David Ebony’s Top Ten New York Gallery Shows for June
Miss these exhibitions at your own risk.
1. Olaf Breuning at Metro Pictures, through July 31
Olaf Breuning’s work can be a tonic for whatever ails you. Over the years, I have found it to be an especially effective remedy for mild depression, general malaise, self-doubt, self-pity, and even writer’s block. His brand of wacky humor stays with you long after the show is over. This will certainly be the case with Breuning’s current offering, “The Life,” which is the most visually coherent and thematically resonant exhibition by the Swiss-born artist I’ve seen.
On view are 25 large round and oval collages, up to nine feet tall, featuring photo-based images and text, plus several freestanding sculptures in stainless steel. Full of acerbic quips and visual puns, the pieces address the theme of how to thrive amidst the increasingly competitive, treacherous, and alienating aspects of computer-driven lifestyles, bound up by information overload and the anxieties attendant to navigating social media. One work, for instance, shows a group of figures climbing ladders. Each of these ambitious corporate or social climbers wears a white T-shirt bearing a slogan, such as “I Wanna Make It,” “It Has to be So Nice Up There,” “I Want More and More,” and “Don’t Give Up.” Breuning’s distinctive worldview is always sarcastic but never cynical.
2. Richard Dupont at Tracy Williams, through July 10
New York artist Richard Dupont inaugurates Tracy Williams’ new Lower East Side venue, on Hester Street, with “Sobriquets,” a knock-out exhibition of recent sculptures and works on paper. Ten years ago Dupont went to an Air Force base in Ohio, where he underwent a full body scan. Since then, he has been using the data from the scan to produce 3-D renderings of his body, sometimes with outlandish distortions, and always with some degree of emotional charge.
At the show’s entrance, a tall, eerie, nude figure in gray resin appears as if viewed through a fish-eye lens. Its elongated proportions recall a Giacometti figure, albeit rendered with a bit of realism, if not with flesh and blood on the armature. Working in a variety of materials, from cast bronze to carved wood, Dupont produces heads and figures that are alternately blobby or angular, each with a unique comportment and mood. It is interesting to compare Dupont’s work with that of his peers like Matthew Monahan or Thomas Houseago, with whom he shares a hyper-energized exploration of the figure. By contrast, Dupont seems less interested in primitivism, and more attracted to the futuristic possibilities offered by computer imaging.
3. Yoan Capote at Jack Shainman Gallery, through July 10
Cuban artist Yoan Capote has received a great deal of international attention in recent years, and this excellent two-part show of recent sculptures, installations, and works on paper, filling both of the gallery’s Chelsea venues, helps explain why. Many of the pieces address Cuban society and political issues, and they often incorporate iconic imagery directly related to Cuba. Capote’s is a balanced assessment of his homeland, constituting a keen observation of a nation in transition. For instance, one poignant piece features a tall armoire simply filled with metal hangers in the shape of the island nation, indicating the beginning of a new journey.
One outstanding installation, Immanence (2015), features a ten-foot-tall portrait bust of Fidel Castro, rendered with rusted door hinges and set atop a pile of discarded antique doors, rescued from the streets of Havana. It’s an ironic piece, suggesting on some level the decrepitude of the Castro regime, but it is not at all irreverent as a contemplation of Castro’s legacy.
4. Lisa Ruyter at Eleven Rivington, through July 3
Lisa Ruyter has developed a distinctive painting style, related to Pop art in its brash, flat colors and emphasis on crisp drawing. In this ambitious, and terrific, two-part exhibition, her first New York show in nearly a decade, Ruyter uses photo images culled from the Library of Congress, especially the archives of the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information.
In these recent works, the Washington, D.C.-born artist, now based in Vienna, begins with iconic images by Walker Evans, Russell Lee, and other photographers, then transposes them to her own painterly language. The results seem fresh and of-the-moment. These dense compositions explore slice-of-life scenes of Americana, or events in American history, but they are hardly nostalgic or sentimental.
5. Porfirio DiDonna at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, through July 31
This luminous show explores the rigorous abstract paintings that Portfirio DiDonna produced in the 1970s. In those years, before his untimely death in 1986 from a brain tumor, at age 44, the Brooklyn-born artist developed a rarified form of reductive painting, limiting himself to a grid format and monochrome grounds of blue, green or pale earth tones. He activated these lush surfaces with repeated rows of evenly spaced dots and lines of contrasting hues.
Corresponding to Minimalism, but navigating his own path toward a idealized form of abstraction, DiDonna encompassed in his work the meditative possibilities of the painting process. Stunning in their conviction, and gorgeous in their extremes, works such as Night Painting (1977) and several untitled pieces evoke another time and place, when painting was a serious enterprise, insular and self-sustaining. Almost a lost art these days, this kind of painting-as-lifestyle required total commitment and complete immersion.
