An accolade to color and shape. Nine of Tom Wesselmann’s monumental pop compositions, made between 1967 and 1981, currently grace the airplane-hanger-like halls of Gagosian Gallery. Comprised of individual stand-alone canvases, the groupings are lush vanity top scenes of a bygone consumer age replete with Mad-Man staples like cigarettes, pearls and cat-eye sunglasses. Their bold colors, sharp outlines, and unabashed why-not compositions exude an all-American optimism that these days is firmly relegated to the history books. At Gagosian through February 24.

In a new series of photographs, currently on view at Lehman Maupin, South-African artist Robin Rhode is decisively moving away from the graffiti inspired urban culture of his earlier works and instead embraces the pictorial language of Paul Centore’s Geometry of Color to explore post-colonialist ills such as poverty, crime and violence that underlie his multi-disciplinary art practice. As homage to Rhode’s special relationship with the wall, each of Rhode’s multi-photo works are given its own wall space. Form, color and space are the architectural building blocks with which the artist tackles recurring issues of social disintegration in urban spaces of his native South Africa – mostly performed in front of Rhode’s “Broken Wall” in the crime-ridden Newclare neighborhood of Johannesburg. It is bittersweet irony, then, that these are the last wall works made there. Rhode recently announced that he needed to abandon the space out of security concerns due to recurring drug and gang violence. At Lehman Maupin through February 24.

Spectacularly undervalued during her life-time and only now gaining a modicum of recognition, the late Channa Horwitz was one of the first female artists to attempt a visual language to create rhythm in time. Some works of the artist’s famous Sonakinatography series are currently on view at Lisson Gallery. Horwitz started the series, which is a made-up word amalgamating sound, motion, and notation, in 1968. In it, she assigned eight colors to eight numbers or “beats” in vertical grids where each color moved according to its pre-assigned rhythm. Later, the artist introduced lines and patterns complicating the compositions into infinite visual possibilities. Horwitz’s dogged preoccupation with sequencing the number eight derived from the standard American graph paper, eight squares to the inch, that she laid most of her drawings on. The drawings are exquisite mathematical poetry that transcends the visual and have been adopted for music, dance, poetry, and light-based work. They are unparalleled excursions into logic, symmetry, time and beauty. At Lisson Gallery through February 24.

A photographic pilgrimage to Noah Purifoy’s Desert Museum by African American artist and activist LaToya Ruby Frazier is currently on view at Gavin Brown’s cavernous uptown art emporium. Best known for her poignant yet sober examination of the economic, racial, and psychological fallout of the continuous collapse of her industrial steel hometown of Braddock, PA, Frazier trains her lens on the haunting stillness of the Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. Driven out of Los Angeles by economic necessity, Noah Purifoy settled in the high desert about 140 miles east of Los Angeles in the late 1980s and assembled over fifty Dada Junk Art installation during the last fifteen years of his life. It is easy to draw parallels between the two artists. Social activism, racial inequality, economic displacement, and an art practice deeply rooted in philosophy connect these two artists who corral the physical and spiritual detritus of our existence into the enduring magnanimity of art. At Gavin Brown through February 25.

Like the dust silhouettes of vanished pictures and furnishings that remain long after the last tenant has moved out, Claudio Parmiggiani’s work tells of presence via absence. Parmiggiani uses soot and smoke to coax dreamy forms and figures out of walls and boards. At Bortolami a monochromatic wall of Morandi-like objects recall the Italian artist’s neo-classical historical heritage. Once phlegmatic and poetic, the work speaks of the testimony of an erstwhile existence and the unnerving capacity of memory born from subtraction. At Bortolami through February 24.

As an artist-in-residence at the LeDoux Laboratory at the Center for Neural Science at New York University since 2005, Nene Humphrey’s interdisciplinary practice probes into the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events such as death and grief.  At Lesley Heller Gallery, the artist uses as underpinning the 19th century grieving ritual of braiding the hair of departed loved into intricate amulets, rings or brooches. In Humphrey’s interpretation, wire replaces hair and mutates into long twisted strands which she incorporates into performance pieces, sculpture, video and exquisite charcoal drawings. “Transmissions” is a hauntingly beautiful exploration into the brain’s ability to process memory and emotion through the corporeal. At Lesley Heller through February 18.

A stunning survey of Hans Hartung’s work is currently on view at Perrotin.  Under the expert direction of Matthieu Poirier, over sixty works from 1922 until 1989 are gathered in chronological order in five rooms. Hartung went through several phases during his almost seventy-year career but found a magnetic nerve center somewhere in the middle between rule-based and gestural abstraction. Hartung’s works from the 1960s are stunning. Moody, elegant layers of paint achieve a hazy, bruise-like effect and are only occasional overlaid with scratchy marks. Look long enough and the central dark stain expands and contracts, seemingly spilling out of its self-imposed confinement. These works wistfully hint at the ephemeral nature of the natural world and the wondrous transcendence of our existence. A concurrent exhibition of Hartung’s work is also on view at Nahmad Contemporary. At Perrotin through February 18 and Nahmad Contemporary through March 17.

Heimo Zobernig’s multi-disciplinary practice is deeply concerned with the implications of modernism in art history and the visitor/gallery relationship as it relates to both architecture and the cognitive experience of art. In a dual-gallery exhibition at Petzel, Zobernig presents nine new language-based paintings and a re-animation of his exhibition “Chess Painting” at MIT List Visual Arts Center. Zobernig’s text paintings play with the word REAL in four quadrants. Color and composition become catalysts in morphing the letters into different meanings. Like a scrabble board, REAL becomes EGAL (I don’t care in German). In Petzel’s downtown gallery, Zobernig’s immersive installation takes on the black and white geometry of the chess board within the context of the gallery setting. Black and white walls suggest structure and rules. But then Zobernig slyly crossbreeds the logical with the emotional. Warm and fuzzy checker-board fur blankets on top of stain-less steel podiums beckon to come in from the cold and get cozy. And so, architecture becomes installation, sculpture becomes painting, architecture becomes sculpture, viewer becomes art. At Petzel through February 17.

All of Thomas Nozkowski’s small abstract paintings are rooted in real life experiences. Memories take the form of color and shape; sounds and smells morph into patterns and silhouettes; images become color; flashbacks produce composition. By limiting himself to his signature 16 x 20-inch format, the subconscious becomes condensed and intensified; information gets transferred. There is nothing avant-garde in this approach, of course, yet each of Nozkowski‘s small gems trigger an emotional response that is deeply individual. Clarity of form, a superb sense of color and breathtaking plays with figure and ground place Nozkowski into the rare league of artists that transform the art of looking into an act of pure pleasure and delight. At Pace Gallery through February 17.

A beautiful selection of works from the 1980s by Italian artist Giorgio Griffa is currently on view at Casey Kaplan. Seemingly childlike, unfinished and ad-hoc, Griffa’s works are in fact relying on a strict set of analytical and cerebral rules. Griffa paints on unstretched, unprimed canvas employing symbolism and signage that always move from left to right. The finished works are then folded into specific sections where, over time, the creases perform an integral part of the work, specifically as focal points to its materiality. They are to be “awakened” or “activated” from their hibernation by ritual unfolding and nailed directly onto the wall according to precise instructions. Griffa’s paintings from the 1980s stand out for their melodious lyricism through imprecise repetition of gestures and vivid color aggregation. They are living organisms which hover around the intersection between Arte Povera, Conceptualism and Minimalism. They confound as well as astound. At Casey Kaplan through February 17.

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