get something like this, pictures of furniture painted in a "tactile" manner. An utterly dull method of representation that does nothing to elevate the dullness of the subject.
Josef Albers, Giorgio Morandi - Never Finished - David Zwirner - ***.5
Both Albers and Morandi are a bit precious when you get down to it. They're good, of course, but although they're not as polished as the minimalists, they're paving the way for them. Both artists improve when they have a lot of their works together so they can play off of each other, which is the case here. Albers is particularly interesting in the degree to which his works function more as a context unto itself than on their own, the geometry of the colors on one wall bouncing off the arrangement of those in the next room. Morandi's vases are less consistent, some are stunning but a few you could pass off as (good) hobbyist painting. The elephant in the room though is, in 2021, do I care about these guys?
Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, John McCracken, Fred Sandback - Flavin, Judd, McCracken, Sandback - David Zwirner - **
If I wasn't sure I cared about Albers and Morandi, then I sure as shit don't care about these guys. I've tried to be open minded, maybe I would have liked some of the more prominent Judd shows I didn't go to in the last year, but honestly, fuck minimalism. Albers is a very apropos comparison because his schematic method clearly put down what the minimalists picked up, but the minimalists blow it because they industrialize Albers' obsessive color studies which shuts down the only expansive element of his strategy. It's all very tasteful, and it was once important, sure, but it's so sterile I could scream.
Joyce Pensato - Fuggetabout It (Redux) - Petzel - ***.5
A good artist doing a bad thing. If her cartoon iconography worked for her then she also has to answer for the entirety of sentimental aesthetics, not to mention KAWS, whose figures are present. Sometimes it happens that an artist opens a door in art without considering who's going to follow them through it, like I was just saying about Albers. It's not the artist's responsibility to worry about that stuff, but it is the critic's responsibility to complain about it, so here I am, complaining. Her pop culture icons work because she uses them as an armature for the orgiastic frenzy of paint, pushing the schizo energy of an endlessly iterating machine of anthropomorphic animals that produces the horror of a Mickey Mouse rocking horse to the point of vertigo. She doesn't care about cartoons, or she does but she's not sentimental about them, which is a crucial distinction. I'd go four stars but there aren't enough paintings in the show for her vision to get into a groove.
Mernet Larsen - James Cohan - ****.5
My first impression, before I realized Larsen is 81, was that this was a mid-career 40-something whose style was directly influenced by Katamari Damacy. Her squared isometric figures predate the game by 4 years, but the comparison is apt because both utilize their reduction of figures and space to a simplified geometric plane that allows for novel distortions of spatiality. By doing so, Larsen enters that hallowed space that all artists yearn for, "free play," enabling her to explore her figures in ways that are weird, funny, intelligent, and formally consistent but expansive in scope. Great!
Nandi Loaf - Third Solo Exhibition - King's Leap - ***
This show consists of a series of cheap burner phones running apps that accrue very tiny amounts of money, paid for by other galleries that are featured in the promotional materials as a pseudo-corporate gesture, and the artist's Twitch stream where she plays a first-person shooter. The show is funny because the electricity used to charge the phones costs more than the apps themselves, a bit of a tongue-in-cheek humor similar to her repeated insistence that "Nandi Loaf is the most important artist of the 21st century," and her choice to incorporate Twitch streaming as artwork because it felt more authentic to her than the art she was making before the pandemic. All of this speaks to an ironic detachment from art itself, which I certainly can't blame her for, but all the same it's hard to care about art about not caring about art.
John Russell - Well - Bridget Donahue - ***.5
I like John Russell a lot, he's smart enough to know his post-Cyclonopedia continental philosophy background should be incorporated into his work as humor and not deathly seriousness, unlike most artists at Miguel Abreu. It's probably pretty well-established by now that I'm biased against digital art, but he plays up the stupid imperfect ugliness of his designs which makes them funny and pleasant to look at unlike the vapid sheen of most net art. The show's a bit vacant though, the minimalist-conceptual references in the press release that justify the pieces, a vinyl print of a pit from hell breaking through the gallery floor and a recording of some Deleuzo-apocalyptic language, feel more like a cop-out than earnest participation in a lineage. I did feel a distinct note of pleasure, though, when I noticed that not just the lava but the floorboards themselves were part of the vinyl print.
Jules Gimbrone, Tiffany Jaeyeon Shin, Jennifer Sirey - I Contain Multitudes - Klaus Von Nichtssagend - *
Charles Henri Ford - Love and Jump Back, Photography by Charles Henri Ford and items from his estate - Mitchell Algus - ****
An extremely cute show of pictures and ephemera from an artist of the Gertrude Stein era, when everyone was a fabulous dandy who knew everyone and happened to be a pretty good artist even though being a fabulous dandy was really their main occupation. The potency of the photography makes me think of the way some shots in silent films are electrifying because seeing through a camera was still novel at the time, you could look through the viewfinder and see the tree instead of unconsciously filtering it through the thousands of pictures of trees you've seen before, as we do. The show is, as the title implies, somewhere between an art show and a collection of scrapbook ephemera, but some of the images are stunning, particularly the ones of Italian townspeople from the 30s, and all of it is nice.
Naoki Sutter-Shudo - Don pur de la nature - Bodega - **.5
The show is mostly a bunch of polished sticks. I like nature as much as anyone, but the natural can become a dangerous proposition for artists when you lean too hard into letting nature speak for itself and it ends up doing all the heavy lifting for you. How different is this art from handmade walking sticks you can buy from some old hippies at a farmer's market? The video piece is of some wooden box and screw sculptures that I assume the artist made, which are better than the sticks, but the montage editing and soundtrack of François Couperin and slowed Isley Brothers directs the experience too much and feels like cheating in the same way that calling a stick a sculpture feels like cheating. I'd rather see the boxes themselves in the show, I'm a grown adult and I can sensualize my own viewing experience. I get the feeling that the artist meditates too much, if you experience too much pleasure from sitting in sunlight or whatever you expend the energy that you'd otherwise reserve for your art.
Ljiljana Blazevska - 15 Orient - ****.5
These are radiant, beautifully muted paintings of ghostly, half-articulated dreams. My bone to pick with the surrealists is their tendency to exorcise the dreaminess of their dream imagery by rendering it too thoroughly, throttling the painterly in favor of the image. Blazevska obliquely recalls the great female surrealists, Carrington, Varo, Tanning, but she benefits greatly by resisting the impulse to clarify what she shows. If push came to shove I don't know if I'd put her work above theirs, but her color palate is much more compelling and I'd rather have one of her paintings hanging in my living room.
