Home Lifestyle What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in January

What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in January

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What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in January

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This week, Jillian Steinhauer covers Dara Birnbaum’s video art, an intergenerational group show of Atlanta-based artists and Nickola Pottinger’s painted pulp sculptures.

Midtown

Through Feb. 24. Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 West 57th Street, Manhattan; 212-977-7160, mariangoodman.com.

In 2022, the 78-year-old artist Dara Birnbaum had her first retrospective in the United States at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College. Visitors could see how groundbreaking her video art has been, particularly her appropriation and editing of footage from TV, film, and the internet to raise questions about gender and politics; her most famous work, from the 1970s, isolates and repeats clips of the actress Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman to create a wry critique.

If you missed that exhibition, Birnbaum’s current show, “Four Works: Accountability,” can serve as a mini-primer. It includes one of her most effective pieces, “Transmission Tower: Sentinel” (1992), a slanted television tower stacked with eight monitors. They mix footage from the 1988 National Student Convention and George H.W. Bush’s speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination the same year. Bush’s face cascades down, counteracted by rising images of students and punctuated by Allen Ginsberg chanting his quasi-absurdist antiwar poem “Hum Bom!” There’s no resolution, just art, activism and politics locked in an endless tangle — a situation with clarion resonances today.

Two other works, the video “Canon: Taking to the Streets” (1990) and the print series “Antenna/Fist” (1992/2018), examine the visuals of protest. But “Quiet Disaster” (1999) has lingered foremost in my mind. The installation comprises three circular images of cropped and blown-up anime characters in moments of fear. The woman in the center looks back over her shoulder, eyes wide and face scratched; as I stared at her, I got the eerie sense that the disaster she was fleeing was us.

East Village

Through Feb. 24. March gallery, 62–64 Avenue A, Manhattan; 917-355-1398, marchgallery.org.

Artists exist everywhere, including in places that critics like me rarely cover. It’s a gift, then, when someone brings a glimpse of another art scene to town. That’s the case with an intergenerational exhibition featuring 12 artists based in Atlanta, curated by Daniel Fuller. The title, “The sea swept the sandcastles away. (To wake up in Atlanta!),” alludes to the constant change and development of the city that these artists are working through and against.

The most imposing piece, Antonio Darden’s “S Tenebris” (2023), barely fits in the gallery. A wooden reproduction of a truck in Darden’s studio, it suggests both a spaciousness beyond New York and the confines of stereotypically macho Southern culture. The sculpture is covered in black cloth, which in a garage might look unassuming; here it evokes a shroud.

A current of spirituality runs through the exhibition, from the ghostly profiles in Lonnie Holley’s paintings on quilts to the stained glasslike quality of Hasani Sahlehe’s acrylic abstractions. It animates two of the show’s rightful centerpieces, bronze sculptures by the Atlanta elder statesman Curtis Patterson. Their curvaceous forms interlock like rhythmic puzzle pieces.

Patterson’s titles, “Hymn to Freedom” (2019) and “Ancestral Dance” (2020), complement María Korol’s wickedly surreal paintings of animals playing music and dancing. Dianna Settles brings a welcome anarchic edge to the revelry, with a painting that freezes a performance staged by her friends on the lawn of the High Museum. The players were in costume, the musicians live, the audience seated — all that was missing was the institution’s permission.

Queens

Through March 9. Mrs. gallery, 60-40 56th Drive, Queens; 347-841-6149, mrsgallery.com.

Many people spent the Covid-19 lockdown learning to cultivate sourdough starters. Nickola Pottinger was one of them, but in her case, the process produced more than just bread. Inspired by being in the kitchen, she started turning shredded pieces of paper into pulp. With her mother’s hand mixer, she transformed family documents into the material for her art.

Nine of Pottinger’s painted pulp sculptures are on view in the exhibition “like yuh neva lef’ yaad.” They look like they’re made from clay, but if you get close enough, you might see bits of paper showing through. It’s an apt metaphor for the way we carry the pieces of our lives — both lists and more profound things — with us.

The Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-raised Pottinger calls her creations “duppies,” a patois word for ghosts. (The title of the show is patois for, “Like I never left home.”) The works do have a spectral presence, partly because they’re too abstract and surreal to define: “Mumma” (2023) isn’t quite a complete figure of a woman; “ol’hige” (2023) might be a sphinx; “Alvernia prep school” (2023) is part sculpture, part furniture. Extra body parts abound: a second face or set of hands, casts of mouths and rows of teeth.

But the otherworldliness Pottinger is summoning isn’t about ghost stories or haunting so much as spirituality. Her works feel inhabited, whether by ancestors or mythical creatures. Arrayed carefully around the gallery, the duppies are guardians, keeping safe whomever they’re meant to protect.

Upper East Side

Through Jan. 26. Elkon Gallery, 18 East 81st Street, Manhattan; 212-535-3940, elkongallery.com.

“Utter sweetness crossed with an underlying eroticism” is how the critic Peter Schjeldahl, writing in The New York Times 50 years ago, described the up-and-coming Pop artist John Wesley.

