What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries Right Now

What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries Right Now

Want to see some new art? Start in Chelsea with Carl Andre’s minimalist, absurdist sculptures. Then head to the Lower East Side to check out Holly Coulis’s bright abstractions of oranges and lemons. And don’t miss Jiha Moon’s show of ceramic sculptures and ink-and-acrylic paintings that reclaim the color yellow.


Through Feb. 19. Paula Cooper Gallery, 521 West 21st Street, Manhattan. 212-255-1105; paulacoopergallery.com.

Ten cedar beams piled against the wall make up the work called “5VCEDAR5H.”

Sixteen steel plates, each 20 inches a side and laid out edge-to-edge, form the piece “4th Steel Square,” which functions like an area rug on the gallery floor.

Three blocks of gray granite, 18 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches, are placed two up and one across, with the title “Manet Post and Lintel.” They recall the stacked stones of Stonehenge, but shrunk.

Such works by Carl Andre, including the other dozen or so in this delightful show, are usually treated with great sobriety, as art-making at its most rigorously conceptual by an 86-year-old High Priest of minimal art. But as I took in the selection, which spans 1976 to 2021, the works came off as a touch absurd, even properly absurdist: “Manet Post and Lintel” might just about be called “Homage to Spinal Tap.”

Andre belongs in the great but neglected tradition of the modern artist as joker, tweaking the nose of established “high” culture. Manet, Duchamp and Warhol, not to mention David Hammons and Hannah Wilke, can all be placed in that camp and enjoyed for the heft of their naughtiness.

But Andre’s sculptures at Paula Cooper also struck me as more straightforwardly, deliciously playful. They reminded me of what a 5-year-old friend of mine gets up to when presented with just about any objects that can be stacked.

As any child psychologist will tell you, the human brain is built on such play. BLAKE GOPNIK

Lower East Side

Through Feb. 12. Klaus von Nichtssagend, 54 Ludlow Street, Manhattan. 212-777-7756; klausgallery.com.

It’s exciting to see an artist come into her vocabulary the way Holly Coulis has in “Eyes and Yous,” her fourth solo show at Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery. Since her New York debut, nearly 20 years ago, she has covered a lot of subjects, from Napoleon to the common house cat, and has developed a recognizable style of flat but brightly hued shapes — most recently oranges and lemons — bordered with contrasting colors. It’s a clever and often very appealing way to enjoy the pleasures of abstract painting and even graphic design without the burdensome self-seriousness that afflicts them both.

But now the oranges and lemons have gotten bigger. Sometimes they overlap, creating Brice Marsden-like patterns within which Coulis can juxtapose lucid blocks of orange, pink and green, and sometimes she crops them until they’re unrecognizable as fruit. Most crucially, she’s also begun painting their outlines with a dry brush that skips and streaks. It’s a small change with an outsize effect: By enriching their visual texture, revealing their multiple layers and capturing the sensuous motion of the painter’s hand, these streaky outlines make plain just how substantial the paintings are. In “Mist Eyes,” four red-bordered lemons are superimposed in a kaleidoscopic double Venn diagram; in “Day You,” the figurative pretext is like an anchor keeping Coulis’s delirious colors tethered to earth. WILL HEINRICH

Lower East Side

Through Feb. 5. Derek Eller Gallery, 300 Broome Street, Manhattan. 212-206-6411; derekeller.com.

There are so many references in Jiha Moon’s artworks, it can be hard to know where to begin. In “Stranger Yellow,” her show of ceramic sculptures and ink-and-acrylic paintings at Derek Eller Gallery, I spotted bananas, fortune cookies, peaches and Ukiyo-e-inspired creatures; I saw echoes of Roy Lichtenstein’s “Yellow Brushstrokes,” traditional Chinese landscape painting and face jugs from the American South. This cross-pollination is partly a product of biography: Moon grew up in South Korea before moving to the United States in her late 20s. She studied art in both places and eventually settled in Atlanta.

