John Stezaker frees images from their mass media purgatory, adds and subtracts until he reaches an end-result which is electrified with new metaphysical and psychological meaning. His collages are indebted to Surrealism and the fringes of the Situationist International movement. Petzel Gallery is currently showing twenty-seven collages from 1976 until 1979 in which the photo-roman is the catalyst for a series of sexually charged narratives. The works pivot around the cinematic and voyeuristic dramatics of the kiss. Stezaker knows that any attempt to capture a kiss must involve the third eye which is catnip for his practice. Violence and its Freudian cousin voyeurism play lead actors in this group of psychologically charged assemblages whose small-scale format adds to the sense of nervous suspense and where lust, seduction and yearning get collaged into something that only the viewer-cum-voyeur can drag up from deep within. At Petzel Gallery through January 6. 

The simplified forms and emotional ambivalence of Pop Art seep through in Donald Baechler’s work. Thick, black outlines frame Baechler’s carefully selected imagery that ranges from cartoon-like figures to ordinary objects like candy and flowers. Set on intricate backgrounds of fabric collage and pastel-colored acrylic paint, Baechler often furnishes his objects with a white halo that gives them a child-like cutout quality and makes them seem to float off the canvas. The rose is a recurring theme. Inspiration of poets and painters for centuries, under Baechler the queen of flowers adopts Donald Judd’s literalism which claims that instead of ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’, it really is just a beautiful flower. At Cheim & Read through December 23.

McArthur Binion was born in Macon, Mississippi in 1946. Raised on a black cotton farm among eleven siblings, Binion’s minimalist painting practice is deeply steeped in the hard-scrabble life and the racial injustices of the Deep South. A new series of work, currently on view at Galerie Lelong, journeys back to the artist’s childhood. Binion started picking cotton when he was three and the repetitiveness and tedium of the work seeps through in Binion’s recurring, unbroken mark-making and somber color pallete. In some of the works, Binion reveals fragments of photos of his childhood home; as if the past is something that is lodged somewhere deep inside but reveals itself only fractured, faded and frequently only in the context in which it was created. At Galerie Lelong through December 23

Working mostly under the radar screen of the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu and largely cut off by time and geography by the Iron Curtain, Romanian artist Geta Brătescu, nevertheless managed to develop an extraordinarily encyclopedic art practice. Isolated from the major Western art historical currents that shaped Europe and the US after the Second World War, Brătescu concentrated her practice around the materials and limitations that her studio could afford. Photography, film, performance, and textile work are the underpinnings for her explorations into mental processes around the human condition, femininity, motherhood and sexuality which she pursues with an unflinchingly methodical and deeply intellectual approach. At times meditative, other times playful and humorous, Brătescu painstakingly peels back the deepest layers of subconscious cognizance and exposes not only hypocrisy and selfishness but also altruism, charity and a deep yearning for harmony.  An exhibition of Brătescu’s work that gyrates around the philosophical texts of the Greek writer Aesop is currently on view at Hauser & Wirth through December 23

Catherine Opie once said that “The Biggest Cliché in Photography is the Sunrise and the Sunset”. It is also true that the biggest enemy of art is cliché. Rudolf Stingel takes on both in a new series of massive technically perfect but campy paintings. Walter Benjamin was right, of course. Reproduction killed the sublime. Titian, Turner, Caspar David Friedrich all contributed to it slow death. These days the glory of nature and its emotional corollary have been reduced to digital wallpaper. So why bother? Because people still like to take pictures of sunsets. The internet is full of them. But the emotive value is only present in the memory of the person behind the lens. All other sunsets are meaningless decorations. And that’s what Stingel is after. At Gagosian through December 22.

Unlike any other artist, Michelangelo Pistoletto has actually managed to merge his art with the viewer. His new life-size mirror paintings contain images of utilitarian shelves and storage units crammed with household paints, auto parts, shoes, and gardening tools where the background is filled in by the viewer’s reflection. In a clever twist on the Arte Povera credo, Pistoletto employs ordinary materials as subjects and uses the viewer as accomplices to elevate things usually found in basement storage rooms or garages into art. At Luhring Augustine through December 22.

Like his painter-colleague Laura Owens, Matt Connors likes to explore the group dynamics of paintings. In a new show at Canada Gallery, Connors divides the gallery space into four mini white cubes that hold carefully selected groups of paintings that test the visual perception and emotive experience to color and form. Connors’ paint-soaked canvases have a raw, experimental quality to them so that the line between pictures and object becomes less clear; their physicality becomes compounded by the temporal home into which he encases them. Next door, Connors plays with other artist’s work in a delightful exhibition including such morsels like Richard Serra’s hypnotic video “Boomerang” from 1974 and a lovely Fairfield Porter woodcape from 1968. Here is a trio of vases by Matthew David Smith in front of Charlene von Heyl’s exuberant “Cargo”. At Canada through December 10.

Violent crime against transgender people in South Africa is staggering. Despite having a progressive constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, deeply ingrained traditional belief systems, openly homophobic public figures and wide-spread social stigma lead to increasing rates of xenophobic crimes including brutal murder and rape. South African photographer and LGBTQ+ activist Zanele Muholi makes achingly beautiful portraits of black transgender women. Fearless, poised and graceful, her subjects confidently inhabit the world they inherited and stand as living testimony to resilience and optimism in the face of institutional and social alienation. At Yancey Richardson through December 9.

Susan Cianciolo is a community-based joiner. In a new dual gallery exhibition (at Bridget Donahue Gallery in New York and at Modern Art in London) the fashion designer-artist carefully stitches together textile patches, constructs wooden shelters, and puts together beautifully presented boxes filled with personal items. At Bridget Donahue, Cianciolo built a prayer room, a café, and a library where visitors are invited to ponder spiritual, nutritional and cerebral questions. Several public workshops involving crafts, food, and planting invite the public to engage with art that is civic, communal, and collective instead of market-driven, remote, and presumptuous. At Bridget Donahue through December 3.

Alan Turner makes humorous sculptures out of papier mache and Arthur Cohen paints rodeo bulls. Both are quintessential New Yorkers and friends since art camp. A delightful show at Mitchell Algus Gallery brings together the two artists whose serious art practice is grounded in an absolute devotion to painting and whose genre diversity betrays an individualism and broad-mindedness that is part of any New Yorker’s DNA. If pressed to find a thread running through the show, it could be a pre-occupation with space; that typical New York value both jealously guarded and obsessively traded. Arthur Cohen’s thrashing bulls are constrained into tight rectangles on neural white ground whereas Alan Turner’s obsession with the architectural elements of cardboard boxes and a newfound infatuation with funnels and strainers recall the anxiety and stress that comes with city life. But then again, it might just two friends having fun. At Mitchell Algus through November 29.

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