What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in June


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Jul 10, 2023

What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in June

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Want to see new art in the city? Check out Joan Brown, Giorgio de Chirico and the making of Art-Rite magazine in Chelsea, and Rina Banerjee on the Lower East Side.

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By Roberta Smith, Jillian Steinhauer, Will Heinrich and Martha Schwendener


Through June 17. Matthew Marks Gallery, 522 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; 212-243-0200, matthewmarks.com.

You could call the mature style of the great American painter Joan Brown (1938-1990) extra-late Egyptian, with her figures often rendered fully frontal or fully in profile. This formality — along with expanses of startling solid colors — contributes to the hypnotic stillness of her mainly autobiographical works. (Besides painting, her interests included her family, Hinduism, ballroom dancing, serious amateur swimming and Egyptian art.) It's not always clear what Brown, who appears in six of the paintings here, is thinking about, but the seriousness is undeniable.

So it's not surprising that this show of a dozen paintings, mostly from the 1970s, includes "The Visitor" (1977). It depicts the artist seated with an Egyptian pharaoh at a restaurant. The pharaoh is deep turquoise — the color of Egyptian faience — as is the wall behind him, which is incised with hieroglyphs. If two worlds are colliding, it seems to be occurring in Brown's imagination. After all, the show is titled "Facts & Fantasies."

In "Self-Portrait at Age 42" (1980) we encounter the artist with arms folded, staring ahead. She wears a blue pullover delicately smeared with paint and a clear plastic glove. Is she facing an unwelcome interruption in her studio? Then it dawns: Her hard stare seems like the kind artists reserve for paintings in progress. There are several other alluring works, but don't miss "Donald" (1986), a copper on wood sculpture of an extra-large tabby cat. As with the Egyptians, cats were another of Brown's favorite subjects. ROBERTA SMITH

Lower East Side

Through June 10. Perrotin, 130 Orchard Street, Manhattan; 212-812-2902, perrotin.com.

Rina Banerjee's show at Perrotin is well timed: Her style of world-building with everyday materials is having a moment. Current museum exhibitions devoted to Wangechi Mutu, Daniel Lind-Ramos and Sarah Sze create a fruitful context for Banerjee, who's had a decades-long, successful career but no solo show here in eight years.

Like those other artists, Banerjee makes evocative creatures and grand yet intricate installations from unusual materials. But her work feels both more omnivorous and more precarious. Her arrangements — of, say, small wooden and porcelain figurines atop a tangle of netting and string, giving way to clusters of horns and glass — are as compelling as they are improbable. They coalesce at the same time that they don't. Banerjee, who was born in Calcutta and raised mostly in New York, seems interested not just in the imaginative possibilities of hybridity, but also how easily things might shift or come apart.

The show's centerpiece, "Black Noodles" (2023), commands the gallery, looking like an underwater ruin, and Banerjee's loose paintings of mythical female figures are transporting. But I kept returning to "Contagious Migrations" (1999—2023), a work that features a two-headed creature of sorts, set against a dizzying sketch of plans for a ventilation system. The plan's edges are cut into tentacle-like shapes, from which extend medical tubes, some covered in black netting. The piece evokes Covid-19 but is too abstract to be commentary. Instead it's beautiful, ominous and mysterious. It captures what's so mesmerizing about Banerjee's art, and what's so unsettling. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through July 29. Vito Schnabel Gallery, 455 West 19th Street, Manhattan; 646-216-3932; vitoschnabel.com.

Almost any of the 16 Giorgio de Chirico paintings in "Horses: The Death of a Rider" could sustain an exhibition by itself. A couple from the late 1920s are less polished, and you could reasonably call "Two Horses on a Seashore," 1970, a little glib. But for the most part the lush, peculiar and consistently delightful paintings show the Greek-born Italian painter at the top of his game for the better part of five decades.

As the exhibition title suggests, every canvas also holds one or more horses, often backed by one of the mysterious landscapes he's known for. Carnal but loaded with symbolism, the horse is a living link to antiquity, making it the perfect subject for a history-conscious artist like de Chirico (1888-1978). It's also full of bulging joints and fleshy mounds, and de Chirico approaches it, visually as well as conceptually, as a kind of chimera, a grab-bag of separate moments and encounters.

The majestic white steed in the title piece, "Death of a Rider," rears up on a twilit beach, letting its rider tumble off like Icarus behind it. In the distance stands a city on a hill; nearby, two voyagers or gods watch from a rowboat. But the horse's posture is actually that of a statue, its foreleg bent, its head in a dramatic profile that doesn't quite match the angle of its body. To one side it's a crouching, unconscious power; to the other a self-possessed, even arrogant personality. Altogether it encapsulates the drama of the scene, at once active and eternal. WILL HEINRICH


Through June 21. Printed Matter; 231 11th Avenue, Manhattan; 212-925-0325, printedmatter.org.

