The Galleries
Michael Newton

New York, January–February 2013


Doug Aitken @ 303

Aitken is so skilled with video installation that it can be disappointing to see a sculpture show like this—the sculptures are skillfully made, too, but while the ethic of team-based, best-practices, beveled-edge production can look great in the right kind of video, it can also lead to a dispiriting lack of personality in a sculpture. That these sculptures have bits of suggested, ruinous decay, and also elements of time, light and motion, highlights this divide even more. That said, there is certainly some creative muscle at work. The piece “not enough time in the day” has its words cast as shadows against a descending ladder of light, recalling all these glum sacrifices necessary to keep the fluorescents humming along. Similarly, “MORE (shattered pour)” has the titular word mirrored and shattered: a high-end nightclub on the wrong side of the revolution. One question, though: if the world’s about to end, then why are we all not living in a movie, right now?


David S. Allee @ Morgan Lehman

Macintosh, with its windows, was the precursor of Windows; modern tablets and phones function almost as little Windows windows on reality, with game windows and browser windows, often with advertisements opening in windows, and what does Allee do with all this? He takes photographs of windows. By isolating windows on the picture plane, Allee highlights how windows function as little gateways between private zones and broad exterior realities—even an unadorned window suggests a degree of removal, a thin accumulation of aloneness. By isolating windows, Allee makes images that are both more interesting and less interesting than you might expect them to be. By isolating windows.


Darren Almond @ Matthew Marks

Almond’s “Fullmoon” photographs, which depict soil and water, tree leaves and flat earth, are a shot at depicting the whole world and the movements of the heavens, too: Almond took these photos on all seven continents, by the light of the full moon. Photography at its core is a transcribing of light, and these photos were made in the dark—that sort of elemental contradiction helps give these images their eerie, poetic undercurrent, but the show still runs a bit cold (and not just because it involves Antarctica).


Don Bachardy @ Cheim & Read

The exhibit is called “Portraits from a Canyon: Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s,” and yes, you can feel some of it: the open-vested overtures toward bodily liberation, tempered by ambition and strife; lofty ideals laced with too much or not enough money; steep hills at dusk. Bachardy’s ink-and-pencil portraits are pitched at a delicate place between kitschy aggrandizement and ground-floor intimacy. There are famous people here, it’s true (subjects include Warren Beatty, Elton John and Joan Didion), but I wasn’t really seeking them out. Like going to a fancy party for ten minutes, you leave with an already-fading sense of the moment, and the knowledge that there were probably some famous people in there somewhere.


Jean-Michel Basquiat @ Gagosian

I was in the neighborhood the night this show opened, and the line to get in stretched almost to the other end of 24th Street. Even for major openings, that level of interest, especially among a young, excited crowd, is exceedingly rare; and this is for an artist who died more than 20 years ago. There are several reasons why Basquiat would remain a glowing beacon to younger artists. He embodied a persistent fantasy of rough-hewn hipness—in photos and film footage, he comes across as, more-or-less, the coolest guy ever; he pointedly brought questions of black cultural identity into the skewed-white art world; there’s a movie about him (it’s pretty good, too); he achieved massive success on his own terms and died like a rock star (heroin overdose at age 27). At its worst, Basquiat’s legacy is one of prodigious, self-absorbed decadence—generating lots of bad paintings from his admirers kind of like how Kerouac and Ginsberg inspire volumes of terrible writing. This show—a major survey—gives a chance to consider Basquiat at his best: the loaded symbols and swaths of scrawled color, the atavistic cartoons balanced against free-flowing language, the charge of nascent graffiti and hip-hop culture arm-in-arm with the avant-garde tradition, and the sheer volume of exuberant creation. Lots of people have tried, but no one will ever do it quite as well.


Matthew Benedict @ Alexander and Bonin

I wonder if Benedict is responding in part to the current vogue for affected, old-timey aesthetics (he lives in Brooklyn, by the way). In sculptural assemblages made with, yes, vintage objects, Benedict creates something like miniature sets for Lovecraftian horror shows: a waterlogged typewriter, glass bottles full of what may be human remains, a desk stuck in a moment of cigarette-choked working-class tedium. (There are skillful paintings, too, but they don’t carry the same weight.) It’s a reminder that whatever may or may not have happened in a given epoch, there’s always at least one constant, unifying thing: a lot of people die.


