The Galleries
Michael Newton

New York, November, 2011—January, 2012


Accumulations @ Paula Cooper

Yayoi Kusama’s obsessive net-paintings are classics, and Christian Marclay’s silent studies on music and space (such as a Möbius strip of discarded cassette tapes) are always worthwhile, but the real star here is Bruce Conner. His 1976 film “Crossroads” presents archival footage of 1945 atomic bomb tests, slowed to a crawl and set to a dense, cosmic Terry Riley score. Conner dares to make gorgeous, heavenly movement out of the most terrible thing around; it’ll make you feel weird.


Ai Weiwei @ Mary Boone

After you’ve been imprisoned by your government and become the center of an international media outrage, what do you do for an encore? The notoriously prankish Weiwei’s response is: seeds. Millions of seeds. Sunflower seeds (an enduring symbol of Chinese culture, apparently), crafted out of porcelain by hired workers. The piece makes for a nice evocation of the ideological struggles that wrack contemporary China: individual vs. collective, industry vs. nature, owner vs. worker. It’s also, as with much of Weiwei’s work, something of a Fuck You.


An Other Place @ Galerie Lelong

In work by emerging South American artists, insurgencies simmer beneath ruins and rock. André Komatsu’s installation pits motorized fans against planks and plants until (or after) they all break, and Pablo Accinelli’s newspaper frottages (seriously, that’s what the medium is called) show posh real estate listings as read through some faraway lens. Minerva Cuevas’s video of Mexico City protests finds a nice companion in Marcius Galan’s scraped and tilted sculpture, “Inclinação a Esquerda [Inclination to the Left].” The show culminates with Cinthia Marcelle’s “Cruzada”: a lovely video of a marching band, changing guards over scorched earth.


Trisha Brown @ Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

For this exhibition, 75-year-old dancer and creative stalwart Brown presents selections from her “It’s a Draw” series: work made by dancing across large pieces of paper with charcoal stuck to her appendages. These works make a fine document of bodily movement across space and time, but then, isn’t that pretty much what drawings do anyway? The show’s concerns with motion and impermanence are perhaps better explored in the work at the back of the gallery: a video of a moody dance performance, shot with a bracing mix of amateur shakiness and artistic deliberation.


Jonathan Butt, Cal Crawford & Jeni Spota @ Brennan & Griffin

Spota’s paintings surround sometimes-loaded, oft-vacant symbols like books and dice with gooey, church-y ornamentation, so that a chorus of angels greets a pack of playing cards, or the eyes of God himself witness the two of clubs. These works don’t quite reveal their intellectual underpinnings (something to do with Passolini and Renaissance architecture), but we can make do without. Butt’s sculptures project a scrambled, giving-up vibe, and Crawford presents the pillowcases he shot with a revolver, something he calls an “impotent action.” Why did he do it? Why do they do it? For art, that’s why.


Monica Cook @ Postmasters

Cook’s stop-motion video “Volley” was made using dyspeptic cavemen of her own design: an eerie vision of future man that plays a bit like The Dark Crystal with a bad infection. The finely crafted cavemen are in the gallery too, but that’s something of a DVD extra. Cook achieves a rousing discord between affection and fear—a little love story in the uncanny valley—and she does it by giving so much doting, close-hewn attention to beings that are, let’s be honest, really gross.


Corporations Are People Too @ Winkleman

For this little exhibit about corporate culture, vintage photos (by the likes of Louis Faurer and Dorothea Lange) are smartly set against more sardonic recent artwork on the pervasiveness of corporate anomie. Faurer’s 1949 photo “Times Square Convertible, New York” shows a bunch of laughing people, all aglow in the happy lights of giant advertisements. Then, Kota Ezawa presents hilariously pared-down digital drawings of Ikea catalogs, and Jacqueline Hassnick shows photos of the unused boardrooms of major corporations—unsettling despite being kind of (intentionally) pedestrian. The exhibit comes to a head in Chris Dorland’s painting and video installation, which seeks to channel dreams of transcendent corporate identity through an ’80s-era space-y, laser-light cheesiness. It’s a bit much, but it works.


