Tag Archives: Pace Gallery

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.

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.


Brief notes on Chelsea Ground and the Met Roof

“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.

Hank Willis Thomas, resin-cast sculpture from the “Punctum Series” at Jack Shainman; 4/19/17

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.

Adrian Villar Rojas sculpture from The Met roof installation (4/29/17).


Plants, Plates, Planets, Patterns in Chelsea

 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.


Ab Ex Zen Palette / Gen Y Pattern Painting in Chelsea

Mark Rothko: Dark Palette, through January 7 at Pace, 510 W. 25th St.

Andrew Kuo: No to Self; through January 14 at Marlborough Chelsea, 545 W. 25th St.

Diametrically opposed in approach and sensibility, the respective abstract paintings of the historically enshrined Rothko and the relative youngster Kuo can both be described as psycho-scapes featuring saturated color.

Art historian Robert Rosenblum nailed it with his approach to Ab Ex as latter-day Romanticism likewise treading on the infinite enormity of interior consciousness as well as the universe beyond the rational human sphere (Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko, 1975).  Rothko himself said as much (in more brief but similar terms), down-playing purely visual or formalist exegeses on his works.  Rather, his mythically-proportioned emotional efforts, informed by a heavy dose of Nietzschean faith in tragic redemption and Eastern (very loosely) spirituality sought to penetrate the core of the viewer.  While Rothko’s entire oeuvre of color-spectrum-spanning, floating rectangular fields pulsates uncannily, this spacious suite of his literally darkest explorations–blended Mars red, crimsons, blue-blacks, grays, umbers, deep violets and veridians–epitomizes the aesthetic sublime in all its connotations and (collectively) envelopes the viewer.

Equally apropos, a brilliant Rosenblum quip analogizing Rothko’s serial sectional compositions with static-infused Buddhist t.v. (ingrained from a class lecture decades ago).  Along the same lines, scanning closely the veiled surface layers of these canvases pays off with otherwise imperceptible short brush strokes executed with Zen-like repetition.  Thus the blockish forms settle and shift between density and translucency simultaneously, baiting the viewer’s gaze to focus.  Here is W. Benjamin’s “aura” at its most palpable–and somewhat pace his famous thesis, virtually nothing of these hand-hewn originals are conveyed in reproductions.

Overall, the bigger the better among these deeply brooding art presences, but, several small-scale works included are also soul-shattering gems.  As a whole, an intense painting experience for viewers that melds the limits of visual distinction, the (Freudian) death drive, and Zen mindfulness to iterate, in a word, existence.


A generational product of the digital revolution, Kuo achieves a kind of Op Art on steroids in this display of recent paintings.  His method mimics an algorithmic interlocking of lines and boldly contrasting, flat and sharp-edged colors-shapes assigned variously to diaristic emotions, thoughts and daily tasks.  The results are perhaps more fleshed out electroencephalogram than abstraction per se.  Exactly, according to the artist (in statements), and emphasized by the appearance of inscribed explanatory keys (a là those on geographic maps) on a bottom strip of each canvas.

Nonetheless the dizzying endgames, which can evoke far-flung postwar Neo-Geo directions and textile patterns, are awesome and uncompromising.   A tendency in viewers (myself) may be to wish away the keys in favor of Kuo’s virtuosity vis-a-vis optical buzz–uninterrupted.  Yet, surely Kuo has considered and grappled with this critique a priori–which renders his exposed compositional trope compelling in its preemptive defiance.


Quiet and Noise: Zhang Huan and Jean Tinguely Shows in Chelsea

“Zhang Huan: Let there be Light” at Pace Gallery (25th St.) through Dec. 5.

“Jean Tinguely” at Barbara Gladstone (21st St.) through Dec. 19.

The series of ash Braille paintings by Zhang (b. 1965) featured are intensely poetic.  Firstly, the medium and process, which he has been working with for the past few years (with the aid of presumably numerous assistants): ashes collected from Buddhist temples, formed into grisaille imagery and affixed to the picture plane.  The blown-up Braille passages read visually as tropes of Minimalist painting–systematic patterns barely distinguishable from the monochrome surfaces from which they emerge in low relief, just as the works are barely distinguishable from one another.  Yet they are literally mimetic (of Braille passages); the phrases are from the Bible and the Star Spangled Banner, and thus signify, or encompass, layered meaning–intriguing, as far as artist intent and content.  Experientially, however, they remain inscrutable. The functional, tactile text has been subsumed into the realm of art.  And that’s just the tip of their collective, conveyed Zen dialectics. The series is juxtaposed with a gallery-scale, wrap-around Photorealist mural,  also of ash, based on an image of a CP meeting (mid-1960s) with Mao at the center and crowds behind.  The slight blur of the surface infuses a low optical buzz that lends to an interpretation of the piece as a persistent memory.  In that sense, its intricate, time-consuming creation perhaps represents a meditative confrontation and exorcism.


It’s fantastic to see a group of raw, rusty Rube Goldberg contraptions by Tinguely (1925-1991) in working order.  Comprised of unrelated found objects bricolaged into mechanomorphic totems, they clang and grate visually even before springing into action via foot buttons  activated by viewers.  Coils, lights, shears, gears, wires, tires, and all manner of half-decayed low-tech hardware, including recognizable domestic specimens, chaotically burst out of modernism, although remaining, with a few exceptions, pedestal-scale.  Tinguely egged out the a raw beauty in human-made detrius, especially aged metals. His aesthetic overlaps with early Rauschenberg, the early kinetic sculptures of Roni Horn, and the tangled assemblages (in divergent ways) of Nancy Rubens and Nick Cave.

Zen works for Noguchi

“Isamu Noguchi: Variations”; Pace 25th Street, ended March 21

What is “good” art? Art that surprises and engages you over time, no matter how many thousands of poor repros you have seen, and in spite of wherever informed preconceptions may lurk within.  I’ll stick with that for the moment, and would not hesitate to use virtually any piece in Noguchi’s oeuvre, of which this recent show was a good snapshot–as an example.  I’m partial to the raw, chunky, “balanced,” “leaning,” and or “fissured” stone and wood sculptures, in which the materials have been set up to speak profoundly for themselves.  Also featured were several of his Surrealist-tinged, shape-refined types that inevitably have figurative connotations, as well as those that imaginatively juxtapose divergent materials (including chromes and glass as well as the found, earthy stuff). One gallery focused on low-lying, planar pieces–at once wholly non-objective sculptures and chic furniture.  A selection of his paper lamp designs topped off a Zen-like aesthetic experience that was truly art-cleansing.