A Critic's Diary

May: A Roving Restaurant, Frieze New York, A$AP Rocky Alights, the School in Kinderhook

At Frieze New York, a suite of Takashi Murakamis.

I begin May on a boat, riding the ferry from East 34th Street to Randalls Island for Frieze New York, which is proudly rolling out a new layout for its seventh edition. It’s a better configuration, sure, but all anyone can discuss at the preview on the 2nd is the sweltering heat inside the tent. These are record temperatures for the start of May, and the structure can’t handle it. Everyone is sweating, some begin to wonder if the art is even safe, and visitors quickly repair to the pop-up bars and restaurants outside the big-top, where it is actually several degrees cooler than it is inside. And yet! The fair is not a complete bust.

Emma Amos, Fanny Mae, 1964, at Ryan Lee’s Frieze New York booth.

Ryan Lee has a tranche of early Emma Amos paintings, sexy portraits amid lushly colored abstractions; Zürcher has a great miniature survey of Merrill Wagner; and one whole section of the fair is devoted to Hudson, the one-named proprietor of Feature Inc. gallery. Organized by Matthew Higgs, that area includes artists that the late dealer championed, including Takashi Murakami, Raymond Pettibon, and many more. And not too far away, Marian Goodman Gallery—always a contender for best booth at the fair—has cloaked its space in darkness for a 2002 light and smoke show by Pierre Huyghe, set to Satie. It’s cool in there, but not cool enough, and soon after I am back on the boat, joined by many other exasperated people.

That night brings a trio of big openings: Jordan Wolfson at Zwirner, Ursula von Rydingsvard at Lelong, and Charles Ray at Marks. Wolfson is showing his discomfiting but hypnotic Riverboat song (2017–18), a crisply edited animation that features a smoking rat, a young man who drinks his own urine, and all sorts of other mayhem. The party for Wolfson, with guests like Raf Simons (who seems omnipresent on the art front), Jeffrey Deitch, and others, is at the Zwirner family home in the East Village, which, I am impressed to discover, features not only Luc Tuymans’s 2005 Condoleezza Rice painting but its very own Doug Wheeler installation. I slip on booties to enter the piece and discover Avery Singer inside.

Jordan Wolfson’s Riverboat song, 2017–18, at Zwirner.

The market action does not end with Frieze. TEFAF’s spring edition opens at the Park Avenue Armory on the 3rd, the same night that Mexico City powerhouse gallery Kurimanzutto inaugurates its nearby new space with clever little hanging sculptures by Abraham Cruzvillegas, one festooned with sausages, the other holding a huge cured ham. And the auction previews are in full swing, with Christie’s unveiling the works of Peggy and David Rockefeller, including one of Manet’s late paintings of flowers. If I had all the money in the world, one of those Manets would be the very first thing I would buy. There’s a great Gauguin seascape and a Rose Period Picasso—a painting of a young naked girl—that creeps out seemingly everyone except the bidder who pays $115.1 million for it.

A welcome respite from the auctions and fairs arrives on the 4th, when I make it to the temporary performance space that the rather well-funded new outfit the Shed has started in advance of its opening in Hudson Yards. The occasion is Tino Sehgal’s This Variation (2012), which I admired at Document 13 in Kassel, Germany. Performed in a nearly pitch-black room, it includes a large team of people dancing, beatboxing, singing, and sometimes telling stories around visitors. Its incredible weirdness—and its sense of surprise—was potent at Documenta, but it still packs a visceral punch six years later. It instills the peculiar feeling—at first threatening, then comforting—of complex rhythms being performed all around, and maybe even through, you.

Giovanni’s, on May 18, 2018, in Chinatown.

On the 14th, Camille Henrot screens her new 3D film, Saturday (2017), and chats with Stuart Comer at MoMA as part of its Modern Mondays. A companion piece of sorts to her masterpiece, Grosse Fatigue (2013), it provides—for lack of a more succinct description—an optimistic but gimlet-eyed look at the state of the world, showing a broadcast by a Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s TV news station, babies, brain studies, and so much more. It is achingly beautiful. Henrot wanted to look at hope around the world, she explains during the conversation: “The hope to change yourself radically and live eternally is something religion provides. And the hope for radical political change is something that the protest—the moment of the protest—provides. I wanted to put all those different strategies of maintaining hope in our lives together without specifically having a judgment.”