The title "From the Margins: The Making of Art-Rite" at Printed Matter" feels a little inaccurate from today's global-art standpoint. Founded in 1973 by Edit DeAk, Walter Robinson and Joshua Cohn, Art-Rite magazine published 19 issues and featured some of the biggest talents of the ’70s, most of whom have gone on to become household names in the art world. This meticulous show tells its story via documentary photographs, letters, original paste-up materials and anecdotes filled with witticisms and insider gossip.

The young editors met in an art criticism seminar at Columbia University taught by the brilliant editor and artist Brian O’Doherty. The magazine (its name consciously echoes ShopRite grocery stores and the advertising circulars handed out there) was printed on newsprint and avoided "terminological pollution," that is, theory-jargon and artspeak. The first issue included contributions by the Pop Art scholar Lawrence Alloway, Hilton Kramer (at one point a New York Times critic), the feminist critic Lucy Lippard, and the art historians Irving Sandler and Leo Steinberg — a jaw-dropping roster for an alternative "throwaway" publication.

Art-Rite arrived in an era when a "crisis in criticism," sparked partly by a burgeoning art market, was constantly being sounded. Critics suddenly had less power than curators, collectors and artists, and venues for criticism were shrinking. Now, as glossy art magazines are being consolidated as "brands" and criticism further homogenized, the need for a smart, scrappy publication like Art-Rite — and one that looks this good 50 years after its founding — is more urgent than ever. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Upper East Side

Through June 2. Di Donna, 744 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-259-0444, didonna.com.

Man Ray portrayed the artists and writers of Paris in the 1920s and ’30s as indelibly as Nadar did their 19th-century predecessors. Indeed, Man Ray's deathbed photograph of Marcel Proust makes a fitting bookend to Nadar's of Victor Hugo. But Nadar, when he memorialized France's literary titan in 1885, was himself a venerable Paris institution, while Man Ray, who rushed to Proust's apartment in 1922 at the bidding of Jean Cocteau, was an American who spoke terrible French and had been living in Paris for little over a year.

The marvel of "Man Ray's Paris Portraits, 1921-1939" is his access as well as his artistry. Before relocating, Man Ray had been befriended by Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara, two vanguard artists. They smoothed his Parisian entry, and are among the subjects in this exhibition of 72 vintage prints, mostly drawn from the collection of Timothy Baum, a private art dealer who knew Man Ray in the last years of his life and collaborated on this show.

Man Ray flattered his subjects. To soften wrinkles and other imperfections, he typically shot with a long lens from a distance, and he slightly overexposed the film. Yet his portraits were profoundly revealing: the knowing eyes of the poet Anna de Noailles, the glazed stare of the perennially pickled Sinclair Lewis, the burly forcefulness of a young Alexander Calder. And then there is his self-portrait, taken in his mid-30s — tie intentionally askew, eyes penetrating, and mouth set in a line of unstoppable determination. ARTHUR LUBOW


Through June 3. 125 Newbury, 395 Broadway, Manhattan, 212-371-5242, 125newbury.com.

"I discovered the secret of the sea in meditation upon a dewdrop," wrote the Lebanese-born painter and poet Khalil Gibran. Sylvia Plimack Mangold approaches painting the same way. Fifteen works on view at 125 Newbury all depict a single maple tree living outside her studio in Washingtonville, N.Y., that she has been painting for decades.

Many of the paintings here are titled "Leaves in the Wind" and capture a green-filled summer rendered, close-up, in lush but no-nonsense brushstrokes reminiscent of Fairfield Porter or Édouard Manet — as well as Claude Monet and his sharply framed compositions of waterlilies. Other works, titled "Winter Maple," function like dusty-blue skyscapes forked by leafless brown-gray branches.

The "secret" of the tree, of course, is that it is ever-changing, and hence produces infinite variations. (If, in fact, it is the same tree. We have to trust Mangold on this — although Magritte's famous 1929 painting "The Treachery of Images," commonly known as "Ceci n’est pas une pipe" or "This is not a pipe," offered a blunt lesson on how truth operates in painting.)

In Mangold's hands, parts become wholes and the exhibition a master class in synecdoche: the tree is the forest; the painter a human representative negotiating with the natural world. In an age of restless movement and too much information, the practice of painting a single tree also becomes a profound, even radical act of mindfulness, meditation and care. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through June 3. Miles McEnery Gallery, 515 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; 212-445-0051; milesmcenery.com.

