Georg Baselitz, Hilma af Klint: What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries Right Now

Georg Baselitz, Hilma af Klint: What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries Right Now
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Want to see some art over the Thanksgiving weekend? Start in TriBeCa with the outstanding prints of the German Neo-Expressionist painter Georg Baselitz. Then head uptown for the sublime water colors of the Swedish mystic painter Hilma af Klint. Plus much more to see, including works by Nolan Simon and Sarah Charlesworth.


Downtown

Through Dec. 22. Luhring Augustine TriBeCa, 17 White Street, Manhattan; 646-960-7540, luhringaugustine.com.

The outstanding prints of the German Neo-Expressionist painter Georg Baselitz are not well known in this country, a condition that should be rectified by this museum-quality exhibition of 42 etchings and woodcuts dating from 1964 to 1969. All contrast a tenderness of technique with strange or jarring subject matter.

Unsettling hybrid creatures emerge from tangles of fine, subtly frenetic lines. In the earliest etchings, the artist isolates small abject forms on the paper. “Ohr (Ear)” is a misshapen head with a snout nose and an ear from which a tongue seems to wag, while an elephant’s trunk curls from the unseen ear. But soon Baselitz engages the entire sheet, introducing his Frankensteinian men, variously identified as partisans, soldiers, hunters and “The New Type.” Disheveled and big-boned with small heads and troubled poetic faces framed by long hair, they wear military fatigues, and seem to have just lumbered off the battlefield or out of a blasted forest.

In “Zwei Soldaten (Two Soldiers)” two men, each missing a leg, lean against each other. Sometimes a sarcasm prevails, as in “Hirte (Shepherd),” where tree stumps and a speckled sky set the stage for a barely discernible figure driving two large toylike ducks with a carriage whip. Baselitz’s view of postwar Germany was hardly sanguine at this point in his career, whose progress will be traced in a second, as yet unscheduled show of prints at this gallery; all come from a private collection in Germany. ROBERTA SMITH


Uptown

Through Feb. 5, David Zwirner, 34 East 69th Street; 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


downtown

Through Dec. 18. 47 Canal, 291 Grand Street, Manhattan; 646-415-7712, 47canal.us.

The pictures in Nolan Simon’s fourth solo at 47 Canal start as photographs, both found and staged, that Simon weaves together in Photoshop. Printing them on canvas before going over them again with oil, he arrives at images that hover magically between photography and painting, with saturated colors, sticky looking finishes and surprisingly precise figures. They don’t float you all the way into the untethered realm of the imagination, but they get your feet off the ground.

Scenes charged with mysterious subtext amplify this effect. Two men with extravagant beards lick a black preserved egg that looks like a sex toy; four hands milk a pair of goats into three glass goblets. Sometimes the paint serves to heighten a well-observed detail, like the silvery gleam of a stovetop coffee maker or the tension of those milking hands, and sometimes Simon just lets it get ornamental, as when the egg-lickers’ beards descend into a cascade of squiggly gray lines. The vistas often look no deeper than a shallow bookshelf; two pieces even have trompe l’oeil wooden frames.

What’s wonderful about all this is that it treats the ambiguity of the medium — visual imagery, you could call it now, rather than just photography or painting — as a technical capability rather than a philosophical conundrum. I’m not sure why the artist called his show “Polyamory,” but for me it alludes both to the work’s erotic charge and to this ambiguity. It suggests that something sexy is happening in more than one direction. WILL HEINRICH


Downtown

Through Dec. 4. Paula Cooper Gallery, 521 West 21st Street, Manhattan; 212-255-1105, paulacoopergallery.com.

In her early, politically sharp-edged work, the American Conceptual artist Sarah Charlesworth (1947-2013) was a level-eyed teller of history. By photographing and visually editing the front pages of daily newspapers, she recorded what was happening in the world, examined how the information was being delivered, and suggested how we, as consumers, were receiving it.

In “Modern History,” the absorbing mini-survey at Paula Cooper of work from the predigital 1970s to the early 1990s, we see some of Charlesworth’s editing strategies. “Historical Materialism: Chile Series (for O.L.),” from 1977, documents events in Chile, from the election of the leftist Salvador Allende to the military coup of Augusto Pinochet, through front pages of The New York Times, where the story changes placement and, by implication, importance. In “Movie-Television-News-History, June 21, 1979,” Charlesworth focuses on the assassination of the ABC television correspondent Bill Stewart by a Nicaraguan soldier by isolating a murky still from a video of the murder that appeared in American newspapers. Viewing the series in sequence turns us into violence-porn voyeurs.