Between This, That and the Other Thing @ Harris Lieberman

Jason Kraus’s ‘landscape’ constructions of greenscreens and spotlights feel deeply bored with the possibilities of modern image-making, while Liz Glynn’s still-life sculptures are meant to evoke past masterpieces without even much questioning on anyone’s part. As with “This is This” at Zach Feuer (see below), this exhibit is concerned with “this” as an intractable and, in many ways, irredeemable modern moment.


Nayland Blake @ Matthew Marks

In one piece, freeze-frames of a golf swing hang limply off a cheap shelving unit; in another, an assembly of felt stars and wooden spikes rises out of a footstool like an embattled flag; in another, a poorly printed ad for an (imaginary?) leather bar spreads across a particle-board cabinet, partially concealing a flaccid pink suit and jars of Crisco. In his recent work, Blake is looking more closely at consumerist dross, seeking out the seething bellies of human feeling in a world where, it seems, more and more of everything gets consigned to the trash. Another way of putting it is: he’s obsessed with sex. But don’t pretend that you’re not.


Aaron Bobrow @ Andrea Rosen

The tarp. Suggesting, as it does, an extracurricular hiking trip, a refugee encampment, a protest in the rain: Bobrow stretches used tarps as if they were paintings. As a young artist—still in his twenties—Bobrow deserves credit for his unfussed embrace of a socially complex form, but it would also be a shame if he never got past this sort of thing. These “paintings” suggest a lot of things, but maybe artists should be called on to do more than just suggest.


Daniel Buren @ Petzel

Daniel Buren @ Bortolami

Around age 27, Buren happened upon a standardized fabric pattern of bold, vertical stripes. That was over 45 years ago and since then, whether affixed to a canvas, wheatpasted on a quiet street corner, or all along the railings of the Guggenheim, Buren has shown a steadfast commitment to this one, simple motif. By jettisoning pictorial or symbolic concerns from the get-go, Buren’s in situ works are free to address ideas of space, light and location; but, to go back to those stripes: one way to look at it is as a decades-long performance piece, emblematic of a broad quest for artistic purity from a time when that still felt possible (Buren started this work in the mid-’60s; it’s hard to image it could’ve been started at any other time). With that in mind, a single Buren exhibition is something of an out-of-context scene, which can only go so far. I mean, it’s, well, it’s . . . a bunch of stripes.


John Byam @ Andrew Edlin

A lot of us came to art in the first place looking for genuine human expression, unfiltered (or maybe less filtered) through the conventional niceties or capital-generating concerns that shape so much of what we see and hear all the time. The art world, though, has its own litany of conventions, so we look toward what gets called “outsider art” for the real stuff—artwork made, we hope, not for money or accolades, but as a manifestation of a dark, pounding need to create something. This sort of thing can sometimes lead us to unfairly romanticize madness or poverty (how would we feel about Henry Darger’s sexualized, strangled little girls had he been a stockbroker instead of a janitor?). But it is probably necessary to point out—as the gallery has done—that 82-year-old Byam is a Korean War vet and a former gravedigger. His block-y little sawdust sculptures—of warplanes, corpses on gurneys, old machines, women—have the winsome self-possession of a grade-school craft project, while also bearing some of the weight of a long American life. What matters in the end is the work itself, and most of us can only dream of making artwork like this.


Brian Clarke @ Pace

There’s no way to make a stained-glass window and have it not refer to the Church; that’s just how it is. Clarke, who the gallery claims is the world’s leading stained-glass artist (they’re probably right), here exhibits paintings and sculpture alongside some new glass work, and he doesn’t shy away from the Church associations at all. There are crosses, skulls, robed figures and praying hands, suggesting a hard-won acceptance of a dark, religious heritage. Clarke likes snake-y lines and charred forms and, in the show’s centerpiece, a stained-glass oracle is shot through with veined color and birdlike silhouettes. This is a show about God, of course, and it’s a show about war (there are fighter planes and battleships), but it’s also a show about wringing power out of degradation; in other words, it’s a show about sex.


Tony Conrad @ Greene Naftali

Conrad will probably best be remembered for his musical experiments—every musician working with the concept of ‘drones’ owes Conrad 20 bucks and a cup of coffee—but he’s an inveterate explorer across disciplines, often looking for ways to pare forms down to their respective essence. This exhibit is rooted in a never-before-screened early-’80s film project featuring Tony Oursler and Mike Kelley (RIP, sniff), in which people playact the basic elements of a “Women in Prison” movie. Excerpts from the film are projected from inside a prison cell, with blinking overhead lights keeping us viewers perpetually aware of our surroundings. There are many ideas here, most of which don’t really sink, but the show wins points as a unique family of elements. I mean, as far as abrasive installations of youthful exploitation film projects within mock-authoritarian environments go, it has to be in at least the top five.