Wesley, who died last year at 93, borrowed images from comics, domestic romance and Americana, then arranged them into flat, pastel cartoons suffused with sexualized humor. Think Ken Price’s interiors or Alex Katz’s faces, with a Freudian tingle.

Whimsy abounds in the 15 works at Elkon Gallery. “Boxing Gloves” (1968) lines up three fighters like Rockettes, each engulfed to his waist by a black glove, with the lace from the glove binding his legs.

But more than bondage, this family-friendly selection boasts Wesley’s play with form — the reason, I imagine, why the arch-minimalist Donald Judd devoted a gallery to him in Marfa.

Up close, Wesley’s outline wavers wildly. From afar, it lands with surprising, loaded precision. While the eight cyclists of “Tour de France” (1974), hunched illogically, barely kiss the edge of their painted frame, one front-runner’s tire flops over the guideline as if to announce, “I’m winning!” In “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1976), a sendup of Emanuel Leutze’s epic across the street at the Met, two patriots regain their footing in a wobbly dinghy. Overhead, a long cloud intrudes upon the myth, connecting left margin to right with a bridge of clean, unpainted gesso.

Outlines, placements, perimeters — each fourth-wall breaking. The effect is of someone who worked quickly (in fast-drying acrylics) and whose visions were informed by an intrusive American memory. WALKER MIMMS

Lower East Side

Through Jan. 27. 47 Canal, 291 Grand Street, Manhattan; 646-415-7712, 47canal.us.

As a young painter in the 1960s, G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, Heron Clan) garnered auspicious attention from the mainstream New York art world. At the same time, he made his Native American contemporaries his creative cohort. (Beginning in 1978 and for many years, he was the trailblazing curator of the American Indian Community House’s gallery in Manhattan.) And that early choice, between center and periphery, insider and outlier, helps explains why “On the Right Path, Works: 1982-2023” is his first solo show in New York City in 50 years.

It’s a beautiful thing, and although very much a selection rather than a survey, it gives a good sense of where this artist-activist, now in his late 70s, came from. He was born in a Seneca community in upstate New York, where he lives, and from which his New York City years were an extended but formative interlude. The two locations come together in a terrific series of 1980s paintings of Indigenous themes done on commercial shopping bags of a kind he’d spotted on daily subway trips. And while images of nature, panoramic and close-up, are his mainstay, they’re infused — always have been — with an environmental politics that the art world is ready for now. HOLLAND COTTER

Chelsea

Through Feb. 3. DC Moore, 535 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; 212-247-2111, dcmooregallery.com.

Joyce Kozloff’s five-foot-square paintings of conflict zones in her show “Collateral Damage” are richly colored maps with large sections of pencil grid left visible, and bold but not overly precise lettering. As you’d expect from an artist associated with the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s, she also uses dense concentrations of stripe, dot and squiggle.

In one or two cases she adds detail about what’s happening: There are target-like circles around Gaza and the Golan Heights; bold blue lines, like troop movement indicators, cross from Russia to Ukraine. But usually she adds emphasis more discreetly, by including significant provincial terms as well as country names, and by marking conditions of war, disorder or occupation with local textile patterns. Sudan and South Sudan are titled, but so is the contested Abyei area between them. And Yemen has a complex pattern, while Saudi Arabia, right above it, is a stark red and orange.

Making us notice things we’re practiced at ignoring is striking enough. You probably haven’t seen maps configured quite like this before, and with water that isn’t always blue, it can be difficult to separate oceans from land.

What is most impressive about Kozloff’s project is its restraint. If pressed, you could read into it all sorts of ideas about the powers, and the dangers, of names and borders. You could make some pretty good guesses about the artist’s politics, too. But Kozloff isn’t actually making any statements. She’s simply letting her work serve as a silent witness. WILL HEINRICH

Through Feb. 3. David Zwirner, 537 West 20th Street; Manhattan; 212-517-8677; davidzwirner.com.

Robert Ryman is best known for a devotion to all-white paintings that made the most of the medium’s physical properties, warding off monotony with a staggering variety of paints, paint brushes, brush strokes, surfaces and wall fastenings. He came to New York in 1952, planning to study jazz saxophone, but was blown off course by visits to New York museums and working as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art for much of the 1950s. In 1953 he bought paints and canvas board to see, as he once said, “what the paint would do.” By 1959 he had made what he considered his first painting: a square canvas painted bright orange. Then white took over.

The most interesting pieces in this over-full exhibition of 25 works from 1961-64 reveal that things weren’t quite so simple. In a series of works from 1961, luscious fields, ostensibly of white, are frequently painted over strokes of red, blue or green, enacting a kind of refusal of color. He also toyed with “illusion” — the bugaboo of 1960s abstraction and its devotion to the physical nature of the art object. In “One Down” (1962), Ryman penciled off five small squares on a square expanse of light brown linen and painted them with white-over-color textures, creating the startling illusion of paintings (or studies) hanging on a studio wall. In other words, gadzooks, he turned abstract painting into a representational, even trompe l’oeil picture! In “62” Square” (around 1964), he even gave one of the paintings-within-a-painting a red frame. No wonder this intriguing little apostasy has been out of sight. ROBERTA SMITH

Through Feb. 4. Palo Gallery, 30 Bond Street, Manhattan, 646-877-1469, palogallery.com.

