Tag Archives: contemporary sculpture

Arts & crafts at the whitney museum

Making Knowing:  Craft in Art 1950-2019; through January 2021 (floor 6)

Rachel Harrison: Life Hack; closed January 12, 2020 (floor 5)

Thanks largely to a postwar infiltration of feminist and diaspora art (often of a piece) in the West and artists working elsewhere receiving wide exposure in the context of an emerging global scene (if still dominated by the West), distinctions between art and craft in contemporary production have been ostensibly erased.  At the same time, long-held gender, cultural and other associations with each term persist. And “craft” most often evokes hand-hewn textile and textural materials … for the better in the “art world,” as per this show, in terms of diversity and possibility when juxtaposed with hands-off new media equally ascendant through the same period.  Most of the work included seems to acknowledge to at least some degree this semiotic and material lineage, whether as precursor and/or foil, while conveying strongly personal, pliable and luxuriant relation to preferred mediums and techniques.

Both well known, expected suspects and some with less exposure in this context are represented, overwhelmingly (not completely) by examples in the museum’s collection, which highlights its ample interest in this direction.  Off the elevator, the perfect intro is a fragmented mural (1976) by Ree Morton, comprised of painted pinkish, putty-like, imitation ribbons, flowers, puffy clouds, and make-shift ladders to … heaven, enhanced by literal floating signifiers—incarnate words like “pleasures” and “atmospheres.” The hopeful feminist romanticism (small “r”) conveyed is refreshing and seems, as well, to incorporate a subtle jab at heroic (male) abstract painting in the gluey strips and skeins of her process. To jump to a personal fave (and then I’ll circle back), which shares some of the same underlying sensibilities and offers reason alone to see this show: Liza Lou‘s near full–scale, pop-up kitchen (c.1990-1995), replete with brand-name, opened food boxes, dishes in the sink, and pie in the oven, sheathed entirely in tiny glittering beads.

Liza Lou, Kitchen (1990-1995); detail through the “window” (Whitney Museum exhibition, Making Knowing: Craft in Art 1950-2019

Just about everything is engaging visually, with much provocation to jump around via kinship, contrast, comparison. Among first-generationers featured (although works here by them span three decades collectively): aesthetically oppositional sewn soft sculptures by Yayoi Kusama and Claes Oldenburg; a Richard Artschwager cube-table; an Eva Hesse macramé-like ropey hanging; a heavy, draped felt blob by Robert Morris; a cagey, wire-woven abstraction by Ruth Asawa; a lace-like, shimmery canvas by Howardena Pindell; one of Harmony Hammonds‘s padded rag-swathed scaffold sculpture; an Faith Ringgold painted tangka banner; an open-frame Alan Shields wall work of bead strands; a Miriam Shapiro frilly collaged canvas; small-scale weavings-on-paper by Sheila Hicks, who, forthwith, will be known by many for her monumental yarn column-waterfall recently exhibited at MoMA (“Surrounds: 11 Installations”; 10/21/19-14-20).  Hicks is also included in MoMA’s current show, “Taking a Thread for a Walk,” with an early serial bundled-yarn piece, which highlights more so earlier 20th-century fiber art and therefore offers (among other things) some historical context for the Whitney show. Selections there by Bauhaus frauen Anni Albers and Gunta Stolz may be further appreciated after seeing Elaine Reichek‘s satirically pedagogic embroidery samplers at the Whitney, one of which bears a quote by a Bauhaus “master” relegating the activity of weaving to women assigned to realized his envisioned textile abstractions.

Along with Lou’s tour de force, highlights from the next generation and beyond include: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt‘s fragile, flowery flotsam and jetsam dream box, a distant relative of many “containers” by Joseph Cornell; Pepon Osorio‘s barrio-baroque assemblage-portrait of a shoe-shiner; a super-fly Nick Cave sound suit; a Mike Kelley big-baby blanket incorporating mangy stuffed animals; a very large textile-inspired figurative painting  by Njideka Akunyili Crosby; a conceptual piece primarily of found blankets alluding to the Native American foundations of US cities by Marie Watt; a ceramic and straw, regal and demure giantess by Simone Leigh. Of an abundance of more strictly ceramic works, Viola Frey presides with a characteristic painterly-glazed colossus in business attire, along with a self-portrait by parodic peer Robert Arneson; an earthy, rolled and modeled reclining figure by Mary Frank; and a sensual abstracted vessel series by Katy Schimert (whose work I first saw in a Whitney Biennial).

