“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” or “Don’t let the Bastards Grind you down” is the rallying cry in the totalitarian hellscape of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” (now also an acclaimed mini-series on Hulu). It may well be the theme for Betty Tompkins’ large-scale realist paintings of heterosexual sex currently on view at PPOW gallery. Since the late 1960’s Tompkins’ monochromatic “Fuck Paintings” often use the male oriented world of porn magazines as a starting point but under her brilliant artistry, harsh male-oriented sex morphs into a Mapplethorpe-like beauty. Time has blunted the shock value of the images but the feminist message remains urgent. Tompkins continues to be a powerful gadfly to false religious morality, a critical champion of women’s sexuality and a reminder of the persistent attempts to claw away at women’s rights. A chilling reminder of the fight against complacency comes from a scene in Atwood’s book when one of the morality police tells the female reproductive slaves: “This may not seem ordinary to you right now,” she tells them. “But after a time, it will.” Be vigilant! At PPOW through May 13.

 

David Novros’s monumental paintings are like perceptual picture puzzles that meld into balanced and elegant minimalist compositions. For Novros, the wall and the precise placement within is an essential component in his geometric abstract practice. He expertly plays with color and placement, shadow and surface, positive and negative space to arrive at a rigorous, almost puritanically symmetrical, layout. A somber color palette, obsession with the right angle and a deep understanding of color field painting have lead Novros to an aesthetic purity that render his paintings as fresh today as when they were created fifty years ago. At Paula Cooper through June 2.

Before Susan Hiller gets out of bed, she tries to remember and record her dreams. Hiller thinks of artmaking of an unconscious, unforced process, digging deep into the realm of the spiritual with the aim to unearth deep-seated cultural and historical relics. The American-born, London based artist works across photography, installation, video and audio, studiously examining the cerebral and the hard-to-explain. Her ongoing, hauntingly beautiful “Aura Series” are photo portraits of ordinary people from a variety of cultural and social strata and are based on Marcel Duchamp’s belief in a sitter’s “Aura”, a range of individual color fields radiating from a subject’s body. Her newest work “After Duchamp” merges fifty individual aura portraits into one monumental work that brilliantly captures how the idiosyncratic and ephemeral beauty of the individual unconscious shapes the collective spirituality of a culture. At Lisson Gallery through June 10.

Rodney Graham is the commanding star in his new large-scale lightbox works. Here he is as a surely art history teacher, a lounge musician eating his own music, or an antiquarian sleeping in his shop. The staging is elaborate and the details historically spot-on but something is not quite right in either setting. A brilliant scene shows Graham on a park bench reading a newspaper from 1878, holes cut through it as if to look through to a future he can’t quite believe. In the Coat Puller, Graham plays a distinguished gentleman of a certain age struggling to get into his coat, about to leave his house for a rainy stroll; an eerie Hitchcockian scene of a dimly-lit hallway throwing long, dark shadows on the wall behind. Graham’s new work originates from a deep understanding of current and past culture. Coupled with a sly sense of humor, he shrewdly claws at the grand pillars of bourgeois culture: art history, literature and philosophy. At 303 Gallery through June 2.

At first blush, the new mid-town gallery space of the venerable dealer Anton Kern seems like a run-of the mill, polished art space designed to awe and loosen the wallets of the wealthy clientele that lives and works in its immediate neighborhood. But climb the stairs to the second and third floors and find yourself in an unexpected environment of intimate spaces and little nooks furnished with vintage seats that invite repose, contemplation and conversation. Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal is the perfect debut for this environment. Sasnal is a serious painter who culls from found images that often reference art history, politics and the dark chapters of his native Poland. His new body of work is decidedly ominous. Portraits of politicians are juxtaposed by seemingly banal Polish landscapes.  A painting of the UN logo on virgin blue background is being obscured by a foreboding black shadow. Under Sasnal’s smooth brushstrokes, all politicians are alike: Kofi Anan, Angela Merkel, Marine Le Pen. Despite glimpses of brown and serene ice blues, black is the color that dominates and overshadows this exhibition: a bleak metaphor of the state of the current political landscape. At Anton Kern through May 20.