Justin Chance, Tony Chrenka, Doris Guo, Jeffrey Joyal, Molly Rose Lieberman, Caitlin MacBride, Bri Williams - Remnant, Artifact, Flow - Thierry Goldberg - ***.5
A weird show. The title and press release are awful, but most of the work has a compellingly messy quality, like the unhealthy-looking branches of an overgrown or dying plant. Appropriately, the first pieces are some apparently neglected bonsai trees by James Chance, followed by Doris Guo's "guestbook" rock and Bri Williams' soap sculptures, which feel like an enlarged extension of Doris' rock. Alongside those, Tony Chrenka's withholding doodle, picture of a jacket, and piece of metal give the front works a successfully cohesive post-conceptual clean but organic feel, which is entirely upset by the insertion of Caitlin MacBride's colorful and bland paintings of different kinds of domestic fabrics. In the back, Jeffrey Joyal's "RAID" spelled with letterman's jacket patches and portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald are cheeky but not quite edgy, as are Chance's box fans covered in fabric, and they go together well. Molly Rose Lieberman's drawn facsimiles of fabric don't stick out as much as MacBride's but they don't add much either, and her glued together toyish assemblage is a full-blown mess, in a bad way. This is very close to a good show that portrays a fair overview of the present moment but the curation made some glaring mistakes that stop it from succeeding. I get the sense that the curators cast too wide of a net, you don't need a figurative painter in every damn group show.
Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda - Bad Driver - Essex Street - *
Maybe my tastes come off as conservative, but my thoughts on the definition of what constitutes art are very open-minded. Having said that, this is not art, it's a book report. From the preface I was anticipating an extended woke-scold rant to an imaginary bad man stereotyper, which could have been funny, but all it is is a relaying of information the artists are clearly regurgitating from books they read, mostly about Chinese history and loosely categorized by section headers of Asian stereotypes. For instance, the titular chapter does not actually address anything regarding the claim that Asians are bad drivers, it just summarizes Japanese driving school and driving norms in China. Interesting enough idle information, but who cares? This is the endpoint of political post-conceptualism, like Cameron Rowland if you threw out the least pretext of including art objects but were also a less incisive writer and researcher. I don't know what's worse, that this writing wouldn't cut it as an actual book because it's just meandering "artist's writings," or that it's a plainly stupid idea to make a 100+ page full text as an art show. Who's supposed to read it, the collector? And I didn't even mention that this is a fucking art show where you have to touch the art, in the middle of a pandemic!
Kelly Jazvac - They forgot they were a landscape - FIERMAN - *.5
An old banner of a Cranach painting of Adam and Eve that's been cut up and crocheted in various ways, Adam has been cut in half and used as the backing for two chairs. That's it. The press release drones on about the creation story, but the banner was given to her by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto so I think she's just recycling what she gets her hands on. It's kind of funny but the humor doesn't seem intentional. How does this artist have a career? I guess this is the kind of stuff wrought by public funding for the arts. Americans can be jealous of countries like Canada that fund their artists, and rightly so, but don't forget that all the boards that award grants have shit taste.
Anna Park, Mike Lee, Eliot Greenwald, Roby Dwi Antono, Koichi Sato, Mark Ryan Chariker, Caleb Hahne, Michael Kagan, Alexis Ralaivao, Luisiana Mera, Thomias Radin, Matt Leines, Sun Woo, Ji Woo Kim, Julio Anaya Cabanding - Home Alone - ATM Gallery - *.5
A bunch of paintings, variously photorealistic, figurative, cartoony, etc. I'll be honest, I didn't care enough to figure out who did what or think of something to say, but in my defense I don't think the curator cared enough to think about how the art would look in the room together. Thomias Radin had the only good painting. This show made me think of a prediction my friend made the other day, that everyone will be sick of figurative painting by the end of the year. I love figurative painting but at this rate I think he's right.
Daniel Klaas Beckwith, Quay Quinn Wolf, Tenant of Culture, Vladislav Markov, Clare Koury - eddy - M 2 3 - ***.5
A cute little minimalist sculpture show that seems to whisper to you: "I, too, have followed the work of Rei Kawakubo for many years..." Mostly what we have are young artists who apparently know K.R.M. Mooney's work intimately. It's pretty cohesive, artists who make sculptures out of appropriated metal objects and fashion-adjacent artists who make art out of clothing fabric. The artists have an unfortunate tendency to apply "meaning" to the works, for instance a piece made of hospital bed rails and a healing crystal is supposed to be about illness. I feel like I'm always complaining about this kind of thing, but no, that piece is about hospital bed rails and a healing crystal laid out to look like a sculpture. I was going to dock the show for the symbolic tendency, but the works do what they do regardless of the artist's own reading of their work and shouldn't be faulted for it.
Tarwuk - Bijeg u noć - Martos Gallery - ****
Not really the kind of thing I personally gravitate towards, but the wealth of visual stimuli comes from an imagination that is, pardon my language, fecund. Giger meets Zdzislaw Beksiński meets Hilma af Klint, with an intact knowledge of the history of European painting. It's trippy in a non-trivial, dread-inducing way, which is a lot more interesting than the trivial, fun way. There's content to this, it has meat on its bones and that's what's hard to find these days. An entertaining show, which really isn't all that common.
Kim Farkas, Ivy Haldeman, Anna Park, Lauren Quin, Emilija Skarnulytė - When Above - Downs & Ross - ***
The vibe feels a couple years behind here, all the way down to the poem press release and multiple pieces with audio components fighting for attention. Ivy Haldeman's body part illustrations are extremely boring, Anna Park and Lauren Quinn's paintings are considerably more crowded and frenetic messes of semi-abstract bodies and are considerably better. Emilija Skarnulytė's video seems like it cost a lot to make (a flight to a vacation spot, purchase/rental of an HD drone and a mermaid bodysuit) and it was not worth it. I didn't care enough to figure out what was going on with Kim Farkas, I was hungry by this point. A mixed bag.
Ambera Wellmann - Nosegay Tornado - Company - ****
Wellman has a good technical range, she toes a nice line between skilled rendering and a conscious lack of finish, each method applied strategically on different parts of each painting. She has a real talent for the representation of texture, particularly the gloss of skin and reflective surfaces. The press release asserts a theme inspired by William Blake, but aside from the works on the right wall, which I think are directly referential, I think more of Matisse's Dance. Similar to Anna Park's paintings at Downs & Ross, her subject is a horny bodily mess, a well-loved perennial subject of painting, but it gets a bit repetitive. I like a few of the paintings, such as Séance Etiquette, quite a lot, but my enthusiasm flags a bit for the show taken as a whole. I think she does what she does very well, it just feels slightly limited in scope.
