529 West 20th Street Feb. 24-Mar. 24, 2010
Tall, blond and personable, the Los Angeles photographer Mona Kuhn (b. 1969) could have stepped right out of some sci-fi arcadian future, a quality she shares with her own photographs of handsome young men and women in the nude. Golden and pink and umber against a sepia-toned background, the subjects of these spare, square portraits, who often gaze right out at the viewer, are almost too perfect to be true. It’s a nudist utopia, one that is all the more erotic for its serenity and restraint.
Kuhn’s earlier series, which were seen in New York at the Charles Cowles Gallery, was also a hedonistic vision, with inordinately attractive young people posed naked in groups in rooms as if something delicious was in the air. The new photographs are less fantasia and more socially present, with the subjects selected from among the artist’s friends and acquaintances in rural France, and photographed against a simple patterned backdrop in an open barn. It’s the sort of mix of Apollonian calm and Dionysian potential that used to give Nietzsche visions of primordial harmony.
Kuhn is presently working on a new series set in the desert outside Los Angeles. As for these pictures, the smaller 15-inch-square photos, done in editions of eight, are $4,000.
30 Orchard Street Mar. 4-Apr. 22, 2012 It looked a little like a construction site inside the big glass doors of Untitled, the hip Lower East Side gallery, on Wednesday -- or at least it did until Whitney Biennial curator Jay Sanders appeared from behind them and exited out onto the street, floppy-haired and smiling. The confusion is intentional, of course, the work of California artist Henry Taylor (b. 1958), who is also currently the subject of a major survey at MoMA PS1.
For his exhibition at Untitled, he has transformed the gallery space into some kind of dark, deranged mindscape, bereft of lighting save for a few raw bulbs, filled with art that looks like trash and literally carpeted in mounds of dirt containing shards of glass and nails. And that’s not all -- Taylor has smeared mud along the walls and scrawled raunchy messages across them in charcoal, like the stalls of a public bathroom. Next to the front desk crouches a taxidermied hyena, and in one shadowy corner kneels a child-sized mannequin, facing the wall and draped in a gray blanket.
The show’s centerpiece is a large “African hut” built from miscellaneous garbage -- beer bottles, bits of wood, fast-food containers -- and supposedly inspired by a recent trip to Ethiopia. That country’s influence, however, is far less discernible in this strange, psychotic exhibition than the fact that the artist first started painting while working as a psychiatric nurse in a state hospital. “Disturbing” doesn’t begin to describe it, and doesn’t come cheap: the hut is priced at $100,000, while hanging canvases with attached engine oil containers are in the $30,000-$80,000 range.
Gering & Lopez
730 Fifth Avenue Mar. 1-Apr. 21, 2012
Todd James (b. 1969), a self-taught New York street artist who came up painting subway trains, has forged a distinctively cartoon-ish painting style that is part Bob Thompson, part Adult Swim. Throughout his career, he has designed album covers for the likes of Iggy Pop and the Beastie Boys, and it’s safe to say that he is one of the few OGs to have successfully crossed over into the fine art world -- though he keeps it low brow (his 2010 show at Gering & Lopez was a Looney Tunes assault on “the pornography of war”).
James’ new obsession is the phenomenon of Somali pirates raiding shipping boats in the Arabian Sea. Large-scale acrylics on canvas depict the masked marauders in colorful head scarves, brandishing AK47s while they sip tea against the sunset or smoke cigarettes. Vibrant and sensual, redolent of Matisse’s Red Studio and his various Odalisques, the pictures give a contemporary twist to the notion of “Orientalism.” And who better to take an interest in today’s sea-faring vandals if not a one-time graffiti artist?
Also included in the show is Vandal’s Bedroom, an installation that James created for L.A. MOCA’s recent “Art in the Streets Exhibition.” Nestled into a corner of the gallery, this closed little room’s interior is visible through a dirty window or a peep-hold in the door. Inside, its walls are covered with hundreds of ink-on-paper graffitti tags that reference the history of the art, and its floors are strewn with spray cans and iconic DVDs. Its dimensions vary and its price is “negotiable.”
8 East 76th Street Mar. 6-Apr. 14, 2012
In his movies, David Lynch has made a virtue of a kind of literary creepiness (plus a certain amount of sadomasochistic excess). But he is a visual artist as well, and his current exhibition at Jack and Connie Tilton’s expansive Upper East Side townhouse is his first solo since 1989. Beyond a series of charming temperas -- which could be children’s book illustrations with haunting, ghost-story captions -- the show includes a short film starring a possessed egg and a number of seemingly abstract digital prints which, upon close examination, rather resemble deformed body parts, isolated like specimens against black grounds.
The show’s standouts are three 7 x 10 ft. mixed media works on cardboard, hung on the wall in elaborate gold frames under glass (admittedly inspired by those used by Francis Bacon). These harrowing tableaux, which all have lit colored light bulbs inserted in them, incorporate disturbing text and primitive figures of young boys and girls, rendered with visceral textures and materials, in various stages of violence -- blowing their own heads off when Santa Claus is debunked, lighting the girl-next-door on fire or slicing through ex-lovers, for example. The show would be a dream -- if it weren’t a total nightmare.
The large works go for $150,000, not including the frame (which costs an extra $10,000), while temperas on paper range from $5,000-$16,000.
