The element of chance in making perceived reality visible in early photography is at the crux of an interesting collaborative  project between Carrie Yamaoka and Thomas Fougeirol. The exhibition takes as its starting point a beautifully back-lit photogram of a hand by Géro Bonnet from 1912. Like Susan Hiller’s Aura works, the image is not so much a recording of the supposed electromagnetic waves that emanate from the body but instead opens the door to wider discussions on what roles chance and process play in the depiction of the invisible. Both artists are deeply concerned with questions of what is real and how to measure perception. Fougeirol’s practice employs the liquidity of paint to record actions such as the falling of debris, the gathering of dust or the dropping of rain. The influence of Yves Klein, in accessing the spiritual and visceral core of objects and their recordings on the surface of his paintings, is unmistakable. Carrie Yamaoka works with light in exposing the limitation of perception. The artist rubs a mirror-like substance on surfaces that are determined by chance. The results are flawed transcriptions of reality where the viewer gets implicated through the reflective surface. Seen side-by-side, both artist’s works force reflections on painting’s historical predicament to create a presence from absence and the shaky territory of our own perception. At Albertz Benda through February 16.

In the years following the Second World War, and after enjoying a relative brief period of economic independence, working women across America were expected to return to the home and family. Home sewing, with its associations of virtue and thrift, was a convenient mechanism to enforce a re-alignment of gender roles where men were earning the money and women stayed at home and spent it. A proliferation of sewing patterns in women’s magazine and girls’ curriculums emphasized quasi-Victorian values and the understanding that the safest place for a woman was in front of her sewing machine. In her new series of photographs, Erica Baum subverts twentieth century sewing patterns and instructions into conceptually driven abstractions. An elegant reciprocity between language and geometric forms invites beguiling art-historical metaphors that lead from the Supremacist drawings of Kazmir Malevich, via the non-objective patterns designs by Russian Cubo-Futirist Olga Rozanova to the austere fashion outlines of Lyubov Popova. This time around, Baum used pre-existing folds to add additional lines. Detached language fragments and the peculiar mustard yellow of sewing patters contribute to the sense that these works are scientific artifacts, or perhaps relics from a bye-gone era; as photographic evidence they function as imprints of imprints of imprints. Philosophically, the reductive state of these abstracted sewing instructions and their inherent flatness encourage associations not with the finished product but with the objectification of their makers. At Bureau through February 17.

Dana Schutz makes a triumphant return at Petzel Gallery with a series of grand and self-confident disaster paintings that narrate fragmented tales of greed, ecological calamity, political turmoil, and emotional poverty. Wilfully vulgar and raw, her rebellious compositions are loaded with dark premonitions and inhabit cartoonishly grotesque creatures in apocalyptic scenes where the vulgarity of the human condition is laid bare. Schutz’s malignant contortions are underscored by a foreboding color palette where even the occasional ray of sunshine seems to be clouded by acid rain and by a virtuosic line that serves only to underscore pompous vain-gloriousness and greed. Amidst the chaos, Schutz does not shirk personal demons. The controversy surrounding her “Open Casket” painting at last year’s Whitney Biennial and the ensuing public outcry is stalking the artist in “The Visible World”. Here, Schutz appears to be sacrificed on an island in the middle of a landfill (or an ocean resembling a garbage dump) and given the raspberry by a seagull with an overly big beak –  a bitter allegory perhaps to the sacrificial offerings that art sometimes must make in order to move forward. When formal excellence, intensity and symbolism get paired with a healthy dose of unflinching personal introspection and an uncanny ability to perceive our current world, we know that we have found a painter in the truest sense of the word. At Petzel through February 23.

