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

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Want to see new art in New York this weekend? Check out an exhibition at Mishkin Gallery that pays homage to Puerto Rican art. And at MoMA PS1, in Queens, two artists explore their Aymaran roots.

Flatiron District

Through Dec. 8. Mishkin Gallery, 135 East 22nd Street, Manhattan; 646-660-6653, mishkingallery.baruch.cuny.edu.

Six years ago, Puerto Rico endured the perfect storm of Hurricane Maria and a fiscal crisis, while decolonization discourse peaked on the mainland. But the art scene there has long been grass roots and adaptable. Embajada (or “Embassy”), the curatorial moniker of Manuela Paz and Christopher Rivera, ambitiously take the recent history of Puerto Rican biennials to Manhattan, with a survey of work previously included in three series of international group shows staged between 2000 and 2016. The artists and issues that emerged there remain active and acute. Several participants, like Edra Soto and Daniel Lind-Ramos, have appeared lately in big Caribbean surveys at the Whitney and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The show at Mishkin provides some background.

At the gallery, a line of rolled coins snakes around a vitrine of ephemera. The Mexican artist Damián Ortega produced “100 dólares de dieta” for the first PR Invitational by living without cash and exchanging his $100 stipend for 10,000 pennies. The Gran Tropical Bienal embraced beaches and jungles, represented here by “Escuela de Oficios,” the cattail-fiber mat and crates of printed matter of an outdoor library by Jorge González Santos. On the wall, the mesh “Ponchos Anti-Zika” by Jessica Kairé embody the specter of fever. Mike Egan organized the three Cave-In shows in a cavern that once sheltered nationalist rebels. Artists like Rivera, Andra Ursuta and Candice Lin produced work in situ. Andy Meerow pasted the rock with posters reading “Wet Pain”; on Mishkin’s walls, that raw message hits home. TRAVIS DIEHL

Long Island City

Through Oct. 2 at MoMA PS1; 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens; 718-784-2084, momaps1.org.

Early in the last century, Francisco Tancara helped Protestant Adventist missionaries build schools in Bolivia on Indigenous land. Today, this labor — presumably on behalf of the Indigenous Aymara community — has been used to justify the church’s continuing presence on native land. These and similar stories form the basis of a project at MoMA PS1 by Chuquimamani-Condori and Joshua Chuquimia Crampton, siblings based in California who belong to the Pakajaqi Nation of Aymara people — Tancara was their great-great-grandfather — and who have also released a series of highly acclaimed musical recordings.

The installation here, which refers to their ancestors being confronted by representatives of the colonial church and state, included two Indigenous and migrant justice symposiums, a live musical performance and what remains: a collagelike banner that stretches two floors, and a seating area in front of this “talking altar.” The banner reads like a cosmic map or sci-fi video game, but also enacts an Aymaran form of writing with images called qillqa. In the center is a large qillqa head that breaks apart to reveal photos of Tancara and the artists’ great-great-grandmother, Rosa Quiñones. You can listen on headphones to stories about a family who bought back their land from a colonial government, as well as accounts of sundry brushes with the authorities.

Rather than merely recounting tales of dispossession, though, the siblings refer to their work as “medicine” — specifically Aymara q’iwa and q’iwsa medicine, or “queer medicine.” Forget aesthetic contemplation, artistic innovation or monetary value. The goal here is art reclaimed by the artists for ritual use: healing old historical wounds — and even, perhaps, a sick and ailing planet. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Brooklyn

Through Sept. 10. Art Lot, 206 Columbia Street, Brooklyn; artlotbrooklyn.com.

New York is a tricky place for public space. Many parks and plazas are actually privately owned, and many community gardens have limited open hours. When you’re tired, sick or homeless, the city can feel hostile, in part because it’s so hard to find a seat.

This quandary is, obliquely, the subject of David L. Johnson’s exhibition “Community Garden.” Upon first sight, the title may seem to over-promise: The show consists of 11 assorted planters lined up inside a small, fenced-off plot. The ground is covered with gravel and weeds, and there’s a single bench. But the unassuming aesthetics belie the installation’s radicalness.

All the planters were previously located elsewhere in the city. Not just decorative, they were, according to the gallery release, strategically placed to block access to shade and places of possible rest. Johnson, who was born and raised in New York, has a practice of surreptitiously removing examples of so-called hostile architecture from the streets and exhibiting them as art. Here, the transposed objects have also been repurposed: He cleaned out the detritus inside them and planted wild bergamot, which has medicinal properties and attracts pollinators.

What’s more, Art Lot, normally accessible only by appointment, is open for the run of the show. Anyone can visit anytime, and perhaps take some bergamot with them.

