Art We Saw This Fall – The New York Times

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Through Dec. 22. Luhring Augustine TriBeCa, 17 White Street, Manhattan. 646-960-7540; luhringaugustine.com.
The outstanding prints of the German Neo-Expressionist painter Georg Baselitz are not well known in this country, a condition that should be rectified by this museum-quality exhibition of 42 etchings and woodcuts dating from 1964 to 1969. All contrast a tenderness of technique with strange or jarring subject matter.
Unsettling hybrid creatures emerge from tangles of fine, subtly frenetic lines. In the earliest etchings, the artist isolates small abject forms on the paper. “Ohr (Ear)” is a misshapen head with a snout nose and an ear from which a tongue seems to wag, while an elephant’s trunk curls from the unseen ear. But soon Baselitz engages the entire sheet, introducing his Frankensteinian men, variously identified as partisans, soldiers, hunters and “The New Type.” Disheveled and big-boned with small heads and troubled poetic faces framed by long hair, they wear military fatigues, and seem to have just lumbered off the battlefield or out of a blasted forest.
In “Zwei Soldaten (Two Soldiers)” two men, each missing a leg, lean against each other. Sometimes a sarcasm prevails, as in “Hirte (Shepherd),” where tree stumps and a speckled sky set the stage for a barely discernible figure driving two large toylike ducks with a carriage whip. Baselitz’s view of postwar Germany was hardly sanguine at this point in his career, whose progress will be traced in a second, as yet unscheduled show of prints at this gallery; all come from a private collection in Germany. ROBERTA SMITH
Through Dec. 23. Matthew Marks, 526 West 22nd Street, Manhattan. 212-243-0047; matthewmarks.com.
The great ceramic sculptor Ken Price (1935-2012) knew that, in art, social concern and visual beauty were not mutually exclusive; in fact, he inextricably embedded one in the other to brilliant effect. Seduce and enlighten. Their interdependence was perhaps nowhere clearer than in his two-pronged Pluto Ware series, made between 1993 and 2000 and exhibited in this revelatory show for the first time.
More numerous here are the small, richly colored Pluto cups, bowls and vases in glazed ceramic that depict isolated factories belching smoke and polluting rivers amid barren landscapes. These black silhouettes have a sign-language legibility. The surrounding emptiness is defined in off-key blues, greens, coppers, reds and lavenders, at once luxuriant and toxic. It’s as if Precisionism were filtered through the palette of Art Nouveau. You realize that only the factories remain; after the apocalypse, they will be the only buildings still standing.
The second Pluto group, while smaller, features more imposing, nearly spherical vessels called bomb vases. Those here are in pure white bisqueware — fired with no or very little glaze. The factories and landscapes are sparely rendered (usually outlined) in black glaze and ink. The stark contrast feels dire, as if the entire planet has been burned away. Given Price’s affinity for the American Southwest, you may be reminded of the black-and-white Anasazi burial bowls, as well as the papier-mâché skulls and skeletons of the Mexican Day of the Dead observances. ROBERTA SMITH
Through Dec. 23. Paula Cooper Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, Manhattan. 212-255-1105; paulacoopergallery.com.
We know what the avatars looked like in the digital world of Second Life, back when it first came onto our radar: like us, but with angles in places where real people have curves. Now imagine what we’d look like in a much earlier version of that world — call it Half Life.
Well, you don’t have to, because you can see something like it IRL, in this irresistible show by Joel Shapiro.
The Paula Cooper Gallery’s back room, where the main action takes place, features three giant solids finished in the most basic felt-pen colors. To my eyes, these read as objects — or people — taken from the real world and reduced to the barest approximations of themselves.
Hanging in midair off to the left is an orange box about as big as a king-size bed, but with the facets of a block of Cheddar chopped at by a hungry teenager — let’s call it Mom — as rendered by a computer with all the processing power of your TV’s remote control.
Hanging across the room from her might be Sis: a cheery yellow box this time, with facets that make it (“her”) more willowy.
And between them, on the floor, towers Dad, painted electric blue (as favored these days for “cool” business suits) and built from three segments that I see as feet and torso and an appropriately blockish head.
The digital world we now swim in isn’t truly as primitive as this, but Shapiro has distilled out the reductions that are at its heart, and forces us to walk among them. BLAKE GOPNIK
Through Dec. 18. Bortolami, 39 Walker Street, Manhattan. 212-727-2050; bortolamigallery.com.
