David Ebony’s Top 10 New York Gallery Shows for January
Check out the best of what's on at New York's top contemporary art galleries.
1. Jirǐ Georg Dokoupil at Paul Kasmin, through February 7.
Jirĭ Georg Dokoupil has a cult following in Europe, but his work is less known in the U.S. This stunning show, his first New York solo in over 20 years, will hopefully improve the situation. On view is a group of large, recent abstract canvases made with a rather novel technique using pigment-infused soap bubbles. In these paintings, colorful, translucent, sometimes iridescent blobs, most set against dark monochrome grounds, seem to pulsate in rhythmic clusters and layers in allover compositions of ambiguous space and depth. At times the forms resemble jellyfish undulating in the depths of the ocean, or amoebas quivering under a microscope.
On some level, the works correspond to Color Field painting, and it makes sense for them to appear at Kasmin, a gallery that often features works of the genre. But it would be a mistake to consider Dokoupil’s work in Color Field’s formalist terms. Throughout his career he has been most concerned with process, and his work changes dramatically from series to series. In fact, he has deliberately avoided settling into any kind of definable school or style.
Like many artists of his generation, Dokoupil, a native of Czechoslovakia, born in 1954, fled his homeland in 1968, following the Soviet invasion. He worked in Cologne and Düsseldorf, where he established a reputation for neo-expressionist works in the 1980s, and later for an acclaimed series of figurative paintings with psychosexual and political themes, made with the soot from burning candles. If ever some adventurous curator puts together a Dokoupil museum retrospective here, it would appear to the uninitiated as a very eccentric group show. Meanwhile, the mesmerizing “soap bubble” works in this exhibition mark an unforgettable milestone in his unorthodox career.
2. Entang Wiharso at Marc Straus, through February 8.
Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso, who divides his time these days between studios in Yogyakarta and Rhode Island, has been showing all over the world in recent years; last fall, he made a splash at the Prospect 3 biennial in New Orleans. He draws on his rich cultural heritage, especially Wayang, or shadow-puppet theatre, to create elaborate figurative reliefs in metal, and panoramic painted scenes. The striking images in the works on view in this show sometimes seem related to surrealism, but Wiharso has created a distinctive, personal iconography.
Certain pieces in the exhibition, his first New York solo, are relatively simple, such as Tremor, a wall relief of painted graphite, showing a blue-painted male and female couple floating in space, intertwined by a network of wires and tubes that suggests a futuristic life-support system. Others, such as Perfect Mirror, a large oval-shaped aluminum relief, are extremely dense and complex. This piece features an encapsulated study of witchcraft.
A freestanding sculptural installation, Inheritance, is one of the most remarkable works on view. Here, life-size portrait sculptures of family members sit around a table on top of which lies a giant silver and red carp, ostensibly symbolizing the family’s inheritance in the form of a curious banquet.
3. Mamma Andersson at David Zwirner, through February 14.
A kind of elegiac feeling permeates this show of the recent paintings and installations by Swedish artist Karin Mamma Andersson, but it’s never maudlin or nostalgic. “Behind the Curtain” fills two of Zwirner’s largest spaces. Antique dolls and figures dressed in 19th-century outfits reappear in the works, and there’s an existentialist tone throughout, like domestic scenes in an Ingmar Bergman costume drama.
The Uninvited, a large oil painting on panel, features an intriguing image of several nearly identical antique portrait busts of a woman, arranged beneath a rococo-style writing desk. One of best paintings on view, Lore (2014), shows just a single, tall, precariously stacked pile of books and magazines bathed in an ethereal, Nordic light. The show-stealers are the two huge murals Andersson painted especially for this exhibition. Of the two, Hangman is particularly arresting. The harsh theatrical lighting, and subtly illusionistic painted effects in the large figure swinging on a bar, help activate this lifelike and unsettling tableau.
4. Angelo Filomeno at Galerie Lelong, through January 31.
“The House of Magic Affection,” a show of recent works by Angelo Filomeno represents something of a departure, or at least a breakthrough for the Italian-born New York artist. Filomeno is known for his sumptuous assemblage works with silk and other textiles, glass and metal sculptures and installations, all laden with crystals, semi-precious stones and glittering embroidery. Also characteristic of his work are macabre themes of death, demise, and destruction, which add an emotional punch to the work and serve to counter the luxurious richness of Filomeno’s materials. Like a species of what might be called Punk Vanitas, the works harbor an existentialist’s reminder of the fleetingness of life and the impermanence of all things.
