127 Henry Street Jan. 8-Feb. 12, 2012
New York artist Matt Hoyt (b. 1975), who is included in the upcoming 2012 Whitney Biennial, presents his shelves of small, rock-like objects with a simple, Lawrence Weiner-style statement: "The pieces are never the execution of a technique nor the expression of any clear and logical concept idea or concept.” It's a position of "considered refusal," as one curator recently put it, offering up unremarkable oddments that don't look like art (and so must be just that). They are installed at various heights along three walls of Bureau’s compact space -- gallery director Gabrielle Giattino says Hoyt builds each item up over a long time, without any initial idea of where they might end up -- so the real problem for visitors may be the fear of knocking something down with an unwieldy backpack. Works are sold per shelf and priced from $4,500-$6,500.
Hauser & Wirth
32 East 69th Street Jan. 11-Feb. 25, 2012
The handsome and much-liked Chicago import Rashid Johnson (b. 1977) kicks it up a notch for his first show at the Upper East Side townhouse power gallery Hauser & Wirth. Ostensibly inspired by the life and times of boxing promoter Don King, who used to own the building, the show features an assortment of heavy-duty wall works using atypical materials, including parquet flooring branded with large emblems of palm trees and gun sights, and black splatter paintings on ornamental mirror tile. Also on hand are massive black monochromes with scarified surfaces of wax and soap, vaguely reminiscent of Antoni Tapies, and a sculpture -- a kind of bureau-cum-altar that offers up a spiky houseplant alongside stacked copies of black hard-covers titled Black Yoga. Upstairs is a video projection of young black men doing their Karate Kid moves against a picturesque sky.
Wikipedia calls Johnson a "post-black artist," meaning he can "perform blackness" any way he wants (as the author Touré might put it), but you could also call his stuff Crate & Barrel Baroque. According to a profile in the New York Observer, one of his patrons owns Bed, Bath and Beyond. Prices range from $60,000-$120,000.
Cheim & Read
547 W 25th Street Jan. 12-Feb. 18, 2012
The veteran New York painter is back with a new body of abstractions that are absolutely hypnotic. Their complex, expertly built-up surfaces are rendered in subtle modulations of muted, earthy hues with paint that Jensen apparently makes by hand. Some of them, smooth from afar but scratched and grainy up close, recall great slabs of stone, and shapes emerge from them like fossils in the sand. Topological, organic, primordial, with titles like Trinity and Oracle Bones, the dark ones are aggressive, and others are serene as the desert after a windstorm.
In a back room, a series of large canvases hung in pairs -- Book of Songs I, II & III -- are puzzles of graphic, black-white-and-gray shapes that fit together into abstract compositions. You can find figures there -- a smiling sun, a poplar tree -- but they don’t make sense. Individual canvases start at $35,000 while the triptychs are priced around $125,000.
Tonya Bonakdar, Gallery 2
521 W 21st Street Jan. 12-Feb. 18, 2012
YbA Mat Collishaw (b. 1966) is morbid, that’s for damn sure. His exhibition begins with four 6 x 6 ft. framed photographs of blown-up, individual butterflies -- dead, of course -- which have been enhanced in post-production, their black grounds decorated with flecks of light that evoke the twinkling cosmos. A small room to the right, lit with a muted yellow, candle-like glow, contains a haunting series of photographs of the last meals requested by Texas Death Row convicts. Regally composed, as sharp and precise as Netherlandish still-lifes, their content is disturbing: combinations of corn flakes and raw onions, cheese sticks and shrimp, milk, chicken, coconuts and pickles abound. They make human desperation seem truly revolting.
In the last gallery, which is long and narrow, two rows of four glass vitrines on waist-high legs house flowers made of resin and enamel paint, rooted in dirt. Their pink, fleshy petals are crawling with oozing pustules (the artist apparently studied rotting meat as the model for his blooms), and the ground from which they sprout contains shards of broken glass and animal bones. You walk down the aisle between them and arrive at Gomoria (the love child of Gomorrah and gonorrhea?) -- a Medieval altar hung on the wall containing an animated CGI of a flower garden infested by insects, whose incessant buzzing fills the room. The photographs sell for £9,000-£12,000, while the altar can be yours for £80,000.
521 W 23rd Street Jan. 12-Feb. 25, 2012
The father of the urban paparazzi, New York street photographer Arthur Fellig (1899-1968), otherwise known as "Weegee the famous,” turned all of life into a circus. Here are 125 of his prints, hung salon-style on the gallery’s walls and accompanied by a looped recording of his voice -- the epitome of ethnic New Yorkese -- asserting that “news photography gives you confidence” and confessing that he found his best stories by logging hours at police headquarters (conveniently located across the street from his apartment). Lucky for us, since the pictures that resulted from his untraditional method give a particularly unpasteurized look at everyday life.
