In the past few years, the Lower East Side, long the destination in New York for cutting-edge work by young artists, has begun to empty out as galleries join the exodus to Tribeca. Not all is lost, though—a rich scene continues to thrive, even as the gallery ecosystem in the Lower East Side is sparser than it once was.
Excepting Henry Street, which has suddenly become home to a scrappy grouping of galleries, the map is now quite spread out. This means two things. First, expect to walk relatively far distances between exhibitions—the norm in art world hotspots like London and Paris, but something New Yorkers who frequent Chelsea and Tribeca probably aren’t used to. Second, you’ll have to know where to look.
In an effort to point you in the right direction this Frieze week, here are five shows to see on the Lower East Side right now.
Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili at Helena Anrather
Two lovely works hang in the center of this exhibition by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, her first in New York in six years. Printed on sheer cotton voile, these curtain-like works contain blurry images of a floral-print pattern; you could walk through them, if you wanted to. They trick the eye: they are not sculptures, as they may first appear, but freestanding photographs.
Alexi-Meskhishvili’s photography is heady stuff, concerned as it is with European art cinema (the curtain works, both from 2020, are titled after Vilgot Sjöman’s “I Am Curious” films of the late ’60s), the philosophy of Roland Barthes, and abstractions produced using cameras, which typically lend themselves to figuration. Knotted with ideas as they may be, her photographs hardly feel like academic exercises: they deal with the ways in which photography is imbued with life, and are so beautiful that they make you want to think about all the concepts appended to them.
Most works in this show contain an air of mystery: a re-photographed image of the Brontë sisters, for example, that has been reworked so many times, it now appears more like a set of squiggles with three spectral figures lurking in the background. The ghostliness glimpsed in so many photographs here is Alexi-Meskhishvili’s way of asserting that pictures never die. Even in Decreating (2023), a drop-dead gorgeous shot of a camera pointed at the back of a mirrored box filled with smoke, you can just barely make out Alexi-Meskhishvili’s form, a reminder that a human made this image.
On view through May 20, at Helena Anrather, 132 Bowery.
Eunnam Hong at Lubov
A particularly strong New York debut comes courtesy of Eunnam Hong, who cashes in on the continued craze for figurative painting while turning it icier and less easy to read than we’re used to. All the paintings in her Lubov show feature bare apartments that mostly go unfurnished. Their only tenants, it seems, are women whose faces are mostly hidden beneath their bountiful curls of hair. (They somewhat recall Brigitte Lin’s noirish get-up in Wong Kar-wai’s film Chungking Express.) Despite the emphasis on interiority, their psychologies remain invisible to us. What we do get are eyefuls of their clothes. And what clothes!
Enemy (2023) features two standing figures and one seated one, all wearing crimson outfits. Hong pays close attention to the folds of one of their matching jacket and pants, detailing the way the light catches the pinched leather near her wrist. Garments say a lot about their wearers, but Hong’s women don’t appear to have any personalities to speak of, so the wardrobe just feels like another sleek red herring in the search to understand what they’re thinking.
The closest historical parallel to Hong’s art is Alex Katz’s Ada paintings from the ’60s, which depict his wife doubling, filling up rooms entirely with versions of her stylish self. Katz’s Adas feel alienated from their surroundings, and Hong’s women do too, possibly as a reflection of her own experience as an artist born in South Korea and now based in Brooklyn. As Hong finds an audience in this city, it should be fascinating to see her work mature.
Through June 18, at Lubov, 5 East Broadway, #402
Rina Banerjee at Perrotin
Rina Banerjee’s thrillingly offbeat exhibition is filled with maximalist sculptures, the biggest of which is Black Noodles (2023), which lends her Perrotin show its name. A large hanging structure with elements spilling onto the floor, it vaguely recalls a wrecked chandelier; its materials include a vintage milk glass, human hair, and an ostrich egg. It appears like a relic from a lost world, one entirely of Banerjee’s making.