Pepon Osorio, Angel the Shoe Shiner (1993) (partial/detail; in the exhibition, Making Knowing; Craft in Art 1950 – 2019)

The Rachel Harrison solo (10/25/19-1/12/20) was an apropos complement in several ways. Harrison thrives on very mixed up media, mashing found stuff with artsy-like, painted plaster-y, wood-built structural and ornamental elements.  My reaction to the furtive “one person’s trash is her own … art” kind of thing was tentative; in fact, the blur of 1990s DIY randomness and Duchampian, gender-astute gesture to which Harrison was party (with Karen Kilimnik and Sarah Lucas, among others) eventually drew me in. Solidifying an allusion to the era, a winning series of tragi-comic drawings depicting Amy Winehouse juxtaposed with scribbled Picasso and DeKooning “women.”  

But the mainstay of Harrison’s oeuvre is gathered and arranged stuff–tools, socks, wigs, racks, partitions, live plants, original sculptural forms and more, which impressed as both absurdist stacks and spreads and responsible, inventive forays into perpetual recycling as make-shift decorating.  A key section for me was an apartment-like interior installation within the show. With its flimsy walls papered with photo-blow ups of misaligned faux-wood paneling and other box store improvement projects in progress, it conveyed an ongoing attempt at securing a home-sweet-artist-home. 

An installation in the exhibition, Rachel Harrison: Life Hack (at the Whitney Museum; yes, the chairs are part of it 🙂
Rachel Harrison: Life Hack at the Whitney Museum
An installation from the exhibition, Rachel Harrison: Life Hack (at the Whitney Museum)

Claudia Schreuders: In the Bedroom

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.

Claudette Schreuders, 2018.

Wedding-Cake Wonderland: Bodys Isek Kingelez at MoMA

“Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams,”

Museum of Modern Art, May 26, 2018 – January 1, 2019.

“A city set on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948-2015), the Congolese sculptor of imaginary skyscrapers and cities out of cardboard, pasted papers, and all manner of shiny and colorful, miniaturist flotsam and jetsam.  Antoni Gaudi meets historical Futurism meets the Jetsons.  Meets Hindu gopuram meets Miami Art Deco.  Meets, crucially,  the uncompleted modernization of Kinshasa in the early, hopeful reign of OG Mobutu Sese Seko, when Kingelez arrived there from a small village and settled in for the rest of his life.  Very “global modern”–MoMA is the perfect venue.  More so if you recall the debut (more or less) of African art at MoMA in the infamous 1984 exhibition, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, in which African art was presented (without mention of the artists) as static and conceptually limited, and which this oeuvre deconstructs inherently and completely.   

No one could fail to “like” these wedding cake-terraced constructions, dotted with painted details and calligraphic signage.  For Kingelez, they were models for  what–he had faith (literally)–would someday be realized as architecture.   His art journey began after a professed spiritual (Catholic-inflected) vision and attendant desire to address and contribute to new urban environments that would meet all the needs of its inhabitants. Global art world acclaim came with his inclusion in the landmark Paris exhibition, Magiciens de la Terre (1989),  and related support of mega-collector of Jean Pigozzi, after which his material inventory and the physical space of his works expanded.  Overall, however, his vision and approach remained pretty much consistent; likewise, the child-like pleasure of perusing his wonderlands.  Creations range from charming World’s Fair-type national pavilions (e.g.,  Palais de Hirochima; Belle Hollandaise) to kaleidoscope-Coney Island re-dos of corporate and government complexes set amidst painted  parks, thoroughfares and recreational sectors that feature sports arenas named after himself.  More solemn and sterile but equally utopian, Kingelez also gave much attention to hospital and health-related entities, partially drawing on colonial-style facilities in the Congolese capital. 

Besides an extensive retrospective display (the first for Kingelez), MoMA’s exhibition includes a superb virtual reality component that places viewers, via special glasses and video monitors, within one of his more complicated extrêmes maquettes (his term) and allows for bounding around the buildings by shifting focus, .  There are no interiors though, nor even the suggestion of such.  It’s all surface–but what  dazzling and dizzying surface.  Too bad the artist did not live to see this incarnation, so very close to his city dreams. 

Bodys Isek Kingelez, Ville Fantome, 1996 (at MoMA, 2018)
Bodys Isek Kingelez, Kimbembele Ihunga, 1994 (at MoMA, 2018)

Buildings and Blocks: The Bechers, LeWitt, and Andre at Paula Cooper

Bernd and Hilla Becher: In Dialogue with Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, at Paula Cooper, 534 W. 21st St., through May 5, 2018.

