Want to see new art in New York this weekend? Start in Chelsea with Nicole Eisenman’s cartoonish plaster sculptures. Then head to TriBeCa for Robert Colescott droll 1990s-era acrylics. And don’t miss the survey of drawings by the French artist Francis Picabia, who died in1953.
Through July 29. Hauser & Wirth, 542 West 22nd Street, Manhattan. 212-790-3900, hauserwirth.com.
Artists are models of freedom. It’s part of the fantasy that sustains art’s cultural relevance, but artmaking is work.
The star of Nicole Eisenman’s “(Untitled) Show” is an oversized cartoonish figure sitting at the center of “Maker’s Muck” (2022). The hands of this plaster sculpture are at a potter’s wheel that’s spinning away interminably producing rocklike forms that pile on its right. Surrounding, on the low sprawling platform, are numerous other sculptural attempts, among them: baked flatbread, an oversized ketchup bottle and what appears to be a time bomb. As a whole, the eclectic accumulation reads as an emblem about the necessity to fail and the need to keep at it.
The mischievous whimsy of Eisenman’s sculptures shouldn’t distract you from seriously looking at the paintings, which use a grab bag of modernist formal approaches and techniques (like raked paint for the texture of clothing or hair). The Brooklyn artist often uses several styles in the same work, as in the standout painting, “The Abolitionists in the Park” (2020-21). There’s pizza and tender embraces among a crowd gathered on a blue tarp, with Guston-like caricatures occupying the margins and a realist dual-portrait of Hannah Black and Tobi Haslett occupying the middle. Black and Haslett are the authors (along with Ciarán Finlayson) of “The Tear Gas Biennial,” a 2019 essay protesting the presence of a weapons manufacturer on the Whitney Museum’s board. This is ambitious history painting thinking through freedom, asking whose? JOHN VINCLER
Through July 1. George Adams Gallery, 38 Walker Street, Manhattan. 212-564-8480; georgeadamsgallery.com.
Robert Colescott, who died in 2009, was deadly serious about complexity and injustice, but the paintings he made about race in America also had a sense of humor — if not about the subject itself, then at least about the limitations of art as a way of confronting it. His wry, resigned, fiery approach is particularly well encapsulated by “Frankly My Dear … I Don’t Give a Damn,” one of several 1990s-era acrylics currently showing, along with a few slightly surreal watercolors, at George Adams Gallery.
In the painting’s lower left corner, a maudlin white man with a pompadour and goatee holds a swooning Black woman in a checked gingham dress; two skeletons recap their pose on the other side. Imperious golden faces gaze down, a nervous woman leans against a burning planet down below, and a suggestion of hellfire whispers behind the skeletons. A ribbon of red and green, in combination with the angels’ gold, suggest a Pan-African banner. Everything is there to bring out the cosmic epic implicit in one famous line from “Gone With the Wind” — Colescott even letters the phrase across a starry blue sky.
But his color choices, the way he crowds all the figures to the front, and his quick and vigorous brushwork combine to give the piece the feeling of a magazine illustration, too. It’s as good as saying, “Don’t look to me for solutions. This is only a comment.” WILL HEINRICH
Upper East Side
Through June 18, Michael Werner, 4 East 77th Street, Manhattan. 212-988-1623; michaelwerner.com.
In addition to films, modern manifestoes and wild stage sets, the French artist Francis Picabia (1879-1953) made two-dimensional works in sharply contrasting styles: Dadaist drawings inspired by technical manuals; Surrealist “Monster” paintings; and late, baldly Pop-kitsch canvases mimicking mass media. His new show, “Women: Works on Paper 1902-1950,” with over 40 works on paper spanning 50 years of his career, suggests a thread of interest connecting them all.
Drawings from the first decade of the 20th century depict Spanish performers with wide-set eyes and tiny bow-like lips who look like exotic cats. Later, Picabia drew Jazz Age movie sirens like Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard, their sharply tweezed eyebrows registering like shock-emojis on the silent film screen.
Picabia was known as a playboy and a trickster, but it would be wrong, I think, merely to throw him into the camp of male artists asserting their avant-garde prowess on the backs of women. (Four crude drawings of unhappy women parting their legs, presumably for sex, serve as glum reminders of the reality of most sex work.)
