A Critic's Diary

April: A Labor Choir, Las Vegas, a Memorial, Dallas, Shaking Things Loose

Installation view of “Pam Lins: she swipes shallow space by the slide drawer” at Rachel Uffner.

The weather warms. Flowers bloom. Spring arrives. That is what usually happens at the start of April, but not this year. It snows on April 2nd, and on April 3rd there is frigid rain. There is no end to winter in sight! But we all press on. I start the month outside Cincinnati, where I see my father and family for Easter and visit for the first time the Taft Museum of Art, tucked away in an early-19th-century mansion in the city’s downtown. There’s a nice Whistler, two merry Hals works, a solid Turner, and the goofiest Rembrandt I have ever seen—a behatted man rising jauntily from his chair. The real reason for a trip, though, are wall murals painted in the 1840s by Robert S. Duncanson, the first commercially successful African-American artist. They’re soaring, expansive landscape scenes populated by little explorers—one with a spectral orange-red sky.

On the first Tuesday of the month, I head to NYU, where Jamie Sterns is hosting a panel about the art market, moderated by my editor at ARTnews, Sarah Douglas, with dealers Elizabeth Dee, Lauren Marinaro, Wendy Osloff, and Jasmin Tsou. The audience is stacked, with dealers Magda Sawon and Andrew Edlin on hand, as well as artist Bill Powhida and the tech entrepreneur and writer Magnus Resch. The conversation is lively and unfiltered, and Osloff is the star of the show, lambasting art fairs and clueless art collectors. Right after college, she says, she worked at Saks Fifth Avenue, leaving to go into art because it was a realm where people seemed to be radical and extreme. But now, she continues, “I feel like I’m working at Saks Fifth Avenue basically!”

Bárbara Foulkes performing Abraham Cruzvillegas’s Autoreconstrucción at the Kitchen on April 5, 2018.

I stop by the Kitchen on the 5th, where choreographer Bárbara Foulkes is manipulating a hulking Abraham Cruzvillegas sculpture hanging from the ceiling, made with detritus from the neighborhood, including a shopping cart, a washing machine, and all sorts of metal and wire. First she spins it, as the musician Andrés García Nestitla, via Skype, plays a spare accompaniment on guitar, slowly building in intensity. Pretty soon, Foulkes has attached herself to the work via a rope affixed to a climbing harness and she is running around the room and shimmying on the floor, shaking off pieces from the sculpture. They crash loudly. Finally she climbs the sculpture, working off the last remaining pieces as the music crescendos. It’s unexpectedly moving—all these types of balance working with and against each other, things falling apart. It takes only about 20 minutes to rebuild the structure for each new performance, Bree Zucker tells me after the performance. I try to convey just how strangely beautiful the whole thing was. Zucker nods. “I teared up the first time I saw it,” she says. [Video]

Uptown, the beloved documentary organization Art21 hosts a party at Ginny’s Supper Club, in the basement of Red Rooster. The packed house includes Andrianna Campbell, cofounder of the Apricota journal, which just launched; Peter Russo and Lumi Tan, who were also just down at the Kitchen; curator Dan Palmer; dealer Nicole Russo; and Art21’s director, Tina Kukielski. A guitarist named King Solomon Hicks is bringing down the house with his band. At one point he asks the audience if they want to hear Tina Turner or Chuck Berry, and the applause levels are nearly even but Berry quickly wins out. Hicks is pretty soon dancing through the space, wielding his wireless electric guitar in a top-notch Berry impression, stopping right in front of Palmer and me and ripping out a solo. Incredible.

Manet, Still Life with Two Apples, ca. 1880, at the Yale University Art Gallery.

On the 7th, I take the train up to New Haven for open studios at Yale at the suggestion of Even publisher Rebecca Siegel and enjoy off-kilter Joel Shapiro and Manuel Neri shows at the university museum, plus a one-room Celia Paul exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art, curated by Hilton Als. I am also thrilled to finally try the mashed-potato pizza from Bar.

The next day, I am at MoMA, where there is a memorial for Jack Tilton, the New York dealer known for his catholic taste and his commitment to diversity, who died last year. Collector AC Hudgins emcees the event with a gruff charm and tells the assembled luminaries, “Yes it’s a celebration of Jack, but Jack was art, so this is also a celebration of art.” As the subway rumbles underneath the room, Agnes Gund talks about how the “Tilton legacy lives majestically today” and speaks of “Jack’s searching, provocative, groundbreaking artists.” Hudgins does his an impression of his best friend—they met in 1970—saying in a laconic baritone, “White men should not dominate the conversation.” Jason Moran performs on piano, Rob Storr delivers a speech, and Richard Tuttle reads a poem. Nicole Eisenman recalls some advice Tilton once gave her: always pack a Cliff Bar when traveling and “be meaner to collectors.” She quotes Sandra Bullock: “Family is not just who you’re born to. It’s who loves you and who has your back.” And Hudgins recalls visits with Tilton to the Met—“intentionally getting lost,” he says. “Just walking.”