Ella Kruglyanskaya’s exhibition of new paintings, “Keep Walking,” feels like a studio visit — in a good way. Rather than offering a series of paintings linked by style and subject, she presents several of both and in different combinations. The underlying message? “I’ve got options, including several ways of painting.”
The artist’s familiar thick-limbed women in tight clothes are here, exuding an eroticized, sometimes menacing energy that can be at once cartoonish and Futuristic. But there is much else. “Untitled (Last Flight)” gives us a rooster tumbling through space — legs, feathers and brushwork akimbo. It plunges toward a low, seemingly 18th-century horizon; Goya’s airborne figures come to mind, as does his paint handling. Nearby, “Good Intentions” contrasts the bright colors and scribbled lines basic to the artist’s figurative style. Except they are laid out loosely in separate horizontal bands, each seemingly applied with one of five paintbrushes, which are startlingly rendered along the painting’s left edge in the oft-disparaged style of hyperrealism. The two brushes accessorizing the quickly sketched nude in “The Rug and the Blinds” might as well be real.
In two paintings, realism is resolutely disturbed by painterly sweeps and suggestive titles. A rumpled bed in landscape tones of brown is titled “All Is Fair,” becoming the battlefield of love. “Beyond Good and Evil” depicts an enormous black hair clip known as a claw clip, intimating an instrument of torture or a black tarantula guarding her young. Kruglyanskaya’s expanded skill set is exciting. Stay tuned. ROBERTA SMITH
Through Dec. 21. Pace, 510 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-421-3292; pacegallery.com.
Born in Cuba of a Chinese father and Afro-Cuban mother, Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) grew up around syncretic New World religions like Santería, studied painting in Madrid, and was friends with most of the major figures of the Parisian avant-garde, including Picasso, whose collection of African masks made a big impression. After returning, temporarily, to Cuba during World War II, Lam came to see his practice as an “act of decolonization.” What this looks like, in the show “The Imagination at Work,” is a line of spirits and gods who, though recognizably akin to the work of other Modern painters, haven’t had their spiritual crackle filed off. Where Picasso borrowed African styles to depict European figures, Lam borrowed European techniques to paint African gods.
Works in the exhibition, which includes several small bronzes, run from the 1930s to the ’70s. But the real hits come from the ’40s and ’50s, particularly a row of Lam’s “femmes chevals,” or horse women, so called for their equine faces and because the spirits, in a Santería ceremony, are said to “ride” the possessed. In one untitled example from 1955, a sandy, unclothed woman with a triangular head stands against a rich brown background. Her figure is sharp, with distinct breasts and sinuous arms; but the way her mane overlaps her shoulder, and the pale pattern etched into her belly, make her slightly unreal, like a bewitching mirage. Appearing in an earlier canvas, the same personage is wispy and gray, like a body precipitating from the air. WILL HEINRICH
Through Dec. 23. Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 West 57th Street, Manhattan. 212-977-7160; mariangoodman.com
You might think that by now the artistic trove of the photographer Francesca Woodman, who in 1981 took her own life at age 22, would be fully mined. However, as indicated by the show’s title, “Francesca Woodman: Alternate Stories,” there are still new photographs to be revealed and counternarratives to complicate the overall picture of Woodman’s too-short career.
Which is not to say that the 21 previously unexhibited vintage prints (drawn from the Woodman family archive) that are included in this show of 50 photographs fundamentally alter our understanding of her achievement. A latter-day Surrealist, Woodman tracked the uncanny, finding it in extreme perspectives, contorted postures and theatrical poses. The sets she chose, especially during her student days at the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence, resemble haunted houses, with peeling paint, worn floorboards and milky light streaming through gauzy curtains.
Unlike the original group of Paris-based Surrealists, mostly men who both glorified and patronized women as the bearers of profound truths that communicated with the primitive and the natural, Woodman explored female sexuality from the inside, using her nude body again and again to make images that merged erotic heat with physical and psychological displacement.
One newly seen picture, taken in Rome during her junior year abroad, depicts a female Italian friend who is bending over and holding the hand of a woman, perhaps Francesca herself, that is emerging from a crudely cut hole in the wall. It is a fairy-tale scene without any clues to solve its mysteries. ARTHUR LUBOW
Through Dec. 18. Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street and 524 West 24th Street, Manhattan. 212-645-1701; jackshainman.com
The Atlanta-based Radcliffe Bailey has long mined family photographs and found materials to offer up histories of the South and the legacies of the Middle Passage. His new show, “Ascents and Echoes,” takes an abstract turn, inspired in part by W.E.B. Du Bois’s data portraits of Black America from the 1900 Paris Exposition.