Instead, like his friend Marcel Duchamp, who styled his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy partially after Greta Garbo, Picabia was fascinated by the powerful impact of movies and illustrated magazines on huge populations. The “Women” here feel like analogue versions of today’s obsessions with digital filters and plastic surgery, pioneered after World War I, with Picabia capturing these transformations in modern culture, literally inscribed in the faces of women. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Raúl de Nieves
Through June 11. Company Gallery, 145 Elizabeth Street, Manhattan. 646-756-4547; companygallery.us.
At the center of Raúl de Nieves’s new show, “Carnage Composition,” is a corpse, the victim of a disaster in the studio: a colorful beaded, sequined and bauble-encrusted figure that collapsed under the weight of its own baroque excess. Its fragments now reconfigured with limbs all akimbo, and supported by a steel scaffold that simultaneously cradles and pierces it through, the piece (“The Deaths of Everyday,” 2021-22) is a testament to the regeneration that follows destruction, a cycle that keeps pushing our world forward.
The Brooklyn-based artist’s aesthetic is a mash-up of elements including Mexican Diá de los Muertos celebrations, ballroom culture and the Roman Catholic Church, all of which revel in ritual, regalia, adornment, rebirth and the eventual pleasure that comes from deep pain. High-heeled shoes, barely recognizable under the layers of intricately applied decoration (as in “The Revolting Grace,” “Star-Crossed Lovers” and “I’ll Go Along to Be With You,” all 2022) and a multipart folding screen (“The Book of Hours,” 2022) evoke the dramatic potential of a fabulous costume change. But the fact that the screen is decorated with images of lords and ladies dancing with skeletons (a familiar motif in medieval Christian art), and that the gallery walls, and even some of the artworks, are covered with over a thousand translucent, larger-than-life resin flies — creatures that feed on, lay their eggs in, and eventually re-emerge from decomposing flesh — makes clear that, in de Nieves’s world, joy always has its price, but even death has its rewards. ARUNA D’SOUZA
Through May 27. PPOW Gallery, 392 Broadway; Manhattan; 212-647-1044, ppowgallery.com.
Judith Linhares’s show at PPOW, “Banshee Sunrise,” is part of a wave of downtown exhibitions that celebrate women’s history, bodies and power: Mary Beth Edelson at David Lewis and Squeak Carnwath at Jane Lombard are two other notable examples. What Linhares brings to the conversation is a carefully cultivated simplicity and naïveté that recalls ancient talismanic figures and traditions. She paints vibrantly hued nudes, and this show pays homage to the banshee, a traditional female Irish spirit whose nocturnal, mournful wailing foretold the death of a family member.
In canvases like “Banshee Sunrise” (2021) and “Falcon” (2022), nude women painted in Linhares’s thick, chunky style, with confident stripes of color, inhabit natural settings, climbing trees or communing with wildlife. Other paintings focus on animals or still lifes that call to mind those of van Gogh or Cézanne. Two still lifes feature images near the base of the flower vases: one of Abraham Lincoln and another, an ancient sculptural figure with bulging eyes.
Acid-colored and with a subtle politics that celebrates the historic power of women — and specifically women’s relation to the natural world — Linhares’s figures are wide-eyed and spectral. They are deeply contemporary, yet reminiscent of prehistoric stone carvings of women or the Sheela na gigs — female figures on medieval European churches that expose exaggerated vulvas — meant to ward off evil spirits. Painting is power too, and Linhares treats the canvas as a method for raising a ruckus, like a true banshee. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Through May 28. Paula Cooper Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, Manhattan; 212-255-1105, paulacoopergallery.com.
Paula Cooper is staging its first show from the estate of Terry Adkins, the African American artist who died in 2014 at age 60, after making his mark by erasing the boundaries between music and sculpture. The show presents a range of his found-object sculptures: A big bass drum is at the heart of a homage to Bessie Smith; an ancient tuba becomes the sculpture “Mrs. Brown,” from an Adkins project that honored the abolitionist John Brown.
