For much of the second half of the past century the concept of American Suburbia was synonymous with the American Dream. Space, a resemblance of nature, and the promise to leave behind poverty, noise, and violence seemed a sure-fire bet towards a cleaner, healthier lifestyle that rewarded upward-mobility for the family. Almost immediately, however, the carefully applied white paint on the picket fence started to bubble and peel, spawning darkly fore-boding cult-movies like “The Stepford Wives” and elegiac novels by Raymond Carver and Philip Roth. Two of Larry Sultan’s most iconic photographic series “Pictures from Home” and “The Valley” occupy this nether space between the eternal sunshine of the spotless lawn and the hallucinogenic horror of American Beauty. “Pictures from Home” unflinchingly chronicles the sunny loneliness of Sultan’s parents in a retirement community near Palm Springs. Tender and melancholic, the carefully staged scenes are both memento mori and an homage to the gift of immortality that photography bestows. A different kind of ambiguity is at play in the series “The Valley”. Here, the peculiar habit of staging pornography movies in rented middle-class homes takes us into the psycho-emotive field of stardom and boredom. Connecting the familiarly mundane, such as family pictures and floral couches with lewd carnal fantasies is, of course, something that the adult-film industry has figured out long ago. Sultan, here, is merely the documentary photographer that lifts the veil from our own intuition. In both series, as well as Sultan’s other distinguished works, the artist is able to coax ambiguity out of a carefully manufactured reality that seems at once absolute and fictitious. That he is able to lead us on shaky ground without an ounce of cynicism speaks entirely to the brilliance of his artistry and proves that there really are two sides of everything: authenticity and subterfuge, the mundane and the bizarre, happiness and despair. At Yancey Richardson through April 6.

The Argentine-Italian Surrealist artist Leonor Fini (1907 – 1996) moved effortlessly between painting, drawing, costume design, and illustration and drew inspiration from a variety of art forms including dance, theatre and film. An early disciple of the Freudian theory of tapping the subconscious, Fini nevertheless resisted being drawn into the male-centric Surrealist movement spearheaded by André Breton and Max Ernst, in favor of her very own radical version of extreme erotic Surrealism. Shattering the taboo became the theme for both subject matter and modus vivendi. Uncanny scenes of sexual violence, bestiality, witchcraft, and ritualistic sex, rendered in sketch-like drawings or thinly layered oil paintings have strong affinities to Art Nouveau and Mannerist portraiture. The mythological imagery of the stealth-like Sphinx, with its hybridization of the female and animalistic, often provided the hook for Fini’s explorations into the deepest reaches of sexuality. Technically adept, her voyeuristic explorations into the human psyche are both tender and unsettling – they are dramatic visual expressions of what lurks behind the facade of reality. At the Museum of Sex through March 4.

The ephemerality of time and the slippery ambiguity of memory runs like a thread through Michelle Stuart’s multi-faceted art practice which stretches from large-scale earth works and photography to multi-media installations, drawing and print. If archaeology is the study of artefacts then photography must be its modern apprentice. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Stuart’s majestic grids of inkjet photographs that combine images of birds, plants, landscapes, planets and fossils with fossilized shells and bones, earth and rocks. “Flight of Time” (2016) combines eighty-eight mostly black-and-white inkjet photographs into a striking mise-en-scène that spiritually links Stuart to Joan Jonas’ on-going engagement with nature and the pursuit of the vexing question of how we perceive time. Like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea, fragmented imagery and archaeological artefacts provide the wobbly cornerstones that links history and time. For our conception of history is based upon the modern innovation of chronological time and scientific inquiry that replaced the mythological and spiritual readings of early humankind. Stuart’s compositions take us back into that metaphysical realm of intuition, freed of  linear history, where a multitude of images provide the string on which time itself hinges upon. At Galerie Lelong through March 9.

