Overview: Spring Highlights

Jessi Reaves at Bridget Donahue
On view through June 5

Jessi Reaves’ recent installation at SculptureCenter was intriguing but too small to encompass the breadth of her project. This exhibition impresses with an excess of funky, homespun pieces of semi-functional, inside-out furniture displayed in a showroom setting. The most prevalent materials are plywood and foam, which the artist often leaves exposed, though they are normally hidden beneath upholstery. In addition to repurposing found furniture, Reaves also uses leather scraps, silk, plywood, sawdust, and driftwood to create lounge chairs, cabinets, bookshelves, lamps, and tables. In Rules Around Here (Waterproof Shelf), 2016, a free-standing shelving unit is “waterproofed” by clothing it in a midnight-blue vinyl case that doubles as a kinky dress, emphasizing the natural relationship between design and the human form. For Mind At the Rodeo (XJ Fender Table Noguchi Knockoff #2), 2016, she creates a variation on Noguchi’s iconic table, using fenders from a Jeep Cherokee truck for the legs. This piece is indicative of how Reaves uses her own slapdash style of design to appropriate modernism, replacing its pristine tendencies with something more human.

99 Bowery | Chinatown

Top: Installation view with Muscle Chair (Laying down to talk) and Beaver's Lunch (The Uncoverer), both 2016; Bottom: Installation view, “Jessi Reaves,” April 10 – June 5, 2016, Bridget Donahue, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

Josh Kline at 47 Canal
On view through June 12

Josh Kline, who isn’t shy about his politics, shares his apocalyptic vision of employment, which reduces everything to disposable commodities, including workers. In a carpeted gallery, 3D-printed sculptures depict dejected employees—most notably, a mortgage loan officer—curled up on the floor and wrapped up in clear plastic bags. They are ready to be discarded or recycled, just like the silicone casts of bottles and outmoded computer parts that are piled up into shopping carts. In Universal Early Retirement (spots #1 & #2), 2016, Kline advocates for guaranteed basic income with two commercials that imitate the idealized aesthetics of banking and pharmaceutical advertisements. Instead of blissful relief and financial security, Kline offers to liberate time from the limitations of a monetized system. In a darkened side gallery, a series of virus-shaped pods, titled Contagious Unemployment, 2016, are suspended from the ceiling. Like time capsules, each sculpture contains a banker’s box filled with the kind of personal belongings the recently laid-off would assemble from their cubicles—a potted plant, children's art, a baseball hat, and a spare tie. These are objects that tether a job to life outside the workplace, humanizing the daily grind. At least you get to take them with you when you go.

291 Grand Street | Lower East Side

Top: Installation view with Universal Early Retirement (spots #1 & #2), 2016; Bottom: Installation view, Josh Kline, “Unemployment,” May 3 ­– June 12, 47 Canal, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

Ken Price at Matthew Marks Gallery
On view through June 25

In 2013, I was blown away by The Drawing Center’s exhibition of Ken Price’s works on paper, a show that spanned the sculptor’s entire career. The cups! The volcanic landscapes! The west coast noir! Similarly, this exhibition features previously unseen drawings that run the gamut, from his early sculptural studies to the spare Los Angeles interiors and car crashes he depicted in the 1990s, and onto the lava- and lightning-charged landscapes he created until his death in 2012. Price’s work in the medium has a laid-back graphic sensibility and his application of background washes and vibrant blocks of color points to the influence of popular art, especially comics and illustration. Several drawings, such as Egg Flower Specimen (1968), detail sculptures that may or may not have been realized, whereas others situate the amorphous forms that were typical to his later ceramics within acid-toned desert landscapes, as in The Beautiful West (2005). While his earlier drawings benefit from a relationship to his three-dimensional works, Price’s surreal landscapes stand on their own, rendering a desolate, imaginary world that has an uncanny resemblance to our own.

523 W 24th Street | Chelsea

Top: Car Plunge (detail), 1994, Acrylic and ink on paper, 14 x 11 1/4 inches; Bottom: All Alone (detail), 2007, Acrylic and ink on paper, 9 x 6 inches.