Wool felt is a marvel. It is one of the oldest of human-made fabrics and it remains ubiquitous, figuring in everything from slippers to aircraft gaskets.

Felt also has artistic possibilities aplenty, some of which are explored in “Source,” the sumptuous New York debut of Sagarika Sundaram, who was born in Kolkata, India, in 1986, earned an M.F.A. in textiles from Parsons School of Design/The New School and lives in Brooklyn.

The dozen works here begin with a piece of white felt, lying flat, onto which Sundaram layers raw wool and yarn-like strands or pieces of dyed felt. This sandwich is then subjected to moisture and heat and a great deal of pressure, fusing into a single somewhat bumpy textile.

The show contains several beguiling small felt pieces including two rough-edged books whose pages read as dazzling little color studies. Less successful is the monumental “Source,” consisting of four or five large ellipses hanging together in folds. These elements can evoke immense leaves, shells or tents, each with its own motifs and combinations of dark red, brown and white natural dyes. But it seems unfocused, like a series of tryouts. It is also familiar, reprising craft-oriented art from the 1970s.

The masterpiece here is the vibrant “Atlas,” a small mural whose shapes and lines and blazing colors suggests a topographical map, tangled undergrowth or Lynda Benglis latex pour piece. You could say it’s all figure and no ground, an exercise in exquisitely controlled chaos. Unlike paint, felt grants each bit of color an electrifying separateness. “Atlas” belongs in a museum. ROBERTA SMITH

Through Feb. 3. Shrine Gallery, 368 Broadway, Manhattan, 212-381-1395, shrine.nyc.

This pair of solo shows leads with the New York debut of paintings by the Los Angeles artist Blair Saxon-Hill, 44, who exhibited large monotypes here in 2022, at Pace Prints.

Saxon-Hill, who was born in Eugene, Ore., in 1979, works with untroubled ease and zero pretension, when painting her still lifes of wilting flowers or inhabited interiors. Her clumsy figures evince a very late version of what was once called the School of Paris, an intuitive fusion of direct drawing and painting that descended from Matisse and Picasso.

Yet Saxon-Hill’s paintings capture a malaise that seems very contemporary, very post-Covid. The bouquets of flowers, alone or in the interiors, are usually dying, dropping their seeds. The exception is the combination of lilacs and persimmons in “Flowers for Alice Neel.” They are the healthiest in the show but they reappear in worse shape, in “Persimmon at Night,” in which a woman lolls listlessly on a table, clutching a persimmon in one hand.

In “Power of Now,” a woman in red, with a persimmon wall looming behind her, seems to shrink from the newspaper open on the table before her. The anxieties in “The News” are more ambiguous. It centers on a large piece of paper that appears to be a drawing of thick severed limbs covering the lap of a woman whose precarious black coiffure is indicated by a calligraphic swirl. She seems straight out of a drag show or a Japanese erotic woodblock and looks dismayed. Is she thinking “Too much carnage” or maybe just “Too much Picasso”? The show’s title looks to the future with a fatalistic phrase from the Japanese poet Issa, “Even Then Flowers Bloom.”

In Shrine’s second gallery, the veteran painter Clintel Steed, 46, offers an interesting contrast to Saxon-Hill’s smooth, suave surfaces with ones whose short thick brushstrokes can pile up like little bricks. Steed, who was born in Salt Lake City and now lives in Peekskill, N.Y., has used this robust, somewhat combative style of paint handling for some time, letting it both fragment and energize his subjects, which have ranged from landscapes to reprises of old master paintings, and have varied in their effectiveness.

The new paintings are smallish close-ups of the faces of professional football players on the field, in helmets, behind face guards. There’s a lot to work with here given the equipment — which includes visors that reflect small cityscapes — and the players’ usually fierce expressions. The results are very concentrated, almost explosive, weirdly semi-Cubist in structure and likely some of Steed’s best paintings. Once you sort out their images, you have to decide if the face guards protect or cage the men, most of whom are Black. Either way their gear personifies the inordinate pressure to succeed that afflicts so many in and around this violent game. The show is titled “Portraits of the Indomitable,” which simplifies the work’s complexity. ROBERTA SMITH

TriBeCa

Through Feb. 10. Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA), 142 Franklin Street, Manhattan; islaa.org.

An exhibition and research space, the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) recently moved from tight townhouse quarters on the Upper East Side to wide-open duplex digs in TriBeCa. And it is inaugurating its new home with two thematically linked but visually contrasting shows.

The larger, “Revisiting the Potosí Principle Archive: Histories of Art and Extraction,” on the ground floor, is a think-piece, experimental in format, as much about reading as looking. The installation resembles a cavernous seminar room, with a large central table set out with printed texts and surrounded by reproductions of historical paintings and several contemporary works. All of this illustrates a provocative thesis: that Western capitalism had roots in the land-destroying, life-destroying early Spanish colonial silver mining industry based in the Bolivian city of Potosí.