While Du Bois was searching for scientific clarity to demonstrate the aftereffects of enslavement on African Americans, Bailey’s images meld science with other forms of belief: “My art is about history and the mystery of history,” he has said. “Scientists, preachers, tricksters, they are my muses.” In works like “Slow Blues” and “Swept Away” (both 2021) arrows, numbers, and other forms of notation, many of which seem to allude (though not always clearly) to the history of the Middle Passage, contrast expressionistic and intuitive forms of mark-making.
“Nommo” was originally commissioned for the 2019 Istanbul Biennial. Composed of wood planks Bailey gleaned from local shipyards and fashioned into hull-like form, it looks back to the slave trade as well as forward: Arkestra’s music emanates from a transistor radio, an allusion to the original site of the installation, where the Afro-futurist Sun Ra had once performed. Eight identical plaster busts stand in for the enslaved and the Nommo — ancestral spirits venerated by the Dogon, who are sometimes referred to as Masters of the Water. The result is a meditation not only on devastation but on an almost supernatural capacity to survive. ARUNA D’SOUZA
Through Dec. 18. 47 Canal, 291 Grand Street, Manhattan. 646-415-7712; 47canal.us.
The pictures in Nolan Simon’s fourth solo at 47 Canal start as photographs, both found and staged, that Simon weaves together in Photoshop. Printing them on canvas before going over them again with oil, he arrives at images that hover magically between photography and painting, with saturated colors, sticky looking finishes and surprisingly precise figures. They don’t float you all the way into the untethered realm of the imagination, but they get your feet off the ground.
Scenes charged with mysterious subtext amplify this effect. Two men with extravagant beards lick a black preserved egg that looks like a sex toy; four hands milk a pair of goats into three glass goblets. Sometimes the paint serves to heighten a well-observed detail, like the silvery gleam of a stovetop coffee maker or the tension of those milking hands, and sometimes Simon just lets it get ornamental, as when the egg-lickers’ beards descend into a cascade of squiggly gray lines. The vistas often look no deeper than a shallow bookshelf; two pieces even have trompe l’oeil wooden frames.
What’s wonderful about all this is that it treats the ambiguity of the medium — visual imagery, you could call it now, rather than just photography or painting — as a technical capability rather than a philosophical conundrum. I’m not sure why the artist called his show “Polyamory,” but for me it alludes both to the work’s erotic charge and to this ambiguity. It suggests that something sexy is happening in more than one direction. WILL HEINRICH
Through Dec. 19. Situations, 127 Henry Street, Manhattan; situations.us. Club Rhubarb, Manhattan; open by appointment: ronlittles@hotmail.com.
It’s a given that parents shape their children’s identities, but if you’re like me, you might not have thought much about the influence that you, as a child, have had on them. A two-venue exhibition by the father and son duo Reza and Mamali Shafahi, wryly titled “Daddy Sperm,” prompts us to think about familial as well as artistic exchange and how it flows in multiple directions.
The Shafahis began collaborating in 2012. Reza was a retired professional wrestler in Iran with obsessive compulsive disorder and a gambling habit. Mamali, a professional artist living in France and Iran, prompted his dad to try drawing, and the idea took hold: Making art became a rich form of expression for Reza. Mamali then decided to interpret his father’s drawings by turning them into sculptural reliefs.
At Situations, Reza’s new paintings on paper revel in mixing the sacred and profane. References to American and Iranian culture are subsumed into a brightly colored, psychosexual dream world where people have multiple appendages and tree leaves have human faces. Reza’s earlier drawings at Club Rhubarb are more subdued, creating a pliant counterpart for his son’s reliefs. The works, from a series titled “Heirloom Velvet,” are more technically sophisticated but also more garish: Mamali uses monochrome flocking to accentuate the strangeness of his dad’s imagery.
Looking at the two sets of work together, there’s no feeling of comparison or competition — only an intergenerational conversation that’s equally bewitching and bizarre. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
Through Dec. 18. Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-242-7727; cheimread.com.
“The Last Paintings, 2017-2020,” an exhibition of works by Ron Gorchov, who died last year in Brooklyn at the age of 90, allows us to consider not only his final years, but the life cycle of paint itself.
