In 1906 the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint commenced on a series of biomorphic paintings and drawings that she destined to be housed in a spiralling building that she called the temple of spirit. One hundred and two years later the output of this effort is currently gracing the corkscrew ramp of the Guggenheim Museum. The ten large paintings that occupy the first gallery are magnificent. Matissian color schema and free-spirited forms of such exquisite beauty and energy feel as if the works were painted yesterday. Af Klint was a follower of theosophy and regularly communed with spirits that guided her work. Nevertheless, she adopted a decidedly scientific and ordered approach. Af Klint worked in series and her primordial imaging is driven by religion, nature and science through the implementation of diagramic compositions using an incredibly complex color coding system. The spiral, often in the form of snails, is a recurring symbol. It speaks of evolution, energy and change – a life-long mission that aimed to coax order out of chaos. In 1932, after several attempts at wider recognition ended in failure, Af Klint realized that her work would be better understood by future generations and decided to destroy a majority of her output. She decreed that her remaining paintings, drawings and over 20,000 pages of writing should not be displayed until 20 years after her death… Hilma af Klint had no followers and did not follow anyone. Yet her determination to capture the unseen world by obeying intuition and her devoted embrace of spirituality is a magnanimous gift that she bequeathed to the world. At the Guggenheim Museum through April 23.

Depression, High-blood Pressure, Anxiety, Alcoholism: there’s a pill for all. These physical and psychological ailments are also the titles of Beverly Fishman’s new scintillating hard-edge abstract paintings. Yet Fishman’s does not offer actual remedies in form of pills and potions, instead her geometric forms suggest only the illusion of a cure. Flawless and clean, her cut-out geometric shapes sport primary colors on wood with rounded corners to take the edge off. Fishman plays with the margins by surrounding her paintings with florescent colors that give the illusion of weightlessness and hint at the psychology of neon advertisements. Unlike opioids, Fishman’s combination of forms, colors and surface material heighten the senses and induce a rewarding visual high that changes the chemistry of the brain without negative physical and psychological side effects. At Miles McEnery Gallery through November 10.

Bruce Nauman, the godfather of claustrophobia, surveillance, paranoia, and dark-aggressive humour, is currently the subject of a dual museum retrospective. The Museum of Modern Art Moma shows, among other disquieting works, the artist’s endlessly frustrating installation “Going around the Corner” (1970) where a large white room, without ever offering access, can only be helplessly circled. Video cameras on the top of each of the four corners record visitors who watch themselves on monitors at the end of each wall just as they are about to turn the corner. It is a scathingly brilliant commentary on the destructiveness of self-observation and the passive-aggressiveness of video surveillance.  At Moma PS1, the museum’s hipper sister, the architecture of the former public school with its long-polished corridors from which dark rooms beckon with the agony of sound and light, feels as it the lunatic asylum has come to play host to Nauman’s already unsettling oeuvre. And yet, Nauman knows that we can’t stop watching – like his video installation “Fat Chance John Cage” (2001) where the quiet nocturnal recordings of his New Mexico studio are occasionally punctuated by darting mice and howling coyotes. It is Nauman at his best: Simple concepts that heighten the senses and evoke a creeping sense of dread that end in the realization that there is no such thing as an empty room and that someone is always watching. At Moma and Moma PS1 through February 25.

 

The Latimer/Edison gallery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is shaped like a donut. The outer wall is currently featuring six large paintings by Dominican-born artist Firelei Báez. Representations of forty-seven historical black women from all walks of life and across different eras float on floral patterns and are sometimes overlaid with hand-written text. Báez gathers them as if having friendly intergenerational conversations and groups them into three distinct but overlapping categories: mind, body and spirit. She assigns each category a corresponding color scheme based on Yoruba goddesses with the blue gatherings representative of academia, yellow paintings feature artists and entertainers, and red compositions are reserved for activists and community leaders. Echoes of the extraordinary lives and achievements of these women are found on the inner walls of the gallery where archival photographs, notes, and letters from the Schomburg Center serve as the written preservation of their legacies and where glass panels provide a glimpse of the quiet research rooms beneath where future scholars examine and contextualize the exceptional and diverse histories of black culture. At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture through November 24.

The multi-disciplinary work of Argentinian artist Liliana Porter dispenses with linear narratives. Instead we get absurdist lessons on hero worship, the deceit of history, the hypocrisy of religion and the impotence of the individual in political machinations. Like a bruise that blooms gradually, the seemingly mundane objects in Porter’s photographs develop multiple layers of meaning only long after the image has already left the mind. Her object-based works are less cryptic. They inhabit an environment that pits the individual against an overbearing world. Tiny whimsical figures are set to stoically complete near impossible tasks. Their quiet determination are calls to action to shatter the paralysis towards the destruction of the environment, the snowballing impossibility of sifting out fact from fiction and the powerlessness to stop a nauseating wave of neo-fascist developments that seem to engulf our world. At El Museo del Barrio through January 27.