The artist Beverly Fishman has been thinking about the cure for what ails us for the last 40 years. Her candy-colored constructions exist somewhere between painting, sculpture and bad trip: uppers and downers pulsating in happy, fluorescent hues — a medicine cabinet stocked with remedies for being human.

The new work here, continuing her series of faceted, urethane-shellacked wood forms that protrude from the wall (a funny play on the idea of "relief"), are a workaround to figuration — about the body but never depicting it, geometric abstraction as a feint to talk about contemporary culture, and what we ingest to cope with it. They merge Frank Stella's hard-edged syncopation with Southern California's Finish Fetish movement, resulting in lustrous surfaces with an electric hum and smooth cast, like Everlasting Gobstoppers dipped in car paint. Each pill is rendered in concentric bands so that they resemble restless, polychromatic irises, or Wayne Thiebaud's glowing confections, if Thiebaud painted sherbert-ringed icons of existential pain.

Only their titles, doubling as diagnoses, reveal their nefariousness, as in "Untitled (Osteoporosis, Abortion, Depression, Anxiety, Birth Control)," 2023: healing as dictated by the medical-industrial complex, the promise of a quick fix and the drug dependency that promise has encouraged.

"Four help you through the night, help to minimize your plight," Mick Jagger sings on "Mother's Little Helper," the Stones’ buoyant tune about a housewife developing a Valium habit. Since then, the pharmacological spectrum has only become more florid. That gives Fishman an inexhaustible pill box, her dosages calibrated to symptoms that never let up. MAX LAKIN


Through June 17. Nicola Vassell Gallery, 138 Tenth Avenue, Manhattan. 212-463-5160; nicolavassell.com.

In her first solo show at Nicola Vassell Gallery, the self-taught painter Uman, who was born in Somalia and now lives near Albany, pretty much takes the place over. On gallery walls painted deep green, purple or gold, she has mounted 15 enormous, vibrant, unremitting square paintings, each framed in a dark shadow box produced in her studio, and even more small drawings. (Not for nothing is the show titled "I Want Everything Now.") The paintings’ colors are bold and saturated, and their textures range from slick, wet brushwork to the halting skitter of oil stick. Their forms mostly comprise circles, scribbles and squares, but also a smattering of eyes, flowers, suns, pointy teeth and ambiguous suggestions of intestines, chairs or vertebrae. The references are both cross-cultural and art-historical, but the effect, in general, leans toward the textile; one yellow canvas, divided into a triangular lattice by green and red lines, is also sewn together from triangular scraps. On another, what looks like a transparent sea horse rears over a bottle clearly labeled "Eau de Parfum."

In a way, though, Uman is a minimalist. Her gestures, like the schematic flowers that let her claim a toehold in figuration, are always distinctly efficient. Canvases may be covered edge to edge, but the paint application is thin, and the moment an explosive effect is achieved, she moves on to the next one. WILL HEINRICH


Through Sept. 10. Queens Museum, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens; 718-592-9700; queensmuseum.org.

Aliza Nisenbaum grew up in Mexico and now lives in New York. So do many of the people in Corona, Queens, whom she's spent years painting in their homes and workplaces, in her studio at the Queens Museum or while they were enrolled in a class she once taught called "English Through Feminist Art History." The museum's wonderful "Queens, Lindo y Querido" (Queens, Beautiful and Beloved), a wide-ranging show of her work, includes portraits of Delta Air Lines and Port Authority employees; of Hitomi Iwasaki, the show's curator, in her plant-filled office; and of an art class that Nisenbaum offered to food pantry volunteers at the museum, displayed along with a selection of the volunteers’ own works ("El Taller, Queens Museum").

It's worth mentioning all of this because Nisenbaum's interest in people, her need to connect with them, doesn't just provide content for her paintings — it comes through in their form. Realistic but with heightened colors and flattened planes, they’re homey and glamorous at once, capable of absorbing any number of idiosyncratic details. "El Taller" (The Workshop) presents 10 budding artists, five working on self-portraits with the aid of small mirrors, against the unreal purple mists of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. And then there are the paintings-within-the-painting, each with its own distinctive style, not to mention 19 naïve, multicolored games of "exquisite corpse." It's a tribute to Nisenbaum's generosity — and to her skills with composition — that it all inhabits a single room in harmony. WILL HEINRICH


Through June 17. Yossi Milo, 245 10th Avenue, Manhattan; 212-414-0370; yossimilo.com

Three tiny sculptures, each less than 10 inches tall, fill all the psychic room in Natia Lemay's solo at Yossi Milo.

She stacks up miniature versions of banal furnishings — a chair, a sofa, a rocking horse — glued one on top of the other. Carved from soapstone, they copy the crude softwood miniatures that kids build from dollhouse kits.