It flakes off his saddle-shaped pictures, like wall coatings peeling off after years in the rain and snow. Paint flows to the edges of each work after running along the length of a canvas — the artist’s markings of a natural, final rendering.
Abstract shapes (usually two and usually on opposite sides) interact within a colored field, as though they’re in an eternal journey toward each other. The colors are simple, agreeable, never more than three in each of the 11 paintings. The washed-out surfaces seem to signify a finishing that is less about perfection but more about endurance.
There are other signs of intentional imperfections: In “Close Call,” paint from the background drips into the boundaries of the foregrounded shapes, disrupting what would have been the expected layering. In some of the other paintings one does not need to look too closely to notice irregularities — outlines of former shapes are still visible on the canvas.
Although each painting is minimal in appearance, everything is present, and everything remains — it is as if each work has accumulated its own decay after aging, and recycled it to become once again part of the image. This is how, by collecting and embracing what seems broken and flaky, Gorchov is able to resist fading away. YINKA ELUJOBA
Through Dec. 13. SculptureCenter, 44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, Queens. 718-361-1750; sculpture-center.org.
These days, K-pop’s ties to global capitalism are hard to miss. (Take McDonald’s menu, which offers a Chicken McNugget meal endorsed by the Korean boy band BTS.) But the American artist Diane Severin Nguyen uses K-pop to look at something different: the impact of immigration and cultural exchange among countries with a Communist past.
The exhibition’s main work, a video titled “If Revolution Is a Sickness,” stars a Vietnamese-Polish protagonist named Weronika, who lives in Warsaw and eventually joins a local dance crew inspired by Korean idol groups. As they move and lip-sync to a song about revolution, Nguyen builds a case that K-pop has much in common with Soviet socialism. Which maybe isn’t far-fetched: The genre’s stars often live communally and perform choreographed acts. Casting her lead actress by searching for a Polish performer who shared her surname, Nguyen sought a doppelgänger from an alternate post-Cold War world. If your immigrant parents came inches away from moving elsewhere entirely, this game of “what-if” feels familiar.
In a back room at SculptureCenter, photos by Nguyen — flames, braided hair and unrecognizable gooey substances shot close-up — echo older feminist artists who explored abjection and bodily shame. Throughout, Nguyen merges cinematic melodrama with the homegrown feel of social media: the inexplicable listlessness of vloggers; reaction videos shot in bedrooms and public squares. If you like the unfiltered emotions and rough edges of the current media landscape, then Nguyen’s latest work will appeal to you. DAWN CHAN
Through Dec. 11. Almine Rech, 39 East 78th Street, Manhattan. 212-804-8496; alminerech.com.
Forget the recent flurry of tell-all television shows and movies about the British royal family. All I need in the way of aristocrats are the paintings of the Irish artist Genieve Figgis. Royals are not the only subjects of Figgis’s decadently macabre paintings in “Immortal Reflection” — the title actually refers to the 18th-century French genre of libertine novels. Aristocrats and other fancy folk are well represented in this show, too.
The figures in Figgis’s paintings — and particularly their facial features — are drawn with Art Brut crudeness, highlighting their absurdity and ridiculousness. This is amplified by Figgis’s wet-on-wet technique with acrylic paint, which makes sections in her canvases look like Florentine paper, with swirling motifs, or caked and pocked plaster. The gals in “Queens” (2021) are bewigged and dressed in billowing gowns, while “Victorian People” (2021) portrays a tragicomical rogues’ gallery that is also reminiscent of a wonderful grid of drawn caricatures by the New York artist Robin Winters titled “Metropolitan Acquaintances,” from 1974.
Figgis’s paintings conjure artists like Francisco Goya, Karen Kilimnik, and Sofia Coppola, who also focused on unfortunate European royals, or the blistering social critiques of the Belgian Symbolist painter James Ensor, the contemporary British artist David Shrigley, and the television series “South Park.” Why bother showcasing aristocrats? Because they are extreme personages, endowed with extraordinary privilege but, particularly in recent decades, under intense scrutiny. With their wide range of pathos and relatability, they are perfect specimens for figurative painting and, in Figgis’s hands, commenting on the human condition in general. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Through Dec. 4. Paula Cooper Gallery, 521 West 21st Street, Manhattan. 212-255-1105; paulacoopergallery.com
In her early, politically sharp-edged work, the American Conceptual artist Sarah Charlesworth (1947-2013) was a level-eyed teller of history. By photographing and visually editing the front pages of daily newspapers, she recorded what was happening in the world, examined how the information was being delivered, and suggested how we, as consumers, were receiving it.