Here we see women in rapture or tears; playful experimentations with his own bulbous, Semitic nose; teenage boys mid-grimace; cellulite-ridden, hairy legs in stockings. We see Weegee as a joker, re-conceiving of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day Kiss so that the lip-lock is obscured by a nappy tuft of hair. There is even a photo of James Dean smoking in a bar -- but he seems incidental, a blurry face in the background, while our perverse photographer has chosen instead to focus his lens on some homely girl’s toothy grin. For more of Weegee's grisly crime scenes, head to the ICP, where "Weegee: Murder is my Business" goes on view Jan. 20, 2012.
Churner and Churner
205 10th Avenue Jan. 12-Feb. 18, 2012
Want to know what's on the mind of a real beatnik? Get thee to Churner and Churner, Rachel Churner's narrow (or perhaps we should say slim) space on Tenth Avenue, where New York-born poet, artist, filmmaker and Andy Warhol superstar Taylor Mead (b. 1924) presents a recent series of whimsical drawings that illustrate his ever-evolving “Fairy Tale Poem,” a saga starring Warhol in a castle in the woods. Mead, who frequently performs at the Bowery Poetry Club and was featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, has a style that's akin to children’s scribbles (he's hardly the only one), but his works include political references (there is a “Freddie Mac Congress,” for example) and adult endings (in a battle between Warhol the hero and “The Monster,” they both end up dead). Also featured are Ellen Barkin as The Princess, Donald Trump as The Castle, and Elizabeth Taylor as The Horse.
On view in the back are some paintings retrieved from Mead’s Lower East Side apartment, having survived “cockroach infestation, subsequent fumigation and a collapsed ceiling.” These have all the vim and vigor of Abstract Expressionism and the simple charm of Art Brut. Don’t miss Andy as the Odalisque, in which Warhol is extended half-nude against some idyllic landscape as a Campbell Soup can explodes like a volcano behind him. Mead’s symbolism is as basic as it gets -- for “Paradise,” insert palm tree, for “Ethiopia,” add a boar. Drawings can be had for as low as $600, while the paintings are considerably more.
522 W 21st Street/555 W 24th Street/980 Madison Jan 12-Feb. 18, 2012
No need to rehash why this show has the art world up in arms -- “we’re seeing spots,” as the New York Times scoffed -- but it must be included here because Hirst’s spot paintings are actually kind of fun. A trip to Gogo’s 21st Street and 24th Street spaces one after the other feels a little bit like a trip to IKEA -- crowds included, Swedish treats not. Although I was disappointed that some of the more irregular compositions -- not to mention the largest spots, which stretch five feet in diameter -- are not on view in NYC, those that are here are certainly worth a look.
They’re quick and easy, the perfect abstractions -- empty vessels that may be filled with meaning by each and every viewer -- so don’t waste hours contemplating the sole orange orb that hovers at eye level like a sun above the horizon, or the circles within circles that recall the neon-hued candy buttons bought on strips of waxed parchment paper in the ‘80s. Say what you want about Hirst, but these spots adhere perfectly to the taste and esthetic sensibility of the market: they’re clean and clever -- and they’d fit in especially well at an apartment furnished from floor to ceiling by Sweden’s most successful, low-brow enterprise. Which is, despite or in keeping with their hefty price tags, precisely the point.
515 W 24th Street Jan. 13-Feb. 11, 2012
The eyes stop you dead in your tracks. Dark-skinned, dark-haired men and women stare out at you from framed black-and-white photographs, hung in three neat floor-to-ceiling rows along the main gallery wall. From afar, their cheeks and foreheads seem creased by shallow wrinkles, but up close it turns out that the lines are actually long threads of Arabic text, hand-scrawled by the artist on top of the prints and taken from an ancient poem called The Book of Kings (ca. 877-1010 AD), which recounts the history of Iran. Once again applying her signature stark, reductive esthetic to works that deal with contemporary Iran’s complex politics of gender and religion, Neshat (b. 1957) presents three new series of photographs, transforming her subjects’ skins into the pages of that epic narrative and using their bodies to literally illustrate their country’s past through word and image.
519 W 19th Street Jan. 17-Feb. 25, 2012
No Carsten Höller antics here, but "experience" is the name of the game. This opening was delayed three days, presumably because the elusive perfectionist LA-based founder of the Light and Space Movement (along with Robert Irwin and James Turrell) wanted everything to be just right -- and right it is. Wheeler (b. 1939) doesn't like doing business in New York, according to Randy Kennedy in the New York Times, but somehow Zwirner convinced him to transform the gallery at 519 W 19th Street into one of his “infinity environments,” rarely seen on the East Coast. The result is an impressive white-out, a space without corners and with no differentiation between floor and wall, a glaring, light-drenched, totally disorienting place in which you can't tell where you end and the room begins.
Visitors are asked to remove their shoes and put on a pair of plastic hospital booties. "Please don't touch or lean against anything, and if you feel a slight incline, stop walking," the gallery attendant, stationed by the installation's entrance, requests. Odd, but good advice nonetheless -- optical illusion is an understatement here. Entering Wheeler's world, you forget how space works and feel, truly, like you have entered inside light.
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at