Emmy Hennings, Sitara Abuzar Ghaznawi - Swiss Institute - **
I don't know any German so Emmy's archival publications are of no interest to me. Sitara's contribution is not art, it's interior decoration. An art show only in the broadest terms.
Melanie Akeret, Alfatih, James Bantone, Miriam Cahn, Maïté Chénière, Victoria Colmegna, Jesse Darling, Olivia Erlanger, Gabriele Garavaglia, Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Morag Keil, Milena Langer, Claire van Lubeek, Win McCarthy, Ivan Mitrovic, Alan Schmalz, Cassidy Toner, Gaia Vincensini, Andro Wekua - Haunted Haus - Swiss Institute - *
What fucking year is it, 2015? Rugs displaying screenshots from that one Lacan lecture where some kid tries to interrupt him might not be the worst art I've seen all year but I do think it's my least favorite, and the piece next to it, Win McCarthy's "cityscape" of water bottles and plexiglass, is probably the worst. The press release makes claims to a theme of hauntology but for the most part I see nothing but houseology. I'd like to take this opportunity to call for a ban on domesticity as an artistic subject, which goes double for scale models and dioramas. I don't know how old these artists are but most of this feels like student work, over-aware of the trends of the last few years and oblivious that they're behind the curve. It's like if DIS were still relevant, which seems to be the misconception of every piece in the basement. Appropriation isn't content, how many times do I have to say it! It's not even fashionable anymore!
Louise Fishman - Ballin' the Jack - Karma - ***.5
In spite of the heated sputterings of the press release that try to cover it up, the elephant in the room is that most people couldn't pick out her paintings from Gerhard Richter's in a lineup. I went to compare her work with his show at Marian Goodman that I saw a few months ago, she's pretty good but he's better. Her smaller works in the second gallery are where she reveals her shortcomings as a somewhat brutish expressionist whereas Richter's sketches show how startlingly Baroque his conception of painterly space is. I didn't even realize until I got home that they're from the same generation, which kind of cuts short the conversation because this is what people used to do in the 80s. She's a decent post-expressionist, that's about it.
Craig Kalpakjian - Kai Matsumiya - ****
A refreshingly scrappy tech art show that feels like it's actually investigating technological systems instead of just using technology and calling it an investigation. The dumb deployment of lights and surveillance cameras bouncing around the room make the space feel disorienting and call attention to their existence and function as material objects. There's very few tech-oriented artists that aren't ultimately computer fetishists at the end of the day, but Kalpakjian isn't, which is a pleasant surprise.
Florian Krewer - Eyes on Fire - Tramps - ***.5
It's certainly very Tramps, whatever that is, post-figuration I guess. The abstract techniques applied to bodies contrasted with mostly flat and geometric backgrounds is tastefully done and restrained, but I'm not particularly drawn in. The form is nice but the content is a bit vacant. Could just be me.
Jordan Barse, Brian Belott, Emma Soucek, Marisa Takal, Astrid Terrazas, Trevor Shimizu - Honest Gravy - Marinaro - **
This is what over-curation looks like. The crafty muted pastel color palate saturates everything to the point that it even taints Trevor Shimizu's paintings, which I love. The vibe is quaintly rustic, almost like a Diego Rivera or something, which I'm not a fan of, but more importantly it's so pervasive that the work all bleeds together. Samey cohesive curation isn't interesting, it just reveals how all these artists who have honed their sense of color in a bid for uniqueness all ended up doing the same thing. Good curators should juxtapose qualities or draw out hidden relationships instead of just moodboarding. That's easier said than done, I know. Also, as I said in the Swiss Institute review, dioramas and dollhouses are canceled.
Cate Giordano - Rex - Postmasters - *.5
I'm as much a sucker for Tudor England as the next guy, probably more, which is why I stopped by, but I really don't get the point of this. It feels like an insufferably unfunny joke drawn out to a mortifying length. What's the point of a shitty imitation of a dress made with duct tape and papier-mâché and dressing up to do a bad imitation of Henry VIII? I almost just feel bad for the artist for how much labor this must have taken.
Yuji Agematsu, Genesis Báez, Lakela Brown, Ann Craven, TM Davy, Spencer Finch, Nir Hod, Peter Hujar, Erica Mahinay, Suzanne McClelland, Julie Mehretu, Adam Milner, Alison Rossiter, Bri Williams - Imperfect Clocks - Chart - **.5
This is a hell of a lot more tasteful than the minimialism I was subjected to on the UES last week but every bit as crassly commercial. I guess downtown is for people who have some awareness of the last 30 years of art and uptown is for those who don't. Still, context is everything and the atmosphere is so antiseptic that even Yuji Agematsu feels sterile. A well-chosen holiday gift shop is still a holiday gift shop.
Liu Ye - The Book and the Flower - David Zwirner - **.5
The paintings are shrewdly done, but photorealism negates the dialectical gap of representation and makes itself banal. The Balthus knockoff girl and painting of the first page of Lolita really underscore that the artist's aesthetic sense is on the level of a girl who thinks she's arty because she wears a choker. I'm sure rich people love buying these, I bet they look great in condos.
Michelangelo Pistoletto - Lévy Gorvy - *
A masterclass in forced profundity; Pistoletto has either mistaken mirrors for some kind of monadic symbol or he's a clever enough cynic that he built his signature around the knowledge that art buyers like to look at themselves. (Case in point: while I was there someone walked in and asked the attendant how much the art was after about 15 seconds. She replied that the asking price for a series of eight shaped mirror fragments in gilded frames was $900k.) He's probably a bit of both, a hack and an idiot. It's almost interesting that the heritage of the Italian Renaissance has degraded to the point of this asinine Euro garbage. Almost.
Ewa Juszkiewicz - In Vain Her Feet in Sparkling Laces Glow - Gagosian - *.5
Is it too much to ask that an artist have both technique and taste? I guess so, any artist that puts in enough work to become virtuosic necessarily has to ignore contemporary art currents if they want to stay motivated. I'm all for the reestablishment of some sort of tradition in art as a means towards reconciling skill and sensibility, but this is crass. Then again, most artists without skill don't have good taste either.
