Art We Saw This Summer – The New York Times

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From our critics, reviews of closed gallery shows around New York City.
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Jillian SteinhauerDawn ChanWill Heinrich and
Chelsea
Through July 29. Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, 521 West 21st Street, Manhattan; 212-414-4144, tanyabonakdargallery.com
Food as politics, as philosophy, as history, as art: “Fruiting Bodies” considers these aspects of the stuff we stuff into our mouths.
Mat Collishaw’s dramatically lit photographs from 2011 of the last meals requested by men facing the death penalty in Texas have the haunting look of Flemish vanitas paintings, still lifes meant to evoke the fragility of existence. Michel Blazy’s “Mur de double concentré de tomate” (2009), a deceptively elegant abstract painting made by brushing tomato paste on canvas and allowing fungi to feast on it, and Dana Sherwood’s “The Confectionary Lives of Snails” (2022), a terrarium filled with plants and large, hungry mollusks, suggest that what we see as rot and decay are actually forms of sustenance for other beings. A two-channel video installation by the Berlin-based collective Slavs and Tatars, “The Contest of the Fruits” (2021), is laugh-out-loud funny: it reimagines a 19th-century Uyghur allegorical poem as an animated rap battle between mulberries, apples, pears and so on, slyly commenting on the importance of preserving Eurasian cultures in the face of geopolitical threats.
But Emeka Ogboh’s “Sufferhead Original” videos (2017-19) steal the show: Imaginary TV ads for black stout that play with the echoes between the strict purity laws regulating beer in Germany since the 16th century and contemporary xenophobia. By inserting Black barmaids and joyous partygoers into stereotypical images of biergartens and mountains, the piece pokes at the fact that multiculturalism is still hard for many white Europeans to swallow. ARUNA D’SOUZA
LOWER EAST SIDE
Through July 22. Peter Blum, 176 Grand Street, Manhattan; 212-244-6055, peterblumgallery.com.
“I would stand up for that flag,” an artist commented on a social media post featuring a photo of Nicholas Galanin’s “White Flag” (2022), a sculpture with a polar bear rug mounted on a rough wooden staff. At a time when flags representing nations and political causes feel particularly fraught, “White Flag,” in Galanin’s exhibition “It Flows Through” at Peter Blum, feels poignant.
Galanin, an Alaska-based artist whose work often refers to his Tlingit and Unangax heritage, frequently draws on the nonhuman world. In addition to “White Flag,” which nods to both surrender and spiritual power — but also the threat against this endangered species — there is “Infinite Weight” (2022), which features a taxidermied wolf mounted upside down on the ceiling and a video loop of a live wolf. “Anax Yaa Nadéin (it is flowing through it)” (2022) is a wall installation of found baskets with eyes and nose-holes cut into them to resemble the balaclavas of activists, terrorists or freedom fighters — or perhaps spirits or shamans. Many of the works here use the ready-made tactics of artists like David Hammons or Jimmie Durham, which turn found objects into sharp critiques of colonialism and racism.
Galanin can be overly didactic: In addition to his sculptures, prints and photographs, he has written texts to explain the works. He doesn’t need to do this. Viewers are smart enough to draw their own conclusions and his objects, which rest on the X factor of unexpected interventions and juxtapositions, are vastly more powerful and persuasive. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
LOWER EAST SIDE
Through July 23. Bureau, 178 Norfolk Street, Manhattan; 212-227-2783, bureau-inc.com.
Ellie Ga creates precise wanderings. Ga’s video work extends from the cinematic-essay tradition of Agnès Varda and Chris Marker. “Quarries” begins on a ferry in New York Harbor during a heat wave and ends in Lisbon with a final image of two patterns of waves; the bottom half in bands of black and white made from calçada, traditional Portuguese paving stones in a plaza at the edge of the undulating sea, which occupies the upper half. What connects these images and places? A sense of drift, but also, a rigorous documentary stitch work. Along the way, the narrative binds together the artist’s brother, paralyzed with a crushed hand; a Greek island inhabited only by bees and the ruins of a re-education camp; and a laboratory teeming with thousands of mosquitoes.
“We’re getting close to identifying what intentions look like in the brain,” the chief scientist who studies neurons in flies tells us in the voice-over narration. So too does “Quarries” make visible the process of the artist’s mind at work, chasing — intentionally — after connections, accruing into a work that is philosophical, playful and surprising, with the artist’s hands often shown handling projected transparencies, sorting through images as a scholar might organize footnoted citations. Ga’s work recalls artists I love, like the films of Tacita Dean and the video work of Moyra Davey. The only problem is watching the 40 minutes of “Quarries” once just isn’t enough. JOHN VINCLER
Chelsea
Through July 29. Washburn Gallery, 177 10th Avenue, Manhattan; 212-397-6780, washburngallery.com.