The Bechers (German; he, d. 2007; she, d. 2015) worked together as one compositional and conceptual photographic eye for nearly fifty years.  Picking up on the artistic objectivity of August Sander before WWII in his encyclopedic images of human subjects, they turned to architecture, mainly industrial.  Each geometric-based structure is seen/shot from several viewpoints and arranged in flattened grids—a kind of reverse Cubist pictorial methodology.  As segmented presentations they bear close relation to the serial arrangements of Minimalism, furthered by a purposeful monochrome sans shadows that sustains focus on each subject-as-such.  Like Minimalist sculpture as well, they speak to the twentieth-century constructed environment for posterity, albeit through taxonomic-like, full-bodied representations.

Whereas, those now considered seminal Minimalists spoke through structural “excerpts”—a la LeWitt, (American, d. 2007) who then expanded them in 2D and 3D formats through formulaic repetitions increasingly for decades.  It helps to know about this aspect of his oeuvre to appreciate the elemental works here, but also to take reciprocal cues from the backdrop of Bechers, as was the curatorial plan.  Thus, LeWitt’s anti-volumetric, somewhat quizzical and idiosyncratic objects (to adapt Donald Judd’s enduring discourse, “Specific Objects,” 1965) also imply DNA-like building blocks.

Andre (b. 1935), a cohort of LeWitt in New York-based Minimalism’s 1970s heyday, is represented here by thick, square floor structures of rough-hewn wood beams—hollow boxes or frames, post-millennial in date but stubbornly consistent with the bulk (literally and figuratively) of his oeuvre.  Imposing in their deliberate simplicity, they are more bounded presences than LeWitt’s linear “links.” For the less informed, this juxtaposition is effective in conveying the potential diversity within Minimalist aesthetics, analogical and extending to the Becher material.  For a priori fans like myself, the stripped, ironic elegance associated with  all parties involved will be reaffirmed.  Make sure to take in the gallery’s expansive, bare-bones beam and I-bar ceiling to experience the full implications of the display.

Works by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Carl Andre, and Sol Lewitt installed at the Paula Cooper Gallery (4/17/18).

 

 

Body Language through the Ages at The Met

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.

Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991 (mannequins/museum guard uniforms; collection Whitney Museum of American Art.; as installed at the entrance to “Black Male,” 1994; image: https://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazines/from-the-archive-linda-nochlin-on-black-male/#slideshow_17646.1).

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.

Duane Hanson, “Housepainter II,” c. 1988     (cast resin/pigment/clother; image: https://artssummary.com/2018/03/23/like-life-sculpture-color-and-the-body-1300-now-at-the-met-breuer-march-21-july-22-2018/).

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.

Yinka Shonibare, Ballerina, 1995. (manniquin/fabric/ mixed media). Installed at the Met Breuer, 2018.

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.

Tip Toland, The Whistlers, 2005 (mixed media).

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.

Double Whammy at Zwirner: Ad Reinhardt; Ruth Asawa

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th, through October 21:

Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings (ground floor)

Ruth Asawa (upstairs)

The only (NYC) gallery show in recent memory to compare in sublimity to this  Reinhardt “blues” display is last winter’s  Rothko at Pace.  Through the oeuvre of both artists, the primary subject, object, and effect is a palpable, pulsating “aura” uncannily emanating from pigment and turpentine.  The proto-Minimalist, monochrome monk, Reinhardt (1913-1967) is best known for his late paintings of barely perceptible black-on-black geometry.  And yet, for decades previously,  he was nothing if not a colorist in the wake of, well, Matisse–if anyone is uniformed or skeptical on that count, this show will dispel that.  Not only does each work present nothing but blues,  but each also, simultaneously, may conjure window, sky, sea, air, iconic spirituality—pace Reinhardt’s committed art-secular, non-objective motives and intentions.  Yet, especially in terms of “spirit,” once viewers engage his results, some (like me) might surmise he had far more in common with Malevich’s precedent Suprematism than he consciously wished to realize.