Other Recommendations:

Lui Shtini at Kate Werble Gallery
83 Vandam Street | TriBeCa
On view through June 4

Ariel Dill at Turn Gallery
37 East 1st Street | East Village
On view through June 12

Hilton Als at The Artist’s Institute
132 E 65th Street | Upper East Side
On view through June 18

"Frida Smoked" at Invisible-Exports
89 Eldridge Street | Lower East Side
On view through June 19

"Overview" posts provide recommendations for current exhibitions in and around New York City.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s Otherworldly Treasures

In King of Lesser Lands, an eclectic but focused exhibition at Andrew Edlin Gallery, we are introduced to the world of self-taught artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein by a long row of erotic pinup portraits of his wife. As intriguing as they are awkward, these photographs are almost generic compared to the visionary works that follow. Von Bruenchenhein proclaimed that he was of noble descent but also referred to himself as a visitor to this world, theorizing that there was a “First World” that Earth had splintered from during a cataclysmic event. In light of this, many of his works can be interpreted as documents and artifacts of this fantasized world.

Von Bruenchenhein’s vision is most fully realized in his paintings—Technicolor skyscrapers and otherworldly landscapes that evoke popular science fiction imagery and Charles Burchfield’s more mystical works. The imaginary vistas and aquatic microcosms depicted in paintings like To The Endless Span of Creation (1954) and Sea Fringe (n°882) (1960) radiate with frenetic energy. To achieve this effect, the artist worked quickly and spontaneously, using his fingers, combs, crumpled paper, and sticks to manipulate the paint—scraping, pushing, and fanning out the oils in vibrating, electric patterns.

Von Bruenchenhein’s sculptures are evocative of unearthed royal treasures: miniature thrones intricately constructed from painted chicken bones, leafy ceramic crowns and vessels, arrowheads fashioned from broken glass (not exhibited here), and large-scale concrete heads that lined his house like spiritual guardians. All of Von Bruenchenhein’s works were made entirely at his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—he even hand-dug the clay for his ceramics and fired them in his coal-burning oven—and they remained there during his lifetime.

Photographs taken of the artist’s home shortly after his death document the overwhelming accumulation of artwork and bric-a-brac. His ramshackle palace was an extension of his art and a kind of museum in its own right: the exterior was a patchwork of color, doors and walls were painted with scenic and abstract imagery, and placards with handwritten poems and theories hung throughout. His paintings and sculptures are presented here in stark contrast to the way that Von Bruenchenhein lived with them and, though that may be unavoidable, some of their power is lost. Nonetheless, we should be thankful to behold such curious and forceful treasures.

Top: Untitled, 1978, Oil on cardboard, 29 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches; Middle: To The Endless Span of Creation (detail), 1954, Oil on board, 24 x 24 inches; Bottom: Installation view, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, King of Lesser Lands, March 24 – May 8, 2016, Andrew Edlin Gallery, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

The Shape of Light: Ellsworth Kelly’s Photography

For this exhibition, which is the first to focus solely on Ellsworth Kelly’s photographs, Matthew Marks Gallery compiled images that were taken over thirty years and printed shortly before the artist’s death this past December. Though Kelly did not use his photographs as direct sources for his paintings, they share a striking emphasis on geometric forms, from simple squares and triangles to skewed diamonds and rhomboids. These images are revelatory not only because we are unfamiliar with Kelly’s extraordinary work in this medium, but they also provide a context for and a contrast to his colorful abstract paintings.

Kelly spent the last forty-five years of his life in rural Upstate New York and the images in this show are a reminder that even though the hard-edged minimalism of his works can seem urban or industrial, he more frequently found inspiration in the pastoral. Two early photographs from 1950—one of curling tendril-like pine branches, the other of re-bar and concrete—call to mind his elegant contour drawings of plants and flowers. These images are outliers though; overwhelmingly, Kelly’s photographs are preoccupied with how mass and volume can be suggested by light and shadow.

Potato Barn, Southampton, 1968, Gelatin silver print, 8 1/2 x 13 inches; Above: Doorway, Belle-Île-en-Mer, 1977, Gelatin silver print, 12 7/8 x 8 1/2 inches. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

Kelly was especially attracted to the simple architecture of barns and the shadows cast by their gabled roofs and large doorways. In Barns, Long Island (1968), one barn abuts another perpendicularly, creating an intricate stacking of linear structures, but the eye is drawn to the starkly white fragment of sky created by the roof’s peak. Often, these negative spaces and shadow forms act as referents for Kelly’s canvases, as in Movie Screen, Waterbury (1982), in which a drive-in screen creates a diamond-shaped white void against the backdrop of dense foliage, or the jewel-like shadow in Doorway Shadow, Spencertown (1977).

With these black-and-white photographs, Kelly—an artist so famous for his use of color—was able to visually compress and distill the three-dimensional world into a flattened space, emphasizing the forms he spent his career examining. When taken collectively—especially as viewed on the gallery’s website (as seen below)—the photographs read as an index of Kelly’s visual vocabulary. Perhaps more importantly, they provide a context for his abstractions, one that is based squarely in his lived experiences.