There’s much fibrous matter to chew on here, though the average gallerygoer will find quicker gratification in a smaller show downstairs. Titled “The Precious Life of a Liquid Heart,” and organized by ISLAA’s chief curator, Bernardo Mosqueira, it’s also about terrestrial endangerment — to water, in this case — but makes its points by suggesting the spiritual values that element carries in Latin America’s Indigenous and Afro-Atlantic cultures.

Hopefully, the artists in this quiet, tender show — Chonon Bensho, Nádia Taquary, Seba Calfuqueo, UÝRA and the collective Soi Noma — will be bringing those values our way again soon. And the work of one them, Carolina Caycedo, is with us now: Her ethereal fabric sculptures in the form of fishing nets are currently floating on high in MoMA’s atrium. HOLLAND COTTER

TriBeCa and Union Square

Through Feb. 17. Ortuzar Projects, 9 White Street, Manhattan; 212-257-0033, ortuzarprojects.com.

Gordon Robichaux, 41 Union Square West, Manhattan; 646-678-5532, gordonrobichaux.com.

Brian Buczak moved to New York from Detroit in 1976. He had already been corresponding with Ray Johnson, the celebrated mail artist, and once in the city he found his way to a number of other artists, most notably Geoffrey Hendricks, of Fluxus, who became his partner for the rest of his life. (Alice Neel painted them together.) Before dying of AIDS in 1987, just shy of his 33rd birthday, Buczak also made a tremendous number of paintings. This two-site exhibition, “Man Looks at the World,” is his first solo show in more than 30 years.

Buczak worked in several longstanding, sometimes obsessive series. At Ortuzar Projects, for example, is one small painting of lush, melting American flags that he repeated dozens of times. To judge from the whole double exhibition, though, he was at his best constructing eerie diptychs and triptychs of found imagery. Two boiled eggs in water glasses sit above a boy stretching a rubber band across his lips; a hammer smashing a glass bottle looms over another boy breaking the surface of a swimming pool.

The links may be conceptual, as in the buoyancy of eggs and rubber band, or visual, as when glass shards echo the short blue and white brushstrokes of the pool. Sometimes, particularly when the source material is pornographic, the connections are more occult. But what makes them all so interesting is the saturated, laborious, against-the-grain way Buczak painted — as well as his choice to paint in the first place, rather than assemble his heavily image-driven work with Xerox copies or photographs. You can feel him searching for something — meaning, clarity, peace, liberation — that never quite arrives. WILL HEINRICH

Chelsea

Through Feb. 10. Paula Cooper, 521 West 21st Street, Manhattan; 212-255-1105, paulacoopergallery.com.

A group show with as literal a premise as this one is always a gamble because it’s all too easy for the literal to slip into the superficial. What saves this one, even gives it a strange, fascinating energy, is the knotty tension of a subject, “books,” that doesn’t exactly translate into visual art.

Some artists make their materials fit by shoving them aside or cutting them up: Seung-taek Lee uses dismembered typewriter keys to print a hazy, black, ink-on-canvas cloud around an emptied book; Jane Benson carefully slices the letters “e” and “a” out of polyester pages; and Terry Adkins, building a memorial to John Brown, sticks an oversize Bible as a prop under a Crusader’s sword jammed into a cage full of wool.

The strongest pieces take the visual or conceptual qualities of books just as they are, like Sarah Charlesworth’s photo of an open blank book; Steve Wolfe’s meticulously painted replicas of “On the Road” and “120 Days of Sodom”; Theaster Gates’s “Nump,” a free-associative poem rendered as a series of gold-embossed book titles; and especially a 1994 Carl Andre piece, “The Birth of Knowledge,” which is a weathered Hebrew prayer book screwed into an old-fashioned wooden tennis racket frame. It’s a cunning way of highlighting the fact that books and conceptual artworks are, in fact, very similar: They’re both devices designed to bind together sheaves of disparate ideas. WILL HEINRICH

East Harlem

Through March 10. El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; 212-831-7272, elmuseo.org.

Piece for piece, El Museo del Barrio’s collection is like no other in this country. And as such, it’s a national treasure. My first taste of it was in 1994 in a triptych of exhibitions conceived by Susana Torruella Leval, then the museum’s visionary director. The shows were exquisite, though the financially strapped institution’s holdings were small at that time. In the three decades since, the collection has expanded and diversified, which is the upfront message delivered by “Something Beautiful: Reframing La Colección.”

Most of the artists, and some of the art — Nitza Tufiño’s 1972 painting “Taino Couple”; an ashen 1962 sculpture, “Children of Treblinka,” by Raphael Montañez Ortiz, the museum’s founder — are here. But much of what’s in the current two-part survey has arrived since.