But it’s not just hybridity that makes Moon’s art so thrilling; it’s the way these sources of inspiration and pieces of iconography coexist and pile up within individual works. Often the results are delightfully absurd and cartoonish, like the sculpture “Peach Mask Face Jug” (2021), which comes alive with thick, grinning red lips and white teeth, while being adorned all over with faces, foods, hearts and more. Sometimes they’re transportingly meditative, as in the 10-foot-long painting “Yellowave (Stranger Yellow)” (2021), whose undulating brushstrokes could represent a seascape, a storm or something more abstract, like tendrils of memory.

Moon’s visual blitz may not be self-important, but it is studied. The key to navigating it here is yellow, a potent color that’s also a slur for Asian Americans. Moon reclaims yellow and weaves it like a thread through her web of signifiers, suggesting that even as our identities become more layered, there’s still a core element that remains. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through Jan. 22. Chart, 74 Franklin Street, Manhattan. 646-799-9319; chart-gallery.com.

The last two years have brought a public reckoning over Asian American identity. The pandemic and a new wave of xenophobia have led to a surge of hate crimes against Asian Americans, sparking discussions of their experiences of racism. Simultaneously, books like Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings,” Jay Caspian Kang’s “The Loneliest Americans,” and the anthology “Best! Letters from Asian Americans in the Arts” have grappled with questions of politics and belonging.

Into this milieu comes “8 Americans,” an exhibition featuring an intergenerational group of Asian American artists, including established figures like Byron Kim and Jean Shin and newer talents like Antonia Kuo and Timothy Lai. Skin is a prominent theme — Kim’s paintings of the subtle discolorations of bruises, Jennie Jieun Lee’s slippery ceramic faces — as are the ways technology distorts it, seen in Tishan Hsu’s human-machine hybrid and Kang Seung Lee’s jarringly intimate scans of his friends’ tattooed bodies. There’s an undercurrent of damage, tempered by the possibility of art as a form of repair: For example, Hyegyeong Choi’s drowned Ophelia is, per the work’s title, “quieter and colder,” but also brightly colored and beautifully painted. Shin has patched pieces of a fallen hemlock tree with leather scraps to make intriguingly hybrid sculptures.

Exhibitions built around identity can be tricky; a shared heritage doesn’t guarantee shared concerns. This one hangs together well but falls into another trap: seven of the eight artists are of East Asian descent. Amid vigorous debate over the meaning of the term “Asian American,” even a small show should better explore its breadth. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through Jan 22. Marlborough, 545 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-541-4900; marlboroughnewyork.com.

There’s a Thoreauvian spirituality to Tomás Sánchez’s landscapes — 15 of them created since 2014 are on view here — perhaps because they’re imagined places, unvisitable, and thus largely unblemished. Take for example the unreal stillness of “Aislado” (2015), a verdant island floating in a milky void, slightly washed-out, as if seen in a dream. This effect carries over into several small drawings, like “Contemplador de nubes” (2018), whose towering cumulonimbus form suggests unstable air and shaky reality.

Lone figures sometimes appear among the trees, contemplating the infinite, attempting transcendence. Whether they’ve reached paradise or are lodged in purgatory largely depends on the viewer’s state of mind, which, considering outside conditions, can be as volatile as the shroud gathering over the river valley in “Diagonales opuestas en un paisaje interior” (2014). Sánchez’s clouds are expressive bodies, excised from lagoons like a low-hanging dread, or creeping into the frame the way an intrusive thought can.

Some light polemics disturb the placid naturalism, just as disaster does with increasing regularity. Sánchez’s realist touch is especially fearsome in “Con la puerta abierta” (2015), a 6½-by-8-foot canvas dumping ground of spoiled earth and blackening sky, stretching out forever. The wasteland reads like a depressing game of “Where’s Waldo?”: Discarded antiquities languish amid water bottles and other plastic horrors. If you’ve been paying any amount of attention, the cataclysmic results of modernity shouldn’t come as news, so it’s a credit to Sánchez that he continues to render our capacity for self-destruction with terrible majesty. MAX LAKIN


Through Jan. 22. Kerry Schuss Gallery, 73 Leonard Street, Manhattan. 212-219-9918; kerryschussgallery.com.

