Ricco / Maresca Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Third Floor
December 1January 14
Opposite the entrance to this photography-focused exhibition are six portraits from nearly a century ago, each attributed to an “American Unidentified.” A kitschy print of two white male baseball players, standing before a painted-green background (Baseball Players, ca. 1920s), neighbors a portrait of an African American soldier posing before a similarly cool-hued, airbrushed backdrop (Soldier, ca. 1920s). Beneath him is a collage of flower-seed packets sandwiched between black-and-white photos of a woman and a man, contributing to the work’s enigmatic nature.
This theme of unknown identity takes a break in the center room. A series of five poolside photos of Marilyn Monroe by Weegee—“Untitled (M Monroe),” ca. 1952–53—clearly depicts the star, but some of the images have her legs disproportionately stretched. In another, her head is duplicated eightfold into a sunflower-like shape in place of her torso, juxtaposing the actress’s classic beauty with surreal grotesquerie. On the same wall is an unattributed work, this one a woven tapestry based on a popular propaganda image of Mao Zedong playing ping-pong, taken by his personal photographer L Houmin.
The exhibition ends with a portrait by an anonymous American artist, installed within a small black enclave near the middle room, titled Man in Box, ca. 1960s. The obscurity of the bearded subject’s identity is doubled by the blurred glass vitrine in which he stands cross-legged with a cane. Is he trapped, or merely protecting himself from the strange, distorted world outside? His nonchalant pose suggests the latter.
261 Broome Street
December 9January 22
For his solo exhibition “Unavoidable Encounter,” John Dante Bianchi has made sculptures that initially register as paintings attempting to escape their supports. Concertina-like folds of what seems to be canvas—but is actually immaculately engineered strata of wood and aluminum—wrest from their stretcher bars, rising and jutting forth in sharply angled planes, revealing trusses and screws beneath. Acrylic paint is applied to the surfaces in layers, then sanded back to form warm clouds of pinks, purples, and oranges, with patches of iridescent gray where the metal is exposed. The abstract visual effect in each contused piece is at once cosmologically vast and intimate on a cellular level.
Bianchi’s work resuscitates that fatigued threshold between sculpture and painting. The canvas sections are made and colored first, and their stretchers are fitted afterward, reversing a painting’s construction. This is most strikingly expressed in the thrusting shards of Untitled (Torqued Panel #15), 2016. The suggestion of corporeal separation between the piece’s upper and underlying components, such as a tendon flayed from bone, renders the work strangely emotive rather than dryly academic, despite its architectural precision.
The ten works here are wall-mounted, except for a floor piece resembling the moldering, bleached husk of a redwood’s trunk, which plays at sculpture a bit too predictably. Pristine and restrained, yet unexpectedly vulnerable, Bianchi’s work arrestingly regards what is, and isn’t, a painting, offering crisp analysis on how porous the brink between these two media may be.
80WSE Gallery, NYU Steinhardt School
80 Washington Square East
December 8February 18
The drywall has been stripped from the side of the gallery’s entrance to expose the underlying brick and bright red scaffolding. White powder-coated steel and plywood beams populate the rooms, but instead of holding up the ceiling, they stand isolated, unattached. One beam wears a faux fur shawl draped over the top, while another stands on a crumpled floral-patterned doormat (Untitled Problem 15 and 8 [all works cited, 2016]). Omaskko Cree artist Duane Linklater examines the oft-invisible framing that enables and prevents indigenous artwork from being seen. On one wall, a clear plastic tarp all but covers a framed digital print of an accession sheet (Accession) for a pair of white baby boots crafted from caribou, beads, and rabbit fur—valued at twenty-two Canadian dollars—by Ethel Linklater, the artist’s late grandmother. These boots were part of an exhibition in the 1980s, organized by the Ontario Arts Council, from which this show takes its name.