How to organize such omnibus displays is always a question. Here, broad categories once favored — “spiritual art,” “popular art” — have been complicated in ways that reflect changes in social and political thinking, in redefinitions of Latino and Latin American as cultural identities, and in the museum’s developing view of itself, as an institution grounded in its East Harlem origins but reaching far beyond. HOLLAND COTTER

A wall of images celebrating political heroes includes a 1969 portrait of the Puerto Rican Independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos by the master printmaker Antonio Martorell, but also a 2012 video by Coco Fusco that casts a cold eye on the revolutionaries of a different island, Cuba. “Craft” here equally describes the artist Melba Carillo’s beaded tribute to the Yemaya, Afro-Cuban goddess of the sea, and the Chicana artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood’s “Undocumented Tortilla Basket” woven from barbed wire. “Contemporary” equally applies to a 2019 Afro-Brazilian ritual sculpture by José Adário dos Santos and videos from the 1970s by the Conceptualist Jaime Davidovich (1936-2016), an Argentine transplant to New York City; a cache of his work came to the museum last year.

Davidovich was a pioneer of video work in the 1970s with a public access cable show, and his goal was to disrupt conventional art hierarchies and bring art to new audiences. He once described himself as one of a group of avant-garde artists “trying to get around the gatekeepers of culture by putting our work out there for public consumption for free.” The same description would fit many of the artists and much of the art in El Museo’s collection, and the still-maverick museum itself. HOLLAND COTTER

Upper East Side

Through Feb. 17. Craig Starr Gallery, 5 East 73rd Street, Manhattan, 212-570-1739, craigstarr.com

Edward Hopper as Puritan” is a compact exhibition devoted to a world-famous American painter that nonetheless looks remarkably fresh. For one thing, its display of nine works mostly from the 1920s — etchings, watercolors, charcoal drawings and a single painting — in a tiny gallery encourages a thrilling intimacy with the changes in Hopper’s mark-making and surfaces across mediums.

The show concentrates on the more austere side of his sensibility, which is most evident in his nonurban scenes. Houses, sailboats and the ocean are the main characters; humans, if present, are dwarfed.

The etchings give early signs of Hopper’s powers of observation and touch: Their varied textures verge on flamboyant. In “The Henry Ford,” a schooner’s towering sails evoke an immense white bird settling into its nest. In contrast, the watercolors of saltboxes or a Victorian house abstain from the dazzling effects this medium encourages. The charcoals — another Victorian and a boat on a wharf — are so strikingly solid and finished they might be graphite.

“Two Puritans” (1945), the oil, depicts a pair of white houses whose awkward volumes flatten primly toward the picture plane and exemplify Hopper’s careful rhyming of colors. Everything is pristinely flat except on four trees, which scramble several hues into a bark-like roughness.

In the catalog’s exceptional essay, Louis Shadwick, a British art historian, explores the social and racial implications of terms like Puritan and Anglo-Saxon, which early writers applied admiringly to Hopper’s art. Combining a meticulous presentation of evidence with something like psychoanalysis, he reveals far more layers of political meaning than are usually achieved these days. ROBERTA SMITH

SoHo

Through Jan. 13. Jeffrey Deitch, 18 Wooster Street, Manhattan; 212-343-7300, deitch.com.

Shot in 1980 in No Wave’s deliberate anti-style, “Wild Style,” Charlie Ahearn’s loosely stitched film of early hip-hop culture among the Bronx’s bombed-out blocks, trades auteurism for zeal, ceding conventions like script and plot to the pure invention of its stars. It documents the progenitors of hip-hop — graffitists, MCs, and b-boys — and is itself a foundational article of that culture, pointed to as legitimizing evidence of a movement whose effects continue to color the city’s self-image.

This show straddles memorabilia — production stills by Martha Cooper and Cathleen Campbell; Zephyr and Revolt’s fizzy title card animation cels — and the output of the film’s aerosol contingent who transitioned from train yards to gallery walls, a codified roster of artists often named in the same breath: Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee, Sharp, Daze, Crash, Lady Pink, Futura, Dondi and Phase 2. Also included are artists like Martin Wong and John Ahearn, who didn’t work in the mode but are considered sympathetic to it. The split is between nostalgia and continuum. A sullen, jaundiced KAWS bronze is the most conspicuous example of the movement’s legacy, even as he has long abandoned his tagger roots. Its presence represents the completion of the formal art world’s incursion, a process that the film treated with subtle ambivalence.

There is a joyousness in the longevity of style writing’s surviving pioneers. But if the form’s chief characteristic is its endless reinvention, you only need to walk around the corner to Thompson Street, to an empty lot ringed with fresh tags, to find the tradition alive. MAX LAKIN

Upper East Side

Through Jan. 13. Goodman Gallery, 23 East 67th Street, Manhattan; 347-249-8994, goodman-gallery.com.

A few decades back, when the Museum for African Art existed, New York City regularly saw lots of the new work coming from South Africa, much of it courtesy of loans from Goodman Gallery, which had opened in Johannesburg in 1966 and nurtured a stellar roster of artists, Black and white, during the apartheid years. When the museum closed, the South African flow to New York stopped, but now promises to resume with the opening of a Goodman branch in Manhattan.

