Jun 122024

Lubaina Himid’s solo exhibition Street Sellers at Greene Naftali is filled with gorgeous paintings, but there is so much more to the work. Through the experience of sounding out the phonetic signs and reading what’s written behind them, the viewer is given a chance to go beyond the surface for a glimpse of the inner worlds of her subjects. It’s like receiving a beautifully wrapped gift and realizing it was only a prelude to the wonders inside.

From the gallery-

Himid’s latest cycle of paintings affirms the dignity of work through depictions of vendors who ply their wares, elegantly dressed and equipped with the tools of their particular trade. The figures emerge from a rich blend of temporalities and points of reference: from the hawkers that remain street-level fixtures of urban life, to popular prints of merchants and peddlers dating back to 17th-century London as rare documents of the working class. The genre of the full-length portrait—linked to aristocrats and monarchs—is also recast with new protagonists, shown on a grand scale and fully at one with their respective métiers. Asserting the centrality of Black subjects to art historical arenas long denied them, Himid frees herself to invent what the archive lacks: “I paint it into existence.”

Each canvas is paired with a work on paper ingeniously printed to mimic a cardboard sign, embellished with painted motifs and phonetic letters that induce the viewer to read aloud—uttering the sales pitch to lend the exhibition an informal soundtrack. The prints are double-sided, with the backs revealing the sellers’ true thoughts that go unsaid. Often romantic or wistful, those inner monologues betray their attachment to the goods they carry, which Himid renders with lapidary attention to an egg’s speckled surface, the weave of chair caning, the ribbed interior of a cowrie shell. Objects here are charged like talismans—vectors of connection that are meant to change hands.

That intimacy extends to Himid’s paintings on domestic objects: from portrait heads on discarded dresser drawers to miniature vignettes on found crockery. Opening a drawer is an everyday revelation, an airing out of hidden depths, and Himid has described it as an ideal container for “lost or forgotten lives”—a compartment to hold the “memories of people whose names no one had bothered to write down.” China plates and platters are likewise tied to acts of routine encounter, which Himid overpaints with subtle disruptions to their polite decorum. One thrifted ceramic sports a tongue, another a single molar—the first pieces of a planned New York Dinner Service the artist will source locally over time, then emblazon with every part of the human body as seen from inside. Faintly troubling yet also convivial in their nods to communal space and shared endeavor, the works extend Himid’s career-long project of “interrogating narratives about the desire to belong.”

This exhibition closes 6/15/24.

Jun 072024

Kurimanzutto is currently showing two bodies of work from Argentinian artist Marta Minujín’s remarkable and varied career. The brightly colored soft sculptures are captivating but the darker pieces provide an intriguing balance.

From the press release-

“Easel painting is dead,” Marta Minujín explained in 1966, “Today man can no longer be satisfied with a static painting hanging on a wall. Life is too dynamic.” This pronouncement on painting’s demise centers a “death v. life” dialectic that propelled Minujín’s artistic experiments throughout the tumultuous 1960s. Her pursuit of a radically dynamic and temporal art that could, in her own words, “register changes that take place minute by minute” turned Minujín into a trailblazer of happenings, performances, participatory environments, and mass media art in her home country of Argentina as well as in France and the U.S.

Such a pioneering trajectory was first set into motion by two bodies of work created before 1965: Minujín’s soft sculptures, known as “Los eróticos en Technicolor [The Erotics in Technicolor]” and her chthonic paintings and assemblages in an informalist style. Together these discrete chapters of her oeuvre form a tensely intertwined conceptual dyad ruled by opposite forces, Eros and Thanatos, respectively. Their common ground—what they evoke as a site registering changes—was the body. Both series generated radically anthropomorphic artworks while implicating the body of the artist, the viewer, and the body politic, too.

For the first time since 1963, when Minujín’s informalist assemblages shared her Paris studio with “Los eróticos”, these two series of work have been brought exclusively together, allowing for their dialogue on the vulnerabilities and joys of the embodied condition to unfold. They speak of crises that go well beyond painting’s purported expiration—houselessness, chronic disease, ailing democracy, and the sexual revolution, among others—and that, though proper to the 1960s, resonate with present circumstances. Yet, by virtue of their Janus-faced nature, Minujin’s early works also suggest the possibilities of community, healing, and jubilant defiance before such upheavals and predicaments.

This exhibition closes 6/8/24.

