Picks: June 23-24

This weekend is a good one to get out to the galleries, as many solo shows are making their last gasps before group shows take over. Recommendations: process-oriented shows by Thomas Demand and Lisa Oppenheim, a promising showing by Vlatka Horvat, and Kristin Baker’s fractured abstractions. Plus as a bonus, Cheyney Thompson, whose exhibition is on view for another week.
Thomas Demand
Matthew Marks Gallery
Through June 23

The stand-out piece here is Pacific Sun, an ambitious film that recreates the damage caused during a cruise ship’s encounter with violent waters. The film took fifteen months to make, which is typical of Demand’s labor-intensive process of building scenes out of paper. But while it’s an impressive feat, it’s lacking in any contemporary reference point that would make it more than just that. Luckily, his photographs fare better by referencing considerably recent events, giving them an impressive factor of their own given the demands of their production. Control Room depicts a scene in the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake, and Junior Room is a memento mori of the table in the hotel where Whitney Houston was found dead only this past February. These works show an interest in contemporary culture on Demand’s part that would seem necessary to continue to justify his practice from here on out.

Critical Pick: Max Weintraub at Art21

Lisa Oppenheim, Equivalents
Harris Lieberman
Through June 23

Oppenheim’s exhibition takes its name from Alfred Stieglitz’s famous series of photographs of the sky, considered historically as one of the first, if not the first, instance of purely abstract photography. But where Stieglitz worked to separate his photographs from their earthly references, Oppenheim restores this connection between signifier and signified. Rejecting digital photography in favor of the photogram, she uses fire to expose and develop images of smoke, and moonlight for images of the night sky. This emphasis on production carries over into her series of photograms of lace, entitled “Leisure Work,” which exploit our understanding of photograph as record to revalue the traditional handiwork of women.  By striking a balance between the historical and contemporary, Oppenheim marries concept and beauty in just the way that inspires wonder.

Vlatka Horvat, Unleveling
Rachel Uffner Gallery
Through June 24

While Horvat’s show is not as cohesive as it could be, there are some strong individual works here that suggest she’s an artist to watch. Empty, bed-shaped platforms overlap across the space of the gallery, blocking the viewer’s path. Giving Carl Andre’s floor pieces an applied spin, the piece emblemizes the anxious way of life that defines the live-work space. Particularly on the Lower East Side, it’s an apt reference for young artists living and working in ever-smaller, ever-more expensive apartments and/or studios. Meanwhile, Horvat’s collages made from family pictures taken in late 1960s Croatia seem distinctly more personal. They’re nice to look at, if not quite conceptually strong yet.

Kristin Baker, ILLUME-MINE
Suzanne Geiss Company
Through June 23

Baker’s paintings are either tiny or tremendous, and the large ones are often, if not always, significantly better than the small ones. The tiny paintings are too backward-looking, but the large ones tackle the visual landscape of Web 2.0 by shattering it with sci-fi imaginings of its potential successors. At their best, Baker’s simultaneously digital and painterly abstractions are neo-Futurist digital dreams that strike an aesthetic chord difficult to challenge. It’s possible that Baker is guilty of combining art historical reference with contemporary culture to get away with making paintings that are just nice to look at. But she gets away with it.

Critical Pick: Dorothy Spears in Architectural Digest

Cheyney Thompson, Sometimes Some Pictures Somewhere
Andrew Kreps Gallery
Through June 30

With earlier pieces and installations, Thompson has often taken the exhibition and circulation of his work as his subject. “Sometimes” continues this interest, though in a less systematic way, in that the future circulation—or lack thereof—of the paintings on display remains implicit within them. Thompson’s large-scale painterly abstractions wear their destined future in lofts and living rooms on their sleeves for all to see. Unabashedly aesthetic and adorning even the gallery’s supporting column, they call attention to the economic realities of the gallery system alluded to in the show’s clever press release: pretty work is what makes smart work possible.

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