TMAR Worldwide, The Introductory Reviews
Hello everyone, welcome to The Manhattan Art Review's new section, TMAR Worldwide, featuring reviews from contributors from around the world.
Troy is based in St. Louis and runs The Midwest Art Quarterly, and he'll use this as an outlet for occasional reviews when he visits New York City for work. Quin Land is based in Los Angeles, Simon Smith and Scott Newman are based in New York, and I don't know anything else about them. There are other Worldwide contributors not included in this batch of reviews as well.
TMAR Worldwide is not open call and does not accept unsolicited submissions.
Helen Marten - Evidence of Theater - Greene Naftali - **
I was writing about minimalism recently and a friend joked, "That sounds hard. There'd be more to say about maximalism." Marten's show suggests this might not be the case. It comprises assemblage-things, and they are complicated. About a dozen of them read like big paintings on metal; a handful more are installation-y sculptures. The latter have a slight skeuomorphic appeal. These tend to be better than the former, which don't make enough out of the friction between their flatness as pictures and their dimensionality as objects. Their busyness is fine but the way they get at it—scratchy linework fucking up swaths of flat unlike colors ranged along each other unevenly—is too graphic. The show's main problem, though, is semantic rather than structural. Work like this that scrambles meaning by combining recognizable objects and symbols into uncanny systems is usually best when all its phonemes hold onto something of their worldly (extra-aesthetic) significance. But Marten's conceptual abstractions are so complete as to sap the things they're made of. The work ends up looking "formal," and for this it's way too splayed. I didn't make it up to the eighth floor, where there are a few additional artworks. Perhaps these are compelling.
Sarah Crowner - The Sea, the Sky, a Window - Hill Art Foundation - ***.5
Site-specificity has long been one of the tools of contemporary art most available to hackery. It's easy to do but hard to do well. Or maybe it's easy to say you're doing it but hard to actually do. Either way, Sarah Crowner is a good enough artist to make up for the fact that her ostensibly site-specific works just aren't—or rather, that they are, just badly. This is as much a problem with her show that's up now in St. Louis as it is with this one in Chelsea. At Hill, the affinities between Crowner's paintings, the works by other artists they're presented alongside, and the Foundation's architecture are not only slight: their absence would have been a curatorial dereliction. But these sewn paintings, taken discreetly? Masterfully touched, subtly intermedia, smartly arranged. Crowner's hues are immaculate. Her grounds caress their figures. Shapes hulk and then sway as they play towards their edges. There's a stylishness to all this, but Crowner mostly gets away with it (except when her designs get excited or her stitching gets cute). Less can be said about her bronzes and the stuff by other artists. The show's installational conceit made me look past a Matisse.
Dana James - Pearls & Potions - Hollis Taggart - ****
Getting pictorial structure and physical structure into perfect balance seems to be what James is after with these paintings. Physical structure comes by way of encaustic, shaped supports, multiple panels, and collaged bits of untreated canvas. Pictorial structure consists in wedges, stains, lines, and gradients, as well as in rectangles and quarter-ovals. The colors, which are mostly pale pinks and blues, court prettiness, but the arrangements (of pictorial together with physical elements) usually prove that what's easy in one register makes way for or clarifies what's challenging in another. For instance, the soft lineless way James' colors breathe allows for discontinuities between abutting panels, which are frequently great. The decorativeness of a shape in two dimensions might facilitate a more complicated emergence elsewhere in something closer to three. James struggles with crowding, which seems to stem from a crowdedness of good ideas. The less invasively these make their way into her work, the better it tends to be. (A single chip of dark paint in the top right of Astronomical Dawn is a case in point.) At their best, James's paintings are like Miyoko Ito in an exploded-view or ADHD Olitskis.
Tariku Shiferaw - Marking Oneself in Dark Places - Galerie Lelong - *.5
In addition to an installation, Shiferaw's show contains about a dozen paintings, maybe half of which have plastics and silks in addition to acrylic. None of the paintings are good, but the multimedia ones are slightly better than bad. This is because the way they complicate the picture plane—making it super literal while also putting some depth to it—gives you at least a little bit to think through while you look. There's nothing like this that could add interest to the plain finger-painting sloppiness of the straight acrylics. This is an affectation I can't imagine trying to justify on aesthetic grounds. For the installation, all walls of a room have been painted in this manner, plus there are roughshod crates, a painting, a Gilliam-style hung canvas, and a chain link fence. I assume all of this is well-scaffolded theoretically.
