An interesting collaboration between eye and ear is taking place at Bridget Donhahue Gallery this month. Chicago-based visual artist Lisa Alvarado has linked a series of large multi-colored banners to her performance as harmonicist in the experimental Afro-Jazz band “Natural Information Society”. Used as set backgrounds to the band’s concerts, the banners serve as important focal points to the music. Bold colors, a free-standing hanging method, and vibrant geometric patterns remind of Aztec tribal art – combine them with the enchanting, hypnotic music that is wafting through the gallery, and you have a whole new artform indeed. A live performance schedule is posted on the gallery’s website. At Bridget Donahue through May 21.

Rochelle Goldberg’s cave-like installations at Miguel Abreu is a topography of abstracted narratives that weave through the galley like an unsettling hallucination. Criss-crossing train-tracks are laid on ginger-root over poured chia seeds, LED eyes and ceramic heads are entombed in Francis Bacon-like steel frames, life size ceramic sculptures are half-covered with animal fur and human hair, papier mache vessels that hold poured chia seeds and ceramic excrement broken into pieces, Medusa snake heads emerge from a modernist daybed made from painted MDF tiles. Goldberg’s material vocabulary is exemplary – the duality of the exhibition gives a cue to its objective. The combination of organic and inorganic materials, the interplay between light and dark, the flipping between past and present, and the see-sawing between slippery and concrete suggest a perpetual cycle of transformation and renewal that proves the past always as a conduit for the present.  At Miguel Abreu through May 14.

Joan Jonas is the perfect introduction to Gavin Brown’s sprawling new gallery space in Harlem. With characteristic elegance and offhand subtlety, Jonas expertly animates three raw warehouse floors into transcendental investigations of time and space with the help of immersive multi-media installations, drawings, and performance objects. Jonas’ interdisciplinary practice explores the spiritual nature of movement, rhythm and sound vis a vis the fragility of our environment and the brittle quality of humanity. In “Stream or River, Flight or Pattern”, a video installation on three screens, fragments of trees, paper kites, performers and rivers meld into a pastoral, otherworldly realm – all held aloft by rhythmic sound waves of birds, quietude, women’s singsong, and interspersed with fragments of warm light. The experience is a wondrous and mind-bending journey into the depths of the human condition. At Gavin Brown through June 11.

“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.

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