In Judaism, when a person dies, their family covers the mirrors in their home as a sign of mourning. This custom inspired Helène Aylon’s poignant “Mirror Covering” (1987), which anchors her exhibition “Reflections,” organized by Kerry Schuss Gallery and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects.

Aylon was born into Borough Park’s Orthodox Jewish community and married a rabbi when she was 18. In her late 20s, she began studying art at Brooklyn College, where she took classes with Ad Reinhardt, and was widowed at 30. She decided to become a secular artist, and started experimenting formally to make muted, somewhat mysterious abstract paintings (three are included in “Reflections”). In the 1980s, she turned to public eco-feminist art, and in the ’90s embarked on a major project about Judaism. Aylon died last year, at 89, of Covid-19.

“Mirror Covering” represents a nexus of the different phases of her career. The work features 11 roughly human-size mirrored panels partly swathed in gauze and connected to stretch about 21 feet long. They represent the 11 million people who died in the Holocaust, speaking to Aylon’s social and Jewish concerns. Yet the gauze also evokes the reclaimed fabric of feminist art, and the work’s simple wooden structure, leaning against the wall, calls to mind postminimalism. These associations enrich “Mirror Covering” — it’s not a singular memorial but an open-ended work of art and mourning. When you stand before it and see yourself hazily reflected amid the discolored gauze, you may have the sense, however fleeting, of hovering between worlds. JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Lower East Side

Through Jan. 30. Reena Spaulings Fine Art, 165 East Broadway, Manhattan. 212-477-5006; reenaspaulings.com.

At least since Rembrandt, artists have depicted their studios; the best works in “Supply Chain,” a show of Wade Guyton’s recent images, move that tradition into our inkjet age.

All the works speak to the place and the way they were made, but the most compelling picture does that directly. It’s an inkjet on canvas, untitled, that runs the height of a gallery wall, depicting the Guyton studio kitchen; perched toward the front of that room, a big Epson printer is spitting out a tidy image of an apple orchard. The studio setting gives an impression of mess: Plaster is peeling from a brick wall; bare bulbs screw into cheap ceiling fixtures. The print that shows us this scene shares in its abjection: Smears of red ink half ruin the surface, implying a printer on its last legs; the image has a stutter that splits it in two, as though processed by a failing computer.

But both the studio and its image yield signs of care. In Guyton’s kitchen, the gleam on a connoisseur’s espresso machine implies a commitment to aesthetic precision. Guyton’s image of that kitchen is printed on pristine canvas immaculately fixed to its stretcher; such diligence suggests that his smears and stutter were produced by equipment carefully adjusted — or deliberately glitched — to yield them.

The expressive messes we associate with art-making have always had a dose of artifice. Guyton lets us see that artifice at work. His studio’s image is as carefully groomed as the trees in his orchard shot. BLAKE GOPNIK

Meatpacking district

Through Feb. 12. Fort Gansevoort, 5 Ninth Avenue, Manhattan. 917-639-3113; fortgansevoort.com.

Beauty and horror meet in Winfred Rembert’s complexly assertive paintings. Sometimes radiant colors, tactile surfaces and folk-artish figures convey visual joy and personal dignity. Other works offer fearsome portrayals of growing up Black and male in Georgia during the Jim Crow era. In several of these, workers or convicts bend over endless expanses of white, picking cotton, overseen by white men on horses. In another, a young Black man crouches in the open trunk of a car as angry white men crowd forward; behind them are trees hung with nooses. Yet another shows a Black youth hanging upside down, on the verge of being lynched. The youth is Rembert, who lived to tell the tale, which is what is seen here.

