In 1977, the Bronx was burning. Shelled out buildings and random uncontrolled fires resembled the despair and destruction of bombed out European cities after the Second World War. Many members of the avant-garde were camped out downtown but a young firebrand artist, named Gordon Matta-Clark, saw an opportunity to use abandoned buildings as art forms and involve a neighborhood that was largely cut off from the rest of the city. It seems fitting, then that the Bronx Museum should honor Matta-Clark with a survey of his tragically shorted artistic life. The son of Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta and American artist Anne Clark, Matta-Clark graduated from the Cornell University School of Architecture in 1969 and immediately commenced on an oeuvre that was heavily influenced by his architectural training and social activism. Starting in the South Bronx, Matta-Clark used abandoned buildings as canvases for his architectural cuttings which culminated in “Days End”, a site-specific work at a forgotten pier on the Hudson River. Largely working alone, Matta-Clark cut gigantic sections of the floor and outer wall and transformed a derelict eyesore into, what he described, a “Sun-and-Water-Temple”. At The Bronx Museum, through April 8.

Laura Owens makes art that requires physical context. Her multi-panel paintings explore the relationship between the part and the whole; other groupings play with memory as it pertains to narrative or form; still others are set in specific architectural settings. Her gallery shows are usually carefully curated exhibitions that demand active viewer participation and question visual flow and perception not just within individual works but also in the group dynamics of paintings vis a vis the gallery space. Architecture and its painterly tentacles are omnipresent in Owens’ oeuvre. Her technical proficiency in a dazzling range of media is astounding. Ranging from intricate collages and needlepoint layered with thick impasto, to detailed drawings and screen-printing, Owens never loses sight of spacial relationships that consider perspective, proportion, balance, texture, and shape. At The Whitney through February 4.

Shedding the constraints of the linear loom in the 1960s, Swiss-born artist Françoise Grossen opened a world of formal, thematic and technical possibilities in fiber related art. At first blush, Grossen’s large suspended rope forms feel like sinewy slaughterhouse meat, kowtowing forms, or slithering sea-creatures but closer inspection reveal lovely plays of intricate knots and loops that sometimes get intertwined with paper, linen or metal. A contemporary of Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, Grossen shares similar concerns with process and the modern re-imagining of an arts and crafts artform that has afforded women artistic expression for centuries but that feels as fresh and relevant as it was made yesterday. At Blum & Poe through January 6.

Recent Maria-Lassnig-Prize winner and Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes’ introspective installations are narratives of sober domesticity where the female is the main or implied actor. Effeminate predicaments such as the trials of childbirth, marital loneliness, the tedium of raising children, unwanted pregnancies, and the looming specter of domestic violence permeate an exhibition of Wilkes’ recent work currently on view at MomaPS1. A cracked ceramic saucer carefully placed on the floor speaks of anguish and distress; elsewhere, a hunched-over figure is pulled by fabric strings towards a shattered object on the floor; still in another room an empty pram in a corner oozes sorrow and loss. Maximizing empathy and personal cognizance, Peter Eleey designed the exhibition as a meandering discovery path with only a few visitors allowed in at a time. It is a somber but never preachy introduction to the small and big cruelties of life. At MomaPS1 through March 11.

 “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon”, a wandering yet rewarding show at the New Museum, is a timely reflection on the role of gender and identity within a social order that is becoming increasingly polarized. The show brings together more than forty artists whose works examine complex questions regarding sexuality, gender, violence, identity, and race in a political and social context. Highlights include Christina Quarles’ brilliantly claustrophobic paintings of constrained bodies; Mickalene Thomas’ haunting sculptural video installation “Me as Muse”; Vaginal Davis’ lush punk-inspired wall sculptures made from nail polish, hair spray, and perfume which stand in contrast to Ulrike Müller’s sober-minimalist geometric body compositions. Here is “Mane (2016)” by the remarkable artist Tschabalala Self – a patchwork collage of fabric scraps that engenders a seated, confident and multilayered black woman – a magnificent work which underscores the significance of the female black body both as an icon and as a sexual object. At the New Museum through January 21.