Screen capture showing thumbnails of Ellsworth Kelly's photographs on Matthew Marks Gallery’s website, www.matthewmarks.com.

Balancing Act: Peter Fischli and David Weiss at the Guggenheim

With subversive and deadpan wit, the collaborative Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss made a career of exploring the mundane as well as the profound. In How to Work Better, the Guggenheim’s comprehensive and immensely enjoyable retrospective, this dichotomy is perhaps most evident in the massive presentation of Suddenly This Overview (1981–present), their ever expanding collection of rough-hewn, unfired clay vignettes and figurines. As with many of the duo’s works, the project is a fool’s errand—an encyclopedic attempt to document earthly matters and concerns. The subjects depicted range from the personal (Fischli’s first day of school) and commonplace (a loaf of bread) to the esoteric (Lacan’s mirror stage) and historical (George Washington crossing the Delaware), and also include the sub-series, “Popular Opposites.”

When pleasurably lost amid the dizzying forest of pedestals, it seems like this installation of diminutive clay sculptures could continue spiraling up the museum’s iconic ramp without end. Instead, the exhibition winds down with several galleries devoted to the artists’ polyurethane sculptures—meticulously crafted objects presented in trompe l’oeil installations that suggest spaces in transition. As they progress up the ramp, the polyurethane arrangements become increasingly spare and Fischli and Weiss’ simulations merge with the architecture and operations of the museum. The exhibition comes to a close and fades to black with Questions (2000–2003), a darkened room illuminated by a slide show of handwritten texts and the occasional doodle—the artists’ humorous take on the inquisitive, but slightly dreadful, thoughts and anxieties that can keep one awake at night.

Nocturnal reflections, such as “What does my soul do when I’m at work?,” “Does a ghost drive my car at night?,” and “Am I asleep?,” bring us full circle from the two subtly animatronic sculptures positioned at the bottom of the ramp—sleeping miniatures of the duo’s alter egos, Rat and Bear. These recumbent figures, as well as the “disappearing act” of the polyurethane installations, provide a stark contrast to the elaborate, big-budget spectacles other artists have presented in the Guggenheim’s cavernous rotunda. The exhibition as a whole serves as a bittersweet memorial to David Weiss, who died in 2012, and an understated celebration of a thirty-three year collaboration between two beguiling and irreverent pranksters.

Images (top to bottom): Installation view of Suddenly This Overview, 1981–present, with “Mick Jagger and Brian Jones Going Home Satisfied After Composing ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’” and “Ancient Fertility Symbol”; Installation view of Untitled, 1994, Painted polyurethane, 19 parts, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery; Installation view of Questions, 2000–2003; Rat and Bear (Sleeping), 2008, Cotton, wire, polyester, and electric mechanism, Dimensions variable. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

On View: Sharon Core at Yancey Richardson

As she did with her still life photographs, which I included in Nature Morte, Sharon Core continues to blur the distinction between nature and artifice in her new exhibition, Understory. What initially appear to be details of a forest microcosm are actually documents of a meticulously researched and cultivated environment, created by the artist within a geodesic dome built on her Hudson Valley property. Like an environmental display at a botanical garden, Core’s “forest” is both real and fabricated—it is a living ecosystem that is controlled and isolated from external influences (though she did source insects and other natural materials from surrounding woodlands). Core used her own garden to grow plants and flowers for her earlier still life and floral arrangements, so it is no surprise that she went to such effort to create a living stage for these photographs.

Using photography to examine the still life genre, Core has previously found inspiration from artists as diverse as Raphaelle Peale and Wayne Thiebaud. Here, her chiaroscuro images loosely reference the work of Otto Marseus van Schrieck, a 17th Century Dutch painter whose depictions of thriving forest floors were rife with the type of symbolism and meditations on mortality usually found in a vanitas still life. Appropriately, the forest floor is teeming with death and decay but also rebirth. Due to their subject matter and art historical references, Core’s floral images occasionally flirted with being too beautiful, but this exhibition is very much about what lies beneath the beauty—the death and decay that enable life to thrive and keep the cycle moving.

On view through May 7

Yancey Richardson Gallery
525 W 22nd Street |  Chelsea

Top: Untitled #4, 2015, Archival pigment print, 30 x 20 inches, Ed. of 7; Bottom: Installation view with Untitled #1 and Untitled #11, Sharon Core, Understory, Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

"On View" posts highlight current exhibitions featuring exhibited artists.