A Critic's Diary

March: Court in Boston, More Art Fairs in New York, Dumplings, a Raucous Dinner Party

Detail of Jory Rabinovitz’s Death of Abel, 2018, at Martos.

Perhaps because of the unusual gap week before the Armory Show, everyone seems to hit the ground running. On the 3rd, Metro Pictures opens its first show with the Berlin-based artist Oliver Laric. It is a strikingly confident affair, with just a 4-and-1/2-minute video—a hypnotizing mostly black-and-white animation in which lines float and morph into different insects and animals—in the front room and three small polyurethane sculptures of human/dog hybrids in the back.

On the 5th, a Monday, Los Angeles gallery Kayne Griffin Corcoran rents out Cafe Altro Paradiso in SoHo for a dinner in honor of Mary Corse, who sadly is absent. The Light and Space figure is busy in her studio in Topanga Canyon, partner Bill Griffin explains in a toast. He mentions that her upcoming exhibitions at the Whitney and Hammer will be her first museum shows in her 50-year career, which is an absurd wait for an artist of her stature. Though the artist is missing, plenty of others are on hand, like Beth Rudin DeWoody, Kelly Taxter, David Lewis, Lumi Tan, Charles Harlan, Rachel Lehmann, who represents Corse in New York and Hong Kong, Erin Somerville, the deputy director of White Columns (on track to open in its new space next month, she says), Bruce Sherman, and Rob Teeters, who runs the Power Station in Dallas and provides me helpful tips regarding art (and food and drink) for an upcoming trip to the city. It is a great party, but promptly at 10 p.m., people begin grabbing their jackets and heading for the doors. It is going to be a long week.

Lonnie Holley performing with Marlon Patton (drums/bass synth pedals), Dave Nelson (trombone/loops), and Shahzad Ismaily (synth).

The next night, the Horts open their home in TriBeCa to visitors—an annual tradition—and I’m wowed by a large Dawn Mellor on view. Then it is on to Fuentes, where Lonnie Holley plays a set, backed by a three-piece band. He’s wearing a black cap, a quilt with the letter H is slung over his keyboard, and a drum head is on the wall behind him bearing the words, “The music lives after the instrument is destroyed.” A standing painting by John McAllister—curving, more than 25 feet long, all plum, tangerine, melon—sits to the side of the room. Anna and Elizabeth play a set of catchy sea shanty-like numbers, and Matt Arnett introduces Holley. “Every time he performs it’s a marathon, in a way,” Arnett says. Describing the improvisation of Holley’s work, he adds that the music “will happen here tonight, and then not again. If you’re fortunate enough to be here, you get to share it.” The set begins with twinkling, spectral tones that soon give way to storms of sound, Holley crooning lines like, “The bell of liberty/And from another country,” and, as the band crashes behind him, “I woke up, and I fucked up.” “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he sings at one point. “Lonnie won’t make no fuss.” [Video]

Judy Chicago, Pissing on Nature, 1984, at Salon 94.

And then the fair that many love to hate—the Armory Show—arrives. After a decade of attending, I have developed my standard route: start on sleepy Pier 92, keep moving, and never turn back, making sure to pass each booth once. The highlights: a Nam June Paik display at Gagosian, Magdalena Suarez Frimkess ceramics at Kaufmann Repetto, a quilt and a painting by Faith Ringgold at Pippy Houldsworth, and a Colby Bird construction at Halsey McKay.

The next day it’s time for the Elizabeth Dee-helmed Independent, which brings a manageable 57 galleries to Spring Studios in Tribeca and which has a batting average that’s quite a bit better than most fairs. Invisible-Exports has playful Cary Leibowitz tableware, Kerry Schuss has winningly off-kilter paintings by the entirely unknown Aaron Birnbaum, Cheim & Read has early Jack Pierson sculptures, and Magenta Plains has a great Peter Nagy painting from the 1980s. That night, Bjarne Melgaard, who has acrimoniously left the city for Norway, presents an uproarious and vaguely autobiographical puppet show at Performance Space New York (née P.S. 112) that includes lines like “In Norway, I paid for my art career by dealing drugs and having criminal boyfriends,” “Rape America!,” and—the best—“All slutty literature changes lives.” [Video]

A Bjarne Melgaard on view at the residence of the Norwegian Consul General.