But the showstopper is “Flumen Orationis (From the Principalities),” a 41-minute video from 2012 that is projected floor to ceiling in the gallery’s rear space. Century-old photos of blimps and other lighter-than-air vehicles succeed each other onscreen, conjuring thoughts of escape and freedom. At first, the video’s soundtrack seems of a piece with those images: It blends the unmistakable voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a guitar riff by Jimi Hendrix, one of music’s greatest chain breakers. But listen longer and you realize that there’s more pain than exultation and uplift in what you hear. King’s sermon is the searing one he read at Riverside Church in New York in 1967, when he dared to condemn the Vietnam War. Hendrix, who trained as a paratrooper in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, is heard playing his antiwar number “Machine Gun.” With those sounds, the blimp images stop seeming quite so benign. A good number of them clearly come from military contexts. They are as much about death from above as about liberation and flight. BLAKE GOPNIK
Through May 28. The Alice Austen House Museum, 2 Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island; 718-816-4506, aliceausten.org.
The wings of moths, snowflakes and albino snakeskin all seem to emerge from the surfaces of the quietly formidable paintings of lacework by the Wisconsin artist Michelle Grabner. Doilies and lace are also the subject of an accompanying suite of photographs by her. The exhibition “Unremarkable Handiwork” is, in fact, quite remarkable and worth the journey, not far from the shadow of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge on the shore of Staten Island.
You may feel as if you’ve escaped the city in this building that partly dates back to the end of the 17th century, but if you look out the window of the gallery, you can see the towers of the neighboring boroughs, Manhattan and Brooklyn, across the bay. The venue, Alice Austen House, is named for the pioneering female photographer who resided here for much of her life and is best known for her prodigious output of more than 7,000 photographs (and posthumously as a Victorian lesbian icon). Taking inspiration from the historical collection, Grabner zeroed in on patterned decoration in the dress and décor of Austen’s pictures, as well as a few artifacts of this handiwork in the small museum’s holdings. (Advanced reservations are required.)
The canvases are the stars here. At a glance they look all white, but on closer inspection, they are alive with a delicate range of colors from sky blue to pale marigold yellow. Deceptively plain yet luminous like Emily Dickinson poems, they demand that you get close to read their surfaces. JOHN VINCLER
Upper East Side
‘Pompeii in Color: The Life of Roman Painting’
Through May 29. Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 East 84th Street, Manhattan. 212-992-7800; isaw.nyu.edu.
This unusual loan of Pompeian frescoes from the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy — arranged by the curator Clare Fitzgerald — is a rare chance to catch ancient Roman visual culture mid-stride.
Consider one six-and-a-half-foot-tall portrait of Hercules and Omphale — a queen who briefly enslaved the famous demigod. At first, its colorful but faded surfaces give you the impression of a sketch waiting for final details, though you can still appreciate the cunning composition. Drunken Hercules, leaning on a helper, turns one way and severe Omphale the other, yet they’re both head-on to the viewer, with a discreet crowd of extras tucked neatly behind their shoulders. A delicate balance of pinks and blues makes the picture vivid but not aggressive — perfect dining room décor.
But enough detail does survive not only to make the picture engaging, but also to make its mythical scene seem less like a religious archetype than a homey fairy tale. Hercules, the strongest man in the world, is blind drunk and staggering — you can see it from the way his legs turn and his eyes gape open — and he’s put on Omphale’s clothes. Omphale’s look is harder to parse. Is it contempt? Indignation? Either way, she’s clearly unamused. Two attendants turn to each other, one with a gossipy “can you believe this?” look, the other praying; an old man supporting Hercules is too worried about keeping him upright to spare a thought for disapproval. WILL HEINRICH
More to See
Through June 3. Presented by New Canons. International Building, 630 Fifth Avenue, concourse level, Manhattan. newcanons.com.
An artist looking for visual metaphors can do worse than visiting Florida, a place that can seem to exist like a dream, and not always a good one. Over the past two years, the artist Tommy Malekoff has been filming in and around the Everglades, where images of intense beauty crash into abject horror with astonishing regularity.
