Jul 092024

“Jeff Way In His Tribeca Loft”, 2023; “Turtle Owl Death Mask”,2018 and  “Egyptian Violet Gorilla Mask”, 2017

Kimiko Fujimura “Party-3 (Party at Peter’s), 1990, and “Kimiko Fujimura in her Chinatown Loft”, 2023

For his current exhibition, Loft Law, on view at Westwood Gallery, documentary photographer and filmmaker Joshua Charow photographed artists living and working in the remaining spaces still protected by Loft Law in NYC. The well-crafted portraits offer a chance to see how the artists have made these spaces home over the years.

The gallery has also included artwork by eleven of the artists featured in the photos- Carmen Cicero, Loretta Dunkelman, Betsy Kaufman, Kimiko Fujimura, Joseph Marioni, Carolyn Oberst, Marsha Pels, Gilda Pervin, Steve Silver, Mike Sullivan, and Jeff Way.

From the gallery-

In 1982, Article 7-C of the Multiple Dwelling Law, also known as the Loft Law, was passed in New York City. The law gave protection and rent stabilization to people living illegally in manufacturing and commercially zoned lofts. Hidden behind this legislation were thousands of artists who needed a live/work environment at an affordable rent. These artists protected by the Loft Law changed the trajectory of New York’s cultural landscape.

Three years ago, Charow found a map of the remaining buildings with Loft Law protection. He rang hundreds of doorbells to find and photograph over 75 Loft Law tenants across the city to document the last of these incredible spaces and the creative individuals who made them home. Charow’s interest in the Loft Law and the vanishing history of New York stemmed from his early teenage years when he became immersed in a subculture called ‘Urban Exploring,’ the practice of illegally climbing skyscrapers, bridges, and abandoned subway stations. One of the rooftops he visited was an old factory building in South Williamsburg, where a tenant explained to Charow about the building’s remaining tenants under Loft Law protection.

The photos are a living visual document of the expansive spaces: old flophouses on the Bowery, garment factories in Tribeca and SoHo, glass factories in Greenpoint, and even a former ice cream factory in DUMBO. From the 19th to the 20th century, many buildings in NYC, including SoHo, were manufacturing centers for items from sewing machines to textiles to printing houses. The massive light-filled loft spaces with high ceilings were left empty when these businesses vacated in the mid-1900s and moved to other areas outside of New York City. The industrial-zoned lofts were not legal to live in, as they did not meet the building requirements for residential use, and oftentimes were completely raw spaces without a kitchen, shower, plumbing, or even heat. However, artists were attracted to these large spaces where they could work and create at any hour of the day. At the end of the 1970s, loft living started gaining attention in the media and the wealthy started to become attracted to this lifestyle. Soon landlords began to evict the artist tenants in favor of a wealthier clientele. A group of artists formed the Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants and spent years lobbying in Albany to gain legal protections and rent stabilization. At the time the Loft Law was first passed, there were tens of thousands of artists living in lofts across the city. Today, only a few hundred artists protected under the original 1982 Loft Law remain. This exhibition marks one of the first documentary insights into this vanishing history.

The majority of Charow’s images depict painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, and filmmakers captured amidst their industrial loft spaces. Notable portraits include experimental music and film artists Phillip (Phill) Niblock (1933-2024) and Katherine Liberovskaya (b. 1961); Phill was instrumental in the avant-garde music and film scene from the 1960s to the present. Visuals artists include 97-year-old abstract and figurative expressionist Carmen Cicero (b. 1926), who has works in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum; Kimiko Fujimura (b. 1932), who in 1965 was selected as “Japan’s Top 5 Female Painters in Contemporary Art” by Geijutsu-Shincho, a Japanese monthly art magazine; minimalist painter Loretta Dunkelman (b. 1937), a co-founder of the all-female artists cooperative A.I.R. Gallery; and Gilda Pervin (b. 1933), whose studio occupies the top floor of a 1790s Quaker building linked to the Underground Railroad and happens to be the old studio space of famed sculptor Eva Hesse, who worked there from 1965-70. Also included is Chuck DeLaney, co-founder of the Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants, an early activist group that was responsible for the lobbying and passing of the Loft Law.

This exhibition closes on 7/13/24.

Jul 052024

Joan Jonas: Good Night Good Morning, at the Museum of Modern Art, showcases the artist’s long and varied career. The exhibition includes her videos as well as props, sculptures, paintings and drawings. It’s a celebration of her collaborations (including Volcano Saga with actress Tilda Swinton), performances, installations, and her use of play to create all of these inventive works.

