Six New York Gallery Shows December 2023 – Ilka Scobie

Retinal Hysteria at Venus Over Manhattan 13 January – Robert Storr has curated the city’s most exciting and provocative group show with over eighty works by forty artists. On the same block, both Venus spaces present art meant to ponder, disturb, and examine “a world gone nuts.”

The expansive show features gallery stalwarts Peter Saul, Ana Benaroya, and Jim Shaw, as well as venerable art stars like Kara Walker, Raymond Pettibon, Robert Colescott, Dana Schutz, Louise Bourgeois, and a further eclectic constellation. Storr, former Dean of Yale University and Museum of Modern Art curator, has chosen work” as coming apart at its seams.” Author of the original essay for the landmark 2001-2002 “Eye Infection” show at the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam, this new incarnation builds upon the audacious premise that this is a show “with explicit sexuality and violence, and always visually bombastic …. Not for the fainthearted… but for the pop-culture aficionado.”

With its powerfully reductive abstraction, Joyce Pensato’s “The Original Mickey” renders the cartoon mouse as a monstrously grinning icon. David Wojnarowicz further represents the maverick sensibility. “Untitled (alien Head) 1984, a floating head rendered in blood red, with one collaged paper bullseye, the other eye embedded with a friendly monster as a pupil, and a brain composed of an urban building billowing smoke.

Robert Storr blithely headlines the catalogue of the cross-generational show with the phrase: “Kiss My Aesthetics.” This sprawling, ambitious exhibition is a “disturbingly intense” and brilliant survey of these troubled times.

Dana Schutz “Jupiter’s Lottery” David Zwirner Gallery 16 December

Dana Schutz unveils her most monumental and complex works in her first solo show with the gallery. Echoing her signature gestural and densely hued paintings, the large canvases feature monstrous marionette-like humanoids indulging in weird contemporary rituals. Cast bronze sculptures, initially modelled in clay, are larger than life, adding a powerful dimensionality to Schulz’s singular vision.

The show’s title refers to Aesop’s fable, which explores the idea that “the greatest fools have always regarded themselves as the wisest of men.” This is a very apt observation of our current state of affairs.

Schutz, whose thick, wet-on-wet paintings present humanity at its finest moments. A pearl-necklaced woman, a man clutches, and as a canvas is hugged, pig-snouted, avaricious, striving humanoids are in a rush. “Parrots’ perches brightly hued birds on the claws of hatchet-faced beachgoers. Vortexes of disembodied heads with Neanderthal jawbones, weirdly furred and feathered creatures, are all rendered in a lurid palette. This ambitious show coincides with Schutz’s survey show at the Musee d’Art Moderne de Paris.

Barbara Nessim “Balancing Act: Drawings 1969-1974” Derek Eller Gallery Until 23 December

Iconic female portraits, created between 1969 and 1974, coincided with the dawn of the second feminist movement. The works retain their elegant power while beautifully embodying the revolutionary feminist zeitgeist of those times.

Nessim’s delicate and powerful lines present women with exposed and shaved genitalia adorned with hip accessories from headdresses to bejewelled belts. Platform shoes are treated with still-life reverence, the brightest pieces in the subtly hued show.

But the unnerving stare unites this tribe of “quintessential” women. A contemporary mannerist, Nessim’s iconic females with their elongated limbs, small heads with stylised features, and flattened linear perspective are the results of masterful mark-making. Fresh and challenging as when first presented, “Balancing Act” offers a prescient view independent of the male gaze.

First recognized as a freelance illustrator, the native New Yorker was also an early explorer of digital arts. Internationally exhibited, her work was the subject of a solo show at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Rose Smith  “Recollections of Rondo” Fort Gansevoort until

For decades, the artists Rose and Melvin Smith have been documenting their once-vibrant Rondo neighborhood in St Paul, Minnesota. A thriving black community, Rondo was a centre of civil rights, where families lived, worked and sent their kids to good schools. Married in 1968, the couple have dedicated themselves to preserving and celebrating the memory and myth of a solid and beloved community.

