Untitled (Portrait of Langston Hughes), 1936
gelatin silver print
10 x 8 in
courtesy Library of Congress
Gift; Carl Van Vechten Estate, 1966
Carl Van Vechten (b. 1880, Cedar Rapids) made black and white portraits of black and white people. Black meant something different to Van Vechten than it did to a majority of the American population during his lifetime: he was an early advocate for the centrality of black culture in the American avant-garde. His advocacy took myriad forms, but photography is the medium with which his production is most associated. Between 1930 and his death in 1964, Van Vechten took some three thousand portraits of artists, mostly in front of handmade backdrops in his apartment. He lived for the last decades of his life in Harlem, where his portrait subjects were indeed members of an American avant-garde. He froze his sitters in dignified poses, and taken together, his output provides a veritable index of creative producers involved with the Harlem Renaissance.
Mary Heilmann (b. 1940, San Francisco, CA) moved to New York in 1968, after studying sculpture at Berkeley, to argue with Robert Smithson and Donald Judd. They were making sculpture – painting had long been declared dead – but they were also making rules, and Heilmann never much cared for those. For a while, she tried to win at their game, fabricating rough forms in fiberglass, or leaning plywood against a wall, but she found it difficult to gain traction. So Mary broke all the rules: she started making paintings.
During a particularly generative interstitial moment, Heilmann produced The Book of Night. Not entirely a sculpture, and certainly not a painting, the book is made from large sheets of rough-cut canvas dyed a deep black. Heilmann cut a series of small holes in the pages, adding one with each leaf, through which patches of silver paint emerge. A constellation begins to form with each added hole, until the last page, where all the stars become visible. It’s a kind of durational narrative about the sky at night: the firmament conceived as book. It holds a certain talismanic power, intimately recording an important inflection point in Heilmann’s production, where she chose to forge her own path through the heavy history of painting.
Heilmann included the piece in her 1973 exhibition at the Whitney Museum Art Resource Center, where she would perform “readings” for an audience, turning the pages at a meditative pace. It’s been in her private collection ever since, but this Fall, 303inPrint – the publishing arm of 303 Gallery, which represents Heilmann’s work in New York – has generously printed a facsimile edition. Published in an edition of 250, the volume includes an additional pamphlet with wonderful archival images of Heilmann presenting the book at her Whitney show.
The Book of Night, 1970
oil and mixed media on canvas
34 x 38 1/2 in
courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery, New York
photo: John Berens
© Mary Heilmann
From Your Secret Admirer, 2015
oil, acrylic, pumice stone, fabric, canvas, and polyurethane foam on insulation board
60 x 46 x 3 in
courtesy the artist
B. Wurtz (b. 1948, Pasadena, CA) was often told he would be an architect. He spent his childhood playing with a set of cards designed by Charles and Ray Eames, which he fit together into architectonic but largely ephemeral structures. This sense of structure persisted beyond his youth, and when he became a sculptor instead of an architect, he retained the scale he mastered on the carpet in his living room. He's built his reputation on a steady march of wonderfully understated sculptures, which often take their form from earnest presentations of common, universal materials. His work is populated with shirt buttons and styrofoam, plastic cups and wire hangers, and he likes the implied use-value these objects retain. But his methods of assembly are decidedly classical, and he borrows freely from Greek, Roman, and even Federal-style organizational plans. These forms lend his sculptures a certain legibility, allowing his materials to transcend their humble origins, possibly letting us see them anew.
metal, plastic cups, graphite on wood, wire, thread
61.75 22 x 22 in
courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
Prince (b. 1958, Minneapolis, MN) performed with his band for the first time on January 5th, 1979, at the Capri Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Ticket to Prince's First Concert, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 5th, 1979
courtesy the Minnesota Historical Society
Virgil B/G Taylor (b. 1993, New York) makes irregular quadrilaterals. Taylor is a printmaker by trade, and he treats his forms as sites for investigating movement, space, and dimension. Most often, his shapes are situated on a printed page, nearly devoid of gesture, and they achieve their grace with a spartan economy of line. But the thrust of his examinations pushed his practice beyond the page, into three dimensions and toward sculptural form. Using the same lines he used to suggest space in his prints, Taylor works to collapse space with a series of steel rods and armatures, which he carefully positioned in a recent exhibition at Wesleyan University’s Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery.
Steel and acrylic paint
60 x 36 x 1 in
Steel and acrylic paint
300 x 2 x 2 in
courtesy the artist
Man (stained shirt), 2016
oil stick on paper
36 x 24 in
courtesy the artist
Alexander Muret (b. 1992, New York) cooks his paintings on a griddle. He works quickly, laying down his forms on a hot sheet of paper before it starts to burn. His thick marks are made with black Crayola crayons that melt into an inky, gritty asphalt. It’s New York asphalt, the kind you find steaming on a recently repaved street, where the city’s memory disappears beneath a new language. Muret paves his drawings with new language, but he also cobbles history; in five sequential rows of the phrase “New York Academy,” Muret gives a brief history of painting in New York. Projecting backward into space and history, Muret moves from the legible and figurative to the gestural and abstract, putting New York through its stylistic paces. It’s a short story, told in subway black and kitchen grease, about home cooked painting and the development of style.
"New York" Sign No. 2, 2013
wax crayon on paper
24 x 18 in
courtesy the artist
Leah Guadagnoli (b. 1989, Chicago) makes upholstered paintings. Her forms emerge from wrapping fabric, often found in overstock depots and online backwaters, around shaped pieces of polyurethane foam. She tessellates these pillowy sections into larger geometric forms, which look as much like a pediatrician’s examination table as they do a very unfortunate but highly collectible Memphis couch. Her shaped paintings push forward from the wall, begging to be poked; their soft curves and thrift store patterns telegraph a queasy nostalgia, and call to mind a toddler's zany sheet set. Her recent exhibition at 247365, Addison Assassin, featured six of these shaped works, and taken together they made an immersive installation that carefully negotiated schematic design and lyrical expression.