Donald Judd - Uncanny Materiality: Donald Judd's Specific Objects - Mignoni - ***
To be honest I don't know if I even like Judd. His work was already flirting with the now-malignant conventions of the anodyne aesthetics of modern architecture and the normalization of iterative practice as a way to produce artworks without thinking. To be fair, that minimalism is the epitome of yuppie empty-headedness in 2020 isn't his fault so I guess I shouldn't hold it against him that he's currently off-trend. Maybe he's just triggering for me because it reminds me of what I liked back when I was "into" ambient music.
Richard Prince - Cartoon Jokes - Nahmad Contemporary - *.5
I don't get it, these jokes aren't funny.
Torey Thornton - Does productivity know what it's named, maybe it calls itself identity? - Essex Street - ***
This is a hard show to rate, I don't like it but I still find myself encouraging people to see it. Unlike most shows I don't like, the work isn't stupid and takes a fair amount of contemplation to grasp, even if ultimately it fails in what it attempts. Simply put, this is Thornton's mid-career identity crisis. They succeeded as a painter but, in what seems to be a direct consequence of that success, chose to subvert that and became a material-oriented post-conceptualist. The artist's press release, in spite of the whimsical, self-consciously off-the-cuff tone, reveals a thoughtful reflection on the identity of the artist; a discomfort with being defined, the urge to push boundaries and resist normative structures, a striving for freedom from identity. The problem with this aspiration, which carries through to the work itself, is that freedom from identity is impossible and Thornton has things backwards. To aspire against identity and definition through flamboyant free-spiritedness is to resist norms, yes, but it also serves to define all the more precisely the artist Torey Thornton. More glaringly, the notion of being free from artistic identity misconceives the role of the artist as subject, let alone an artist who's always wearing the loudest outfit in the room, as if the artist's creative interiority were something that existed apart from their perceived exterior. Loud clothing is a good example: Torey seems to desire freedom to dress however they want, which implies adhering to a purely interior desire to wear what brings one the most pleasure. But the basis of pleasure in fashion is not simply one's own relationship to what one wears, it is just as much in being perceived by others and having one's taste affirmed, objectifying oneself for others. Likewise, ignoring the social context of being an artist who is fashionable and successful borders on a solipsism that takes encouragement for granted. This is the crux of the show itself; the emperor's new clothes. Thornton's compulsion to subvert artistic norms does not lead to innovation, whatever that means, but instead reduces their practice to scrounging around with junk. Sometimes this works, like Every Good Body Does Fine (Membrane between granular pearl dive access), a vintage bathroom stall door with steel oyster serving trays screwed onto it, which is impressively strange, but the rest is mostly obnoxious. Flattened pennies glued to a green mattress, a photo of a bunch of piss bottles on the beach, and enlarged credit card chips mounted on a mirror all have a sense of improvisation with the materials of city life, but they provoke the secondhand embarrassment of watching an overconfident person tell a terrible joke at a party. Somewhere in-between are containers filled with flattened cans, which teeter on the line between boldly anti-art and inane. For all Torey's self-examination on artistic identity on a macro-societal level, they seem blind to the permissiveness of their personal social context, and as a consequence they're blind to their own self-indulgence.
Yuji Agematsu - Times Square Times (Kodak All-Stars) - Miguel Abreu - ****
NYC street photography and field recordings of street noise, what could go wrong! A lot, naturally, but Yuji can pull it off. His sense of the granular translates well between his trash works and his photographs, so there aren't any real mysteries on what you're in for. There is an interesting duality though in that his trash pieces elevate garbage into sculptural objects and his photographs reduce the medium to detritus. It makes sense he didn't know what to do with them from 2007 until now, because it's only in the context of smartphone supremacy that the frivolousness of these images accrue an eloquence.
Heji Shin - Big Cocks - Reena Spaulings - ***.5
Big photographs of roosters. I was going to complain that the show would have been better if the show was just photographs of penises, but then I remembered she's pretty much done that already which makes this joke funnier. It brings up the question of what an artist who has achieved technical excellence, especially a photographer, is supposed to do when you can make anything beautiful, and more crucially the question of what a transgressive artist is supposed to do after they've transgressed. I guess this show qualifies as her stepping back and acknowledging the problem, which is fine with me.
Bruce Nauman - Sperone Westwater - **
An interactive 3D model of his studio, a 3D video of him walking in his studio, and a sculpture made out of plastic animals. Pretty dull. The 3D model is the centerpiece and it's transparently the classic older artist move of conceiving new work based around what you can entirely outsource to assistants. It's "saved" by his studio being a complete mess with some nice things in it, but that doesn't mean it isn't phoned in.
Whitney Claflin - ADD SHOT - Bodega - ****
I don't quite know yet what to make of Whitney and Maggie Lee and, I assume, other artists' turn to playing with Y2K teen girl culture: sleepover crafts, shopping at Claire's, being "hyper," etc. On the one hand I'm staunchly against the fetishistic nostalgia so many artists indulge in these days, on the other what they're doing seems to be less of an aesthetic escapism and more of a mode of working. They're using the mindset as a way of approaching art like a preteen, which is less restrictive than that of an art world adult, so even if I'm not sold on it I won't reject it out of hand either. As the overly literal press release notes, the show is something of a cultural mixtape. It takes her no longer fashionable past identity of being a punk and going to the mall and reappropriates it into something that is currently fashionable, namely the acknowledgement that she once was a punk and went to the mall. I have reservations about that sleight of hand (why can't people just be what they are now?), but the paintings are good and the patterned fabric on canvas non-paintings don't read as cop-outs like most "gluing something to a canvas" pieces do. The breadth of means gives the work as a whole a refreshing incoherence, unlike most nostalgic art that can be easily reduced to a simple set of stylistic signifiers. It's fun, a word that's rarely complimentary in art, but it works here.
Michael Assiff, Valerie Keane, Lacey Lennon, Luke Libera Moore, Evelyn Pustka, Andrew Ross, Darryl Westly, Damon Zucconi - edenchrome for all - Ashes/Ashes - *.5
The press release, some tripe still going on about surveillance, digital alienation, and subverting the algorithm, prepared me for the worst. I wasn't exactly mortified, but the whole show has a digital veneer that actually reifies the exact virtual it claims to resist, and it's pretty bad. From his two pieces I can tell Luke Libera Moore, who wrote the press release, has unironically commented "A E S T H E T I C" at some point in his life, Evelyn Pustka's video is an unfunny mashup of David Lynch and Tim and Eric, Lacey Lennon's video is a reenactment of a BBC interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry to unclear ends, Valerie Keane's work always makes me think of flame decals, or like, how motocross pants were fashionable in 2014... Damon Zucconi's piece, a video of the Sony logo rotating in slow motion, is the only actually subversive work by virtue of its radical dumbness, but I wonder if I'd feel the same way about it if it had been made in 2019 instead of 2009. In other words, this line of thought dried up years ago.