Mashed-potato pizza from Bar in New Haven.

Some of the biggest news of the season lands on the 10th, when Max Hollein, the director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is named director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The consensus opinion is that Hollein’s a safe, perhaps conservative, choice. That said, he’s well-liked, with a stellar career arc, and when he was a museum director in Frankfurt he organized a Jeff Koons retrospective that remains one of the best museum exhibitions I have ever seen, so I am eager to see what he can cook up in New York.

In the middle of the month, I stop off at Sean Kelly for a tea ceremony hosted by Mariko Mori in her latest show of sci-fi sculptures, and then fly to Dallas to moderate a panel on art-fair alternatives with Nicola Vassell, Elizabeth Dee, and Manuela Mozo at the Nasher Sculpture Center. While there, I swing by the African American Museum of Dallas, which is a gem, and see works by Clementine Hunter, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Frank Jones, as well as a trove of posters by Romare Bearden, then interview Adam Gordon about his excellent, barely-there exhibition at the Power Station with empty rooms across two floors, save for scents, light, and sounds.

The Dallas Art Fair is on—a relatively modest event—and Houldsworth has more nice Ringgolds, Kasmin is showing some William N. Copley, and Karma has Alex Da Corte. At a little space called One Night Only, Eisenman presents winsome portraits on wood that she’s used to make prints, with fake egg splattered about. It’s an exhilarating sight, but I realize while checking Instagram later in the night that I somehow missed an Étant donnés-style piece that’s visible through a hole in a door. So I make an appointment to stop by again before leaving town. Unlike in the Duchamp, the nude woman inside is very much not dead. I am glad I went back.

Ron Mueck, Couple Under An Umbrella, 2013, at the Modern Art Museum Fort Worth.

Also seen in Dallas: “Hopi Visions: Journey of the Human Spirit” (Dallas Museum of Art); an astonishing show of prehistoric rocks in “First Sculpture” (Nasher); Theaster Gates (Nasher); a Murillo 400th-anniversary show (Meadows Museum); Eduardo Chillida (Meadows); Jay DeFero (Galerie Frank Elbaz); Eric Fischl (Dallas Contemporary); Harry Nuriev (DC); and Sara Rahbar (DC).

And over in Fort Worth, which I visit with my colleague Alex Greenberger, we see: Gabriel Dawe (Amon Carter); “Commanding Space” (Amon Carter); “A New American Sculpture, 1914–1945: Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach” (Amon Carter); and Ellen Carey (Amon Carter), Kamrooz Aram (Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth); Ron Mueck, which is certainly not an everyday sight (MAM); and the Kimbell Art Museum’s incredible collection of everything from Caillebotte to Leonardo to Matisse.

Brent Green, Bell and Hammer Piano, 2018, at Edlin.

Also seen: The career-spanning Cy Twombly blowout, with nearly 100 works (Gagosian); Liu Shiyuan’s off-kilter video and promising photocollages (Bonakdar); Bernd and Hilla Becher: In Dialogue with Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt” (Cooper); Letha Wilson’s photo-printed metal constructions (Grimm); Daniel G. Baird (Grimm); awesome hand-fashioned instruments and an animated video by Brent Green (Edlin); Wolfgang Laib’s sweet-smelling sculpture orbs, colored with smoke, and drawings (Sperone); a moving video and graphite drawings of bar scenes by Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings (Queer Thoughts); more graphite drawings, by Riley Payne (New Release); “The Case Against Reality,” with erotic little paintings by Ridley Howard and tasty drawings by Milano Chow (Marinaro); Bogosi Sekhukhuni’s refreshingly odd videos (Foxy); an electrically diverse menagerie of little sculptures in every color by Joanne Greenbaum (56 Henry); “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” with a psychotically energetic video by Marie Karlberg of a woman bouncing (riding) on a bed in a skirt (Tramps and Michael Werner); the stunning paintings of Tarsila do Amaral (MoMA); Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village” (MoMA); the gargantuan Stephen Shore  retrospective (MoMA); “Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989” (MoMA); Sarah Braman’s book-filled clubhouse, à la Alan Shields (Jeffrey Stark); the deeply enjoyable “Room Raiders,” with Cosima von Bonin, Jeff Koons, and Jean Marais (the actor!), where I overhear dealer David Lieske explaining to a school group the MTV show that gave the exhibition its name, and the fact that the highlight of each episode was always a contestant using a blacklight to search the bed for “cum stains” (Mathew); Sean Raspet’s alluring scent pieces lining the walls, operating on an intricate schedule (Donahue); a long line of stunning works on paper by Jeanette Mundt I would like to buy (Donahue); characteristically joyous Kiki Kogelnik paintings (Subal); spellbinding little landscape drawings by Myron Stout (Washburn); Gedi Sibony’s huge prefab building, stripped of identifying symbols (Greene Naftali); Jeff Koons paintings, where the real highlight is a new kinetic sculpture of a woman in bed, waving her legs (Gagosian); nicely out-of-style Barbara Hepworth pieces (Pace); scintillating paintings by Steve DiBenedetto (Eller); Hank Willis Thomas’s clever wall works that, when activated by light, expose scenes of protest and violence (Shainman); “You Are Who You Think I Think You Are,” an extremely attractive figurative painting show with young guns like Koak and Jonny Negron next to veteran Gladys Nilsson (American Medium); Darren Bader, as weird as ever, channeling Lawrence Weiner in wall text pieces, displaying a piano and soap printed with words, and looping a snippet of the Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain” (Kreps).

