New York In Focus Whitney Biennial Plus Gallery Roundup

The Whitney Biennale is large, spanning the entire museum, with 59 artists and a gallant curation. As a poet, I loved how poetry and words weave their way throughout the exhibit, from Renee Green’s 1989 Space Poem, to Crayola’s light flags printed with epigrams, to the reproduction of Steve Cannon’s legendary literary salon “A Gathering of Tribes”. Jonathan Berger’s textual work, “An Introduction to Nameless Love,” is an immersive maze of words in metal letters. Abstraction abounds in the painting section, with notable exceptions like Jane Dickson’s desolate urban commercial signs, inspired by her studio near the vanished, unDisneyified stretch of 42nd Street. Another figurative standout is Harold Ancart’s luminous seascape, “The Guiding Light”.

A first visit is not enough to soak up “Quiet”; my next plan will be an early arrival. From the sixth floor, where the walls and the atmosphere are in obsidian, the first paintings seen are by my dear and late friend, Denyse Thomasos (1964-2012). On a large scale, densely marked, Denyse created works that echo the slave trade, prisons and the urban experience. His two paintings from 1993 anchor the entire sixth floor exhibition and highlight the prescience and power of his vision. Ellen Gallagher’s painted and glued-on-canvas work is equally striking and memorable. And the inclusion of poet, playwright, publisher and Lower East Side legend Steve Cannon replicates the East Village living room with over 600 books, its overflowing ashtray and a red wall created by his friend David Hammons. An added bonus was a three-day celebration/reading featuring a tribe of great poets celebrating Cannon’s bohemian heritage. – Top picture

The inventive dramatic installation on the fifth floor is an immersive promenade, a luminous maze. I loved Sable Elyse Smith’s ferris wheel made out of prison tables and chairs. The slow but continuous rotation is both heavy and poetic. Humanoid ceramics and everyday objects, including a cell phone, by Woody DeOthello are rolled up and staggered. A treasure trove of reprinted family photos is from Pal Houa Her and Theresa Had Kyung Cha’s artist books from the 70s that could have been created today. Indigenous artist Rebecca Belmore’s ‘Ishkode’ sculpture is a ghost-like sleeping bag figure amidst a constellation of spent balls. Intergenerational, international, this showcase of contemporary art invites multiple visits and infinite visions.

Whitney Biennial until September 5

Louise Bourgeois at the Metropolitan Museum

What a pleasure to explore the little known and rarely seen paintings created by Louise Bourgeoise in her early years in New York.

This first comprehensive exhibition showcases works made between 1938 and 1949 and explores visual motifs that later blossomed into the brilliant sculptural works for which the artist is best known.

“I like this city, its refined look, its sky, its buildings, and its scientific, cruel, romantic character.” –Louise Bourgeois

These paintings and drawings reflect Bourgeois’ familiarity with European Avant-Grade movements, as well as the influence of his adopted city. Included are the Femme Maison series, as well as a little gem, “Poets House”, both works allude to the artist’s architectural interests. The staccato marks and staggered shapes then find an echo in the artist’s suspended and totemic sculptures. Much of the restrained palette of brick red, blue, black, and off-white looks contemporary. This exquisite and historic spectacle was met with high praise.

Louise Bourgeois at the Metropolitan Museum Until August 7

Ana Benaroya swept Venus over Manhattan

Ana Benaroya – ‘Swept Away’ – Venus Above Manhattan

The iconic Venus Over Manhattan, a downtown staple for over a decade, has opened a downtown outpost on my block, Great Jones Street, and what a welcome neighbor it is. Gallery owner and collector Adam Lindemann has moved his space adjacent to Basquiat’s former loft and joined the other four galleries on the street.

Ana Benaroya’s seven paintings and seven works on paper celebrate women and their shameless sexuality. Benaroya’s cheeky (and often multi-breasted) Odalisques are the sophisticated Sapphic sisters of cult cartoonist R.Crumb. Benaroya joins a venerable and offbeat stable of artists, including Joan Brown, Peter Saul, Joseph Yoakum and Japanese underdog artist Shinichi Sawada. After a long winter, these bold, brilliantly colored sirens are the perfect welcome to spring and a great introduction to the surrounding cowl.

What I’m looking forward to New York Art Week blows up on May 5, and I’m especially looking forward to Independent, now in its thirteenth year. The Invitational show returns to its former Tribeca location; Spring Studio 67 international galleries will exhibit. At Gordon Robichaux, intergenerational artists Leila Babirye and Gerald Jackson certainly form a formidable duo; London-based artist Marguerite Humerus showcases elegant sculptures at Clearing Gallery, based in New York and Brussels. Scotland’s Ingleby Gallery presents surreal portraits by Edinburgh-based Moyna Flannigan. And the Powers of Hometown Nicola Vassell of the eponymous gallery makes his Independent debut with African-born Uman, whose explosively gorgeous paintings explore gender, race and inner consciousness, all in kaleidoscopic color.

Until May 21 Venus over Manhattan

    Beyond the Shadow Man: Richard Hambleton - Chase Contemporary
Beyond the Shadow Man: Richard Hambleton – Chase Contemporary

A major exhibition by Richard Hambleton, known as the godfather of street art, hasn’t been seen in New York since 2009, when Armani sponsored a retrospective that later traveled to London, Paris and Moscow. Chase Contemporary has collected major works from the artist’s long career, beginning with his iconic Shadow series, when spiny, life-size humanoids epitomized the burgeoning underground art of downtown New York. Far more complex than his better known and kinetic Shadows, Hambleton was a great painter who worked in romantic landscapes and seascapes, which will also be shown. A perfect introduction to a modern master.

Until May 29 Richard Hambleton Chase Contemporary

Top photo: Installation view of the 2022 Whitney Biennial Courtesy of The Whitney Museum: Quiet as It’s Kept (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 6-September 5, 2022). Sable Elyse Smith, A Clockwork, 2021. Aluminium, steel and engine. Collection of the artist; courtesy of the artist; JTT, New York; Carlos/Ishikawa, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. © Sable Elyse Smith

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