Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street Apr. 14-May 25, 2012
The Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto (b. 1964) is celebrated for large, participatory installations that are sensational -- literally, as his attenuated biomorphic forms are made of nylon and filled with aromatic spices. For his new show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, he has shifted gears a bit, turning to hand-woven crocheted objects that hang, sway and stretch rather like bulbous hammocks, inviting a viewer’s touch.
Immersive art experiences are the hallmark of a Brazilian esthetic pioneered by artists like Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, and here Neto achieves an easy, beatific island feeling -- the sculptures resemble underwater coral, or the strange kinds of sea creatures that might be snagged in a fisherman’s nets, dripping from the ceiling like odd stalactives or protruding from the wall. Soundway (2012) literally obstructs the gallery’s entrance and forces patrons to shimmy through it, setting the tone for the show. Once inside, visitors are prompted to remove their shoes by friendly on-site “guards” -- gallerinas in ballet flats who stand in the corner reading their books. The entrances to these woven mazes open seductively, so narrow they force you down on your knees.
Neto’s weavings have a hint of the gothic, too, as the parabolic sinews of rope are bat-like, and spider-webby in their symmetry. If you haven’t felt physically engaged with a work of art for some time, this might be your chance. Small sculptures that sit on the floor are priced between $24,000 and $38,000 and larger installations are in the $150,000-$300,000 range.
541 West 23rd Street Apr. 13-May 19, 2012
Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based artist Tony Matelli (b. 1971) is what you might call a Magical Photorealist, making sculptures that have the uncanny veracity of a dream. In New York, for example, he has exhibited painted bronze weeds, a tableau of battling primates, and an “eternal flame” made from a burning $100 bill -- all 3D trompe l’oeil constructions of carefully crafted, painted metal and epoxy.
His current show at Leo Koenig, “Windows, Walls and Mirrors,” presents two major works: a glorious bouquet of white and pink lilies that stands upside-down on a pedestal -- that’s right, it rests on a single petal, while the glazed ceramic pot is up in the air -- and a life-sized male figure that lies extended on its back, levitating just above the floor. This is an esthetic of magic, or perhaps of miracles, as suggested by the lilies, an emblem of eternal life.
The gallery space is lined by large mirrors that rest on the floor and hang on the wall, though their surfaces have been carefully coated with urethane and brushed with streaks and scribbles of dirt, as if art’s purpose is to give a clouded reflection rather than a precise one. Also on hand are large frottage paintings made from the brick walls of his studio, and a freestanding cast of a broken window, Large Glass-style. Together these objects are dark and a little depressing, and they suggest that the artist's vision is limited by the impoverished structure of his own studio, extending no further.
Gary Snyder Gallery
529 West 20th Street Apr. 12-May 19, 2012
The one and only major Photorealist who is also a woman, Audrey Flack (b. 1931) stopped painting in 1985 and turned to making bust-sized, bronze sculptures of mythical female archetypes -- medusas and sirens, to name two -- that she equipped with ironically low-brow contemporary accoutrements, from a tube of lipstick to a cheesy gold locket. Her sculpted ladies are Renaissance women of the 20th and now the 21st century, elegantly -- or not so elegantly -- straddling the divide between the classic and the kitschy.
Flack had a retrospective in 1992 at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, and was in the news in the late ‘90s when a proposed five-story-tall monument to Queen Catherine of Portugal, supposedly namesake of the borough of Queens, was scuttled after protests painted the monarch as a slave-owning colonizer. This survey of her work at Gary Snyder is all the more welcome, then, for being overdue.
One new sculpture, Self-Portrait as St. Teresa (2012), is an enormous, six-foot tall portrait of the artist’s own face, made of virginal white fiberglass. The martyr’s crown boasts stars rather than thorns, and her hair forms perfect ringlets that mingle with rainbow-colored curls of ribbon and oozing, cartoonish tubes of paint. A single painting hangs in the gallery office, a technically superb still-life corrupted by fluttering butterflies and glittering neon gems.
The show also includes a series of recent charcoal works on paper, framed and hung around one room in a frieze. In each, a sophisticated black-and-white sketch of a fleshy, statuesque woman is flanked by a colored drawing of an iPhone icon -- a pulsing, shattered, red heart here, a smiley face there. In these juxtapositions, Flack continues her commentary on the modern life we all know too well. Pastels on paper are $10,000-$12,000; sculptures vary in price widely, beginning at $15,000 and reaching $200,000 for Self-Portrait as St. Teresa.
99 Wooster Street Apr. 12-May 25, 2012
The British-born, Brooklyn-based artist John Beech (b. 1964) had a hit with monochromatic painted works made by coloring, or blotting out, a simple photographic image -- notably dumpsters, which he transformed into classic abstract forms. He extends his interest in bridging the space between the real and the pictorial with his new India Collages, small, framed compositions of flattened materials he found during his 2008 travels through India.
In the manner of such Surrealist photographers as Man Ray and Brassaï, Beech focuses on isolated quotidian objects, like the campy packing material for a piece of candy, the wrapping from hotel soap or a stick of gum, bound roughly together with swaths of tape and decorated with the artist’s own scribbles and words. In their rips and wrinkles, these small works seem to contain a psychic energy, and their meticulous framing gives them the gravitas of family heirlooms.
Beech has a claim to the abstract space occupied by painters like Christopher Wool and Jacqueline Humphries, a claim that is elaborated by his current series of large painterly abstractions, reportedly inspired by the textiles and prints the artist observed during his travels. These swashbuckling, mixed-media works incorporate found materials, from planks of plywood to sheets of fiberglass, giving them a fleshy, corporeal feel. Collages sell for $2,200 each and paintings go for $28,000.
Alexander Gray Associates
508 West 26 Street # 15 Apr. 11-May 19, 2012
For her second show at Alexander Gray Associates, the legendary feminist performance artist and photographer Lorraine O’Grady (b. 1934), who trained in economics and worked for years as a rock journalist, focuses on the idea of the hybrid -- cultural, theoretical, biological. Taken together, the three works included in the show, a 19-minute film and two photomontages from the artist’s iconic “Body Language” series, initiated in 1991 and re-formatted this year, seem to insist that our contemporary world is shaped and inflected by miscegenation far more powerfully than we might like to acknowledge.
To that end, each work straddles artificial divides of genre and type and resists easy categorization. In The Fir-Palm, a literally hybridized tree -- part Caribbean palm, part New England fir -- emerges from a smooth black ground against a cloud-roiled sky. The photomontage looks like a landscape, until you detect the sinuous, sensual curves of a black female torso where you thought you saw only earth. In the photo-diptych The Clearing, whose composition is inspired by Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, an interracial couple makes love outside in one panel, elevated above the ground by ecstasy, and lies together awkwardly in the other, the female vacant and resigned, the male aggressive, masked by a skull and draped in chain-mail. Both scenes seem to give some account of colonial history, and each is equally dubious.
Lastly, O’Grady’s moody, atmospheric film Landscapes transforms her own strands of coarse, silver-streaked hair into a fluttering cosmic abstraction. Set to an occasionally deafening soundtrack of gusts of wind, the camera focuses on these bundles of organic fiber as they dance and flip, tossed about mercilessly. Shot up close and without context of any kind, the work is entrancing and hypnotic, a visual ode to communion with nature.
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at