The wire basketry abstraction of Asawa (1926-1913) is a tensile and delicate dialectical balance of surrealist-like whimsy and danger, mystery and rationality, magic and labor, soft and sharp, shape and line.  Most characteristically, hanging, curving lamp-like objects of macramé-ish woven wire are comprised of a core and an encasement of the same manufacture around it—a bottle-in-a-bottle, double-mesh mirage.  The wire also can read as twig like, nature-bound trompe-l’oeil in several symmetrical wall “mandalas.”  Asawa‘s back-story, as survivor of a WWII-era Japanese internment camp and rise in the art sphere as a serious abstractionist in an era and sphere thoroughly dominated by men, is more than reason enough to pay homage.   But the art itself will make a lasting impression analogous to a gorgeous tattoo that remains haunted by its haptic birthing pain.

“Ruth Asawa” exhibition at Zwirner (10/14/17)

Woman Across Generations, Modes, Mediums in Chelsea

“Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present…” at Sikkema Jenkins (530 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 14.

“Aurel Schmidt: I Rot before I Ripen” at PPOW (535 W. 22nd St. 3rd Fl.) through Oct. 7.

“Barbara Chase-Riboud:  Malcolm X: Complete” at Michael Rosenfeld (100 11th Ave. @19th St.) through Nov. 4.

“Mary Corse” at Lehman Maupin (536 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 7.

“Suzan Frecon” at David Zwirner (525 W. 19th St.) through Oct. 21.

“Maya Lin: Ebb and Flow” at Pace (537 W. 24th St.) through Oct. 7.

“Janet Fish: Poppies and Pinwheels” at DC Moore (535 W. 22, 2nd Fl.) through Sept. 30.

The one with the most pre and post-opening press so far lives up to the billing – Kara Walker (Sikkema Jenkins).  These biting, heart-wrenching, sprawling, churning, Americanist, Freudian, large-scale drawings and drawing-like paintings push everything she has done over the past two decades to newly excruciating heights.   Beyond a challenge, they dare viewers into her racially-charged, amalgamated visions of depraved eroticism and emotional and physical violence through which the powerful have subjugated and bankrupted others historically; and ensnare with fluid linear elegance and mash-up iconography in which all manner of images across time and place are re-mixed and spewed.  Staying her decades-long artistic course, a reinvigorated investment in her hard-core thematics of race and linked monochromatic artistic roots are palpable.  She also continues with her extensive, only partly parodic exhibition (as well as art) titles–read this one in full at the gallery and consider it when musing on the work.  However, a shorter phrase wielded by precedent upstart Robert Colescott in his own pre-emptive defense of devil’s advocate race-baiting in his art would be  apt: “Self-censorship is a cop-out.”  No question, Walker remains one of the most gutsy, defiantly provocative artists out there.

Aurel Schmidt (PPOW) also specializes in colossal, curvy, psyche-scape drawings–in her case, post-pubescent, priapic fantasies conveyed through stoner-Eden settings inundated with butterflies, daisies, snakes, and vulva-centered spiderwebs.   Her sensibility blends faux-naivite with a dash of harajuku and a druggie- decadent twinkle.  Hello Kitty-ish kitties may be a bit rabid; and a few exquisitely drawn rodents (one on a skate board) just above floor level tug back to urban earth the flighty fancies envisioned above.  Trigger warning: the “high times” sexual undercurrent explodes (yes) in a back room installation-homage to the erect member of her bf—including several graphic close-ups.  Good for her (the careful attention to detail seems to express).  But the critter-and-flora-packed, delicately rendered mirages are the wow factor.

The sculptural sentinels, or steles (as they have been aptly, described) of Barbara Chase-Riboud (Michael Rosenfeld) are majestic, yet at a human scale that addresses the viewer as an autonomous entity.  The past decade (mainly) of work here is a collective tour de force of her renowned signature mode developed over nearly fifty years: thick folded slabs of cast steel and aluminum combined with densely draped, ropey textile elements.  The results of this gendered yin-yang formulation suggest soulful effigies akin to ka statuary of ancient Egypt. The metal sections and knotty, braided skeins visually meld through the monochromatic (mainly) schemes—deepest blacks, rich golds, and one blood red show stopper, furthering this effect of “beings.”  The works featured ostensibly complete a series begun in 1969 dedicated to Malcolm X—not at all a secondary aspect of the hovering content, though conferred after her initial foray into this formalist vein.

Mary Corso has also continued on an abstract trajectory from early on—namely, “light and space” exploration in painting formats (with others starting out in southern California c. 1970).  Again, I don’t hesitate to use the term “majestic” in summarizing the flickering Minimalist planes she creates with micro-plastic bits blended into tarry black pigment and juxtaposed with silky, silvery acrylic in broad, flat bands.  The very mechanics of seeing activates her surfaces, further impacted by viewer movement.  Recent work by Leo Villareal and Veja Celmins came to mind while staring into Corso’s spatial “galaxies”—achieved with streamlined methods and means.