Six wall-size screens pulsate with his footage, a kaleidoscopic, at times punishing array of natural splendor punctuated by ecological calamity. The usual players of human encroachment figure here — burning planes, belching smokestacks, unregulated development — but the tenor is less polemic than balletic. Malekoff depicts a danse macabre, the way nature adapts to our havoc, or doesn’t: Manatees, a popular tourist attraction, are drawn to waters warmed by chemical runoff, where they starve to death; raging fires are deliberately set to control sugar cane crops, an agricultural shortcut banned most everywhere except Florida, where it attracts gawking tourists, and chokes the poor communities nearby. Set to a droning score by Joe Williams that fills the space like a dissonant sound bath, the effect is like channel surfing through the apocalypse.
Situating the work in a spooky, disused storage room in the bowels of the Rockefeller Plaza’s International Building is a neat coup. Malekoff’s looping nightmare disturbs the building’s Deco-gentility, its own kind of touristic ecosystem plunked in the center of Midtown, where grace and garishness are inextricable. The non-place heightens the subject matter’s otherworldliness, and the infinite loops in which we trap ourselves.
Through June 4. David Zwirner, 525 West 19th Street, Manhattan. 212-727-2070, davidzwirner.com.
Michaël Borremans may be the greatest living figurative painter. Based in Ghent, Belgium, home to Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s epic altarpiece, “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” (1432), he has subsumed 500 years of painting into his art. Yet his work is informed by history, not mired in it.
“The Acrobats” provides an opportunity — all too rare on this side of the Atlantic — to see the genius of Borremans in the flesh. He renders skin with such intensity that the living, breathing, blood-coursing nature of the human being becomes vividly alive. In “The Witch,” Borremans seems to be teasing the viewer with a knowing contradiction: The left hand — hands being famously difficult to paint — is awkwardly held before the ambiguously gendered figure’s chest to suggest the form of a witch’s broom, while at once being meticulously rendered with sinew, tendon and veins. In “The Double,” the sitter is costumed in a metallic quilted suit, as if offering protection from an immense heat, with a pink-orange glow reflected off its surface. The face glistens: pink in a pink balaclava, eyes slightly closed. But the magma heat also seems to be creeping up and radiating from an underpainted layer on the canvas. Borremans’s paintings all seem to stop at a near-final moment, with just enough of the brush work and layering left observable. As if a solid thing suddenly has emerged from some elusive vaporous material. It’s painterly magic. A major New York museum retrospective is long overdue.
Through June 4. Susan Inglett Gallery, 522 West 24th Street, Manhattan. 212-647-9111; inglettgallery.com.
I spent a long time looking at “American Animals,” the title piece of a new show of work by Robyn O’Neil, a Nebraska-born artist who lives in the Pacific Northwest. A graphite-on-canvas drawing nearly 12 feet wide, the piece shows white male heads — 162 of them, according to the gallery — with various hairstyles and a sprinkling of mustaches, emerging from or face-planting into a series of low ridges. These ridges, striated like muscle but with the dull sheen of much-corrected homework, could pass for billowing waves or the buckling of a grassy field, but what they most look like is hair.
A much smaller drawing shows another man and a pit bull labeled “the 2 most deadly animals in America”; others feature a bison, a whale and a bald eagle covered in marauding, ant-size humans. The mood overall is retro-apocalyptic, and at first I couldn’t help taking the heads of “American Animals,” which look like so many escapees from a 1950s barbershop poster, as the unexorcised ghosts of America’s sexist and racist demons. After all, few of them are upright, and even those seem unable to look farther than the next ridge. There’s something discouraging, too, about the contrast between the drawing’s grand scale and the impermanence of its medium.
But after noticing how the ridges drop, like a descending brook, in the lower right corner, I realized that fully half of the faces were skipping upstream like salmon. Maybe there’s hope after all. WILL HEINRICH
Through June 4. Flag Art Foundation, 545 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-206-0220; flagartfoundation.org.
The first thing I heard about Peter Uka, a Nigerian painter based in Cologne, Germany, is that his father was a sign painter. I couldn’t help finding echoes of this family business in Uka’s New York debut, a suite of incredibly appealing scenes, painted from memory and imagination, of the groovy Nigeria of his 1970s childhood.