There are a few embroidered and sculptural images of skulls in this show, and crawling insects and reptiles abound in a number of pieces, but the highlights of the exhibition are a series of recent silk pieces featuring images of fish. For Filomeno, these are relatively reductive works, with simplified imagery and a rather reserved symbolism. They correspond to painting more directly, and are as seductive as anything he has done in the past. These images of fishes are part of series of tall, vertical embroidered silk constructions filling the main gallery, all in a uniform format of 78-by-39 inches, like the size of full-length mirrors. They show schools of life size fish navigating stylized aquariums rendered as hard-edge, geometric constructions in a subtle palette of analogous tones.
The artist has stated that he got the idea for these works from 1990s screen-savers. Indeed, compositions like Tropical Still Life in Yellow (2014) and Still Life with Fishes in Blue (2013), are similarly hypnotic, and more captivating than flashing images on a video screen.
5. Mike Nelson at 303 Gallery, through February 21.
Junk assemblage sculptures are by now part of a long tradition in postwar art, but London-based artist Mike Nelson in this engaging show, manages to take the genre to new heights, or a new level of refinement, if you want to call it that. Crammed into the gallery are dozens of found-object sculptures made of logs, ropes, slabs of concrete, chains, wires, cloth and torn paper, which evoke a misguided expedition to some derelict place. In fact, the installation, Gang of Seven, is a kind of homage to Nelson’s friend and collaborator Erlend Williamson, who fell to his death in 1996 while climbing the Scottish Highlands. Nelson also refers in the show to Tom Thomson, one of Canada’s “Group of Seven” painters, who died in a canoeing accident in Ontario in 1917.
The individual assemblage pieces in the show evoke a variety of camping scenes in a foreboding wilderness: abject images of abandoned campfires, abstracted, forlorn figures, and a horse made of sawhorses wrapped in thick old ropes. Nelson even mounted swinging antique wood doors onto the gallery entranceway, like those for a saloon in a Wild West ghost town. The installation’s mood is melancholy and eerie, conjuring all sorts of ghosts, past and present.
6. Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper, through February 14.
Dan Walsh is a painter’s painter, and this museum-quality survey of his work of the past two decades demonstrates why. The earliest pieces on view, such as Outlook and Untitled (both 1994), are reductive compositions of narrow, black parallel lines on bright white grounds. The paintings may suggest simple boxes or architectonic forms, like building blocks or beams, and reflect Walsh’s subtle interpretation of the already subtle minimalist ethos. A little later, in works such as Theme (1999), the Philadelphia-born New York painter reimagines the grid as a key component in expansive, light-filled compositions.
In subsequent paintings, works on paper, and artist books, the artist has brought the grid motif into an unexpected and ever more expressive realm. Two of his recent paintings, Outfit and Threshold (both 2013), which also appeared in last year’s Whitney Biennial, feature 16 squares arranged in even stacks and rows, but painted in a looser style than before, using carefully calibrated brushstrokes with slightly illusionistic shading. The works have the meditative feel of mandalas in tantric Buddhist art. Though the changes in Walsh’s painting over the years are profound, they are not exactly dramatic upheavals. The evolution of his art is rather quietly dynamic.
7. Juan Muñoz at Marian Goodman, through January 29.
The late Spanish artist Juan Muñoz is perhaps best known for an extraordinary series of sculptures using groups of figures with vaguely Asian features. These iconic works grew out of his earlier experiments with details of architectural forms, and paintings and drawings of spare, shadowy interiors.
Constituting an encapsulated retrospective, this exhibition contains some of his most memorable works. Filling the main gallery, “Thirteen Laughing at Each Other”(2001) is a huge, multi-part installation featuring life-size figures cavorting on bronze bleachers, and engages the audience in a completely theatrical way. Figure Hanging From One Foot (2001) is an unnerving sculpture showing a life-size figure hanging from the ceiling. Does it depict a stunt or an execution? One can’t be sure. Many Times (1999), a grouping of dozens of nearly identical gray resin figures is brilliantly installed in the gallery’s adjunct space. It’s a haunting scene, and an unforgettable work by this artist who died too soon, in 2001, at age 48.