And a very welcome resumption it is, to judge from a small inaugural group show that’s both a blast from the past and a quickstep into the future. Most of the work here is by artists whom Goodman put on the map years ago. Some — David Goldblatt, William Kentridge — are now international fixtures. Others — Dumile Feni (1942-1991), Lucas Sithole (1931-1994) and David Koloane (1938-2019) — are historical figures who will reward wider exposure and study here.

Sue Williamson, a dynamic amazement now in her early 80s, gets a micro-retrospective here in the form of five works dating from 1984 to this year. And Sam Nhlengethwa, whose figurative work has never looked more prescient, provides a bridge from a pioneering generation to a new one represented by the Zimbabwean painter Misheck Masamvu, born in 1980.

Goodman has broadened its roster to include artists from the larger African diaspora, though South Africa’s contribution to the global scene continues to be the heart of its program. Lucky New York will now be able to follow it all. HOLLAND COTTER

Chelsea and TriBeCa

Through Jan. 13. Vito Schnabel, 455 West 19th Street, Manhattan; 646-216-3932, vitoschnabel.com.

Through Jan. 13. David Lewis, 57 Walker Street, Manhattan; 212-966-7991, davidlewisgallery.com.

Trey Abdella’s work attacks the idea of “surface.” In both of the show’s venues, portraits of women have been perforated by small doors, swung open one a day to reveal fragrant hunks of chocolate. An 8-by-6-foot canvas, encrusted with epoxy, foam, glitter and acrylic paint, gives a macro view of a slice of cherry pie — an animated sparkle, displayed on a whirling 3-D “hologram fan,” marks the fork piercing the crust. Thick dioramas show a monstrous sculpted trout breaching a lake’s plastic surface, or a rubber heart throbbing inside a treehouse seen through the slats of a rib cage. Piling gunk onto, cutting through, rejecting the limits of: No picture plane is safe.

But Abdella also needs surfaces — his sculptures cling to the wall, and every bizarre scene depends on the viewer’s gaze having an image to penetrate. The horrific “Sealed With a Kiss” comprises an acrylic painting of white skin, on which perches a spiny, motorized mosquito the size of a corgi. Its rubbery proboscis visibly draws red fluid through the canvas into its transparent abdomen, then spits it back into some hidden reservoir. The pièce de résistance, though (at David Lewis — the only free-standing piece), is a looming cross-section of human skin blended with a model town — a scale railroad loops around the paper lawn beneath cloudlike pockets of yellow fat, while rabbit warrens mottle the soil underneath. Abdella’s work explodes what we take for 2-D to expose its texture, gore and depth, and dwells there. TRAVIS DIEHL

Lower East Side

Through Jan. 13. James Fuentes, 55 Delancey Street, Manhattan; 212-577-1201, jamesfuentes.com.

There’s a contrary beauty to Cynthia Lahti’s gloopy ceramic figures, like some romantic ideal chewed on and emerging gnarled, but more emotionally recognizable for it. Her figures appear like dazed Meissen porcelains, jolted from their lives of leisure into messier, more honest ones. Their poses are a taxonomy of anxiety — hunched, slumped, sheltering a cigarette against a nonexistent gust — with expressions that strain legibility, though whether a face is pinched in pain or perturbation is mostly a matter of degrees. “Green Lady” (2011), its mottled coloring closer to oxidized metal, is either overcome by anguish or shielding her eyes from the sun. Either way, she’s not having a nice time.

The anatomical deformities of several of the figures speak to an awareness of the body’s fragility and all that can go wrong with it. “Sock” (2009) depicts a body from the waist down in a kind of reverse bust: exaggerated, uneven limbs and detached appendages floating helplessly alongside, an effect that’s both comic and grisly.

As with Manet’s visible brushstrokes, Lahti’s thumbed-clay forms aren’t ashamed to display the marks of their making. And yet, with their craggy surfaces, inexact glazes and abstracted, barely-there forms, they can look more like accidents of nature, and looking at them can feel like finding the rough contours of a face in a slab of rock. Akin to the pitted wabi-sabi of Japanese Mino ware, Lahti’s figures suggest an acceptance of imperfection and a contentment with the unfinished — a freedom in their flaws. MAX LAKIN

Chinatown

Through Jan. 13. Bridget Donahue, 99 Bowery, Manhattan; 646-896-1368, bridgetdonahue.nyc.

Olga Balema’s “The Third Dimension” is the punkest show in town. In the same way that 1970s punk rock was stripped down, anti-virtuosic (no ostentatious guitar solos) and anti-establishment, Balema’s clear plastic sculptures are blunt-but-beautiful statements that challenge both the art market’s ravenous appetite for painting and the rampant virtue signaling among many of art’s players (including artists and critics).

What there is to see here — or not see, since the gallery initially seems empty when you enter it — are 11 sculptures Balema made by bending translucent polycarbonate sheets into geometric forms. Some of the works lean against the wall; all are mysteriously titled “Loop” (2023) and assigned a number. They’re a bit like soap bubbles, threatening to vanish at any moment.

