Janet Borden, Inc.
560 Broadway Ste. 601 Feb. 11-Mar. 17, 2012
Is it true that “formalism is everything” in the sometimes strange, sometimes picturesque still lifes of the New York photographer Jan Groover (1943-2012)? Sure, her compositions of plain cutlery, kitchen tools, dishes and plates and even the rows of Morandi-esque bottles are brutally matter-of-fact at the same time that they’re beautiful. Groover, it is said, wasn’t interested in any kind of romantic reading of her works.
But you cannot deny the poetry of everyday objects like these without at the same time invoking abstract thought, some kind of heuristics, some epistemology, some phenomenology of spirit. That cutlery sitting like an alien in the sink, is it not a Zen koan? That shot of the tail-end of a car, caught as it leaves the picture frame, is it not a statement on quantum physics?
Groover died early this year at age 68 in Montpon-Ménésterol, France, where she had lived since 1991 with her husband, the painter Bruce Boice. They were very much a part of the SoHo art scene in the ‘70s and after, and left for France as do many American expatriates, in search of a more civilized place (and one where you could still smoke). This humble yet stunning memorial exhibition, well worth a journey to the SoHo tourist district, features 37 photographs dating from 1973 to 2003.
520 West 21st Street Feb. 16 through March 2012
The inaugural exhibition at Family Business, the small space carved out of the Anna Kustera Gallery front room by artist Maurizio Cattelan and New Museum curator Massimilano Gioni, feels like a joke. The artists are mockingly billed as “virgins” who have never shown before, but the list of participants includes Kate Gilmore, Laurel Nakadate, Wangechi Mutu and Mika Rottenberg. These women supposedly reclaim their virginity here by exhibiting their very first works of art, all of them videos, which are presented in a loop on a monitor hung on the wall.
The show is curated by Marilyn Minter, who insists in the press release that she actually wrote the press release. She also ventures that the show is designed to be a visual rumination on what “might happen if Mary Heilmann had a threesome with Martin Kippenberger and Blinky Palermo.” A colorful event, no doubt, and indeed the tiny room, whose entire front wall is a glass window, looks like the site of a kindergarten birthday party, with hand-painted balloons floating against the ceiling, neon yellow tape decorating the walls and a handful of small, kitschy paintings featuring zebras, rainbows, and orange shag carpeting.
The videos are for the most part unwatchable, inaudible and hard to see (the glare!), except for Patty Chang’s contribution, Melons (At a Loss), from 1998. In a performance reminiscent of the earliest video Body Art from the 1970s, the artist, frontally framed by the camera and wearing a white tank top, cuts into what turns out to be a melon concealed in her bra, scooping out the orange fruit and eating it. Though there’s nothing world-shattering here, you should take a look -- if only to say that you’re part of the Family.
Peter Freeman Inc.
560 Broadway/140 Grand Street Feb. 23-Apr. 7, 2012
For more than two decades, the German artist Thomas Schütte (b. 1954) has demonstrated a notable versatility with sculpture, from his giant golems (whether representing immigrants or dictators) to his ceramic sculptures of mystical eggs and his ventures into architecture and “designs for living.” Now, in his exhibition at Peter Freeman’s two downtown spaces -- the one at 140 Grand is new, and with the Swiss Institute (see below), anchors a mini-SoHo gallery district -- Schütte gives us a look at his graphics.
At 560 Broadway are irresistibly charming watercolors of household items -- a light bulb, an outlet and a pile of change, or groupings of fruit -- rendered with a precise but casual line on washy grounds of golden ochres and rosy pinks, or on smoky seas of grey. At Grand Street are vibrantly colored woodcuts on paper, pinned to the walls and surrounding two towering wooden sculptures. The woodcuts offer glimpses of a cobalt sky through various architectural elements, including a pile of bricks and a concrete archway. Each wall, floor and staircase has a unique texture -- the grain of wood, the flourish of a sponge, cross-hatchings.
Schutte’s work comes together, in its two installations, as simply representing people, their places and their things -- a broad conceit which he gives a perfectly specific, original treatment.
545 West 20th Street Feb. 25-Apr. 7, 2012
A sign on the door of Elizabeth Dee gallery declares that for the course of its collaborative project with the performance artist Ryan McNamara (b. 1979), visitors are photographed and recorded upon entering. Those who don’t want their “picture, likeness, voice or statements” to be reproduced as the artist desires, are politely invited to “view the exhibition online.”
If you choose to risk stardom, however, you open the door and come face to face with the spritely auteur himself, dressed in sneakers and black leggings with a camera hung around his neck. He introduces himself as Ryan and asks you if you’d like to throw your coat and bag down somewhere and participate in a photo shoot. The gallery has been transformed into a combination dressing room and theatrical set, equipped with floodlights, racks of outfits, props, wigs and a series of interchangeable backdrops. It can be busy, so you might have to wait, or join in. Costumes? Only if you’re vamping alone. “I tend to let the group’s energy speak for itself,” the artist says. “No additions are needed.”