Jun 072024

It was great to see new work by Keya Tama and his partner Isolina Minjeong at Court Tree Collective in Industry City. I last saw Tama’s work in Los Angeles in 2019. The woven and ceramic pieces they have created for Defender are charming and reflect their personal backgrounds. The couple have also kept the prices low to encourage younger collectors.

From the gallery-

Court Tree Collective proudly presents “Defender”, a duo exhibition by Isolina Minjeong and Keya Tama. These two young artists work by blending the old with the new and by infusing their cultural heritage into their creations. This new body of work breathes fresh life into traditional art forms. Their work is a vibrant reflection of their identity and experiences, enriching the viewer with diverse perspectives and narratives. The title “Defender” is for upholding traditions in a modern world. The exhibition features folklore history through ceramics, paintings, and tapestries. Combining traditional art forms, while incorporating elements of pop culture brings to light the protection of the past. Exacting the moment of when history becomes relevant in both the past and future.

Playing off each other’s strengths has unified the work as something special. Not only as two artists in pursuit of creating together, but in working in the present to bring a unique perspective on art history.

“Defender” is an exhibition of their collaborative language. Through tapestries, paintings, muralism, and ceramic sculptures, Keya and Isolina protect each other’s hearts. This is their first duo exhibition in New York.

This exhibition closes 6/8/24.


Jun 012024

It’s easy to become a bit overwhelmed at Arthur Jafa’s latest exhibition BLACK POWER TOOL AND DIE TRYNIG at 52 Walker. His latest installation includes a large installation, photography, sculpture, painting and a new film. Passing the reflective black surface and walking through his sculptural installation, Picture Unit II,  you’ll find portraits of bikers, a photo from the Manson murders, a subway car, and a stripper at a club next to a photo from a Rwandan genocide memorial. Next to where a video plays a collage of clips, an installation of cut out figures includes himself, Miles Davis, The Sex Pistols, and artists Cady Noland and Adrian Piper.

Death plays a large part in the show, as does personal and collective history. His best friend of forty years, cultural critic Greg Tate, recently passed away, also contributing to the heaviness of this recent work.

From the press release-

Lauded for his achievements as a filmmaker and cinematographer as well as a visual artist, Jafa has developed an incisive, chameleonic practice, through which he seeks to unravel the cultural significance and strictures ascribed in tandem upon Black existence in the Western world. In BLACK POWER TOOL AND DIE TRYNIG, Jafa invokes the body’s personal, political, and industrial guises in one fell swoop, deftly interweaving images and objects to create a forceful and maximal space that beckons toward engulfment and revelation alike.

Jafa’s exhibition at 52 Walker brings to the surface questions of form, force, and resistance— in addition to tensions that result from common slips and errors. The title of the show, BLACK POWER TOOL AND DIE TRYNIG, applies strategies of sequencing and juxtaposition, channeling various meanings in its wordplay—including political ideologies, industrial terminologies, and the specter of death—while also nodding to the complexities of the word “black” and its many inflections. Favoring intuitive arrangement over uniformity, the artist eschews traditionally monolithic modes of presentation and instead coheres multiple simultaneous events, applying a decidedly Black and non-Western viewpoint that confronts twentieth-century art historiography and museology’s indebtedness to African aesthetics.

In the video below, also on the 52 Walker website, Jafa discusses the show with screenwriter Judnick Mayard and is worth watching for additional insights.

This exhibition closes 6/1/24.

May 302024

Beverly Semmes’ exhibition Cut Paste, at Susan Inglett Gallery, expands on her previous work with new textures and fabrics. A red velvety robe hovers behind a sky blue painting containing a wave of blond curls and a partial eye looking out at you. Two pairs of hands on yellow mirror each other.  Duplicates appear again in the paintings adorning textured vests sewn to a gauzy orange fabric.

The materials enhance the details of their attached paintings, but they also create questions about their meaning. What is the purpose of the robe, the high heels, manicured nails, the fake (or real) white fur – do they represent luxury or the illusion of it?

From the press release-

I begin by drawing and painting on an image from a porn or fashion magazine page. I then use scissors and tape to further separate the image. from this context/environment. A new image is born from these parts, most of which belong to my longtime friend Nikie, who modeled in the early 2000s. The pair of hands, the foot in a shoe, those are all Nikie’s.