December @ Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Cheryl Donegan’s foil-stamped paintings look like they’re falling apart already, and Tony Matelli’s dust-on-mirror works look like they could be wiped away in a moment, and Margaret Lee’s “Potato” looks like a potato. The artists here have carefully balanced a guttural, raw-edged aesthetic against careful composition; even if some of the work was done in a spirit of brashness—like Ian Cheng’s spray-painted scatological text-painting—the cumulative effect is heartbreaking. December happens to all of us.


The Displaced Person @ Invisible-Exports

At this show, the most compelling work is Walt Cassidy’s drawings, of looming, totemic structures above languid young men: lounging as vision-quest (an irresistible fantasy). Much of the other work fails to take off, even though all the artists in this show (among them Sue Williams and Jesse Aron Green) have made big, compelling artworks in the past. Maybe the problem is something quite simple: this very small gallery might be too small for their work.


Melissa Gordon @ Marianne Boesky

A sad side-effect of the rise of digital media is that artists who utilize collage or appropriation now have less physical material to work with. Can you blame them for being a little nostalgic? Gordon’s paintings rhyme formal elements between old newspapers and reproductions of Mondrian paintings, and it’s hard not to feel like if she could, she would put this work in a time machine and send it back a few decades. But then, the Mondrian works, which incorporate freestanding sculptural elements, move pleasingly with the viewer’s gaze, conducting new, little harmonies out of Mondrian’s famously rigid approach. There are formal pleasures to be had here, apart from and beyond the navel.


Dan Graham & Corey McCorkle @ Murray Guy

In McCorkle’s 2010 video “Hermitage,” a mysterious man and woman wander through the Désert de Retz: an 18th-century leisure garden on the outskirts of Paris and a favored haunt for the likes of André Breton, Georges Bataille, and André Malraux. At its pre-revolutionary height, the garden housed a “ruined” Gothic church, a Chinese house, an Egyptian-style pyramid, and a temple to Pan, among many other structures. McCorkle’s video arcs and sweeps through the dead leaves and cracked bricks, creating a delectable in-the-moment eeriness, but this piece dovetails too neatly with an overly common strain of contemporary pessimism: the idea that intellectual history is (kind of, sort of) done; all we can do is watch the sun set over the ruins (and maybe capture the setting sun in killer 1080p). It’s not true, is it? Anyway, McCorkle’s video also goes well with the documentation of Graham’s late-’80s public proposal, to bring some cold steel and corporate glass smack in the middle of a nice French park.


Andreas Gursky @ Gagosian

When Gursky’s “Rhein II”—a placid photo of the European river—became the most expensive photograph ever sold ($4.3 million; not that bad, considering), Internet haters started blah-blah-blahing about how much of a rip-off that was for such a simple image. But Gursky’s photos have always contained a wealth of printed detail that really needs to be seen in-person, not on-screen; in other words—his photos are big. His recent images of land masses certainly fit with his normally big themes (it’s the whole damn world, after all), but as digitally sourced satellite shots, they miss out on the uniquely obsessive singularities that Gursky often brings to his role behind the camera. To turn these pictures into Gurskys, though, he had to create the swirling, luminous, blue ocean (the satellite photos make the water look far less pretty), and this is where we should really be giving our attention: these aren’t photos about the Earth, but about the void.


Tommy Hartung @ On Stellar Rays

In Hartung’s video “Anna,” lumpy, dead-eyed mannequins are terrorized (slowly) by a plastic horse or by the bad light of broken videos and twinkling pixels. The accumulation of stuff ends up seeming a little arbitrary, but “Anna” lingers in the mind as a piece of erratic, personal, homespun horror. The press release tells me it’s about Leo Tolstoy, asceticism, and the “failure of emancipatory ideologies.” Fair enough.