The week refuses to slow down. The always scrappy, lovable NADA New York opens at Skylight Clarkson Square on Friday, but I decide I will go Saturday. Instead, on Friday night, I head to North Dumpling in Chinatown—a go-to spot for great dumplings when cruising the neighborhood’s galleries—and catch a show of creepy little works on paper by Jonas Lipps, who’s in town from Berlin, hung on a bulletin board that’s operating at a gallery. As I head north to the residence of the Norwegian Consulate General in East Midtown, which is hosting a party for Vanessa Baird’s Armory Show efforts, I receive an email from someone saying that Nan Goldin is planning to stage a protest at the Met’s Temple of Dendur the next day, which is located in the Sackler Wing, named for Arthur M. Sackler, the founder of the company that became OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma after his death. “Nan Goldin’s gonna spike the reflecting pool with oxy,” this person writes. What a thought! Could it be true? Asking around a bit, it seems to be, but there’s disagreement about whether it will take place at 3 p.m. or 4:10.

Joe Overstreet, For Happiness, 1970, at Firestone.

And so the next day, I make the requisite stops of Armory Week, first swinging by NADA, which looks a great deal better than it did the year before. Jackie Klempay, of New York’s Situations gallery, has utterly charming carved-stone sculptures of odd, ferocious, and adorable creatures by Jerry the Marble Faun. Photios Giovanis, of Callicoon Fine Arts, has scrappy, hard-won new constructions by the St. Louis-based Kahlil Robert Irving, one of my favorite young artists, whom Giovanis tells me I just missed meeting. At Shoot the Lobster, Quintessa Matranga has a ramshackle salon-style display of text paintings by the great weirdo Gene Beery (one reading “HIGH WATER MARK,” black on white, is hung at the top of the booth, while “LOW WATER MARK” is near the ground), as well as plush pieces—half heart, half crab—by Mieko Meguro that are spilling out of a painted fireplace.

Not far away, the inexhaustible Ellie Rines, who runs the pocket-sized gallery 56 Henry (also its address), is showing an assemblage by Nikita Gale that recently appeared in a Studio Museum exhibition. Rines says hello, then says she’s running off to get a collector in. “Come back in 10 or 15 minutes and look interested!” she tells me, jokingly. This sounds like a fun exercise, but I’m moving quickly and leave before she returns with her potential buyer. Other NADA highlights: a frighteningly realistic fake photo of a naked Bob Dylan by Ryan Falkowitz at 106 Green; pastel ceramics that look marzipan-soft, of body parts, food, cigarettes, and more, by Genesis Belanger, at Mrs.; a huge Roy De Forest and a huge Alan Turner at Parker; and an ultra-grossed-out wall construction by Kari Cholnoky at Safe Gallery.

Goldin protesting outside the Met on March 10, 2018, with her group P.A.I.N.

By 3, I am at the Temple of Dendur, and it looks like business as usual. Starting at around 3:30, though, a crowd of people trying to look inconspicuous begins to form. I spot a few individuals holding prescription drug bottles and go up to say hello. They are planning to hand out pamphlets resembling official Met materials calling on the Sackler Family and Purdue Pharmaceuticals to use about half their profits for opioid-abuse programs, and for museums to stop taking their money. By 4, perhaps 100 people have gathered along the reflecting pool, and the guards clearly know something is up. They politely try to move people away from the water.