—Beverly Semmes

In Cut Paste, Semmes ups the ante in her perennial mixing of mediums, found images, scale and techniques. Early on Semmes brought her roughhewn ceramic pots literally into the folds of regal wall-to-floor sculptures, her signature works, setting them out like buoys in the pooling fabric. Now paintings enter the fray, no longer separate but equal. While several large paintings are presented conventionally, others are treated as accessories to the fabric pieces, where they appear at chest height. Smaller than a breast plate, too large to be a pendant, the odd coupling trades in the artist’s long standing engagement with Surrealism and the absurd. One of the assemblages has a companion piece–a full-size, independent version of the “worn” painting–amplifying the dialogue between historically cisgendered sewing and painting, the one grounded in the here and now, the other conjuring a world apart. The paintings are themselves hybrids resulting from a recursive process of hand painting on iterative hi-res scans of the cut, pasted and taped magazine drawings. But paint has the final word, variously altering, accentuating and concealing what lies beneath.

The group of work as a whole is set to the rhythm of repetition through doubling and Rorschaching. A pair of wall-mounted twins in orange organza, standing shoulder to shoulder like choir boys, wear matching paintings. Doubling down, the small canvases feature a mirrored composite image involving photographic and painted bare legs, red pitchers, a sofa and stripes. The image has then been further altered–abstracted–by its upended presentation as a vertical when it actually reads horizontally. The fluid positionality carries on throughout the exhibition in the way Semmes toggles between abstraction and figuration, digital or painted illusionism and IRL, pitchers and stilettos, dressed and undressed, power and vulnerability. Here Semmes levels the playing field, using her favorite models along with long-coveted fabrics, shapes, objects, and patterns as fodder for an unhinged formalism. Her restless process of cutting and pasting leads the way.

This exhibition closes 6/1/24.

May 252024

There are many little stories within Sascha Mallon’s lovely installation for Wolf Tales, on view at Kentler International Drawing Space. It includes sculptures and drawings, with pieces emerging from the walls. Each little section captures the imagination.

The press release below includes a poem by Erich Fried, as well as a more detailed discussion on the artist’s motivations and process.


“It is madness
says reason
It is what it is
says love
It is unhappiness
says caution
It is nothing but pain
says fear
It has no future
says insight
It is what it is
says love
It is ridiculous
says pride
It is foolish
says caution
It is impossible
says experience
It is what it is
says love.”
– Erich Fried

This installation synthesizes the artist’s engagement with drawing, glazed porcelain, and mohair silk crochet yarn, bringing all these elements into one monumental work that flows around the edges of the space. For Wolf Tales, Mallon is going back to her roots of drawing after being actively engaged with molding, firing, and glazing porcelain objects. In this exhibition she is primarily a draftsman on a quest, mirroring the main heroes of the story as they go through transformations. Going back to drawing in this more monumental format signifies for Mallon her long-cherished wish of making this method more dynamic, forgetting its static nature, and allowing drawings to flow.

The titular wolf is an ambivalent embodiment of spirit and energy that is at first at odds with a human presence of a girl and then goes through a series of spiritual and physical changes, inner and outer shifts. In his newly published autobiographical book, Japanese author Haruki Murakami devotes significant attention to how a narrative of a novel shifts when characters are presented indirectly versus being contemplated from within their own mind-frame. In her drawings for this exhibition, Sascha Mallon likewise changes the degree of her engagement with the heroes and heroines whom we see. Themes of belonging, sustainability, mistrust, loneliness, and connection are based on narrative points presented through figures of a human girl, a wolf, a raven, and others. Yet Mallon uses her subtle drawing skills to connect disparate parts of the narrative so that we can subconsciously see the connections and let the story unfold in our own time. The tale we see is one that stays with a viewer long after they leave the space. Drawing in motion is what this presentation underlines, tying all the elements together in one mandala directly drawn on the wall by this practicing Buddhist. The drawings are airy, frequently working with and playing with a negative space.

As do many artists, Mallon creates narratives based on issues she faces in her life, and as a Buddhist she thinks often about one’s perception of reality, how we create reality, how we can make a better world by changing the mind. She is fond of questioning rather than responding, leaving spaces for stillness and freedom for the viewers. Mallon’s body of work does not develop from project to project, it is one big story that keeps changing and transforming itself. To an observer, it is more of a conversation that she continues having with herself by visual means, artistic practice presented as a gestational thought process. You do not know where it starts and where it ends; it is fluid and dynamic.

