Hard is the heart that doesn’t like the late Mary Ann Aitken’s paintings, which themselves are deeply rigorous about their fun. The 1989 still life Untitled (pink still life) counts Elmer’s glue, Cat Chow, spring onions, and both Diet and regular Coke amongst its table of contents. The foreshortened perspective reels us closer to this pastoral about cleaning out one’s cupboards, and the cakey application of oil on masonite gives it a palpable tenderness. That she forages for her subjects in her cupboards and shelves and shed is one part of her sense of humour; another part stems from a kind of innocence. The painting Untitled (wilted flowers) (c.1985–89) presents just that, though a partially obscured red patch in the centre suggests that the painted flowers themselves were once thriving. And can you beat Untitled (cat on green) (c.1985–89)? This kitty’s stupid smile is as guileless as any of the paintings on view. Detroit’s artist-run space What Pipeline paired them with Alivia and Daniel (both 2017) by Dylan Spaysky. Woven from wicker, they’re life-sized statues of the gallerist couple in the nude.
While making the Condo rounds, I ditched a few colleagues to get a toasted coconut cold brew at Starbucks. The deliciously rich by-product of cultural engineering lent an unapologetic indulgence to High Art and Mitchell Algus’ presentation.
There’s a lot of weird stuff in this gallery. A block of frothy resin entombs a bunch of actual sea creatures in Mark Prent’s Churn (2007). Valerie Keene’s relief sculpture inscribes menace in every razor-sharp detail of its abstract composition. Nancy Arlen’s Martian and Glass Cat (both 1981) appear like hunting trophies: the former resembles a severed rhino tusk, the latter a slithering, decapitated eel. Max Hooper Schneider’s regal Hybrid Kugelhopf III (2017) includes mealworms and a Bundt cake replica in its list of materials. And weirdest of all is Dan Burkhart’s Imperial Monitor (2014) an all-yellow bust of a crowned figure, whose exaggerated features seem refined over centuries of Royal inbreeding.
Chateau Shatto brings three generations of détournement to Foxy Productions showing artists who make vagrant images and interested in mucking up their immediate surroundings. Three framed photographs by theorist Jean Baudrillard introduce the show. Snapshots of late-20th century ideas on speed, their subjects – an airport runway, a car, a crumpled advertisement – are all mediated by some murky atmosphere or texture. Aria Dean’s Dead Zone (2017) captures a branch from a cotton plant underneath a bell jar. The work’s artisanal pedestal conceals a signal jammer, so that viewers can’t dispossess this image of historical Black trauma right into a meme. It dovetails well with Jacqueline de Jong’s On the Countryside Where Life is Sweet (1972), a studio in a suitcase. Two canvases are joined by some hinges: on the left, several days’ worth of diary entries and on the right vignettes depicting famous athletes, radicals, politicians, cats, and the artist reading and masturbating. De Jong was a member of the Situationist International, though this work applies the same street-level approach to the personal. Sultana shares the other half of the gallery, and especially Walter Pfeiffer’s Untitled (1989/2015), a photograph that imparts a pear with supple vulnerability, is the flipside to Chateua Shatto’s cerebral aesthetic.
At Metro Pictures is the two-part group show ‘A New Ballardian Vision’, organized by Leo Xu, whose namesake gallery is based in Shanghai. The first floor galleries are dedicated to Metro Pictures artists, with standouts plucked from their back catalogues. A large Jim Shaw work hangs from the ceiling. The title says it all – Dream Object (Hanging legs made out of fiberglass with toes bitten off to demonstrate effect of animal traps) (2007) – though it’s clearly papier mâché and depending on how it dangles, it’s wondrously cartoonish or grudgingly abject. Upstairs is dedicated to Leo Xu Projects’ roster, which steers the show to an apocalyptic urban fringe. Liu Shiyuan’s Untitled (2014) presents digital collages that combine flowers and fireworks, and which appear to correspond to diary entries that span over 100 years. ‘Yesterday was a thoroughly human day,’ opens an entry dated ‘1989 New York’. Both galleries appear to view present times through a technological Rapture. Emblematic of Condo’s overall collegiality, it might be the only time I’m ever permitted to write this: Dear Metro Pictures (and Leo Xu), I’m a fan.
Mexico City’s Labor offers ‘Las Ruinas Circularas’ a group show loosely based on geologic time. Each piece is a little precious: large-scale drawings of rocks by Gala Porras-Kim are somewhat awkwardly tacked up behind an over-complicated system of stanchions and Plexiglas. Etienne Chambaud retrofitted a rock with some flashy, pyrite-looking crystals also designed to look like dice. There’s a big, ol’ painting covered in the ever-beautiful verdigris of oxidized copper, again by Chambaud. Slowness, check. Entropy, check. Process, check. Nicholas Mangan's video A World Undone provides a stunning and peaceful respite from the midday clamour: a dust cloud whirls into various constellations, pulsing between micro and macro perspectives that enhance the darkened room’s already satisfying quiet.
What redeemed the show for me was an experience I had right before I saw it: a crab waddled in front of me on the sidewalk. Fleeing a neighbouring fish market, the fugitive crustacean almost reached the curb before surrendering to a fishmonger’s tongs. Both crabby and the show presented an opportunity to think about a broader ecology, characterized here by the smell of fish.
Arson, murder, ageing, missing-persons, crime, depression, sadism and decay are just some of the themes that unite Bureau and Carlos/Ishikawa complimentary programmes. They share a similar sensibility –horror? gruesomeness? dark humour? – that will leave one tense in the shoulders. I laughed at Fatebe, artist Ebecho Muslimova’s pliantly corpulent proxy, who performs all manner of silly contortions in a series of drawings. But it didn’t feel like an ordinary laugh. Instead, catharsis comes from facing down more discomforting prospects. Steve Bishop’s I can’t get started (2017) distills the dark hole of melancholy into a moody mise-en-scène comprising a breakfast platter with day-old cereal bowl and radio. Really, what’s the use in cleaning up? In Issy Wood’s still I guess family means different things to different (2017), a rabbit looks ravaged by panic, the result of rabies or perhaps some pharmaceutical tests. It is possible, however, to have more sympathy for the rabbit than the mangled baby that dangles at the centre of Discovery of Honey (2017), Lionel Maunz’s fucked-up sculptural allegory. Art holds the potential to dehumanize, but what’s on exhibit is just how slippery that word is. Human.
Harumi Yamaguchi came of age during the 1970s, pioneering the use of airbrush in commercial portraiture in Japan for the next several decades. Her major patron was PARCO, a cross between a commercial and cultural centre, and she developed what is most accurately described as their whole vibe. She was also part of the ‘Shibuya Girls’, a Japanese feminist movement defined by professional mobility and a prescient, agile, commercial sensibility. But none of these details adequately explain the experience these works, and their fierce femmes, engender. Recourse to the models’ expressions and actions yields little clarity, too. One woman’s eyes are fastened on us, while she crouches in a prowl. Another woman splashes with a garden hose, and looks astounded. Another appears caught in the awkward pause between poses. They all wear silk. It’s all in Yamaguchi’s expert handling of her pen, which flattens every gesture, and makes it feel like veracity is not a matter of lifelikeness, but how directly the image corresponds to your desire. Oh, and the whole room is painted satin pink.
Condo New York runs 29 June – 28 July, 2017. See their website for more details here.
For more current exhibitions in New York head over to On View.
Main image: Dylan Spaysky, Alivia and Daniel, both 2017, installation view, Andrew Kreps, New York. Courtesy: What Pipeline, Detroit