Paul Anthony Smith,through May 11 at Jack Shainman, 513 West 20th Street and 524 West 24th Street
Christina Forrer, through April 20 at Luring Augustine, 531 W. 24th St.
*The Whole Picture: Zipora Fried, Arturo Herrera, Thomas Pihl, Erin Shirreff, through April 6 at Sikkema Jenkins, 530 West 22nd Street.
*Never got to a post on the recent, intriguing abstract quartet at Sikkema Jenkins that closed last weekend, but still want to mention, in mentioning texture, Thomas Pihl‘s evenly sheathed, encaustic-like minimalist paintings. Close-up viewing of his waxy, glowing fields approached Rothko territory, in terms of inner light. The revealed–namely layering, confined to painting edges, in fact iterated the context of a continuum as much as very personal abstract expression.
Still plenty of time to catch the latest by Paul Anthony Smith spread prolifically across both Shainman spaces. Smith‘s “picotages”–textured mounted photographs–debuted in New York five-some years ago with images of Jamaican street scenes and portrait subjects donning African masks, then “pricked” with a sharp potter’s tool in sections to create, magically, a simultaneously furry and sparkling surface rippling. This “scarring” induced of kind of spiritual veil over the depicted realities. Now Smith’s scale, subjects, and signature technique have expanded boldly a series of (Caribbean) carnival scenes “behind” complexly patterned, pricked grill-work literally dazzling. And a third-level screening of sometimes spray-painted, sometimes speckled chain link fence in another loose series has equally tiered levels of associative content.
At the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum, Christina Forrer‘s Freudian-cartoon tapestries at Luhring Augustine, which, from a distance look very much look like blobby, post-millennial figurative paintings. Upon approach woven textures pixilate a rotating constellation of girls, boys, and anthropomorphic others with goopy, stretchy tongues, gum bubbles, and Gumby-body parts emitting from their mouths. Absurdist, abject, amusing, honest.
Smith and Forrer share a near obsessive commitment to their materials and methods, which itself generates at least part of their respective results and communicates, overall, a humanistic (for lack of better term) motivation and intention.
Odili Donald Odita: Third Sun; through Feb. 10 at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. (Chelsea)
Robin Rhode: The Geometry of Color; through Feb. 24 at Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd St. (Chelsea).
Kelley Johnson: Slow Hum; through Feb. 4 at Freight & Volume, 97 Allen St. (LES)
A key theme in the group of recent abstract paintings at Shainman by Odili Donald Odita is celebration (according to the press release). Yes. Odita’s sharply juxtaposed, color spectrum-spanning, slices and shards pop back, forth and across these flat pictures as viewers approach and recede. Odita has already mastered this post-Minimalist terrain, climactic in his public murals; he continues here to mine its infinite potential when it comes to visceral variation–especially with nuanced chromatics. With each work momentarily mesmerizing, collective dynamics include: tension between perceived patterns and their disruption: illusionistic spatial shifts, algorithmic autonomous patterning, and attention to color theory; plus, not least extra-formalist design inspiration (e.g., textiles; architecture). Above all, the presiding staggered-dagger motif sets the body, as well as the eyes, abuzz.
Robin Rhodes also creates outdoor murals with geometric foundations; however, in socially subversive contexts. Namely, on city walls in Johannesburg (S.A.)—a la authentic graffiti, with which he then interacts in performances. At Lehman Maupin, these projects are completed (as it were) as art photographs. The painted backdrops recall, variously, point-to-line-to-plane Kandinsky, Sol Lewitt’s systematic faux-frescos, and, occasionally, simplified archetypal symbols as embedded in local traditions of façade decoration in the region. The superimposition of Rhodes’s own silhouette in various poses conjures Banksy and Bauhaus mashed into absurdist street ballet. Collectively, the framed up rhythmic arrangements bind together, bounce, and juggle such myriad associations.
Flip side to Odita’s crisp-cut partitioning by trading on related geometric coin are the recent airy works of Kelley Johnson at Freight & Volume. Johnson has left tape strips and over-stepped masking edges intermittently and strategically around his striped and scaffolded compositions, through which white space peaks in, often in sectional, horizontal bands. To use the sonic metaphor of Kelley’s exhibition title: a distillation of Odita’s big band to a low (as well as slow) hum. Leavening classic Minimalist monochrome with pop-neon color and, in a few sculptures, more fragile structure for which kites were Kelley’s inspiration, the hand-tinged element tempers his neo-geo modality with somewhat ironic, off-beat charm.
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.
Titus Kaphar: Shifting Skies; at Jack Shainman (513 W. 20th; and 524 W. 24th) through January 28.