Walter Price - Pearl Lines - Greene Naftali - ****
Good work, he's clearly having a lot of fun. A show like this exposes my limits as a critic because I don't think there's a point in talking about qualities like the weight/movement/vibrancy/etc. of a painting, that's what going to the gallery is for. Though the work isn't lacking at all in its execution, there's something "safe" about it. It manages a very tasteful reconciliation of abstraction and figuration but it's not pushing any boundaries. It doesn't feel vital or important, it's just very well done.
Magdalena Abakanowicz & Anslem Kiefer / Allan D'Arcangelo, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Larry Rivers, Tony Matelli / Fernando Botero, Claudio Bravo, Tomas Sanchez, Rufino Tamayo - Three Exhibitions - Marlborough - **.5
I kind of hate Anslem Kiefer, something about how grandiose his work is rubs me the wrong way. I get the sense he's the kind of thing collectors who considered themselves "cultivated" loved to buy in the 80s. Reinhardt and Rivers on the second floor are nice to see, of course; Botero on the third is easy to like, the photorealists he's paired with are not. Speaking of collectors, most of the works deserve better than this rating, but the art feels as though it's being displayed like slabs of meat in a butcher shop window for prospective buyers. It makes it almost impossible to actually look at, as if you really shouldn't be viewing it unless you're capable of buying it. Say what you will about museums, they're less stifling than this.
Lee Friedlander - Luhring Augustine - *****
I'm always blown away by Friedlander's ability to combine perfect composition with a shockingly material sense of detail, his landscapes are like Ansel Adams if he was tripped out, and interesting. It's incredible how consistently he turns a straightforward photo of a tree into something completely abstract and disorienting. Not much to say, in my opinion he's one of the very few bonafide geniuses still alive.
Drawing 2020 - Gladstone - ***
A basically unintelligible collection of hundreds of drawings, vaguely broken up into semi-themes like newspaper, women, men, etc. There's something about this that feels very early 2000s, a "more is more" mentality when in reality more is often less. Makes sense because this is a retread of a show concept from 2000. Still, in spite of the work having no room to breathe (R.H. Quaytman is the standout largely because she gets around this by having her own table), a lot of it, if far from all, is good. The problem is I'd much rather see it somewhere less crowded.
Good Pictures - Jeffrey Deitch - *
More like Bad Pictures, fuck! As the title implies, these are pictures, not paintings, and as such they're dominated by the vain stupidity of the ceasless reassertion of the image as an artwork's locus of meaning, and the failure to accrue meaning by that very assertion. To put it another way, it reminds me of the terrible art I used to see on Fecal Face in college, which I was pretty sure sucked even though I didn't know anything about art at the time.
Luciano Garbati - Medusa with the Head of Perseus - Collect Pond Park - *.5
The most abject classicist possible, a craftsman executing blunt copies of Renaissance sculpture with a "modern touch," inverting the source material in an idiot's imitiation of wit. I don't think he had feminism in mind when he made the piece in 2008, which takes what would already be a pretty dumb Clintonite-tier stunt and turns it bone-chillingly stupid. Imitating Cellini is an ill-advised strategy unless you're the next Cellini. And even if you were, wouldn't you do something more interesting? Leave him alone you dipshits!
Everything Is Personal - Tramps - ****.5
A rare example of a great painting group show, admirably confusing. Even curating aimlessly en masse doesn't instill this much of a sense of range into a show, as with Drawing 2020 at Gladstone where the masses of work accrued themes through entropy. Everything here is based in figuration, you could even call it conservative, but that's appropriate because painting is a conservative medium, that's why it's popular. All the 20th century avant-gardists and conceptualists tried to convince everyone that their approach to art was just as inexaustible as the dialectic between the real object and its painted representation, but they were wrong. Unlike the other group shows I saw this week, where putting the work together ended up smothering or flattening the effect of otherwise good work, these paintings play off each other and are mutually enriched by their juxtaposition. There isn't even an apparent concept for the show, and nevertheless it articulates a sympathy between the works by means of the particular sensibility of the curator. It's amazing what can happen when curation is dictated by taste instead of stylistic similarities, or social cliques, or a ham-fisted concept, or any other superficial means of avoiding literal curation, i.e. choosing based on considered attention to the works.
Thomas Barrow - Libraries, From the Series - Derek Eller - **.5
I like photography and I like books, so photographs of people's bookshelves seemed like a no brainer. Unfortunately, aside from F/T/S Libraries - Gun Club Road - So. Wall, 1978. I wasn't into the books on the shelves, so it didn't work out.
Nina Cristante - NUM - Triest - **.5
There's two photos of fabric in cracked mirror picture frames and the floor is covered in grey tablecloths that have been stitched together and burnt at the edges. It reminds me a bit of the troll-y conceptual art shows of Cristante's frequent collaborator, Dean Blunt, but sadly it's not nearly as flippant. As is often the case with art these days, the question is not "is it smart or dumb, serious or ironic, something or nothing?" but "yes it's dumb, ironic, and nothing, but is it dumb, ironic, and nothing enough?" I think, especially because there's a serious undertone about hospitals, it's not quite nothing enough. This might have looked agressively anti-art 4 or 5 years ago, but Eric Schmid is a hard act to follow in the nothing game. The photos are pretty though.
Eileen Gray - Bard Graduate Center Gallery - ****.5
Gray is an underappreciated genius of early Modernist design and architecture, I found out about her by complete chance a few weeks ago and was surprised to find this survey of her work had just reopened. I'm no expert but I appreciate her eye and evident sensitivity to the utility of her designs from a time when when most of her peers cared more about aesthetics than if the thing or building made any practical sense. What's really surprising is to see how roughly constructed much of the furniture is, it looks like something someone made in their garage because her vision was decades ahead of the technical means that enable the seamless Ikea construction we take for granted now. I don't think it's really possible to review a show like this, but I figure I should plug it. Only up through October 28th, book in advance.