What makes Balema’s efforts art and not mere provocation are context and history. Her work is clearly in conversation with “heroic,” masculinist, minimalist sculpture crafted in marble, bronze or steel. Its virtually see-through, plain plastic materials may goad some viewers to call it the emperor’s new clothes, except that the empty-gallery-as-philosophically-significant-void is yet another celebrated trope in art history, particularly when enacted by male artists. (It’s become a signature gesture for Balema, whose last exhibition at Bridget Donahue in 2019 was an artless web of elastic bands stretched across the floor, titled “Brain Damage.”)

In the current moment, this show speaks powerfully to the utopian promises of avant-garde art. Who gets to be free? In music, punk rock and free jazz answered this call; in visual art, we have this. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Chelsea

Through Jan. 6. Gladstone Gallery, 530 West 21st Street, Manhattan; 212-206-7606, gladstonegallery.com.

The British artist Ed Atkins is screening a double feature of recent video projections in Gladstone’s Chelsea space.

Atkins’s 16-minute “Pianowork 2” plunges deep inside the so-called uncanny valley, where digital simulations come close to perfect realism and seem the weirder for it. Using motion-capture technology, Atkins recorded himself playing a modernist piece for piano; the collected data was then turned into a nearly perfect digital animation of the same scene — “nearly” being the operative word. Atkins’s avatar emotes at the keyboard, just as any human pianist might — as we assume Atkins did, playing — but tiny glitches tell us that we are watching a digital creature that could never feel real emotions.

With traditional animation, we’d know that everything onscreen came from someone’s imagination; with a traditional video recording, we’d assume the scene had some real-world analogue. But “Pianowork 2” suggests the real, while making sure we don’t trust it.

Its companion at Gladstone, an 80-minute projection called “Sorcerer,” is a collaboration with the writer Steven Zultanski. It seems like the straightforward record of a theatrical piece: Two women and a man recite lines on a set that more or less recreates someone’s living room; their dialogue sounds like the almost-random chatter of friends, transcribed direct from life. Without going digital, this results in some of the same tensions as “Pianowork 2”: The transcribed chatter evokes the real, but putting it onstage is all about artifice.

Maybe the uncanny valley has always been a place where human culture likes to hang out. BLAKE GOPNIK

TriBeCa

Through Jan. 6. 52 Walker, 52 Walker Street, Manhattan. 212-727-1961; 52Walker.com.

“Basic Instinct” is one of 17 separate arrangements of ready-made objects in Kayode Ojo’s “Eden,” the latest brilliant show programmed at 52 Walker by the senior gallery director, Ebony L. Haynes. It comprises a Baxton Studio Jericho Leather Accent Chair in white and chrome; a three-foot-square beveled mirror; four clear plastic boxes, each about six inches high; and a medium-format Graflex camera from the 1970s.

Sitting on the chair at exactly crotch height, its lens pointing out, the camera evokes Sharon Stone’s most famous moment in the movie of the same title. In so doing, the camera also highlights the ambiguous line between exhibitionism and voyeurism, and how wrapped up they both are in status, culture and consumerism. It evokes the strange nostalgia, with its aftertaste of mortality, inherent in any technology that “captures a moment,” especially photography; and it offers an incisive metaphor, if a cold one, for what it means to be human. What are we, after all, but empty boxes looking for ourselves in the mirror?

Elsewhere in the show, Ojo reflects on religion, sexuality and performance. He uses chandeliers, cocktail dresses, an enormous bird cage, dozens of flutes and a family Bible embossed with his name; a pocket watch the size of a wall clock sways gently above the floor. But I kept coming back to the four plastic boxes that hold the Baxton chair above its mirrored base. Offering a slight remove, but a transparent one, at once showy and discreet, they seemed like the key to Ojo’s method. WILL HEINRICH

East Village

Through Jan. 7. Swiss Institute, 38 St. Marks Place, Manhattan; 212-925-2035; swissinstitute.net.

On the second floor of Ali Cherri’s exhibition “Humble and Quiet and Soothing as Mud,” there is a video projected onto three screens. Titled “Of Men and Gods and Mud” (2022), it shows laborers fashioning mud into bricks who toil in the shadow of the Merowe Dam in northern Sudan, the construction of which displaced about 50,000 people and caused significant social and environmental upheaval.

Women’s voices (one speaking English, one Arabic) narrate: “Somewhere, by the banks of a great river, on the banks of a gargantuan dam, a man stands waist deep in mud. …” The language seems less documentary than mythic, akin to the many creation stories (Sumerian, Abrahamic, Maori, Hindu, Yoruba) in which the material plays a central role. The effect is to telescope time, so that contemporary geopolitical and environmental catastrophes are read against primeval creation and destruction — perhaps, the Lebanese-born Cherri suggests, we are living in another antediluvian moment, just before the dam breaks.