Kaphar had a breakthrough with his extensive painting series, The Jerome Project, 2014, in terms of public exposure, as well as artistic and socially committed aims. This group of portraits juggled and compressed deep personal motivations, hyper-realist painting style, Byzantine-golden grounds, the visual rhetoric of mugshots, and post-painterly abstraction; in each, the subjects are partly obscured by tarry blackness seeping up over the image field.
Around the same time, Kaphar was developing two other directions (according to his first [dual] exhibitions at Shainman; see post): one, steeped in revisionist history thematics sprung from past art images as catalysts and templates upon which to surface and flesh out the ostensibly invisible black presences outside–or erased from–these “frames”–joining, in this terrain, immediate predecessors and peers like Robert Colescott, Whitfield Lovell, and (fellow Yale alum) Kehinde Wiley. The other has been his direct engagement with and poetic documentation of Black Lives Matter from its beginnings, especially prominent images of the spontaneous hands-up-don’t-shoot solidarity gesture partly obscured by a maelstrom of ghostly brushwork. (One of these was published in Time, 12/10/14, in conjunction with the selection of BLM as collective runner up for Person of the Year).
The works on view in the current show further all three veins mentioned, variously. Individualistic portraiture remains prominent; notably in a series of intimate, sepia-toned images on raw canvases, and larger, Warholian off-register-photo-silkcreen-type images of (to most) anonymous, “shaken” individuals.
The torch of history is carried through in the clever, curt, crunched and jewel-toned Twisted Tropes, 2016;
Titus Kaphar; seen at Jack Shainman, 20th St. (Jan. 19, 2016)along with other distorted, ripped and re-organized pictures and planes throughout; with several silhouette-cut-out wood panels that move away from paint entirely. Elsewhere, more photo-based imagery vies with windy brushwork in soldier subjects–namely uniformed and armed (African American) Buffalo soldiers. Familiar visages of George Washington pop up throughout; including (I believe–or a similar colonial “father”) in squished-profile within an experimental glass series of amorphous-heads. I think many will agree the most compelling is in the form of an over-blown, tipped and corked canister with a bit of “brown juice” (both liquor and molasses are evoked) puddling at the bottom.
Overall, the works here are no less energetic for also conveying a slow and steady visual exploration of presence and absence simultaneously.
“Barkley L. Hendricks”; at Jack Shainman (24th St.), through April 23:
Any time Barkley Hendricks (b. 1945) is in town–well, he’s earned a visit– explicitly on his own terms. Persevering with his steady Pop-Realist portraiture, he has contributed to “Black Arts” in the U.S. from the 1960s to the current Black Lives Matter movement. Of the former, we have been explicitly reminded by his iconic Lawdy Mama (1969, Brooklyn Museum of Art) popping up in the Lyon townhouse over two seasons of Empire; the latter, explicitly, with representations of the “hands-up” gesture in several works here.
Nurtured at PAFA and Yale, long bastions of realist technique and aesthetics, his m.o. is a poster-flat style spliced with crisp detail; likewise, he has stayed the course, as far as subject matter, throughout his ongoing, prolific career.
Hendricks’s 2008 retrospective, “The Birth of Cool” (organized by the Nasher Museum; exh. cat. Trevor Schoonmaker, et al.) solidified deserved wide-spread attention. A new context was much younger hotshots emerging since the new millennium, like Kehinde Wiley (post) and Titus Kaphur (post), who have picked up the figurative torch with similar intentions–namely, inserting real black presence into the mainstream white cube. In the display at Shainman it appears that, like many older artists who remain vital and relevant, Hendricks has now turned to them, collectively (i.e., two subsequent art generations), in terms of Black Life Matters, to keep moving forward.
The recent work here is generally tougher and more stark in its hard edge sensibility than that of his characteristic surface suave to this point. I must admit I was most drawn to a large-scale pink monochrome fashion-plate-type portrait evocative of his earlier, slightly silkier sartorial icons. But the activist enthusiasm of the rest equally left a strong impression.
Titus Kaphar at Shainman: “Asphalt and Chalk” at 24th Street space; and “Drawing the Blinds”; 20th Street space; through February 21.
“Titus Kaphar, The Jerome Project,” Studio Museum in Harlem, through March (linked post).
