For the past sixty years the backbone of Ron Nagle’s ceramic practice has been the modest size of his captivating objects, many of which only stand up to six inches tall. Born in San Francisco in 1939, Nagle studied with the renowned ceramics maven Peter Voulkos and quickly became one of the leading members of the Bay Area ceramics scene. Nagle almost always works from drawings which outline composition and form but never give a hint on color. Yet color is one of the elements that makes Nagle’s objects truly remarkable. Bubble-gum pink gets paired with austere grey, forest green finds company with a deep red, and high-gloss aqua teams up with sea-foam green. He draws out these colors with an incredible array of textures that bubble, shine, bend, pucker and crinkle. Nagle’s forms are intuitively recognizable, yet one is not really quite sure what one is looking at. A grey rectangle might look like a tombstone, a quilted layer of pink and brown recalls an ice cream sandwich, or a brilliantly polished orange-yellow sphere conjures up the setting sun. But Nagle slyly obfuscates these communiques from the id by playing around with scale, color, and context. It is as if the mind tries to hold on to an image over which Nagle manages to pull a fine layer of fog. That these confections should be displayed eye-level height on slender plinths and sheathed in glass vitrines, only add to their exalted status as delightful objects of desire. At Matthew Marks through June 15.

In Julie Curtiss’ surreal world even the crispy Chinese ducks are covered with hair. Braided, wavy, coiffed, or straight, female hair has become one of the distinct visual signifiers in Curtiss’ vocabulary that makes her work so instantly recognizable. Other trademarks are long, gnarled fingers and toes in garish nail varnish, lush plants, and projectile-like female nipples. A razor-sharp painting technique that creates texture and depth with incredibly detailed brushwork produces disciplined compositions that do without superfluous details. Curtiss rounds up these sign-posts with an innate sense of color that betrays a keen understanding of nature and the skin tonalities of the female body. Traces of Ellen Berkenblit’s odd, out-of-context close-ups come to mind as are Christina Ramberg’s sinister, fragmented female body parts, as well as Jonathan Gardner’s scrupulous control of pictorial space. But in the end, Curtiss manages to find a painterly niche all of her own. Her psychologically charged imagery aptly navigates the space between discomfort and fascination and, although she never shows us the faces of her subjects, we find that we cannot look away. At Anton Kern through June 15.

The female body is always present or implied in Elsa Sahal’s intoxicating ceramic sculptures. Her encyclopedic fascination with Picasso’s bodies led to a new series of works that fuses two of the master’s most iconic subjects: bathers and harlequins. Consisting mostly of contorting legs, arms, and molten torsos, Sahal’s disembodied forms are at once vaguely sexual and slyly humorous. Two air-borne, bone-white objects remind of the voluptuously intertwined performance of trapeze artists. Here, Sahal plays with glazes that hint at some sort of inner personality– leaving one raw and natural the other smooth and refined. Humor and poise merge in two “Clowness” sculptures where graceful female torsos showcase Sahal’s innate grasp of skin color and texture. A smattering of clown noses save them from megalomania. Adorned with the iconic rhombus motif and joined phallus-like at the hip, “Harlequins Duo”, 2019, is suffused with such nonchalant movement and grace, one half expects the pair strolling off the plinth. Dancing on the periphery between playfulness and gravitas, Sahal’s captivating ceramic practice tests the malleability of the medium whilst simultaneously evoking the weight of corporeality and the lightness of the human spirit. At Nathalie Karg through June 15.

If “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming” by David Wallace-Wells is the literary summation of our pending Climate Armageddon, then Josh Kline’s devastating installation “Climate Change: Part One” is its visual counter-part. Providing an alarming glimpse of our future without any meaningful action on the environment, Kline leads us through a maze of rooms where gigantic humming refrigerators dumbly sap energy, cityscapes in glass cases drown in rising sea water, and melting architecture circles the drain. To get to the next room, the visitor has a choice of doors identified by fragmented flags of the major polluting countries. But in the end, it does not matter which door one chooses, one always ends up in the next room beyond. If the final room is also our final reckoning, it is very bleak indeed. For here we can see our world through the thick glass of industrial-type ovens: The neatly set-tables, carefully picked-out bedroom furniture, jolly beach umbrellas, and expensive office equipment are all fully submerged in water. There is no human in sight. It is, no doubt, worse than we think. At 47 Canal through June 9.

In 2018 about 244 Million people worldwide, or one in thirty, were living outside their country of birth. By 2050 that number could reach close to 405 million. Climate change, economic instability and political unrest are forcing more and more people to leave their homes in search for safety or better economic opportunities. The Mexican artist Felipe Baeza has made forced migration and the physical and psychological toll it exacts, the centrepiece of his painting practice. A new series of works resemble retablos or láminas which are pocket-sized devotional depictions of Catholic saints and other religious iconography that are often displayed in home altars throughout Mexico. Baeza, who came to the US when he was seven years old, often culls from his own experience and distils the plight of forced migration into metaphorically rich narratives of memory and loss. Mournfully poetic, Baeza’s collage paintings occupy the disorienting physical and psychological in-between space that dulls the mind and saps the soul and chronicles the thicket of bureaucracy that migrants often must navigate. His material strategies link him to the dark sensurealism of Carol Rama and borrow heavily from naïve folk art and Mayan mythology. Far from being a political activist, Baeza instead seeks a quiet subversiveness and asks for empathy and compassion in an increasing hostile and closed off world. At Fortnight Institute through June 2.