The Austrian Cultural Forum offers a welcome respite from the taxing Mid-town traffic madness brought to stressed out New Yorkers courtesy of the ongoing security restrictions around White House North. The institution is currently showing an exquisite selection of works by Austrian artist Franz West and the many artists who have crossed paths with him. Arranged on three floors, the works range from the conceptual mindbenders of Rudolf Stingel, challenging wax sculptures by Urs Fischer, Arte Povera-ish LED lamps of Andreas Reiter Raabe, the colorful chaises of Mary Heilmann, tantalizing mixed-media works by Rudolf Polansky, Octavian Trauttmansdorff’s claustrophobic video, “ZuWohnung”, and compelling works by Anna-Sophie Berger, Tillman Kaiser, Anne Schneider, Rikrit Tiravanija the artist Duo KAYA and, of course, the main man himself. Here is Sarah Lucas’ “Essential Doris” from 2011, a concrete platform shoe with boobs and a shout-out to all working women in Mid-town who must run the daily gauntlet of sexual harassment at work, endure inappropriate sexual taunts by construction workers, dodge ankle-breaking potholes, bear the discomfort of artery-chocking stockings and battle malfunctioning undergarments. At The Austrian Cultural Forum through January 22.

Jorge Pardo continues to surprise. Widely dubbed as the Brazilian Renaissance Man, Pardo moves auspiciously between painting, design, sculpture, and architecture. In a new series of works, currently on view at Petzel Gallery, the artist re-imagines the humble self-portrait. Rendered in a vaguely impressionist style with acrylic paint on fiberboard, Pardo’s grizzly-bear-like frame dominates his garden, the streets, his studio and the beach. Thin ribbons of backlit Caoba wood on plexiglass provide movement. Suddenly the surf on the beach picks up, the soles of his shoes gain texture and tree branches become uncannily realistic. The result is a fascinating amalgamation between painting and sculpture; corporeality and abstraction; illusion and reality. At Petzel through January 6.

 “Suffragette City”, a traveling feminist protest show by Dutch-born artist Lara Schnitger has arrived at Anton Kern. Beautifully presented, the exhibition addresses urgent questions of female sexuality, the male gaze in female dress and investigates the fault-line between the respectable and the obscene. Three shop mannequins modeling Schnitger’s “burden backpacks” greet the visitor at the door. They are oversized wooden latticework rucksacks which are overlaid with plaid ribbons that look light but are, in fact, unwieldy and burdensome. Two gorgeous large-scale sculptures, one in the back gallery on the first floor and the other one on the second floor, recall religious deities on litters. Sheathed in silk, burlap, nylon and feathers they point to the obsessive deification of women throughout history which bound them to their position in the workplace and the family. A small army of Schnitger’s “Slut Sticks” are framing the gallery walls. They are tall, wooden skeleton-like structures over which she stretches sexual fetish wear like nylon, lingerie, leather and wigs and are held in place by a single hand that seems to emerge from the wall. Schnitger’s fabric collages are magnificent. Meticulously executed, they are powerful pieces of protest art and remind us that despite tremendous progress there is still a steep climb ahead when it comes to women’s rights. At Anton Kern through December 23.

John Stezaker frees images from their mass media purgatory, adds and subtracts until he reaches an end-result which is electrified with new metaphysical and psychological meaning. His collages are indebted to Surrealism and the fringes of the Situationist International movement. Petzel Gallery is currently showing twenty-seven collages from 1976 until 1979 in which the photo-roman is the catalyst for a series of sexually charged narratives. The works pivot around the cinematic and voyeuristic dramatics of the kiss. Stezaker knows that any attempt to capture a kiss must involve the third eye which is catnip for his practice. Violence and its Freudian cousin voyeurism play lead actors in this group of psychologically charged assemblages whose small-scale format adds to the sense of nervous suspense and where lust, seduction and yearning get collaged into something that only the viewer-cum-voyeur can drag up from deep within. At Petzel Gallery through January 6. 

The simplified forms and emotional ambivalence of Pop Art seep through in Donald Baechler’s work. Thick, black outlines frame Baechler’s carefully selected imagery that ranges from cartoon-like figures to ordinary objects like candy and flowers. Set on intricate backgrounds of fabric collage and pastel-colored acrylic paint, Baechler often furnishes his objects with a white halo that gives them a child-like cutout quality and makes them seem to float off the canvas. The rose is a recurring theme. Inspiration of poets and painters for centuries, under Baechler the queen of flowers adopts Donald Judd’s literalism which claims that instead of ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’, it really is just a beautiful flower. At Cheim & Read through December 23.

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