Yvonne Thomas - Complexed Squares - Berry Campbell - ***
Thomas was a student of Hofmann's and it really shows in the worse eighty percent of these paintings, which are more unobjectionable than they are bad. These are the ones with squares and rectangles done throughout the sixties, which would feel more like color exercises than finished works if it weren't for their size. It seems Thomas didn't hit her stride until she moved past this manner in the early seventies, when she started messing with ovoids that act like windows, and with more complex figure-ground relations by those means. Several small canvases appear to be workings-through of this new approach, while the scaled-up Parade from 1973 is a culmination of these attempts. This one is pretty fucking masterful. Its arrangement is winning and its colors are perfectly picked (not so for the smaller ones). What makes it exceptional, though, are the edges where those colors meet: just airy and open enough for some subjectivity to slip inside of what would otherwise be a satisfying but exacting hard-edged composition.
Akinsanya Kambon, AMBOS, Chiffon Thomas, Christopher Suarez, Dan Herschlein, Devin Reynolds, Dominique Moody, Emmanuel Louisnord Desir, Erica Mahinay, Esteban Ramón Pérez, Guadalupe Rosales, Ishi Glinsky, Jackie Amézquita, Jessie Homer French, Jibz Cameron, Joey Terrill, Kang Seung Lee, Kyle Kilty, LACA, Luis Bermudez, Marcel Alcalá, Maria Maea, Mas Exitos, Melissa Cody, Michael Alvarez, Miller Robinson, Nancy Evans, Page Person, Paige Jiyoung Moon, Pippa Garner, Roksana Pirouzmand, Ryan Preciado, Sula Bermúdez-Silverman, Teresa Baker, Teresa Tolliver, Tidawhitney Lek, Victor Estrada, Vincent Enrique Hernandez, Young Joon Kwak - Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living - The Hammer Museum
The biennial takes its title from a quote from the assemblage artist Noah Purifoy: "One does not have to be a visual artist to utilize creative potential. Creativity can be an act of living, a way of life, and a formula for doing the right thing." I read this after I saw the show and thought, but what if one is a visual artist? And what if one's visual art is on display at the Hammer Museum in an exhibition of... visual art? I'm always ready to delight in an artful depiction of the everyday, but I can't accept that any depiction of the everyday might qualify as art, or that everyday exercises of creativity and visual art are fungible. The "acts of living" that qualified for this biennial comprise a glut of straightforward depictions of the greater LA metropolitan area. These include paintings of LA neighborhoods, LA freeways, and LA apartments, a small-scale ceramic replica of a city block in Long Beach, and myriad portraits of LA artists' LA friends and LA families and LA communities. I started playing a private game of Where's Waldo with images of the "Welcome to Los Angeles" freeway sign and LA Dodgers' logos—you could spot one, somewhere, in most of the paintings (and embossed into one of Esteban Ramón Pérez's leather works). Jackie Amezquita assembled a striking grid of copper-framed earth works on one gallery wall—but, when I stepped closer, I saw that they were made of dirt from LA neighborhoods etched with, you guessed it, drawings of LA. When I lived in New York I often complained that New York felt provincial, but I don't think I ever saw an art show there that felt as insistently self-referential as this one, or as much like a closed conceptual loop. This is a show that is plugging its ears and saying "LALALALALA."