There’s the mileage he gets out of large blocks of color, like a bright yellow door set in a cool gray wall in “Dengue Pose II.” And there’s the slick pop of the colors themselves — the orange wall behind a young woman in a white dress in “Front Yard Things,” the deep red backdrop behind three giddy young men in “Sunday Folks.” There’s the graphic zip of his compositions, as jaunty and well-balanced as avant-garde record album covers. And there’s his overall economy, the way he confidently foreshortens a pointing finger or builds convincing faces from nothing but highlight and shadow.
But in the end what struck me most was how comfortable Uka is giving visual pleasure. It’s interesting in this respect to compare his “Basement Barbers” (2018) to Kerry James Marshall’s 1993 masterpiece, “De Style.” Where Marshall’s painting is grand, political, aggressive and inspiring, Uka’s is quieter and more intimate, a real everyday moment presented just as it is. WILL HEINRICH
Through June 4. Helena Anrather, 132 Bowery, Manhattan. 917-355-7724; helenaanrather.com.
There’s an enormous picture window at one end of Helena Anrather’s new gallery space, three panes of glass joined, or divided, by thin white epoxy seams. It looks over a block on which at least three different versions of the Bowery — one in Chinatown, one dotted with luxury hotels, and one in the old lighting fixtures district — are all jammed together.
It’s the perfect setting for six new paintings by Julia Wachtel. These landscape-oriented pieces, each made of as many as five separate panels placed edge to edge, juxtapose silk-screened found photographs of contemporary life with oversized hand-painted cartoon characters. In “Fulfillment,” the piece that gives the show its title, a photograph of an endlessly receding Amazon warehouse is placed beside a cartoon reindeer with piercing blue eyes. In “Duck,” a shot of the heavily bearded cast of the reality TV series “Duck Dynasty” is interrupted by a jauntily marching Donald Duck.
At first, the cartoons just come off as comments on the photos. The reindeer is an ironic nod to the cheery mascot that hides every dystopian corporate reality; Donald brings some levity to the weirdly serious “Duck Dynasty” cast. But the characters are so crisp and straightforward next to the fuzzy, ambiguous photographs that they slowly begin to read as an alternate reality, one in which America’s disintegrating public discourse is replaced by the narrow but reliable certainties of art. Whether you find that comforting or unnerving depends on which side you’re looking at. WILL HEINRICH
‘With Her Voice, Penetrate Earth’s Floor’
Through June 5. Eli Klein Gallery, 398 West Street, Manhattan; 212-255-4388, galleryek.com.
Before she was murdered in February in her apartment in Chinatown, Christina Yuna Lee studied art history as an undergraduate at Rutgers University and went on to work at Eli Klein Gallery for four years, during which time she made a painting for her boss. It depicts the cover of a pack of Golden Bridge cigarettes, with a pool of maroon paint behind the brand name. Looking at the painting recently, I read foreboding into that dark red mass. But it was my mind’s imposition. I was searching for meaning in Lee’s senseless death.
In a more formal way, the exhibition “With Her Voice, Penetrate Earth’s Floor” does the same. Curated by Stephanie Mei Huang, it honors Lee with an altar of offerings below her painting and creates a space of mourning for Asian American and Pacific Islander women. The nine participating artists grapple with personal and communal traumas in complementary ways, from Maia Ruth Lee’s paintings of atomized sewing patterns, from her series “Language of Grief,” to Hong-An Truong’s stills of anonymous Vietnamese women in videos shot by American soldiers in the ’60s — ’70s. “My mother could have been captured on this footage,” Truong writes in the catalog. The show’s title, too, refers to tragedy: It comes from “Dictee,” an experimental novel by the artist and writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, who was also murdered in Lower Manhattan, in 1982.
The gallery is suffused with loss, but the artworks are open and layered. Their existence and convening offer a small countermeasure of hope.
Through June 11. Blank Forms, 468 Grand Avenue, Brooklyn. 347-916-0833; blankforms.org.
Jerry Hunt (1943-93) was a lot of things: a “virtuoso talker,” according to a new book devoted to the artist; a modern-day shaman who was a cross between a 1950s insurance salesman and the Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and an electronic music pioneer who lived in Texas but was better known in Europe. “Transmissions From the Pleroma” at Blank Forms examines Hunt’s career, showcasing his videos, photographs of his outré performances, handwritten musical scores and enigmatic objects such as his totem-like “wands,” made with the assemblage artist David McManaway.