8. Saya Woolfalk at Leslie Tonkonow, through February 28.
This exhibition of recent works by Japanese-born New York artist Saya Woolfalk, appears more like an anthropological display in some futuristic natural history museum than a Chelsea gallery show. “ChimaTEK: Hybridity Visualization System” contains a broad range of objects and would-be artifacts, including sculptures, installations, a video, and works on paper, all dealing with the culture of “the Emphatics,” denizens of a civilization of Woolfalk’s own invention.
Inhabited only by females, the Emphatics have elaborate rituals, and they wear otherworldly outfits and makeup. The richly detailed collages, mostly schematic portraits of tribal women, are especially seductive, as are the colorful and hypnotic animated videos that often appear on monitors inset in intricate, custom-fabricated frames—in one instance, adorned with painted bones. Sometimes Woolfalk seems to go over-the-top a bit, with sensory overload and conceptual excess, if there is such a thing, threatening to alienate us foreign, merely mortal human subjects who visit the show. But the overall ambition of her project impresses, and the cosmological significance that the Emphatics find in everyday life in their strange realm has universal and eternal appeal.
9. John Waters at Marianne Boesky, through February 14.
After a hard day in Chelsea, perusing all the grandiose shows by self-aggrandizing artists, “John Waters: Beverly Hills John,” is highly recommended as a refreshing and uplifting respite. Full of smutty jokes, self-deprecating asides, and groan-inducing one-liners, the photos, collages, sculptures and a video featured here actually constitute the notorious filmmaker’s best foray into the art world. He hasn’t made a film in 10 years, and instead, has concentrated on stand-up performances and art production. The effort has clearly paid off. In this show, Waters finally manages to bring the full range of the irreverent attitude and wicked humor he so eloquently conveys on film to his recent art practice.
That is not to say he has forgotten his cinema roots. The show opens with 8½, a wall relief of a ruler presented as a kind of oversize, phallic nod to Fellini and his famous film. A continuously running video in a rear gallery, Kiddie Flamingos, features children reading a G-rated version of the script for Waters’s scandalous X-rated film Pink Flamingos. It’s hard not to laugh at the black humor in some of his altered photo images, like one of the Grim Reaper following JFK and Jackie off the airplane at the Dallas airport. One particularly outrageous sculpture consists of a baby stroller outfitted with S + M gear, perfect for a future stud. Contrasting with this wacky object, a small relief sculpture of a funkily furnished living room, emblazoned with hand-scrawled lettering, “R.I.P. Mike Kelley,” seems like a genuinely heartfelt tribute to the late L.A. artist.
10. Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir aka Shoplifter at Capricious 88, through February 15.
Creepy but contagious, “Changelings” is an exhibition of recent works by Icelandic-born New York–based artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir. Better known simply as Shoplifter, perhaps because of her pronunciation-defying given name, at least for English speakers, the artist frequently collaborates with Björk, as a designer and stylist. She created the hair sculptures and other props for the Islandic singer’s “Medulla,” for instance, which will be included in the upcoming Björk retrospective at MoMA.
“Changelings” offers art audiences a chance to explore Shoplifter’s more autonomous efforts, and the works here have a certain casual, abject charm, as well as a great deal of humor. Her favored materials are fake fur, brightly colored synthetic hair, trash bags, paper and fragments of found textiles and clothing accessories, like nylon stockings. The works are basically abstract, although, as the show’s title suggests, many of them hint at mythic creatures from fairytales and folklore. In her most adventurous sculptures, Shoplifter adopts a spare, minimalist style that incorporates architectural elements of the space. In one work, she wraps the lower portion of a pillar with overlapping layers of black and brightly colored wigs. Its effect is jarring. In a large relief sculpture, she fills the corner space with swaths of thick faux fur in Day-Glo colors. This work, like nearly all the pieces on view, is at once repelling and appealing.
For more about Galerie Lelong artist Angelo Filomeno, see artnet Asks: Contemporary Embroiderer Angelo Filomeno. And check out recent articles by two other artnet News critics: JJ Charlesworth’s Can Abstract Art Still Be Radical? and Christian Viveros-Fauné’s Beijing’s Caochangdi Village Mixes First-Rate Art and Live Poultry.
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