Of course, LA has plenty to offer as a subject for visual art—but then, I tend to think that pretty much anything can be a subject for visual art, and that the artistry is in the treatment of the subject. I wasn't sure what these representational, more-or-less-realist paintings of LA freeways and houses, hanging in an LA museum, could offer other than to refer me back outside to LA, with all its freeways and houses. What could I get from a painting of a graffiti-covered train car on LA's East Side that I couldn't get (in a more potent, more authentic) form from the actual graffiti on the actual train car? I guess I could feel edified to see the graffiti without braving the train yard, but I don't want to feel edified, and I don't want to feel like a tourist looking at an earnest postcard sent from some far-flung city district. Many of the works relied on the city—and by that I mean the very recognizable and iconic visuals of the city—to supply meaning. (In all of these representations I didn't see any images of, for example, the encampments on the side of the 110 freeway, or the thousands of active oil wells that dot the city: there was a conspicuous dearth of engagement with local political conditions, an absence that I found a little lily-livered.) Other works drew on an individual artist's personal attachments to the city or to LA-centric communities, like Michael Alvarez's paintings of his family home in East LA or Joey Terril's film-still-style portraits of gay Chicano men before the devastation of AIDS. Most of the show, then, felt concerned most of all with what LA looks like—and here, it looks pretty much like an urban landscape where various demographic groups live—not what it might feel like to be here, or what materials—physical or conceptual—comprise this place, or which elemental and social forces might inform the daily life we're all apparently living here. The show never took me much further than that "Welcome to Los Angeles" sign.
I liked the few abstract pieces. Teresa Baker's map-like combinations of yarn and turf managed to suggest the looping paths of walking trails and the strange half-geometries of city district maps in lovely and relatively subtle ways. I loved the sculptures of Luis Bermudez, who died in 2021. His semi-abstracted clay snakes, lightning bolts, bulbous vessels evoke Mesoamerican myth,but rather than using a reference to the myth as a shortcut to meaning or import, these works revive and replenish the myths through formal, material experimentation with clay. Apparently (the plaque told me), he used clay from the landscape where those Mesoamerican cultures arose, the landscape out of which those myths were made. The transformation of craft across generations, through formal experimentation, may be a cycle—make, remake, reimagine, make—but it's not a closed loop. It has forward motion, and it carries its origin with it as it moves.
Agnes Scherer - Casper a la mode - Bel Ami
Scherer's paper cut-out sculptures, collages, and colored-pencil-on-paper drawings have a lo-fi, neurotic charm. The framed works evoke paper dollhouses or puppet theaters, where collaged paper cut-outs of harlequin faces float next to reclining figures, disembodied limbs, and bursts of flower bouquets and ribbons, backgrounded and patterned by Scherer's fevered colored-pencil marks. The large paper kite sculpture makes for a fun way to distort our sense of scale in the space, rendering us doll-sized for a moment as we move through the gallery. The pieces revel in the flimsy texture of the paper and the bright, waxy transparency of the colored pencils, and a playful engagement with performance and theater as a conceptual foundation and as a visual idiom. When I saw her show at Page in New York in December 2022, my friend and I were the first to arrive; my friend nearly walked into the strings holding up the paper bed frame sculpture that was the center of the show. We left laughing, delighted with the precarity and delicacy of the work and its cheeky fun—that it could so easily fall over, or burn, or get crumpled. This work has the same mischievous riskiness to it.
Lari Pittman - Sparkling Cities with Egg Monuments - Lehmann Maupin
These paintings look like elaborate background art for a trippy animated dream sequence set in a Victorian city inhabited by eggs. They are huge and technically immaculate, painted through what would seem to be an incredibly labor-intensive process of layered masking. As a group, the paintings don't complicate each other or expand an understanding of the parameters of Pittman's project (the motifs, construction, and bruisy palette are consistent throughout). There is a perversity and an intimation of convoluted narrative in some of Pittman's earlier work that is absent in this show; neither the egg motifs nor the cityscapes are particularly evocative. The graphic mashup of garish midcentury wallpaper and cartoony architecture on display here mostly comes off as nostalgic, and kind of endearing in its dorkiness. Because of the size of the paintings and the repetitive nature of the group, it's hard to appreciate the idiosyncrasy of the egg cities, insofar as the absurd extent of Pittman's conviction in the concept.