A feather's not a bird (Test 2B), 2015
acrylic, silkscreen ink, and chalkboard paint on linen over panel
24 x 18 in
courtesy the artist and Clifton Benevento, New York
Robert Nava (b. 1985, East Chicago, IN) paints big trucks. He drives trucks, too, similar to the ones he paints, with roll-down doors and beds large enough to move three families across town. In a recent series of large canvases, which depict trucks as seen from behind, Nava applies his paint as it would be applied to the back of a truck, with wide brushes and thick coats in bright and cautioning colors. By dint of continued exposure, Nava has developed a kind of formal language of trucks, or at least a visual inventory of recognizable truck parts; never one to let a single truck determine a painting’s composition, he pulls on this inventory to construct imagined vehicles, where painterly forms trump quotidien function. His gestures are playful, and Nava keys in to an anthropomorphizing impulse, where his trucks begin to look like masks, even totemic in scale. In a gallery of Nava’s trucks, one is hard-pressed to see them as an attempted typology of the tractor-trailer. Instead, his trucks are machines made human, or perhaps machines made god-like.
acrylic on canvas
60 x 43 in
courtesy the artist
Al Freeman (b. 1981, Toronto) makes drawings with her left hand. It's an assumed ambidexterity, one the artist has worked hard to cultivate, and when pressed to explain her hard-won deskilling, she mentions immaturity, hand-drawn signs, and the genius of children. Her drawings are variously populated with obsolete or broken devices, documents and bureaucratic fragments, frustrated smokers, and puchy phrases made entirely from wisecracks. There's a weight to her humor, perhaps most apparent when she draws the male figure, which is lumpy and often naked in her hand. These faceless men, with their stained shirts and complexes, appear to be the paper-pushers of her universe – neutered functionaries in a complex bureaucracy, who telegraph a deeply felt and strangely resononant form of pity. A 2010 graduate of Yale's MFA program in painting, Freeman's work is currently on view at FIELD Contemporary in Vancouver, as part of a group presentation called "A Short Story."
Frankie Carino (b. 1990, San Antonio, TX) spends a lot of time in the desert. He keeps himself mobile, as many of the best photographers do, but what ties his work together is a sense of relentless tinkering, instead of a cosmopolitanism that his travel might imply. In other words, Carino is interested in bringing his studio with him wherever he might be, or rather, transforming his surroundings into an impromptu studio. With his camera at the ready, he'll cobble together a group of found objects and make temporary, precarious sculptures, delicately balanced stacks that often approximate cairns. But Carino treats his camera in a similar manner to the objects he finds, and rather than formally documenting his ephemeral structures, he uses these photographed moments as elements in future constructions. Indeed, he'll often print large images of bygone sculptures and incorporate their forms into new assemblages in extreme landscapes. The resultant stacks often confound, and we're left to consider a collection of indecipherable artifacts, set in balance across time and space.
A failed attempt to unknowingly videotape and Inverted Chair, 2016
20 x 16 in
courtesy the artist
Action 01 Dec_30_2015_Pattern_Photocopy_
68 x 48 in
courtesy the artist and Galerie Andreas Huber, Vienna
Travess Smalley (b. 1986, Huntington, WV) uses computers to make paintings. His paintings don’t always start on computers, but they often spend time on screens, passing through digital and analog states along the way. Smalley’s images are composed of countless filtrations and additive processes, but their accumulated histories remain murky; his paintings intentionally obscure their genealogies, their long trajectories of becoming, in favor of static images that suggest their own histories. Confronted with such density, we’re left to consider form, scale, color, and gesture, painterly criteria for images without paint. Rather than painting his images freehand on canvas, Smalley prints them digitally on vinyl, or as on this week’s cover, sends the image to a company that makes photo-tapestries for family reunions and graduation gifts. Pulled around stretcher bars, his tapestry is rendered anew, its tessellated forms and period patterning lending the work an art-deco color palette and empire style. Smalley is represented by Foxy Production in New York and Galerie Andreas Huber in Vienna.
Sofia Leiby (b. 1989, St. Paul, MN) is concerned with handwriting. She populates her paintings with curlicues and squiggles, ones that approximate language but resist legibility. We’re left instead with gesture, and the personal forms born of cursive script. But Leiby works to complicate a notion of personal form; for some time, she’s collected pen-test pads from art supply stores, which she mines for compelling gestures to use in her work. Leiby is a printmaker by trade, and her familiarity with screen-printing allows her to reproduce and scale her gathered source material into her own compositions. She often makes screens from the test-pads, but she’s omnivorously appropriative, often cannibalizing portions of her own work into sections of new paintings. Subtle logics of repetition vie for attention in this portion of Leiby’s work, where she deliberately confuses responsibility for visible gestures. Handwriting, her continued subject, is improved with exercise and repetition, and screen printing exists to repeat; but by screening a cursive gesture on a single painting, Leiby’s penmanship doesn’t get better, and her image isn’t mass produced. Rather, her compositions get better, and curvilinear admixtures of imported marks begin to work in tandem with marks of Leiby’s own.
Memorial Cast #5 (Ave 60 and Fig, LA, CA, USA), 2016
rubber cast, tree residue, ceramic and iridescent resin on linen
156 x 204 x 4 in
courtesy the artist
Eddie Aparicio (b. 1990, Los Angeles) works in rubber. His access to the material was hard-won: after a series of difficult trips to rubber plantations in Guatemala and El Salvador, where much of his family is from, he managed to secure forty gallons of rubber, which is usually traded industrially, and always by the ton. In his most recent body of work, he's used liquid rubber to make wonderfully detailed casts of trees in Los Angeles. The imported ficus is his most common subject, but he's cast iconic Angelino palms and more intricate sycamores, which magically shed sections of their bark into the rubber. To make the casts, Aparicio applies a thick layer of rubber from the base of the tree to a midpoint on its trunk, and lets it set over a number of days. Once dry, Aparicio cuts a seam along one side of the tree and peels away the cast in a single piece. The resultant sheet is backed with linen and mounted on a wall, where its presence commands a type of complex wonder usually reserved for untrammeled beauty found in nature.