“I became an artist because of nature.” For more than seven decades Luchita Hurtado has cultivated a multi-faceted art practice that is firmly grounded in a fundamental kinship with nature and the belief that the natural world, as we experience it, is merely given to us on loan. An exhibition that focuses on the artist’s prolific output between the 1940s and 1950s reveals her restless experimentation with materials and style. A decade-long stay in Mexico and a subsequent move to New Mexico, ignited a desire to visualize the spiritual and mystical connection to nature and land. From the beginning Hurtado surrounded herself with artists, writers, and intellectuals whose working methods and philosophies she readily absorbed. Her second and third husband were the artists Wolfgang Paalen and Lee Mullican respectively, and her friendship circle included renowned artists such as Agnes Martin, Isamu Noguchi, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Wilfredo Lam, Man Ray, and Rufino Tamayo. Hurtado’s abstracted flora as well as her melancholic figurative landscapes veer strongly into the Surrealist realm where moody color schemata play host to dreamlike figurations, biomorphic compositions, and sketch-like primitive drawings. They are extraordinary explorations into the interrelationship between man and nature and are the benchmark of a well-deserved, if belated, recognition of an astonishing art trajectory. At Hauser & Wirth through April 6.

BOB (aka Bag of Beliefs) is a sentient digital creature sprung from the imagination of New York-based artist Ian Cheng and fed, nurtured and controlled by army of real-life developers. BOB’s mutations are entirely composed of users of BOB Shrine (www.bobs.ai), a smartphone app that lets patrons assume a digital interface of BOB and manipulate its activity through multiple agencies of artificial mindsets that play out against each other. The resulting metamorphosis is visualized in real time via a grid of digital screens in the gallery. As the app creator, Cheng did provide a framework via a reddish-orange color scheme and basic snake-like forms but has little control over its compositional fallout. Far from a clever subterfuge, BOB announces a radical mode of art making by introducing art that has its own nervous system, that learns to adapt and develop on its own and which floats the subversive notion of absolving the artist from the consequences of his own creation. It profoundly changes the relationship between artwork and viewer, expands on the idea of the ready-made object, introduces the element of infinity and chaos into an artwork, and re-defines the traditional engagement between the artist and public. At Gladstone Gallery through March 23.

Working effortlessly across collage, photography, sculpture and film, the British-American artist Penny Slinger is largely situated within the outlines of Feminist Surrealism where mysticism, eroticism, and sexual repression are mined from the while-hot cauldron of the subconscious. Although the artist’s “50%-the-Visible-Woman” photomontage series owes a large debt to Max Ernst’s legendary collage masterpiece “Une semaine de Bonté”, it has firm footing in present-day feminism as it relates to reproductive rights, gender equality, body anxiety, and violence against women. Like her Modern predecessors, Singer mines the dark hierarchies of the inner self through an acerbic fusion between dark humour and stark violence. A series of conceptual self-portraits entitled “Bride’s Cake” morphs the traditional wedding cake with erotic pop-out-confections and simultaneously takes on the institution of marriage and food porn as tools of patriarchal oppression. It is a stark reminder that the daily spectre of violent erotic fantasies and other oppressive savageries, amplified through social media and sanctified by commerce and state, are first and foremost missives from the id. As such, Singer joins the distinguished company of brilliant women Surrealist artists like Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Remedios Varo, and Leonara Carrington who recognize the omnipotence of the subconscious in the construction of institutions that inhibit freedoms. At Fortnight Institute through March 17.  

Georg Baselitz returns to Gagosian Gallery with a suite of paintings based on the self-portraits of fellow artists. Rendered in his idiosyncratic Neo-expressionist style, inverted heads, illuminated by a bright halo of fine mist, float on mid-night ground. When seen side by side in the cavernous front gallery, it feels as if art history is gliding through space. Measuring exactly 165 x 100 cm, the canvases hold impressions of Cecliy Brown, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Tracey Emin and many more. Only their initials give clues as to their identity, for the memory is Baselitz’s own and so are his interpretations. Tinkering with perception and the role that time plays on the fragmentation of mental imprints, he re-animates these recollections with energetic patchworks of impastoed paint, so disfigured and raw that often the only reference point remains the outline. What sets these portraits apart, however, is a new, affable color palette that ranges from rosy pinks and sky blues to auburn reds. For an artists that has often thrived on shocking the public, these portraits feel tender, almost loving which tempt the reading that, like a fine wine, even Herr Baselitz may mellow with age. At Gagosian through March 16.