The workweek ends with a Friday visit to Giovanni’s, the roving restaurant run by Chloe Seibert (who handles food) and Bryce Grates (wine) that has set up for the night at Headz, the improbably spacious Chinatown studio run by Spencer Sweeney and co-conspirators, whose every wall is covered with art. Anthony Atlas, Priscilla Jeong, Jamie Sterns, and many more are there, arranged around a gargantuan table, basking in the pleasures of tasty flatbreads and sumptuous natural wines.

Jack Shainman and Brad Kahlhamer at the School in Kinderhook, New York.

The next day, Lauretta and I drive to Kinderhook, New York—the birthplace of Martin van Buren, whose moniker Old Kinderhook gave birth to the phrase O.K. It has taken me three years, but I am finally visiting the giant gallery that Chelsea dealer Jack Shainman opened there in an old school. It is called, fittingly, the School. There’s a cavalcade of great art on display, with rooms given over to Nina Chanel Abney (in fine form with a group of athletics-themed paintings), Shimon Attie, Math Bass, Valérie Blass, Vibha Galhotra, Brad Kahlhamer, Margaret Kilgallen (tender, inventive paintings on various panels, pieced together), Lyne Lapointe, Gordon Parks (including a suite of superb photographs of Alberto Giacometti at work in his studio, which I was unaware of), and Leslie Wayne, as well as a survey on the ground floor of Radcliffe Bailey’s work. A party is just getting started, with Swizz Beatz scheduled as a DJ, but we decide to venture next to the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The Aldrich is opening a boatload of shows devoted mostly to small art, including solos for Analia Segal, Richard McGuire, and Tucker Nichols, plus the group shows “Objects Like,” with Ben Gocker, David Hammons, Sam Anderson, Brian Belott, “Handheld,” “On Edge,” and “New Perspectives On Tabletop Art Objects,” and a sizable portion of the Lower East Side gallery world is present. One could spend hours in these exhibitions, but in the meantime I have received the bizarre news that rapper A$AP Rocky is planning to make his debut as a performance artist at Sotheby’s that evening as part of promotional efforts for his new album.

A$AP Rocky doing some pull-ups at Sotheby’s.

We drive back to the city, pass through a pretty serious security situation in the Sotheby’s lobby, then ride the elevators to its salesroom on an upper floor, which has been turned into a kind of biohazard zone, with people in yellow hazmat outfits carrying around crash-test dummies, stringing caution yellow tape, and taking photos. There’s a bar, too. Eventually the man of the hour appears in a glass cube at the center of the room, which is a kind of boiler/workout room/quarantine cell. He gets into a tendentious conversation with an unseen announcer, who asks him questions about the new album. Rocky also does things like lift weights and dunk himself in water. Despite being a first effort in the genre of performance, he has managed to master one of its hallmarks: stretching things on for way too long. [Video] Various A$AP associates pay visits to the room, but the piece shows no sign of ending. As we head for the door, we are at least excited to spot Dapper Dan watching the action.

Hein Koh, Cheeseburger with an Eye and Tongue, 2018, at Marvin Gardens.

Shows seen: Pornographic and extremely funny He-Ji Shin photographs of men dressed as cops (Reena Spaulings); CPLY- and Magritte-channeling paintings by Casey Cook and Matthew F Fisher (Shrine); stunning, intimate photo constructions loosely informed by the Stations of the Cross, by Em Rooney (Bodega); hypnotic gouache-on-paper numbers by Zoe Pettijohn Schade of soldiers, feathers, monkeys, and sundry unidentifiable wonders (Kai Matsumiya); Matthew McCaslin’s stripped-down and fairly dangerous domestic environment, with a radio sitting in a bathtub, copious electrical sockets, and a sprinkler in the space’s backyard (Spencer Brownstone); Curtis Talwst Santiago’s grab bag of good ideas, like miniature dioramas, beaded sculptures, and scrappy paintings (Uffner); Hilary Pecis’s very likable paintings of interiors, buildings, and still lifes, including one big flower bouquet (Uffner); more-real-than-real paintings by Mathew Cerletty, my favorite being a jaw-dropping glass bowl filled with chestnuts and lemons still on their leafy branches (Karma); Paul Lee’s lamps of printed beer cans (the new Karma Books); meticulous pencil renderings of elegant buildings, in which chic, shadowy figures are up to something, by Milano Chow (Chapter); “Hours and Places,” a smart group show with Wojciech Bąkowski, Erica Baum, and Constance DeJong; tender renderings of crumbled black fabric by Kristin Calabrese (Brennan & Griffin); spooky paintings by Kristen Sanders and impressive hanging sculptures (and a radiant lamp!) that Vanessa Thill made by building up paint, resin, food, and more on paper (Step Sister, Brennan’s recently christened basement space); a luxurious outing from Takashi Murakami (though a somewhat soulless one, even by his standards), with one especially fine painting inspired by Soga Shohaku and a number of very boring ones inspired by Francis Bacon (Perrotin); a nicely weird painting show with a violent Sue Coe classic (from P.P.O.W.’s first-ever show, in the East Village!), Eliza Douglas, Joseph Geagan, and Hyon Gyon (Fuentes); a darkly cool video, some amazing wallpaper, and wall-hung works in a joint effort by Juliana Huxtable and Carolyn Lazard (Shoot the Lobster); Nancy Shaver (Eller); “Frame Structures,” with snapshots by Steel Stillman and some paintings by Linnea Kniaz in lovingly odd shapes (Magenta Plains); Lorenzo Bueno’s sweet and goofy show about Citigroup Center at 601 Lexington, which imagines an exact copy of the peculiar building being made, flipped over, and placed atop it (Entrance); and a kind of ancient-futuristic archaeological display about justice, signs, and cellphones by Jason Loebs (38 Ludlow).