After he assigns each subject a motion (thrust arms forward and back, or lift and drop leg, for example), he snaps a series of quick photos -- the “stills” for the performance, presumably -- and thanks you for participating. Is that it? Ryan pulls out one of the backdrops, a galactic scene collaged with photographs of people in strange positions. “See? This will be you!” he says, explaining that the performances become photographs, which become the raw material for his collaged objects, which become the sets and grounds for other performed photographs. If you’re looking for your 15 minutes of fame, this might be it.
555 West 24th Street
Mar. 1-Apr. 7, 2012
Gogosian has gone Zen. Security guards still loom at every corner, the gallerinas are frosty and photography is strictly forbidden, but the current show of pastel-hued landscapes “in the Chinese style” by Pop master Roy Lichtenstein (1927-1997) is almost relaxing. Free of flashy colors, camp and the commercial, the two large galleries are hung sparsely with oil paintings on canvas that read like ethereal abstractions from afar, undulating rivers of black, blue or green that fade in and out of shadow.
Up close, Lichtenstein’s signature Benday dot is evident, and each work combines abstraction with an Asian motif, like a sprouting bonsai tree, whose leaves are rendered in a splash of sponged-on green, or the black outline of a tiny boat entering the frame at left, manned by a figure in a conical Asian rice paddy hat. Other motifs include clouds, mountain peaks and rivers, wooden bridges and bamboo, images supposedly derived from the traditional painting of China’s Song Dynasty (960-1279), with which Lichtenstein was supposedly enamored.
Most of the canvases are large, stretching up to 6 x 10 feet, or long and narrow, and many of them are hung vertically in the style of Chinese scrolls. The show includes sculptures as well, made from painted pewter and bronze, which give those obvious Asian icons -- bonsais, rocky crags -- a more authentically Lichensteinian treatment. He has abstracted and reduced the texture of bark to comic-book style signification, and in Scholar’s Rock (1997), the volume of the cliff is represented by interlocking planes of black, silver and zebra-stripe.
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
620 Greenwich Ave. Mar. 3-Apr. 21, 2012
The Los Angeles artist and writer Frances Stark (b. 1967), who poses nicely on her website in a bikini with a Suzuki motorcycle, gained a certain amount of notice with a digital, subtitled cartoon-version of cybersex at the 2011 Venice Biennale. She kicks it up a notch -- that is, she makes it more minimal -- with the two new videos on view at GBE, both of which dispense with pictorial imagery altogether and present the dialog in simple black text on a white ground. Together, they are what you might call a writer’s idea of a movie.
The 14-minute-long Nothing Is Enough consists of fragments from Stark’s online-chat with a young Italian man, the format signaled by text-message shortcuts like “lol” and abbreviations like “where r u?” as the two unseen characters flirt and cajole. “Sei una bella figa,” he says, as she mistakenly translates, “I’m a beautiful fig?” before realizing that “figa” is slang for female genitalia. Their conversation is by turns raunchy and sweet, and is set to a mellifluous classical tune played on piano, which is apparently a composition by the young man, a musician.
Nothing Is Enough takes place in a dark gallery that includes a dozen vintage wooden benches, arranged in two neat rows as in a chapel. The other vid, titled Osservate, Leggete con me (Observe, read with me), is screened in a brightly lit room, with seating provided by an L-shaped, white couch. Its content is largely the same, but it’s set to music from the opera Don Giovanni. In the end, the videos provide an entertaining parody of love in a digital world.
18 Wooster Street Mar. 7-Apr. 15, 2012
The Swiss Institute recently decamped from its cozy, second-floor spot on Broadway to the large Wooster Street gallery that was formerly Deitch Projects. Now, the Swiss-born, Glasgow-based artist Nicholas Party (b. 1980) has transformed the high-ceilinged entry gallery into something like a kitschy Miami hotel lobby, printing hideous turquoise stripes on the wall and making wall drawings of vintage tea pots in curlicue “frames” of gold leaf. On the floor are large rocks painted to look like lumpy fruits, a conceit that might be a brilliant idea for a house-warming gift but that turns this exhibition into something more like a campy party space.
In the enormous main gallery is “Heart to Hand,” an exhibition organized by Pati Hertling and including works by Zoe Leonard, Adam Pendleton, Klara Liden and Oscar Tuazon. Conceived in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, these works offer a more serious meditation on esthetics and the politics of space. A close-up photograph by Zoe Leonard of the tortured, gnarled roots of an oak miraculously sprouting up from a concrete sidewalk serves as a metaphor -- albeit a familiar one -- for that vision.
Ambiguous black-and-white portraits by Adam Pendleton hang high on the wall above the room’s lofted stage, whose architecture of brick, wood and pipes has been exposed for the show, but “Heart to Hand’s” most striking feature is the contribution by the Paris-based design artist Tuazon and his brother, Elias Hansen -- piles of old wood that fill the gallery in neat cubes, or large beams leaning against the wall, all materials that were scavenged from the SI construction site. We get it, and it looks good -- raw, edgy, DIY -- but it’s definitely nothing new.
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at