Museum of Modern Art, May 26, 2018 – January 1, 2019
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard all about Kingelez (1948-2015), the Congolese sculptor of imaginary skyscrapers and cities out of cardboard, pasted papers, and all manner of miniaturist flotsam and jetsam. 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.
No one could fail to “like” these cardboard wedding cake-terraced models, dotted with painted details and calligraphic signage, for what Kingelez had faith (literally) would someday become real architecture. In fact, he began his art journey 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 (for better or worse) 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 the 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, hospital and health-related entities are also given much attention.
Besides being the first retrospective for Kingelez, MoMA’s exhibition includes a superb virtual reality component that places viewers, via special glasses, within one of his more complicated extrêmes maquettes (his term) and allows, with shifting focus for bounding around the buildings. There are no interiors though, nor even the suggestion of such. It’s all surface–but what surface, with its dazzling Surrealist reflection of pipe dreams.
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.
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.
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—paceReinhardt’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.
“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.
( . . . 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.”)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“Sean Scully: Wall of Light Cubed”; through May 20, Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th Street.
“The Past is Present” (Hank Willis Thomas, Turiya Magadlela, Brad Kahlhamer)“; through April 22, Jack Shainman, 524 W. 24th Street.
“Robert Therrien”; through May 26, Gagosian, 555 W. 24th Street.
“Erwin Wurm: Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order”; through May 26, Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd Street.
“Kevin Francis Gray”; through April 22, Pace, 537 W. 24th Street.
“Yoshitomo Nara: Thinker”; through April 29, Pace, 510 W. 25th Street.
“Adrian Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance”; through October 29, The Met roof.
*** Does “expert” abstract painting exist? Like, an ideal display of formal dialectics (structure/not-structure; preconception/perception; accident/ rigor, rigidity/fluidity). Within his own visionary constraints (not an oxymoron in his case) and despite inevitable association with the whole constellation of painting through time, Sean Scully’s work recalls really no one—well, maybe the ghost of Braque. A relatively recent foray into sculpture is represented here by two colossal, fat columns of what appear to be stacked, staggered frames or square platforms – visitors cannot see the tower tops. One is monochromatic black, coaxing out the ziggurat factor; the other features his noted greyed-tinged rainbow palette. Each fills up the relatively small rooms in which they are (respectively) installed, so that a first reaction may be, why not in the large main gallery? But, of course, given Scully’s deep, deft formal deliberations throughout his forty-some-year career, the body/space/object scale is surely integral.
*** I loved Robert Therrien’s caringly-burnished, matte-finish Minimalist sculptures and shaped paintings of the 1980s—still resonating beneath several chromed-hued, colossal versions here. Likewise his overblown domestic geometry of the 1990s—as in generic furniture and plates, here metamorphosed into staged sets displayed in trailers, suggesting Surrealist theater and a compulsion to spotting and juxtaposing unlikely like forms.
*** Clumpy, lumpy, something borrowed, something of you—DIY on both sides of the art-making equation for Erwin Wurm. Viewers will find faux-naively sewn or otherwise scrawled instructions in/on deconstructed and reassembled furniture and other hybrid forged/found objects, which encourage explicit interaction with each piece (put it that way). For example, you stick your feet into sawed holes in an old coffee table. Do it. Sublime bricolage (leftovers patched into service as art), with a chaser.
*** Slightly varied, big scary-cute-animé-tinged paintings of a slightly-cybor-girl from Yoshitomo Nara, a progenitor of the Japanese postwar sensibility and phenomena with global sympathizers and appropriators. A group of black-and-white- glazed ceramics vessels decorated cartoon-like with the subject’s adventures and bearing mixed messages about society and love represents something new for Nara, and … dare I say … saleable? (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” J. Seinfeld). They are very cool and accessible. But, I’d rather buy one of the contour drawings that explore his obsessively repeated, enigmatic starlet. And there are colossal, hobbit-strange sculptural sentinels to contend with, as well.
*** Hand-hewn Marble imitating plaster-putty neo-Baroque anatomy studies—mashup Bernini/Messerschmidt/Rodin/Francis Bacon—Kevin Francis Gray offers a compelling antidote to the 3D-printed also Baroque-ish creations of Adrian Villar Rojas currently on the Met Roof (more below).
*** Speaking of which, 3D printing had something to do with Hank Willis Thomas’s sculptures in Shainman’s tri-artist display—making them no less emotion-filled or savvy. That’s especially if you’ve been along on his art journey over the past two decades, from cutting photographic commentaries on sports and advertising to his recent socio-community-network collaborations, like www.forfreedoms.org (currently featured in a small show at MoMA PS1, through September 10). Two wall sculptures here are derived from photographic “points” of interest (Barthes’s punctum) within basketball play-action shots. These hyper-realist, purple-tinged shining arm-to-fingertip-to-basket casts (resin-based) appear both celebratory and haunted by chance and instability.
And a column of b-balls is a great riff on Brancusi; while the theme and multiple-entendres of these, like all his b-ball-based works continue the props to David Hammons. Also included are several of Thomas’s word paintings, which play with semiotics and visual perception while forthright in content.
I came with no background on the other two artists, but left a fan of Turiya Magadlela, who has wrung out translucent colorfield abstractions from stretched panty hose, shouting out feminist performance pioneer Senga Nengudi in the process, and was captivated by Brad Kahlhamer’s wirey “dreamcatcher” American flag.
***Villar Rojas went nuts with the 3D printing in his Met roof installation. Dicing digital images into intuitive new forms and sending them off to the object fabricator is an increasingly popular art process/technique, to be sure–not to be written off as mere fad or novelty. Yet, in the age of digitized reproduction, as well earlier methods–art gains and loses (to clumsily invoke W. Benjamin). The resultant, scattered tableau is “spectacular” (in the sense of G. Debord) and inevitable (back to Benjamin); but, what is the criteria for artistic/aesthetic engagement, differentiation, and quality with this new screen media-to-object trend? So Villar Rojas has incarnated part nightmarish, part goofball hybrid figures, developed from from scans of works of art from the Met’s collection, redistributed, montaged, and melded with fleshed out human bodies, gathered at a kind of haunted feast. It’s fun in a puzzle way and gains as one may recognize snippets and fragments. There is follow-up thought on the glut of objects in museums and their often arbitrary taxonomies of forms, functions, and status.
Wangechi Mutu: Ndoro Na Miti, at Gladstone, 530 West 21st Street, through March 24.
From her first wide exposure in New York about a decade ago, Mutu has engaged feminist and ethnic Kenyan-African identity/s in mash-up images of fearsome and beautiful, primordial and space-age hybrid beings, confusing agency and subjectivity with the exoticizing gaze of the other. Best known for sinuous painted collages, the work here moves similar concerns and evocations fully into 3-D, although she has worked in sculptural mediums and video before. A large-scale, ebony-black bronze sculpture of “La Sirena”–or Mamy Wata, or related African-originated water spirit–resting on an Ingres-elongated mermaid tail, presides over a group of rusty bronze mini-meteor orbs, attended by several apotropaic assemblage “power figures” reminiscent of Kongo minkisi. Several head sculptures also invoke African votive types, and a gleamingly polished, sleeping version with intricately plaited hair doubles as a discrete take-off on the futuristically primitivizing portraits of Brancusi.
Further bringing together the discrete works into a compelling installation are geological “growths” sprouting from the floor and in small patches on the gallery walls that require close inspection to deconstruct into felt fabric-based creations. This form, again, is a continuation of earlier experimentation.