The 23 paintings in the show, “Winfred Rembert: 1945-2021,” are finely detailed in tooled and dyed leather, a combination vital to their warmth. On the first floor of this small brick building hangs scenes from Rembert’s childhood; on the second, scenes from his brush with death; on the third, images of his seven years in prison. Afterward he married and moved to Connecticut, and around 1996, he began translating his memories into the dyed leather, using techniques learned in incarceration. For the fullest account of Rembert’s oddly majestic life, there’s his illustrated autobiography, “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” published last year, which I highly recommend. ROBERTA SMITH

Upper East Side

Through Feb. 5. Galerie Buchholz, 17 East 82nd Street, Manhattan. 212-328-7885; galeriebuchholz.de.

We live in a golden age of conspiracy theories, which flourish during moments of political instability. The Conceptual artist Lutz Bacher’s “The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview” project, which originated in the late 1970s, reflects an era when conspiracy theories proliferated in the wake of Watergate, the Vietnam War and a number of high-profile political assassinations.

Bacher’s subject is Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin. For this project, Bacher created black-and-white photomontages of Oswald and his family and his arrest, as well as a fictional interview that highlights the mystery and uncertainty around Oswald’s actions and his own assassination. Videos running on monitors show Bacher reading parts of the interview. (The project also echoes the obsessions of two other prominent artists who’ve had recent Buchholz shows and explore the excesses and effects of American fame and early death: Cady Noland and Isa Genzken.)

Down the street from the main gallery is the Betty Center, Bacher’s archive of handwritten notes, photographs and other ephemera housed in ring binders. The archive, which she designated as a discrete artwork, got its name from a newspaper article about her husband, Donald C. Backer, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, that erroneously identified her as Betty. This mistake sounds like archetypal conspiracy theory fodder; for Bacher, it provided the perfect, ready-made title for an artist who worked under a pseudonym and remained, until her death in 2019, playfully and strategically aloof. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through Feb. 12. Higher Pictures Generation, 16 Main Street, Brooklyn. 212-249-6100; higherpictures.com.

The 12 photographs in Keisha Scarville’s solo show at Higher Pictures Generation seem to marry opposites: black and white, figurative and abstract, legible yet enigmatic. They show mainly pieces of richly patterned fabrics and parts of bodies, but nothing appears complete. In “Negotiating/Maneuver (5)” (2021), a woman’s face is obscured below her eyes by a line of shadow (and her body further cut off by the frame). At the edge of “Within/Between/Corpus (3)” (2021), fingers touch what seems to be a leg, but they provide only a small identifiable reprieve amid a sea of cloth.

Scarville is a Brooklyn-born, Guyanese-American photographer whose work often takes up, in poetic ways, her family heritage. It’s fitting that this exhibition is titled “Li/mb” — both because of the arms and legs pictured and because of her interest in the Caribbean limbo dance, which may have originated on the slave ships of the Middle Passage. In the gallery, two sculpted hands hold an outstretched rope near the ground; above them hangs “Within/Between/Corpus (1)” (2020), a photograph that features another photograph, of a Black woman and child, at its center. To limbo is to bend yourself to pass through a series of increasingly constrictive challenges. The installation suggests that this skill may be an inheritance in Black families.

More than scenes or objects, Scarville’s charged photographs seem to represent a state of being. Limbo can mean confinement but also something more metaphysical: a sense of being in transition, never one thing or the other but always in between. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through Feb. 12 at David Zwirner Gallery, 537 West 20th Street, Manhattan. 212-517-8677; davidzwirner.com.

To look at James Castle’s work is to enter his secret world. The artist often bundled and then hid away his works in the walls of homes and outbuildings or even buried them in holes.

