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.

Before selfies, postcards used to be the braggadocios way to let the world know which exotic locales you visited. They relate to selfies in that they advertise a digitally enhanced and stylised world that has little to do with reality. With a nod to the advent calendar, the radical German artist and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger mounted numerous postcards, that were sent to her by friends and family, onto the back of old-fashioned pull-down world maps typically used in German history and geography classes during the 1970s. The resulting windows-to-the-wold show a manufactured reality that glosses over poverty, natural disasters, genocide, discrimination and greed. They point to the ethnographic falsehoods about cultures and distortion of histories that lie at the core of many of our cruellest past and present conflicts. Lining these perverted world maps is a kaleidoscopic arrangement of Ottinger’s photographic output. It is a hodgepodge of often bizarre portraits and scenes that in their totality speak of our primordial desire to make sense of a senseless world. At Bridget Donahue through March 3.

Long considered an artist’s artist who has eluded well-deserved fame, Brenda Goodman has been expanding the strictures of painting with art that is at once playful, material, and cerebral. In a new series of work, Goodman returns to using linoleum cutters on wood to carve lines that alternately read as delicate drawings, furrows of skin, or the craquelure in oil paintings. Although her configurations appear to be planned, Goodman proceeds intuitively – a process where each choice in color and form leads organically to another. Curvaceous forms glide, collide, imbricate, and morph innately into spatial compositions that suggest biomorphic bodies but may have no need for figuration at all. Occasionally they are aided by swaths of thick impasto, dynamic markmaking or kaleidoscopic fragments. Goodman is a wizard with color. Leafy greens, dynamic oranges, and flashes of brilliant blues and yellows alternate with earthy tones that get grounded with weighty patches of black. Most of her symphonious paintings bear bulbous outlines that give them a keyhole quality and add to their condition as hidden expeditions into the sublime. At Sikkema Jenkins through February 23.

“Hands can convey so much”, Henry Moore once said, “they can beg or refuse, take or give, be open or clenched, show content or anxiety”. For an artist, the hand signifies evidence of authorship and indicates individual expression. During much of his four decade-long career McArthur Binion has made auto-biographical documentation part of his artistic signature. In a new series of works, the artist considers his own hand as emblems of individuality, identity and place of origin. Methodical grids of the artist’s handprints form the base of these paintings which are obscured by a latticework of lines rendered in his idiosyncratic crayon and oil stick. Optically, Binion’s palm prints on grounds of amber, mahogany and graphite morph into a hypnotic kind of abstraction that evokes the texture and materiality of some woollen fabric or the patterns of a well-worn carpet. Anthropologically, they are documentations of individuality and coherence and directly counter Glen Ligon’s repetitious language grids as patterns of erasure. As such they are not cautionary tales of handing over one’s identity but instead go hand in hand with cataloguing the essence of history. At Lehman Maupin through March 2.

With its emphasis on domesticity and process, one might be tempted to view Richard Slee’s ceramic practice from the perspective of craft. Nothing can be further from the truth. Instead, Slee’s highly finished ceramic objects often find themselves in the company of found objects, get folded into conceptual installations or play a supporting role in performance art. See, who continuously tests the boundaries between functionality and uselessness, routinely makes ceramic objects out of things that cannot possibly related to clay. His on-going “Hammer” series reveals an obsession with DIY objects and humorously explores the futility of a blunt force instrument made from a fragile material. A keen understanding of color and form are the underpinnings in the transformation of the art of the everyday into lively three-dimensional compositions. See’s low-tech, hyper realistic objects play out on an instinctual level and place See’s work conceptually closer into the vicinity of Neo-Pop sculpture albeit without the monumentality and vain gloriousness of a Play-Doh sculpture but with a sly transgressiveness that percolates under the veneer of normalcy. At Hales through February 23.