The eponymous Paula Cooper Gallery, which helped launch the careers of several important conceptual and minimalist artists, is paying homage to some of its most famous stars. Echoing the history of the New York art world since the early 1970s, the gallery has been nurturing the talents of artists in ways that seem antiquated by today’s standards. Recent much-publicized financial troubles aside, the gallery continues to put together important exhibitions that influence the trajectory of art. A new group exhibition circles back to the beginnings when Soho was at the center of a new wave of artists who explored new media, performance, and feminism in alternative art spaces in what was then a largely forgotten part of town. Jennifer Bartlett, Lynda Benglis, Jonathan Borofsky, Elizabeth Murray, Joel Shapiro and Jackie Winsor are among a diverse group of artists who rejected the traditional art-world status-quo of uptown institutions in search of fresh, innovative ideas. They are a dissimilar and often contradictory bunch, yet all possess a highly personal style and a compulsive drive to break free of the established art canon. This is Elizabeth Murray’s magnificent C Painting (1980), a fine example of her irregular shaped canvases that opened a new space for painting at a time when it was all but declared dead. At Paula Cooper Gallery through February 9.

Female sexuality narrated by women has always carried a radical tint. Add the ageing body and the mixture becomes outright toxic. A new series of powerful nude self-portraits by Joan Semmel take on the cultural obsession with youth and the idealized body and engage the viewer with a mature corporeality that is at once sensual and sexual. Semmel is often lazily lumped together with Jenny Saville whose overflowing, female flesh possess a remorseless carnality that Semmel eschews. Instead, Semmel takes an unflinching look at her own body and finds that sagging breasts, love handles, and wrinkles are signposts but no guideposts for visceral pleasure. Seductive color, expressive brushwork and luxurious angles imbue Semmel’s bodies with a sensual intimacy that signal autonomy and strength. They are the antidote to Lisa Yuskavage’s mindless bimbos and prove that Joan Semmel still occupies the placeholder as the foremost feminist painter. At Alexander Gray through February 16.

About halfway through “God made my Face: A collective Portrait of James Baldwin”, the sprawling tribute to the American novelist expertly curated by Hilton Als, one comes across a curiously shaped tool on the floor. It is a manual railroad bender, also known as a Jim Crow, by the conceptual artist Cameron Rowland. Starting in the 1860s, these tools were used by newly-emancipated slaves in the prison system to straighten steel bars on rail roads. It was back-breaking work – done under duress and without pay under the convict lease system. Later, a Supreme court verdict affirming racial segregation led to what are commonly known as the Jim Crow Laws that legitimized discrimination towards African-Americans. Approximately two hundred years later, James Baldwin published “The Fire Next Time”, a searing denunciation on racism, oppression and violence. Fast-forward fifty years to Black Lives, Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, celebrities and politicians tweeting racist comments, and a color-skewed justice system with prisons that often charge inmates pay-to-stay fees that grossly outweigh their wages from typical work programs, the question arises: what exactly has changed? If we cannot answer, we risk falling into the perverse trap of celebrating yet another dead civil rights activist, while at the same time turning a blind eye to or own complicity in the glaringly obvious bigotry and racial injustices of today. At David Zwirner through February 16.

As the government shutdown over the border dispute drags on without hope for an amicable resolution, a timely group exhibition at James Cohan brings together a number of multi-generational artists that engage with the conceptual, historical and formal aspects of borders. Ranging from sculpture and photography to painting and embroidery, the works consider the socio-economic, psychological, historical and political consequences that barriers and walls pose for humans and nature alike. The imposing structure by Mexican artist Jorge Méndez Blake takes up almost the entire length of the front gallery on West 26thStreet and serves as the metaphorical Elephant in the Room. Titled “Amerika”, it draws obvious connections to the current situation at the Southern border of the US, and consists of a neatly arranged row of red bricks that are interrupted at its center by Kafka’s book “Amerika”. Elsewhere, the message is decidedly hopeful. A photograph of Byron Kim’s “Sky Blue Flag” erected at the border between North and South Korea, asserts not ground or control but instead signals peace and reconciliation via a placid color made from local seedlings. Yinka Shonibare’s American Library seeks to start a conversation about immigration with books and Jordan Nassar’s stunning cross-stich embroidery emphasises the shared devotion to craft in the bitter Israeli-Palestinian divide. But perhaps the most powerful statement comes in the form of a serene landscape by Lebanese-American artist Etel Adnan. Hung forlornly on a large wall at the gallery’s Grand Street location, the painting’s harmonious colors merge into  a melancholic terrain where cultural identity and a strong sense of sense of heritage have no need for artificial borders. At James Cohan through February 23.