And “Herald Tribune, January 18-February 28, 1991” reprints the front page of one paper, as it appeared every day during the “Desert Storm” phase of the gulf war. Charlesworth deletes all text, leaving only pictures of political figures, unidentified soldiers and piles of weaponry. Without captions, we’re left with an aestheticized image of men playing war.

If viewed as intended — slowly, sequentially — Charlesworth’s early work is some of the strongest and subtlest political art of its time. HOLLAND COTTER


Downtown

Through Dec. 4. Greene Naftali, 508 West 26th Street, Manhattan. 212-463-7770; greenenaftaligallery.com.

Steffani Jemison, a Brooklyn artist on the faculty at Rutgers University, has a terrific solo show at Greene Naftali.

A new video called “In Succession” provides a series of wall-filling close-ups on four men practicing some kind of human-pyramid routine, climbing and balancing on each other. Another projection, titled “Escaped Lunatic” (2011), shows men running and tumbling through urban streets. In “Broken Fall (Organic),” a 2008 piece presented on a monitor, a young man hangs by his arms from a tree branch until his grasp finally gives way.

All this ought to seem joyful, maybe even comic, and perhaps it would — if this weren’t 2021, and those men weren’t African American. Given what we know of Black men’s lives, an endless arm-hang can have a whiff of hazing or even torture about it, as though Jemison’s young man is being tested rather than testing himself. Running and tumbling inevitably evokes avoidance and escape. Men climbing and grasping each other make us think of struggle rather than play. (Although “In Succession” is actually a riff on a 1931 New York Times report, of Black men who formed a human pyramid to rescue a white woman from a fire, then left without taking credit for their deed.)

That these videos are by a Black woman makes Jemison’s show feel like an investigation into the state and fate of Black manhood, from someone who knows it firsthand but can also view it from a distance, across the gender gap. BLAKE GOPNIK


Downtown

Through Dec. 5. Fotografiska, 281 Park Avenue South, Manhattan. 212-433-3686. fotografiska.com/nyc

Ruth Orkin’s most famous picture was staged in Florence. Learning from a young American student how Italian men ogled and catcalled women, Orkin posed her in a picturesque but slightly seedy setting, looking straight ahead with an uncomfortable expression as she passed a gantlet of male bystanders. Taken in 1951, the picture offers a feminist rejoinder to a celebrated Richard Avedon image made four years earlier, of a Dior fashion model standing in Paris’s decorous Place de la Concorde, as three appreciative but respectful young men stride by.

Marking the centenary of Orkin’s birth, “Expressions of Life” documents the achievement of a trailblazing female photographer who, with her husband, Morris Engel, also made a charming movie, “Little Fugitive,” that foreshadowed the French New Wave. (A newly published monograph, Ruth Orkin: A Photo Spirit, offers a fuller survey of her work.)

Orkin photographed celebrities, young lovers, fellow New Yorkers and inhabitants of the new state of Israel. But where she truly excelled was in her shots of children. Indeed, only Helen Levitt rivals her in that category. This exhibition features a delightful sequence, also from 1952, of three children playing cards, which was the only photographic group in the landmark “Family of Man” show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955.

In her best portraits, Orkin captured the child in adults as well. Along with a well known picture of a guffawing Albert Einstein, don’t miss a marvelous view of the photographer Robert Capa that reveals his irresistible boyish charm. ARTHUR LUBOW


Queens

Through Dec. 13. SculptureCenter, 44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, Queens. 718-361-1750; sculpture-center.org.

These days, K-pop’s ties to global capitalism are hard to miss. (Take McDonald’s menu, which offers a Chicken McNugget meal endorsed by the Korean boy band BTS.) But the American artist Diane Severin Nguyen uses K-pop to look at something different: the impact of immigration and cultural exchange among countries with a Communist past.

The exhibition’s main work, a video titled “If Revolution Is a Sickness,” stars a Vietnamese-Polish protagonist named Weronika, who lives in Warsaw and eventually joins a local dance crew inspired by Korean idol groups. As they move and lip-sync to a song about revolution, Nguyen builds a case that K-pop has much in common with Soviet socialism. Which maybe isn’t far-fetched: The genre’s stars often live communally and perform choreographed acts. Casting her lead actress by searching for a Polish performer who shared her surname, Nguyen sought a doppelgänger from an alternate post-Cold War world. If your immigrant parents came inches away from moving elsewhere entirely, this game of “what-if” feels familiar.