Corin Hewett @ Laurel Gitlin

From the outside, it’s just a bunch of erect, tiled slabs. Go inside and walk around, though: behind each slab is something unique—a stick or a blanket or a trowel-like sculpture, also erect (erections are a big deal here). At its best, this work evokes imprisonment, manual drudgery, and idealistic humanism; at its worst, it comes too close to evoking not much at all.


Stephen Hilger @ MUSE CPMI

To make the images in “Hotel California,” Hilger shot in the unraveling husk of L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel, before it was demolished in 2006. Hilger adroitly positions the hotel in contemporary social space, the dream-time and desire in its (literal) fabric, quietly fighting back our foreclosed modern moment. Though the images’ sunlit decay and unused opulence are familiar from other chronicles of decadent American blight, their haunting sense of submerged narrative, of life just out of reach, feels distinctly Hilger’s own. Yet the act of documentation doubles back on itself thanks to the smart use of archival photos: an early, boozy generation of celebrities, laughing it up in glorious black-and-white; the hotel’s fabulous ballroom hosting a fabulous ball. History preserved as an archive, a repository of loss.


Jim Hodges @ Gladstone

Okay guys, party’s over. Hodges’s untitled 2011 installation has a mirror ball slowly descending into a watery grave, and his partially polished stones show rock-hard reality obstinately overpowering chrome-plated dreams. None of that mattered on Dec. 1, when, in honor of World AIDS Day, Hodges had all his work covered in black dropcloths and instead showed an untitled, collaborative documentary on queer activism at the height of the epidemic. By making his work the platform for a protest action, Hodges brought everything right into the present moment and suddenly nothing felt over at all.


On Kawara @ David Zwirner

When psychoanalysts talk about the “narcissism of small differences,” they mean it as a regressive pitfall, a source of uncivilized conflict. This show presents an assortment of Kawara’s famous “date paintings” from the last 45 years: each painting features the date and year it was made, set onto a small canvas; that’s it. The strength of these paintings lies in their drawn-out accumulation, as a record of a day-in day-out struggle against mortality and as an obsessive act of ritual sameness, but this exhibit shows us how different the paintings can be: most of them are black, but some of them are red! Some are on smaller canvases than others! Sometimes small differences are all that matter.


Lauren Kelley @ The Kitchen

In her video “Froufrou Conclusions,” Kelley uses Barbie-like dolls to assail the ditzy falsehoods of the beauty industry along with the empty calories of American consumer culture. If that seems like an old-hat approach, well, consider this: Kelley draws inspiration from children’s TV and Todd Haynes’s Superstar, and she cares about character and narrative detail—aspects of simple storytelling that can be weirdly hard to come by within gallery walls. Indeed, Kelley seems to be working toward her own, animated, public-access TV show. I’d watch it.


Mary Reid Kelley @ Frederick & Freiser

In “The Syphilis of Sisyphus,” a pregnant, makeup-plastered young woman in post-revolutionary, pre-modern Paris discourses (loudly) on her changing body, under the bright light of her ever-changing culture. Kelley’s video is a tour de force and a labor (ha ha) of love, with painted backdrops, elaborate rhymes, and real philosophical depth, and yet, parts of it don’t quite work. In real time, the chirpy line readings lose themselves in a dizzying spate of cheeky name-drops (one verse begins “Higgeldy piggeldy, two young Hegelians . . . ”), and the thing starts to feel like a facile exercise in ex post facto pompousness. But there’s genuine anger and peril at play here, and a real intelligence guiding the flabbergasted pseudo-intellectualism of the onyx-eyed heroine. Ultimately, I have two words of criticism for this piece: slow down.


Esther Kläs @ Peter Blum

Standing tall like infantrymen, dark as earth—these staid, monolithic sculptures are a bit vexing in their simplicity, but also achieve an unhurried, winning sense of stoic self-possession. Some of the effect is undone, though, by a detail in one of them: a cast human hand (presumably the artist’s), over in the lower corner. What is that doing there?