Paying particular attention to the structures that display and house indigenous art, from state museums to private galleries, Linklater constructs stainless-steel armatures and concrete bases to present these art objects and family heirlooms (Speculative apparatus for the work of nohkompan, 1–9; nohkompan is a Cree word that translates to “my grandmother who is passed on”). Detailed caribou, moose, and rabbit-hide mukluks, slippers, and mitts made by Ethel—owned by Ontario’s Thunder Bay Art Gallery and on loan to Linklater—are presented atop his pedestals. “From Our Hands” is a collaborative show that traces the cultural and genealogical relations between Linklater, his twelve-year-old son, Tobias (whose stop-motion video, Origin of the Hero, is also featured), and Ethel. A bouquet of flowers and a pyramid of Du Maurier cigarettes among Ethel’s belongings rest on Linklater’s dark concrete plinths. Interrogating the relationship between the materials that create the “neutral” gallery and the collections that fill it, the artist holds a space for his son while embracing his grandmother.
Cathouse FUNeral | Chelsea
132 10th Ave.
December 15January 21
On November 20 of last year, the original site of this Brooklyn exhibition space in East Williamsburg, located in a former funeral home, closed its doors for the last time. The artist-run venue had an unquiet rest, however—another version of it currently exists as a projects space in Carroll Gardens, while its first body has been exhumed for a second life in Chelsea. “Cathouse FUNeral Harvested” (an extension of which will open on the Lower East Side on January 8) collects residue from twenty shows of murals and installations via fragments of sheetrock and other architectural excerpts, presented as collaborative works that have been three years in the making. Crowded with freestanding wall segments and framed remnants, the Tenth Avenue space is punctuated by dead ends and ersatz corridors. Zips of pink are in evidence from the 2014 group show “Shrink It, Pink It.” A mural by Brad Benischek begins with Harvesting: FUNeral Tryptic (w/ Brad Benischek) and ends in FUNeral Gallery-Object 2 (w/ Benischek) (both 2016), though the slabs are anachronistically joined (by David Dixon, Cathouse’s wallah, with the artist’s permission) to unlike parts. Excavated to stand like clean-cut monoliths, the “harvestings” present a mess of artifacts that refuse to straighten into a tidy narrative; even the three gypsum tablets that chronicle the Cathouse’s exhibition history are placed out of sequence. These structures share no design with their former digs and make no attempt at a documentary-like report. Although these assembled remains contain the potential for a whimsical archive, they are shown not as gestures of mourning or memory, but as celebrations of the vitality and opportunity of ending.
Seventeen | New York
November 23January 22
My punishment for being a voluble child, overflowing with words and song that grew louder and angrier as I reached adolescence, is a voice slightly down-pitched by small vocal nodules. They were discovered at fourteen, when I—a natural soprano—had trouble hitting my highest notes. “It’s like a boy’s voice cracking,” a vocal teacher joked, to my great embarrassment. I was diagnosed through an uncomfortable laryngoscopy. Once inserted up the nose and down the throat, the scope makes it impossible to breathe normally, let alone vocalize.
Marianna Simnett’s exhibition “Lies,” exploring the gendered implications of voice and masochism, vividly evoked this memory of asphyxiation. In Faint with Light (all works cited, 2016), a stack of ultrabright LEDs is synced with an audio recording of Simnett trying to faint by hyperventilating. The intensity of her breath is registered by the lights, which illuminate fully with her deepest inhalations—taken before losing consciousness—and then go dark. Although the strobe-like installation made me queasy, it’s hard to ignore its erotic implications—with la petite mort being a euphemism for orgasm. Simnett’s video The Needle and the Larynx shows the artist undergoing a temporary lowering of her voice through a Botox injection to her cricothyroid muscle. Slowed to one-quarter speed, the procedure is hypnotic, excruciating. With her large blue eyes directed skyward during the examination, Simnett is much like Rene Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film about the young saint.