At a touch after 4:10 p.m., Nan Goldin comes in wearing a dark jacket. Everyone turns to look at her. There is some discussion, and then someone says, “Just do it.” Suddenly scores of people are throwing pill bottles into the reflecting pool and echoing Goldin in a human mike. “In the name of the dead,” she cries. “Sackler family. Purdue Pharma. Hear our demands. Use your profits. Save our lives.” She continues, as Met guards argue with protesters, telling them to leave. “Protests go on outside the museum, not in the museum,” one says. The guards take away the banners, but Goldin keeps going, then shouts, “Die!” and everyone collapses to the ground. It is one hell of a sight. After a bit of time on the ground, everyone gets up and marches toward the front steps, chanting, “Sacklers lie, people die,” as tourists take photos and ask questions. On the front steps, Goldin again takes charge, speaking in front of a banner that reads, “SHAME ON SACKLER.” Holding a pill bottle in her hand, she rallies the crowd and ends by saying, “We are just getting started! Read the facts! Read the stats! We’ll be back!” (Jillian Sackler, Arthur’s widow, for her part, releases a statement through a spokesperson emphasizing that OxyContin was developed after his death. “Passing judgment on Arthur’s life’s work through the lens of the opioid crisis some 30 years after his death is a gross injustice,” she says in part.)

Installation view of Cathy Wilkes’s solo show at MoMA PS1.

Sunday, the 11th, is a final catch-up day. First I stop by the Brooklyn Museum to see Yusaku Maezawa‘s $110.5 million Jean-Michel Basquiat, on its last day on view, before it heads off to the Seattle Art Museum. At least 30 people are staring at it when I stop by—a moving sight. The artist’s Junior Membership card for the Brooklyn on display, and it lists his address as 347 E. 35 St., Brooklyn, N.Y. Then it is on to Spring/Break, which is overrun with people and art, and MoMA PS1, to see a trio of great shows, by Cathy Wilkes (free-floating intimacies), Michael E. Smith (brilliantly controlled paranoid), and Carolee Schneemann (a living legend), whose onetime lover, Anthony McCall, happens to be in the show. Further proof that it’s a small, small art world: While I am getting a bite at M. Wells, P.P.O.W. cofounder Penny Pilkington wanders in with Schneemann, and I almost faint. I hop on the G train to see a show of McCall’s classic light works at Pioneer Works, which is at least as jam-packed as PS1.

Just about everything feels topsy turvy. On the morning of the 13th, President Trump fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, apparently via Twitter message. Hours later, Christopher Knight breaks the story in the Los Angeles Times that MOCA L.A. director, Philippe Vergne, has fired Helen Molesworth, its chief curator. Catherine Opie tells Knight that Vergne told her he did it for “undermining the museum.” People are pissed, not least because this follows the dismissal of Raicovich. That night, I head up to the opening of “New Photography 2018” at MoMA, an unusually strong edition of the show, where Paul Mpagi Sepuya, B. Ingrid Olson and Em Rooney are standouts.

At the Met Breuer, the “Auto-Icon” of Jeremy Bentham, by Thomas Southwood Smith, with a wax head made by Jacques Talrich since efforts to preserve the philosopher’s original head were not successful.

A couple weeks later I am back at the museum, for the opening of Adrian Piper’s retrospective, which takes up the entire sixth floor. It is a well-attended affair, and the show itself is a tour de force, positioning Piper as one of the signal artists of the past half-century. Particularly exciting is the early stuff—a spare pencil self-portrait and Minimalist pieces—and the video installations, most of which I’ve only ever read about. The other big shows of the month are the Whitney’s revelatory Grant Wood show and its austerely exquisite Zoe Leonard survey and the figurative sculpture show “Like Life” (Met), which is weird in the best way—perhaps a role model for how the institution can develop its contemporary program, tapping its deep well of resources to bring in otherwise-impossible loans, like Jeremy Bentham’s preserved body, which is the star of the show.

Out of the gallery shows I see, the survey at Firestone of Joe Overstreet’s work from between 1967 and 1972 is my favorite, presenting a guy firing off ideas one after another, like abstractions on shaped canvases that seem almost to fly through space and other canvases that are attached tautly to the floor and ceiling, caught mid-somersault.

Also excellent is Cosima von Bonin‘s latest at Petzel, the centerpiece of which is a circle of large fish sculptures—all wrapped with fabric and some sporting guitars. Above them, a giant metal can labeled “Authority Puree” occasionally puffs smoke. I feel like I have landed on another planet. Another highlight is also nautical in theme: Jory Rabinovitz’s funked-out postwar classicism at Martos, which includes a prostrate body with a face he cast from a life mask of Abraham Lincoln. Its body is made of tabby concrete embedded with oyster shells, and at the opening Rabinovitz serves up oysters to visitors, who are invited to pile shells around the sculpture. At the end of the show, the piece will be donated to the Billion Oyster Project, to help it repopulate the New York Harbor with bivalves. Success is expected to take generations but someday far in the future, people in the city may be eating oysters harvested from his sculpture.