As a story, Wolf Tales also develops on multiple planes and in multiple temporal frameworks. It is not a fairy tale, but rather an artistic representation of ideas and feelings, thinking through the poem by Erich Fried, which has occupied a special place in Mallon’s life for many years. Out of all of these narratives and feelings, she weaves characters and stories in the way that fairy tales do. There are no solutions. It’s about what is happening with our lives and our emotions, and it is complex. In the seminal analysis of fairy tale structure that Vladimir Propp published in 1927, the author outlines seven main characteristics important for a fairy tale (Zaubermärchen ): miraculous helper, miraculous spouse, miraculous adversary, miraculous task, miraculous object, miraculous power or gift, and other miraculous motives. In our time we need to emphasize the importance of miraculous, which could be understood to mean harmonious, compassionate, human.

Mallon is not a research-driven artist, as what we see on the walls is transmitted (or unearthed?) through sitting still and reflecting upon dharma talks and her work as a resident artist at The Creative Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. Working with people who have limited capacities affects Mallon, bringing an existential degree to her contemplation of humanity, anger, attachment, and suffering. A native of Austria, she studied art therapy, but ultimately developed her own intuitive technique of drawing and sculpting in order to perfect what she needed to say. This self-taught quality and a certain remoteness from the official and often overtly commercial art system creates a space for honesty, deep engagement, and compassion in Mallon’s works. Being informed by the understanding of larger and more painful experiences influences one’s ability to look at life. Mallon’s life informs her works and vice versa. Even with her patients she tries to find the healthy part and work with it.

Miraculous is an element of the drawings around us. Sascha Mallon offers to bring each of us home, just as a wolf and a girl who are tied in an ambiguous, but ultimately symbiotic relationship are able to do. What is the alternative if we turn away instead of looking into each other’s faces? Compassion is an essential part of Mallon’s work, a quality that we see less and less of in the polarized society of today’s United States. For the artist, an enemy that is initially perceived on the outside turns out to be an enemy on the inside. In this story, the lines get blurred, become vague and nonessential: you don’t know any more if it’s describing a girl or a wolf. Yet the hope of the artist is that through her heroes we are able to move toward peace rather than confrontation.

—Nina Chkareuli-Mdivani is a Georgian-American curator, writer, and researcher living in New York.

This exhibition closes 5/25/24.

May 252024

Peter Opheim has created a charming, colorful world for Cocoon at The Hole. It’s worth bending down to get a closer look at the little clay creatures that helped form the basis for the characters in his paintings.

From the press release-

After a 25-year career as an abstract painter, Opheim started anew; “since everything we see in the world around us has already been painted”, a family of imaginary creatures and Opheim’s career-defining style was born. His works are an intuitive manifestation of emergence: sculpting the figures first in clay, Opheim removes roadblocks to his imagination. Working intuitively with his hands, the creatures reveal themselves to him and he then paints “from life”.

Not focused on conveying a snapshot of our contemporary world or visual markers of the present day, the sculptural approach to making the subjects of the paintings results in works that exist out of time—the characters are transient yet grounded in subdued color fields, their bodies and borders ambiguous and hazy. In Meadow of My Heart, Holding You and others, multiple figures fill the canvas, an assortment of semi-recognizable parts from a few fuzzy friends fill the canvas, cat-like ears, skinny arms or blobby bodies, with many large eyeballs blinking. In paintings such as Thinking of You a lone figure presents themselves, staring right back at you.

Rather than conveying grandiosity, Opheim instead is in the pursuit of emotional impact. The exhibition includes smaller paintings than ever before, making viewers look closely and the textural brush strokes more prominent. In the large rear gallery, small sculptures are positioned on the floor, barely visible from the other side of the room and dwarfed by 17-foot ceilings. Above the paintings, large woven flowers climb the length of the wall, further figures revealing themselves at the base of the stems: a sense of coziness and protection settles in with clay figures nestled in a small wooden home carved by a fallen tree on his property in Taos, New Mexico.

For this recent body of work there is a shift to a different type of subtlety based on concepts of emergence, interconnectedness, and growth. The title Cocoon is a multifaceted metaphor for these themes, as when a caterpillar spins its body transforming into a chrysalis and cocoon, it is surrendering to transform. This emergence can’t be expedited; patience and independence are crucial, a butterfly must emerge on its own. In the work we see an emergence of form, skillful blurred brush marks of creatures in a softer, hazier palette than when we first showed Opheim in 2018 and an emergence of emotions, a warm joy, the sensation of standing in the sun. These new paintings were difficult to make, notes Opheim, with the figures only starting to reveal themself once the painting was close to completion. Opheim notes the importance of an intuitive organic emergence: “we can have preconceptions on how something is supposed to be, but that’s not how they are made”.