Johnson’s defiant gestures are acts of care and liberation. In the show, former obstructions become facilitators of life, and out in the city, I imagine people sitting where the planters once were and finding some relief. JILLIAN STEINHAUER

SoHo

Through Sept. 10. Pearl River Mart Gallery, 452 Broadway, Manhattan; pearlriver.com.

Move beyond the sphere of the blue-chip world and readily available historical accounts of modern and contemporary art in New York thin out. “Just Between Us: From the Archives of Arlan Huang,” a group show at the venerable Chinese export emporium Pearl River Mart, is a significant addition to one under-recorded narrative: the story of Asian American art and artists in this city.

The San Francisco-born Arlan Huang moved to New York in the late 1960s to study art. He became a fixture of Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, as a practicing artist, business owner and community organizer. There, in the 1970s, he and a fellow artist, Karl Matsuda, opened, on a shoestring, an art framing business, Squid Frames, still in operation (though now in Brooklyn). Over the next two decades Huang participated in two corner-turning Asian American art collectives: Basement Workshop and Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network. Both nurtured artists who had found scant mainstream acceptance. And both expanded what Asian American, as a transnational identifier, could mean.

Huang has also been collecting art, most often through swaps with, or small gifts from, fellow artists, the sources of nearly everything in a show that is a time capsule of an era and a creative culture. Most of the work is small, desk-drawer size: prints, photographs, drawings, paintings. Some names are familiar (Tomie Arai, Ken Chu, Corky Lee, Martin Wong, Lynne Yamamoto, and Danielle Wu, who curated the show with Howie Chen); others less so. As a record of a history still growing, Huang’s archive is a necessity; item by loving item, it’s also a complete delight. HOLLAND COTTER

SoHo

Through Sept. 10. The Drawing Center; 35 Wooster Street, Manhattan; 212-219-2166, drawingcenter.org.

“You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,” the Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) wrote in his best seller “The Prophet” (1923), “but rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.” Gibran’s book, a synthesis of poetry, religion and self-help inspiration, has sold more than 100 million copies. He was also an artist though, which you can see in over 100 works in this overdue show organized by Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center.

In the same way “The Prophet” plumbed the human experience, looking for universal truths, Gibran’s artwork focuses on people. There are charcoal and graphite portraits of famous artists like Auguste Rodin, Albert Pinkham Ryder and Claude Debussy, as well as the psychoanalyst Carl Jung and unidentified mystics. In works like “The Summit” from around 1925 or “The Waterfall” (1919), bodies intertwine and earthly connection suggests uniting with the divine.

Gibran drew from a number of obvious sources: Symbolist art, with its otherworldly aims; the hazy aesthetics of Pictorialist photography; and the idealizing classicism of the Pre-Raphaelites. He mostly rejected the abstraction that reigned in 20th-century art, which partly explains why he was overlooked as an artist. But there is also an unbridled sweetness and fragility to his work that would have been deemed kitsch by many hard-boiled modernist critics (not unlike, for instance, how they viewed Marc Chagall). In our own crisis-riddled moment, Gibran’s art, like his words, is a balm and a portal for rising unbound above the daily strife. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Queens

Through Sept. 10. Queens Museum, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens; 718-592-9700; queensmuseum.org.

Aliza Nisenbaum grew up in Mexico and now lives in New York. So do many of the people in Corona, Queens, whom she’s spent years painting in their homes and workplaces, in her studio at the Queens Museum or while they were enrolled in a class she once taught called “English Through Feminist Art History.” The museum’s wonderful “Queens, Lindo y Querido” (Queens, Beautiful and Beloved), a wide-ranging show of her work, includes portraits of Delta Air Lines and Port Authority employees; of Hitomi Iwasaki, the show’s curator, in her plant-filled office; and of an art class that Nisenbaum offered to food pantry volunteers at the museum, displayed along with a selection of the volunteers’ own works (“El Taller, Queens Museum”).

It’s worth mentioning all of this because Nisenbaum’s interest in people, her need to connect with them, doesn’t just provide content for her paintings — it comes through in their form. Realistic but with heightened colors and flattened planes, they’re homey and glamorous at once, capable of absorbing any number of idiosyncratic details. “El Taller” (The Workshop) presents 10 budding artists, five working on self-portraits with the aid of small mirrors, against the unreal purple mists of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. And then there are the paintings-within-the-painting, each with its own distinctive style, not to mention 19 naïve, multicolored games of “exquisite corpse.” It’s a tribute to Nisenbaum’s generosity — and to her skills with composition — that it all inhabits a single room in harmony. WILL HEINRICH

TriBeCa

Through Oct. 7. 52 Walker, 52 Walker Street, Manhattan; 212-727-1961, 52walker.com.