If you like paintings that grab your eyes and won’t let go, consider JoAnne Carson’s recent work at Washburn: eight midsize paintings of single trees, each its own universe of botanical forms, electric color, visionary light, possible planets and pop culture references. If Charles Burchfield had worked for Walt Disney, he might have come up with these.
Along with five drawings, these canvases comprise Carson’s first solo in a Manhattan gallery since 1990. They continue four decades of riffing on trees, flowers and plants — enlarged, distorted and reinvented to the point of a weird, even scary autonomy — in both two and three dimensions. (See “Bouquet,” from 2001, a pale blue array of enlarged blooms the size of a small tree in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.) They also graft together aspects of American Regionalism, European modernism and children’s book illustration and presumably benefit from Carson’s avid hobby — gardening.
Carson takes advantage of every pictorial possibility, including landscape backgrounds, cloud patterns, times of day. The faceted tree trunk in “Updraft” echoes the greens and browns of early Cubism. It is guarded by small trees that suggest spear points in a red/orange setting, where comets zoom, and parallel bands of yellow clouds may await the notes of the music of the spheres. Its branches harbor a slightly demonic mask of pink and lavender that matures into what seems to be E.T.’s face in “Sunny,” two paintings away.
These are Carson’s best paintings yet and their excellence can’t be an isolated incident. Her early ’80s relief paintings — Natalia Goncharova meets Elizabeth Murray — should be revisited. ROBERTA SMITH
Tribeca
Through July 29. Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, 7 Franklin Place, Manhattan; 212-375-8043, nicellebeauchene.com.
Richard Bosman’s artworks in “Painters Painting” fuse the workmanlike efficiency of a billboard painter with the elegant cunning of a chess master. In “Museum Wall” (2015), each of the 34 painted copies of iconic works, from Frida Kahlo to El Greco, is casually pinned on a gray rectangle painted across the rear gallery’s wall. On Instagram they will look like fine renderings, but here you’ll see how each is a loose jotting where this Hudson Valley-based artist puts down the likeness and then proceeds. Next move.
Two paintings of doors — “Giorgio Morandi Door” and “Piet Mondrian Door,” both 2016 — are attached at their right edges to opposite walls, demarcating either end of a central corridor. Within, two paintings, “Van Gogh Palette” and “Miro Palette,” both 2022, each feature oversized thumb holes and wittily play up the wet-on-wet impasto of grand abstraction. Nearby, in a clever bit of curatorial arranging, painted reproductions of the backs of canvases, as in “Picasso-5.3.28” (2016), hang diagonally opposite from the actual verso of the door paintings, where Bosman’s own scrawled surname seems to read: “Boom.”
In the front gallery, next to the in-progress canvas in “Rothko’s Studio” (2011), see how the lines of the floorboards disappear in an overpainted brown quadrilateral above the first step of the ladder. A glitch left in, and why not? It’s just painting — brilliant, knowing, joyful. JOHN VINCLER
Chelsea
Through July 29. 303 Gallery, 555 West 21st Street; 212-255-1121, 303gallery.com.
What is happening in Katinka Bock’s photographs? Games are played and objects are dispassionately displayed, but an uncanny sensation runs through the Paris-based German artist’s exhibition “Logbook for Some and Any.”
There is good reason for feeling perplexed. The small, unidentified marble shapes in “Some and Any Fleeting, 1” and “Some and Any Fleeting, 2” (2022) are actually game pieces from ancient Egypt, made around 3100 B.C.E. The pointy objects propped on human fingers in “Some and Any Fleeting, 4” and “Some and Any Fleeting, 5” (2022) are sixth-century B.C.E. Etruscan bronze deer hooves, probably used as vessel supports. Other photographs feature a tiny silver snake from ancient Greece and human eyes and ears taken from an Egyptian limestone sculpture. Elsewhere, the sculptural installation “FYEO III” (2016) has a clay cylinder in which a flower bouquet was wrapped and fired in a kiln.
The familiar-unfamiliar aspect of Bock’s work is due partly to its resemblance to earlier art: the surrealistic photographs of Man Ray, Tina Modotti and Gabriel Orozco and the biomorphic sculptures of Barbara Hepworth, Hans Arp and Henry Moore. Yet Bock also skillfully suggests how objects and styles shift over time and circumstance. Is this criminal evidence or a museum treasure? Leisure pursuit or war game? In art — and particularly in photography — it could be all-of-the-above. The same could be said, though, for the objects on view, which have changed hands and whose use and meaning has shifted over the course of millenniums. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Chelsea
Through July 29. Hauser & Wirth, 542 West 22nd Street, Manhattan. 212-790-3900, hauserwirth.com.