“Asphalt and Chalk” at 24th Street offers insight and coda re: “The Jerome Project” at SMH, a poignant yet sharp-pointed series of Photorealist, gold-grounded icons representing imprisoned men whose respective individuality is blended through status, name, and tar-like veils partially covering their faces. The veiling also creates half abstract / half figurative paintings, a formal play that, in the 24th St. display, is pushed to the brink with two large-scale examples; one of which becomes an apparent total abstraction of black and gold that has us reading it nonetheless as a hidden portrait in comparison to the other. Drawings here reveal Kaphar’s Warhol-like process of exploring subjects at the surface through juxtapositions of altered photos, tracings, and overlaid contours that become nearly–alternatively–Cubist and Surrealist in the multiplying eyes of several examples. Others put the news back into platonic Pop by taking on Ferguson, and recalling, in viewer-troubling ways, post-Rodney King art responses, including a sharp journalistic turn by many African American artist-photographers in the 1990s.
Kaphar’s newer series at 20th Street picks up the intertwined metaphoric and formal twists on erasure and exposure of the Jerome work with riffs on 18th and 19th-century paintings featuring persons of African descent. In most, the cohesive picture plane of a faithful, if slightly, purposefully flimsy copy is disrupted with cut-out and collaged portions; several include a ceremonious co-conspirator seen “drawing the blinds” or peeking through the curtains. In one example, the artist’s own visage peers through the loin area of a life-like, processional crucifix; others deal with skewed mirror images of black and white painted “ladies,” and the ambiguities of race in both Orientalist and American history painting.
Kaphar’s aesthetic sensibility and form invoke strains of late-Depression Regionalism and postmodern verbal and visual punning, as well as the bold anatomical structure of Kerry James Marshall and Whitfield Lovell’s anthropological draftsmanship. The potent post-colonial perspective of the 20th Street display is also kin to the more bombastic (in a stunning way), full 3-D version by Nick Cave seen here last fall (see post).
At both the 20th St. and 24th St. Shainman Gallery locations, through Oct. 11.
Starting at the end: anything put out there by Cave (b. 1959) is worth not missing. More to the point, the appropriated cliché of my title above (dating at least to Shakespeare) has found particular resonance in contemporary, mixed media work by African American artists. (The association has been facilitated via the hindsight “Prologue” of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, c. 1952, which has had notable influence on postwar African American art broadly–see the discourse surrounding Thelma Golden’s game-changing Black Male exhibition at the Whitney, 1994.) Cave has recently re-directed into this vein, pioneered by Betye Saar (b. 1926), and including David Hammons, Fred Wilson, Willie Cole, and Radcliffe Bailey (prominently and at the tip of my tongue, among many others). A now canonical example of the mode, which entails collecting and recycling material resonant with history—objects, images, fragments—into (new) art is Saar’s assemblage, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972).
(UC Berkeley Art Museum; image: wikipedia).
At 20th St., Cave’s sculptural arrangement, Star Power (2014) specifically recalls Saar’s icon, with its vintage Black Power fist sculpture atop a stack of worn steps, before a backdrop of a red-black-green-quilt-patterned emblem in the shape of the (symbolic) North Star.
It also recalls David Hammons’s textile multiple, African American Flag (c. 1990), as well as his punning constructions and concepts, such as the “higher goals” of his so-named, breakthrough telephone-pole basketball hoops of the mid-1980s . Star Power belongs to a mini-group of relatively stoic, if not quite quiet, wall-bound pieces at 20th St. that can suggest cultural memento mori.
Other works exude Cave’s more exuberant, flamboyant aesthetic characteristic of the signature masquerade-like “soundsuits” that have dominated his oeuvre. Those alien-mannequin sculptures, which share a gene or two with the headless humans of Yinka Shonibare, took a slight turn in 2011 (in simultaneous shows at Shainman and Mary Boone), where their layered cultural and gender evocations began extending literally, in sprouting ornaments and near-tableaux set-ups. This formal direction is established in several of the new works centered around mass produced black-child-servant figurines—both upholding and obscured by elaborate bird’s-nest “auras” of Eurocentric tchotchkes—miniature faux flora and fauna, twiggy filigree, assorted, glittering baubles.
In one variation, a “boy” is transformed into an ithyphallic votive on an electric-candle-lit, make-shift altar that recalls (with divergent sensibility) Willie Cole’s lawn jockey-orisa figures, c. 2000, and Kara Walker’s recent similar figures cast in molasses at her Domino Sugar factory extravaganza in June).
At 24th St., exhibited under the title, “Rescue,” a group of metaphorically enthroned ceramic canines hold court, embellished with similar, even more dense and glitzy entanglements. Among many other things, this collective tour-de-force suggests ancient Egyptian zoomorphic divinity.
The title at 20th Street, “Made by Whites for Whites,” comes into focus cumulatively; I read the Star Power piece as the one weighty foil. Of the compelling cacophony of colors, textures, mediums, methods, and messages on view across the dual installations, one final highlight here that outs sublimated stereotypes with a humorously blingy art-sartorial statement: