508 West 26th Street, 8th floor Mar. 29-Apr. 28, 2012
A member of the generation of New York artists that includes Christopher Wool and Charlene von Heyl, Jacqueline Humphries (b. 1959) is known for large-scale, conceptualist abstractions that have visceral appeal. Of late she has been using brushy expanses of silver paint, producing works that combine the furious energy of expressionism with the kind of ethereal surface and light effects pioneered by Robert Irwin.
Her new paintings are large, 7 x 8 foot canvases now dappled with thickly applied viscous black gestures that recall the strokes of Japanese calligraphy and the primitive figures of ancient cave paintings. Shimmering, shadowy expanses, up close each canvas reveals multiple layers of richly worked ground, as vibrant colors peek through the ghostly silver or sit shallowly on top of it.
Humphries has her black paint manufactured specially in Brooklyn, and it's a tough, messy business -- more like tar than paint -- against which she must throw all her weight. She uses brushes, sticks and squeegees to make the works, often adding a layer and then scraping it away, in the manner of Gerhard Richter. The paintings are priced in the $70,000-$80,000 range.
201 Chrystie Street
Mar. 29-Apr. 21, 2012
Everyone loves the Jamaican-born, New York-based artist and Hunter College professor Nari Ward (b. 1963), who creates sculptural installations out of objects and materials he collects from his own urban neighborhood. His new show at Lehmann Maupin's downtown space, "Liberty and Orders," is inspired by his recently achieved naturalization as a U.S. citizen, and continues his investigation of the power structures disguised within ideas of nationhood -- including the fine line between protection and intimidation -- with appealing, if facile, works that function as clever punch lines.
Anchoring the show is T.P. Reign Bow, a blue-tarp covered police watchtower almost resembling an amusement-park ride or a child's playground structure, which fills the gallery's high-ceilinged back room and emits a constellation of red surveillance lasers. A long chain of pant zippers, cut out from well-worn jeans and sewn together, hangs from the tower like an escape route and pools in an ordered spiral on the floor. The tower's authoritarian presence, which might either terrify or mollify, is softened by Ward's use of folksy, familiar materials and bright colors, echoing the fraught relationship between the protected and the pursued.
Upstairs in the mezzanine gallery, Ward gives the fragile balance between "liberty and orders," freedom and control, a literal treatment with Blank Scale. This large sculpture, representing a traditional weighing scale, stands nearly five feet tall and is made entirely from blankets and cloth, its stem wrapped in bright fabrics and both of its pans equally weighted with overflowing piles of clothing. The work's message is clear, and it's nothing new -- but somehow we like it all the same.
Hendershot Gallery 195 Chrystie Street Mar. 29-May 3, 2012
This successfully seductive exhibition of photographs by Canadian artist Marianna Rothen (b. 1982) and videos by the mischievous, Brooklyn-based Shannon Plumb (b. 1970) manages to explore the tired idea of eroticized female archetypes (see: Cindy Sherman retrospective) in surprisingly fresh ways. Rothen's small, square photographs, hung in frames in a continuous line around the main gallery, are atmospheric, silver-tinted and sensual, taking cues from European art house films and featuring smoky-eyed blondes with pouty lips.
Downstairs, things get more textured. Plumb's lo-fi films, shot on Super-8 and featuring the artist herself in handmade sets and costumes with crafty props, smack of the slapstick humor pioneered by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. In Black and White Series: Rattles and Cherries (2004), pretty, blonde Plumb plays the nubile mother, whose endearing attempt to strip for the camera, grainy and flickering like old silents and set to cheesy jazz tunes, is interrupted by the incessant crying of her newborn, just off camera. The reality of her baby throws her; the banana she peels breaks in half, she chokes on the stem of a cherry, she slips off the couch she is straddling. Finally she gives up, takes the baby in her arms to nurse with a sigh and a roll of the eyes.
In another silent film, The Window Series (Saying Goodbye) (2011), Plumb is a disillusioned '50s housewife in a cerulean slip dress who has had it up to here. We see her through the window of a pink-shingled house in a pastel-blue room at the top of a staircase as she argues with someone we can't see, presumably a mate. She is drawn to him despite herself, and things get frisky just out of frame; her derriere pops in and out of our view as she is fondled and prodded this way and that. Then she adjusts her tousled hair, picks up her packed suitcase and leaves, blowing a victorious kiss on the way out, presumably for good. It's a last laugh not often heard.
83 Grand Street Mar. 29-Apr. 28, 2012
If you aren't familiar with the playfully aggressive, costumed antics of New York-based video artist-rapscallion Alex Bag (b. 1969), this show might be the perfect introduction. Team Gallery's Grand Street space has been transformed into a carpeted Ikea video lounge. In it, ten Sony television monitors sit on the ground surrounded by bean-bag chairs and ceiling-mounted hammocks, and they cumulatively screen ten hours worth of footage selected from Bag's late-night public access program collaboration, which she makes with Patterson Beckwith, a veteran of the legendary Art Club 2000. The show aired more than 15 years ago -- how time flies -- on Channel 34 at 2:30 am, from 1994 to 1997.
Every episode of the dystopic mishmash includes a variety of material, from prank calls and "cock-eyed tours" of New York City to decontextualized clips from cheesy soap operas like Melrose Place, and begins with the artists literally destroying a VHS tape copy of the previous week's edition -- burning, melting or smashing it in what seems a physical demonstration of cultural consumption and planned obsolescence.
When taken all together like this, Bag and Beckwith's early video art appears to epitomize the medium's original purpose -- effectively reflecting and embodying the schizophrenic state of information dissemination in an increasingly saturated and fractured media space. The material is both dated, functioning as an archive of a specific New York, and timeless, offering a metaphor for the incessantly updated Twitter-feed which is our contemporary life.
Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street Mar. 29-Apr. 28, 2012
Ron Gorchov (b. 1930) is celebrated for his pioneering use of subtly convex canvases whose staples and saddle-like stretchers are left visible, a technique he initiated in the late '60s as a response to the prevailing authority of Greenberg's formalism. A SoHo star in the 1970s, Gorchov is still at it after all these years, and his current show at Cheim & Read presents a body of new curved shield paintings that are simple, clean and spare as ever, and just as hypnotic. They continue his earthy microbial gestures -- sensual, blob-like shapes floating against colored grounds, as if in conversation with one another -- that recall a Petri dish under a microscope or a biology teacher's diagram.
Also on view are two new multi-canvas works given the mythological titles Tau Seti and Pegasi, both from 2012. For these, the artist has attached the long sides of six headboard-shaped monochromes -- each painted a vibrant primary or a primordial purple, green or brown -- to one another, creating a vertical stack that he hangs as one composition on the wall. They are totemic abstracts that flash between two and three dimensions, conjuring something universally affecting yet disembodied, and absolutely ambiguous. Single canvases start at $40,000 and the tiered canvases go for $75,000.
453 West 17th Street
Mar. 31-May 6, 2012
It seems like the Canadian artist Moyra Davey (b. 1958) is everywhere, with two bodies of photography and a video, Les Goddesses, currently included in the Whitney Biennial. Her show at Murray Guy features that same video and two related photographic series that are products of her call-and-response method of art making, in which she mails folded prints of her photographs to friends, who then affix the images with their own words before mailing them back.
Davey's photos -- strands of blonde hair caught in the bathtub, an empty gin bottle, a shed snakeskin nestled among reeds -- seem personal and specific while also quotidian and generic, and that impression fluctuates in the context of her friend's words, in this case those of the writer Lynne Tillman (who occasionally covered the art world for Art in America as the wry "Madame Realism"). The additive process Davey initiates thereby transforms and inflects her personal expression in ways she can't control or anticipate, and embodies her suspicion of photography's power to represent "truth."
She takes that one step further in Les Goddesses, targeting the notion of biography. Pacing around her own sun-dappled, dusty apartment, she speaks aloud an ostensibly historical account of the 18th-century feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and her rebellious daughters. Occasionally the footage is spliced with one of Davey's photographs, though the voice-over continues, and sometimes she evacuates the frame and allows the camera to linger on the pane of a dirty window or a curtain rippling in the breeze. We feel Davey's collapse between self and other, and it's both familiar and strange.
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at