When Jack Whitten arrived on island of Crete in 1969, it was partly to seek refuge from an art world that had been steadily gnawing at his emotional and spiritual disposition. What he created there over the course of many summers had been a closely guarded secret that only now has found the light of day. For Jack Whitten, who was known for his visually stunning, process-based paintings, developed an equally gifted sculpture practice which this small Aegean island proved to be an infallible incubator. Variously employing stone, metal glass, found objects and wood, Whitten drew from a variety of sources. The island’s fish and oceanic life, African nkisis, family members and homages to inspiring figures like Malcolm X and John Lennon, provided the impetus for scintillating assemblages that combine smoothly polished wood with violent clusters of nails, screws, hinges, and bottle caps. Yet from this eloquent materiality percolates a deep spiritual awareness: one that speaks of ancient traditions and long-lost heritage and the understanding of humanity as a small island in the sea of time. At Met Breuer through December 2.

The inaugural solo exhibition of Grace Weaver’s new paintings and drawings at James Cohan shines a well-deserved light on the impressive talent of this young artist. Weaver’s compositions, narrative subject matter and color vocabulary is at its most dramatic on a large format. Eschewing angles, her young millennial subjects come to life with thick uninterrupted lines, a technique that possibly emanated from the artist’s recent switch from oil to acrylic paint. Even stripes veer off into curvaceousness, sometimes the only corners are on the canvas that provide the window to her everyday scenes. What brings it all together and tips her paintings onto a different scale is Weaver’s unflinching use of color. Transporting the symbolic and bold chromatic compositions of Les Fauves into modern day settings, Weaver sets the mood, tempo and emotional content of a narrative that she controls but we thoroughly absorb. At James Cohan through October 28.

Stephen Mueller’s bold expansive compositions are first and foremost about the pleasure of seeing yet their decorative qualities belie a cerebral complexity that is deeply rooted in color theory and an extraordinary mastery of the idiosyncrasies of paint. Mueller received his MFA at Bennington College in 1971 where contact with color fielders such Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Nolan would sow the seeds of his strikingly illuminating color relationships. Mueller’s paintings play out on several incongruities. He was an extraordinarily disciplined painter, yet his compositions are not planned out; his arrangements appear to be symmetrical but in fact only carry the suggestion of symmetry; his paintings are smart but thoroughly stripped of pretentiousness. Muller’s symbolic shapes are deeply influenced by Tantric art and music, the philosophy of Buddhism and textile design. Although deeply admired by fellow artists, his work was never sufficiently appreciated during his lifetime and material success as well as institutional recognition evaded him. Perhaps that puts Stephen Mueller into the same distinguished company with Hilma af Klint whose exhibition at the Drawing Center in 2005 he most certainly saw and whose color sense, complex clarity and energy are eerily reflected in his own work. At 205 Hudson Gallery through October 28.

Joan Mitchell: Paintings from the Middle of the Last Century, 1953 – 1962 is a fine exhibition of works of one of  America’s leading Abstract Expressionist painters. Notoriously difficult and prickly, Mitchell nevertheless distilled poetry, nature, and music into daring compositions of boundless energy. In this Untitled work from 1958 bold horizontal brushstrokes interplay with patches of light and dark to expose figure and ground and scarlet red joins with forest green and marigold into a blustery autumnal outing… This marks the last exhibition for Cheim & Read of Mitchell’s work. The eminent gallery lost the estate of the artist to David Zwirner. It is preceding a major retrospective of the artist in 2020 at the Baltimore Museum of Art which will travel to the SFMA and the Guggenheim Museum and which will surely unleash an unbridled market frenzy that Mitchell would have thoroughly disdained. At Cheim & Read through November 3.

When you push a broom, you move forward, collecting the dirt and debris underneath and making room for a renewed surface. If you are a careless cleaner, the act of cleaning becomes an exercise in distribution. Ed Clark is such a cleaner. Pushing the ideas of abstract expressionism forward through relentless experimentations with materials, color and form, Clark has been instrumental in building on the foundations of Pollock and quietly shaping ways in which we now view gestural abstraction. By taking the broom to many lofty AB-Ex concepts, Clark exposed the subversive elitism of action painting, showed new approaches to materiality by fusing impasto and translucency, and helped pioneer the possibilities of the shaped canvas. That he has been widely left out of the art historical discourse of post war abstraction is an oversight that a current survey at Mnuchin Gallery seeks to address. The exhibition demonstrates that Clark is leaving behind a legacy of daring and innovate work – one that is at once perceptive and brainy – and one that leaves future generations of artists a bedrock to build on. At Mnuchin Gallery through October 20.

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