Partial installation view of Dennis Oppenheim, Violations, 1971–72, at Marlborough Chelsea.

Also seen: “Guarded Future” (Downs & Ross), a crowd pleaser that features some classic Judy Chicagos and whimsically weird Karen Sylvester paintings; speaking of Chicago, big, insane, 1980s numbers by her, with bodies tinted with rainbows, including one of a man peeing on the world—very of-the-moment (Salon 94); RJ Messineo (Canada); “Noon – One” (Canada); Danielle Orchard (Hanley); Andrea Joyce Heimer (Beauchene); Kim Dingle, among her pieces an absolutely terrifying sculpture of an angry baby in a playpen (Sperone Westwater); a disarming suite of wry paintings by Jean-Frédéric Schnyder (Presenhuber); Camae Ayewa/Moor Mother (The Kitchen); Eduardo Terrazas (Taylor); Serge Attukwei Clottey (Lombard); an uneven but still formidable batch of dilapidated new Isa Genzken sculptures (Zwirner); a-touch-too-slick-for-my-taste Stan Douglas photographs (Zwirner); Wang Dongling (Chambers); Paul Feeley (Greenan); Dan Flavin (Zwirner); “Indelible Marks” (American Medium); Manuel Esnoz (Kravets Wehby); a mind-blowing, superb, trippy Cyprien Gaillard 3-D video piece (Gladstone); Maria Pinsky (303); Jannis Kounellis (Carolina Nitsch); Erika Verzutti (Kreps); Dianna Molzan (Kaufmann Repetto); scintillating, high-sheen Carrie Moyer paintings (DC Moore); Chris Daze Ellis (P.P.O.W.); Bo Bartlett (Allan Stone Projects); “Draughtsmanship” (Allan Stone Projects); one of Robert Gober’s 2001 Venice Biennale pieces, a cellar door leading to another, plus delectable constructions (Marks); spare Martin Barré masterworks (Marks); weak, formulaic Barnaby Furnas paintings (Boesky); Claudia Weiser (Boesky); a taut Robert Mapplethorpe show, curated by Roe Ethridge (Gladstone); Louise Nevelson (Pace); detail-packed, neon-glowing Erik Parker paintings, with the ones on planks—like tagged John McCracken sculptures—looking particularly toothsome (Boone); Dennis Oppenheim’s legendary 1971–72 installation Violations, with 103 hubcaps he stole off cars in California (Marlborough Contemporary); Michael Alvarez (Marlborough Contemporary); Magdalena Abakanowicz (Marlborough Contemporary); Greg Lindquist (Lennon, Weinberg); jaw-dropping Robert Ryman drawings (Pace); Markus Brunetti (Yossi Milo); François Morellet (Dia:Beacon); Cy Twombly (Gagosian 980 Madison); and an oddball group presentation with Ed Ruscha, Roe Ethridge (a knockout screenshot of a Kellyanne Conway photo), Jeff Koons, and others (Gagosian 980).

Installation view of “François Morellet: No End Neon” at Dia:Beacon.