Amy Cutler @ Leslie Tonkonow

In her earlier work, Cutler applied sensitive, skillful watercolor and illustration toward depicting troupes of people—all women, pointedly—in the throes of some sort of migratory labor: trekking from homestead to homestead with white horses on their backs, or with boats around their waists. Her recent works are individual, painted portraits of imaginary women. The labor itself is gone, but make no mistake: this is still a vision of labor; these women have worked hard, no doubt. You could imagine these people as characters in a graphic novel about hardscrabble immigrant life, or a pre-modern family saga; without more of a narrative framework, ‘imagine’ is all you can do. I couldn’t help but wish for Cutler’s earlier approach—maybe, I thought, these characters should actually be doing something.


Deep Cuts @ Anna Kustera

Jamian Juliano-Villiani’s cartoonish paintings are straight out of some ’70s stoner mag; Tomer Aluf has painted what seems to be a muddy, ritualistic circle jerk; Austin Lee’s half-baked spray paint canvases, Nikki Maloof’s daubed, sunny kitsch, and Tameka Norris’s hot-mess hair-and-ink assemblages (one of which features the text “my pussy is a gangsta”) all look like they could’ve been made while drunk at a party. (That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not necessarily good, either.) A few years ago, I would’ve considered this show as part of a strain of early-21st-century diet-brand nihilism; this sort of aesthetic seems to be persisting, though, so maybe what I’m seeing isn’t the fear-streaked hedonism of a particular time and place, but a signal flare from that alluring, treacherous, first-world territory called “youth.” In other words: kids these days.


Svenja Deininger @ Marianne Boesky

On one side there’s Mark Rothko (1903–1970), making big canvases of stolid light at a time when artists were expected to be heroes. On another side, there’s Tomma Abts (born 1967), cradling her canvases in her arms and fending off modern horrors with delicately overlapping little forms. I’m not saying that those are Deininger’s only influences, but with her watery abstractions pitting geometric swipes against sun-dappled bulbs, they must each be up there in her personal pantheon somewhere. So, while you’re taking a dip in your backyard lake, can you still be an admiral?


Charlotte Dumas @ Julie Saul

For “Anima,” Dumas photographed and videotaped Arlington’s white burial horses as they lay down for workday rest. The animals have a sombre innocence to them or even (I’m sort of sad to say) a haplessness, folding their limbs in the falling light. I was waiting for something more to happen, for something to go bang, but nothing did—an insight into an exhausted state of being that most of us wouldn’t witness, suggesting a coiled, frustrated energy with nowhere to go.


Elger Esser @ Sonnabend

Some years ago, Esser was lauded as one of the nascent wave of German photographers: embracing big, lucid imagery, the idea was that these artists had a uniquely refined ability to capture the complexities of modern life. Esser’s photos are big and lucid, to be sure, but his subject matter tends toward the ageless; these photos, for example, follow the path of the Nile, as inspired by old postcards. Yet what else is there besides Esser’s distinctive molten-gold color scheme—and, of course, all that modern imaging technology—to bring these images into the present day? I’ll tell you: an expansive sense of remove, a desire to keep a distance from subjects that, just maybe, has emerged only after the use and position of photography has been so thoroughly questioned over all these years.


David Fertig @ Morgan Lehman

It’s not hard to find nostalgia for the pre-industrial West—it often involves a fondness for rosy opulence, chivalrous masculinity and deep-running concepts of honor and status. Fertig’s paintings concern late-18th-century Europe, but, unlike so much similarly themed recent art, they don’t go for fancy floridity or slapdash irony. The effect is less one of nostalgia than confused immediacy, something like if a contemporary painter—one with a day job, a smartphone, and not a huge amount of resources—took a Delorean field trip. In truth, it is nostalgia, but of a complex order.