Hans Haacke, Condensation Cube, 1963–65, at the Artist’s Institute.

And more in New York: Zoe Leonard and Kayode Ojo (Cooper); Kim Dorland (Arsenal); Robin Meier (Arsenal); out-of-control, richly painted sculptures by Francesca DiMattio (Salon 94); whip-smart Kay Rosen (Gray); Jay DeFeo (Mitchell-Innes & Nash); pretty Pamela Jorden paintings, very Noland meets Louis (Klaus); Irwin Kremen (Klaus); Nathalie Provosty (Karg); Jacolby Satterwhite (GBE); Elle Pérez (47 Canal); Fia Backström (Callicoon); Laurel Shear (Fort Gansevoort); Robert Polidori (Kasmin); Alex Katz (Kasmin); Saint Clair Cemin (Kasmin); Bill Viola (Cohan); Josef Strau (Greene Naftali); Ted Stamm (Lisson); Laure Prouvost’s absurdist, though somewhat boring travel agency installation (Lisson); an agreeably cwacky Robert Filliou survey (Freeman); a simply gorgeous presentation of a couple of Huguette Caland’s paintings and an array of her clothing (Institute of Arab and Islamic Art); Ryan Nord Kitchen (Beauchene); Sean Sullivan (Hanley); “Ten Years After,” an anniversary show (Preston); Jean-Michel Othoniel’s gaudy baubles (Perrotin, where I am crestfallen to learn that I have missed Artie Vierkant’s show, having had the wrong closing date in my head); “Carry the Bend,” a great 50-year painting and drawing show (Brennan & Griffin); Kishio Suga (Blum & Poe); the oddball Herbert Ferber with Mark Rothko (Zwirner); left-field Martial Raysse paintings (Lévy Gorvy); Enrico Castellani  (Lévy Gorvy); “Kiss Off,” with some juicy kiss-related works by Man Ray, Lynda Benglis, and, of course, Jeff Koons (Luxembourg & Dayan); Kim Tschang-Yeul (Rech); Sean Scully (Mnuchin); Anna-Sophie Berger (JTT); Brandon Ndife (Shoot the Lobster); lush Doug Ohlson abstractions from the years around 1990 (Washburn); Jamea Richmond-Edwards (Kravets Wehby); Joel Shapiro’s latest solo show, with a hulking, deceptively simple blue beast at its center (Cooper); a luxurious, delirious high-production video installation about the first cellphone call by Doug Aitken (303); Annette Kelm (Kreps); Ramiro Gomez (P.P.O.W.); “American Landscape” (Lehmann Maupin); bland new Erin Shirreff works (Sikkema); potent Carroll Dunham paintings, featuring naked men wrestling, communing, and the like—I enter just as Katie Couric and her husband are leaving (Gladstone).

A contribution by David Hammons to “In Tribute to Jack Tilton: A Selection from 35 Years” at Tilton Gallery, deflated on the floor.