If the other works in this show stand as proof, that world is one where humanity has forged an entirely different relationship to everything else around it. Hybridity is the name of the game here. Her painting I am not afraid of you said the Elephant to the Rodent (2022) features two figures, one resembling a long-legged person with a mouse’s face for a head, the other a crouching human with a long elephant’s trunk à la the Hindu deity Ganesha. They’re surrounded by oversize flowers and grass. Nature and animals, animals and humans, humans and gods press up against one another. Along the way, Banerjee, who was born in Kolkata, India, and is now based in New York, finds clever ways of blending cultures.
The dazzling Contagious Migrations (1999–2023) features as its background what appears to be a large plan for a city, with numbers and boxes denoting various structures. The plan isn’t particularly legible, however, and if it does map anything at all, it may be all the places Banerjee has been—the work includes Silly Putty, a toy now manufactured by the Western company Crayola, as well as turmeric and kumkum, substances that are pervasive in India. A similar work to this one figured in the Whitney Biennial more than 20 years ago, and amazingly, since then, Banerjee has had only a couple New York solo shows. This Perrotin show ought to bring her greater attention here—and hopefully lead to the mid-career survey she deserves.
Through June 10, at Perrotin, 130 Orchard Street
Ragen Moss at Bridget Donahue
The six works in Ragen Moss’s Bridget Donahue show consist of two sculptures each: a bulging, semitranslucent form crafted from polyethylene, acrylic, aluminum, and steel, and a smaller glass tube that can hold a burning flame. Those latter pieces are being lit at various points during the show’s run; when there is no flame, a smoky residue is left behind. The tubular elements have been titled “Lumens” by the Los Angeles–based sculptor, a reference to the light they provide but also, perhaps, to the medical term given to the interior spaces of the various tubes within our bodies.
These works, despite their cold, hard materials, seem positively alive. The steel parts, some of which are marked with painted swatches, often resemble cocoons that may hold animals just about ready to burst out. Their elegant hang recalls a similar one utilized by Anicka Yi at the 2019 Venice Biennale, where she showed bulbous sculptures that evolved in real time, owing to combinations of AI and bacteria.
Moss’s works contain nothing quite so technologically advanced within, not that they need to in order to succeed. They winsomely enlist lo-fi materials toward a higher purpose, making them strange but familiar, not entirely organic yet not quite inorganic either. If they represent an alien species, it is a kind that feels somewhat of this earth. Original Source (2023), the biggest sculpture in this show, features a hulking polyethylene slab that, on its backside, contains a mixture of black, orange, and gray. That it resembles abstraction generated by AI, a creepy technology created by humans, seems to be of no coincidence.
Through June 24, at Bridget Donahue, 99 Bowery
Omari Douglin at Ramiken
Right now, Ramiken appears less like an art gallery than it does a piñata store. The space is filled wall to wall, and almost floor to ceiling, with these creations designed by Omari Douglin, a young Los Angeles–based artist who clearly has a knack for handsomely installing his work. All these piñatas are Black men, their arms outstretched in a position recalling ankhs, symbols that, in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, denoted life.
This is a fascinating gesture, and a fraught one too, since piñatas imply a form of violence—you’re meant to smash them open in order to reap the sweetness of their innards. But Douglin’s piñatas are not supposed to be beaten. Instead, they are intended to be preserved as they are, their wide eyes and smiley faces allowed to persevere in a society that thrives on the spectacle of Black death. Notably, the 57 piñatas are lent individuality, with names such as COVID Guy, Free from Foot Locker, and Smilaholic provided to each.
The concept is sturdy, but it’s not without problems. The press release has Douglin stating that he fabricated these piñatas in Mexico because he was interested in “the possibility of finding myself in a culture that felt foreign, but also really familiar.” This queasy way of looking to cultural outsiders for inner fulfillment has rarely ended well for artists, and the framework keeps the show from becoming an all-out success. Still, what Douglin has created is provocative enough to keep viewers mulling it over. You can’t say that often in a climate where galleries prioritize inoffensiveness over substance.
Through May 27, at Ramiken, 389 Grand Street