From the museum-

“I didn’t see a major difference between a poem, a sculpture, a film, or a dance,” Joan Jonas has said. For more than five decades, Jonas’s multidisciplinary work has bridged and redefined boundaries between performance, video, drawing, sculpture, and installation. The most comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States, Joan Jonas: Good Night Good Morning traces the full breadth of her career, from works that explore the encounter between performance and technology to recent installations about ecology and the landscape.

Jonas began her decades-long career in New York’s vibrant Downtown art scene of the 1960s and ’70s, where she was one of the first artists to work in performance and video. Drawing influence from literature, Noh and Kabuki theater, and art history, her early experimental works probed how a given element—be it distance, mirrors, the camera, or even wind—could transform one’s perception.

Joan Jonas: Good Night Good Morning presents drawings, photographs, notebooks, oral histories, film screenings, performances, and a selection of the artist’s installations. Jonas continues to produce her most urgent work through immersive multimedia installations that address climate change and kinship between species. “Despite my interest in history,” she has said, “my work always takes place in the present.”

The museum’s website has several videos of her work online, as well as an interview with the Jonas in her NYC loft (seen below).

Art21 also has some great videos worth checking out to learn more.

The exhibition at MoMa closes 7/6/24.

Jun 262024

The sculptures in the Charles Ray’s exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery, are impressive in their construction and scale. Having just three in the large open gallery space also allows you to contemplate the works individually and without distraction.

From the gallery about the works-

Everyone takes off their pants at least once a day (2024) is a 9-foot-tall sculpture of a woman dressing. The sculpture is constructed from handmade paper and is based on a full-scale model originally made in clay. Merging the contemporary and the classical, the work builds upon ancient traditions of statuary.

Two dead guys (2023) is carved from three solid blocks of Italian marble, one for each figure and a third for the base. It depicts two naked men, just larger than life-size, laying side by side on a rectangular plinth. In some places the smooth surface of their skin presents an eerie perfection, while others reveal their inherently flawed corporeality. As Ray describes, “the finality of death is a window for the viewer to contemplate the mysteries and the inexplicable nature of our existence. Does the spark of our aliveness, the health of our bodies, come from the same fire today as it did for the ancients?”

8FLU100 (2024) is a twenty-four-inch-long paper sculpture of a crashed car. The title refers to the car’s license plate. To make the sculpture, sheets of Japanese paper have been meticulously cut into hundreds of pieces. Each piece is scored and folded, and then assembled by hand to precisely recreate the vehicle. As Ray has written about his paper sculptures, “The work’s fragility and close to zero weight is emergent from drawings. This sculpture is a drawing but drawn with space and time.”

This exhibition closes 6/29/24.

Jun 212024

“Claw Foot”, 2024, steel, glass, rubber

“Throughline”, 2024, steel, glass

“Twofold”, 2024, steel, rubber

“Tail End”, 2024, steel, glass, concrete

“Slipper”, 2024, concrete, glass, human hair

There’s something very visceral about Martha Friedman’s sculptures for Divided Subject at Broadway Gallery. The body parts, the strange juxtapositions, and the metal rods which act like skewers, combine to form works that balance humor with something darker and aggressive.

From the gallery-

The Lacanian reference of the show’s title is a tip-off that the artist will continue her ongoing psychoanalysis of Modernist sculpture traditions. Wielding humor and violence in equal measure, Friedman homes in on art historical givens with a critical eye.

A series of monumental steel skewers form the spines of these loosely figural works. Slotted with outsized hunks of meat and sliced vegetables cast in glass, and cast-rubber body parts made from molds of her muscular dancer muse Silas Reiner, Friedman marshals our collective appetites in a sendup of Minimalism. By reanimating and anthropomorphizing modes of staid Formalism, the sculptures disrupt accepted meaning and expectation via processes that are as complex and precise as they are absurdly grotesque.

Elsewhere, in some smaller works, we see cast cement limbs coated in luxuriant graphite and fitted with found footwear and exotic cast-glass foods such as geoduck clams, like a Robert Gober at the farmer’s market. These pieces are sometimes situated on artist-designed stands evoking anthropological museum display and engineered to accommodate their weight and precarious balance.

As a whole, the complex variety of materials and technique, as well as dramatic shifts in scale across the exhibition, destabilize the viewer placing them at a crossroads of technical precision and the bluntly visceral. Just as the sculpted figure in art history is a metaphorical container for meaning, Friedman’s pierced flesh reminds us that the body itself is, in fact, held fast by a delicate, porous membrane.

This exhibition closes 6/22/24.

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 exhibition BLACK POWER TOOL AND DIE TRYNIG at 52 Walker. His latest show 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.