This week, Artspace slugged through the snow to find some of the most intriguing artworks on view in the lower east side and downtown New York. Compelling works by a mix of emerging, mid-career, and historic artists are presented below—and all of them are worth making the trek to see in person.
The cow was not drugged, 2017
Eileen Myles is best known for her poetry. After attending Catholic school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Myles moved to New York in 1974. They participated in the city’s queer poetry scene, writing with and for friends, mentors, and collaborators—including Alice Notley and Ted Berrigan—and became the artistic director of the Saint Mark’s Poetry Project in 1984. Their poems are honest, funny, and conversational, tracing the incidental aspects of everyday life.
So, it was a (very nice) surprise to see that Myles also had started taking photographs. Some of them are featured in poems, currently on view at Bridget Donahue. “In 2014 I had an open fall and had by accident adopted an orange pit bull,” wrote Myles in the press release. “I had rescued her from the jaws of death and now I must walk her. She nearly yanked my sixty-something arms out of their sockets and together we explored what lower Manhattan had become.” Myles’s photos, like their poems, record surprise and coincidence: a bicycle wheel slipping into the bottom of a frame, Honey the dog out of focus in the backdrop, a Casper ad on the subway. “I write poems, I write about art and these photos I take I think are a similar kind of gathering––truncated places with words and writing that just trace a buzzing passage on Earth.” This photo of licked frozen yogurt––titled The cow was not drugged––was our favorite piece in the show.
Enter the green, 2018
In Enter the green, an upside-down mouse suspended from a curled red tail stabs itself with a sword. This image (a crest for masochists?) has been painted on square tiles snuggled inside a mosaic. An industrially-produced metal hook is slipped into the top right corner. Enter the green is part of a larger mosaics show currently on view at Bodega. Benson mishmashes internet-era imagery with figures that could have been pulled from an illuminated medieval manuscript. Involuntary Self-Immolation (2018) features buff demons, a sun that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sublime album, and small stock-image photographs of nature. In the press release, Benson’s wife, Erin Jane Nelson, points out that mosaics appear in places of religious worship, but are also a home craft; Benson’s pieces seek to hold both of these contexts at once. “From the vastness of fables through time and cultures to the smallness of the shards of failed ceramics we have made together, between the tenderness of love and sex and the inconceivable backdrop of environmental doom is where you will find the works in this exhibition.”
Bianca Beck’s first show at Rachel Uffner in 2011, “Body,” featured very small paintings. Ranging from 24 by 18 inches to 12 by 9 inches, the paintings were inspired by Tachisme, the European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism. For the most part, Beck’s tiny abstract works featured earthy tones. “Body Double,” now on view at Rachel Uffner, is the absolute opposite. The show features very large paper-maché sculptures inspired by the human form. As the press release points out, “Beck alludes to a myth from Plato’s Symposium which posits that our original forms were bodies doubled. Each congenitally tied to a partner, bodies were the size and strength of two.” Against left melancholy or (understandable) nihilism, Beck’s figures are “charged with the power of wholeness… celebratory, acrobatic, and prone to revolt.” Some also have a disco-inspired palette, with splashes of neon orange and green. The work featured above––which, like all of Beck's pieces, doesn't have a title––exemplifies the energy of the show. It could be a person dancing, hip cocked, hand on hip.
SABLE ELYSE SMITH
Coloring Book 5, 2018
$6,000 – 10,000
Sable Elyse Smith has a lot going on these days: a solo exhibition at Milwaukee’s Haggerty Museum of Art on view until January 27, multiple works in the SITElines.2018 Biennial in Sante Fe until January 6, a series of text-based sculptures along New York's Highline, and she’s a 2018 artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem (along with Allison Janae Hamilton and Tschabalala Self). And right now, she has a solo show called "BOLO: Be On (the) Lookout" at JTT gallery, on view until December 16. The exhibition’s title refers to a phrase used by police to alert other officers of “wanted suspects” or “persons of interest.” While many artists offer valuable commentary on carceral capitalism, Smith’s angle is nuanced, specific, and powerful, highlighting the relationship between how innocence and guilt are projected and perceived within the context of racial inequality. Enlarging and screen-printing pages taken from a coloring book made to prepare children for entering and interacting with the court system, Smith aggressively scribbles crayon-like marks with bright primary-colored oil sticks. Text below an image of a waiting room reads “It is hard to wait;” Smith’s urgent gestures feel impatient and defiant, exceeding the limitations imposed by the black-line boundaries, simultaneously illustrating the futility of a caption that's meant to pacify.
In other works, the reproduced coloring book characterizes a judge named “Judge Friendly”—white, slender, petite, innocent, at times depicted with a bird in the palm of her outstretched hand… a reference to Saint Francis? In the pages of this coloring book, a child’s presumption of innocence is replaced by that of the judge. The “friendly” face of the criminal justice system, which disproportionately focuses its attention on marginalized and underprivileged communities, asks the victims of mass incarceration—the children of the incarcerated—to be polite, to wait patiently, to be quiet, to trust the system. In the piece pictured above, the child is asked to systematically discern what is out of place in the municipal building. While there’s certainly value in questioning who and what has become normalized in this setting as well as the forces that reinforce these norms, the options presented are absurd: a turtle, a smiling chef, some grapes.