Mud — as material and symbol — is also explored in four sculptures on the ground floor related to the ancient Sumerian hero Gilgamesh and the molding of his companion, Enkidu, who was molded from clay. Despite their seeming fragility, these figures cast fierce-looking shadows on the walls. Standing in for their faces are archaeological relics — from Egypt, Mali, the Kongo kingdom, France — that the artist bought from auctions, their prices reflecting current monetary and cultural valuations. In Cherri’s work, past and present are never separate or even distant — a gently devastating argument against the idea that as a species, we’ve progressed. ARUNA D’SOUZA

SoHo

Through Jan. 7. Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, 26 Wooster Street, Manhattan; 212-431-2609, leslielohman.org.

For reasons sometimes hard to know, treasurable artists drop from the radar. Having them back in sight is a gift and Leslie-Lohman Museum delivers one in “Christian Walker: The Profane and the Poignant,” a first survey of a photographer who had an art world presence in the 1980s and 1990s — he made a notable contribution to, among other shows, “Black Male” at the Whitney Museum — and has since been all but forgotten.

Born in 1953, Walker was active in Boston’s early gay liberation movement. His first major photographic series, “The Theater Project,” documented the city’s red-light district, the infamous Combat Zone, as it was known, that drew both gay and straight people. In his next series, “Miscegenation,” he took the intimate mingling of Black and white male bodies as a subject, at a time when the gay rights movement was largely white, and did so using an experimental technique of applying pigments directly to photographic prints.

Much of Walker’s career coincided with the AIDS crisis. The toll in lives it took, and the race-based inequities it revealed, became major themes for him. A larger consciousness of loss thrums through his art, evident in portraits of family and friends early and late. Eventually he became lost himself. In the mid-1990s, he moved to Seattle, where he cut off most of his East Coast contacts, lived for a time on the street, and died, most likely of a drug overdose, in 2003.

His work survives only in bits and pieces. The Leslie-Lohman show, organized by Jackson Davidow and Noam Parness, is an act of hunter-gatherer persistence, and a heroic one: a generous tribute to a memorable artist, and a gift to an audience for whom he has been restored. HOLLAND COTTER

Cold Spring, N.Y.

Through Jan. 8. Magazzino Italian Art, 2700 Route 9, Cold Spring, N.Y.; 845-666-7202, magazzino.art.

Pop Art finally arrived in 1962, when Andy Warhol and 28 playful upstarts, displaying their wares in “New Realists” at the Sidney Janis Gallery, drove Mark Rothko, the master of sober, hovering shapes of color, to leave the gallerist in a pique.

One New Realist must have needled with special force: the proto-punk Mario Schifano. For across the 80 works in his big new exhibition, “Mario Schifano: the Rise of the ’60s,” it becomes obvious that this Italian interpreter of Coca-Cola (a logo he loves to quote) understood the goals of Abstract Expressionism even while he mocked them.

As with Rothko, his muse was the square — just the wrong kind. In pencil Schifano drafts rounded squares inside crisp-cornered ones, replicating the era’s tube televisions. Into them he mortars sloppy brushloads of enamel paint, the pigment of outdoor signage. In “Elemento per Paesaggio” (1962), squares stack up helter-skelter, recalling TVs in a pawnshop window.

Elsewhere, color lampoons consumer choice. In two untitled works from 1961, one square wears a yellow-and-cobalt reminiscent of the Spam tin, while the other is done in the signature cream-and-crimson of Coke. Across each foreground, Schifano draws a cartoon rope seat and bucket, vacant, as if the billboard painter has just taken lunch.

Schifano knew that studio painting had, through reproduction, joined mass media. Where Rothko’s generation yearned for pure, unmediated color, Schifano submits to modernity’s mediator: the screen. It’s fitting that in the stillness of the Magazzino’s Brutalist pavilion, no titles or dates clutter the exhibition. For those, you must download the app. WALKER MIMMS

Midtown

Through Jan. 7. New York Public Library, 476 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; 917-275-6975, nypl.org/events/exhibitions.

Has there been another exhibition whose venue so perfectly suits its art? In one of the slender halls on the third floor of the New York Public Library’s Fifth Avenue headquarters, a civic landmark, hang photos shot in the slender cars of the New York subway, another symbol of the city. Walk down the hall at N.Y.P.L., and you might be on a platform looking into a stopped train: In one car, a weary-looking straphanger scowls while a rider in a head scarf and coat looks beatific; in another, a young woman ogles a dandy.

The Irish photographer Alen MacWeeney, 84, took these 44 photos in 1977 after arriving in Manhattan to work for Richard Avedon. They nod to the subway shots of Walker Evans from four decades earlier, with one major difference: In most of them, MacWeeney cleverly enlarges two subway shots onto one sheet of photo paper; with no seam between them, they register as a continuous scene. That gives each print a subtle surrealism, as we absorb the breach in space and time across its two photos without recognizing that they began life separately: A woman rests her eyes in a car that, thanks to MacWeeney, appears to have expanded into a maze of graffitied walls; another car seems to show its inside and outside at once, like a Möbius strip.

“The chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” — that phrase by Isidore Lucien Ducasse is supposed to capture surrealism’s signature weirdness. But what about the encounter of an umbrella with another moment in its own existence? That’s the more peculiar strangeness we find in MacWeeney’s subway. BLAKE GOPNIK

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