Partial view of “Cici Wu: Upon Leaving the White Dust” at 47 Canal.

And more: “We Buy Gold: Four,” with Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Ja’Tovia Gary, Texas Isaiah, and Shellyne Rodriguez (Sargent’s Daughters); Terry Winters (Marks); Hein Koh’s exuberant cartoon sculptures (Marvin Gardens); Tony Cokes (Greene Naftali); Adam Taye’s “soft targets,” which do Jasper Johns by way of Bed Bath & Beyond (Rawson Projects); melodramatic Mara De Luca paintings (Totah); Catalina Bauer’s first New York show, which includes a corner filled with colored pencils on strings of various lengths that have been used to make a sprawling wall drawing (Proxyco); strong Liz Deschenes (Abreu); a grimy pairing of sophisticated grittiness: Robert Mallary’s rusted angular sculptures and Ryan Foerster’s bright blue printing plates (Schuss); Serban Ionescu’s whimsical chairs, which come alive in animated videos, much to the bafflement of a little kid who’s wandered in with his mother (Larrie); Martin Roth’s effective, if overwrought, presentation of a desert plant from the yard of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock in a vitrine and a kinetic installation in the basement that is lit bright yellow, hot at hell (Yours Mine & Ours); tough, dense black paintings that Al Held made in Paris in the early 1950s; a very promising Cici Wu installation, light shimmering onto tender little sculptures (hands, a train engine, little lights), projecting fully and partially assembled images onto a back wall (47 Canal); a tight survey of unbelievable Miyoko Ito paintings—abstractions in ingenious, subtle color combos that suggest not-quite-there bodies or ghosts (Artists Space); a lovely, loose film by Ruth Novaczek with appearances by Eileen Myles and Chris Kraus paired with photographic glimpses of ex-lovers by Monica Majoli (Queer Thoughts); inviting photographs of lithe bodies and ripe fruit by Jenna Westra (Lubov); a fresh batch of Wade Guyton inkjets that unglamorously document day-to-day studio life (Petzel); a formidable but not-overwhelming Charles Atlas video installation, including portraits of artists and art types, Myles among them (The Kitchen); an invigorating survey of the still-too-little-known Claire Falkenstein, with her glass-and-metal sculptures, organically geometric paintings, and careful abstract drawings (Rosenfeld); and “A Luta Continua: The Sylvio Perlstein Collection” (Hauser & Wirth), which overflows with Dada, Surrealist, and other special nuggets I would like to take home, by fairly obscure names like Friedrich Schröder Sonnenstern, Laure Albin Guillot, and André Steiner and big guns like Man Ray, Duchamp, and Picabia, who has an electrifying 1913 watercolor on view of a mechanical device—part motor, part ballon. He penned its title written along its top: “MECHANICAL mEXPRESSION SEEN THROUGH OUR OWN MECHANICAL EXPRESSION.”

Robert Bittbender, Cracked Actress, 2018, at Lomex.

