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Five Shows in New York

We heard (rumors) that Frieze New York was slipping, but if the booth presentations this year are any indication we cannot verify these facts (but really, who cares about facts anymore?). We instead have the feeling that the boat has sprung a leak, as NADA swapped dates to coincide with the Armory Show. There are rumblings of a contracting art market everywhere, as global sales slow down and the auction houses bleed people. Nowhere in the world is the crunch felt as tightly as in this city, where the tide of rising rent and gentrification puts financial strains on galleries.

Maybe Frieze is not sinking, it is just losing its edge, facing the realities of a fully grown up fair. Nothing hip can last forever. This year the fair emphasized incorporating elements of Frieze Masters to help cultivate cross-collecting (which cynically translates to contemporary art collectors who add old masters to their holdings to diversify their portfolios). That would pair it perfectly with the conservative luxury fair TEFAF (who presents everything from raw diamonds to medieval furniture to horse armor). The later fair perfectly positioned itself in the Upper East Side at the grand old Park Avenue Armory, a stone's throw away from legendary 740 Park Avenue, which is considered to be among the most luxurious and powerful residential buildings in town. We hope these uptown blue-haired, well-heeled collectors are willing to go to both, to TEFAF and take a crowded boat to Randall's Island for Frieze.

As always spring presents a season for the center of the art universe to shine with incredible shows. The DNA of the multi-billion dollar global art market is encapsulated in the nuclear membrane of New York with Chelsea and Lower East Side (LES) as their nuclei.

Shockingly the closing of Andrea Rosen Gallery, a stalwart in Chelsea, felt like the loss of a whole chromosome. Yet the blue-chip gallery district is still very much intact. We take the newly remodeled Bottino, our 10th Avenue favorite art world spot, as a sign that the mega-galleries will survive. One can hardly say Andrea Rosen without Felix Gonzalez-Torres coming to mind. He was the very first artist she showed. When he passed away from AIDS-related illness at only 39, he entrusted her with his estate (and later she would set up the foundation) which she reverently holds in her hands. That was until now when she announced co-representation with David Zwirner.

Here we give you a tour of five urgent exhibitions in New York all dealing with historical, social, and global themes that bring the personal to the political. Shows of artists who instead of separating themselves from their predecessors (killing off the father-figure) are building a bridge to the conceptual art movements of the 60s and 70s. Establishing an unexpected aesthetic lineage, without anxiety about ‘originality’ which in spite of (or because of) makes their work extremely original. These five represent the kinds of exhibitions we need now as Robert Storr says “in the present tense” that are alive with meaning.

See you at Bottino for an Aperol Spritz in the very sunny spring of New York, preparing for the upcoming Venice Biennale.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

This inaugural exhibition at David Zwirner amounts to a survey of all the major groups of works in the oeuvre of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. We've been told it is one the best exhibitions of his work to date. When we are asked “Who is among the most important post-war artists?” a very short list comes to mind, on which Felix Gonzalez-Torres is a major part. Upon entering Zwirner’s high temple, there is a beaded curtain dividing the space. Viewers are welcomed to walk through it, breaking the cardinal rule of “looking but not touching the art.” Later upstairs is another type of curtain, made of baby-blue silk with the daylight shining through them, hung in front of a whole wall of windows. Like all of his works, this piece is tellingly titled Untitled, followed in parenthesis (like a whisper) with the most revealing point of entry. On the floor nearby is a go-go dancing platform, which is brought to life by a beautiful boy, wearing headphones and dancing to the sound of his own music. In a corner, 175 pounds of candy is on the floor as a gift for visitors to eat and simultaneously dissolving the work into the world. This piece is an allegorical portrait of his life-long lover Ross Laycock, who died in 1991 tragically young. The 175 pounds was Ross’ ideal weight when he entered the hospital. The dwindling pile is a materialization of his battle with wasting syndrome before he eventually passed away. Gonzalez-Torres used ordinary materials to extraordinary ends, expanding on the conceptual art that came before him, bringing humanity to minimalism in profound meditations on love and loss.

David Zwirner, 537 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011


Melvin Edwards at Alexander Gray Associates
Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York

Melvin Edwards was a pioneer during the conceptual movements of minimalism and postminimalism (but he doesn’t neatly fit either category) among African-American artists who were largely ignored by the broader movements. The central object of his solo show at Alexander Gray Associates is a steel plow head, hanging on rusted metal chains from the ceiling. It relates immediately to our bodies and partly blocks us from entering the space. Also suspended is a sculpture of shiny steel barbed wire, which is very contemporary in its social meanings of keeping marginalized people out (or in). Mounted to the wall are a series of metal works titled Lynch Fragments recalling in size and shape (African) masks or shields. These welded works (descendant of David Smith) composed of found steel (sometimes rusted) plantation objects, knives, hooks, and machine parts – powerful in formality with all the violence and struggle the title implies. Immediately relating to his unjustly more famous peers, Mark di Suvero and John Chamberlain who were more easily consumed and historicized. (We think Dia:Beacon should step up to honor Edwards.) The very objects call forth the history of slavery and its lasting legacy until the discrimination of today. Directly engaging the history of race, labor, violence, as well as with themes of African diaspora during the height of the civil rights movements. The work now seems as pressing as ever.