Likewise, the recent work of Suzan Frecon (David Zwirner) conveys long-term, discriminating devotion to abstract painting–hers employing a very subtle palette of earth tones and lightly, carefully biomorphicized geometry.  She is most concerned with proportional relationships in terms of intuitive perception.  However, landscapes are implicated (not to say “depicted”), as much by tonal mood as by mounds and horizontal passages.  With a conceptual turn of intention and phrase, one could say the same of Maya Lin’s new sculptural installations (Pace), which translate rivers of the world from maps to glass marble arrangements and silver-pour creations crawling up the walls and pooling along the floor (along with a few other inspired material variations).  Since her spectacular public debut decades ago (The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, design c. 1981), virtually nothing Lin has produced has not been well worth experiencing and engaging.

An anomaly in the art age of millennial Chelsea is the gorgeous,  painted still life oeuvre of Janet Fish (DC Moore)–again an artist who has stuck with her early art impulses and affections.  The selections here, spanning over thirty years, highlight Fish’s studious yet exuberant fascination and facility with reflections, contours, textures, and color in the observed real world.  All manner and types of natural and artificial  objects are reigned into loose, often spilled-over set-ups that Fish maintains as she paints, working exclusively from life.   Collectible ceramics, kitsh tchokes, arm-to-table bounty, Chinese take-out, crispy potato chips, lush floral arrangements, poppy-pocked field flowers, and multiplying are glisten in jam-packed, vigorous compositions that fold in swiftly stroked patterned fabrics.  It’s a palpable pleasure to revel in these prosaic reveries grounded in domestic life.

Art Boys of Summer: Playroom; Beach; Studio

( . . .  plus the planetarium-ism of Leo Villareal at Pace – already covered.)

“Carsten Holler: Reason,” at Gagosian, 555 W. 24th St., through August 11. 

“James Welling: Seascape,” at David Zwirner, 533 W 19th St.; through August 4.

“Books: Dieter Roth/Bjorn Roth Studio,” at Hauser & Wirth, 548 W. 22 St., through July 28.

Light calisthenics at Gagosian, where Carsten Holler’s well-known art-funhouse-and-science-fair antics continue.  If you have a relatively smallish frame, you can climb into a large  die (as in dice) play space via a maze of hollowed pock marks.  Then there are sectional mirrored doors you can push until you’re daze and confused.   Crank up a ginormous orrery and watch the mushroom-planets in staggered orbits.  Mushrooms—trippy, magic ones–are a main theme.  Several “overgrown” sculptural versions sprout propeller-like fins.  The science-demo throwback vibe extends to plaster model fungi and taxidermy fish in vitrines; with a few more high-tech, neon-fluorescent diagrams and neo-geo paintings—or diagrams, really, representing obscure proportional equations–scattered up the walls.  Calder, Nauman, Kusama, Koons—are a few other art gamers that, in different ways, come to mind.  (A video of the artist from decades ago under the influence of hallucinogens, mounted high above eye-level, is perhaps a stoner pun on “re-occurrences.”)

Carsten Holler installation at Gagosian (July 20th, 2017)

Welling has been exploring the  caesura between material subjects and their transformed photographic representation for several decades.  With this c. 16-minute non-narrative video, he has delved into family biography and legacy through the deconstruction of past and new media: from painting to photography to video incorporating subtle movement. The ostensible subject is the rocky coast line of southern Maine, which has a strong historical association with artist enclaves, e.g., regional identity.  His process involved transforming black and white photos taken by his painter-grandfather into color, based on digitized swatches of the old man’s oils, and then animating the results, which drift rhythmically to an electronic soundtrack by his brother.  Flow.  

Then there’s the German-Swiss-Icelandic Roth family legacy at Zwirner—an environmental extravaganza in which the son, Bjorn, has relocated and reassembled the contents of a Basel studio in which he worked with his acclaimed father Dieter (d. 2008).  Brings the concept of art as process, art as work, art as study, art as biography to a new extreme–and the unwieldy installation is characteristic of Dieter as well.  There is plenty to sift (visually) through in the maze-like layout of desktop surfaces and shelves filled with tools of the trade, scribblings, personal objects, reference images, and especially books that were a wellspring for Dieter from the start in form and (variously) content.  Photo-documentation, a table-assemblage, and some photo-painting works by Bjorn are also presented–gruffly, intuitively interesting but also (saleable) accoutrements to the main (studio) event.

