Tag Archives: David Zwirner

“Joan Mitchell: I Carry My Landscapes around with Me”

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., through July 12, 2019.

Abstract Expressionist  painting (and this is that) is not so much about reflecting visual reality but making parallel visual reality. And the making of the making, funneled through vision.  That doesn’t mean the results necessarily or not refer to nothing beyond themselves nor that this aspect is incompatible with intuitive, gestural, self-referential or other aspects associated with its aesthetic terrain as historicized.  For example, reading Mark Rothko’s horizontally segmented compositions as landscapes or Clyfford Still’s stalactite forms geological, whatever the artists’ non-objective intentions.  Mitchell skews closer to the edge of nature (as per the artist quote and exhibition title above), encasing atmospheric experience in the picture plane with an economy of drippy, weave-y brushwork and a joie de la coleur that evoke Fauvism—the Matisse reference per se also on point—rather than topographic environment.  Part of that may be absorbed from the prolonged close proximity (literally and figuratively) to the landscapes of Monet, whose own abstract-leaning work hovers between encroaching blindness and close-up optics.  Yet the large-scale multi-panel format (as in Monet’s late work) itself echoes or mirrors spatial expanse despite its ontological flatness.

Anyway, each example in this survey, spanning four decades, is energetically gorgeous–a profusion of signature reedy, ribbon-y brushstrokes with spots of blank canvas spraying light from behind.   The painted strands gather densely in places and in others fray into surface maps and  pathways, while color runs the gamut across seasons and terrain in associative juxtapositions, inadvertently and not.   In some cases, Mitchell got away with very little—a very high complement.  Minnesota (1980), a breezy brilliant discourse on yellow and shadow in the glare of the white backdrop, is a fave from now on.  Elsewhere, she invites us to wallow deeper into layered representation as well as the metaphoric free range of the studio. 

Detail/installation shot: Joan Mitchell, Riviere, 1990 (at David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., NYC (6/22/19).

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.


Sexy, Dirty-ish Hippies by Yuskavage; Child-like Sex Symbols and a Playhouse by Kusama

at David Zwirner, 19th St., through June 13:

“Yayoi Kusama: Give me Love” and “Lisa Yuskavage”

Mid-career painter Yuskavage continues with her signature style and subject: misty oil painting with strong naturalistic underpinnings and supernaturally big-boobed, bedroom and backyard Barbies–a blend of pop-culture porn with painterly tradition, and the historical male gaze with Third Wave feminist spins on scopophilia.  Here, it’s back-woods country–a ’70s commune-ish setting across the works. The babes luxuriate (mainly) in their own ripeness, while dystopian overtones seep into background dream scenes. For the first time in her oeuvre, men–waifs and guru-ish types, several FULL frontal, intermingle with the nymphs.  Yuskavage has fun with brief details–an embroidered patch of blue-jean or crafty jewelry fad–that taps the sub-culture at the borders of kitsch.  Overall, her exploration of American society’s hyper-sexualized fantasy female thus far has remained, according to the balance of criticism, ambivalent. It’s still on that fence, meaning, it’s still interesting.


In recent years, the paintings of the doyenne, Kusama, have become increasingly primitive in style, featuring glyphic body part and nature forms that constitute a sub-conscious kind of language. Whereas her monumental abstract paintings of just a few years ago (e.g., an exhibition at Gagosian, 2009), presumably aided in production substantially by studio assistants, were climactic in terms of blinding, all-over opticality, the recent (mainly) human-scale paintings convey more intimate sense of the artist’s nerves and touch.  I would maybe call this late style charming (in Kusama’s overall sometimes scary, isolated schemata). They have been influenced by intermittent forays into “girl” art and commercial design over the past two decades, traces of which have bled into the enterprises of compatriot heirs, not least, Takashi Murakami. The imagery across the works blend disembodied eyes, noses, lips, and other biomorphic graffiti  that, in places, disintegrate into abstraction, over bright, flat acrylic grounds. They suggest Rorschach-type art play, but also recap and recycle major themes of her art over five decades ago, the origins of which, according to the self-propelled Kusama myth, were unusual “visions.”

The eye, a loaded symbol across time and place and prevalent intermittently throughout Kusama’s oeuvre, is everywhere here, sometimes turning into pea pods, mouths, stars, vaginas (some with surrounding dentatas), or even netting “holes”–harking back to some of her earliest painting; likewise the “soft phalli” shapes that pop up (sorry) recall her early sculpture.   As in late analytic and early synthetic Cubism, lines are signs, rearranged and subject to various readings, like art-charts of an overactive psyche.  Yet also, in their cumulative horror vacui and repetition seem to combat a core, raw emptiness in Kusama’s art.  There is a bit of  “art brut” in the mix, as described by Dubuffet, influenced by Hans Prinzhorn’s seminal study of art by the mentally ill.  Unlike Prinzhorn’s subjects, Kusama has long held her particular neuroses in check by pursuing a remarkably prolific, far-sighted art career; however,  latent sexual  anxiety and lack of intimacy has remained seminal to that production, still close to the surface in these recent paintings.  Thus, her title, “Give me Love,” also recalling her bohemian breakthrough in ’60s downtown New York.

Also on view is one of Kusama’s signature dotted installations, The Obliteration Room (conceived in 2001), a simulated combo-domestic space, like several others in her oeuvre.  Unlike the others, this one begins completely white-washed, with visitors gradually covering the space through the course of the exhibition with colored dot stickers.  Simplistic; a fun-house, but also a glimpse of the artist’s remembered disorienting perceptions and compulsive art activities. For this U.S. venue, she has chosen a generic  American-type-Home Depot exterior (complete with doghouse), which contrasts with the twilight zone inside.  Make no mistake–Kusama is as art savvy and intellectual in her concepts and results as subconsciously driven. She’s getting the art love she deserves.

Yayoi Kusama, "Obliteration Room," conceived 2001; at David Zwirner (5/26/15)
Yayoi Kusama, “Obliteration Room,” conceived 2001; at David Zwirner (5/26/15)