And more: “Mr. Unatural and Other Works from the Allan Frumkin Gallery, 1952–1987″ (Venus), replete with great Robert Arneson, William N. Copley, and Roy De Forest; Martha Tuttle (Tilton); “Sculpture” (both Luhring Augustines), with Cady Noland’s final work standing sentry the door of the Chelsea location; “Like an Iron Glove Cast in Velvet” (Interstate); Eduardo Paolozzi’s super-intricate prints (Clearing); Korakrit Arunanondchai (Clearing); Sophie Stone and Nick Poe, who has designed a pool table adorned with an image of a vase (Safe); Lorna Mills (Transfer); Carissa Rodriguez (SculptureCenter); “A Page from My Intimate Journal (Part I),” one of the finest group shows of the year, with B. Wurtz, Matt Connors, Otis Houston Jr., and too many more greats (Gordon Robichaux); impressive new Sarah Crowner paintings, viewable from a kind of dance platform (Kaplan); planetary-sized Chris Martin paintings (Kern); Sarah Jones (Kern); a portentous Anri Sala affair (Goodman); Milton Avery landscapes, plus a few pretty portraits (Yares); Carrie Moyer, a sight to see in the plush land of Boone; Chris Huen Sin Kan (Lee); Robert Bechtle (Gladstone); Frida Orupabo (GBE); Avery Singer (GBE); Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys (GBE); “First-Year MFA Exhibition” (Wallach Art Gallery); Dan Boardman’s intricate photo collages (321); Anna Bella Geiger (Wallach Art Gallery); “New Talent,” curated by Madeline Weisburg (Wallach Art Gallery); Milton Resnick (Cheim & Read); Mildred Thompson’s crackling abstract paintings (Lelong); pleasantly scrappy Mike Cloud paintings (Thomas Erben); Richard Aldrich (Bortolami); Jonathas de Andrade (Alexander & Bonin); Doris Salcedo (Alexander & Bonin); vintage Michel Parmentier numbers (Ortuzar Projects); Perry Hoberman (Postmasters); Jillian Mayer (Postmasters); Coop Fund, Amalle Dublon & Constantina Zavitsanos, Devin Kenny, John Neff (Artists Space); Emma McMillan (Lomex); “25 Years: Representation” (Algus); and Carlos Reyes (Bodega); Arnold Kemp (May 68, a hybrid bookshop, record store, and gallery space run by the estimable Bob Nickas); and, on the top floor of Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea space, an exhibition for Jack Whitten, who died in January at the age of 78, that consists of his final completed painting—a modestly sized abstraction, tiled in radiant colors and named Quantum Wall, VIII (For Arshile Gorky, My First Love In Painting).

Detail of Jack Whitten’s Quantum Wall, VIII (For Arshile Gorky, My First Love In Painting), 2017, at Hauser & Wirth.

The Berkshire Museum case reaches the highest court in Massachusetts on the 20th in Boston, with all parties presenting their viewpoints on the proposed compromise between the AGO and the museum. It is a standing-room-only crowd, so I am glad I arrived the night before and got to court early. “I have to tell you, I’m watching two different movies,” Justice David Lowy says, after hearing opponents of the deal say that the museum is irresponsibly and needlessly selling off assets and the museum’s lawyers answer the step is essential. Both sides seem to feel that their voices have been heard, and everyone leaves with fingers crossed. A nice bonus of the trip is that I am able to dart over to the Institute of Contemporary Art, just after filing my story, to see “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today,” which is predictable but enjoyable, and solo displays by Hito Steyerl, Wangechi Mutu, and Nicholas Nixon.

Georgia Sagri performing at the Emily Harvey Foundation on March 28, 2018.

Back in New York, all sorts of fun things are afoot. The singer, comedian, Woodstock hotel proprietor, artist, mailman, and master of so many more things Paul McMahon is putting together a survey of his life’s work at 9 Herkimer Place, a space owned by Helene Winer. On Saturdays, Madeline Hollander is staging an ingenious dance performance at the Artist’s Institute that aims to lift the temperature in the room and stops when the A/C clicks on. [VideoStephanie LaCava and Bryan Weiss has a party for Triple Canopy at their SoHo loft on the 29th, and the night before, Georgia Sagri stages a dinner party-performance at the Emily Harvey Foundation in SoHo on the 28th. [Video] As people dine at a central table, she gets up and begins speaking, repeating herself in ways that are by turns rhythmic, hypnotic, menacing, and comical. The audience, arrayed around the perimeter of the room, includes Josh Kline, Nick Mauss, and other artists and art types. “I will say no now,” Sagri says determinedly. “I will say no. I will say no. I am very happy for saying no. No, no, no, no, no. No for this and no for that. No for this and no for that.” More beautiful words have never been spoken.

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