Tag Archives: Kara Walker

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.

Icons and Scripture at The Studio Museum

At the Studio Museum in Harlem:

Regarding the Figure; through August 6.

Rico Gaston: Icons, 2007-2017; through August 27.

Jamal Shabazz; through August 27.

Excerpts; through July 2.

Graphic Design from the Studio Museum Archive; through July 2.  

Spring at SMH kicked off, as it has in recent years, with “open studios,” at its in-house spaces, recently inhabited by this year’s three winners of its astute, important artist residency program that has launched many a serious art career.  The event was a breath of fresh (as opposed to gallery) air for visitors and seemingly energizing for the artists, whose light-filled niches were scattered mainly with studies and works in progress.  Andy Robert had already covered his walls with color grid-charts – quickly reminiscent of Albers, Chuck Close, Stanley Whitney –  and had several mushy and atmospheric, deep bluish canvases leaning around.  I asked him about Ab Ex; he implied that, in the end, figuration will emerge.  Julia Phillips had some small, highly crafted metal and ceramic objects, several  strung up on rack-like fixtures—absurd and slightly scary.  Autumn Knight confronted me as I entered the circle of visitors seated in her room, which was punctuated by a string of colored light bulbs strewn across the floor.  Although admittedly jaded by decades of lukewarm performance art and make-shift “happenings,” I still succumbed to her passive-aggressive entré and the relational group around her.  Museum director Thelma Golden was on hand, cheering on her young charges and us, despite her copious globe-encompassing activities as a leading art curator, educator and advocate.  A brilliant program developed nearly at the founding of this indispensable institution, which culminates in an exhibition of a body of work by each in the museum proper.

Main gallery (street-level):  In the featured show of figurative works from the collection Barkley L. Hendricks’s divine  painting, Lawdy Mama (1969) presides like a Byzantine icon—both mortal portrait and female deity; also, at the moment, a moving tribute to his recent passing. Another show-stopper is Jordan Casteel’s putty-painted, pudgy, in-your-face stroller-age twins (2017), which will melt anyone without a heart of stone right into the pushed-up picture plane. Lynette Yiadom Boakye,* known for imaginary painted portraiture, is here (as well as currently at MoMA, in “Unfinished  Conversations”); make sure to look closely at Eldzior Cortor’s sensitively painted, slightly melancholic women against a Surrealist-tinged backdrop (1949).  Some photo stand-outs: Lorraine O’Grady’s** dual photo portrait profile of a young woman and an Egyptian bust (conceived in a series of c. 1980); a back and front self-portrait head-shot diptych by Lyle Ashton Harris* (1990s); a sitter on a bed seen in a mirror Zanele Muholi (2015). That’s for starters.  As is often the case with SMH’s collection shows, the cross-chronological installation proposes and reveals engaging links (and at times even lineages) that distinguish an amorphous African diaspora art, within historical American art and the larger art world.

Upstairs: Rico Gaston’s throw-back ‘70s poster-album cover, graphic commemorations are, further, subtly crafted, color-coded Op art, with Precisionist linear rays emanating from sparse portrait montages, in a dizzying serial presentation.

More twins and twinning–a winning trope a the selection of street photography by Jamal Shabazz.

Downstairs:  The “Excerpts” show gets into a greyish area of postwar aesthetics known colloquially as “word art” – and its vicissitudes, in terms of form/s, content, and presentation.  Among the artists included: Charles Gaines, master of this (and other) reputedly esoteric conceptual art sub-genre; Glenn Ligon, near-exclusively a “language” artist who first brought layered expressions of personal and shared identity and history inhered in literature into the mix in the early 1990s; and Kara Walker, with a shocking, brave, and powerful piece (her “sign” doesn’t translate into mere text – you’ll see).  A coolly printed, breezy but compelling narrative piece by outré hipster Juliana Huxtable moves far into the new millennium; along with an alternative, low-tech, large-scale scrawl by Xavier Simmons (better known as a photographer).

Bonus: A display of graphic materials related to the museum and its exhibitions from its founding (1968) to the present; which finds an interesting counterpart in the current show, “A Bit of Matter: the MoMA PS1 Archives, 1976-2000” (MoMA/PS 1, through September 10).

*Also in the current “Whitney Biennial” (WMAA, through June 11).

**Also in the current exhibition, “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985”;  (Brooklyn Museum, through September 17); several others also in both shows.

Sugar Hill Show

Sugar city this summer, with Kara Walker’s mountainous mama at Domino;* including two pieces in the Sugar Hill (nabe) show, “If You Build It,” a group exhibition at a new apt. (main architect, David Adjaye) at 155th / St. Nich. Ave., organized by www.nolongerempty.org.   (One is illustrated below; the other is a diorama-like, mini-metropolis of the sweet stuff by Irish duo, Brendan Jamison and Mark Revel, all over the web).

I picked up a signed multiple ($10!) by the esteemed Nari Ward – a “canned smile” — created in conjunction with a street project / “happening” documented in a video on view in the show – love it!

nari_wardLots of very interesting work.  Loved the timely, poignant “monument” to immigrant journeys by Scherezade  Garcia (below).

Through 8/10/14.

Detail of installation dealing w/ baseball and the Dominican Republic (cast glass bat over sugar).
Freddy Rodriguez,  Detail of installation dealing w/ baseball and the Dominican Republic (cast glass bat over sugar).
Radcliffe Bailey
One of Radcliffe Bailey’s “shipwrecks” from the Diaspora-focused Atlanta-based artist.
Scherezade Garcia
Scherezade Garcia (painted rubber tubes; airport/travel stickers)

*Kara Walker, A Subtlety, installed May 10 – July 6, 2014; organized by Creative Time.