Lemay was born into hardship in Toronto, with roots in African-Canadian culture and among the Mi’kmaq peoples of Canada's East Coast. Her generic home goods seem to commemorate the rough years she spent moving between public housing, homeless shelters and low-end rentals. I think of her sculptures as "memory towers," and their diminutive scale seems to concentrate their energies rather than diminish them. (Don't memories always feel small — small enough to fit into a skull?)

Lemay links her towers to the Native art of the totem pole, which makes sense in terms of their form and mnemonic function.

The soapstone she uses, some of which came to her from her father, also recalls Indigenous crafts. Using that material to render the troubled urban world she has known, Lemay claims it as her continuing birthright. She reclaims it from the decades it has spent in the tourist trade.

There are also 20 oil paintings in Lemay's show. To me, they accept the authority of the old master tradition rather than pushing back against it. But then, I feel that way about most recent painting. Lemay's terrific little sculptures seem more like hand grenades, primed to blow a hole in our hierarchies. BLAKE GOPNIK


Through June 17. Greene Naftali, 508 West 26th Street, 8th floor, Manhattan; 212-463-7770, greenenaftaligallery.com.

The young artist and theorist Aria Dean is known for essays connecting Blackness, objecthood and digital culture. (Her selected writings, "Bad Infinity," debuts this summer.) This is good to remember, since from the moment you pass through the bubble-gum pink saloon doors at Greene Naftali — a deadpan work titled "Pink Saloon Doors" — the polished sculptures and digital prints on view seem sparse and cryptic, defiantly superficial. Something's omitted. This show follows from Dean's dynamic thinking (or, less generously, illustrates points she's made on the page) regarding the ease with which lo-fi images circulate, although the uninitiated can also appreciate her chilly, cynical take on commercial art.

The sculpture "FIGURE A, Friesian Mare," a glossy, crumpled gray lump on a shipping palette, evokes a kind of trashed Minimalist cube or compacted equestrian statue, unsubtly twisting the connection between stark formalism and the viewer's body. The implications of treating living things as commodities are brutal.

The other four works on view are luxuriously tall dye sublimation prints on aluminum, three or four panels each, depicting … what? From a distance, blurs and blotches, a sky, shapes whipping by at high speed, but blown up and zoomed in to such a degree that they’re basically abstract, flecked with stray pixels. In fact, Dean's project could be summarized as exploring the violence abstraction causes, or makes possible. The taciturn slickness of this show provokes an uncomfortable reaction: Is there no feeling here? No pain? No humanity? TRAVIS DIEHL

Upper East Side

Through June 24. Gagosian, 821 Park Avenue, Manhattan; 212-796-1228, Gagosian.com

There can't be many artists whose works are as textbook-famous and as rarely encountered as Chris Burden's. We can't expect to see repeats of the 1970s performances for which he was nailed to a Volkswagen Beetle or shot in the arm with a .22. He died in 2015, and even when he was living those were one-offs. But this rare Burden show presents other examples of the Angeleno's radical works of the 1970s. They shifted the boundaries of art, which makes them now look safely "artistic" and gallery-worthy.

The show gathers several of the "relics" — Burden's term — meant to stand for his performances: An empty display case represents "Disappearing," a piece for which he made himself scarce for three days; a telephone and cassette recorder represent "Wiretap," for which Burden taped calls with art dealers.

There's also footage of Burden's shooting and of "Bed Piece," a well-known performance that had him lying in a gallery for 22 days.

More surprising are the one-minute "TV Commercials" that let Burden infiltrate art into broadcast TV, after buying the ad space required. One of them, "Full Financial Disclosure," sits in Andy Warhol's Business Art genre, revealing the numbers for Burden's 1976 income and expenses — and for his paltry profit. In "Chris Burden Promo," names of world-famous artists fill the TV one after another: "Leonardo da Vinci," "Michelangelo," "Rembrandt," "Vincent van Gogh," "Pablo Picasso" and then … "Chris Burden." That final name would once have seemed a joke or wildly wishful thinking, but now it lives cozily with the others. BLAKE GOPNIK

Roberta Smith, the co-chief art critic, regularly reviews museum exhibitions, art fairs and gallery shows in New York, North America and abroad. Her special areas of interest include ceramics textiles, folk and outsider art, design and video art. @robertasmithnyt

Jillian Steinhauer is a critic and reporter who covers the politics of art and comics. She won a 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant and was previously a senior editor at Hyperallergic.

Will Heinrich writes about new developments in contemporary art, and has previously been a critic for The New Yorker and The New York Observer. @willvheinrich


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