Yevgeniy Fiks @ Winkleman

“Communism actively promotes and supports sex deviation to sap the strength of the new generation and make the birth of another problematical.” If this 1950 quote from a pair of American journalists seems ridiculous now, remember that it wasn’t at the time. Fiks is a Russian-born, New York-based artist whose work, as a rule, is A) concerned with the legacy of Communism, and B) genuinely interesting. As part of this exhibit, Fiks has found some choice quotes from pundits and from the upper strata of American government, linking Communism and homosexuality as comorbid perversions. The show’s title, “Homosexuality is Stalin’s Atom Bomb to Destroy America,” comes from a 1953 article by Arthur Guy Mathews, a psychologist who once claimed to have “cured” a lesbian by helping her to appear more feminine. Going off the Mathews quote, Fiks presents photographs of a cardboard mushroom cloud, peeking out from DC-area bushes and bathrooms as a surreptitious gay cruiser. They’re pretty hilarious, these pictures, but there’s a sobering undercurrent: the entrenched impulse in American politics to imagine others as enemies, to retain the status quo no matter what.


Suzan Frecon @ David Zwirner

Look, I’ve seen a lot of abstract painting in my life, and lately there seems to be a sort of dash race/reverse-endurance contest among young artists to put as little work into their paintings as possible. So how is it that Frecon’s reduced, sea-smoothed, spice-colored shapes don’t fall into that pit? Well, they feel careful, sensitive to loss, well-aware of all the forms and colors that aren’t there. Also, importantly, Frecon isn’t young: she’s in her ’70s, with more than four decades of art-making experience. She’s earned the right to work small.


David Hilliard @ Yancey Richardson

Starting with a full disclosure: Hilliard is a former professor of mine, and I like him personally. That means I know a bit about his art, though: I know that his magic-hour, multi-planar, quasi-cinematic photographs often start from a place of deep personal significance (family, friends, lovers, hometown environs), and that he values in his imagery the potential for broad accessibility above intellectualized high-art allure. His recent work finds him at a Cape Cod family home, balancing isolated, contemplative men against creaking wood and painted ships. I’m sure there’s a lot of meaning for Hilliard in this, and it doesn’t necessarily make it through to me, but seeing his art means walking away knowing at least one thing: the man knows how to take a picture.  


Davi Det Hompson @ ZieherSmith

Hompson (born David E. Thompson—get it?) is an undersung Fluxus practitioner who died in 1996. He pasted art on the street, sent art through the mail, printed art in magazines, and his work was poetic, situational, intellectual, wordy. I wanted to like this show (sort of a tiny retrospective), and I’m a little surprised that I didn’t, but the printed booklets of overheard gallery-going pith (“Maybe a lie would be more visible.” “You know it has to be a hairpiece.”) feel perfunctory and condescending, and the abstract paintings feel too proud of their affected primitivism. For all of Hampson’s history with populist/egalitarian production techniques, this work feels consumed with itself: it doesn’t need me.


How & Nosm @ Jonathan LeVine

Oh my God, the detail—there’s so much of it. How and Nosm are identical-twin street artists; they now produce work for the gallery world, but the fast-paced, intricate, generative process they honed on the street allows them to create lots of complex work, fast. I mean, how else could they have produced a show like this (with sculpture and installation alongside painting and drawing) in under a year? How else could they have rendered all those modular forms, cartoon animals and Cubist-like dimensional impositions if they haven’t approximated at least some degree of automacity? This work is technically stunning and graphically strong, so how much does it matter that I couldn’t find a way in, emotionally? Hard for me to say, since it matters to me.


Deborah Kass @ Paul Kasmin

For her early-’90s “My Elvis” series, feminist provocateur Kass used unmistakably Warholian syntax to create a series of large, screenprinted canvases: Warhol’s iconic Elvis replaced with Kass’s own Elvis. That Elvis, specifically: Barbra Streisand in costume for Yentl. This is the first time the series has been exhibited all at once. I saw this show with a friend and, honestly, I felt a little embarrassed: yet and still, the art world trafficking in glory-days hero-worship, exploring every last corner of its past rather than take a step toward anywhere else. I think the gallery must have anticipated this sort of response since the press release wisely reminds us that at the time, feminist criticism of masculine iconography was still a somewhat fresh thing, and artists hadn’t begun to seriously appropriate Warhol’s legacy (this was just a few years after Warhol’s death, after all). If the questions raised by Kass don’t even feel like questions anymore, then that’s a victory; I’m just a bit burned out on Warhol is all.