Born in Waco, Texas, Hunt was trained as a classical pianist and plied his craft everywhere, from jazz clubs to strip clubs. However, he once said, “I might have given up on music altogether if it hadn’t been for John Cage and the new emphasis he gave to communication.” Cage’s experimental influence can be felt everywhere in Hunt’s work, from videos in which he carries on absurd conversations to musical scores that look more like abstract drawings. The curious “wands,” often used in performances, cobble together sticks, old gloves and hardware parts.
One deadpan video is titled “How to Kill Yourself Using the Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide Gas” (1993). The work calls to mind the famous existentially tinged quote by the French writer Albert Camus: “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Hunt’s video adds to that proposition a consideration of everyone else who might be affected by that decision. Suicide, after all, as he stresses, involves more than the individual performer. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Upper East Side
Through June 18. Gray New York, 1018 Madison Avenue, Second Floor, Manhattan; 212-472- 8787, richardgraygallery.com.
Evelyn Statsinger’s art is making its stunning New York debut at Gray New York, six years after the artist, who was born in Brooklyn, died in Chicago at the age of 88. On hand are 10 oils and five drawings from the 1980s and early ’90s.
The show’s title, “Currents,” reflects Statsinger’s diverse cultural sources: Surrealism as well as Native American, prehistoric and Japanese arts and crafts. And it may also indicate the conduit-like elements that course through her compositions, pulsing with energy. The independence of her art derives from its inventive use of highly refined textures and patterns, their abundant associations and their peculiar balance of real and unreal. Her paintings are essentially representations of abstractions.
Associations with nature and design are especially strong: Various textures suggest bark, wave patterns, Formica and, frequently, custom molding. In “Central Forces” these moldings are full of undulating lines that suggest something like changing moisture levels. They frame a central area whose pattern of phthalo blue, black and red on a cream background mesmerizingly evokes Pollock, endpapers, Ken Price’s sanded ceramic surfaces and paisley.
Catalogs from some of Statsinger’s gallery shows in Chicago suggest that this presentation barely scratches the surface of the different ways she marshaled her motifs, patterns and color schemes from around 1950 forward. Her work was in the early Monster Roster exhibitions that prepared the ground for the Chicago Imagists. Her achievement is a great addition to the history of modern American art. ROBERTA SMITH
Tyree Guyton: ‘The Heidelberg Project, New York City’
On view indefinitely. Martos After Dark, 167 Canal Street, Manhattan; 212-260-0670; martosgallery.com.
Tyree Guyton came home to Detroit’s McDougall-Hunt in 1986. The neighborhood — like many in the city’s inner ring — has been gutted by decades of white flight and pointed neglect. Guyton cleaned up a string of fallow lots, then assembled the junk into bitter monuments of resilience. The resulting Heidelberg Project lines a long block with bleached mountains of shoes, harlequin tableaus of rusty cars and an acrobatic stack of shopping carts. Guyton’s topsy-turvy paintings of clocks, some turned around or without numbers, dot the view like roadside Bible verses. “Time is running out,” they seem to say: “Repent!” Bold designs cover nearby houses — some abandoned, but a few in solidarity with their residents against attacks from NIMBY arsonists and philistine politicians.
Gradually, the winds changed. Detroit’s ruling class now see the value that public art and selfie-hunting tourists bring to real estate — or, less cynically, see art Guyton’s way: as part of the blighted city’s spiritual recovery. Today, Heidelberg Project enjoys official status. And Guyton is franchising: A corner storefront on Canal Street in Chinatown contains a slice of Heidelberg. Through the glass, blotchy, costumed mannequins sit around a cluttered table and a TV painted with the words “World New.” A vacuum inhales an American flag. Clocks cover the walls. The domestic scene feels incongruous and vivisected at street level. Is this the neighborhood’s past? Its future? Detroit? New York? The display advertises the larger project. It also invokes the specter of urban renewal in downtown Manhattan. Time, time, time … TRAVIS DIEHL