More like “The Pig Nudes.” The photographer Heji Shin is known to mix high and low — gigantic studio portraits of Kanye West one minute, hard-core gay cop porn the next; as comfortable in glossy magazines as in scrappy galleries. Fittingly, this show puns on the fine-art and fashion photographer Helmut Newton’s 1980s pictures of celebrity skin (called “Big Nudes”). With titles like “Figure Standing” and “Eat Me,” several lush large-scale photographs depict fuzzy, fleshy swine in unsettling modelesque poses, complete with coquettish rows of teats and flicks of tongue. “Reclining Nude,” its peachy subject lying trotters out on a seamless backdrop, is the epitome of porcine soft-core.

Shin’s other series is more somber: Three sets of M.R.I. scans show the artist’s brain, the layers spread out for analysis. If photographs of faces and postures come with the tantalizing promise to penetrate their subject’s essence, Shin’s brain scans represent another order of portraiture. But even as a medical imaging machine lays bare the fatty seat of consciousness, the person remains opaque. The scans push the conceit of the pig pictures into comically bleak territory. “The Big Nudes” promises highbrow titillation but delivers mortality. For Newton’s exquisite models, Shin substitutes an animal similar enough to lend us its heart valves, smart enough to spice our sausages with guilt. The cosmic pun of the pig nudes, really, is to portray both species as meat, plus magic. TRAVIS DIEHL

Upstate

Through Oct. 29. Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, N.Y.; (518) 943-7465, thomascole.org.

A placard on Thomas Cole’s porch marks where the Hudson School patriarch liked to look out at the valley and lament the loss of the wilderness. The irony is that Cole’s fantastic landscapes never quite existed: he wasn’t mourning nature, but the ideal he’d built on it. An exhibition at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site shows the extent to which the idea of landscape has been rethought. His former residence and studio host work by 13 contemporary women and collectives, including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Wendy Red Star, and Jean Shin. A poster in the stairwell by the Guerrilla Girls demystifies the Hudson River School’s boys’ club, while Anna Plesset’s trompe l’oeil painting-of-a-painting, Thomas’s autumnal view of the Cole manse as copied by his sister, Sarah, shows the complexity of the Hudson School legacy.

Across the garden, Cole’s old studio houses the first survey of second-generation Hudson River School painter Susie Barstow — which is also the first survey of any female Hudson River School artist — and six landscape painters from her circle. While the men went big, Barstow earned her reputation specializing in the small- and medium-size canvases popular in the last half of the 19th century. A few of her paintings, like the piercing chartreuse “Sunshine in the Woods,” perform the genre’s best trick, depicting not leaves or trunks in a clearing but something more ephemeral: the air itself. In another picture, aptly titled “Landscape With Fading Tree,” a trunk blends into the sky; nature is literally disappearing. TRAVIS DIEHL

Brooklyn

Through September 23. Higher Pictures, 16 Main Street, Brooklyn; 212-249-6100, higherpictures.com.

Claire Pentecost’s recent photographs are monstrous. As in “Afterparty” (2022-23), they feature mostly human-animal hybrids: A woman in a blonde wig who is sheathed in a black ensemble lies atop another figure, with white-gloved hands who is wearing a red-and-white striped silk shirt but has the head of a deer. Close looking reveals that the “woman” in black has hooves instead of hands at the end of her emaciated arms. Is this a disheveled couple in a passionate embrace or a pair of victims clinging to each other in terror?

The 21 playful, if macabre, photos in the exhibition (all from 2022 and 2023) show characters composed of taxidermy, doll parts, clothes and mannequins. They sometimes reoccur, creating the feeling that one is viewing the pages of some exploded storybook without a logical sequence. Their dingy white-walled spaces are dramatically lit so that the shadows themselves become characters. A drawing of a wooden tall ship directly on the wall becomes a ghostly trace of its subsequent erasure in another. Many of the photographed scenes include paintings, like “Pioneer Cemetery,” which juxtaposes a painted self-portrait of the artist on the wall beside a headless mannequin in a white dress holding the head of a bison. Two feature paintings by the artist’s mother.

The recombinant beings recall the stop-motion puppetry of the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, and has affinities with Greer Lankton, Leonora Carrington and the painter Paula Rego’s use of puppets as models. This shadowy doll-play is Barbie’s antithesis. JOHN VINCLER

Lower East Side

Through Sept. 17. New Museum, 235 Bowery, Manhattan; 212-219-1222, newmuseum.org.