Jacob Kassay @ The Kitchen

A few years ago, Kassay’s career inspired a good deal of hand-wringing and think-piecing about the worth of art in an exchange-value world. Here was a young artist (Kassay is still in his twenties) whose works—reflective, electroplated silver on canvas—were fetching gobs of money from the collector set. The conclusions aren’t surprising, but they’re worth noting: that the art market is as prone to trends, jumps, and bubbles as any other market (if not more so), and that art collectors want to buy things that look good in their homes. With this show—a suite of site-specific sculptures in a non-commercial venue—Kassay seems to be looking for atomized, deep-breathing beauty as a counterpoint to the marketplace (the gallery tells us that these works are “diptychs with his previous works already in circulation”). I believe in Kassay as an artist I believe that these muted scraps of awkwardly-stretched canvas came from deliberate consideration of the artist’s moment in time and of his body in space. But what about me? What about my body?


Ragnar Kjartansson @ Luhring Augustine

Recent research (Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, et. al., 2009) has found that music can hit the pleasure centers of the brain in much the same way as drugs; our minds seem to have forged unassailable links between music and ecstasy. It’s something to think about in some of Kjartansson’s work, where a bit of beautiful music (a Mozart aria, say) may be performed for hours on end, until the singers (hopefully) reach some breathless, exhausted reverie. For “The Visitors,” Kjartansson and eight other musicians perform a lovely, looping, folksy dirge, each player isolated in a single room of a Hudson Valley mansion (the song only becomes whole in the finished, nine-screen installation). Kjartansson’s piece is resonant and deeply memorable, drawing off the unique power of music to unite disparate souls across distance and time. Embedded in there, though, there’s something gratingly inessential about Kjartansson’s project: there’s already an artistic medium devoted to exploring the incredible emotional potentialities of music. It’s called ‘music.’


Margaret Lee & Matthew Higgs @ Murray Guy

Lee’s “African stool and banana” consists of an African stool with a banana on it: some daily normalcy within a particular strand of middle-class, urban existence (Lee is in her early thirties and from New York, by the way). Higgs’s “Reading Painting #6 (André Kertész)” finds a worn Kertész paperback hanging off a monochromatic canvas (elsewhere, the artists tell us that we’re welcome to read the books, but “Please do not pick up the phone”). Are Lee and Higgs lovers? I don’t know, but I’d imagine they must be. The work in this show (and a lot of contemporary art in general, honestly) is a bit too self-satisfied with its considered, intellectual affect—you sense that it attained to the avant-garde by default, rather than through struggle—but its in-the-moment temporality manages to bring us into the middle of a relationship. Not necessarily a bad, dramatic or even unusual relationship, but still: a relationship. Is that not enough?


Anthony McCall @ Sean Kelly

If you’re a lucky museum-goer, you may at some point have come across one of McCall’s gorgeous “solid light” sculptures. In these works, simple geometric shapes are projected into haze-filled rooms, and the light from the projector seems to take on a shimmering substance, like some item of angelic furniture, or a sacred letter spontaneously willed into being. McCall continues to create these pieces, and they’re always a unique pleasure to behold, but I’d like to take this time to register a complaint: these new works are presented on digital video projectors, rather than film projectors. I know that video is far more practical than film, and I know that you can’t go back in time, but these are experiential sculptures rooted in the unique qualities of projected light, and video light feels sickly and anemic compared to clattering, flickering 16mm. This divide is maybe even more pronounced in the downstairs piece: a 1972 film (now video) installation in which a group of 15 people were invited into a room to document themselves. Imagine: a time when minute-by-minute self-documentation seemed somehow unusual.


Zwelethu Mthethwa @ Jack Shainman

Mthethwa takes astute, richly colored photographs in his native South Africa. His “Hope Chest” series shows women alongside large boxes: chests that may well contain their most prized personal possessions; “The End of an Era” shows hostel rooms recently vacated by migrant workers. Do I understand all the complex social context and cultural symbolism at work? No, of course I don’t, but I know a little bit. “The Brave Ones,” for example, shows young African men of the Nazareth Baptist Church, posing outdoors in conspicuously frilly ceremonial uniforms. These photos speak to a long, ingrained history of colonialism, and to the conflicted position of traditional masculinity; all presented in a sharp-focus, single-subject pictorial style that’s easy for someone like me to apprehend. Let’s just say it now: making images is never simple.