Helen Marten - Evidence of Theatre - Greene Naftali
The stars of the show are Marten's pieces of detritus and one-liner miniatures arranged on and around wonky furniture and small scaffolds. The fabricated armatures combine a playful, imaginative spontaneity with rigorous execution, the kind of thing an industrial design student whose parents collected Memphis Group furniture might render in Sketchup after smoking a joint. These clean powder-coated forms provide a satisfying visual counterweight to Marten's array of found-looking objects—pieces that scream shop class scrap bin, child's treasure box, or junk drawer effluvia. Marten achieves a distinct sensibility through these dioramas (something like Rachel Harrison meets de Chirico), but they lack concision; the pieces are vaguely suggestive of a sort of psychological density, but they don't seem to amount to more than the sum of their many parts. There are some singular moments of humor, inventiveness, and clever uses of materials, but these details end up feeling incidental, subsumed into the labyrinthine jumble of the installation.
Eric Wesley - SWIZZLE TWIDDLE FIDDLE STICKS - Bortolami
A pleasing taxonomy of rods. The idea of giant swizzle sticks is a bit twee, but it works in part because there's no press release or pretension of it being something grander. Some wind up looking like parts of a Richard Tuttle piece, some like big staffs, some like giant pendulums; the sort of vaguely decorative, vaguely functional curio one might find in a junk shop sticking out of a barrel of golf clubs and table legs.
Kate Mosher - Hall Big View - Miguel Abreu
Hall's digital manipulations of photographs are varied enough in approach that the show is engaging, if a bit uneven. Considering the emphasis on optical defamiliarization in the press release, some of her moves feel too easily decipherable (drop shadows, pictures broken down into glitchy concentric squares). These less-inspired compositional devices are redeemed somewhat by Hall's use of silkscreened bitmaps; there is an inherent satisfaction in looking at a dot matrix from close up and far away. Hall is most successful when she is at her most inscrutable. It's unclear in paintings like Dove songs and 11:11 how exactly the artwork relates to the source material, and in these the bitmap is activated as a dynamic formal element rather than merely a technique of reproduction. There are imprints of depicted things, but they are inextricable from an abstract exploration of light and form, in a similar vein to the photograms of Laszlo Moholy Nagy.
The dog looking into a four-way mirror in Time Keeper (September) serves as a neat metaphor for the idea of seeing oneself seeing, and teeters nimbly on the edge of legibility: the source image is only readable because of the small patches of white fur on the dog's snout and ruff. I'm reminded of the Courbet painting at the Met of two hunting dogs standing over a dead hare—the hare has been killed but their owner has yet to arrive, so the dogs are left to look at each other.
John Lees - Krazy Paradise - Betty Cuningham
Lees treats paintings as surfaces that age like bodies alongside his own (some of these paintings have been kicking around his studio for thirty years), not as products to be churned out and beamed into the world. He alternates between encrusted buildup and a borderline neurotic process of repeatedly taking the canvas off the stretcher and sanding it down, sometimes rubbing all the way back to bare ground. The pocked and abraded surfaces endow the resultant landscapes and portraits with an air of grubby pathos. Call me a sycophant, but I'm convinced there is no more expedient way to arrive at paintings like these—what Lees is doing can't be faked. Plenty of painters make work that deals with mortality or the clunky mundanity of being a human, but Lees plants his easel smack in the middle of the corporeal morass; these are paintings made out of, not about, the passage of time. In case you had him pegged as a solemn crank clinging to the dusty coattails of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Lees throws in a couple of moments of lighthearted humor, such as the hapless dweeb in Dilly Dally Unstrung.
Shusaku Arakawa - A Line Is A Crack - Castelli Gallery - ***.5
I have mixed feelings towards the mid-century milieu of Johns, Rauschenberg, later Duchamp, etc., despite enjoying their art. After the theatricality of Abstract Expressionism, their interest in restraint, composure, and delicacy was a welcome change of pace. That absence could be an appropriate subject for fine art constituted an intriguing iteration of the assault on representation, if one accepts its conceptual attitude as an authentic vehicle for meaning. However, the Neo-Dada aesthetic of indifference and cerebral detachment, in Arakawa's case wholly deferent to the techno-scientific imaginary of that time, has undoubtedly compounded the nihilistic tendencies of contemporary art. I cannot fault Arakawa and his peers for seeking beauty in nothingness amid the indulgent, mind-numbing spectacle of twentieth century visual culture; one recalls Thomas Mann's Aschenbach gazing at the dull, formless expanse of the Venetian sea and finding absolute perfection. The airbrushed outlines of commonplace objects—umbrellas, to name one example—that occupy Arakawa's paintings feel like a welcome challenge to the imperious presence of the commercial eye. Perhaps it is the novelty of Arakawa's project, or its underlying rigor, that distinguishes it from contemporary artists who seek the same ends.