Klara Kristalova @ Lehmann Maupin

In lumpy, glazed ceramic statues, bemused young women live through near-grotesque fairytale disfigurations: turned to a tree, turned to an animal, cursed with a long and ugly nose. The work feels personal, but not overtly—it’s something like hearing a campfire story made-up on the spot, but needing to know how it ends anyway. Kristalova’s work is the sort of thing that people who want to become artists want to make (and yes, that’s a good thing).


Lady Pink @ Woodward

Lady Pink (née Sandra Fabara) started writing graffiti at age 15; soon after, in graffiti’s early-’80s glory days, she made a name for herself as one of the only prominent women in New York’s male-dominated graffiti subculture. Her style still comes from graffiti, but she paints on canvases now. Some of this work holds fast to a florid immaturity—a sentimentality, as if Pink is channeling her teenage self. The best stuff, though, turns the eddies and curlicues of graffiti into houses and buildings, into streets and city blocks. Graffiti has always been about language and space (it’s telling that the term is “graffiti writing,” not “graffiti painting”), and Pink’s work gives a refreshingly spirited take on the cultural centrality of words and, most importantly, names.


Ann Lislegaard @ Murray Guy

Philosopher Fredric Jameson writes that science-fiction (good science-fiction, anyway) doesn’t just present visions of the future, but can also “defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present.” In Lislegaard’s video installation “Time Machine,” a bug-eyed fox gives an H.G. Wells–inspired, incoherent account of a future world. It’s effective in its destabilized, skittering weirdness, but maybe dwells too comfortably in its own little space of whispered chaos. In other words—it has the defamiliarization down, but how about that restructuring?


Peter Liversidge @ Sean Kelly

Liversidge, who is only in his late 30s, is going back to the source—those rivers of winsome and romantic idealism that sustained so much great conceptual art in the ’60s and ’70s. Here, he presents a series of framed proposals, some abstract or personal (“I propose to search for your twin”; “I propose to employ a linguist”), some realized elsewhere in the gallery (a stack of found tires, cast in pure white marble), some too difficult to realize (a proposal for a three-day experimental music festival; a proposal that the gallery staff dress as one another), some relating to the proposals themselves (one proposal is to hang a gray stone frame to the right of the proposal—and guess what? There it is). Liversidge’s project has more than a twinge of nostalgia (in 2011, using typewriters and Polaroids is a deliberate choice, not an act of quotidian normalcy); for good or ill, much of this work could be passed-off as first-generation conceptualism, including the bad parts: the ivory-tower aloofness, the oft-pompous preponderance with the artist’s very own self. But, the thing is, I agree with Liversidge. The potential pleasures and beauties of straight-up conceptual art are far from exhausted; people still make typewriter ribbons, you know.


Nava Lubelski @ LMAKprojects

Lubelski intercepts factory-produced fabrications—like a discarded sheet of uncut army badges, or an old stuffed chair—with her own delicately stitched little webs. This work is about the handmade vs. the mass-produced, of course, but I think there’s something else on its mind, too. Like in “Electric,” where a discarded pink electric blanket has been stricken with vein-y threads—an older world of creature comforts, now lost forever to some new disease.


Shane McAdams & Christopher Saunders @ Allegra LaViola

McAdams’s paintings find pleasant landscapes as oculi amid cellular growth and Technicolor headaches; he’s going for disharmony, and it works, even if it all comes a bit too suddenly. McAdams’s works are smartly paired with Saunders’s roiling landscape paintings, which tread delicately and dangerously between pastoral storm scenes and moody abstraction. Ah, for the simple pleasures.


Jazz-minh Moore @ Lyons Weir

I’ve been wondering when the firelit, inky, back-to-the-land sensibility of anarchic latter-day punks would find its way into the art world—there’s a good amount of both loveliness and darkness there, after all. It pops up from time to time, though—as in these paintings, of a beautiful, red-headed, tattooed punk (the artist’s sister) dismantling a house. Moore balances her sister’s swirling, florid tattoos with the hard-edged planks of the rotting cabin, sometimes adding gods and icons to the walls or to her sister’s body. The work feels a bit arbitrary, but also like the start of a spiritual quest; so maybe it has to be a bit arbitrary—how else can you decide what to carry, what to trash?