Artists are models of freedom. It’s part of the fantasy that sustains art’s cultural relevance, but artmaking is work.
The star of Nicole Eisenman’s “(Untitled) Show” is an oversized cartoonish figure sitting at the center of “Maker’s Muck” (2022). The hands of this plaster sculpture are at a potter’s wheel that’s spinning away interminably producing rocklike forms that pile on its right. Surrounding, on the low sprawling platform, are numerous other sculptural attempts, among them: baked flatbread, an oversized ketchup bottle and what appears to be a time bomb. As a whole, the eclectic accumulation reads as an emblem about the necessity to fail and the need to keep at it.
The mischievous whimsy of Eisenman’s sculptures shouldn’t distract you from seriously looking at the paintings, which use a grab bag of modernist formal approaches and techniques (like raked paint for the texture of clothing or hair). The Brooklyn artist often uses several styles in the same work, as in the standout painting, “The Abolitionists in the Park” (2020-21). There’s pizza and tender embraces among a crowd gathered on a blue tarp, with Guston-like caricatures occupying the margins and a realist dual-portrait of Hannah Black and Tobi Haslett occupying the middle. Black and Haslett are the authors (along with Ciarán Finlayson) of “The Tear Gas Biennial,” a 2019 essay protesting the presence of a weapons manufacturer on the Whitney Museum’s board. This is ambitious history painting thinking through freedom, asking whose? JOHN VINCLER
Upper East Side
Through July 29. Meredith Ward Fine Art, 44 East 74th Street, Manhattan; 212-744-7306, meredithwardfineart.com; through June 18 at Anton Kern Gallery, 16 East 55th Street, Manhattan; 212-367-9663, antonkerngallery.com.
Two gallery shows celebrate the achievement of the Puerto Rico-born artist, Frank Diaz Escalet (1930-2012), who initially made paintings from stained leather before translating its rich flat colors into acrylic paint. Escalet’s life had its share of sadness, but the condensed version centers on a man who, from 1958 to 1971, lived in a loft on the Bowery, frequented New York’s jazz scene and enjoyed considerable success providing custom-made leather garments for celebrity clients, who included Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones. In 1971, he moved to Maine, where demand for his designs disappeared, and by the mid-1980s, he had turned full time to his leather paintings.
The two shows reflect the breadth of Escalet’s subjects and sympathies, from mythic musicians to moments in ordinary, sometimes oppressed, lives. “Sing Me the Blues” at Meredith Ward reflects an ecumenical love of music with works titled “Taxi Dancers, 1940s,” “Nite at the Opera,” “Tango No. 12” and “Can-Can.” “Prez ‘n’ Blue” silhouettes the saxophonist Lester Young and the trumpeter Blue Mitchell in performance against big geometric planes of bright magenta and yellow.
The show at Anton Kern, organized with the Andrew Kreps Gallery and Kaufmann Repetto, begins with an especially beautiful untitled composition in leather from 1975: a gramophone with a psychedelic sound horn, a muscular arm operating its hand crank and, floating before it, a pair of eyes and singing lips — all this against a background of pale buttery yellow. Other works feature a chain gang, a washerwoman and an airman about to hand-spin a plane’s propeller. These shows are both great. ROBERTA SMITH
Tribeca
Through July 15. Broadway Gallery, 373 Broadway, Manhattan. 212-226-4001; broadwaygallery.nyc.
John Riepenhoff likes to paint the sky in plein-air. He’s done it all over the world, but the paintings currently showing at Broadway Gallery were made in his hometown, Milwaukee, where he also runs a space of his own, Green Gallery.
They range in size from 2 by 3 feet to 7 by 8 feet, use oil, acrylic and sometimes flashe, and are all titled “Skies.” One is covered with a reticulated pattern; another shows a vertical rain of vigorous long dashes. All of them make a monochrome impression of smoky gray-blue, though Riepenhoff uses various tones to achieve this effect, including smudges of pink and orange in the background and the occasional tiny dot of bright yellow or purple.
They’re not literally figurative, but you can’t definitively call them nonfigurative, either. By rendering his blots and dashes in a single, variable color that leaves plenty of unprimed gray linen exposed, what Riepenhoff succeeds in depicting isn’t the look of the open sky, but its feel — its emptiness, its paradoxical density, the weird spiritual disquiet you may experience when staring into something infinite and intangible.
He’s also succeeded in assembling one of the more stylistically coherent shows I’ve seen in quite a while, a suite of paintings that feel like the healthy elaboration of a single idea. Two naïve little ceramic owls, one perched on the gallery’s desk and one over the door, add a charming accent. WILL HEINRICH
Tribeca
Through July 23. Postmasters, 54 Franklin Street, Manhattan, 212-727-3323, postmastersart.com.