Vikky Alexander - A kiss is the beginning of cannibalism - Downs & Ross - ***
The problem with the star rating system is that 3.5 feels almost inevitable if I just go to shows that look somewhat appealing. 3 is indifference, too low for something that already appealed to me, and 4 is earnest enthusiasm, too high for the reality of most art shows, so they fall into a middle realm of tepid approval. I think I'm going to start going to shows that look bad just so I have something to talk about. I like Alexander's appropriated advertising images from the 80s but in 2020 they no longer read as a conceptual commentary on the media's depiction of desire, they're just 80s ad images in interesting frames and I think they look pretty nice. The new furniture works made of dichroic glass are similarly nice to look at, but just as the appeal of the photographs lies in the work of the ad photographers and bodies of models she's appropriating, dichroic glass looks cool no matter what you do with it. Maybe one could argue there's something interesting to reflect on regarding how 80s ads look less insipid now than they did then, but I think it's just that pop culture always seems like the height of banality until it's over 15 years old.
K8 Hardy - New Painting - Reena Spaulings - **
The piece is a pretty bad joke; the press release is funnier but a better joke about a bad joke doesn't make the show any better.
Mathis Collins - Bar None - 15 Orient - ***.5
Rabelasian images of early 20th century Euro bar culture with a kind of baroque/symbolist bent, very 15 Orient. Looks nice, and relief carving isn't the kind of thing you see being made these days, but it doesn't go beyond a nostalgic escapism. It's the kind of work that would look good in an actual bar, which is an accomplishment of a kind.
Peter Friel, Jonathan Gean, Maggie Lee, Markus Oehlen, Joanne Robertson, Josef Strau - Mike's - Svetlana - ***.5
A bunch of dumb junk with varying degrees of self-awareness of the dumbness of the junk, though everyone's self-aware. Very tactile and materialist in the FPBJPC style, which is to say there's a lot of spray paint in the show. I like Maggie Lee's pieces a lot, the rest doesn't vibe with me too much but I respect the intentional scarcity of content and lack of pretense.
ektor garcia, Olivia Neal, Astrid Terrazas - Sunthread - Gern - ***
Cute New Age-y show with an insane amount of work. For fans of magical realism and jacquard weaves. Astrid Terrazas does Leonora Carrington-style feminine spiritual surrealism much better than most.
Rafael Delacruz, Satoru Eguchi, Wineke Gartz, Kate Harding, Maki Kaoru, Mieko Meguro, Quintessa Matranga, Keisha Scarville, Trevor Shimizu, Tracy Dillon Timmins - Late Summer Show - 3A Gallery - ****
The most honest gallery in NYC puts on the most honest group show possible. No theme, just some friends, prices on the list of works. Cutting the crap lets the art function as art, unencumbered by ideas or themes that inevitably muddle the experience of works in themselves. Most of the work is good, especially Rafael's (though I'm biased), and the press release is brilliantly earnest.
George Ortman - Against Abstraction - Mitchell Algus Gallery - ****
Like Mondrian's closeted spirituality made explicit by Hilma Af Klint, Ortman's pre-Judd assemblages expose the complexity behind Minimalism's austerity. Stylistically some of it might be a bit tepid for 2020, but it's always good to see a neglected precursor of some talent. Judd is better, sure, but Minimalism's whole "a rectangle represents The Rectangle" Neoplatonism always gets on my nerves so it's nice that there's work with the same formal concerns but less of the affected gravitas.
Eileen Quinlan - Dawn Goes Down - Miguel Abreu Gallery - **
Just about my last word on Miguel Abreu: Artists shouldn't be allowed to read philosophy, or at least not Urbanomic. Not that I have anything against Urbanomic's philosophy, just their aesthetics. You can accuse me of being a Luddite if you want, but I don't believe in technology. Having a refined practice of fucking with a scanner doesn't mean the work becomes any more interesting than fucking with a scanner, i.e. something that looks cool when you're a stoned undergrad that you're supposed to grow out of. Also, the press release is insufferably precious.
Pieter Slagboom - Saturated Manuscript - Bridget Donahue - ***.5
Fits very well with my psychedelic art theory, and reminds me a bit of Pierre Klossowski on a literal level in that they're giant sexually explicit colored pencil works. But where Klossowski is about desire and restraint, the erotic as an ineffable secret revealed, for instance, only by a small involuntary movement of the hand, Slagboom is concerned entirely with the fleshy delirium of bodies. Makes me think of what I imagine giving birth feels like, or, I don't know, listening to Tool on acid? I can't say I "enjoyed" the work personally but on an objective level there's something undeniable about it.
William Copley - The New York Years - Kasmin Gallery - ****
Copley is someone who was in the right place at the right time, not as a member of a movement but as an understudy of the previous one. The show's texts and posted quotes such as this one make much of his having learned from Duchamp and his other illustrious elders, and of being historically and geographically located between Surrealism and Pop art without being a member of either, which makes for an odd mental acrobatic to try to approach him on his own terms. Nevertheless you have to, because neither movement does much to clarify his work. If anything, he seems to be one of the very few unafflicted artists, or rather, one of the few unafflicted artists of talent. With a mentor like Duchamp to explain the secrets of art to him, he could pursue his work without the usual anxieties of the artist: of history, of subject, of material, of concept, etc., anxieties fundamental to Duchamp's own work. It's probably for this reason that Copley is "scarcely 'major,'" as Peter Schjeldahl notes in his 1971 review included in the press release. His subjects, images lifted from porn, images lifted from the Sears catalog, illustrating the writings of Robert W. Service, the perennial female nude, are the ideas of a relaxed man, someone who comes up with paintings as lackadaisically as one picks flowers. This isn't bad, of course, it's just to say that his work is good, pleasurable, tasteful, clever, and completely unconcerned with the avant-garde, the conceptual, the devastating, and the sublime.
Gene Beery - Transmissions From Logoscape Ranch - Bodega - ****.5
"There's too much art in this show, and I want more." In this post-canonical art world everyone wants to dig up an obscure genius from the past because that's having it both ways; it's fresh work but with the historical gravitas you usually only get from those big institutional shows of artists everyone already knows backwards and forwards. Unlike most shows that try this maneuver, Beery holds up under scrutiny. It's kind of astonishing that, in a room literally packed with his little meta-art dad jokes on canvas, none of them come off as cloying or forced. He really crafted his own micro-current of Minimalism out of little more than making fun of the grandiloquence of the arts (though he knows how to paint when he feels like it, with great precision and economy), and, even more impressively, has kept it up out in the middle of nowhere since before 1980.
Jutta Koether - 4 the Team - Lévy Gorvy - ****
Similar to the Poledna show, this feels burdened by the weight of European history/art history. Naturally, she's a good painter, but the newer paintings feel a bit neutralized, or even escapist. The references to Renaissance art and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are more like a cop-out than a propulsive idea, as if her career progresses by its own inertial force and she's grabbing at ideas so she can keep up with it, a feeling I don't get from the older works in the show. I mean, I'm definitely nitpicking because the work is good, and I feel a little guilty for being so harsh. There's just something about art in the Upper East Side that's a bit declawed and unthreatening that bothers me.
