Delayed a year by the pandemic, Greater New York—MoMA PS1’s quinquennial focused on artists based in the metropolitan area—is back. Curated by Ruba Katrib, who organized the exhibition with Serubiri Moses in collaboration with Kate Fowle and Inés Katzenstein, the show opens to the public on Thursday and runs into April of next year.
In the more than 100 works by 47 artists included, several loose focuses emerge: interests in land rights, passionate desires to represent the under-represented, and shared fascination with artists of the past who have been cast to the margins of history. There are many dead and under-known artists included among a good deal of young up-and-comers, too. Spanning generations, continents, and movements, the artists in this show demonstrate a canny ability to depict the worlds they inhabit with specificity and dynamism.
Below, a look at eight standouts from the show.
Pensive horses and stony figures with oversize eyes pervade Ahmed Morsi’s paintings. It can often feel as though everything surrounding his serene tableaux has come to a screeching halt. It’s only appropriate, then, that his 1996 painting Clocks seems literally frozen in time. In this painting, three androgynous people and a horse inhabit a room overlooking a seaside; in a meta gesture, a study for the same image rests on a striped chair in the lower-right corner. Both placeless and oddly specific, the image communicates the sense of dislocation that is palpable in so many works by Morsi, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1930, and has been based in New York since the ’70s. Recognition for the 91-year-old artist has been slow to come—no museum had staged a sizable survey of his work before 2016, when the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Giza mounted a retrospective—but one hopes his reputation in the U.S. ascends in light of his prominent appearance here.
G. Peter Jemison
Work by Indigenous artists is given prominent placement in Greater New York, with Athena LaTocha (Hunkpapa Lakota/Ojibway) and Alan Michelson (Mohawk) granted large spaces to present monumental works. The show is also host to a survey-within-a-survey devoted to G. Peter Jemison (Seneca), whose work considers land rights and forms of Indigenous resistance. Starting the ’70s, while working at the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York as a curator, Jemison began making art out of paper bags, alluding to a craft tradition long in use by Indigenous communities. In one collaged bag exhibited in the survey, an image of an Indigenous man appears above a row of old automobiles. Beneath him is text reading “REAL TOUGH,” suggesting an unwillingness to accede to a society led by white men who have made attempts to “eradicate our language and cultural traditions,” as the artist once said of Haudenosaunee, a confederacy in what is commonly referred to as Upstate New York.
Forms of violence and erasure are often the subject of Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa’s chilly photographic and sculptural output, though rarely are they represented outright. At PS1, the Ugandan-born artist is showing works including AMWMA (2021), in which two blown-up images of appropriated archival pictures of the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong are shown on either side of a tall wall. In one, Wong lunges slightly before a doorway-like structure on what appears to be a film set. In the other, she makes the same pose, turning slightly toward the camera. During her lifetime, Wong was known mainly for her roles in Hollywood blockbusters that had the effect of perpetuating stereotypes about Asian-American women, as her movies were typically written and directed by white male filmmakers. Wolukau-Wanambwa literally splits open Wong’s image, asking us to consider what roles “self-erasure and self-determination”—two concepts mulled in a new e-flux essay by the artist—played in the actress’s career.
With his towering paintings at Greater New York, Andy Robert joins the lineage of artists like Julie Mehretu, Mark Bradford, and others who have relied on abstraction to communicate heady ideas about diasporas, marginalization, and inequities. Born in Les Cayes, Haiti, in 1984 and now based in Los Angeles and New York, Robert is focused on creating a “worldview, both black and abstract, diasporic and of many people,” as he once put it in an artist statement. In some works at PS1, he conjures New York’s Harlem neighborhood—he was once an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem—by way of blotchy compositions that cohere into streetscapes. Others, such as Mid-Atlantic (2020), represent semi-imagined landscapes whose surfaces seem to drip with paint, as though the canvases, like the grand historical narratives they seek to represent, were not yet complete.
Documentary photography can often get lost amid the bigger and more spectacular offerings in biennial-style shows, but not so at this exhibition, where pictures by Robin Graubard, Marilyn Nance, and Hiram Maristany showcase the ways that the personal and the political coalesce on the streets of New York. During the ’60s, Maristany trained his lens on New York’s East Harlem neighborhood and eventually became the official photographer for the Young Lords Party, a group of Puerto Rican activists who protested disenfranchisement of Afro-Latinx communities. In one picture, a child is shown shouting before Maristany’s camera at the protest for the Young Lords activist Julio Roldan, who was found hanging in his cell after being charged with attempted arson. In another, an elderly woman passionately advocates for the freedom of 21 Black Panthers accused of planning to bomb police stations. Yet Maristany’s pictures of El Barrio aren’t all explicitly political in nature—some also capture quiet moments, such as one from 1964 featuring a kite that sails in the air above a city street.
Emilie Louise Gossiaux
In her ballpoint pen drawing London, in my dreams (2020), Emilie Louise Gossiaux offers an unadorned image of a dog and a woman. The sparely drawn woman has six nipples and sprouts a tail, and the dog stands upright in a tender exchange. Gossiaux went blind in 2010, after an 18-wheeler hit her while she was riding a bike, and she has since sought to create works that capture people and things as she recalls them. They are rooted in memory, and her guide dog—a Labrador Retriever named London—is often the star of her art.
Fans of Hilma af Klint will find much to admire in the work of Paulina Peavy, who encountered a UFO during a séance in California in 1932 and was changed forever. In Peavy’s mesmerizing paintings, eyes shoot out semi-translucent prisms of deep red and mysterious individuals are cloaked beneath levitating objects. One untitled work made by putting a piece of paper before smoke seems to resemble the traces of an unidentifiable being.
Before his death in 2006, Julio Galán found favor with Andy Warhol, showed with touted New York dealers like Robert Miller and Annina Nosei, and rose to the status of one of the most famous artists in Mexico. Based on his work in Greater New York, Galán appears primed for a revival. Surreal agglomerations of unlike subjects—retablo paintings, flowers, semi-mythical beings, and more—come together in intriguing ways. The mood is often melancholy, with loose allusions to the pain Galán experienced as a closeted queer man in Mexico and to loss experienced during the start of the AIDS crisis. In El Que Se Viene Se Va (1988), a boy swims through an endless sea, while next to him are a series of giant blossoms, a citadel-like complex, and text that translates as “He Who Comes Left.”