And still more: A batch of wan “Colour Space” paintings by Damien Hirst (Gagosian); the great Andreas Slominski, having a lot of fun with Porta-Pottys (Metro Pictures); Camille Henrot (Metro Pictures); Nick Mauss’s historical feast about dance and queer aesthetics in 20th-century New York, complete with bits of Paul Cadmus, Sturtevant, and dancers sporting Louise Lawler leotards (Whitney); Josh Smith’s watermelon paintings, which seem to borrow a bit liberally from Mose Tolliver and Yayoi Kusama (Presenhuber); Juanita McNeely’s mind-blowing 1970s paintings of wild women (some of them nude) and other subjects (Algus); B. Ingrid Olson’s sharp, body-holding photo constructions (Subal), a sleek Urs Fischer jumble, countless objects affixed to a rhinoceros (in a space rented by Gagosian at 43rd Street and 5th Avenue); a show of early Keith Sonnier, the best piece being a triangular plywood wedge blowing art into a similarly shaped linen piece, as if keeping it on life support (The National Exemplar); Jane Corrigan (Marinaro); “Design for Living,” in which Ann Hirsch’s out-there portraits atop huge splashes of color provide mirthful laughs (Foxy); “Approaches,” where the dark, funny paintings of Jasper Marsalis (son of Wynton) stand out (Svetlana); Florian Krewer’s ultra-casual painted youth (Tramps and Werner); Mirabelle Marden (Plain Pleasures Gallery); a Tau Lewis tableau (Stark); Jerry the Marble Faun’s charismatic carved stones (Situations); Jeneen Frei Njootli (Fierman); Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena (GBE); Yun-Fei Ji (Cohan); “The Earth is Flat,” a heady investigation of just that (Carriage Trade); Ethan Greenbaum’s volumetric, printed photo works (Lyles & King); trippy James Hoff paintings (Callicoon); Emma Kohlmann’s breezy West Coast–style figuration (Hanley); Jennifer Paige Cohen (Beauchene); Natalie Frank (Half Gallery); Gracie DeVito (Beauchane);  Daniel Hesidence (Canada); Wanda Koop (Arsenal); eye-popping paintings on aluminum mesh—part Picasso, part Klee—by Summer Wheat (Edlin); brilliant and bright portraits by Laurie Simmons, clothing painted atop sitters’ skin (Salon 94); Jitish Kallat (Sperone); Sarah Peters (Van Doren Waxter); magnetic, inventive abstractions by Nadia Haji Omar (Kristen Lorello); obsessive, Nicholas Krushenick-like abstractions by Randy S. Jones, rough up close (Esopus); Tiona Nekkia McClodden’s buoyant, energizing club space (Performance Space New York); Sean Raspet’s inscrutable viles of liquid (The Artist’s Institute); an unsurprisingly braindead Dan Colen outing (Lévy Gorvy); Jonas Wood prints, lots of them (Gagosian); a gimmicky nine-part Fischer painting on aluminum, a bedroom scene morphing into a bird-blessed sky (Gagosian); Hao Liang (Gagosian); shoe- and hair-fetish paintings by Domenico Gnoli (Luxembourg & Dayan); an off-brand Huma Bhabha show (Clearing); a smart display of Eva Hesse’s collaged drawings and inimitable box sculptures (Starr); “More Comparisons” by Al Freeman (Bortolami); JPW3 (Martos); and Robert Bittenbender (Lomex).

A hat at the studio of Nari Ward, where Open Spaces Kansas City hosts a preview event on May 3, 2018.

White Columns has taken up residence in its new home in the West Village with great shows devoted to the sculptor Hugh Hayden and the filmmaker Michael H. Shamberg, and it is not the only nonprofit gallery moving this year. Artists Space is at work on a large new home in TriBeCa, and the Swiss Institute is getting ready to open in a former Chase Bank in the East Village. The city feels like it could use a few more nimble-footed alternative spaces to join those stalwarts.

Meanwhile, the mood is unsettled at one of the city’s oldest institutions, the Museum of Modern Art. On the 31st, as swells make their way into MoMA’s annual gala, the Party in the Garden, dozens of members of Local 2110, a union that covers a number of junior employees at the museum stage a Party on the Pavement, march on the sidewalk to draw attention to the ongoing, apparently contentious negotiations with the museum over a new contract. Signs held by the demonstrators include “MODERN ART ANCIENT WAGES” and “MOMA WORKS BECAUSE WE DO.” Maria Marchenkova, an assistant editor in MoMA’s department of publications, points out to me that the museum has made an effort to appear progressive in these Trump-dominated times, by doing things like responding to the Muslim travel ban by showcasing work by artists from those countries. “We think that’s at odds with them trying to decrease people’s wage increases,” she tells me, “not helping them with basic health care and other life issues, and exploiting the staff through overtime.”

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