Critic's Guide: New York
Amy Zion gives a round-up of the best shows currently on view in the city
Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 'How to Work Better'
5 Feb – 27 April
The Guggenheim’s rotunda plays host to the 33-years-worth of collaboration between Fischli and Weiss, presenting their diverse works in a winding and surprising thematic versus chronological installation.
The exhibition frames their collaboration as an interrogation of Western dualities such as ‘big and small’ or ‘high and low’, words that can be found scrawled into unbaked clay in their series ‘Suddenly this overview’ (1981–ongoing). I learned recently that the pair was especially interested in critiquing the romanticized and tired idea of an artist as a serious and solitary man in his studio, a point supported by the film The Right Way (1982-3), which is installed on the ground floor. In it, the artists adopt their animal personas (Rat and Bear) and go out into the wild, where they encounter a host of real, presumably confused animals.
Years from now, it will be difficult to believe that this vast, varied collection of videos, silicone sculptures, drawings, photographs and postcards (the list goes on) was ever produced by the same pair. That is perhaps the most magical thing about this exhibition: it is an opportunity to see it all together in a building perfectly suited to the artist’s playful yet rigorous explorations.
Mika Tajima: Embody
February 13 – March 13
Mika Tajima’s exhibition of recent paintings, sculptures and videos straddles 11 Rivington’s two separate spaces, underlining physically the conceptual differences between the two sets of sculptures that sit in each room. The white, cocoon-like objects emanate a warm glow that constantly changes. The lights in one room react to the fluctuating price of gold, getting brighter as the cost goes up (this is only perceptible after multiple visits), whereas the lights in the partnering space quickly flutter up and down as if a child were in control of switch. In fact, those lights translate the emotional reactions of populations in Cairo, Egypt, and London, UK, which are read by software that trawls through Twitter feeds.
Similarly, the artist’s ‘Negative Entropy’ paintings are technological explorations first and foremost: field recordings are converted into data that is then rendered by a Jacquard loom, imbricating data production with material production. Like much of ‘Embody’, this series poses a direct challenge to those who bemoan the fading relevance of painting in a technological age.
'Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection'
American Folk Art Museum
20 Jan 20 – 8 May
I went to the Folk Museum directly after Artists Space, and by sheer coincidence I experienced a bizarre resonance in this varied exhibition of material relating to the two secretive, whites-only groups that first inspired the Ku Klux Klan.
The entrance wall is covered by a large, unattributed image from the late 19th century titled Washington as a freemason, which depicts the first US President in a white masonic apron addressing a room of men in similar regalia. Elsewhere, quilts, ceremonial aprons and medallions are embossed with mysterious, symbolic imagery including the all-seeing eye, a compass and an open palm, as well as a number of symbols appropriated from Judaism, Islam, and Native American culture.
The rich visual vocabulary evinced in this exhibition developed through necessity, as the members of the groups who travelled from place to place to find work were often illiterate, and therefore required a language of codes to discern exactly who belonged and who did not.
Cameron Rowland, '91020000'
17 January – 13 March
‘91020000’ takes its name from the registration number assigned to Artists Space by Corcraft, a division of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, enabling it to purchase the majority of the objects in the exhibition. Amongst them: a non-descript office desk, manhole rings and oak benches, all installed in a seemingly informal manner throughout the space. Several documents including a framed contract establishing a ‘Reparations Purpose Trust’, a Corcraft catalogue and an extended exhibition checklist reveal the objects to be produced by prison inmates situating them within a history of slavery that has been transmuted purposefully into a disproportionately black prison system.
Rowland presents a provocative proposition for implicating cultural institutions within this history, while also offering a separate proposal for the future through the establishment of the Reparations Purpose Trust, whose purpose is ‘to make a statement emphasizing the continuing impact of slavery in the United States and encouraging federal and corporate programs of reparation’. Rowland’s greatest feat is his ability to gather and suture moments of political oppression in order to cast them into a possible future which has reckoned with these moral debts.
Ana Mendieta ‘Experimental and Interactive Films’
5 Feb – 26 March
This exhibition runs concurrent with ‘Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta’ at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderale, with both shows presenting works recently discovered by the gallery and the artist’s estate. As the first gallery exhibition of the late artist’s films in New York, it features 15 films as well as sound works and archival material dating back to 1971, when the artist was just 22.
Politically inflected from the beginning, the works testify to the range of Mendieta’s technical experimentation, but although only one of the 15 films that are shown side-by-side has sound, her work begs for a more intimate installation. Truthfully, I wish I could have been perched on a small bench, watching the films in succession, instead of standing and darting from one to another, as many works consist of long shots in which movement or change is barely perceptible. That said, this is undeniably a rare opportunity to experience such a wealth of previously unseen footage and gain a deeper insight into this important artist’s work.
The Met Breuer
18 March – 5 June
One of two inaugural exhibitions at the Met Breuer, this retrospective of the late Indian Modernist Nasreen Mohamedi, who passed away in 1990 at the age of 53, follows a smaller presentation of drawings and photographs at the nearby Drawing Center in 2005.
The show traces the chronological development of Mohamedi’s drawings as they transform from vaguely figurative ink and graphite compositions to highly abstract, grid-like compositions. Presented alongside are countless photographs and notebooks littered with concrete poetry and small abstract compositions, both keys to understanding the drawings and works in their own right.
While offering the obligatory biographical notes about the artist’s travels and her shifting influences, the accompanying wall text also makes reference to Mohamedi’s battle with Huntington’s disease. The condition increasingly affected her motor control towards the end of her career, in inverse proportion to how controlled and deftly precise her works eventually became.
David Hammons, 'Five Decades'
15 March – 27 May
Formerly L&M Arts, the Upper East Side Mnuchin Gallery has staged several solo exhibitions with the notoriously illusive and selective David Hammons before deciding to present this relatively small yet powerful retrospective – the first of its kind since MoMA PS1 mounted ‘Rousing the Rubble’ in 1990.
The exhibition positions more recognizable works like In The Hood (1993), Smoke Screen (1990-5) and Spade (Power for the Spade) (1969), alongside photographs from the artist’s personal collection shown publicly here for the first time and set to a soundtrack of traditional Japanese court music. The poignant selections are installed in an eccentric manner that doesn’t aim to totalize or over-define Hammons, whose Untitled paintings and sculptures from the last three years are evidence that, almost half a century after the likes of Spade were realized, there is no sign of waning creativity.