Parallax Views @ .NO

The Anders Breivik attacks of last July—in Norway, almost 80 dead by a single hand—were a grim reminder of how just one man, with a committed vision and a market-surplus of evil, can do volumes of damage to his society at large. Breivik was directing his terror at modern Norway, but of course, for most of us, he was really attacking old Norway—the crystalline gene pools that seem to have birthed a monster. The situation is not lost on the organizers of Parallax Views, who have here placed a Breivik newspaper headline amid a display of old blankets and traditional Norwegian flatbreads. Elsewhere, a video shows somber vigils in Oslo, and photographs show traditional wooden clogs slung over telephone wires. This is a small show, but a potent one; a reminder that art is one of the few ways we have of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.


David E. Peterson & Noah Scalin @ Krause

Here are two artists who look for morbid absurdity in the everyday. Peterson makes slight, sculptural “puzzles” out of beveled suburban surfaces, and Scalin makes skulls out of whatever’s at hand: fashioned out of a spork, sculpted out of a bedsheet, crafted out of a tooth, drawn painstakingly on an Etch-a-Sketch. Scalin’s work was originally made for his popular “Skull-A-Day” blog—he’s published a book, has exhibited at medical museums, and was even on Martha Stewart. Scalin’s skulls operate at an odd crossroads: gallery art that makes more sense in places that aren’t the gallery.


Michael St. John @ Andrea Rosen

Artists have long since incorporated newspaper and magazine clippings into their work, but what’s a painter to do in an age where the best images are on the Internet? One approach: you can print-out images from online and then hang them from the top of the canvas, in creatively realized paintings that seem to ironically reflect on a creative dry spell. That works pretty well, actually.


Paul Sharits @ Greene Naftali

The major motion-picture camera companies recently announced that they would stop making film cameras; movie theaters are throwing out their 35mm projectors; Kodak is filing for bankruptcy. As Roger Ebert put it, “The victory of video was quick and merciless.” Sharits’s celebrated installations come from a time not long ago when film—good, old celluloid—was one of the primary mediums for defining our cultural identity, for locating ourselves in time and space. For example, his 1982 “3rd Degree” has eerie, fleshy close-ups and trompe-l’oeil footage of melting film, emerging out of clattering 16mm projectors placed conspicuously in the middle of the floor, at the height of your body. This stuff just wouldn’t work on Blu-ray. The next generation of kids won’t even know what they’re missing, but we will.


Shahzia Sikander @ Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Sikander is in her early 40s, but she was trained in the art of Persian miniature painting—an art form that probably had its creative peak some time in the 14th century. In fine postmodern form, Sikander puts her training toward beguiling digital animations. “Last Post” uses muted watercolors and lush patterns, in an abstract narrative about British imperialism in the Islamic world. The work takes on a difficult and conflicted relationship with its own form, like a pretty person at odds with their body, or a verdant countryside in the midst of civil war. How much is beauty worth?


Michael Snow @ Jack Shainman

Musings on the position of the spectator, the relationships between the seeing and the seen: Snow’s video and photographic works quickly forge toward some awfully heady places, but don’t do a whole lot of exploring once they’re there. Yet his work is genuinely fun, too—one video installation casts the empty forms of potential artworks onto the gallery wall as bright, babyish blobs, while another installation races across country roads through an imaginary rift in the floor. As with so many journeys, what matters is the road, not the landmarks.


Joel Sternfeld @ Luhring Augustine

Roland Barthes wrote about good photographs having a “punctum”—a sharp little detail that pierces through to the viewer. These early, rarely seen photos of Sternfeld’s—concerned mainly with cultures of leisure in 1970s America—seem to have been built around many such arresting little pokes: the canary-yellow shorts of a lolling beach bum, the upturned head of an elderly shopper on a gray day, a mint chip ice-cream cone clutched by a muscle-shirted tough, a tiny pointed finger in a whitewashed suburban argument. Most of these details are achieved through carefully leveraged color—something that Sternfeld is especially known for, what with him being a pioneer of color photography as a fine art medium. (I find it almost hard to believe that less than 40 years ago, the use of color in fine art photography was something of a controversy. Isn’t it strange?)