In a back room at SculptureCenter, photos by Nguyen — flames, braided hair and unrecognizable gooey substances shot close-up — echo older feminist artists who explored abjection and bodily shame. Throughout, Nguyen merges cinematic melodrama with the homegrown feel of social media: the inexplicable listlessness of vloggers; reaction videos shot in bedrooms and public squares. If you like the unfiltered emotions and rough edges of the current media landscape, then Nguyen’s latest work will appeal to you. DAWN CHAN


Downtown

Through Dec. 19. Situations, 127 Henry Street, Manhattan; situations.us. Club Rhubarb, Manhattan; open by appointment: ronlittles@hotmail.com.

It’s a given that parents shape their children’s identities, but if you’re like me, you might not have thought much about the influence that you, as a child, have had on them. A two-venue exhibition by the father and son duo Reza and Mamali Shafahi, wryly titled “Daddy Sperm,” prompts us to think about familial as well as artistic exchange and how it flows in multiple directions.

The Shafahis began collaborating in 2012. Reza was a retired professional wrestler in Iran with obsessive compulsive disorder and a gambling habit. Mamali, a professional artist living in France and Iran, prompted his dad to try drawing, and the idea took hold: Making art became a rich form of expression for Reza. Mamali then decided to interpret his father’s drawings by turning them into sculptural reliefs.

At Situations, Reza’s new paintings on paper revel in mixing the sacred and profane. References to American and Iranian culture are subsumed into a brightly colored, psychosexual dream world where people have multiple appendages and tree leaves have human faces. Reza’s earlier drawings at Club Rhubarb are more subdued, creating a pliant counterpart for his son’s reliefs. The works, from a series titled “Heirloom Velvet,” are more technically sophisticated but also more garish: Mamali uses monochrome flocking to accentuate the strangeness of his dad’s imagery.

Looking at the two sets of work together, there’s no feeling of comparison or competition — only an intergenerational conversation that’s equally bewitching and bizarre. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Uptown

Through Dec. 11. Almine Rech, 39 East 78th Street, Manhattan. 212-804-8496; alminerech.com.

Forget the recent flurry of tell-all television shows and movies about the British royal family. All I need in the way of aristocrats are the paintings of the Irish artist Genieve Figgis. Royals are not the only subjects of Figgis’s decadently macabre paintings in “Immortal Reflection” — the title actually refers to the 18th-century French genre of libertine novels. Aristocrats and other fancy folk are well represented in this show, too.

The figures in Figgis’s paintings — and particularly their facial features — are drawn with Art Brut crudeness, highlighting their absurdity and ridiculousness. This is amplified by Figgis’s wet-on-wet technique with acrylic paint, which makes sections in her canvases look like Florentine paper, with swirling motifs, or caked and pocked plaster. The gals in “Queens” (2021) are bewigged and dressed in billowing gowns, while “Victorian People” (2021) portrays a tragicomical rogues’ gallery that is also reminiscent of a wonderful grid of drawn caricatures by the New York artist Robin Winters titled “Metropolitan Acquaintances,” from 1974.

Figgis’s paintings conjure artists like Francisco Goya, Karen Kilimnik, and Sofia Coppola, who also focused on unfortunate European royals, or the blistering social critiques of the Belgian Symbolist painter James Ensor, the contemporary British artist David Shrigley, and the television series “South Park.” Why bother showcasing aristocrats? Because they are extreme personages, endowed with extraordinary privilege but, particularly in recent decades, under intense scrutiny. With their wide range of pathos and relatability, they are perfect specimens for figurative painting and, in Figgis’s hands, commenting on the human condition in general. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Downtown

Through Dec. 18. Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-242-7727; cheimread.com.

“The Last Paintings, 2017-2020,” an exhibition of works by Ron Gorchov, who died last year in Brooklyn at the age of 90, allows us to consider not only his final years, but the life cycle of paint itself.

It flakes off his saddle-shaped pictures, like wall coatings peeling off after years in the rain and snow. Paint flows to the edges of each work after running along the length of a canvas — the artist’s markings of a natural, final rendering.