Trevor Paglen @ Metro Pictures

In a New Yorker profile from last year, Paglen says that he’s gotten offers from people to make his photographs clearer: scientists have suggested that the heat-soaked blurriness that comes from taking clandestine photos across the desert—of CIA ‘black sites’ and predatory drone launches—could be corrected with some lasers and specially calibrated optics. Paglen turns them down. The point isn’t objectivity—buildings look like buildings, and drones look like drones—but rather the performance of Paglen’s long-distance recording; the actions of a citizen reaching the limits of what he can know. In Paglen’s photos, abstracted swaths of earth and sky take on the dimensions of a legal, moral, and cultural void. Of course, I love Paglen’s photographs, but much of this show is given over to “The Last Pictures”—a set of 100 found images etched onto a golden disc and, late last year, shot into space, where they could conceivably stay for billions of years. There’s a depopulated British operating theater, and a still from a Japanese sci-fi B movie; there’s a group of Greek and Armenian refugees seeing the ocean for the first time, and a view of people through the “eyes” of, yes, a predator drone. Paglen may be overextending his genius here, trying for nothing less than a history of the human race, but it’s probably best to think of this work in the immediate, present moment: a time when nothing—not the act of looking, not the conditions of memory, not even the future of the Earth itself—can be taken for granted.


Gary Panter @ Fredericks & Freiser

Born in 1950, Panter was maturing as an artist just in time for punk rock; his scratchy, buzzy, radioactive aesthetic helped to define the feel of Los Angeles punk, mixing Reagan-era ennui with a surprisingly affable, gee-whiz, hey-kids sensibility (he was also the set designer for Pee-wee’s Playhouse). I was curious as to what he’s been up to lately, and if this show is any indication: paintings that look a lot like what he’s always done, but less gripping and more mellow. Much as some may try, you can’t be an angry young punk forever.


Jorge Queiroz @ Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Queiroz’s paintings seem to start from a place of abstraction, then grow outward to incorporate half-rendered figures, underground rooms, and maybe even something like science-fiction landscapes; in this new light, the abstract forms become tumescent growths, clouds of dust or something else entirely. Queiroz’s specific subject matter is too enigmatic to hold (much) water, but it’s this tension that animates these works: the suggestion of different scenes living and dying within a single painting, depending on who or what is in charge.


Jennifer Wynne Reeves @ BravinLee

By now, the act of artists using their own subjectivities to challenge the heroic, weight-of-the-world stance of modernist painters is pretty familiar (or not unfamiliar, anyway). Reeves gets credit for not forcing it, though; the small mixed-media works here find austere abstraction as a subtle but necessary counterpoint to suburban melancholy, crafty collage, and handwritten narrative, which, I’m positive, all comes from a real-life place (the show is called “The Worms in the Walls at Mondrian’s House”). It seems that Reeves doesn’t really want to be a hero; it’s just that, trying to make it through the world, you sort of have to be.


Michael Riedel @ David Zwirner

Back in 2005, for his first solo show at Zwirner, Riedel photographed a recent exhibit by the gallery’s flagship representee Neo Rauch, slicing and shuffling the images and then presenting the new work in the same gallery space. For his 2013 exhibit, Riedel has made printed paintings based on PowerPoint transitions between images of previous Riedel paintings, which were themselves transcriptions of HTML code of websites featuring other Riedel artworks, which were probably based off the work of other artists or previous Riedel artworks themselves. I won’t pretend that this isn’t all sort of ridiculous—clearly, it is—but even in an art world obsessed with its own history, it’s refreshing to find an artist whose gaze is so committedly, so fixedly cast inward.


Dieter Roth & Björn Roth @ Hauser & Wirth

The legacy of the elder Roth (Dieter, 1930–1998) isn’t linked to any one masterwork or even any particular body of work: it’s to a whole lifetime of messy, clattering, junk-strewn, chocolate-covered stuff produced across nearly every conceivable major artistic medium. If he lost some weight, for example, you can bet that his old clothes would find their way into some sort of sculptural accumulation (the ‘Kleiderbilder’ paintings, on view at this large show). Roth’s example as a ceaseless, Protean creator is inspiring (he was also a game collaborator; this show includes much work made with his son, Björn). But it’s also something of a cautionary example: Roth’s headlong artistry was both primordial soup and devouring vortex. Try to remember a single Roth piece. You’ll remember the mess, the smell of chocolate, the sense of movement. What else?


