What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week
Through March 3. Galerie Eva Presenhuber, 39 Great Jones Street, Manhattan; 212-931-0711, presenhuber.com.
An orange cat turns its mask-like face to the viewer in Joan Brown’s 1985 painting “The Golden Age: The Jaguar and the Tapir,” one of the stars of “Samaritans,” an exceptionally dense and evocative 16-artist show organized by the writer and curator Dan Nadel at Galerie Eva Presenhuber. The jaguar’s markings are a fanciful mix of wavy lines and amoeba-like shapes, and the animal stares with pale, yellow-green eyes, their pupils fine as apple seeds.
The contrast between the tapir’s impastoed gray-black fur and the painting’s flat green background is jarring, as are four red rectangles, marked with pre-Columbian-style figures, that could represent windows, frescoes or tapestries. You don’t quite know where you’re standing, or what the rules are. But the work is not exactly threatening, either. It’s just a reminder that art, like the unconscious or the spirit world, has its own nonliteral reality.
Two plaster casts by Sarah Peters, sensitive classical-white busts with tight crowns of wavy Assyrian hair; a series of heavily worked colored-pencil drawings by Steve DiBenedetto; and the three-eyed smoker in Jason Fox’s large green painting “Jekyll” are all eerie transformations of the human figure. An upholstered wooden monolith by Joe Bradley, like a cross between a coffin and a phone booth for mediums, is a polite but firm reminder of the eerie transformation awaiting us all.
Three women in blue scrubs move a gurney through a mod-looking hospital in Gary Panter’s acrylic “Nurses of Gamma.” It’s not clear whether they’re running from the green monster hailing them with an upraised tentacle or merely looking back in acknowledgment. Painted with swirling strokes of kelly green over olive, the creature may be an imaginary boogie man, the unformed libido or a monstrous self we can’t acknowledge — but all it’s really doing is saying hello.
Bonnie Collura and Rachelle Mozman Solano
Through Feb. 24. Smack Mellon, 92 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn; 718 834-8761, smackmellon.org.
The word “patriarchy” once seemed like a worn-out term bandied about by 1970s feminists, but it’s making a comeback as authoritarian leaders around the globe, and their followers, try to overturn any advances made by women. You sense the importance of this word in two terrific shows at Smack Mellon: Bonnie Collura’s “Prince” and Rachelle Mozman Solano’s “Metamorphosis of Failure.”
Ms. Collura emerged in the ’90s with post-Pop sculptures inspired by amusement park doodads, but she’s recently gone soft, making human figures with found fabric and other materials. Several of her fiber sculptures are strung from the ceiling, creating an eerie suggestion of just what she’d like to do with some of her subjects. But her titles often refer to Christian martyrs (St. Sebastian, Jesus) and revered leaders (Lincoln), alluding to the complex nature of men cast as “princes.” Complicated and antiheroic, Ms. Collura’s work takes patriarchy down a peg (symbolically, at least).
Ms. Mozman Solano focuses on a single man: Paul Gauguin, a towering figure in Post-Impressionist art, also known for his ugly colonialist behavior in the South Pacific (that is, having sex with very young women and infecting them with syphilis). Gauguin’s exoticizing gaze and behavior are turned back on themselves in a series of canny photographs and collages and a video in which actors recreate Gauguin’s paintings — as well as grab the camera, turning it back on the artist.
Quoting Gauguin’s writings and those of Georgia O’Keeffe, who was photographed by her lover Alfred Stieglitz, Ms. Mozman Solano questions the acts of portraiture and representation. Her work also delves into Gauguin’s bicultural biography in a way that is just as nuanced as Ms. Collura’s thinking about “princes”: Gauguin, who was half Peruvian and half French, was still obsessed with ideas of racial purity and the conquered aristocracy of the Pacific Islanders. Where Ms. Collura’s sculptures are silent and deadly, Ms. Mozman Solano makes the brown-skinned descendants and spiritual sisters of Gauguin’s subjects speak, giving a previously marginalized population a voice and, as women around the world are doing now, challenging the men who would abuse or silence them.
Through March 23. Lévy Gorvy, 909 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-772-2004, levygorvy.com.
For many people, including me, the New Museum’s 2017 exhibition of the work of Carol Rama — her first museum survey in New York City — was a revelation: thrilling, psychically charged work by yet another female artist who had been ignored for most of her life. Fans now have a chance to visit Ms. Rama’s work again at Lévy Gorvy in the exhibition “Eye of Eyes,” which contains some pieces from the New Museum show alongside dozens more.
The curator Flavia Frigeri has made two notable choices. She has filled the gallery’s stairwell with black-and-white historical photographs of art exhibitions that took place in Turin, Italy, where Ms. Rama was born and lived until her death in 2015; documenting shows whose catalogs Ms. Rama owned, the images suggest that she would have visited or at least been familiar with them. Ms. Frigeri has also placed the artist’s best-known pieces — childlike and strangely sexual watercolors of nude women — farthest from the entrance. These decisions force the viewer to spend time with Ms. Rama’s more abstract, less immediately shocking work.
Many of her canvases from the 1960s feature ominous swirls and splatters of paint in bloody red or oily black, with such unexpected objects as syringes, gun cartridges and doll eyes affixed to them. “Visite Mattutine” (“Morning Visits”), from 1967, looks like a riff on Abstract Expressionism that’s possessed, thanks to two beady orange eyes. In the 1970s, Ms. Rama tried out Minimalism with a twist: She took strips of rubber — allusions to her father, who committed suicide after the failure of his automobile-parts factory — and flattened them into suggestive shapes on monochrome canvases.
The overall effect is to frame the practice of Ms. Rama, who was self-taught, in a refreshingly different way. Rather than positioning her as a loner whose life was tinged with madness, the show emphasizes her engagement with other artistic movements and the world.
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