540 West 26th Street Mar. 15-Apr. 21, 2012
The Detroit-based artist Hernan Bas (b. 1978) is not afraid of the devil. In a new series of large-scale paintings, he “responds to the proliferation of the occult in mass media” -- read: Twilight? -- by depicting various versions of Beelzebub as represented in traditional texts and folklore. But you wouldn’t know that from looking at them.
Instead, the show’s seven or so works, which range in size from 8 x 11 inches to 6 x 7 feet, offer enchanting narratives -- dark, yes, but not oppressively so -- filled with rich details and textures. In Bas’ world, nature interacts with man’s safe spaces in foreboding ways; trees bend over creaking, wooden houses perched precariously at the edge of rushing rivers, sharp branches jut off of fallen trunks, craggy rocks and boulders are covered in neon graffiti, and skies glow red with fire or roil in gray.
Everything’s a-tangle -- roots, bridges, branches, limbs -- and if you look up close at any of one painting’s claustrophobic spaces, jammed with patches of vibrant color and energetic brushstrokes, you might think you see bloody, severed flesh -- or just a field of crimson flowers. The devil’s in the details, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. The price range for the paintings is $125,000-150,000.
71 Morton Street Mar. 16-Apr. 14, 2012
German-born artist Hans Breder (b. 1934) is a reiki-practicing yogi who says his work is “all about the body.” He moved here from Germany to teach at the University of Iowa in 1964 -- later founding the first U.S. university “intermedia” program -- and shacked up with his student-cum-collaborator Ana Mendieta for ten years prior to her relationship with Carl Andre (she was the primary model for Breder’s best known series of performance photographs, “Body/Sculptures,” 1969-73, posing nude with shiny steel plates that reflected her limbs at bizarre, Bellmer-esque angles).
Now Breder presents a body of new paintings from a series called “Opsis,” which he developed with the help of a cell biologist. Printed in vibrant acrylic paint on stretched canvases, each one depicts a bright neon circle floating on a sea of pulsing color that fades and intensifies in waves, as if sensing heat. Hypnotic and microbial, the works seem something like an artistic rendering of chakras. “The brain creates what you see,” Breder says. “Nothing exists outside of you.”
On view in the back room of the gallery is Veiled Flesh, a recent four-channel video installed on four monitors hung in a row. Its imagery is said to be inspired by Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, but Breder has so filtered and manipulated the footage that it reads as abstract, shadows and light moving together in a ballet that just might recall fabric against skin, or a rippling stomach.
519 West 24th Street Mar. 17-Apr. 21, 2012
This Missouri-born, L.A.-based 1978 Cal Arts grad, who British critic Adrian Searle once wrote “should never be left alone with a paintbrush,” has always been a bit of a punk. His current show at Metro Pictures unites some of his early comic-works from the ‘70s with a brand new series that continues to explore his fictional religion Oism, in development for 20 years. In the entry gallery, two walls are lined with 20 framed pages from a crime comic that follows two crooks as they break into the Museum of Oist History in Omaha. With two FBI agents hot on their trail, they duck into a 24-hour wig museum and befriend a curator who eventually agrees to disguise them in wigs, which transport the theifs to the homeland of the religion’s founding deity, O.
Wigs are the medium and message of the show, which includes three actual wigs Shaw made from real human hair, displayed on white pedestals in the middle of the room, and a series of ink on paper drawings in which he reduces the lines of various coifs, from a beehive to a mullet, into soft, abstract curves that recall crashing waves. The show’s centerpiece is an enormous mural painting on a found theater backdrop called The Rinse Cycle. In it, a series of disembodied, meticulously rendered wigs float against an arid desert landscape, punctuated by a watery interior view of a washing machine, mid-cycle. It’s all a bit silly -- but Shaw’s masterful illustrational technique, plus his vibrant imagination, wit and whimsy, is winning nevertheless.
The comic narrative is sold together, as one piece, for $165,000; the wigs range from 3,500-$7,500.
Gasser & Grunert
524 W 19th Street Mar. 23-Apr. 28, 2012
If you’re seeking a reprieve from the standard white-box experience of viewing art, this might be your show. Recent Columbia University MFA Grayson Cox has filled the gallery with a 1,600 square-foot gray wooden table-top structure, measuring four feet high and extending throughout the entire space. Its smooth surface is supported here and there by iron table stems and interrupted by table-top-sized holes, which have been carved out of the surface like a cocktail table in reverse. It starts at the door, cutting visitors off at the waist, so that the only way to move through the gallery is to crawl underneath it, like a naughty child at dinner, and to pop in and out of its negative spaces.
Cox has also made a series of framed wooden diptychs and triptychs that hang on the wall and recall the architecture of religion -- altars, apses and all. These echo the sculpture’s muted palette, and have been filled not with icons of worship but instead with tacky prints of generic garden plants and peaceful domestic objects, like those you might find in a picture-frame when you buy it at Ikea.
If this all sounds strange in theory, it is even stranger in practice. The show’s opening tonight (Mar. 23, 2012) promises to be an interesting experiment if nothing else. People who find themselves leaning back against the edge of the same “tub” -- since it also feels like a sea of empty Jacuzzis -- might even be compelled to speak to one another. And, yet more intriguing -- who knows what might go on in the crawl space below?
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at