LYLE ASHTON HARRIS
$30,000 (edition of 3)
For almost three decades, the 53-year-old artist Lyle Aston Harris has been making work that encapsulates the second-wave feminist slogan “The personal is political.” As a queer Black man, Harris, through his works of varying media, has explored how gender, ethnicity, and desire both shape and reflect contemporary culture and society. He has a history of employing masks and masquerade throughout his career. In Americas (1987-88), which was acquired by the Guggenheim, and Constructs (1989), which was featured in Thelma Golden’s 1994 exhibition “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art” at the Whitney and Hammer Museums, the artist photographs himself in a series of images that depict him in whiteface or wearing nothing but a wig. In Billie, Boxers, Better Days (2002), Harris used full masquerade in a series of performative self-portraits wherein the artist portrays singer Billie Holiday and a bloodied male boxer, among other, more abstracted characters.
At Salon 94, Harris presents a new body of work that returns to masked self-portraiture. Using a dozen or so masks, some of which were borrowed from his uncle’s collection of African masks, Harris swaps the studio backdrop for sublime natural landscapes. Confidently, sometimes erotically positioning himself in the frame, Harris “aim[s] to recharge and reclaim these familial objects.” Masks have been made and used by cultures all over the world throughout history, and carry the potential to both perform and hide, embody another or characterize the self. But they also “represent defiant symbols of endangered cultural legacies and act as protective avatars of forces that sustain ancient ethical traditions against an uncertain future,” says the exhibition’s press release.
EVELYN TAOCHENG WANG
TVC 12, 2018
The Chinese-born, Rotterdam-based artist Evelyn Taocheng Wang poetically addressed transformation in her work, much of which is autobiographic. At Company, Wang presents works previously exhibited at Berlin’s Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art that are loosely inspired by the fable The Frog Price, as well as experience with hospitals and healing. (Wang often finds inspiration in literary characters; like those found in the writings of Virginia Wolf or Eileen Chang, an influential modern Chinese author.) The story of The Frog Prince has iterated across multiple cultures. In some variations, a frog transforms into a man after a princess kisses him. In others, the frog only becomes a prince after the princess throws him at a wall out of frustration with his constant and persistent harassment. In others, the gender roles are reversed, and a frog transforms into a woman. In each case, transformation is initiated by touch.
In a series of drawings on paper, Wang references the fairy tale, depicting both princess and frog, sometimes erotically. Though we feature one drawing in particular here, it’s difficult to speak of Wang's practice as discrete works; her exhibitions, though comprised of individual art objects, are holistically conceived as a single installation. In this show, “What is he afraid of?”, the gallery space is divided by a series of fabric suspended from the ceiling. Each almost identical, they’re made of plain white hospital linens. Two videos play on monitors across from one another; one “reveal[s] a fragmented story about a hospital and the impressions of one of its anonymous patients;" the other is animated using scans of each of the framed drawings also on view. And lastly, a grouping of garments hang in a circle. Says the press release: “These traditional items of Chinese clothing were first worn in the 17th century, but their story since then illuminates the various cultural upheavals of China’s history. During the Emperor’s period, they were worn almost exclusively by men, only to be later worn by young female students as a gesture of emancipation.”
The Private Collection of Water McBeer, 2018
At Jeffrey Deitch’s Grand Street location, a doll house-style townhome is on display, and in each of the rooms are original miniature artworks by over forty artists, both emerging and established: Jamian Juliano-Villani, Gregory Kalliche, Sydney Shen, Melissa Brown, Lynn Hershmann Leeson, Alex Ito, and Carol Bove, to name a few. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Confusion and mystique seem to be partly the goal for the project known as Water McBeer. Started in 2011, Water McBeer is the name of a fictional collector who runs a gallery. The “gallery” regularly has shows, and posts installation images online. But what you may not be able to discern from the documentation photos is the fact that the gallery is only a couple of square feet at most. Artists who work with the miniature gallery create miniature artworks that, when photographed in a scaled-down replica of a gallery, appear to be normal in size.
Occasionally the ruse offers up its secret; Water McBeer displayed it’s litter box-sized gallery before, at spaces like Gavin Brown's enterprise and 247365. But what makes the display at Jeffrey Deitch different, is that it isn’t the gallery that’s on display, it’s fictional character Water McBeer’s fictional townhouse, which houses his entire “collection.” Though this may seem like a stunt, the project reveals the ways in which images circulate online and in the art world, as much as it conceals the true artist behind the project. It shows us that perhaps the most important requirements for building a reputation are the appearance of having a nice, large gallery, and the ability to work with reputable artists.
La Red, 1938
Not for sale
The secondary market gallery Ortuzar Projects opened this past February with a mission to present historical exhibitions of artists who, likely due to their marginalized status, haven’t received significant support despite having made important contributions to their movements. Their previous show featured Raul Guerrero, a Mexican-American artist who, having grown up 10 miles from the border, was informed by his “early awareness of cultural plurality.” Though he worked alongside friends like Allan Ruppersberg, Jack Goldstein, and William Leavitt, he received nowhere near the attention his contemporaries did, despite the seductiveness of his works. Now on view at the gallery are paintings made between 1926 and 1952 by the Surrealist Maruja Mallo. Born in 1902, Mallo came of age in Madrid, where she quickly became a central figure in the Generation of ’27, which included the likes of Salvador Dali, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Luis Buñuel—and not many women. Mallo, who worked in a distinctly Spanish style, had her first exhibition at the offices of Revista de Occidente, an influential philosophy journal that she regularly illustrated. Philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, who edited the journal, was a huge fan and supporter of the young artist.
In 1936, Mallo fled in exile to Buenos Aires with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Her new surroundings inspired a newfound vibrancy and sensuality in her paintings, with works depicting eroticized marine and floral motifs. Mallo's interest in symmetry and balance runs throughout her works from this time period. La Red is no exception. Two bathers hold a fishing net above a single swordfish. But truthfully it was difficult to single out one artwork to feature here—they're all worth seeing in person.