And even more: some Ellsworth Kelly (Flag) deep cuts, curated by Jack Shear; “Painting/Object” (Flag); Gavin Kenyon (Marlborough Chelsea); Robin Winters (Marlborough Chelsea); Sandra Vásquez de la Horra (Nolan); a smart Dadamaino show that makes me want to learn more about Dadamaino (Mendes Wood); one of Hans Haacke’s incredible condensation cubes with his Documenta 14 posters (Artist’s Institute); Sean Landers (Petzel); crisp Almir Mavignier posters with a rare Abraham Palatnik kinechromatic device (Roesler); radiant Wallace Whitney paintings looking like a light spring rain (Ceysson & Bénétière); curveball delights from Richard Tuttle, Betty Parsons, and Lyle Ashton Harris, plus a heart-stopping portrait by Marlene Dumas in “In Tribute to Jack Tilton: A Selection from 35 Years” (Tilton Gallery); Sue Williams (Skarstedt); “mark,” where Al Loving collages of colored paper steal the show and make me wish they were not $100,000 (Team); Cary Leibowitz’s always-endearing text pieces, including free mugs, with one that reads “I’ll pray for you/If you pray for me/Deal!,” which I take (Invisible-Export); Milton Resnick (Abreu); auspicious, expressive Jonathan Lyndon Chase paintings (Company); Lucy Dodd paintings channeling, of all people, Hans Hartung, accompanied by hippie furniture (Lewis); Sam Lewitt (Abreu); “Publishing the Portable Museum: William N. Copley‘s The Letter Edged in Black Press,” which feels like happening upon an undiscovered diamond mine (Alden); very funny Amelie von Wulffen paintings (Reena Spaulings); the best Pam Lins show yet, with a circle of ceramic cone sculptures atop stools before a kind of cartoon tree (Uffner); Tahir Carl Karmali and Cullen Washington, Jr. (Uffner); Borden Capalino (Lyles & King); “Guarded Future II” (Downs & Ross), which has a quartet of superb Alan Belcher image-printed suitcases; Dan Asher (Martos); and Quay Quinn Wolf (315 Gallery); David Hockney (Pace); Ben Estes and Alan Shields (Cooper); and Robert Gober’s amazing pair of sculptures installed in an airy room on West 20th Street. One is a fountain flowing in the wall behind a suit jacket, the other a brook burbling in the chest of a body, visible through the bottom of a wooden box.

Alison and Betye Saar at the Skowhegan gala at the Plaza on April 24, 2018.

Gala season is afoot, and I find myself witnessing Betye Saar—still going strong at 91—receiving an award from Skowhegan at the Plaza, and Bomb toasting artists and patrons at Capitale, where a natty George Condo compares his single-minded obsession with painting to that of his pet. “I’ve become sort of like my cat—she only eats the same thing every single day,” he says.

On the less-moneyed front, Fred Lonidier hosts a rousing performance of the New York City Labor Chorus as part of his show at Essex Street, its dozens of members singing labor classics, including a vigorous rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables. [Video]

Amid all this, I go to Las Vegas for a wedding with Lauretta and visit the Hoover Dam, a James Turrell installation harbored on the top floor of—wait for it—a Louis Vuitton store in a building designed by Daniel Libeskind, Ugo Rondinone’s sort of lame but also kind of fun Seven Magic Mountains out in the desert, the nearby Jean Dry Lake (which was once home to a storied Jean Tinguely performance), and—best of all—Double Negative by Michael Heizer, which ends up being much more difficult to get to than I was expecting. It’s also altogether more epic than I could have hoped—these vast cuts in the desert, slowly decomposing. Leaving, I wonder if I will ever visit again.

Fred Lonidier introducing the New York City Labor Chorus at Essex Street on April 21, 2018.

Elsewhere, brutal losses occur. The highest court in Massachusetts approves the Berkshire Museum’s sell-off: good-bye, Norman Rockwells. And an email arrives one day from Real Fine Arts that states simply, “Real Fine Arts is closed.” For a decade, RFA, run by Ben Morgan-Cleveland and Tyler Dobson, has been one of the few galleries in New York that maintained a position, and that consistently surprised. Operating out of a somewhat ramshackle ground-floor apartment near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, it presented some of the best shows I’ve ever seen, by artists like Sam Pulitzer, Whitney Claflin, Lena Henke, Jana, Euler, Georgia Sagri, and many, many more. What’s more, the excellent Cleopatra’s—a hole in the wall in Greenpoint run by Bridget Donahue, Bridget Finn, Colleen Grennan, Erin Somerville, and early on, Kate McNamara—is scheduled to end its decade-long run, as its co-owners always intended, next month. Cleopatra’s long history included projects with Alex Da Corte and Kate Levant, Sam Falls and Nick van Woert, and too many more to begin to list. Both outfits leave sterling legacies, and I can’t help hoping that some pugnacious new galleries will open up in the city to fill the voids they’re leaving behind.

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