The artist Laurel Nakadate is a past-master at making audiences squirm by placing herself in emotionally compromised situations, from photographing herself shedding (fake, real?) tears for 365 days in a row to videotaping her exploitative, erotically charged interactions with older men she finds on Craigslist. There's an undeniable darkness to her work, and for the past several years she has been making this darkness literally visible by undertaking an ambitious project of meeting strangers at night in remote parts of the world to photograph them. This month, this series will reveal an autobiographical twist in a show at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects (May 11-June 29): the Yale-educated artist has also been holding her night sessions with distant members of her Japanese-American family who she tracked down after taking a DNA test. Like the other subjects she has worked with, these people are perfect strangers—only their blood relation to the artist adds a new layer of discomfort to Nakadate's ethical investigations.
Powerhouse gallery Luhring Augustine recently scored a quietly gigantic coup by landing Philip Taaffe, and this month's show debuting the partnership will be the artist's first in New York in six years. So why is this a big deal? As a painter of eye-bogglingly intricate skeins of overlaid symbolic imagery pulled from pop culture, world religion, finance, and the occult, among other places, Taaffe displays a brand of virtuosity that would seem out of place amid the mosaics of Cordoba, or the pages of the Book of Hours. It's the kind of work that, the last time he showed in Chelsea, led the New York Times to call him "one of the best painters of his generation."
Some fans of the artist Orly Genger may know her from the cult-favorite line of intimate sculptural bracelets she makes with the jeweler Jaclyn Meyer, but true core of her art will be revealed to a mass audience: she's actually a shaper of ambitious, monumental works, on the scale of an El Anatsui or Richard Serra. This will be revealed to a mass audience this month through her new public art installation, Red, Yellow, and Blue, a mammoth curving wall of 1.4 million feet of hand-knotted rope—painted in the titular colors—that is weaving through New York's Madison Square Park (May 2-Sept. 8). Destined to travel to Boston's deCordova Sculpture Park, the work has also served as inspiration for a new six-course meal at world-renowned restaurant Eleven Madison Park that chef Daniel Humm designed with Genger—who, as if that weren't enough, also has a new solo show opening at Larissa Goldston Gallery (May 2-June 22).
It's a quirk of fate, or perhaps an inevitable side-effect of history, or maybe a testament to the decline of puritanism, that Tracey Emin is today an icon of British respectability. In fact, with her station as professor of drawing at London's august Royal Academy, and her appointment this year as Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she may as well be the bloody Queen of England. But Emin's graphic, self-divulging art is just as naked as ever, as visitors to Lehmann Maupin's new two-gallery show of her recent work will discover (May 2-June 22). But: did you know that she has branched into bronze sculptures, or films, or lovely embroidered versions of her iconic drawings of erotic self-gratification? It's clear that she is moving into new terrain, and at the same time she is looking backward, releasing My Photo Album, a new book of photos taken of the artist in the years before she hit the big time with headline-grabbing works like My Bed—in other words, back when she was young, full of talent, and a far cry from what her conservative culture deemed respectable.
For years, the New York-based artist Sara VanDerBeek would build an intricate piece of sculpture, painstakingly updating classic constructions of Modern art familiar from the work of Man Ray, Picasso, and touchstones; then she would photograph the sculptures in dramatically lit stage settings; then she would destroy the sculpture and exhibit the photographic, elegantly displayed in a sleek minimal frame. This process, suffused with a kind of nostalgia for a half-real past, understandably garnered attention, landing VanDerBeek a solo show at the Whitney in 2010. Now, in her new show at Metro Pictures (May 2-June 8), the in-demand artist is revealing a new direction in her work: she's creating sculptures inspired by ancient representations of women that she discovered in a tour of Roman archeological sites—but this time, at least on occasion, she's keeping the sculptures. Collectors, you can breathe easy.
Christmas is coming early to New York this year as Los Angeles legend Paul McCarthy, the bad santa of outrageous contemporary art, swoops into the city with an astonishing number of concurrent shows: three gallery-filling extravaganzas at both Hauser & Wirth outposts, a booth at Frieze New York, and a giant bronze sculpture in Hudson River Park. Then, somehow, McCarthy will continue his takeover in June by filling the cavernous Park Avenue Armory with an installation and video projection themed to his long-running "Snow White" series, a twisted tribute to the Disney heroine that transforms her from an icon of unblemished beauty into a object of base commodification, pornographic scurrility, and moral turpitude. The tour-de-force lineup promises to prove that the 67-year-old art rebel's venerable status has in no way diminished his capacity to shock—as he did in Hong Kong recently, where his inflatable feces sculpture Complex Pile first scandalized sensibilities with its provocative subject matter, and then was mourned when the piece was destroyed in a sudden rainstorm.
Perhaps you've heard of a certain promising young emerging artist by the name of Jeff Koons? Well, if you haven't (perhaps you're visiting from suburban Ulaanbaatar, or are a newborn baby) now's your chance to become acquainted with him as two of the world's preeminent galleries, David Zwirner and Gagosian, debut new work by the renowned artist in a pair of dueling shows. Though the galleries may not have planned it, the matchup makes for a riveting dyad: Zwirner is showing a new series of the gleaming, infinitely seductive sculptures that Koons is famous for (May 8-June 29), while Gagosian is displaying recent examples of the artist's lesser-known paintings. The combination—with both invoking classical themes, a new turn in the work—will prove a mouth-watering preview for Koons's career retrospective that is opening at the Whitney next year.