In “Modern History,” the absorbing mini-survey at Paula Cooper of work from the predigital 1970s to the early 1990s, we see some of Charlesworth’s editing strategies. “Historical Materialism: Chile Series (for O.L.),” from 1977, documents events in Chile, from the election of the leftist Salvador Allende to the military coup of Augusto Pinochet, through front pages of The New York Times, where the story changes placement and, by implication, importance. In “Movie-Television-News-History, June 21, 1979,” Charlesworth focuses on the assassination of the ABC television correspondent Bill Stewart by a Nicaraguan soldier by isolating a murky still from a video of the murder that appeared in American newspapers. Viewing the series in sequence turns us into violence-porn voyeurs.
And “Herald Tribune, January 18-February 28, 1991” reprints the front page of one paper, as it appeared every day during the “Desert Storm” phase of the gulf war. Charlesworth deletes all text, leaving only pictures of political figures, unidentified soldiers and piles of weaponry. Without captions, we’re left with an aestheticized image of men playing war.
If viewed as intended — slowly, sequentially — Charlesworth’s early work is some of the strongest and subtlest political art of its time. HOLLAND COTTER
Through Dec. 4. Greene Naftali, 508 West 26th Street, Manhattan. 212-463-7770; greenenaftaligallery.com.
Steffani Jemison, a Brooklyn artist on the faculty at Rutgers University, has a terrific solo show at Greene Naftali.
A new video called “In Succession” provides a series of wall-filling close-ups on four men practicing some kind of human-pyramid routine, climbing and balancing on each other. Another projection, titled “Escaped Lunatic” (2011), shows men running and tumbling through urban streets. In “Broken Fall (Organic),” a 2008 piece presented on a monitor, a young man hangs by his arms from a tree branch until his grasp finally gives way.
All this ought to seem joyful, maybe even comic, and perhaps it would — if this weren’t 2021, and those men weren’t African American. Given what we know of Black men’s lives, an endless arm-hang can have a whiff of hazing or even torture about it, as though Jemison’s young man is being tested rather than testing himself. Running and tumbling inevitably evokes avoidance and escape. Men climbing and grasping each other make us think of struggle rather than play. (Although “In Succession” is actually a riff on a 1931 New York Times report, of Black men who formed a human pyramid to rescue a white woman from a fire, then left without taking credit for their deed.)
That these videos are by a Black woman makes Jemison’s show feel like an investigation into the state and fate of Black manhood, from someone who knows it firsthand but can also view it from a distance, across the gender gap. BLAKE GOPNIK
Through Dec. 5. Fotografiska, 281 Park Avenue South, Manhattan. 212-433-3686; fotografiska.com/nyc
Ruth Orkin’s most famous picture was staged in Florence. Learning from a young American student how Italian men ogled and catcalled women, Orkin posed her in a picturesque but slightly seedy setting, looking straight ahead with an uncomfortable expression as she passed a gantlet of male bystanders. Taken in 1951, the picture offers a feminist rejoinder to a celebrated Richard Avedon image made four years earlier, of a Dior fashion model standing in Paris’s decorous Place de la Concorde, as three appreciative but respectful young men stride by.
Marking the centenary of Orkin’s birth, “Expressions of Life” documents the achievement of a trailblazing female photographer who, with her husband, Morris Engel, also made a charming movie, “Little Fugitive,” that foreshadowed the French New Wave. (A newly published monograph, Ruth Orkin: A Photo Spirit, offers a fuller survey of her work.)
Orkin photographed celebrities, young lovers, fellow New Yorkers and inhabitants of the new state of Israel. But where she truly excelled was in her shots of children. Indeed, only Helen Levitt rivals her in that category. This exhibition features a delightful sequence, also from 1952, of three children playing cards, which was the only photographic group in the landmark “Family of Man” show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955.
In her best portraits, Orkin captured the child in adults as well. Along with a well known picture of a guffawing Albert Einstein, don’t miss a marvelous view of the photographer Robert Capa that reveals his irresistible boyish charm. ARTHUR LUBOW
Through Dec. 4. Andrew Edlin Gallery, 212 Bowery, Manhattan. 212-206-9723; edlingallery.com.
