What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in May
Through May 13. Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, Manhattan; 212-242-7727, cheimread.com.
Peter Shear’s “Door to Door,” 2022, oil on canvas.Credit…via Peter Shear and Cheim & Read; Photo by Stuart Snoddy
Peter Shear’s little paintings resemble terse, challenging poems. Painting and title resonate in the mind and eye. You decide whether these ricochets hold your interest.
Small size is the only constant here; otherwise, variations in color, suggestion, internal scale and style, prevail. “Same Day” (2021), the show’s first painting, isolates a short band of meager, wobbly white lines and two narrow horizontal shapes, midway on the right edge of a dark brown field. It could depict outdoor furniture — an earlier a center of lively human interaction — abandoned on a beach as dusk darkens. There’s an end-of-summer sadness that’s a lot for a painting to sustain, but it does.
Next to it, in “Door to Door” (2022), Shear lavishes loaded brushes of white, blue, brown and green across the surface — for a bit of forest stream, melting snow or rocky beach. Although an end in itself, this work evokes the painting-study genre and its pleasures. And soon thereafter, “Following Sea” — which gives the show its title — is again white on brown but solidly painted — a suggestion of whitecaps at sea or trailed white garments left on the floor.
The paintings in the show’s small first gallery are especially strong. In the two larger spaces that follow, you may find that you’re able to resist and argue with more of them — at least for a while. Shear’s next direction may be signaled by the jewel-like, more solidly structured forms of “Match.” ROBERTA SMITH
Through May 19. Crossing Art, 559 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, 212-359-4333, crossingart.com.
The artist Michael McGrath, who is based in Rhinebeck, in the Hudson Valley, paints what might be called the emoji landscape: screaming flowers; surprised-looking insects and trees. Scattered, wallpaper-like, across canvases whose titles nod to gods, witches and seasonal magic spells, his show “Moon Riot” at Crossing Art thrums with laid-back spiritualist energy.
McGrath’s work took a radical turn a couple of years ago. (I discovered him on Instagram.) He was painting pleasingly anodyne landscapes and dark figures in the vein of Edvard Munch, and suddenly his work exploded with Day-Glo color and singing plants, unmoored in their compositions. Rather than serious or apocalyptic, his work is warm and funny, like folk art or children’s drawings, and complemented by titles like “Intro to Hunting Gods,” “Spring Training for Witches,” “Redesigning Ghost Systems” and “Weekend Conference for Moons and Tiny Vampires.”
The show includes a few missteps: It’s overhung, and I could live without the fake-fur yeti figures that feel more like theme park mascots than sculpture. McGrath’s work is refreshing, though, because it materializes the wonder of walking in the woods and a deeper sense that the world, minus humans, will be OK; everything regenerates, as it does in Thomas Cole’s 19th-century Hudson River School masterpiece series “The Course of Empire” (1833-1836), which might be the first American paintings warning of the Anthropocene. McGrath has channeled something: maybe spirits, maybe gods, but mostly the anti-artifice of so-called outsider artists, who are plugged into a different frequency. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Through May 13. George Adams Gallery, 38 Walker Street, Manhattan; 212-564-8480, georgeadamsgallery.com.
In Enrique Chagoya’s painting “Detention at the Border of Language” (2023), three Native American figures in a canoe marked “Border Patrol” appear to be abducting a woman who has the head of Donald Duck. As if with a squeegee, the greenery flanking the scene has been dragged by Chagoya across the still-wet surface, creating a Gerhard-Richteresque visual glitch. The work characteristically mashes up pop and abstract elements with historical sources — in this case by reworking Charles Ferdinand Wimar’s 1853 painting, “The Abduction of Daniel Boone’s Daughter by the Indians.” This and the 13 other paintings, prints and book works included in “Borderless” provide a potent introduction to the Mexican-born, Californian artist’s method of exploding history so as to make collages from the wreckage in a process Chagoya calls “reverse anthropology.”
Chagoya’s father moonlighted as an artist while working for Mexico’s central bank, where his day job involved identifying forged currency. Following this example, Chagoya went on to study economics before turning to art and printmaking. This background informs “The Enlightened Savage Guide to Economic Theory” (2009-2010), in which two golem-like figures battle: one made of oil rigs with the head of Saddam Hussein provided by his portrait from an Iraqi dinar bill, the other made of fighter-jet parts with George Washington’s head sourced from a U.S. dollar. Chagoya’s best work remains these “codex” formats, where pre-Columbian Mayan and Aztec book traditions nearly obliterated by Spanish Catholic colonizers are hybridized with comic books and steeped in art-historical allusions. Chagoya’s good-troublemaking remains ever fresh. JOHN VINCLER
Through May 13. JTT, 390 Broadway, Manhattan; 212-574-8152, jttnyc.com.
The schlock shock attitude of the artist known as King Cobra (a.k.a. Doreen Lynette Garner) announces itself with the ghoulish “Salome’s Revenge” (2023): a pink silicone cast of a human head wedged in a deli slicer. So when you come to the tondo layered with rubbery, flesh-like scraps, you know what it’s made of. Cobra’s previous sculptures have used similar grindhouse techniques to explore the brutal history of medical experimentation on the Black body. Here, the “meat” contains “dirt from J. Marion Sims’s grave,” damning the man who pioneered gynecology on enslaved Black women, often without anesthesia.
The exhibition, “White Meat,” imagines the racial concept of whiteness as a kind of mortadella — an abstract meat, flecked with nuts and fat. Cobra’s metaphorical butchery asks whether abstraction is itself a racial concept. Did white men invent abstract art? Can you abstract an artwork (or a medical “achievement”) from the monster who made it?
The show’s tour de force is a life-size model of a necrotic shark, patched together with pigmented silicone, beads, hair weave, steel mesh and razor blades (for the teeth), suspended in an open steel frame — a clear parody of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyded blockbuster. Work in a second gallery includes a rope of blond dreadlocks and a giant necklace of white, dreadlocked scalps. Maybe it takes this kind of bloody overstatement to show whiteness its own cruelty. And if there were ever purity in abstract art, Cobra’s rough way of working rejects that, too. TRAVIS DIEHL
Through June 2. Di Donna, 744 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-259-0444, didonna.com.
Man Ray portrayed the artists and writers of Paris in the 1920s and ’30s as indelibly as Nadar did their 19th-century predecessors. Indeed, Man Ray’s deathbed photograph of Marcel Proust makes a fitting bookend to Nadar’s of Victor Hugo. But Nadar, when he memorialized France’s literary titan in 1885, was himself a venerable Paris institution, while Man Ray, who rushed to Proust’s apartment in 1922 at the bidding of Jean Cocteau, was an American who spoke terrible French and had been living in Paris for little over a year.
The marvel of “Man Ray’s Paris Portraits, 1921-1939” is his access as well as his artistry. Before relocating, Man Ray had been befriended by Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara, two vanguard artists. They smoothed his Parisian entry, and are among the subjects in this exhibition of 72 vintage prints, mostly drawn from the collection of Timothy Baum, a private art dealer who knew Man Ray in the last years of his life and collaborated on this show.
Man Ray flattered his subjects. To soften wrinkles and other imperfections, he typically shot with a long lens from a distance, and he slightly overexposed the film. Yet his portraits were profoundly revealing: the knowing eyes of the poet Anna de Noailles, the glazed stare of the perennially pickled Sinclair Lewis, the burly forcefulness of a young Alexander Calder. And then there is his self-portrait, taken in his mid-30s — tie intentionally askew, eyes penetrating, and mouth set in a line of unstoppable determination. ARTHUR LUBOW