Rose and Melvin Smith create artworks inspired by the Rondo community. For Rose, they often depict women who toiled as domestic workers, and men who were Pullman porters. The poignantly powerful “Journey to Minnesota” 2008 immortalises Rose’s family as they travelled by train from the South to their new Midwestern home. The small child is Rose, in the centre of a loving family. This beautifully curated show is collaboration and conversation, exemplifying the urban black experience. Melvin creates intricate sculptures in wood representing nostalgic storefronts and other neighborhood recreations.

The 1960s construction of an Interstate highway forever changed Rondo. The Smiths, witnesses to the neighborhood’s final years, have lovingly preserved the images and energy of a lively black enclave destroyed by “urban renewal.”

Alvaro Barrington “Island Life” Nicola Vassell Gallery until 21 December

Alvaro Barrington is a bold painter. His soaring images of singular hibiscus blooms are painted with oil, acrylic and enamel in the off-centre of large canvases. Minimal blossoms promise diaphanous petals and lingering perfume. A flower morphs into a landscape with shadowy coronas that take on fleshy and fragile sensuality.

Island Life Wet Fete replicates the famous photo of Grace Jones by Jean-Paul Goude. Paintings are architecturally framed in walnut, corrugated steel and reclaimed wood.

Continuing his homage to his Caribbean ancestry is the series “Jammin.” The painted steel pans with joyous acrobatic figures reference the tourist T-shirts ubiquitous to the island. A bright primary palette and energetic figures capture the intoxicating charms of the sea and sunshine.

Barbara Barbara Chase-Riboud “The Three Josephines” until 23 December

Once a garage, then the Gagosian Gallery, Hauser and Wirth’s newly opened Soho space presents Barbara Chase-Riboud’s “Ree Josephines” “as their inaugural show. A homage to Josephine Baker and the visionary artist’s shared encounters with the fabled black American entertainer, activist, and legend is the inspiration for this magnificent show. This New York show coincides with the end of her recent landmark show at New York’ Museum of Modern Art, where her work was paired with Alberto Giacometti.

Her first UK show at London’s Serpentine Gallery was a survey of seven decades of her pioneering work.

Fourteen gorgeously hand-sewn works on paper, created from silk thread piercing Arches paper, combine Chase-Riboud’s work as author, poet and artist. The delicate hieoglyphery created by intricate stitching embodies the artist’s words: “Dawnings prepared me for the demands of poetry.” “Counterpointing the ethereally textured white graffiti of the paperwork are monumental painted bronze sculptures. Ponderous lines are combined with sensually coiled silk thread.

The artist detailed her meetings with the legendary Josephine Baker. Recounting the second time their paths crossed, Chase-Riboud said when she met Baker backstage, “A little old lady came out, glasses on, sort of someone’s grandmother. But then, when the curtains opened, she became a goddess; she grew two meters higher. She wore an incredible headdress. And there she was, Josephine, the epitome of black history, glamour and fame in Paris, mother of twelve children, her Army service. That was the last performance of Josephine. She died the next day.” “The Philadelphian-born artist lives between Paris and Rome. When asked about her work being shown in Soho, she replied, “B” cause of the skylight, the lighting, the drawings seem to have an iridescent glow.” “and smilingly, she told the admiring crowd. “I am happy to be in Soho. I’m happy to be alive.”

Another Barbara Chase-Riboud treasure is her recently published (by Princeton University Press) memoir, “I Always Knew.” “written as rambling, loving messages to her mother, the correspondence begins in 1957, when the young artist landed in Paris. Reflective and gossipy, these lyrical letters reflect an extraordinary life. Chase-Riboud worked as an international model, travelled the world, and met Picasso, James Baldwin, Jacqueline Onassis, Eldridge Cleaver, and a parade of European art stars. The Museum of Modern Art acquired her work in 1955 when Barbara was fifteen, the youngest artist ever to enter their collection.

Top Image: Dana Schutz in her studio, 2023. Photo by Jason Schmidt

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