In his recent essay “Human Nature” for Artforum, Dan Nadel considers the art of Ellen Berkenblit, Carroll Dunham, Sarah Peters and Kyle Staver through the weighty question of what it means to be human. He adds twelve more artists to aid with the visualization of this inquiry in a sprawling but rewarding group exhibition at Eva Presenhuber Gallery. Big questions require strength in numbers and the help of language, so this admittedly quixotic task sets its goalposts in form of Will Oldham’s graceful poem “I see a darkness” (1999) which is split evenly between hopefulness and crushing pessimism. Figuration and narrative link most works in this exhibition which also includes Huma Bhabha, Joe Bradley, Joan Brown, Steve DiBenedetto, Christopher Forgues, Jason Fox, Mike Kelley, Takeshi Murata, Gary Panter, Laurie Simmons, Alan Turner, and Michael Williams. In the entrance hall, a conversation between Takeshi Murata’s “Xeno” (2017) and Joan Brown’s “The Golden Age: The Jaguar and the Tapir” (1985) seems to ask whether co-existence is possible despite our inherent differences. Formal associations and juxtapositions abound in the main gallery where Sarah Peters’ serene plaster busts collide with the emotional intensity of Mike Kelley’s repressed finger-painting memories. If closed spaces sharpen the senses, then the basement gallery provides ample opportunity to investigate the complexities of the human race. This may happen through the lens of gender whereby Carroll Dunham’s toxic masculinity is juxtapositioned with Ellen Berkenblit’s prickly unmanliness; or via mythology as in Huma Bhabha’s totemic sculpture; or in the paradoxical biblical narratives of Kyle Staver. That these and other threads run through almost all artists assembled in this exhibition, attests to the brilliance of the curator and makes this an intellectually rewarding exercise on the condition of humanity. At Eva Presenhuber through March 3.

On Mithu Sen’s website the word “un-home” floats searchingly across the screen. Enter her virtual home, and it becomes clear that the unlocking of the negative prefix “un” parenthesizes much of the work of this West Bengali artist. Sen’s multidisciplinary practice folds poetry, drawing, performance and video work into lyrical contemplations on sexuality, identity, and loss. Language, with its calamitous force to unite or destroy, lies at or near the core of many of her endeavours. Her dreamlike video installation “I have only one language; it is not mine”, created for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014, seeks to transcend the boundaries of conventional language in search of non-verbal dialogue. A fictional young woman named Mago, who communicates in a made-up language, whiles her days away seesawing between boredom, loneliness, gossip, and despair. She lives with other emotionally and sexually abused young girls in a government orphanage in Kerala whose lush settings and tropical climate masks its grim reality. A haze of ambiguity hangs over the production that veils identity and perspective. As the camera shifts from her body into the hands of the girls and back, the artist fluctuates between observer and collaborator and from confidante and the observed. The emotive nebulousness is underscored by the sketch-like quality of the film which fuses tropical plants, red carpeting, drawings, and small hanging sculptures into an immersive environment that draws the visitor into these young women’s lives and demonstrates that memories and emotions are the true semantics of our shared humanity. At Thomas Erben through February 16.

Look at some of Roy McMakin’s furniture and you just know who made it. No nonsense chairs, plain but sturdy beds, comfortable armchairs covered in handwoven fabrics: the kind of furniture that could only have been lovingly manufactured far away from New York in a small bespoke workshop in Seattle by nice, plaid-shirted, clog-wearing crafts people. An exhibition at Garth Greenan Gallery wants you to hold your triple latte. What looks at first like a pleasant trip to a furniture showroom, quickly turns into a family outing to the fun house. While it is true that the objects are hand-crafted by the good people of Big Leaf Manufacturing in the Emerald City, McMakin slyly denies them their functional purpose. Try sitting on a chair with a glass back or open the non-existing drawers at that charming dresser or attempt to fit a mattress into a white bed-frame that appears to be too big and too small at the same time. How exactly are you supposed to eat on half a table? Sometimes, it’s hard to determine what the object is. Is a lamp, or a vase? Both or neither? This is precisely the disorienting place where McMakin wants you to be. Through a clever mix of honest design and the shrewd exploitation of pre-determined assumptions about domesticity, McMakin’s work dances on the precipice between when an object loses its functionality and moves into the cerebral realm of sculpture. Add some deadpan humour and everybody knows what he means by the sculpture “The Bed I Bought When I was a Teenager That was Later Put in the Creepy (maybe haunted) Room in my Parents Basement Where I had to Sleep until Mike Refused”. At Garth Greenan Gallery through February 16.

In “In Lieu of a Louder Love”, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye returns with expressive portraits of fictional figures and settings that are at once lyrical and pensive, harmonious and lush. Yiadom-Boakye, who effortless pivots between writing and painting, cross-fertilizes narrative and character development in each genre and exploits their limitations to achieve supremacy in both. Her intimate moments-in-time tap into a strange familiarity that spark imaginary narratives of the before, the after and the in-between. Serene and elegant, the paintings ooze an unapologetic self-confidence toward figuration and a deep understanding of the history of painting. They are not, as sometimes falsely claimed, concerned with enticing the black figure to a white audience. Hung low and awash in warm and muted colors, they invite us into a shared humanity that transcends race. At Jack Shainman through February 16.

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