The artist Roy Ferdinand was a big deal in his hometown, New Orleans, where he showed with Barristers Gallery until his death, from cancer, at the age of 45 in 2004. He was also a favorite of the New York dealer Martina Batan. But the 28 shocking watercolor and marker drawings on display at Andrew Edlin constitute his first New York solo. Documenting an impoverished neighborhood at the height of the crack epidemic, Ferdinand filled the scenes he drew with malt liquor and automatic weapons. Young men pose with assault rifles while their elders panhandle or disconsolately wait for the bus; young women are generally depicted naked, and often pornographically, but sometimes they, too, pose with machine guns.
What’s really astonishing, though, is Ferdinand’s mastery of detail. He was self-taught, which you can see in the tilt many of his drawings exhibit and in a slightly obsessive fondness for shutters, clapboard and other such excuses for parallel lines. But one unforgettable drawing, just over 2 feet by 3 feet, contains a dozen vividly realized human characters, four of them lying dead of gunshot wounds and two, in prison uniforms, sneaking across a roof. There’s a sameness about the faces — most of them have an expression of resigned detachment, if not traumatized numbness, whether they’re shooting someone or being shot themselves. But there’s also an extraordinary variation in their details, a distinct individuality to his subjects that makes their shared fatalism all the more unnerving. WILL HEINRICH
Through Nov. 21. La MaMa Galleria, 47 Great Jones Street, Manhattan. 212-505-2476; lamama.org.
For the artist Betsy Damon, the 1970s were a time for rediscovery: During that decade, she found the feminist movement, left her husband and came out as a lesbian. She also began performing by covering herself in small bags filled with flour and painting her body and hair white, with blackened lips. She called herself the “7,000 Year Old Woman” (1977-78) and walked slowly in a spiral while cutting open the bags with scissors, symbolically freeing herself from the burdens of patriarchy.
Damon has been an eco-artist and activist since the 1990s. Her show “Betsy Damon — Passages: Rites and Rituals,” curated by Monika Fabijanska, spotlights her early feminist performances. Represented mostly by photographs and written recollections, they are radical relics of a time when many artists from oppressed groups were finding their voices through experimentation. Damon’s work seems almost like creative consciousness-raising. In “A Shrine for Everywoman” (1980-88), women were invited to write down their stories and place them in small bags, which were strung up like flags to demarcate a space of communion.
It can be hard to grasp the power of Damon’s pieces secondhand, but what comes through is her embrace of vulnerability and commitment to community. She opened herself up and challenged others to as well — and the photos suggest that she succeeded. One picture shows a group of people watching her performance “Blind Beggarwoman” (1979-80) on Wall Street. They seem to regard the art with skepticism but are also transfixed, a reluctant audience unwilling to look away. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
Through Nov. 21. Reena Spaulings Fine Art, 165 East Broadway, Manhattan. 212- 477-5006; reenaspaulings.com.
Born in Mexicali, Mexico, Reynaldo Rivera was in California as a teenager in the mid-1970s. There, working on fruit farms and in canneries, he found a camera and taught himself how to use it. He settled in Los Angeles and began photographing the local rock music scene, but found his most absorbing subject in the city’s drag bars, particularly those that drew a Latino audience.
“Kiss Me Deadly,” his New York solo debut at Reena Spaulings, is made up largely of black-and-white pictures of those bars and their performers: Miss Alex at the Silverlake Lounge; Melissa and Gaby at La Plaza, and Yoshi, the proprietor/star of Club Mugy’s. What distinguishes Rivera’s view of the performers is that he takes them seriously, lets them look as glamorous — as funny, gorgeous, too-much — as they wanted to be, and were. He’s not an outsider looking in, but an insider capturing a world he knows and loves.
It’s good that he did capture it, because the club life of that time — the 1980s and ’90s — is mostly gone. Gentrification, drugs and AIDS took it out. If you want to get a deep sense of it, I highly recommend a book of the artist’s work, simply titled “Reynaldo Rivera” and published in 2020. Edited by Hedi El Kholti and Lauren Mackler, it has many more pictures than in the show. It also includes valuable essays by Luis Bauz and Chris Kraus, and a lengthy email exchange between Rivera and the artist-performer Vaginal Davis, a vital veteran of the history that this photographer has preserved. HOLLAND COTTER
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