This habit of hiding exists in tension with the wondrous drawing on the second floor of David Zwirner Gallery in Manhattan, showing a bare plank-and-beam attic crowded with nearly 100 of his artworks, including books, dozens of sculptural figures leaning against a wall or standing on shelves, and nearly 20 drawings hung from the wall. Does this crowded but intuitively ordered display of his own work within a single drawing contradict his cloistered practice? Perhaps the drawing served as a catalog for works that were to be stored, so that he could later recall what was no longer at hand. While Castle’s intentions cannot be discerned, the pleasure comes in puzzling out the connections in his vast and often mysterious visual universe. Read the full review.


Through Feb. 5. Hales, 547 West 20th Street, Manhattan. 646-590-0776; halesgallery.com.

It’s often noted in the biography of the Brooklyn-based artist Chitra Ganesh, that she studied semiotics at Brown University, the American epicenter for an academic field that examines the uses and interpretation of cultural signs and symbols. This is not an insignificant detail; it’s crucial to unlocking how she approaches a vast range of images and ideas. Ganesh’s painted, drawn and sewn assemblages are like Borgesian libraries or delirious, encyclopedic archives. They combine South Asian cosmologies, Bollywood posters, queer histories, comics and science fiction to suggest hybrid narratives and utopias. Ganesh is at the height of her semiotician-creator powers in her current show, “Nightswimmers.”

“Death Dancer” (2021), a delicate image painted with watercolor and tea on paper, features an underworld guardian inspired by Citipati, a Tibetan deity who symbolizes death’s eternal dance. Other works here explore sexuality, motherhood and how nature and humans are intertwined. “Untitled” (2021) is a lush assemblage of pressed flowers, paint and glistening flakes of mica (silicate minerals) on paper. In the work, the head of a female figure with a bricked-up belly and stone-arched vulva morphs into a blossoming cherry tree.

Birth, efflorescence, reincarnation and resilience prevail in “Nightswimmers.” Canny viewers will also detect an undercurrent of activism. The sentence, “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds” is spelled out in thread, sewn into one of Ganesh’s works. Often heard at present-day rallies, this battle cry can be traced back to ancient Greece, reminding us that art, beauty and struggle are often interlinked. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through March 20. Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, Manhattan. 212-832-1155; japansociety.org.

Shiko Munakata (1903-1975), a self-taught artist from a poor family in northern Honshu, wanted to be the Japanese van Gogh. Unlike van Gogh, he enjoyed great success in his lifetime, particularly with his woodblock prints, which, in a break with most earlier masters of the form, he carved himself. In the early 1960s, Munakata traveled along the 53 former official rest stations of the Tokaido, the Shogunate-era road connecting Kyoto to Edo, as Tokyo was known, to make 61 scenic prints on white paper, half in black sumi ink and half with additional colors applied by hand.

This series, which hasn’t been shown in the United States for over 50 years, is the highlight of “A Way of Seeing” at Japan Society, an exhibition that also includes the dozen large woodblock prints of Munakata’s charming “Ten Great Disciples of Buddha” series. Hung only an arm’s breadth apart in two double rows that bisect the gallery, the Tokaido prints pass like tantalizing glimpses from the window of a clattering train. Black and white, in Munakata’s hands, become a Buddhist poem about the power of context: White can be both sky and earth, and black anything from a towering tree trunk to a lattice of cool shadow. Mount Fuji also appears in many guises: Seen from Hara, the iconic volcano is a Modernist black triangle, flecked with white but dense as oil paint; from Matsubara, it floats over a gorgeous fog of royal blue daubs bordered in rosy pink. WILL HEINRICH

Upper East Side

Through Feb. 26. Craig F. Starr Gallery, 5 East 73rd Street, Manhattan. 212-570-1739; craigstarr.com.

Over the past several decades, the self-taught artist John Willenbecher has gone relatively overlooked. But his exhibition “Works From the 1960s” proves that even his earliest output is well worth revisiting. The show begins with wall-mounted shadowboxes containing items of the sort one might find at rummage sales.