Eva and Franco Mattes (both b. 1976, Italy) make art about information. For the majority of their lengthy collaboration, they’ve looked upon the internet and its rapid expansion with a canny and playful intelligence. It’s an attention to this expansion that drives most of their practice: much of their output concerns the internet’s transition, in the last twenty years, from a vast and unregulated network to an increasingly mediated, corporatized, and policed series of standardized of communications. In a recent series of videos, collectively titled Dark Content, the collaborative duo turn their attention to “content moderators,” contract workers hired by companies like Google and Facebook to police content posted to their servers. Moderators often perform their duties in absentia – anywhere with wifi access will do – and are hired exclusively on freelance terms, which almost always include non-disclosure agreements. These agreements made it difficult for the artists to speak openly with moderators, and even then it required they masquerade as a company looking to hire moderators of their own. Most of these discussions took place by e-mail, and it often took significant time to convince the moderators to speak openly about their duties. With permission from their interlocutors, the artists edited their conversations into short monologues that describe the “neutral” criteria used to filter content, and explain the way it feels to be tasked with such ethically complicated work. The transcripts are uploaded to a “Text to Speech” program that produces an audio recording of the monologue, which the artists then put into the mouth of an animated avatar. The resulting “episodes” are wildly fascinating confessional documents that confront the way our collective morality has been “outsourced” to an atomized class of workers, who make decisions about what we see and what we do not see from the comfort of their home office, or the Starbucks on your corner.
Dark Content (Episode 1) (detail), 2015
customized desk, monitor, video, UV print on floor protector, loudspeakers, various cables
53 x 42 x 51 in
photo by Kyle Knodell
courtesy Servais Collection
Anke Weyer (b. 1974, Karlsruhe, Germany) trades in color and attitude. Her paintings are tough: large, difficult canvases with skeins of unexpected color that lay waste to criteria like abstraction and figuration, accident and intention. Her working method is decidedly punk, and she's always keen to outdo her own accidents, or circumvent her intentions. She'll make a strong painting by trying to make a bad one, or she'll chop up a painting that's too easily enjoyed. But even these formulations are too didactic; her compositional choices take place in time, are made consciously or otherwise, and vary in magnitude. The issue then becomes – as it always does – how best to respond to the canvas in front of her, a question which Weyer answers with tumbles, gestures, and dogged attempts, carefully suspended between confusion and order.
oil and acrylic on canvas
86 x 66 in
courtesy the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels
9 Relief Prints, 2014
relief print on japanese paper
12 x 9 in each; 36 x 27 in overall
courtesy the artist and CANADA, New York
Elisabeth Kley (b. New York, NY) works most often in clay, which she uses to make pots, cylinders, vessels, bird cages, fountains, and peacocks. Her forms are decorative, a descriptor which most artists will strain to avoid, but Kley approaches the concept with an unfussy energy, reinvigorating the category. Her pots are glazed and stained in black and white with hand drawn patterns, many of which seem to come directly from a wide set of ornamental sources: Aubrey Beardsley drawings, William Morris patterns, Japanese textiles, even Egyptian hieroglyphs. Kley often shows her vessels in conjunction with small prints of imagined pots and large wall paintings of Baroque patterns, hand drawn in black paint, which appear decidedly sinister. Such cohesive presentations call together a vortex of temporal and narrative associations; walking through an installation of Kley’s work, one might recall the atmosphere of a Victorian opium den, or the funereal quality of a newly excavated Egyptian reliquary.
Honeybees in Cornflowers, 2016
oil on panel
38 x 26 in
courtesy the artist
Adrianne Rubenstein (b. 1983, Montreal, Canada), paints mixtures and sometimes solutions. I mean this distinction the way biologists and chemists do: mixtures can be separated into their constituent parts, but solutions can't be be undone. For example, I can put a few tomatoes, bright red, in a salad and watch them cuddle with some baby spinach, but I can always take them back out. If I blend the tomatoes into a paste and make cold gazpacho, I can't take the tomatoes back out, and that makes the gazpacho a solution. A lot of Rubenstein's paintings are like painted salads, in which parts can be pulled back out and appreciated for their ecstatic color and delightful forms. In these paintings her references are clear, and it's easy to delight in a sprig of broccoli, a gooey little frog stuck in a fence, or a pair of honeybees landing on some cornflowers. When Rubenstein paints a solution, her references and forms are not so easily pulled apart. But when you’re eating soup – and these paintings feel like soup – there’s no need to pull apart what’s on your spoon. It’s enough to know what’s on your spoon tastes good.
Nicholas Kokkinis (b. 1991, New York) makes art about skin disorders. He photographs subjects with blemished backs, and has come to understand these rectangular expanses of skin as large canvases. His imagery is familiar from online medical communities where aggrieved patients looking for diagnostic advice post photographs of their rashes and lesions. Kokkinis’s abiding subject is surface, and his artistic production in recent years can be understood as an investigation into the politics and treachery of maintaining surfaces. Before skin, he interrogated the perfect surfaces of minimalist sculpture and color field painting, making pristine and machined objects interrupted by domestic accidents, like ring stains from condensation. Much of that work is about the impossibility of absolute control, and since turning his attention to dermatology, Kokkinis has thought more about how little control we have over our bodies. In a recent series of works, he printed images of blemished backs and wet glass on spandex, which he sewed together and pulled around aluminum stretchers. In a position at once candid and vulnerable, his subjects present their unchecked blemishes for inspection and diagnosis. Kokkinis suspends their healing process, asking the viewer to reacquaint themselves with the body in states of awkward uncertainty, shot through with discomfort, shame and fear.
