Pick of Picks: Five Favorites from 2017
This handful of shows featured at THE LIST here at artcritical is my personal way of taking stock of another great year of exhibitions in New York City. Indulge me, if you please. Wishing our readers all the best for 2018. David Cohen, Publisher and Editor of artcritical.com
Mira Schor at Lyles & King
First published: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
A modest room of small pictures, Mira Schor’s project space exhibition, The Red Tie Paintings, pulsates with lyrical fury. These Goyaesque allegories exude shamanic urgency, as if painted for purposes of exorcism. The artist does indeed describe a cathartic functionality for these works: “A day in the studio begins with the instantaneity of response to that day’s repellent news, which I can articulate very freely in ink and gouache on paper.” Red and black are at once symbolically charged and formally potent chromatic choices. The dramatis personae in this fiery suite include limp dicks, a melting swastika, eyes that are also vaginas and bleed, the Owl of Minerva (she who rises only at dusk) and the eponymous, synechdochal necktie that comes to menacing, serpentine life, a device that recalls anthropomorphized props in a William Kentridge animation. Artistic sisters channeled include Charlotte Salomon, Nancy Spero and Sue Coe. At once deeply personal and fiercely political, this is poetry meets therapy meets agit prop meets magic.
Jacob El Hanani Linescape: Four Decades at Acquavella Galleries
Monday, October 2nd, 2017
Scriptural injunctions against graven images and puritanical disdain for decoration or ornament for their own sake engendered an ingenious work around from medieval artists: micrography. Miniscule but nonetheless legible script is arranged into otherwise prohibited or discouraged forms, sometimes whimsical, sometimes expressive of the text itself. Fast forward to minimal art and its inherent iconoclasm and Casablanca-born, Israel-raised, Paris-educated, New York-based Jacob El Hanani pulls from his “portable ark of the covenant” (in R. B. Kitaj’s phrase, from First Diasporist Manifesto) the mind bogglingly ethereal feat that is his application of this ancestral technique to a contemporary abstract idiom. These days, however, there is a relative loosening-up of his approach, as the artist acknowledges in titles that evoke landscapes by Turner and cityscapes by Mondrian. As El Hanani explains, “For many decades, I was working under a self-imposed austerity, but many artists, as they get older, release themselves and tend to embrace a freer, more lyrical style.
Janet Fish: Pinwheels and Poppies, Paintings 1980-2008 at DC Moore Gallery
First Published: Saturday, September 30th, 2017
Last chance today to catch this three-decade survey of paintings by Janet Fish. Known primarily for her densely detailed, richly colored, complexly composed still lifes often lit with an intensity that matches their informational overload, Fish revels in the delightful inherent contradictions of her elective craft. By this I mean that she gravitates towards tricky arrangements of gaudy forms and challenging perceptual distortions but then proceeds to deliver what she sees with disarming frankness. She forces herself to look through layers of baroquely contorted 1970s glassware, for instance, or heavy-gauge plastic shopping bags with all the varying secondary reflections and refractions they engender and obligates herself to render contrastive surfaces of liquids and fruits and flora often trapped within a matrix of shadows and the irregular gridding of mesh receptacles. And yet these mind-boggling observational conundra are dispatched with no-nonsense, unflashy, almost homespun methodical paint application that bespeaks fidelity, honesty and presentness of mind.
Doron Langberg at 1969
First Published: Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017
The breakout paintings of Doron Langberg from around five years ago collided intimism and raunch to potent effect. Their slow-read romantic symbolism hovered between coyness and luxuriance as if the brush could’t quite believe the homoerotic explicitness it was being enlisted to depict. The latest paintings from this still-young Israeli-born, UPenn and Yale graduate, on view through the end of this week at 1969 (Quang Bao’s new gallery on the Lower East Side), tone down the sex but if anything ramp up the psychology, trading one kind of penetration for another. The sitters in these portraits are close friends, fellow artists and family members. The range of handling is quite dazzling, whether in materials, composition, degrees of verisimilitude and resolution, or emotions—sitters’ or artist’s. Julia and Snake, (pictured here) which shows Julia Bland at work, uses the fiber artist’s materials to orchestrate complex dissonances between readymade and discovered abstraction, stylized and actual flatness, volume and shadow. Mark on the Beach, the most hedonistic image in this group, is an essay in shifting foci in which the artist’s subjective responses– indifference, devotion, affection, lust – to different aspects or zones within the scene are somehow as palpable and convincing as the neutral, democratic alloverness of an objective approach would be. It is as if he were a camera with feelings.
Fran O’Neill at David & Schweitzer
First Published: Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
Maybe it helps to know that Fran O’Neill has a deep past in figurative painting rooted in perception and drawing from life: that would make sense of the compositional acuity, vivacious economy and voluptuous sense of bodily connection in her beefy, boisterous forms. It might also explain why they sometimes recall Howard Hodgkin though they are far less polite in dispatch. Or why the brushstrokes remind us of Juan Uslé but with more generational purpose. But the highest compliment one can pay to these audacious paintings is that the artist’s formal groundings aren’t beaten into them. They are abstract, hard and fast.