James Siena’s captivating new, large-scale compositions are perfect case studies of the push-pull between containment and recalcitrance. Corralled in by an irregular-shaped periphery, Siena sections his compositions into several autonomous parts that contain organic fluctuations and convolutions that hold the paradox of scientific experiments that appear to evolve organically. These liquid designs recall graphical landscapes that simultaneously move from side to side, upside down and expand inwards in a seemingly autonomous way. Remarkably, the artist manages to harnesses this untamed molten flow into a repetitious balance by a complicated system of expanding and contracting spacing. Graphical methodology leads the mind towards the scientific realm but is pulled back into the subjective through Siena’s highly emotive chromatic combinations and deft figure/ground exchange. Outlines within outlines within outlines make finding the optimal viewing distance a disorienting cotillon dance with the wall but Siena’s overall subtlety with lines and color lead the viewer on a meditative path that is mentally clear, harmonious, and calm. At Pace Gallery through February 9.

 “How do I sell more art?” People tell me I should use color. And less text. Less politics would probably also help. Does that go for substance in general? Will less sell more? I’ll lose it if I have to. And I should probably make my drawings all the same not too big, not too small size… kind of always the same-ish all around. Actually doing more of the same of what sold last would be good. I can’t even remember what sold last. I doubt it looked like this. People don’t buy drawings that look like this. As my daughter would say, this drawing is bore-ing. I should probably try to get my work into fashion magazines because I bet these artists make a lot of money. Actually, just get myself into fashion magazines. I’m skinny and somewhat attractive – I’ll put your clothes on. And fancy interior design spreads too. Why don’t interior designers want to hang this drawing in an unused living room? If you are still reading this, I want to assure you that I really need to sell more drawings. This is not a joke. I am running out of money. Do you know how much my health insurance costs? Mounting drawings to canvas is one strategy, because then they’re paintings. But I couldn’t do that to Drawing. Do you know that drawings are ¼ the price of comparably sized paintings? People say I would sell more if I were younger. Or older. Anything but middle aged. There is just no money coming in. It’s making me anxious and terribly irritable, like all the time. If you are one of those people who buy art, maybe you can tell me what you buy, because this clearly isn’t it. That said, I should probably stop refusing commissions. Commissions are money for art… but is it really art if it’s a commission? Really? Being a white guy probably doesn’t help. Who needs more art by us? Although am I even white anymore? I think Trump revoked the Jews’ whiteness. Maybe I can play up the Yid angle? Hitler killed a lot of my family. Does that make this drawing more desirable? Does sex still sell? TITS! DICKS! Yes? No? Don’t think that because you are reading this in a gallery that it sells. Lots of stuff doesn’t sell here. By the way, if you are still reading this, props. You probably could have been looking at something colourful instead…. Karl Haendel “Masses & Mainstream” continues at Mitchell-Innes & Nash through February 16.

Like her Romantic peers, EJ Hauser turns drawings into visual expressions of the mysticism of nature. Yet this is where all similarities abruptly end. For Hauser not only uses her drawing practice to inform on her works on canvas but also employs her paintings to report back to her works on paper. A series of new multi-layered oil paintings grouped under the title “Barn Spirits”, were spawned during a summer stint in rural New York. Semi ovals and irregular egg shapes act as outlines or are overlaid onto complicated patterns that recall the expressive and repetitive techniques of Aboriginal art. Hauser’s complex compositions contrast multiple vantage points which superimpose linear markings that recall seeds, leaves or animal trackings from a bird-eye perspective with frontal view triangular shapes that evoke mountains or barns. A mostly muted and washed out color palette supports a matrix of lines and dots that often beget shadows of the originals. As a philosophical response to the visual overstimulation and technological overdrive of our current world, Hauser’s works circle back to the Romantics where a strong connection of the individual to nature and wildlife serves as a spiritual source of renewal. Conceptually they are relating the amalgamation of drawing and painting to the hazy mélange of memory and reality. At Derek Eller Gallery through February 3.

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