Kianja Strobert @ Zach Feuer

Strobert’s abstractions harken back to an earlier generation of action-packed color fields, but something’s off. Strobert’s works on paper are actually built out of small, particular elements—silver strings, mysterious shavings, nascent growths. These works seem to have been made not by throwing paint from above, but by building piecemeal from below. That’s a big difference.


Caragh Thuring @ Simon Preston

In unfinished-looking paintings that throw representation right in there with abstraction, certain things come up alongside swipes, swirls, and rectangles (which may be errant bricks, floating screens, or unmoored comic book panels). What kinds of things? How about volcanoes, a girl in a green dress, or a little battle scene. It’s pretty arbitrary, but that seems to be the point—arbitrariness as its own reward.


Paul Wackers @ Morgan Lehman

With plants, geodes, prisms and scientific maquettes spread around 2D picture planes, Wackers’s recent paintings are a loving tribute to the exploratory spirit of European modernism. There’s an engaging and romantic eagerness here, but there’s also a sense that the artist is reluctant to put his own stamp on these old ideas. Rilke said “We see the brightness of a new page where everything yet can happen.” Turn the page.


The Wedding (The Walker Evans Polaroid Project) with Roni Horn, curated by Ydessa Hendeles @ Andrea Rosen

Walker Evans’s Polaroids were taken by Walker Evans, but they’re also Polaroids. This was the challenge faced by curator Ydessa Hendeles: how to present such small work by such a major artist (and in such a big gallery). For the show’s centerpiece, Hendeles chose an ornate 19th-century birdhouse, with Evans’s Polaroids of churches and tombs emanating out from the center, along with quaking Roni Horn photos of quiet birds on the walls and pew-like benches arranged throughout the room. An inquiry into spiritual forms, fit to mirror the gallery’s high-ceilinged, skylit space. In the end, some of it feels a little too obvious, what with formal concepts that have been geared toward spiritual evocation for thousands of years, but still—this is a strong example of a deeply underutilized art-world idea: the curator as creator.


Rona Yefman @ Derek Eller

Conventions of gender and sexuality are easy enough to toy with, and many artists try to score subversiveness points by dressing in drag, or snapping tourist shots of working-class queer communities, or something. I thought that might be what I was in for with this show, but looking at these images of an elderly grandfather in a vampy red dress and cheap plastic mask, it doesn’t feel like a shock tactic or a put-on, it feels . . . real. The subject is Martha Bouke, an 80-year-old Polish exile, and the photos and videos here have a messy, friendly intimacy to them; according to the gallery, they’re the products of a nine-year collaboration. Once we’ve seen Martha, masked and in frilly underwear, talking about her father’s death by Nazi hands, it’s clear that we’re not looking at any simple symbol or allegory, but at a particularly, deeply, perhaps uniquely complex person.


Ann Liv Young @ Louis B. James

People come to New York hoping to leave the rest of America (wherever it is they’re from) behind, but sometimes you just have to take a little bit of the country with you. I don’t know where Young is from, but her “Sherry” alter-ego—a self-promoting, pink-clad, kitschy church-lady—seems to have seeped out from the scars of a middle-American childhood. Young’s background is in transgressive performance and modern dance; her sculptures and videos don’t quite hold up, but the show’s centerpiece is Sherry herself, puttering around the gallery, selling thrift-store junk and offering couple’s therapy sessions. As a comedy trope, the wacky church-folk bit is stale as a week-old Rice Krispie treat, but that’s not really the point. The whole thing is an unpredictably intimate, unusually committed, basically ridiculous act of self-transformation, and that sort of thing is rare. Anyway, if you missed the show but would still like to get to know Sherry a little better, you can head to Young’s website and purchase things like “Sherry’s used tampons,” “Sherry’s wig hair,” or a “bag of Sherry’s urine.”