The Needle and the Larynx begins with an empowering parable of a little girl forcing a doctor to lower her voice by summoning the natural forces of heat. At the end, Simnett speaks in a startlingly feeble voice two days after her injection. Rather than masculine strength, the procedure relaxed her throat so much that she couldn’t breathe. “You suddenly become conscious of all the parts of your throat,” she says, gasping for air. “They didn’t tell me that I was gonna be so we . . . weakened by it.”
Marlborough Chelsea | New York
545 West 25th Street
December 8January 14
“ROACH FARTS OF SHARK STAMPEDE” reads a collage in this modest exhibition of Jack Smith’s drawings, photographs, and assorted ephemera. The phrase is mysterious, funny, Instagrammable—and it nicely summarizes the late artist/filmmaker’s mischievous imagination, which was always more fabulous than real life. Smith is best known for his 1963 film Flaming Creatures, an erotic romp filled with all manner of homosexy lasciviousness. Fliers for screenings appear alongside notes, printed materials, and correspondences—an unexpected letter from Playboy discloses the magazine’s endorsement of the artist. A trio of untitled photographs from circa 1958–62, which were reprinted in 2011, highlights Smith’s blend of camp and ritual. They feature a creepy couple—in tatty, flamboyant costumes and Day of the Dead makeup—on a butterfly-catching expedition.
Smith’s drawings on napkins and craft paper just hint at the breadth of his experimentation. Though he made things from junk, he turned it all into gold—or beautiful fool’s gold, anyway. The undated Mirage Publications gives us covers for made-up erotic novels, with titles such as Pasty Glamour, Tales of Uranus, and Slavery Stories; while an untitled and undated bit of roundabout doodling calls to mind ancient Egyptian devotionals. But . . . Who Would Punish Us? (From “The White Pig of the Medina”), ca. 1967, is an endearing portrait of a fat prostitute reclining, smoking and smiling. L.B. was really loving Shirley . . . (undated), shows a doctor clutching a needle, his lovely patient strung out on “munchkin glands.” It makes your skin crawl. Most of the exhibition’s framed materials are “date unknown,” an ambiguity which enhances the show’s intimate scope. Smith’s jouissance—or explosive mental orgasm—does wonders for our dreadful postelection malaise.
Team Gallery | Grand Street
83 Grand Street
November 17, 2016January 7, 2017
Canvas masks with square polycarbonate welding lens eyes and two tubes, each dangling like strange appendages, line one wall of the gallery. The masks, together titled the Garrett Morgan safety hood allowing the wearer to breathe in a hostile environment (all works 2015), are replicas of air-filtration hoods––originally conceived to protect firefighters from smoke––created by African American inventor Garrett Morgan. Here, James Crosby reinterprets them as defenses against both atmospheric and social threats. A large black-and-white photograph of a figure donning the hood highlights its capacity for disguise (Take care of your mask and your mask will take care of you). Although the gallery text affirms the wearer is Crosby himself, his face is completely obscured, making this claim impossible to verify.
Crosby’s decision to frame Morgan’s legacy around this particular invention—rather than another of his innovations, such as the electric stoplight—allows the artist to engage the subject of blackness. Though Morgan symbolizes African American achievement, Crosby’s emphasis on the hoods as Morgan’s defining civic achievement seems to imply that becoming part of the Black American historical canon requires deemphasizing, or even effacing, race. A pair of hoodies cut open––one resembling a soft exoskeleton, the other concrete-dipped and hardened, like armor—emphasizes this tension between visibility and concealment. Clothing and camouflage can protect the vulnerable, though not always, as the hoodie, now a haunting symbol of police brutality, reminds us.
Crosby offers no finite answers for how blackness should present itself in society or, for that matter, in art (notably, none of the pieces on view directly represents the black body). His refusal to try to neatly resolve such vast and difficult questions only makes his debut exhibition more compelling.