Christopher Williams - Footwear (Adapted for Use) - David Zwirner - *****
Having said that, this show escapes the malaise of wealth in the Upper East Side. Maybe I'm biased, I love Christopher Williams. The archivist's artist, his work is all about perceptual sensitivity and attention to detail, which is the fundamental quality of art in my opinion. The artist's problem is to construct a system that allows them to exercise their attentiveness, and he's the most minutely attentive artist I know of. An anecdote I overheard while I was in the gallery: One of the photos is of a drawer of discarded espresso grounds, which is from the cafe below Williams' apartment in Cologne. He looked at the drawer every day and wanted to photograph it, but since he's too obsessive to take the photo in situ he settled on a solution with the cafe where he bought them a new drawer, took the old one to his studio, had a replica of the cafe counter built, and took the picture. He's perfect. I could go on, but I'll spare you my gushing. Like I keep telling people, photography is the future.
Mathias Poledna - Indifference - Galerie Buchholz - ***.5
This was weird for me, like maybe I'm outgrowing my Yale Union roots, but this kind of austere northern European high-class/brow neo-minimalism doesn't get me off like it used to. It's intelligent, it's tasteful, it's beautiful, but is it enough? The front room is a collection of very simple line drawings but good, unlike that Florian Pumhösl show, the middle room is a short film of a man in a World War I officer's uniform (drinking in a beautiful bar, standing by a beautiful fountain, falling down in front of a beautiful building, with a beautiful Romantic music soundtrack), the back room is a collection of framed pages from a manual for a printing press, which have a lot of beautiful illustrative photos. It's all very much a lament for the lost grandeur of Belle Époque Europe, not flagrant nostalgia but nostalgia nonetheless. I think, at root, my discomfort is a sense of moneyed impotence. The actor in the film is Alain Delon's son, Galerie Buchholz, the Upper East Side... It's smart but it's aristocratic, and for that reason it can't solve any of our problems, it just yearns for a time when we could ignore them.
Donald Judd - Judd in Two Dimensions: Fifteen Drawings - Mignoni - ***
Water from a stone, as they say, and Judd is a genius of that, of course. The gallery is trying very hard to pass off these drawings as compelling because they reveal the artist's hand, but if the artist's hand is drawing straight lines with a ruler it's not that compelling. There's an interesting kind of rhyme between this and the Poledna show, like line drawings are the spirit of the UES or something.
Derek Aylward, Mairikke Dau, Rafael Delacruz, Gerasimos Floratos, Sybil Gibson, Ralph Griffin, Bessie Harvey, Wayne Heller (MoonSign), Susan Te Kahurangi King, Alice Mackler, Eddie Martinez, Ike Morgan, Robert Nava, Helen Rae, Maja Ruznic, Jon Serl, Mose Tolliver and Timothy Wehrle - Good Luck - Shrine - ***.5
I don't know what to say, not in a bad way because the work mostly ranges from pretty good to very good. The problem is the show is so packed that it feels more like a cross between a benefit auction and an antique shop than a gallery, so I can't make sense of what's happening. It even draws an interesting through line between outsider art, expressionism, and vaguely street/graffiti art, but really, was this some kind of fundraiser? There are 18 artists and everyone has 2-4 works in the show, in one room! Chill out!
Trevor Shimizu - Landscapes - 47 Canal - *****
I overheard at least three people at the opening say variations of "Wow, Trevor's a Real Painter." The obvious comparison is Monet's water lilies, which is too obvious on one level but totally spot on on a few more. One, after being challenging and avant-garde through your 20s and 30s, you've earned the right to pivot to "wow, nature is beautiful" when you're in your 40s, and two, whereas your average reference to Monet is facile and literal, the work has a level of purely painterly impressionism where you can compare the two without blushing. Standing confidently beneath the weight of history, is there a better criterion of success in 2020?
Kim Gordon - The Bonfire - 303 Gallery - *
Charles Burchfield - Solitude - DC Moore Gallery - ***.5
Burchfield's best landscapes convey lush verdure so intensely that they're psychedelic. Everything in this show is a winter landscape though, I guess because it's winter? His straightforward paintings are a little bland, which are most of the ones here, and the more visionary ones are pretty good but not near his best. Not bad by any stretch but he can be so much better.
Gothic Spirit: Medieval Art From Europe - Luhring Augustine - *****
Hell yeah I'm biased, this rules. I'll give 5 stars to any show with a Romanesque capital in it.
Laurie Anderson, Robert Barry, Dan Graham, Joseph Kosuth, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dennis Oppenheim, Martha Rosler, Allen Ruppersberg, Alexis Smith, William Wegman - Conceptual Photography - Marlborough - ****
Cute and funny, makes you nostalgic for "those headier days." But the works develop interest not so much in themselves as they do as a group of documents of what must have been a very fun period of time. I do love that Dan Graham though.
Max Ernst - Collages - Kasmin - ***.5
Also cute. Stoner logic before the hippies ruined it for the rest of us.
Mathieu Malouf - The Fairy Godmother - Greene Naftali - ***.5
Edgelord art is, in spite of itself, the mean-spirited cousin of Institutional Critique in that both methodologies end up being more "about" art than actually "being" art. Mathieu's recent shows had been a victim of this tendency; his sense of humor works on Instagram but makes a dull thud as installation art. So this return to painting is a good call, he's taking the piss less than he has in years and the results are pretty good, heaping appropriately demented masses of pop-high-low cultural imagery into a nauseous pile. He didn't paint them himself though, which, call me old fashioned, reduces the appeal, and my painter friend pointed out that it all looks a lot like Jana Euler.
Uri Aran, René Daniëls, Rochelle Feinstein, Peter Hujar, Quintessa Matranga, Libby Rothfeld, Martin Wong
- Beauty Can Be the Opposite of a Number - Bureau - ****.5
Unlike most art these days, this show has joie de vivre. Quintessa's drunk painting successfully approaches the painterly disorientation of classic cubism, Libby's sculptures aestheticize the mundane (bathrooms, single digits), as should we all, the video is funny, the other paintings are smart, funny, or both, Peter Hujar's photos aestheticize the mundane (animals on the farm). It's refreshing to be reminded that group shows can be good, make sense, not feel arbitrary, etc. It's almost like intelligently curating intelligent work makes that fog of ambivalence hanging over the art world go away...