6. Bertozzi & Casoni at Sperone Westwater, through July 24
The Italian ceramics duo Bertozzi & Casoni are known for technical prowess and sculptural wit. This dazzling exhibition, an overview of their works from the past decade, shows the full range of their aims and endeavors. There is preponderance here for images of industrial waste and consumerist detritus, the verity of which can be astounding.
Composition No. 12 (Cicogne)(2008) shows tall stacks of plastic crates, and leaky oil barrels topped by a huge bird’s nest and two roosting storks, all rendered in ceramics. Brillo & Archie (2001-2005) comes across as Bertozzi & Casoni’s sincere homage to New York and Pop art, showing in a characteristically realist mode Warhol’s landmark “Brillo Box” sculptures, one of which has been converted to a dog house for Warhol’s beloved dachshund, depicted here life-size, in glazed ceramic, proudly posing amidst the ceramic cardboard.
7. Stanley Whitney at Karma, through July 26
This lively exhibition, coinciding with a new Karma publication on Stanley Whitney’s work, focuses on 1990s abstractions by the veteran New York painter. One long wall near the entrance is covered with small format works on paper, showing the thought processes involved in the large-scale canvases on view in the rear gallery.
An imposing composition, In Our Songs (1996), 80 by 102 ¾ inches, is strikingly hung against the gallery’s large windows, with a garden view outside. The position invites an exploration of the direct relationship between nature and Whitney’s colorful abstract patterns of loose rectangles arranged in expressive grids. Here, the colors and shapes correspond to landscape, vegetation and sky, as well as the architecture of the building. Elsewhere, it is interesting to note how Whitney’s loose brushwork and frenetic gestures in the early 1990s give way to a relatively serene or austere painting style in his recent works.
8. Davide Zucco at NURTUREart, through July 11
The young, Italian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Davide Zucco makes an impressive New York solo debut with this exhibition titled “Deep Time.”
Zucco seems equally adept at sculpture and painting in the eight works on view in this elegant show, which was inspired by a visit to the Petrified Forest in Arizona. Themes of unfathomable time and space unfold in the vaguely organic forms of his spare cut-steel and wood sculptures, which sometimes appear to reference birds or other animal shapes.
The airy, angular forms in his work sometimes recall those of sculptor Fausto Melotti. Similarly, Zucco’s paintings have a density that sometimes corresponds to certain Lucio Fontana works. But Zucco merges material tactility and evocative imagery in a novel way; and this exhibition portends a unique vision about to reveal itself in the years ahead.
9. Kim Gordon at 303 Gallery, through July 24
Well-known recording artists have often attempted forays into the fine-art scene—Bjork (with her recent MoMA misstep), David Byrne, Patti Smith, Brian Eno (in the current Venice Biennale), John Lurie, and Don Van Vliet (AKA Captain Beefheart), to cite just a few examples—though they have achieved only a modicum of recognition in the field.
Making a serious contribution to the contemporary art scene, Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon seems more successful than most, at least in this thoughtful exhibition of recent sculptures, paintings and installations, “Design Office: The City is a Garden.”
Her theme is the transformation of the urban landscape toward an ever increasingly commercialized, manicured environment. Fake hedges break up the space of the gallery. Crumbled canvases strewn on the floor bear the names of condo developments. Glittery wall-hung paintings are the ostensible star attractions of the “art show,” though any reverie they might inspire is preempted by intentionally awkward gestures, such as a large graffiti-like black scrawl on one wall, reading “The City is a Garden,” an East Village slogan referring to community gardens. The individual components of the exhibition may not be galvanizing, but the overall installation is well-realized, undeniably potent, and assertive.
10. “The Last Party,” at WhiteBox, through August 23
To continue an exploration of the cross-over between the music and art scenes, “The Last Party,” a sprawling group show curated by Anthony Haden-Guest, is a must-see. Punctuated by live music performances during its run, the exhibition contains hundreds of works, including art, artifacts, photos and other archival materials, centered on New York’s club culture of the mid 1970s through the early 1990s.
On view are art works of the period by Rick Prol, Andres Serrano, Karen Finley, Lorna Simpson, and many others. Photos of punks bands, such as the Dead Boys, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Talking Heads, and Blondie, help capture the moment.
Haden-Guest, a long-time fixture on the New York scene, wrote the definitive book on the subject in the late 1990s, and the current exhibition certainly evokes the time and place for those of us who remember the scene before everything changed in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, and the crass commercialization of New York. By the end of the millennium the city had lost the sense of artistic community that once nurtured so much exciting art and music.
David Ebony is contributing editor of Art in America and a longtime contributor to artnet.
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