The pairing of Australian artists Marie Hagerty and Peter Vandermark is nothing short of perfect. Hailing from Down-Under and roughly the same age, both artists employ a bewitching tactility and embrace a form of abstract minimalism that pays close attention to the interrelationship between line, form, and color. But here is where all similarities end. For starters, Hagerty is a painter and Vandermark’s chosen medium is sculpture. Hagerty’s forms are amorphic – there is no straight line in sight. Her figures recall the bodies of women; fluid, layered, and twisted into dynamic configurations. Vandermark, by contrast, is firmly wedded to geometric abstraction. His layered assemblages of geometric forms at precisely calculated angles build on the interrelationship between the object, the viewer and the environment. That amorphous forms and strict angularity should be a sign of gender are outmoded assumptions best relegated to the past. That both artists should come together under the pretext of the colors red, blue and black, however, is a match made in heaven. At Olsen Gruin through May 12.

Kafka’s “Amerika” is a claustrophobic tale of the casual intrusion of the bizarre in everyday life. For Robert Longo, who has long investigated the Kafkaesque breakdown of our political value system, the current administration provides an abundance of material. His exhibition “Amerika” showcases three large-scale works that offer a scathing critique of the lies and obfuscation of government and the cultural putrefaction that contributes to the breakdown of our institutions. “Death Star”, 2018, a monumental suspended sphere of over 40,000 assault rifle bullets, dramatically exposes the monstrous tragedy and apathetic acceptance of our gun culture. “Icarus Rising”, 2019, a graphic black-and-white film collage, confronts the inscrutability of fake news and the demoralizing numbing effect of disaster reporting. Ominous and frightening, Longo’s monumental monochromatic drawing “Untitled (White House)” 2019, rises in the darkened back gallery. Borrowing from atmospheric effects of the great Romantic painters, Longo frames the neo-classical architecture of the White House in a Hitchcockian perspective amidst a threating horizon that elicits ominous suspense. It aptly pictures a country in the grip of a paralysing wave of alienation and anxiety and its strange and inexorable march towards a place no one wants to go. Quoting from Kafka’s “Amerika” where “At the end of each flight of stairs, another would begin in a slightly different direction”, we are stuck in a self-perpetuating circle where the emergence of a fresh problem every day makes the old one irrelevant. At Metro Pictures through May 25.

Much like the pared-down poetry of Lucille Clifton, Simone Leigh’s clay sculptures are so perfectly restrained that their minimal presence takes on enormous substance. Part shelter, hideout, sanctuary, and vessel, Leigh’s truncated torsos inhabit a serene self-possession that anatomizes the black female body in terms of her primordial elements of clay, earth, and fire. “Loophole of Retreat”, the artist’s elegant acknowledgement of her 2018 Hugo Boss Prize win, comprises of a suite of sculptures, a sound installation, and three short films. The exhibition’s title references the writings of Harriet Jacobs (1813 – 1897), a former slave turned abolitionist and whose perseverance in face of adversity underlies much of the spiritual and symbolic representation of Leigh’s work. Simone Leigh’s artmaking weaves narratives where memory and loss are implied and speak of the labor of black women, what they carry and what they hold inside. The purpose is celebratory but watchful and it shepherds the black female experience into a shared space of intimacy that makes room for us all. At the Guggenheim Museum through October 27.

Lucien Freud’s monumental nude portraits overflow with raw psychological intensity and guttural veracity. Thirteen paintings, assembled by Freud’s long-time assistant David Dawson, are currently on view at Acquavella Gallery. In “Naked Man, Back View” (1991-1992) the enormous backside of the performer Leigh Bowery serves as a scrupulous examination of the extraordinary complexity of the human skin. It proves that white skin is neither white nor uniform but full of varying textures and sensations. Under Freud’s dispassionate gaze, gestural brushwork, impastoed texture, and an incredible play of color morph into abstract bodyscapes that hint at the extraordinary nuance and complexity of the human skin as alter egos for the psychological turmoil within. They are less about sexual desire but betray a raw intimacy that exposes the convoluted labyrinth of the human psyche. At Acquavella through May 24.

When nature is your assistant, the outcome must be truly dazzling. For the past thirty years Vivan Suter has lived and worked in a remote village in the Guatemalan rainforest where the lush tropical environment and an almost complete detachment from the artworld has deeply shaped her artistic output. Suter works mainly en plain air on raw canvas which she fills with volumetric forms and expressive markmaking rendered in vivid but natural colors. The works are then often left to their own devices and come out for the better. Rain, mud, and sun; echoes of fallen fruit and traces of small animals become  inaudible mutterings of the spiritual essence of nature. Suter abhors frames, considering them the anthesis to the abandon of nature. Instead, she arranges her large unstretched canvases into overlapping compositions that organically unfold into dramatic symphonies about the wonders our natural world. At Gladstone through June 8.

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