Abstract shapes (usually two and usually on opposite sides) interact within a colored field, as though they’re in an eternal journey toward each other. The colors are simple, agreeable, never more than three in each of the 11 paintings. The washed-out surfaces seem to signify a finishing that is less about perfection but more about endurance.

There are other signs of intentional imperfections: In “Close Call,” paint from the background drips into the boundaries of the foregrounded shapes, disrupting what would have been the expected layering. In some of the other paintings one does not need to look too closely to notice irregularities — outlines of former shapes are still visible on the canvas.

Although each painting is minimal in appearance, everything is present, and everything remains — it is as if each work has accumulated its own decay after aging, and recycled it to become once again part of the image. This is how, by collecting and embracing what seems broken and flaky, Gorchov is able to resist fading away. YINKA ELUJOBA


Downtown

Through Dec. 4. Andrew Edlin Gallery, 212 Bowery, Manhattan. 212-206-9723; edlingallery.com.

The artist Roy Ferdinand was a big deal in his hometown, New Orleans, where he showed with Barristers Gallery until his death, from cancer, at the age of 45 in 2004. He was also a favorite of the New York dealer Martina Batan. But the 28 shocking watercolor and marker drawings on display at Andrew Edlin constitute his first New York solo. Documenting an impoverished neighborhood at the height of the crack epidemic, Ferdinand filled the scenes he drew with malt liquor and automatic weapons. Young men pose with assault rifles while their elders panhandle or disconsolately wait for the bus; young women are generally depicted naked, and often pornographically, but sometimes they, too, pose with machine guns.

What’s really astonishing, though, is Ferdinand’s mastery of detail. He was self-taught, which you can see in the tilt many of his drawings exhibit and in a slightly obsessive fondness for shutters, clapboard and other such excuses for parallel lines. But one unforgettable drawing, just over 2 feet by 3 feet, contains a dozen vividly realized human characters, four of them lying dead of gunshot wounds and two, in prison uniforms, sneaking across a roof. There’s a sameness about the faces — most of them have an expression of resigned detachment, if not traumatized numbness, whether they’re shooting someone or being shot themselves. But there’s also an extraordinary variation in their details, a distinct individuality to his subjects that makes their shared fatalism all the more unnerving. WILL HEINRICH


downtown

Through Dec. 7. Off Paradise, 120 Walker Street, Manhattan. 212-388-9010; offparadise.com.

Distressing metal folding chairs with a sledgehammer is a young man’s game, and Mitchell Charbonneau, whose first show with this gallery includes more than a dozen such examples of abused furniture, is only 27. But the chairs, which are surprisingly expressive when grouped in pairs, like lovers, or uncanny towers, are actually cast, exactingly, in resin before being painted in muted office-work tones of beige, black or green. A few trompe-l’oeil Little Trees air fresheners, cast in bronze but painted to look as if they were just stolen from a taxi cab, add an entertaining accent to a promising debut. On your way downstairs, stop on the third floor, where Brittni Ann Harvey is showing beguiling collages and intriguing sculpture at the brand-new gallery Someday. WILL HEINRICH


downtown

Through Jan. 8. Artists Space, 11 Cortlandt Alley, Manhattan. 212-226-3970; artistsspace.org.

Milford Graves was a percussionist who treated drumming as something more expansive than merely establishing a rhythm or tempo. Graves, who died this year, was also a botanist and herbalist, a professor at Bennington College, a cardiac technician, a visual artist. Percussion connected with the human heartbeat and the energy flowing through plants, and made its way into art objects, as you can see in “Fundamental Frequency” at Artists Space, easily one of the best shows in town right now.

Graves’s sculptures, assemblages and diagrammatic drawings are the most visually captivating. His “Yara Training Bag,” from around 1990, incorporates painted boxing gloves, punching bags, a samurai sword and an acupuncture model — elements from Yara, Graves’s invented martial art form. Other sculptures include gongs, tribal sculptures, medical and astronomical diagrams, videos and printouts of electrocardiogram readings.

This show follows a survey at the ICA Philadelphia (and an excellent documentary, “Milford Graves Full Mantis,” from 2018). The gallery handout includes Graves’s “Herbal Chart,” detailing the effects of various herbs on the human body. All these elements combined offer an excellent introduction to Graves’s remarkable practice and worldview, in which art, medicine, plants, human perception, the nervous system and the cosmos are all connected. MARTHA SCHWENDENER





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