Polemics aside, Arakawa's endeavor to integrate art, architecture, technology, and objecthood through diagrammatic rigidity remains an edifying experience. The precision with which he plots his compositions, or the calculated departure therefrom into a contained, luminous sort of chaos, becomes an optical vehicle for the rational irrationality of our age of machines. Exacting in measure and proportion, Arakawa's geometry replicates the visual logic of mechanical drafting techniques through gridded arrays that organize the contents of his pieces. A similar uniformity in canvas tonality, again punctuated by small, saturated bursts of color that serve to magnetize the viewer, elevates the show into a total work of art. Inscriptions are often found underneath the body of the painting, sometimes didactic, "none of these are right or wrong," and sometimes emotive, "please think of your breathing while looking at this," introduce a dialectical productivity into the viewer's act of beholding. Evocative in the best way, these prompts push us to consider our various modes of relation with the edicts of modern industry or economics. Used sparingly, Arakawa avoids the gimmickry that might befall a piece that deploys a similarly literal device. Arakawa's sincerity and libidinal investment in the enterprise of art is the element missing from other artists' works that also rely on mechanical or technological gestures.
Jack Pierson - Pomegranates - Lisson Gallery - *.5
Jack Pierson's photographs were once characterized by their emotional immediacy, perceptive power, and delightfully under-composed ordonnance. His forays into studio photography reveal that talent has waned past its apex, beset by the cultural expectation that artists should be arbiters of taste. The discrepancy between the mission of the aesthete and that of the artist reveals itself to any viewer appraising Pierson's Arrays, looming assemblages of mass cultural ephemera, photographs, and drawings that have been fastened to ten-by-fifteen-foot metal panels. Here, an untrammeled commitment to taste precludes the sort of authenticity and vulnerability that makes art interesting. His general point is clear enough; Pierson endeavors to construct various archetypal visions of masculinity through their disparate visual manifestations. Yet the Arrays, presented in a trilogy sequence organized by the axes of color, remain uninspired gestures towards some haphazard conceptual core that is never fully realized. Nothing truly emotive animates the superficial pleasantries of Pierson's Arrays because the artist does not exhibit any curiosity in the psychological center of his admittedly skillful aesthetic undertaking. The press release dwells on the supposedly emphatic materiality of these pieces in a sleight of hand that is not only dishonest—the textural differences, though eye-catching, are an afterthought at best—but a simultaneous admission of Pierson's failure to present a universalizing narrative.
His nude, single-subject photographs are cut from the same cloth. To be completely fair, these pieces do demonstrate the refined technique of an artist who has spent decades honing his craft. This self-consciousness, however, arrests any sense of subjectivity from piercing through his placid surfaces. Perhaps this objectifying maneuver would be interesting had it been Pierson's point, but his intention was clearly erotic interest and intersubjective connection. Bodies are posed in a classical manner and have largely been chosen for their adherence to traditional beauty standards, with a few cynical inclusionary selections. Abjection, the key ingredient for any sensual project, has been methodically removed through the overbearing, manicured poise of Pierson's models. This criticism extends to the figural photographs found in Pierson's assemblages mentioned earlier. An icy expanse separates these men from gallery-goers. As Bataille wrote, "Ponderousness excludes passion so thoroughly you might as well not consider it," which, in my view, designates the Apollonian aesthetic impulse towards plastic form-giving. As Pierson disfigures eros through a relentless commitment to his current preference for a banal prettiness and editorial composition, one senses the hunger that once animated his early work has given way to a stale, diminutive desire to produce tasteful decor.