Inkjet print and acrylic on spandex, nylon webbing, staples, aluminum stretcher
16 x 12 in
courtesy the artist
Late on the morning of May 25th, 2016, the Metropolitan Transit Authority held its monthly board meeting on the twentieth floor of their tower at 2 Broadway. The Board of Directors moved swiftly through their agenda, approving a motion to release a new map of the New York City Subway System. When the meeting minutes were published the following afternoon, New Yorkers noticed a minor but meaningful change on an otherwise familiar map: instead of curving east along the southern border of Central Park, the Q line branched north from the 57th Street 7th Avenue NQR stop, pushing further into Central Park. The line curves east just below the 66th Street Transverse, making its way through the Lexington Avenue 63rd Street station, and prepares to make a final turn north – and here’s the important part – right along Second Avenue. This is the apocryphal Second Avenue Subway line, whose existence has been discussed for nearly a century, and whose construction schedule has been an accurate barometer of the city’s political climate since the line was proposed in 1919. Moving uptown in fits and starts, waylaid by the Depression, the Second World War, political infighting, and budgetary expansion, the line has the occupied a large space in city’s imaginary since the early 1900s. And now, like a page out of Borges, the map exists before the line; the MTA insists the track will open by December 30th, 2016, providing service to 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets. But until a harried worker can catch a train at 86th and 2nd, this imaginary map works well to document a dream – a fiction, strangely enough, maintained by cynicism.
Metropolitan Transit Authority
New York City Subway Map, 1972/2016
Kate Shepherd (b. 1961, New York) makes paintings that oscillate between two and three dimensions. It’s a type of movement familiar from blueprints and architectural renderings, where thin lines tease out that essential paradox of drawing, the simultaneous flat and dimensional spaces suggested by a draftsperson’s network of interrelated marks. Her paintings are often composed of two or three enameled panels, usually of identical or nearly identical color, stacked on their edges to make a large monochromatic field. Working with an extreme economy of means to create spatial relationships – abutting panels often create their own depth – Shepherd lays down a system of white lines with an impossibly thin brush. She renders what seems to be the architecture of a situation, the schematics for a vista on the verge of fleshing itself out, but suspends development in favor of formal rigor and a type of linear concision. With such brevity, visual puns are never far away: Shepherd’s paintings often exaggerate depth using only the most basic visual strategies. It’s as if – and here I pull from Vladimir Nabokov, another venerable punster – she said: “look, here I’m going to show you not the painting of a landscape, but the painting of different ways of painting a certain landscape, and I trust their harmonious fusion will disclose the landscape as I intend you to see it.” In other words, Shepherd’s paintings can be understood as investigations into methods of composition, strategies she knows very well, and whose conclusions she forestalls, making paintings that foreground their delightful inability to close themselves off.
Kid Sister Hobby, short, 2016
oil and enamel on panel
38 x 24 in
courtesy the artist, Galerie Lelong, New York, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
Michael Stamm (b. 1983, Evanston, IL) makes hard-edged narrative paintings. His imagery is representational and quotidian—household scenes for the most part—but the situations to which his paintings refer mostly lack the comforts associated with home. Or rather, the trappings of domestic bliss are all around, but stacks of books and fiddle-leaf figs begin to feel status-anxious, like aspirational purchases by one of the ambitious twenty-somethings who populate his paintings. Stamm arranges these objects in a network of extreme angles with a kind of geometric precision that leaves very little space for his figures to move around. Accordingly, his protagonists are often in contorted positions, strange variations of difficult yoga poses that force them to the borders of the frame. In such densely packed and claustrophobic spaces, one would expect objects to intersect and overlap—but in Stamm’s paintings, things don’t touch. Subjects and objects approach, converge, line up and lie tangent, but somehow never meet; the composition seems to determine borders that his protagonists don’t know how to cross. In a painting aptly titled The Barricade, a woman reaches across a well-set table to hold her partner’s hand, but a glass vase intervenes. Stamm’s intensely choreographed composition makes light of extreme distance within romantic proximity.
The Barricade, 2016
acrylic on paper
30 x 22 in
courtesy the artist
John Duff (b. 1943, Lafayette, IN) makes casts of negative space. To get a sense of how he works, imagine filling a box with marbles. On their own, the marbles will stack like apples and oranges at the supermarket. This is the most efficient way to stack spheres, maximizing how many you can fit, and minimizing the empty space – the “inverse space” – in between. But in Duff’s work, he prefers not to stack efficiently. He works instead to complicate the space between his marbles, which he casts in resin and scales up. Standing tall like modular totems, or crouching low like dissected insects, Duff’s recent sculptures skirt the lines between order and disorder, mathematics and art.
Pillar of Salt, 2013
polyurethane resin and steel
81 1/2 x 38 x 38 in
courtesy the artist, Hill Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan, and West Broadway Gallery, New York
three white plastic bins, one pink plastic bin, hardware, paper digital photo, wood, handmade paper made at Dieu Donné paper mill, acrylic and oil paint, plastic bottle with resin on two brackets, various small parts and lamp base
90 x 36 x 28 ½ in
courtesy 56 HENRY, New York, and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
© Jessica Stockholder
On July 5th, 2016, Alton Sterling was killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On July 6th, 2016, Philando Castille was killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. On July 7th, 2016, five police officers were killed in Dallas, Texas.