The Plastic Sublime dominates Gracelee Lawrence’s second New York solo show. The sculptures in her 2019 debut were often enlarged, distorted or hybrid vegetal forms in pale single colors produced on 3-D printers, which use plastic thread.
Now, in “Heat Sync” at Postmasters, Lawrence is going mostly for shine and bright, artificial colors, used singly or in multiples, thanks to variegated threads. The resulting pieces seem enveloped in shiny gift-wrap ribbon. They can be mouthwatering.
The artist’s thinking expands throughout the show. The often covetable, earlier works from 2020-21 are small, rounded pieces of fruit, with weird additions; take the fat, icing-like scrawls atop the two orbs of “Desiccated Poignancy.”
In larger, more ambitious works from 2022, female torsos arch out from the walls, and the fruits and vegetables repeat, replace or obscure various body parts in sexually provocative or devotional ways. “Think All-Softly” suggests an idol whose body has simply absorbed the edibles left on her altar, creating a gorgeous Rubik’s-Cube-like aggregate of blues and silvers. “Eternal Audience of One” is a series of luminous green and gray bands, running horizontally and vertically. In both pieces, Lawrence ingeniously exploits her small 3-D printers; her larger sculptures must be produced in blocks and then seamlessly pieced together.
There are other kinds of works here, including a possible update on the “Winged Victory” painted in small Tiepolesque patches of pastel colors that is both odd and promising. This is a great show, to which my initial reaction was, for some reason, “Take that, Jeff Koons.” ROBERTA SMITH
BROOKLYN
Through July 10. Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn; 718-210-3080, green-wood.com.
The Green-Wood Cemetery’s catacombs are small and lit only by skylights and an open door. Such conditions make it an unusual place to exhibit art, yet the setting is incredibly evocative. A few years ago, the artist Janine Antoni created work that seemed to commune with this 1850s burial building (which is mostly closed to the public). Now Heidi Lau, the cemetery’s first artist-in-residence, has done the same with “Gardens as Cosmic Terrains.”
The Macau-born, New York-based Lau sculpts elaborate, craggy ceramic vessels whose intricacy is often astonishing. Even under ideal viewing circumstances, it can be hard to get a visual handle on her works. Their luster and running colors mask the details, and they seem to shape-shift — from a mountain into a building into a fountain — before your eyes.
That slipperiness is heightened here, where Lau’s sculptures, many hanging from skylights, alternately bathe in sun and dissolve in shadow. This feels right: to not fully know what you’re looking at and have your sense of sight destabilized in a place where the living meet the dead. Urns, hands, faces and chains are identifiable, emerging from more abstract forms. For the project, Lau drew on Taoist mythology, Chinese gardens and ancient burial objects, as well as her own grief over the death of her mother. The resulting works seem to bridge realms, capturing both the materiality of clay and the ephemerality of the spirit. They haunt the space as handmade ruins, eerie and beautiful manifestations of the process of mourning. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
LOWER EAST SIDE
Through July 9. 47 Canal, 291 Grand Street, Manhattan; 646-415-7712, 47canal.us.
An air of sacred stillness envelops Ajay Kurian’s latest show. A whiff of danger, too. The only way to approach his new sculptures is to traverse the layer of pine needles strewn across the floor. They can be slippery, so anyone less than sure-footed will need to walk with care. Kurian, a Brooklyn-based artist, turned heads in the 2017 Whitney Biennial with Nike-sneaker-wearing, Muppet-like effigies that combined pop culture and provocation. (One wore a T-shirt with the words “All holes matter.”) Somber in comparison, this show is titled “Missing Home.” Road trip? Prolonged exile? Both, maybe.
A series of striking new sculptures resemble Rorschach ink blots whose organic shapes suggest moths and pelvic bones, heraldic lions and many-armed deities. Casting dramatic shadows under spotlights, the vertically symmetrical forms evoke humanity’s ongoing attempts to depict a fearsome cosmic order, through icons past and present. But whose icons, from what century? One senses that the sculptures, at a loss for answers, mourn the ways that cultural memory can get jumbled and enshrined as part of diasporic experience.
An artwork in the back room looks more straightforward at first, innocuous even: a toy-model-scale house and palm tree set. But the bulky pedestal beneath hides ceramic heating elements that reach up to 1000 degrees Celsius when powered on. “Sculpture is hot please do not touch,” reads a sign nearby. And with that caveat, shimmering-hot air rises around the figurines: an agonizing mirage for someone missing home. DAWN CHAN
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