American Folk Art Museum
2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at 66th Street
October 6February 26
“Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades.” The carving of character by light, as the early camera was thought to do, and as this advertising slogan for photographers of the 1800s suggests, was especially trenchant for those who wanted to remember their dead at eternal slumber’s start, with astonishing veracity, via the daguerreotype’s unearthly powers. Memorial portrait painting is another kind of alchemy—venerable, yet stranger, as it tasks the artist with reviving a kind of familiar glow or personality from the deceased––sometimes using the corpse as a model––for the commissioning bereaved.
This exhibition, curated by the museum’s Stacy C. Hollander, is an extraordinary survey of memorial works—mostly painted and photographic—that were made by artists, both formally trained and self-taught, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America, a time when we were more intimately acquainted with mortality and the rituals surrounding death. Many of the works’ subjects are quite young—children and babies who died from illness, accidents. One of the most affecting is Thomas Wilder’s oil-on-canvas portrait of Anna Baylies Bushee, 1848, which depicts the girl, just barely five, sitting in a dour parlor near a window that looks onto two small angels—ugly, sickening things—awaiting her arrival in heaven. There’s Charles Willson Peale’s Rachel Weeping, 1772–1818, a painting of the artist’s wife crying over the body of their infant daughter, Margaret, who was taken by smallpox: Margaret’s yellowed lips are held shut by a silken chinstrap, her arms securely fastened to her sides by a swath of white ribbon, tied with a dainty bow. There’s even a plaster death mask by Hiram Powers made from his little boy’s face, James Gibson Powers, ca. 1838, who succumbed to “water on the brain.”
Pictures of headstones appear in the exhibition as well—some so crudely fashioned that they look considerably older than just two or three hundred years. Also on view: an ivory medallion featuring a watercolor and graphite rendering of a virginal teenage bride. A photo encased in a velvety, locket-like frame shows a young lady in her casket, lavished with flowers, with an aged paper fragment that reads “Death’s seal is on that cherub brow, and closed that sparkling eye.” Genteel language often poorly conceals such devastating loss.
191 Chrystie St
November 13January 15
Diane Simpson’s sculptures are part translation, part fantasy, and pure pleasure. The octogenarian artist begins each work by creating isometric drawings on graph paper. She uses the drawings, with handwritten instructions for assembly, as blueprints for artworks with interlocking components. While they reference articles of clothing, the sculptures are constructed from hard angles, often in materials with an architectural heft. Simpson’s efforts result in a sophisticated, homespun modernism that channels the Midwestern cosmopolitanism of her hometown, Chicago.
Her second show with this gallery showcases seven sculptures and two drawings from her “Samurai” series, 1981–83. This was only her second body of work after finishing her MFA in 1978, at age forty-three. Simpson took inspiration from a scene in Akira Kurosawa’s film Kagemusha (1980), in which she observed the intricate folds of seated samurais’ skirts. In her works, the skirt’s function switches from modesty to protection; feminine concealment of the body becomes masculine containment. Her highly photogenic and life-size warriors, made from MDF and wood, project a squat, robotic, almost flat image of power. And yet the objects beg to be encountered in their rich dimensionality. Here, surprising details of their hardware-less construction emerge. Samurai 9, 1983, references Art Deco architecture in its stepped peaks and frontal solidity, while its sides reveal elegant, sloping planes. Simpson also indulges her painterly sense of color. Samurai 10, 1983, and Samurai 5, 1982, nod to Agnes Martin with their delicate grids, both incised and drawn, in pale red, salmon, and white. Samurai 6, 1982, features a dramatic enamel gradient that goes from white to gray. Conceived more than thirty years ago, Simpson’s work feels newly conversant with recent sculpture that refuses to pit structural concerns against beauty.
980 Madison Avenue
November 22January 21
These photographs, shot between 1988 and 1992 in Grapevine Branch (a small community in West Virginia) were made collaboratively. Not wanting to rehearse the old narrative of “poor isolated rednecks,” Susan Lipper involved her subjects in the storytelling process, visualizing their personal myths. It’s surprising, then, that her work features those familiar tokens—guns, Klan hoods, bibles, booze—that decorate the liberal’s imaginary tableaux of the rural South. How did these props end up there? And, more to the point, what is it that is so unsettling about the results?