Jessica Stockholder (b. 1959, Seattle, WA) makes large-scale installations and architectural interventions. Occasionally she makes work on a smaller scale, where unexpected sculptural elements are bound together in bewildering compositions. Widely regarded for her rigorous and playful formalism, Stockholder works with “things the mind already knows,” resisting complete transformation of her materials in favor of the delight that comes with recognition. Formal experimentation and a logic of color take precedence over representation in her sculpture, and quotidian objects are often resituated to foreground their surprising material qualities. Her omnivorous approach to nontraditional materials, and her muscular ability to transform a space into a complete experience, has given license to generations of younger artists who now work in her liberated and expanded field. A wonderful presentation of three sculptures Stockholder made between 2006 and 2009 is currently on view at 56 HENRY in New York.
Don Voisine (b. 1952, Fort Kent, ME) makes hard-edge, architectonic paintings. For the past few decades, he’s worked with a tight set of formal elements in a restricted palette. He deploys his forms in subtle, complicated compositions, which often feature a centrally located black element, bracketed on two sides by bands of strong color. Upon closer inspection, the monolithic form at the painting’s core often dissembles into a set of overlapping planes, rendered in matte and glossy paint. The effect is to create a deep space that flickers just beyond the surface, in contrast to the flatness his angular forms describe. In a recent painting, Robespierre, a black trapezoid hangs precariously at the bottom of the composition. Rendered in glossy black – the reference to the guillotine is clear – the form leaps up when it catches the light, appearing to slice fast beyond the panel.
oil on wood panel
60 x 32 in
courtesy the artist and McKenzie Fine Art, New York
Jennie Jieun Lee (b. 1973, Seoul, Korea) makes ceramic sculptures. Her forms are wide ranging, and she fires clay to make vessels, masks, bowls, and busts. She works often in porcelain, throwing tall pots before cutting into them and collaging them back together. Lee treats her clay as a kind of canvas, onto which she splashes skeins of bright glazes in gestural patterns. In a recent set of sculptures, currently on view at Marlborough Chelsea, she pairs these material concerns with a certain pathos, in a small set of female busts. Perched atop a dark pedestal of weathered wood, Lee’s Nurse dons her pink cap, looking out from behind a set of murky eyes.
The Nurse, 2016
slip cast porcelain, glaze, underglaze, pencil, colored porcelain
11 x 7 x 7 in
courtesy the artist and Marlborough Chelsea, New York
hand-embroidery in cotton on jobelan on canvas
32 x 24 in
courtesy the artist
Jordan Nassar (b. 1985, New York) makes samplers. He designs his own patterns and stitches them by hand on evenweave linen, much of which he buys from a famed textile vendor in Jerusalem. Nassar has travelled extensively in Jerusalem and the West Bank; his father’s family traces its ancestry to Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, a lineage commonly referred to as Levantine. Nassar derives the patterns for his samplers from traditional Palestinian arrangements, and replaces their regional signifiers with details pulled from his surroundings. For a recent work on jobelan, he culled designs from wrought iron railings in New York, and used them to make patterns that distort and reflect across watery central horizon. Stitched in black cotton, Nassar’s work engages a shimmering sense of cultural identity, traditional craft, and geopolitical history.
Hayal Pozanti (b. 1983, Istanbul, Turkey) makes paintings out of language and numbers. She developed an alphabet of thirty-one forms that roughly correspond to the twenty-six letters of the Latin alphabet and the single-digit integers. Her abiding concern is the multifarious ways in which advanced technology has come to bear on human experience, and many of her paintings express figures that illustrate unprecedented or unexpected relationships between humans and machines. The measured rate at which information can be process by the brain, for instance, is two hundred sixty eight miles per hour, and Pozanti translated this observation into a painting by overlapping her symbols for two, six, and eight, playing with their levels of transparency, and rendering the composition on canvas. Paintings from this body of work register like icons, with strong colors and hard-edged forms that telegraph the gravity of the information she’s collected. But in a recent series of paintings, Pozanti is looking to reaffirm the importance of the body in the experience of technology. Using the same alphabet of forms, she’s making compositions out of words for feelings, and her paintings have begun to privilege transparency and gesture over calculation and rigor.
Relentless Tenderness, 2016
acrylic on canvas
40 x 40 in
courtesy the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco
Turned On Again, 2016
oil, cardboard, staples, gesso on panel
40 x 32 in
courtesy the artist and Harper's Books, East Hampton
Al Freeman (b. 1981, Toronto) makes paintings on cardboard. In recent months, she's populated panels with domestic products, several types of soda, toilet paper wrappers, and digital clocks. Her paintings indulge a big-box sensibility – a kind of Walmart-populism – where shoppers race against their schedules in hopes of getting a great deal on some bulk product. A selection of her recent paintings will be featured alongside work by Katherine Bradford, Sarah Braman, and Adrianne Rubenstein in August, a group exhibition opening this week at Harper's Books in East Hampton.
Domestic Terrorist - Shakur $2,000,000, 2015
dry pigment, gesso, polymer, and oil on portrait linen
84 x 72 in
courtesy the artist and team (gallery, inc.), New York
Suzanne McClelland (b. 1959, Jacksonville, FL) paints portraits without people. In a series of recent exhibitions, she’s assembled her portraits into thematic groups: Every Inch of My Love described body builders, and Call With Information took as its subject the FBI’s Most Wanted list. McClelland begins her portraits with a complex and intuitive research phase, accumulating words, numbers, places, statistics, and aliases associated with her subjects. When her research reaches fever pitch, she confronts her canvas to make brazen, active paintings in the formal language of Abstract Expressionism. Numbers and letters lend her paintings form; gestures that seem to represent only themselves are often legible as notes. The Jetsons-style nucleic forms on this week’s cover, for instance, find precedent in the $2,000,000 reward offered for the capture of Assata Shakur. Suzanne McClelland: 36 x 24 x 36, a mid-career glance at McClelland’s career, with a text by Thierry De Duve, will be published this September by team (gallery, inc.).
