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.
“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.
“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.