For a start, we might observe that Lipper’s characters never directly confront the camera. They look at us through masks, or look past us, or blankly stare at the ground. These are postures, and yet their effect is menacing. And it’s precisely that tension—between real and imagined fear—that forces us to engage, not retract. Untitled (Grapevine), 1992, for example, shows an old man looking at us through the broken window of a ramshackle pickup truck. His face and particularly his eyes are hidden by shard patterns. This framing is too perfect to feel circumstantial; it’s practically iconic. Yet the scene’s physical realities—unrepaired window, worn-out clothing—ineluctably evince a lifestyle in decay.
Lipper and her subjects are staging the relations between lived reality and its representation. We are invited not so much to look at these photographs as through them, at the social significance of the forlorn rituals they recount. Though Lipper’s scenes are evenly distributed between nighttime and day, they all unfold at a mysterious, timeless twilight hour. Revelation is within reach, but it remains one frame away.
MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
October 1January 22
This necessary exhibition presents architectural and design responses to an increasingly precarious but basic human right—shelter—in our era of mass crisis, emergency, urgency, and hopelessness. The show begins with the immense issue of housing the sixty-five million displaced people and refugees across the globe, and it ends with more ethical questions than it can ever answer. Yet one thing is clear: Nothing on view can ever be a lasting solution to the anxieties faced by the stateless families and individuals who are having doors slammed in their faces at every turn.
The risk of aestheticizing crisis runs high here, but the most interesting works avoid this through representation and not mere documentation. Consider Woven Panel, 2016, a woolen rug made in collaboration with Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women, an organization spread across refugee settlements in southwestern Algeria. The piece depicts the Rabouni camp’s long-standing ministries of defense, interior, and education, as well as a museum. A portrayal of a government that’s been in exile for nearly forty years, the work moreover underscores the tradition of weaving among the Sahrawis.
A disquieting grid in the show presents pictures of historical settlements: from a black-and-white image of Dheisheh, the largest of the Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, to Gordon Welters’s 2016 photograph of cubical-like living spaces in Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. Across the gallery, another grid is offered: found news images of migrants on overcrowded boats in Xaviera Simmons’s Superunknown (Alive in The), 2010. Among the moral dilemmas echoed forcefully around the exhibition there are these: what it means to be in-between, without rights, and, most critically, to be positioned as superfluous.
200 Eastern Parkway
October 21March 5
“I think that artists in the South must at some point confront the work of folk artists,” the late artist Beverly Buchanan said. But Buchanan, who is known for her colorful shack sculptures emulating Southern vernacular architecture, was anything but an outsider artist. In the early 1970s, she studied with Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden while working as a New Jersey health educator. She also gained the support of such curators as Lucy Lippard and Lowery Stokes Sims. Yet as a black woman artist who spent the height of her artistic career in Georgia, her work has not been given its historical due.
This exhibition, organized by curator Jennifer Burris and artist Park McArthur, surveys Buchanan’s practice, which commemorated the resilience of black communities while interrogating American racism. Separated into three galleries of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (triangulated around Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, 1974–79), the layout flips the script on Buchanan’s work. The show opens with her least known pieces—the series “Frustula,” 1978–81, made up of squat, cast-concrete sculptures—artworks in pointed dialogue with post-Minimalism’s industrial-ruin aesthetics. Buchanan pursued site-specificity when she moved to Macon, Georgia, in 1977. From 1979 to 1986, she created a number of humble concrete sculptures, mixed with local materials such as tabby (a cement made with oyster shells, water, lime, ash, and sand, once used for building slave quarters), which memorialized sites of racial violence. Three videos, created by McArthur, Burris, and Jason Hirata, June 10–19, 2016, 2016, document four of her Southeastern projects in situ.