David Shrigley @ Anton Kern

This exhibit by the perennial comic charmer is made up mainly of signs: some small European village filtered through a death-addled cartoonist’s sketchbook, then spit back into reality. Signs say “This Side” and “Other Side” (on this and the other side, respectively), or (in neon) “Hot Dog Repair.” Shrigley seems to be forever mining a fertile but delimited field; I wish he would go further. But, still—what do you do when you see a stuffed canvas cat painted with the words “Don’t Look at Me,” or a neon sign reading “Backwards Burgers” backwards? You laugh.


Sin Titulo @ Elizabeth Dee & Josée Bienvenu

This vaguely defined (hence the title) cross-gallery exhibit of (mainly) formal abstraction is something of an excuse to showcase represented artists (Kalup Linzy’s soap opera videos are always a pleasure, but do they really belong here?). Still, there are things to see: Julianne Swartz’s stretched-paper-over-rocks sculptures manage the neat trick of suggesting rage and placidity all at once, and Philippe Decrauzat’s tilted monochromes are a refreshing high-art back-to-basics. Then, Luis Tomasello (one of the show’s elders) has grids of angled, wooden blocks, playing pre-digital games with light and space: it’s a simple-enough idea, but still not quite like anything else.


Federico Solmi @ Postmasters

Solmi’s videos apply hand-made surfaces to some sort of hacked, 3D video game environment—something like that. What you end up with is herky-jerk movements, collapsing cameras, bug-eyed “actors” and torn, spattered textural “skins.” Solmi’s videos embrace the awkward, broken bits of 3D animation: a de-slicked cinema of the grotesque. The art here imagines the military pomp and Macy’s-parade festivities around the ascension of a global dictator. Politically, this work doesn’t have much going on in its ugly little head—it seems to be saying that power corrupts and that dictators are bad. But Solmi and his collaborators may be trying to introduce a practical protest aesthetic; future users may well put these ideas toward a critique of actual corruption, rather than the idea of corruption itself.


Song Dong @ Pace

Is it horribly reductive of me to say that Song’s work feels Chinese? Because that does seem to be the point (shared by several of his contemporaries, too): rinsing the corpus of avant-garde practice in some very old, very Chinese waters. In “Throwing a Stone” (1994 on), Song calligraphs on rocks to record Acconci-like performance actions of throwing and then searching for random stones; in “A Pot of Boiling Water” (1996), he made a vapor trail of hot water down the route to his mother’s house in Beijing, a trip he would make every day so that his mother could have tea; in “Breathing” (1996), he lay on the cold ground of Tianenmen Square, creating a tiny sheet of ice with his breath. More recently, Song’s “Doing Nothing Mountains” are angular assemblages made out of the discarded chunks of modest Chinese homes. His embrace of long-view pointlessness is what makes his best work so immediately relatable. Rivers run, mountains erode, cities crumble, but still: here we are, creating.


Keith Sonnier @ Mary Boone

Several years ago I saw a show at this gallery, of Sonnier sculptures from the ’80s—with their loud neon squiggles and furniture-like frames, I felt that they were entirely of their time, but in a good way. This is another historical show, with work from 1968-70 and this time, the neon slopes and glass plates feel ahead of their moment, gazing forward toward distant eras. Like the ’80s, for example. Actually, this early work of Sonnier’s, with blaring hues, reductive forms, non-traditional materials and plainly visible wires, feels like an attempt to find beauty and open space within colored light and cast-off product, and that’s as relevant as anything. It feels like something that someone could be making right now; someone with a slightly backward-facing glance, but still.


Nancy Spero @ Galerie Lelong

The artwork of Nancy Spero (1926–2009) is inseparable from her work as a feminist and peace activist. Her propulsive, planar works on paper feature fragmented characters, usually women—mythic beings from ancient folklore, or headline-news photos of the most recent third-world atrocities. You have to question Spero’s position: what is it that gives her the right to sift through millennia of suffering at her personal discretion? Perhaps that’s not really the problem, though: perhaps other artists just aren’t taking their own roles seriously enough.


Despina Stokou @ Derek Eller

Earlier (see above) I mentioned how Jean-Michel Basquiat continues to profoundly influence younger artists. So see, here you go: Stokou’s (born 1978) paintings similarly use expressionist brushwork and spindly text to stake out conflicted interior landscapes. With Stokou, though, there’s a lot more text: layered beyond the point of legibility and suggesting an uncouth inundation with words. Alongside the exhibited paintings, Stokou has included hyperlinks to relevant source text, so you can go ahead and get a little bit inundated yourself.