Alexander Gray Associates, 510 West 26 Street, New York, NY 10001


Kevin Beasley at Casey Kaplan

Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York

Exploring the rich dialog between objects and sound – those objects capture or distort – is rising star, Kevin Beasley. The materials of his show at Casey Kaplan are loaded urban signifiers: a du-rag, a gutted window air conditioner, multiple foam panels made from resin coated sports jerseys, football helmets, a golf bag and the likes. There are also very particular juxtapositions that elicit their own dialectic of ‘thuggery and respectability’ such as Kanye West-designed Adidas Yeezy 750 BOOST sneakers, which appear used and are covered in resin and dirt perched on a clean child’s booster seat. In a wall sculpture, Untitled (petrified), two football helmets are smashed together facing each other (recalling the violence of the NFL). Filled with polyurethane foam and yellowed they appear like skulls of mummies in rags. At times language and words – like the player's last names (Metta World Peace or John Wall) on the back of their NBA jersey’s spell out “WALL” or “WORLD PEACE” in all caps written over and over again – further problematize the sculptures with current event themes of xenophobia (that insane plans of Trump to build a wall). Ultimately language mixes with formal elements straight out of Bruce Conner’s or Robert Rauschenberg's playbook, bringing together social, political and art historical references into haunting objects that capture the viewers' voices and leaves them with visual experiences beyond words.

Casey Kaplan, 121 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001

Iván Argote at Perrotin

Courtesy Perrotin, New York

From the first time, we saw Ivan Argote’s work, tucked away in the back viewing room of Perrotin’s old gallery space uptown, we knew the work was powerful and deserved a bigger space – now it is getting just that. The first New York solo show of the artist will inaugurate Perrotin’s massive Lower East Side historically significant building. Argote works across media: videos, photographs, sculptures, public interventions, performances, but we see it all as sculptures in the expanded field. He explores the links between public histories and personal memories (as well as indigenous and community traditions) within the extended social sculpture of the ‘city.’ Public monuments or public advertising recur as themes in his work for example at the core of his new film in the exhibition, As Far As We Could Get. He rented billboards to announce a feature film titled La Venganza Del Amor (The Revenge of Love). Argote moves with his camera between South America and Asia filming young adults who are coincidentally born on the day the Berlin wall came down. A leitmotif is the bouncing basketball, a signifier of international (cultural) globalization via sports marketing, the rise of neoliberalism, and contemporary art (Jeff Koons, David Hammons or even Oscar Murillo come to mind). Like his films, the sculptures embody urgent politics within their deeper meaning. In the room there is a large scale gold floor sculpture (it looks like a Franz West at first), appearing as an over-sized nugget of gold. We come to know it is actually an enlarged sculpture of a sweet potato. One of the earliest foods signifying the first wave of globalization. As early as 700 AD the root vegetable traveled from South America to Europe where it became a staple food, but darkly represents specter of coming colonialism.

Perrotin, 130 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002

Invisible Man at Martos Gallery

Courtesy Martos Gallery, New York

For the grand opening of their new location, Martos Gallery is mounting a group show curated by the recently appointed gallery director, the brilliant Ebony L. Haynes who we deeply respect. The show is titled after one of the most significant American literary works, Invisible Man. It is said to be among the clearest pictures of America in any novel of the 20th century. Other people want to reduce it to a ‘race novel.’ Here Martos Gallery opens with four artists bringing forward the minimalist discourse – with reduced materials. It is not an exhibition of identity politics despite the fact that all artists are people of color. It is instead a meditation on the political radicality of bodies. In Jessica Vaughn’s large-scale wall installation (recalling minimalist master Charlotte Posenenske who has two wonderful shows in Berlin right now) she mounts 36 decommissioned dark navy blue seats taken from the Chicago public subway, the so-called ‘Blue Line,’ which serves the city's nearly all African-American south-side. On the wall they immediately appear black, giving the whole exhibition a sense that it only uses the colors black and white. When we get closer, we see the blues. The fabric is worn, tattered and rubbed by the bodies that sat on the seats – the ghost of these bodies still very present. Similarly, Kayode Ojo gives us another object for sitting on, one of the most humorous works with biting irony in the show. Standing a ‘dark chocolate’ colored couch from a high-end furniture store on its end he tops it off, nearly out of site, with a silver sequined “evening prom maxi cocktail dress” – it made us laugh out loud, but gendered implications broke our heart. As Michelle Kuo, editor in chief of Artforum wrote “the ways in which bodies become visible, palpable, distributed, mediated... Today, when so many are being banned – and subject to violence the world over – the most powerful thing a body can do might be to declare its opacity.” The central work of the exhibition is a water glass by Pope.L filled nearly to the top (with exactly one-half inch of the glass empty). It is a metaphor for prohibition of segregation laws preventing ‘colored’ people from drinking at ‘Whites only’ water fountains. These are the American phantasmagoria we still live with.

Martos Gallery, 41 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10013


– Justin Polera