John Singer Sargent (b. Florence, Italy, 1856) had a lovely career painting cosmopolitans. His glamor was unmatched at the turn of the century, and members of the international élite clamored to sit for him. Many subjects saw in him a lifestyle they desired, for Sargent seemed to switch between registers with a certain grace and little effort. This was true in his social relations as it was in his paintings: he sat with paupers and presidents, and spilled bravura watercolors while painting immaculately detailed society portraits. His portrait commissions all but dried up, however, when his painting Portrait of Madame X debuted to a glut of negative attention at the Paris salon in 1884. The scandal forced him from the city and off to England, where he rented a home with his mother and sisters. Free from the demands of his paying subjects, Sargent began to focus on the possibilities of expressive brushwork and strong color. His family became his subject, and lying on the hill at Fladbury Rectory, his sister Violet and her friend Katie Vickers were Sargent’s excuse for an atmospheric and haphazard composition in black, white, and green.
Two Girls on a Lawn, ca. 1889
oil on canvas
21 1/8 x 25 1/4 in
courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950. www.metmuseum.org
Rough-Cut Head, 1935
ink wash and graphite on paper mounted on cardboard
15 x 11 in
courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984
Paul Klee (b. 1879, Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland) made very small paintings. His work trades in transparency and humor; washy watercolor was his preferred medium. He worked often from non-objective sources – his imagery is often whimsical – and turned his attention instead to visual puns and dynamic color. In his role at the Bauhaus, he gave his students license to find meaning in simple gestures. Forced out of Germany on the eve of the Second World War, he returned to his native Switzerland, where he spent his final years making bolder, larger work. His interest in delicate color and deep space never waned, and he continued to make deceptively modest work until his death in 1940.
metal, yarn, thread, wood, acrylic polymer, rocks, mylar
111 1/2 x 72 x 48 in
photo courtesy the artist and 56 Henry, New York, and Derek Eller Gallery, New York
Michelle Segre (b. 1965, Israel) works in the fertile ground between order and disorder. In a recent sculpture called Satellite, currently on view at 56 Henry, two vertical planes intersect at a right angle. One is woven from bright, multicolored yarn, and hung like a curtain from a tree branch. The other is formed with a large metal hoop, crosshatched and netted with lines of blue yarn. A series of twelve windows reinforced with twigs punctuate the oval, and each window holds a vibrantly colored form. The windows correspond roughly to the months of the year, arranged in a circle around the woven plane. Segre’s sculptures often incorporate industrial elements balanced by organic materials, but Satellite goes beyond this materialist distinction. Its title suggests an ambiguity between the natural and the artificial, for the term itself makes no distinction: Sputnik and the Moon are both satellites. But like an artificial satellite, Segre has encoded her sculpture with information and sent it into orbit – the very disordered space to which the calendar and the zodiac seek to give order.
Bill Bernstein (b. 1950, New York) always got the shot. In the late seventies, he made black and white pictures of New York City with a flash that recalled Weegee’s grisly crime scenes. His pictures corroborated rumors at Studio 54, testified to the trapeze above the dance floor at G.G. Barnum’s, and caught sweat rising from the vents at Paradise Garage, which often clocked 3000 visitors an evening. He started on assignment for The Village Voice, taking shots of Andy Warhol with presidential mother Lillian Carter at Studio 54, but quickly schmoozed his way onto Steve Rubell’s press list. This was his golden ticket, and in the years that followed, Bernstein documented a certain kind of wonderland, one where boundaries seemed to no longer obtain.
Hurrah Boy, 1979
digital print from scanned negative
30 x 20 in
courtesy the artist, from his book Disco: The Bill Bernstein Photographs (Reel Art Press, 2015)
Cezanne's Mountain, 2015
oil on linen
72 x 72 in
courtesy the artist and Team (Gallery, Inc.), New York
Stanley Whitney (b. 1946, Philadelphia, PA) paints squares. He’s spent the majority of his career exploring the possibilities of a single compositional strategy: since the 1980s, Whitney has cobbled his paintings from blocks of brilliant color, assembled in horizontal rows, and separated by thin bands of pigment. Within the rigorous system of his chosen strategy, he’s developed methods to engage with the primary issues of abstract painting, focusing on gesture, light, gravity, and color. Whitney is an accomplished colorist – there’s a temptation to understand his work in the legacy of Color Field Painting – but his methods are different from those of his forebears. Instead of using color to render forms, Whitney uses color as form, exploiting the type of space generated by jarring color relationships. A number of metaphors have been usefully applied in discussions of his work, with authors comparing his paintings to mosaic floors, architectural grids, musical compositions, and perhaps most helpfully, shelves of books. Whitney retains a formidable knowledge of painting’s long history – he supplements his practice with heavy reading and lots of music – and his canvases often make wonderfully specific allusions. In a recent painting called Cezanne’s Mountain, Whitney makes reference to Mont Sainte-Victoire, a mountain in Provence that Cézanne is famous for having painted over sixty times. It’s a condition to which Whitney can surely relate: keeping one’s subject matter consistent can be a generative way to forge new ground.
epoxy, fiberglass, polyurethane
80 x 48 x 18 in
courtesy the artist and The Journal Gallery, Brooklyn
Daniel Boccato (b. 1991, Campinas, Brazil) makes brightly colored sculptures from epoxy, fiberglass, and polyurethane. His process begins by drawing outlines of strange forms; taking pictures on the street or ripping pages from exhibition catalogues, he traces these found shapes and repurposes them into suggestive, abstract figures. Blowing them up to human scale, Boccato constructs rough molds out of cardboard and tape, about a foot deep, which he lines with plastic tarp. He spray paints the tarp a solid color and applies layers of fiberglass to the mold, which binds to the paint and registers the wrinkles from the tarp. Removing the mold, Boccato is left with a dimensional, monochromatic shell that appears alternately heavy and plush. His forms creep between abstraction and figuration, aping faces and figures deformed like characters in children’s cartoons. Hung at eyelevel, they stare back with a stoic gaze, similar in kind to the strange serenity of the Moai figures on Easter Island. In an upcoming show at The Journal Gallery in Brooklyn, Boccato will hang six of these sculptures from the walls, assembling a kind of council of elders, icons hardened in plastic, quietly conspiring towards a final judgment.
