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Five NYC Shows to Catch Before Summer Ends

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Five NYC Shows to Catch Before Summer Ends
Jack Smith "Untitled" c.1958-1962/2011. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

It's about as "off-season" as it gets in the supposed city that never sleeps, with regular business hours far and few between galleries. So while there aren't a whole lot of openings to report on, there are a handful of shows that are currently on view—and closing soon—that we recomend seeing before they're gone. Here are five, in no particular order.

 

TINY PEOPLE 
East Hampton Shed
July 27th —August 19th

tiny peopleInstallation shot from Abby Lloyd and Chris Retsina's "Tiny People" at East Hampton Shed

Before this summer's out, it's worth attempting to make good on that recurring plan to go check out the seasonal art happenings out on long island—there are still weekend getaways to be had! One of the best shows the Hamptons has to offer before we all return to our usual and less FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) inducing lives is New York-based artists' Abby Lloyd and Chris Retsina's group show "Tiny People" at East Hampton Shed. Akin to the real estate savvy tactics of galleries like Hotel Art Pavilion, the East Hampton Shed is located in the backyard of founder Hadley Vogel's parent's book bindery. 

The experience of walking into these types of spaces always feels imbued with an element of fantasy. Walking into a stranger's backyard to find a makeshift art gallery sounds a bit like something that might be out of a dream—it's always somewhat surreal, a little disorienting, and sort of goofy. That experience is echoed perfectly in the works of both Abby Lloyd and Chris Retsina. Part of her "Little Lady" sculptures, Lloyd's balloon-headed brass cast figures gaze up at their audience wide eyed and unblinking, simultaneously innocent and threatening, and unnervingly capturing the awkward tension of adolescence. Chris Retsina's paintings create a perfect make believe setting for these wayward "little ladies," full of white horses cartoonishly bloated (and with terrible teeth) and giant mushroom houses that radiate with color. This is the perfect show to relive those weird troubled years of your pre-pubescent youth before the academic year starts!

 

JOHN RUSSELL
Bridget Donahue
July 25th—September 5th

John RussellStill from Doggo (2017). Image via: Bridget Donahue Gallery

Doggo (2017), the titular video, is about “a big dog... and a small insect... who go on a road trip... and fall in love.” This 50-minute piece takes place in a city that is kind of like London if London were approaching full communism. Instead of capitalist life, in which happiness can only be approached with naivete or irony, everyone in this world––weird creatures that communicate telepathically––is pretty happy. Stylistically, the work is a mix of photorealist precision, neon colors, and Deviantart fantasy. Doggo is installed amidst a series of mixed media pieces, including D-O-G-G-O (jesmonite and car filler, acrylic paint, 2018) and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (jesmonite, acrylic paint, 2018).  

If you described the show “Doggo” to a friend, it would probably come off as a list of the most annoying art world tropes: post-internet, kitsch, Deleuzian references that no one gets but everyone uses. In person, however, the show is a lot weirder, and a lot more difficult to place. The original Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, a 1970 novel by author Richard Brach, argued that “the gull sees farthest who flies highest.” In contrast, the press release points out that Russell’s seagull “flies low, as a symbol of anti-transcendence and the equality of different knowledges and ignorances.” The show also very basically but accurately points out that communism would make everyone happier.

 

HISTORY REFUSED TO DIE
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
May 22nd—September 23rd 

thornton dialAfrican Athlete (1998) by Thornton Dial. Image via MetMuseum.

Before we go proceed, let's all agree that dominant art historical narratives are always told and perpetuated by those in power. This is why it's so important for us to continue to dig and reassess what we know and why. Right? Are we all on board? Great, because we all owe the people at Souls Grown Deep Foundation an enormous thank you for doing a significant amount of the digging for us. Dedicated to "documenting, preserving, and promoting the contributions of artists from the African American South, and the cultural traditions in which they are rooted," in 2014, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation donated a diverse collection of works by self-taught contemporary African American artists to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

These works speak powerfully to the neglected cultural voices of African American artists in the region during critical points in American history. Some of the most remarkable works in the collection are by pioneering found object artist Thornton Dial, whose bold and powerful 2004 sculpture History Refused to Die gives name to the exhibition. Equally stunning are the works of outsider artist Nellie Mae Rowe, whose bright and festive compositions bear the cartoonish imagination and steadfast faith of illuminated manuscripts. And then there are the fantastically nuanced and fascinating color studies presented in Loretta Pettway's quilts! With 30 works exhibited in all, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and the Metropolitan Museum of Art provide a lot of new stories to take in, consider, and celebrate.  

  

JACK SMITH
Artists Space
June 22nd—September 9th

Jack SmithUntitled (c. 1980). Image via: Jack Smith Archive

Jack Smith was foundational to New York’s experimental scene. He worked with Andy Warhol and Ken Jacobs, and influenced artists from John Waters to Laurie Anderson. Artist Space’s “Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis” is his first major New York retrospective in over 20 years. Smith's work offers goofy, scathing critiques of (to quote him) “claptailism,” “lucky landlordism," and New York, the "rented island.” Featuring film, photography, visuals, and performance documentation (including a dress with giant lobster claw arms), Artist Space’s exhibit is curated around a period of the artist's life that film critic and Smith archivist J. Hoberman described as “in exile,” referring to the artist’s 1971 eviction from the SoHo loft he’d dubbed the Plaster Foundation of Atlantis.

Smith never made a completed artwork post-eviction, and as a Reagan-era New York art scene fueled by real estate money shifted towards art-object-as-investment-piece, Smith’s ephemeral, performance-based practice became less valuable. He died early, of AIDS, in 1989.


JOHN AKOMFRAH
New Museum
June 18th—September 2nd

Unfinished ConversationStill from The Unfinished Conversation (2012). Image via: MoMa

John Akomfrah started out making movies with the Black Audio Film Collective, which formed in 1982 after the 1981 Brixton Riot. In line with other essay films like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983) or The House is Black by Forough Farrokhzad (1962), the BFAC’S breakout Handsworth Songs (1987) combined archival footage, documentary, and dense sound collage to address the 1985 Handsworth riots against anti-Black police violence. As British-Ghanaian filmmaker and writer Kodwo Eshun once wrote, the BFAC’s work combined “a stance of high seriousness with seductive stylishness.”

Akomfrah’s later solo works reflect on the black diaspora in a more global context. The Unfinished Conversation (2012) is a testament to the Jamaican-born British theorist Stuart Hall, widely regarded as the father of cultural studies, while Vertigo Sea (2015) is about the ocean via global warming, slavery, and migration. Both works are shown on monumental, three-channel screens, which show different images simultaneously. This setup both makes it impossible to ever view an entire piece and provides a moving, overwhelming meditation on time, in which many different things of vastly different scales happen concurrently and constantly. 

 

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