Louise Bourgeois - Once there was a mother - Hauser & Wirth - ****.5
A refreshingly intimate collection of Bourgeois' later works that captures her distinctive focus on the primitive violence inherent to femininity, maternity, and the sexual relation. Whereas other works of Feminist art can feel overwrought and ideologically possessed, Bourgeois remains singular in her intentional ambiguity. Working as a documentarian rather than an ideologue, Bourgeois foregrounds the biological anguish of reproduction through sparse figuration and an absurdist, stylized approach to anatomical proportions. Stripped of identity beyond sexual designation, her figures are sequestered from the emotional perception of those beholding them. The voluptuous curvature of The Good Mother parodies the canonical depictions of Mannerist female nudes, in a defiant assertion of womanhood's grotesquerie. Her statues, Pregnant Woman or Femme, evoke the primal icon of the Venus of Willendorf, similarly bulbous and self-enclosed by its anatomy. An abundance of internal and external references compound on the themes of motherhood and child-rearing, much as life begets life in its own image; Self Portrait incorporates a transparently referential gesture to other works included in the show, such as The Rivals or The Maternal Man. Situated above a circular calendar, the viewer draws an obvious association with the menstrual cycle. Yet even as Bourgeois reifies this one-dimensional view of womanhood as a poignant vehicle for critique, she undercuts its totalizing, appropriative power through moments of contestation. The Passage is composed from multiple layers of fabric placed atop one another, suggesting depth through its material construction. These small decisions leave one with a reserved sense of optimism, challenging us to look beyond the biological determinism that Bourgeois renders so beautifully.
Manet / Degas - The Metropolitan Museum of Art - **.5
Not much can be said against the art of Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, though I maintain my preference for Manet along with my general indifference to Impressionism. Pierre Bourdieu was correct in his assertion that Degas was a modernist despite his temperamental reluctance to engage with such a movement; his early entries into the Salon, sprawling and melodramatic historical tableaux such as The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, after Delacroix, reveal Degas' fundamentally conservative impulse. Despite being known for his later innovative compositions (or lack thereof, if one were to characterize the term as his contemporary critics did) and agile use of color, Degas was not a revolutionary in the same sense as Manet. That the art of these two masters remains exhilarating for modern audiences seems obvious enough, given the scarcity of contemporary works that effectively capture the spirit of a historical juncture. Edouard Manet, the progenitor of Modernism, is brought into conversation with his cogenerationist Edgar Degas through an examination of biographical facts as members of a rarefied, late 19th century Parisian avant-garde, and an abundance of sketches and working drawings promise novel insight into the technique and process of two artistic titans. Upon entering the exhibition space, the audience is promptly informed that the two met white etching the same Velázquez painting in the Louvre (Portrait of Infanta Margarita Teresa). Manet would generate a preparatory drawing before engraving his plate, while Degas would simply etch into the plate. Degas' preference for haste, motion, and energy—best embodied by his depictions of racehorses, though this tendency is apparent in his general approach to composition—revealed itself through his technique as a draftsman.
The exhibition does not dwell much on the visual and analytic dimension of this moment, because there are few paintings that attest to Velázquez' influence on Manet's early work, such as The Old Musician or The Absinthe Drinker (though the Degas piece of a similar name is found later in the exhibition). This absence of analysis, or really any effort to broaden the public understanding of Modernism's intensive engagement with the past, is an unfortunate oversight that extends through the entire exhibition. As one moves deeper into the exhibition, the viewer then confronts an obvious statement piece: Olympia. To give the exhibition designers credit, the placement of this work does make a profound impression, commensurate with its historical influence, but on the whole the curation is disappointing. Glaringly, little effort is made to examine the ways in which Manet and Degas influenced one another on the fundamental level of technique. The initial emphasis on materiality and gravitas in Manet's work—Courbet is the operative influence here—gives way to the sketchier, plein air brushstrokes that seem derived from Degas' visual language. Yet the curators evince no interest in this connection, or really any connection between the two beyond their relationship with the fashionable Parisian set (Zola, Mallarmé, the Morisot circle). The exhibition, however, is ultimately redeemed by the abundance of great art. To assemble the works of Manet and Degas, place them within inches of each other, and yet maintain a decided emphasis on their social milieu feels like an unfortunate, if understandable, oversight. One hopes the curators' intent was to respect the viewers' autonomy in independently formulating these sorts of analyses.