Standing In The Sun, I Feel Your Arms Around Me the title of one of the larger paintings in the show and one of the potential titles for the exhibition, evokes the physical warmth that you feel in these paintings. The hues and figures are inviting yet the asymmetric, spherical bodies have just enough wonkiness to not be classified as overly “cute”. Opheim has shown extensively in Asia where Kawaii culture is widely pervasive and appreciated: New York is known for many things, but cuteness would not be one of them. While foreign, Opheim’s visual language feels refreshing and necessary, inviting curiosity and play through imagery we don’t often see in Western art. Here, Opheim is deliberately moving on from a lot of what we see in galleries at the moment and instead gives us enough room to think on our own, leaving space for our own joy and pleasure.


This exhibition closes 5/25/24.

May 222024

Artist and activist Andrea Bowers is based in Los Angeles but was born and raised in Ohio. This provides the connection to the work in Exist, Flourish, Evolve, currently on view at moCa Cleveland, which advocates for environmental protections for the area. The educational material informs the viewer, while the artwork reminds us how much beauty there is to lose.

From the museum-

LA-based artist Andrea Bowers bears witness in her work, drawing attention to and inspiring movement around the most urgent issues of our time. Her drawings, sculptures, installations, and films chronicle and preserve history as it occurs, documenting collective action and amplifying the labor and lived experiences of activists dedicated to socio-political change.

Developed through an ongoing partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and activist Tish O’Dell, Exist, Flourish, Evolve is a new, multi-site, multimedia campaign that builds awareness and action around the dangers facing Lake Erie and all of the Great Lakes ecosystems. It features a monumental neon sculpture installed on a waterfront balcony of the Great Lakes Science Center; a documentary investigating the impact of factory farming on Lake Erie’s ecosystem; and a presentation in moCa’s Lewis Gallery that includes a newly-created drawing of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, first-of-its-kind legislation protecting an entire US ecosystem that is part of the global Rights of Nature Movement.

Bowers was raised in the small town of Huron, Ohio and spent her childhood on the shores of Lake Erie, connecting to the lake itself like a member of her family to be cared for, cherished, and protected. Yet, Lake Erie and its watershed are abused and endangered by corporate practices such as contaminant dumping, toxic runoff from industrial farming, and the introduction of non-native invasive species. Exist, Flourish, Evolve demands justice for the Great Lakes, urging us to prioritize the preservation of our natural ecology over industrialization and capitalism.

Within moCa’s gallery, a timeline connects Bowers’s new and recent artworks with historical facts and archival materials using two catastrophic climate events as bookends to Bowers’s life thus far: the 1969 fire on the Lake Erie-connected Cuyahoga River (a result of oil slicks covering the water) and the massive 2014 algae bloom that blanketed Lake Erie and invaded Toledo’s water systems, preventing residents from using tap water.

From the Maumee to the Cuyahoga, the works in Exist, Flourish, Evolve come together to share the histories of our water, demonstrate the interconnectedness of ourselves and our natural world, and remind us, as Dr. Vandana Shiva states, “nature is not out there; we are a part of it.”

This exhibition closes 5/25/24.

May 222024

Pictured above is Frank Stella’s 1986 work, La vecchia dell’orto, on view at Columbus Museum of Art, part of New Encounters: Reframing the Contemporary Collection of the Columbus Museum of Arta reinstallation of the museum’s contemporary galleries.

About the work from the museum-

In the 1960s Frank Stella began creating paintings with a composition of lines that closely followed the shape of the canvas. These works often resisted any sense of depth, but in the following decade, Stella would go on to create exuberant works like this, composed of brightly painted cones and other shapes that extend beyond the surface of the rectangle behind it.

The title of this work, like others in his Cones and Pillars series, is taken from an Italian folktale in which a mother’s only daughter is kept by a witch as payment for a cabbage she stole from the witch’s garden.

Stella’s practice was always evolving. In his most recent large painted sculptures, currently on view at Deitch in NYC, you can see how he expanded on the concepts he was working with here.