The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil, 1855
oil on canvas
67.3 x 94.1 in
legs Mme Marjolin-Scheffer, fille de l’artist, 1900
Ary Scheffer (b. 1795, Dordrecht, The Netherlands) made a series of three paintings that depict a scene from Canto V in Dante’s Inferno. In the version from 1855, which now hangs at the Louvre, Paolo and Francesca dominate the canvas. Eternally bound by an infernal wind, the damned lovers are consigned to the second circle of hell, where they’re punished for their corporal sins. Virgil and the pilgrim look on from the shadows at the right of the canvas, and the pilgrim seems to clutch after his heart in a gesture of pity. His response seems entirely appropriate at first – but as Scheffer understood when he rendered the lovers’ bodies so lithe, it's imperative to scrutinize such feeling engendered by sinners. Indeed, by the end of Canto V, and despite Virgil’s protestations, the pilgrim is so overcome with pity that he faints, as though he had met his death. Manipulated by Francesca’s carefully constructed narrative, the pilgrim falls to the next circle of hell, where he’ll continue the journey of his moral education.
Lewis Hine (b. 1874, Oshkosh, Wisconsin) had a bone to pick. He began his career as a sociologist, trained at Columbia University, but he left his teaching post in 1908 to become involved with the National Child Labor Commission. Having witnessed the political impact of Jacob Riis's photographs of tenements and slums on New York's Lower East Side, he was keen to engage photography as a tool for reform. Hine became the Commission's staff photographer, and over the next decade he produced over five thousand photographs of children working in factories, fields, and mills across the country. His images were featured in pointed exhibitions and argumentative pamphlets, but his body of work also includes images of the commission's brochures and materials. He took images of images and pictures of brochures to document the commission's output, and these images form a kind of sub-theme in his work. For he was interested in the powers of representation, and his flatfooted strategies of documentation influenced a whole generation of politically informed photographers, most notably Edward Weston and those associated with the Work Projects Administration.
Three National Child Labor Committee Exhibition Panels, ca. 1913
gelatin silver print
3 1/2 x 6 in
courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1993
Mike Kelley (b. 1954, Wayne, Michigan) fabricated the largest glass vessels ever blown by hand. It took five years to find a willing glassblower, but Kelley met an eager team at the Kavalier Glass Factory in the Czech Republic. Kelley used the bottles in his Kandors, a series of complex sculptures made from cast-resin cityscapes, custom bases, and the hand-blown bell jars. The series takes its name from the capital city of the fictional planet Krypton, where Superman was born. According to the Superman legend, the super villain Brainiac shrunk and bottled the city of Kandor in a bell-jar-like container, stealing it just before Krypton’s explosive demise. When Brainiac came to Earth looking to harvest more cities, Superman wrested the miniature city away from him, and stored it safely in his secret hideaway, the Fortress of Solitude. This narrative dovetailed particularly well with Kelley’s abiding interests in trauma and spatial memory. Kelley had engaged these themes in Educational Complex (1995), a sculpture directly concerned with the theory of “repressed memory syndrome,” which considers all lapses in memory to be traceable to trauma. Kelley built architectural models of every school he ever attended and purposefully left out sections that he couldn’t remember, sardonically imply that his inability to reconstruct them must be the result of trauma. When looking at images of Kandor, Kelley was fascinated to find the city similarly difficult to reconstruct: since its design was never standardized, there is no continuity in depictions of Kandor, and generations of illustrators have rendered the city in different ways. Kelley found this inconsistency particularly generative in light of Superman’s traumatic loss of his home; echoing his own understanding of trauma and memory, Kelley described Kandor as “the home that can never be revisited, the past that can never be recovered. Yet there it is, shrunken to the size of a dollhouse – an ageless memento in real time.”
Kandor 13, 2007
mixed media with video
courtesy VENUS, New York. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Peter Doig (b. 1959, Edinburgh, Scotland) moved to Trinidad in 2002. He’d lived there before, when his father moved his family to the island for a job with a shipping company. He spent most of his childhood in Canada, and left for London to study painting in the early 1980s. He stayed in the UK for twenty years, and made paintings of blended landscapes, images that pulled freely from the natural imagery of his many homes. One could go further with this notion of blending, and call it Doig’s modus operandi: the pictures on which his reputation was made blend foreground and background, water and cloud, image and reflection. One can never quite get one’s proper footing in a Doig painting, and paired with the way in which his pictures often place you in the middle of a forest, that feeling is often vertiginously amplified. In collaboration with poet Derek Walcott, Doig has just released a book of paintings and poetry called Morning, Paramin, now out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Milky Way, 1989-1990
oil on canvas
60 x 80 in
© Peter Doig. Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London
Alexander Muret (b. 1992, New York) is a new box of crayons. He’s a full set of building blocks and an oversized board book with a happy ending. He’s a kid in a candy store and a pedantic preschooler whose art projects get out of hand, but whose teachers, one imagines, can’t help but encourage. His visual strategies bear this out: he makes paintings with melted crayons and sculptures with brightly color wood usually used to make toys. In a series of recent paintings, Muret works like he’s got a new sheet of stickers. Using large, rectangular fields of sticky vinyl, he builds up stacks of wonky shapes that sit on the verge of total collapse. It’s precisely this precarity that powers the work, but instead of seeing how high he can stack his blocks, Muret tries to make space as deep as it can go – before it all comes crashing down. Muret’s grown-up stickers are perfectly picked to exploit this effect, as nothing ever lines up just right. Have you ever tried to get a sticker to go just where you want it to go? It’s very hard to do.