This is This @ Zach Feuer

Many artists today are basically working in the idiom of actual-size consumer-culture refraction as pioneered by Johns and Warhol, but what may have once been an excited fascination with nascent cultural norms has long since curdled into a heavy-limbed frustration at a world with nowhere to go. This show, for instance, includes canvases screenprinted to look like insulation foam—Nick Darmstaedter’s “Garbage Bitch (Pink Panther Plain)”—while Alex Da Corte’s “Wax and Wane” is a stormy “painting” made with shampoo on a mirror. The show climaxes in Grayson Revoir’s audacious “Why they hide under my garage,” which consists of an ATV sitting on a trampoline. Take it or leave it, dude—it’s what you’ve got.


Suzanne Treister @ PPOW

The spirit of this show can be summed-up pretty well in a single artwork, or actually, just the title of that artwork: “From Diogenes of Sinope to Anarcho-Primitivism and the Unabomber via Science-Fiction” is a clustered crash course, with huddled text-bubbles giving the lowdown across thousands of years. Using the mid-century Macy Conferences as a point of departure, with redrawn sci-fi paperbacks and Tarot cards of Timothy Leary and Margaret Mead (etc.), Treister gives a sprawling overview of the inky, invocative underbelly of modern philosophical thought, which is really only a hair’s breadth away from the regular belly. This art required admirable dedication, but it can only hint at the sign-waving, ontological volcanoes of the truly insane. Treister has made quite a journey, but she can still turn back; for better or worse, this work was not made in the wilderness.


Johanna Unzueta @ Johannes Vogt

Going back at least as far as Jasper Johns and his painted-bronze beer cans, sculptors have been making deliberate contrasts between material form and social context, often revealing rifts in each. Unzueta’s recent sculptures find chains, gears, and hinges rendered in oversize felt, and these works are notable not for their destabilizing distance, but for their familiarity. How comfortable, and how knowable these forms feel; how little it takes—some added softness, mainly—to make these things warm. A life-sized sculpture of a red plastic oil can adds an effective counterpoint: molded plastic is different than forged metal. Don’t you forget it.


Matthew Weinstein @ Sonnabend

In psychedelic, starry-eyed paintings (but they couldn’t have been painted by hand, could they?), Weinstein tracks the paths of lights in 3D digital worlds. Remember those Spirograph things? They look like that. I’m honestly not sure if Weinstein would rather these works look forward—toward a brave, digitized tomorrow—or backward, at those boxy, Phong-shaded virtual realities already lost to nostalgia. Weinstein may be deliberately homing in on a particular aesthetic moment, but maybe he just needs a new computer.


H.C. Westermann & Dan Attoe @ Franklin Parrasch

Westermann’s drawings are a bit like Raymond Pettibon (ink-stained personal mythology) meets classic newspaper comics; Attoe is a bit like Edward Hopper (stage-lit melancholy) meets Ed Ruscha (lots of gas stations). If I had to use one word to describe them both? America. Chew on that one for a while.


James White @ Sean Kelly

Long after painting itself was trounced as a documentary medium, photorealism began as painting’s backhanded tribute to its trouncer: early photorealist paintings showed the abundance of light, reflection and detail that you need a camera to capture, while also underscoring the subtleties and contextual weight that you really can’t get without painterly deliberation. There are more-recent photorealists who approach without this context in mind, but White, it seems, has been paying attention to the ways that photography itself has changed: in a world of advertising and Photoshop, it’s the dirty, oops-I-dropped-my-phone accidental images that speak most clearly to representative truth. As in these paintings: rough around the edges, with hotel sinks, unused TVs and ominously ajar doorways, all in sharp, brutal focus.  


Marina Zurkow @ bitforms

In a deeply ambitious, highly researched, foundation-funded suite of work, we find indexical illustrations of synthetic consumer goods, mirrored video vitrines of ruptured earth, Tyvek bodybags for cats and deer, and an algorithmic animation of a looming sinkhole in pre-apocalyptic Texas. I’m sure that the science is sound, I’m sure that there are some good extra-credit essays and PowerPoint lectures to be carved from this project, but what sticks with you is the mood, one of slow-motion dread and molecule-deep despair. In Zurkow’s vision, consumerist excess isn’t some sort of mass moral failing or generational political misstep; it’s a natural force, a disaster to observe, to suffer through, and to pick up from as best we can.