Four Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now
Four Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now
Through Aug. 28. Miles McEnery Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; 212-445-0051, milesmcenery.com.
Over the past two or three years, Warren Isensee’s abstract paintings, while always good, have taken a sharp turn for the better. For nearly a decade Mr. Isensee, who has been exhibiting since 1998, cultivated a distinctive geometry of parallel lines whose softened edges and pulsing color contrasts conjured the tubular glow of neon, compartmentalizing them into squares and rectangles with black outlines.
But recently a kind of dam seems to have burst. In paintings from the last year or so, viewable in person and online, Mr. Isensee’s lines of color curve, bulge and undulate, forming gorgeous often quatrefoil patterns that evoke gears, jacks and also intarsia Renaissance tables, their inlaid stone updated with a cartoonish bounce. Thicker rubbery versions of the black outlines push the colors in and out, squeezing them into narrow ribbons or allowing them to expand into quasi-shapes. The leftover spaces outside those lines are filled by weird shapes — nodules, lozenges, light bulbs and boomerangs outlined in two or three colors. Over all, there is a strange effect: The surface has such energy that it seems to make the canvas all but disappear.
Much of the above occurs in “Interstellar Overdrive,” dominated by four large gear-like outlines, and also in “LOL” and “Wild Kindness,” in which the gears morph into less regular shapes suggestive of butterflies or cartoon splats. In “As Promised,” a single black outline turns in on itself and becomes much more complicated, curving through the center and rippling along the edges, resulting in a symphony of polyp shapes.
Mr. Isensee sets out his compositions in small, delectable colored-pencil studies that are also on view. He then turns to canvas, painting freehand, in oil, producing a luscious surface. His palette tends toward calibrated variations on the primary colors: brighter and more pure outside the black outlines, paler within.
Figuring out the inter-workings of these paintings — their contrapuntal colors, geometric high jinks and bodily, mechanical or decorative suggestions — is tremendously thrilling for both mind and eye.
A formalist vocabulary continues to operate in these works. In particular Mr. Isensee seems to build, at least partly, but elaborately on the work of Paul Feeley, the uncategorizable abstract painter of the 1950s and ’60s. Feeley’s emblem-like shapes are almost quoted verbatim in “Out of Touch.” But these paintings go beyond formal. They are complex collaborations of line, shape and color in which everything coalesces into a kind of visual equality, to beautiful, and inspiring, effect. They also testify to how much time and work is required to become the artist that only you and no one else can be.
Sojourner Truth Parsons
Through Aug. 16. Foxy Production, 2 East Broadway, Manhattan; 212-239-2758, foxyproduction.com.
Let’s say you start “Sex and Love With a Psychologist,” a tricky new show by Sojourner Truth Parsons, with the painting “Ocean With Piano.” There you’ll find a paper-doll ballerina on point in front of a matte black background.
Behind the dancer are several views of a full moon, “attached” to the painting’s bottomless darkness with trompe l’oeil blue tape, and beside her is a lavender doppelgänger. If, then, you turn to “Tell Them That It’s Human Nature” and find the same ballerina behind a seated, naked young woman, and both of them enclosed together in another painting-within-the-painting under another piece of blue “tape,” you may think you’ve got the point: The show, as billed, is about sex, love and escalating levels of self-consciousness, as well as a steady cultural drumbeat of highly stereotyped images of femininity.
But since you could just as easily find a different progression entirely — crisscross the gallery following the round yellow moon, instead, or simply linger in front of the jagged, fractured face in “My Perfect Look” — it’s almost impossible to get your footing. The secret, I finally realized, was in those changeless black backgrounds, which the paintings’ reds, yellow, and hot pinks throw into such relief. Though they look thick and velvety online, if you’re able to visit in person you’ll discover that they’re painted quick and thin. In combination with the sketchy drawing, this makes the whole group of paintings look as much like stage dressings as they do like a gallery show — which adds a final, crucial turn to the work’s self-consciousness.
Through Aug. 21. Essex Street, 55 Hester Street, Manhattan; 917-553-8139, essexstreet.biz.
Breath is central to two phenomena dominating our moment, the coronavirus crisis and the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement, as well as to “Edition One and Two Fantasies,” a spare conceptual installation by the New York artist Park McArthur that you can view online or in person at Essex Street gallery.
The door to the gallery is left open to suggest ample air circulation and ease of access. Just inside is “Fantasies” (2020), a stack of 12 disposable filters on the wall, taken from a ventilator that Ms. McArthur uses at night. (The actual filters are safely encased in plastic.) Elsewhere in the gallery, framed blue-on-white printouts titled “Form found figuring it out, show” — like artistic prints — are appropriated from the medical device called an incentive spirometer, which Ms. McArthur also uses and which is designed to help improve the functioning of the lungs.
Ms. McArthur’s work recalls artists like Michael Asher and Cameron Rowland, whose institutional critiques consider questions like who makes an object and how it is displayed, purchased or consumed. However, ability (and disability) is what’s at issue here. Ms. McArthur, who uses a wheelchair, expands upon critical disability theory issues that challenge discrimination and the single (“able”) version of how people should be in the world. This show is somewhat stark and sterile compared with her clever and engaging 2014 show of disability access ramps laid out on the gallery floor. But it feels exceptionally timely. Where the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter highlight the “I can’t breathe” of patients and Black victims of police brutality, Ms. McArthur shifts it to a personal register that feels both ameliorative and activist.
Through Sept. 12. Blank Forms, blankforms.org/viewing room.
For all art galleries and institutions, the fallout from the coronavirus has been brutal; for those devoted to performance, it has been existential. Blank Forms, a reliably intelligent nonprofit devoted to experimental performance, music, dance and sound art, has had to cancel its concerts and postpone its seminars — but it has also pursued some nimble digital efforts, like an online exhibition of the artist and composer Graham Lambkin titled “Time Runs Through the Darkest Hour.” View it on your biggest monitor, and plug in your headphones.
Mr. Lambkin, born in southern England and now based in upstate New York, has produced more than a dozen large drawings in which humans, animals, plants, fungi and biomorphs of indeterminate status seem to fly, float, collide, collapse. Their thin contours and light coloring (mauve, beige, cerulean, gray) put me in mind of the spectral figures of Henri Michaux or Roberto Matta, though compared to the existential anxieties of those midcentury modernists, Mr. Lambkin’s drawings of unmoored species express a more ecological unease. In each drawing the picture plane is reliably shallow; bodies stack and tumble in these overlaid spaces, in a manner that recalls the compressed perspectives of Piranesi’s imaginary prisons.
The drawings, if seen on their own, might feel too general — yet Mr. Lambkin is displaying them against an ambient, 40-minute sound recording that grounds their floating forms within the everyday sounds of the artist’s studio. I heard, or think I heard, the hiss of a gas burner, a dripping faucet, footfalls on wood, the chiming of a stylus striking bells or cordial glasses, a deep hum that could be a cello or a space heater. Listening at my computer offered a very different experience from listening in Blank Forms’s Brooklyn space; it sounded like a private missive from artist to audience, both of us trapped at home, both of us lost in space.