at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. (Chelsea), through June 22.
Sorry this is over by the time I got to it, but, too good to forego comments—do look for Schreuders at any opportunity:
Recent examples of her characteristic (by now) stunted, polychrome wood figures were featured, along with related studies and a series of portrait heads on paper (lithos; ink drawings). As per the show’s title (above), I read them (collectively) as stand-ins for Freudian exposés, if not explorations, of Eros among prosaic-looking heteros, tangentially reminiscent of Charles Ray’s fiberglass familial figures of the 1990s. Her hand-carved-and-painted technique casts a Pinocchio vibe into her wooden, lightly pasty-white boy-men and girl-women. Yet, static and solemn in bearing and hue they might suggests votives–but then, dedicated to what sort of being, idea or aspiration? Only slightly Surrealist (some more than others), they point more so the mundane, rote nature of a range of sexual activities (explicit) and casual musings about them than subconscious simmerings.
Some basics of the artist’s backstory, which adds layers: Schreuders’ acknowledged autobiographical subject matter; her upbringing in Apartheid-era South Africa; her attendance at the Michaelis School of Fine Art (Cape Town), where Jane Alexander has had an influential pedagogical presence for decades and likewise, her inter-species sculptural creature, in the context of the atrocities of Apartheid (and otherwise), for the international art world.
A group of washy, simplified portraits on paper were pointedly down-lifting (as my viewing companion put it)—the visages effectively, viscerally, conveying vulnerability and wounded-ness, reminiscent of those of Marlene Dumas, another precursor.
Life Like: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300 to Now); The Met Breuer, through July 22, 2018.
Flashback to the Breuer building as the Whitney Museum, 1994: ushered into the great “Black Male” show by Fred Wilson’s Guarded View (1991)—then a revolutionary, highly controversial installation of headless dark mannequin-museum guards, now widely renowned.
Same sentinel post here: Duane Hanson’s resin-cast “replicant” of a black male housepainter (c. 1984), in this cross-chronological, interdisciplinary exhibit by the new Met tenants. Brings a little extra along, in more ways than one, for those who will not outlive deja vu moments linked to the Whitney-Met exchange.
The ahistorical juxtapositions throughout are generally accessible as well as provocative. Among the best examples: the pairing of Degas’s famously awkward, tutu-clad Little Dancer (c. 1881) and Yinka Shinobare’s headless Girl Ballerina (1995), which borrows the Degas pose but re-dresses the figure with African-print fabric and a pistol clutched behind her back.
Beyond the intended fine art spectrum, the show hedges the visual culture bet convincingly (as suggested above), mixing in anatomical models, death masks, effigies incorporating organic material, and other functional (so to speak) items, sometimes ambiguously, sometimes unequivocally.
The postwar work is twisted in intriguing directions simultaneously in sub-thematic groupings (about a half-a-dozen, overlapping). In a section linking commentary on race to this discourse, a variety of postmodern monochrome nudes play directly off Renaissance marble examples that imitate antique prototypes–before the re-discovery that most were once vividly painted. Fred Wilson is present here in this context with a diptych-like piece comprised of cast replicas of black-Egyptian and white-Greek goddess statues (The Mete of the Muse, 2004-2007). However, most of the Renaissance-era work included is sensationally polychromed, wood-carved Christian stuff–which, in its day, possibly provoked the kind of visceral sensations that Goshka Macuga’s animatronic automaton (2016), or at least, Tip Tolland’s super-trompe l’oeil women in The Whistlers (2005), both featured, do now.
Yes, the medical supply eyes, hair, prosthetic limbs, blood (some real), real bones, and mortuary elements gets creepy . Precisely, that’s one point–the spatial confrontation with our status as physical specimens. We are drawn to and faced with reflective bodies who play on both our egoistic desire for permanence and our self-conscious, inevitable disintegration.
The postwar material gathered is just a fraction of what is out there in this vein, which means that this effort is timely if not overdue. (Off the top of my head, surprised no Chapman Brothers, like their 3-D “Goya” and “disasters of yoga” series). But it’s a still a diverse, eclectic selection of mainly interesting work. Beyond those already mentioned: John Andrea’s illusionistic artist-as-Pygmalion tableaux nicely complements Hanson’s painter; Alison Saar (who also had an effecting body sculpture in “Black Male”) is represented here by Strange Fruit (1995), a choppy figure suspended upside down, as terrifyingly blunt as it sounds; a potato-phallus-sprouting female mannequin (mid-1960s) by Yayoi Kusama, which conveys the fiercely feminist and self-consciously fruity mien for which she is now cultishly admired (I’m in); Jeff Koons’s life-size porcelain Michael Jackson with his pet monkey (Bubbles, 1988), a high-point in Koons’s kitsch-driven career; Isa Genzken’s bricolaged post-punker mannequin; Charles Ray’s Freudian play with figurative scale. Indeed, Freud’s “uncanny” pervades large swaths of the whole curatorial exercise. If the installation is a bit chaotic and imbalanced (echoing the formal truth of most real bodies, inside and out), the work featured adds up to a lot, and points clearly to a strong reaction to abstraction in postwar sculpture, continuing.
“Charles Ray,” Matthew Marks (24th St., through April 18)
“John Chamberlain,” Gagosian (24th St., through April 4)
**”Ron Arad: In Reverse,” Paul Kasmin (27th St., through March 14)
Charles Ray has accrued an engaging oeuvre through his ability to come up with novel objects that tap the psyche uncomfortably but always deliver a primary sensation of art play. His memorable colossal toy fire-truck parked on Madison Ave. nearly took the edge off the infamous 1993 Whitney Biennial; and his Freudian family mannequins are already compelling classics. The gilded relic currently on display at Matthew Marks–a (real) truck compacted down to a 5-ft. or so coffin-rectangle encased in silvery chrome–well, there you have it, alone in the ginormous gallery–a bit overdetermined by its surrounding void. (It’s definitely “something,” and there is one additional piece in an ante-gallery for suggestive context.)
Still, visually (at the very least) Ray’s metal junk-cube pales in (inevitable) comparison with the exuberance of car-crush pro John Chamberlain’s sculptures down the street at Gagosian. The diversity of Chamberlain’s medium-restricted abstractions is always impressive, never mind in the midst of another museum-challenging (and winning) extravaganza that pairs Chamberlain’s postwar American art innovation with full-scale, reconstructed, industrial-inspired environments by French mid-century architect, Jean Prouve. (What’s overdetermined here is the invisible but palpable, piped-in macho characteristic of installations in this space in particular within Gagosian’s enterprise!)
**I will admit that I missed (by a few days) what may be the tour-de-force of this sub-genre, the compressed Fiat 500 wall “paintings” by Ron Arad at Kasmin, and flipped when I noticed it online – wow. The idea was to flip the idea of designing 3-D utilitarian objects on the screen, a staple for the internationally renowned designer, and re-turn such things into purely aesthetic objects. Anyone interested in this sort of thing, you need to know about this. I was introduced to Arad’s work over two decades ago at the Cartier Fondation’s then new building (Blvd. Raspail). In Jean Nouvel’s jewel-like, faceted space were shining steel kidney-bean-shaped tables covering a huge gallery like a puzzle shaken slightly apart. From a above, it was floating lily pads, like a giant, futuristic Monet. You can find images on the web. I didn’t have to. It made a strong, lasting impression.
Snapshot reactions/recommendations on contemporary and occasionally other art recently on view around town. See you in the galleries, Jody B. Cutler-Bittner (art historian/educator). Search artists, galleries, museums, key words below, and "enter".