The forty large-scale portraits by the German photography pioneer August Sander, currently on view at Hauser & Wirth’s smaller uptown outpost, are a brilliant time warp into an era before the commodification of images and the narcissistic self-presentation of our selfie-culture. In the early 1920s Sander embarked on his monumental, and now iconic, lifelong project “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts” (People of the Twentieth Century) aiming to document German citizens according to social class and occupation. Sander’s inclusion of non-Aryans and other marginal groups of people eventually led to a run-in with the Nazi regime who confiscated and destroyed the first version and all plates of his book “Antlitz der Zeit” (Faces of our Time). Nevertheless, Sanders persevered. Some 1,800 negatives survived and proved hugely influential for countless later photographers including Diane Arbus, Walker Adams or Bernd und Hilla Becher. The show’s best images are part of a series of portraits of simple farm workers from his native Westerwald, one of the first group of people who came in front of his unflinching lens. Sander’s enduring gift was to coax the individual character and humanity out of each subject within the strict confinements and settings of a larger group but with the encouragement of presenting themselves as their ideal self. The result is an earnest attempt in objectivity, sympathy and humanity. At Hauser & Wirth through June 17.

Gladtone’s uptown gallery is currently showing a series of important work by the Italian Post-War artist Mimmo Rotella from the early 1950’s through the early 1960s. The body of work that Rotella produced during this period was largely inspired by the barrage of movie and advertising posters that started to pop up all over the artist’s adopted city of Rome, and is divided into two distinct methodologies: Rotella’s “Décollages” are reverse collages where instead of adding elements, it starts with billboard announcements where the material is methodically stripped away to unmask a new relationship between text and consumer goods. In contrast, the artist’s “Retro D’Affiches”, moves the action to the back of the posters by adding the Arte Provera materials of glue and rust. Rotella’s visionary experimentation with advertising posters proved hugely influential on the burgeoning pop art movement in Europe and America and its related emphasis on language and text. At Gladstone through June 17.

Moma dug deep into their archives and uncovered an exquisite collection of works by women artists that were making feminist statements long before the bra-burning demos of the 1960’s. “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction” brings together fifty international women artists who worked in an astonishing range of media in the years right after World War II, asserting their rightful place as artists and paving the way for many of the Feminist breakthroughs that we take for granted today. Poverty, trauma, religious straightjackets and female sexuality were some of the critical issues that plagued many of our mothers and grandmothers. Working within this context, woman artists often had to find innovative ways to make themselves heard. Some, like Anni Albers, who were relegated by a male dominated artwolrd to traditionally female artforms such as textiles and collage, nevertheless managed to make profound statements within their confined context. Others, like Louise Nevelson, rejected their fluffy and delicate pigeonhole and made heavy, muscular sculpture. Highlights abound. They include Carol Rama’s spectral eye collage “Spurting Out” from 1967, Helen Frankenthaler’s black stain abstraction “Tojan Gates” from 1955 and Dorothy Dehner’s “Encounter”, a series of eerily graceful totem poles. Here is Eva Hesse’s “Untitled” work from 1966, a chilling statement on female violence and distress. At MOMA through August 13.

It is hard to imagine how radically confrontational political art of the 1960s really was. In post-war Europe, a staid art consuming public was just about to get their heads around Dada, Fluxus, Abstract Expressionism, Gutai or Arte Povera, when the turmoil of the streets, fuelled by the war in Vietnam and an emerging radical feminism, was demanding a greater involvement by artists. Enter Jörg Immendorff, a talented disciple of Joseph Beuys and fertile ground for a radicalization of art that targeted a stale and consumer-driven bourgeoisie, demanded answers from what exactly their parents were doing during the war and an early precursor to the break-down between high and low art. In the 1960s Immendorff took on the political and bourgeois establishment with a series of works and disruptive political performances roughly grouped around his made-up concept of LIDL, a fictitious confab which he derived from the sound poetry of Dada. Michael Werner is currently showing some of the late artist’s drawings, sculpture and recordings of his performance work that includes his seminal LIDL Stadt, a detailed blueprint for a utopian city seeking to upend traditional Capitalist-based architecture and urban planning which encompasses a LIDL-Academy, LIDL-Sport Arena, and a Film House among other things. At Michael Werner through May 13.

Just like Gerhard Richter’s Candle, you can feel the heat emanating from the 16-foot glazed ceramic wall at Lehmann Maupin’s downtown outpost. Teresita Fernández has unleashed a nocturnal inferno in form of a wall panel constructed from hundreds of tiny mosaic tiles framed by scorched paper works and charcoal drawings on the side walls. The fire is an American one: colossal, uncompromising and all-engulfing. Fernández is pre-occupied with the American landscape, specifically how history has shaped its contours and vice versa. The American landscape, of course, is a Native American story; fire has historically been one of the main roles in determining the diversity of its ecosystem. Contrary to Western myths and interpretation of history, Native Americans had dramatically altered the vast American landscape through systematic vegetation and intentional burning long before the first white man set foot on the Continent. The idea of the uncultivated native leaving a virgin land to be conquered is a false historical narrative that prevails until today. Materially and conceptually, Fernández is attempting to correct that myth. At Lehmann Maupin through May 20.

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