Merlin Carpenter - Paint-It-Yourself - Reena Spaulings - **
Remember when I mentioned art not having joie de vivre these days? This is what I was talking about. It's kind of a funny joke, but the press release undercuts the joke with a sad attempt at self-justification, which doesn't make it any less stupid but less funny. Impotent cynicism masquerading as a critique. That's the problem with making a career out of being an edgelord, you end up stuck in your own stupid joke long after you're tired of telling it. Probably the most interesting part of the show is how badly it reflects on the crowd that painted the canvases at the opening.
Raza Kazmi - Dread Circumference - Interstate Projects - **.5
The moth wing suspended by some fancy technology I don't understand is nice but the rest doesn't quite satisfy. That Chomsky drawing in particular is something the curator should have shut down. The artist is clearly working hard, but as a set of works it doesn't quite cohere into anything. I'm not sure if this is stuck in 2016 or if it's up-to-date but too Berlin for me, but I suspect the former. I don't review solo shows by my friends but I will say that Sofia Sinibaldi's show upstairs has a much more compelling sensibility with its handling of technology, in no small part because it's not digital. The Virtual is dead, long live the Real.
Max Schumann - Tonight Where You Live - 3A Gallery - ****
The political undertones are a little.... Boomer-y? But the paintings are dumbly iterative in a charming way (painted with house paint, prices painted in the lower right corner). The weatherman ones are beautiful. And if any of the $25 fighter jet paintings were still available I would have bought one.
Erin Jane Nelson - Shekinah - Chapter NY - **
Ugh, reminds me of all the organic farming people I knew in college. I'm all for tactility and herbs, but not like this. Just not my vibe, sorry.
Marie Karlberg - Illusion and Reality - Tramps - **
Funny, but not funny enough. Mocking the art world from securely within the art world, plenty of knowingness but nowhere near enough irony. Sure, they're playacting, but I don't get the sense that any of these people are really any different from their act, so what's the commentary? It's like how Woody Allen is a middlebrow satirist of the middlebrow; making fun of your own milieu just makes you think you're smarter than your peers when you're not. And Allen is more clever, a Frank Stella with a paint ass-print on it feels like someone laughing at their own bad joke.
Bill Hayden - Bar Idioto - Svetlana - ****
The drawings are good, very good actually. A very potent sort of psychedelic Neo-Piranesi feeling. The coat racks feel like an afterthought by an artist who feels uncomfortable doing a show without an installation element, but I guess it fills out the room and I like that it's stupid and frivolous. The "quitting art to start a bar" press release is funny too.
Shannon Cartier Lucy - Home is a crossword puzzle I can't solve - Lubov - ***
She's a good painter, which I like, and there's clearly a connection to Balthus, which I like. But where Balthus' greatest strength is his shamelessness, she demurs from taking things "too far", which is exactly what she should do.
Soshiro Matsubara - Haus der Matsubara - Brennan & Griffin - **.5
A pleasantly competent and not kitschy collection of found art: hobbyist cubism, a faux Leonora Carrington, dog's heads over pears, some modest sketches from life, even two very Body-Without-Organs-style paintings of collaged nude women's body parts and faces. The artist himself contributes four lamps draped with bubble wrap. Nice enough, but underscores the contemporary artist's need to appropriate authenticity from elsewhere because they can't provide it themselves.
Valentine Hugo, Karl Priebe, Elaine de Kooning, Beni E. Kosh, Thierry Cheverney, Aline Meyer Liebman, Steve Keister, George Platt Lynes, Leonid (Berman), Carl Van Vechten, Darrel Austin, James Wilson Edwards, Philipp Weichberger, Morgan O'Hara, E'wao Kagoshima, Pavel Tchelitchew, Jack Smith, Edward Avedisian, Dan Burkhart, Charles Henri Ford, Hollis Frampton, Agustin Fernandez, Maurice Grosser, Mary Meigs, Raoul Ubac, Marie Laurencin, Gertrude Cato (Ford), Saul Steinberg, Paul Jenkins, Elie Lascaux, Stephen Kaltenbach, Magalie Comeau, Frank Lincoln Viner, Jindrich Styrsky, Eugene Berman, Bernard Perlin, Hans Bellmer, Neke Carson, Leonor Fini, John Hawkins, Nicholas Rule, Harold Stevenson, Alexander Brook, Ronald Mallory - Acquired On Ebay - Mitchell Algus Gallery - ***.5
It's funny this is on the same block as Brennan & Griffin because it's essentially the same thing, but the artists here are obscure (or not-so-obscure) rather than outsider, so they're credited, there's historical context, and there isn't an artist trying to pass off the curation as their own artwork.
Sam Lewitt - DREAMBOAT DIRTBLOCK - Miguel Abreu Gallery - ***
The caveat with "Abreu-core" theory art that is you can conceptualize all you want but it has to lead to art worth looking at. I didn't like the Lewitt show I saw a few years ago at Wattis Institute for that reason; the work was visually limp and underwhelming which made the accompanying theory feel overwrought. Most of this show looks a lot better, especially the lights on milled plexiglass thing. I'm not enough of a rationalist to find a pile of bricks interesting though.
"01102020" / Curated by Y2K Group - Fisher Parrish Gallery - *.5
The art itself is fine, but the press release and curation is terrible. Anti-curation is good when it's an active decision, not when you just don't have any ideas. And it gets really bad when they double down on "the concept of this show is that viewing art is subjective" AND some half-baked four years late stuff about living in a simulation (complete with a plot summary of The Matrix) which, naturally, has nothing to do with the art.
Danica Barboza, Jason Hirata, Yuki Kimura, Duane Linklater - Artists Space - ****
Post-conceptual lazy appropriation art is funny, Lomex "tweaker with glue" art isn't. .5 bonus for anti-curation.
Georgian Badal, Alice Creischer, Robert Hawkins, Benjamin Hirte, Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Elliott Robbins, Robert Sandler, Lise Soskolne - But nobody showed up - Kai Matsumiya - **
From the press release I thought this might be interesting, but it was just horny, in the boring way.
David Lynch - Squeaky Flies in the Mud - Sperone Westwater - ***
Phill Niblock - Working Photos - Fridman Gallery - ***.5
Trisha Donnelly - Matthew Marks Gallery - ***
Lacks some of her usual je ne sais quoi.
Patricia L. Boyd - Me, not, not-me - Front Desk Apparatus - ***
Most of the show is stuff the artist's mother sent from her garden, plus a video of a to-do list. An art show about not having enough time to make art?
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