Arranged into simple configurations and painted sinister shades of black, white or gray, these found objects include Christmas ornaments, balusters and a handmade roulette wheel, not to mention rows and rows of balls. At times embellished with numbers, these spheres invoke lotteries, secret ballots or Newton’s Cradles. Some strange game is clearly afoot. Five gilded, cryptic letters — “PANSA”— gleam near the bottom of “Unknown Game #3” (1963). (The artist has long remained tight-lipped about what that word might mean.) In a second room, a group of artworks are more straightforward about their subject matter: astronomy and color. The drawing “Study for Sunup Sundown” (1966) conjures the blues and pinks of a changing sky.

A trained art historian, Willenbecher owes much in his compositions to Joseph Cornell’s boxes and Louise Nevelson’s all-black assemblages. And his interests in hazard and chance certainly connect him to Dada artists like Marcel Duchamp. Revisited now, though, Willenbecher’s works resound at a uniquely contemporary pitch, at a time when every next TV show features diabolical trials and contests. Precise and ominously elegant, his shadowboxes evoke the archetypal villain of the moment: the untouchably powerful maestro ensuring that the house always wins. DAWN CHAN


Through Feb. 26. Tina Kim Gallery, 525 West 21st Street, Manhattan. 212-716-1100; tinakimgallery.com.

As the writer and curator John Yau points out, grouping the sculptors Minoru Niizuma (1930-1998), Leo Amino (1911-1989) and John Pai (born 1937) as “Asian Americans” is a little reductive — but it may also be the neatest way of encapsulating why they haven’t gotten more attention. Born in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, Amino briefly attended college in California before moving to New York, while Niizuma, raised and educated in Tokyo, didn’t get here till 1959. Pai, who lives in Connecticut, left Korea with his parents as an 11-year-old.

Juxtaposed by Yau in “The Unseen Professors,” though, their works complement powerfully. Pai’s welded steel skirts the border between math and craft, while Niizuma’s chunky marble sculptures reveal the beauty of the stone without eliding the ambivalent violence of carving it.

But it’s Amino, if you missed last year’s show at David Zwirner, who’s likely to be the revelation. Experimenting with polyester resin after it was declassified following World War II, Amino made transparent boxes enlivened with streaks of primary color, transforming the ordinary experience of viewing sculpture by making his objects seem, from certain vantage points, less than solid. The angled facets of “Refractional #21,” a geometric composition of triangles and rhomboids, flicker like an old movie as you move around it, while “Refractional 27A,” whose colors float like clouds in a frozen fish tank, seems to exist not in three full dimensions but only in two and a half. WILL HEINRICH

Upper East Side

Through Feb. 5, David Zwirner, 34 East 69th Street, Manhattan. 212-201-0420; davidzwirner.com.

Hilma af Klint is back in New York. You might think the Swedish mystic painter, little known in her lifetime (she died in 1944) would have little left to say after her wildly popular Guggenheim retrospective in 2018. The watercolors in “Tree of Knowledge” at David Zwirner, however, is revelatory and sublime.

The show includes eight vertically oriented works made with watercolor, gouache, graphite and ink on paper. Where the Guggenheim show blasted you with epic concepts — starting with Af Klint’s “Paintings for the Temple,” this series is more terrestrial. Filled with spiraling tendrils and birds, delectable pastels and seemingly significant symbols, they conjure medieval illuminated manuscripts, Persian miniatures and scientific illustrations.

Why do we love Af Klint so much, and why was she overlooked during her lifetime? In addition to the sexism of the early 20th-century art world, she consciously hid her works. However, she’s benefited from the rise of digital technology and network culture. When her work was first shown in this country in the 1980s, the art critic Hilton Kramer dismissed her paintings as “colored diagrams.” Now we love diagrams and artists who make them, like Mark Lombardi.

Af Klint’s “Tree of Knowledge” combines elements of Christianity, Hinduism, Norse folklore and her beloved Theosophy. The works function like spacious diagrams: open portals that suggest cosmic and spiritual significance. Her work remains conceptually open enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions, insert their own meaning and feel transported to other glorious worlds. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

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