Naturalia, Paul Kasmin, 593 10th Avenue, through March 4.
Julian Schnabel: New Plate Paintings, Pace, 510 West 25th Street, through March 25.
Vija Celmins, Matthew Marks, 522 West 22nd Street, through April 15.
Yinka Shonibare MBE: Prejudice at Home: A Parlour, A Library, and a Room, James Cohan, 544 West 26th Street, through March 18.
Naturalia at Kasmin (guest-curated by British author/artiste Danny Moynihan) is a sublime gathering of thematically related material spanning several centuries, from intricately delicate Renaissance illustrations—not least a Durer—to refined 17th-century Dutch still lifes—not least samples from the Bruegel clan—to out-sized post-millennial sensations like Damien Hirst’s densely plastered dead flies “painting” and rough-hewn sculptural killer ants crawling off the ceiling by Rafael Gomezbarros. Dutch pronkstilleven, with its integration of memento mori morality and careful specimen study, appears a trigger for a those contemporary works mentioned and others, including bizarrely brilliant Roxy Paine wall work in which e-D trompe l’oeil fungi sprout out of a musty, threadbare Turkish-type carpet. Topping off the wide range of mediums throughout is a “virtual reality” piece by Michael Joo and Gary Hustwit (you don a goggle thing) in which animals move in and out of (your) otherwise white space . And three semi-surrealist figurative artists closely associated with fauna, Walton Ford, Sean Landers, and Alexis Rockman, are well served in the time-lapse, steam-punkish, curiosity-cabinet juxtapositions here. (For more zootropia, see follow-up post).
More plants in new work by Julian Schnabel, whose road to fame was paved with broken plates—from the moment they appeared affixed to the grounds of monumental-scale, expressionistic figurative paintings c. 1979, providing “heroic” bravura and Mediterranean pedigree. Although he branched off quite a bit in the ensuing, highly prolific two decades before turning decidedly to filmmaking, this early artistic m.o. was never quite surmounted, critically. Not that he necessarily hit a painterly dead end but, well, the filmmaking (as mentioned), although not without intermittent, somewhat lower-key exhibitions of his continuing art essais.
Here the cracked ceramic underlay props up Monet-like, dense greenery and rosey floral images to suggest an authentic, if somewhat neat (conceptually), return to the painting arena. And like Monet’s serial explorations, the difference of each from the others unfolds gradually, with mounting interest. (The actual immediate inspiration was by Van Gogh, via his grave site.) They are toughly gorgeous, with lovelier and more darkly tangled versions.
Celmins has long been known for super-detailed, black and white, water and night sky drawings, cropped in ways that dismantle an earthbound position and employ repetitions elements to suggest total abstraction. Some four decades later, much of the recent work here is a continuum. The sky subject especially is taken to impressive Photo-realist heights in glassy-smooth paintings that evoke at once hi-rez outer space satellite images and monochromatic Larry Poons re-dos. There are also “negative” versions—that is, seeming photo or Photoshop grisalle reversals—i.e., charcoal and umber star-specs on white and cream fields. Interspersed with 2-D work are trompe l’oeil sculptural objects that carry the aesthetic implications of mimesis to conclusion by juxtaposing them with the real things. Viewers will be hard-pressed and press hard to differentiate, falling prey to Celmins’s microscopic magic.
Shonibare’s decades-long artistic exploration of Dutch wax fabrics, which carry built in content alluding to slavery/colonial-era intersections between Europe, Indonesia, and African in this artist’s hands, is still yielding ingenious, engaging, visual and conceptual results. Of three recent works in this show, the tour de force is a room-scale library in which all of the shelved books have been covered with variations of the syncretistic, brightly-patterned fabric, originating via Indonesian batik and marketed and developed (first by Europeans, and then Africans) as a pan-African modern textile type; each spine bears an author’s’ name. The famous and not-so-famous authors included are a combination of foreign transplants to Britain and xenophobic British natives, alluding to the contribution of immigrants to British culture, current debates on immigration, and the global refugee crises broadly. Ipads are provided (at a table) to research the names and add personal stories.