Seeing the Light in Chelsea: Felix Gonzalez-Torres; Leo Villareal

Felix Gonzalez-Torres; at David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., through July 14.

Leo Villareal, at Pace, 537 W. 24th St., through August 11.

An elegant, appropriately spare survey of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996).  For the uninitiated: the gargantuan gallery space is predominant – where is the art?  Yes, that’s part of it.  Give it a chance. For cognoscenti, quietly gorgeous, diverse selections by the compassionate, generous-spirited minimalist master.

A prosaically triumphant, colossal strand of light bulbs—one of the artist’s signature forms, hangs down the length of Zwirner’s multi-level stairway (like the slightly  more dense version featured in the inaugural exhibition of the downtown Whitney).  A full room devoted to one of his renowned “candy spill” floor works, here of gold-foiled pieces in an edge-to-edge linear arrangement.  Its aura extends well beyond its idiosyncratic physical presence–which will change, as visitors are intended to take pieces and, ideally, ingest them through the course of the show–evoking expansive content related to spirituality per se; the AIDS epidemic; the de-commodification of art; the ephemeral nature of existence; shared and private experience, the gift/s of love.  Ditto his “take-away” poster piles (images on the examples included here obliquely reference the content mentioned), which similarly enlist substantial commitment from exhibitors and collectors in periodically replenishing.   Other works included are simple glistening beaded curtains—transparent sensual as well as spiritual gateways; and, at his most spare-but-still-there, a serial, ethereal voile curtain piece of sky-blue across the upper-level windows.

***

At the opposite end of the light spectrum: an LED-and-high-tech-light-projection spectacle by Leo Villareal, known for his large-scale public projects like the computer-controlled, The Bay Lights, permanently installed on the San Francisco Bay Bridge in 2016.   (Check his “beehive” light ceiling in the Bleecker Street 6 train station.)  Here, “night paintings” blink with white light within Etch-A Sketch-like, digital-bead waves and trails.  One room-scale hanging sculpture recalls the twinkling installations of Yayoi Kusama—on steroids, with complex algorithms determining rapid-fire, disorienting light dots and streaks on reflective strips.  A giant, trippy triptych surround slows down to a lulling view of a galaxy far, far away–perhaps for the cinema room (lol)–the telescopic cosmos of Vija Celmins’s paintings and drawings, animated.

 

High Art and Craft: Becky Suss; Gehard Demetz; Deborah Butterfield

Becky Suss: Homemaker; at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. ,through June 3.

Gehard Demetz: Introjection, at Jack Shainman, 524 W. 24th St., through June 3.

Deborah Butterfield, at Danese/Corey, 511 W. 22nd St., through June 24.

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As per several examples in the current Whitney Biennial, Becky Suss is among a number of committed young artists consciously engaged in representational painting in a continuum, yet finding a recognizably particularized niche–in Suss’s case, literally, through interiors.  Here, geometrically-sectioned and arranged rooms, softened by a uniform matte finish, featuring  juxtaposed patterns and faux-textures punctuated by personal objects and details of décor.  Her compositional spaces nod to both linear perspective and the vertical tilt of Japanese and Persian painting styles wherein ornamental passages become planes of their own.  From these pristine yet lived in, clue-filled surrounds viewers will delight in puzzling together a portrait of the inhabitant, who, among other things, prizes order and craftsmanship—in both the what and the how of the reality represented.

Home is not only where the heart is, but where Freudian drama festers—insinuated in the carved children of Gehard Demetz. Melancholic, menacing, nutcracker-ish and reliquary-like (occasional hollowed backs) with ghostly yet super-realist features, the crafted element is (again) highly compelling.  Supernatural under- and overtones suggest the psychic effects of early religious indoctrination vis-a-vis self-identity.

Deborah Butterfield continues to explore the psyches and souls of horses in these recent transcendent and majestic sculptures.  Her intensive long-term relationship with her subject (collectively; as individuals) is conveyed in the subtle animation, or put another way, the qi, that these life-size (especially) representations encapsulate.  The coup de grace is the tran-substantive medium: the apparent skeletal construction of each from worn and worked wood strips, branches and boughs is actually cast bronze with trompe l’oeil patina–one of a kind.  The hand-hewn assemblages are destroyed in the process. First time for everything: “must see.”