Thanks to Kate Shepherd for her contributions to this analysis.
sign vinyl and house paint on canvas
48 x 36 in
courtesy the artist
Liz Markus (b. 1967, Buffalo, New York) doesn’t like to struggle. That doesn’t mean her life is easy, or that she’s any stranger to difficulty. But she’s tried to devise a painterly practice that doesn’t trade in ardor, or at least the type we’re used to seeing on canvas. Markus grew up in Buffalo, and spent much of her childhood at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, whose impressive collection of Abstract Expressionism is a kind of crash course in what struggle, and particularly masculine struggle, might look like in paint. It’s not that Markus dislikes this type of painting – indeed, she spent much of her development working through such styles and influences – but rather, as all painters must do, she went searching for a style that suited her aims And so rather than do battle on canvas, Markus populated her work with hippies and stuffed animals, and more recently, wealthy members of the international jet set. In recent years, she found herself watching a lot of golf, and was taken with the quiet atmosphere and verdant landscapes she saw on screen. She noticed a parallel to working in the studio, watching golfers trying to get in the zone and hit a ball, seemingly effortlessly, into an impossibly small hole. She devoted a large painting to the comparison, rendering the course in washy skeins of green on unprimed canvas, and lettering the name of the game in big purple letters at the bottom. The studio, and the problem of painting, is a difficult course with treacherous obstacles, but every so often Markus shoots under par, and makes a painting that records her happiness instead of her struggle.
oil on canvas
54 x 72 in
courtesy the artist
gesso on microsuede
60 x 78 in
courtesy the artist
Amir Guberstein (b. 1985, Ra’anana, Israel) makes maps. He collects data like a cartographer, gathering information about bodies of water and land masses, as well as communities and their borders. Much of his information comes from independent monitoring agencies in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories, which work to record the development of Israeli settlements. Such resources chart the movements of power, and Guberstein understands mapmaking as a powerful political tool. Through a process he describes as intuitive and almost trancelike, Guberstein reinterprets this information to make new maps, ones drained of their utility. Using Photoshop to combine charts and data points, he makes custom silkscreens that lock together like states or counties. He formerly used his screens in a conventional manner, rendering his images with traditional printmaking techniques, but in recent work he’s liberated his imagery from such material constraints. Through these screens, Guberstein applies a mixture of white gesso, black paint, and occasionally sand from his hometown, onto a ground of white microsuede. His marks recall De Kooning’s luscious brushstrokes, but if De Kooning’s marks suggest landscapes viewed from eye level, Guberstein’s vision is decidedly aerial. His works on microsuede are best understood as maps, but they carry a landscape’s insistence on subjective interpretation and personal vision.
Jock Reynolds tells this great story about the painter Wayne Thiebaud. Wayne was Jock’s professor in graduate school, and for the first day of class, as Jock tells it, Wayne told his students to bring a pencil and a sheet of paper, nothing else. Jock thought the materials would be for drawing, but when Wayne arrived, he told his students that there would be no drawing, nor would there be any way for him to teach them anything about art.
Now, both Jock and Wayne love to talk, and Jock really loves diving into this next part of the story. With the responsibility of providing an aesthetic education summarily jettisoned from the seminar table, and the correlating burden apparently lifted from his shoulders, Wayne was now free to talk about what he had come to talk about. And on that morning, according to Jock, his chosen subject was cake. Cakes of all sorts: frosted cakes, cupcakes, chocolate cakes, ice cream cakes, plenty of pies, particularly cherry pies, with warm, gooey interiors and woven crusts made with lard instead of butter, because if you know a thing or two about pies, you know that flaky crust comes from lard, and not butter. With sweets more or less covered, Wayne moved onto meats, and he told his class where to find the best salamis in town, how to locate a can of real sardines, and which butcher had the best steaks for the best price, since, as it soon became clear, Wayne was giving his students a lesson on thrift as he lectured them about food. These were things, Wayne seemed to say, that when found, would deliver happiness to your life, whose pleasures were so foundational to Wayne that he could think of no better way to begin his graduate seminar than by sharing them with his students.
I’m not sure if Wayne was famous at this point, but Jock probably wasn’t familiar with his work when he got to class that morning. And for those who aren’t familiar with Wayne’s work, it will likely come as a surprise to learn that Wayne has spent nearly fifty years painting lusciously thick portraits of cakes, meats, stakes, and pies, which he buys in local eateries around his home in the Bay Area. So when Jock saw Wayne’s work, he realized that despite Wayne’s protestations to the contrary, he had most certainly been given an initial lecture on aesthetics; indeed, Jock sat through a major lesson about the relationship between life and art, delivered in the language of delicious treats, by an artist who turned out to be America’s foremost painter of delicious treats in the twentieth century.
Now, I’ve never met Jock, and I’m sure I’ll never meet Wayne – he’s ninety-six, and he lives across the country – but Jock’s story feels familiar to me. And it’s for this reason that I’ve chosen to recount Jock’s story in a way that makes us seem close, when we’re in fact very far apart. But I’ve had this experience, where you discover much later that a perceived eccentricity is merely a quote out of context. And when you’re working with artists – perhaps the sole attribute that Jock and I share – you watch as they pull from unexpected arenas to create their own contexts. It’s often these left-field intrusions that come to define a practice, or at least sustain one, providing at first that wonderful moment of confusion or instability, which can be so good for production.
curated by Amir Guberstein
June 9 - 11, 2017
166 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Kandis Williams, Dapper Bruce Lafitte/Freddie Gilbert, Nicholas Schutzenhofer, Nikholas Planck, Harry Finkelstein
poster design by Nikholas Planck