For her first solo museum presentation in the United States, the young Korean artist Mire Lee houses her ambiguous body-horror forms in a PVC room within a room, its translucent sides cloudy with mud and curtained with tattered, clay-soaked shrouds. It’s unclear whether Lee’s bulbous, stringy kinetic sculptures are growing or dying. Electric motors and hydraulic hoses, gurgling and twitching and leaking, animate taupe gobs of silicone, hung with chains and impaled with pipes. It’s a little theatrical on one (rational) level, but on another (psychosexual?), there’s pleasure in the conceit. Like the rubbery wounds in a B horror movie, these faux viscera work on a gut level.

The New Museum show is especially effective, in its humid, muddy quarantine, at provoking the senses: the tent’s raised utility floor, crusted with mud and admitting tubes and wires, clanks under your shoes; the air tastes like sour mud; motors grind and pumps rasp. Outside the tent, along its periphery, are the routers, tanks and transformers, the electronic organs that produce the scenography inside: water periodically trickling down the crankshaft in “Black Sun: Horizontal Sculpture”; the dry suction from a pipe in a cement cauldronlike sculpture with an unprintable title. Stashed around the back of the structure are the mop and vacuum needed to keep the clay inside the tent, out of the rest of the museum. The unsettling power of Lee’s work comes from its refusal to accept boundaries — of sculpture, of obscenity. TRAVIS DIEHL

Newburgh

Through Sept. 24. Elijah Wheat Showroom, 195 Front Street, Newburgh, N.Y. ; 917 -705-8498, elijahwheatshowroom.com.

It might take an exhibition offering more than just crafty visual trickery to pull New Yorkers from their urban warrens up the Hudson Valley in the sweaty days of late summer. “Souvenirs of the Wasteland,” a collaboration between Caitlin McCormack and Katharine Ryals at the Elijah Wheat Showroom in Newburgh is such a show, rewarding the visitor aesthetically and intellectually. It is a slightly satirical take on the universal survey museum, with a wall text by Cara Sheffler that claims the quest for knowledge is essentially “a path of infinite progress” and vitrines containing strange, hybrid creatures that may be fossils, taxidermied specimens or renderings of defunct species. There is also a celebratory nod to horror and the abject — for example, a crocheted piglike creature that sprouts mushrooms from its back, and a “shadow farmer” made of black velvet, wearing a fedora with appliquéd branches and leaves all over its body, like some ghostly goth dryad. Additionally, there is a foreshadowing of the consequences of our ecological crisis, with the depiction of various life-forms, amalgams of cheap jewelry, artificial hair, beads, microplastics and silicone, that here appear as though they have been recovered after extinction. The partnership between McCormack, who supplies the crochet, and Ryals, who does the sculptural work, makes each artist more strangely wonderful.

Since Elijah Wheat was opened in Newburgh in July 2020 by the artists and life partners Carolina Wheat and Liz Nielsen, they have consistently mounted shows that are worth the trip out of the city, especially for the perversely paradisiacal wilderness that is this show. SEPH RODNEY

East Village

Through Sept. 3. The Ukrainian Museum, 222 East Sixth Street, Manhattan; 212-228-0110, theukrainianmuseum.org.

If you know one thing about Janet Sobel (and that is one thing more than most), it’s that she covered canvases with dripped paint in the mid-1940s — before Jackson Pollock did the same. Yet in 1942 and 1943, shortly before she embraced abstraction, this self-taught Ukrainian-born New Yorker painted small, impassioned pictures of soldiers, peasants, cannons and flowers, packed into tight compositions of agony and ardor. Nearly four dozen wartime gouaches by Sobel are at the Ukrainian Museum in the East Village, where her extremity has, to state the obvious and also the essential, a pronounced new relevance.

Sobel was born in 1893 in a shtetl near what is now Dnipro, and emigrated to Brooklyn after her father was murdered during a pogrom. Several pictures here incorporate Ukrainian folk motifs, including the vinok, or crown of flowers, that she daubed on the foreheads of three Eumenides. Many more of her figures, wired by black outlines and augmented by goggle-eyes, have a modern anonymity that recalls Dubuffet: infantrymen in profile scuttle across duckboards, and young men huddle beneath a rich curve of brown (is it a trench?). The artillery has a spare and eternal geometry, though now, on the same territory of eastern Ukraine, it is an artillery war once again.

Under its new director Peter Doroshenko, the Ukrainian Museum has a chance to become a critical site for thinking about this epochal war. (Other recent presentations here include the painter Lesia Khomenko and the photojournalist Maks Levin, who was killed last year by Russian soldiers.) The war is as much about culture as about territory, and New York takes culture seriously. JASON FARAGO



POST AUTHOR: Travis Diehl, Martha Schwendener, Jillian Steinhauer, Will Heinrich, John Vincler, Seph Rodney and Holland Cotter

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