Film as an art form has always tried to differentiate itself from its more commercial cousin The Movies where profit margins and the appeal to a mass audience often dilute the artistic or experimental value of visual communication. A fascinating group exhibition organized by Bruce W. Ferguson is trying to find common ground in both by considering the work of eleven artists working in painting, photography, video and installation. Setting the mood is Sayre Gomez’s fictional Hollywood storefront “Behind Door #9” whose cheerful seediness simultaneously summons the thin veneer of Monty-Hall-like television shows and the quiet despair of the many dreamers who never make it inside the golden doors of fame. Two spectral black-and-white photographs by David Deutsch that expertly make use of spot lighting to evoke the crime scene genre make the perfect antipode to Walter Robinson’s bedsheet painting “Strange Journey” – a humorous take down of the louche-glamour of pulp fiction. In the downstairs gallery, Klaus vom Bruch deconstructs the formulaic trope of the Hollywood kiss in his video work “Relatively Romantic” and Elliot Jamal Robbins takes the white out of Disney’s Snow White by overlaying her face with drawings of a black boy in the video “Master Study: Snow White Clapping”. Veering between facetious and self-searching, the show also includes Jennifer Bolande, Yul Brynner, Meg Cranston, David Deutsch, Jack Goldstein, Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler, Walter Robinson, and Kerry Tribe and could have been underwritten by Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe who once famously declared that “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” At Magenta Plains through February 17.

For the late Dutch conceptual artist Ger van Elk, representation was a mirage construed from a stew of untrustworthy emotive, political, and cultural influencers. Considered a bothersome gadfly and enfant terrible even by highly permissive 1960s standards, van Elk sprinkled a good dose of humour onto a multi-disciplinary art practice that culled from Arte Povera, Pop, and Dada. Nature, particularly the Romantic version of the sublime, became an irresistible target. To that end, camping tents made from delicate white lace, fun with traditional Dutch landscape genres and the manipulation of painting and photography to expose its phony realism are examples of his deeply ingrained scepticism towards the classical art historical canon. In the video work “The Rose more beautiful than Art, but Difficult, therefore Art is Splendid” (1972), the artist continuously re-arranges flowers in a vase to unmask the highly deceptive illusionism of Dutch Flower Painting and declares that without movement, chance, and time these arrangements do not reflect reality but instead are exposed as crude showcases of the patron’s wealth and the braggadocio of the painter. At Grimm through March 2.

Skillfully and wilfully dodging categorization, the German artist Günther Förg was an ideological agitator who made it his life-long mission to upend the traditions of modernism. Everything was up for grabs. Architecture and space, with their innate characteristics of restraint, were often the genesis of his oeuvre. To that end, windows, doors, and walls became the crossbars with which the artist explored color, form and spatial relationships. Moving effortless across a multitude of mediums and working with a variety of materials, Förg set out to systematically distil each category to its particular idiosyncrasies and then unite them in matrimony or ruthlessly play them out against each other. Large-scale photography of well-known architecture, particularly the minimalism of early Bauhaus structures, morphed organically into monochrome wall paintings and architectural structures. In the mid-1990s explorations into the non-color grey lead to a series of elegant blackboard paintings that seem to mourn his spiritual firebrand Joseph Beuys with a respectful nod to Cy Twombly. Another sharp U-turn towards the end of his life, produced his highly popular, large-scale paintings of colourful brushwork patches. That these should be the legacy of a brilliant and diverse art career seems hardly fair – a concern that the new custodian of his estate should attempt to correct. At Hauser & Wirth through April 6.

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