This is an artist-curated show, and the second and largest section—containing more than one hundred archival objects—reveals an artist’s eye. Burris and McArthur include pieces such as the plaid shirt Buchanan painted in, adorned with white crosses and blue and red stars (Untitled, Church on Fire, 1995–96), and photo reproductions of her Guggenheim grant report for the public artwork Marsh Ruins, 1981. The final section, devoted to her miniaturized shacks from 1987 to 2010, is enriched by photos of the 1991 performance Out of Control. Buchanan enacts a conceptual score of symbolic brutality, setting a shack sculpture on fire, only allowing a friend to extinguish it.
60 N. 6th Street
October 21January 15
Between 1969 and 1973, Rosemary Mayer’s art underwent a dramatic transition. Abetted by the arrival of feminism, its investment in the body and the recuperation of craft, the laconic beauty of her early text-based works effloresced into the voluptuous fabric sculptures for which she is best remembered. Curated by art historian Maika Pollack, the gallery’s founder, with Marie and Max Warsh—Mayer’s niece and nephew—this exhibition tells the story of this sea change while also shining a light on a significant yet under-recognized figure in feminist and post-Minimalist art.
During the late sixties, Mayer (who passed away in 2014) contributed to 0 TO 9, a mimeographed journal of Conceptual art and poetry, with her sister, the poet Bernadette Mayer, and her then husband, Vito Acconci. Several works on paper from this period traffic between image and text. In Untitled [12 columns], ca. 1969, compositions of colored squares drawn on graph paper are paired with black-and-white typewritten pages detailing those same patterns in words.
Semiotic games give way to atmospheric affect in The Catherines, 1972–73, a gauzy matrix of peach and purple veils draped on a teardrop-shaped wooden support. Created the year Mayer cofounded the all-female cooperative gallery A.I.R., the work is titled in honor of notable women from European history: the warrior countess Caterina Sforza, the empress Catherine the Great, the mystic Catherine of Siena. Openly feminist and unapologetically ornamental, its flesh-colored swags of various transparent fabrics make sartorial and genital insinuations. More subtly, The Catherines also suggests the ethereal forms of Mannerist painting, to which—as Marie Warsh and Gillian Sneed have noted—Mayer likened the art of the 1970s after the dissolution of Minimalism’s spatial certainties. “Once surfaces were clear, ordered and opaque, surfaces that quickly answer questions,” she wrote in the introduction to her 1975 translation of Jacopo da Pontormo’s diary, “then forms dissolved, colors paled, began to float in uncertain atmospheres.”
Burning in Water
317 10th Ave.
October 6January 21
Rotting, wounded, smiling—watermelons, in Valerie Hegarty’s latest exhibition of paintings and sculptures, are depicted as sentient objects: carnal, threatening. Several wedges of the fruit, done in ceramics, rest on a plinth, their pink flesh resembling gums and growing teeth, tongues, ribs, stalagmites, barnacles. They make one think of the chemically modified watermelons that spontaneously exploded across fields in China in 2011—a warning about the perils of mutant capitalism.
The title of Hegarty’s exhibition, “American Berserk,” comes from Philip Roth’s 1997 novel American Pastoral, where the writer describes the darker aspects of this idyllic genre. Hegarty intelligently references Raphaelle Peale, considered the first painter of still lifes in America, in a number of her grim watercolor works, such as Watermelon Gothic 1, Fruit Face, and Picnic Body (works cited, 2015). In the latter pair of edibles-as-people pictures, one can’t help but see homages to Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the sixteenth-century Italian painter whose portraits of notable Renaissance figures, rendered as agglomerations of vegetables, fish, and books, among other items, are more horrifying than charming.
Like Roth, Hegarty is drawn to this country’s damaged history, its warped psyche. Her watermelons are the stuff of colonialism, racist stereotyping, US avarice, and gluttony. Her fruits aren’t juicy, they’re bleeding—a lacerated bounty. The show, divided into four sections, feels a bit fragmented, as each area could be its own exhibition. But these separations only aid in reinforcing our sense of distance between the idealism of the American past and its sad, corrosive present.
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