Through Oct. 16. David Zwirner, 537 West 20th Street, Manhattan; 212-517-8677; davidzwirner.com.
This year’s enormous Alice Neel show at the Met deserved its acclaim. But it included such a wealth of Neel’s mature portraits — humane figures often surrounded by blue lines — that it was hard not to see her earlier work as a transitional phase.
The canvases in “Alice Neel: The Early Years,” at David Zwirner, curated by Ginny Neel, the artist’s daughter-in-law, with Bellatrix Hubert, are a remedy. Spanning more than three decades (1927-1959), they are arranged, very loosely, in order of size and weight as well as chronology, as if to guide viewers toward a transcendent encounter with the artist’s grown sons. Captured, with Neel’s singular magic, sitting regally, “Richard” (1959) and “Hartley” (1957) are pulsing, slippery and alive, at once present and opaque.
Until you get to them, though, the show’s emphasis is on the strange and grimy landscapes, dreamscapes and caricatures of Neel’s 1930s and ’40s. Though her fabulous eye for emotional detail is already there — notice for the impatient bohemian raising his eyebrows in “Village Party” (1933) — in many ways she’s still learning to paint. A receding street in “Under the Brooklyn Bridge” (1932), for example, looks more like a hill of clay, and many of the compositions are distinctly awkward. But that very awkwardness and idiosyncrasy, given its own space, is also a robust way of depicting an intense and mysterious world. Look at those red and yellow buildings under the Brooklyn Bridge, crammed edge to edge and crushed over the street: You’ll hear the clatter of trains overhead and feel the energy of a chaotic metropolis. Consider the obtrusive green fence behind her Village party: You’ll feel hemmed in and claustrophobic, too.
Through Nov. 13. JTT, 191 Chrystie Street, Manhattan. 212-574-8152; jttnyc.com.
At first sight, I thought Diane Simpson’s exhibition “Point of View” looked like the set of an absurdist play. To the left, a window frame on the wall; to the right, a transom without a door. In the middle, a piece of a banister and two hard-to-categorize shapes. The works looked polished yet handmade, whole yet distorted. They could have been bespoke architecture toys enlarged to human scale.
For decades, Simpson, who is based in Chicago and continues to make art at the age of 86, has been finding inspiration in constituent elements: parts of outfits or items of clothing, bits of buildings, fixtures of furniture. These are the starting points for objects that she imagines and draws using axonometric projection, which means they’re shown at an angle to the surface of the page, allowing for a better sense of their form. Simpson then turns the drawings into sculptures made from mostly hard, humble materials like fiberboard: from three dimensions to two and back to three, with abstractions and distortions incorporated along the way.
This process helps explain why Simpson’s works seem to exist in some liminal state between recognizability and foreignness. The free-standing ones especially, like “Two Point Enclosure” (2020), confound your perspective as you walk around them, trying to reconcile conflicting points of view. Their weirdness and whimsy are offset by the meticulousness of their construction, from neatly fitted joints to the careful pencil lines on “Grained Chimney” (2019). Simpson’s art suggests an unwavering commitment to what’s often considered fanciful — the details of the world that many of us need prompting to see.
‘Convergent Evolutions: The Conscious of Body Work’
Through Oct. 23. Pace Gallery, 510 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-421-3292; pacegallery.com
Dispense with the opaque title and description of this show and throw yourself into the work, which explores the idea that while some people claim space (physical, digital, even imaginative) on their own terms, others are claimed by it — objectified because of gender, race, or other markers of difference. The 17 artists in the show, both veterans and relative newcomers, visualize their subjects in ways that, paradoxically, allow them to remain beyond the viewer’s gaze.
Take the opening pairing: Lucas Samaras’s “Panorama,” a 1983 assemblage of overlapping Polaroids offering a 360-degree view of his studio (including him standing within it), and Caitlin Cherry’s “Quaternion” (2021), a painting mounted on a pivoting metal frame that looks like an Imax screen. In both cases, the artists refer to technologies that are supposed to enhance our view while simultaneously frustrating our ability to see: Samaras’s body is too fragmented; the Black sex workers and other Instagram stars in Cherry’s painting are too overlaid with iridescent, moiré patterns.
Bodies are everywhere and nowhere. A female figure moons the viewer in Kiki Smith’s “Untitled III (Upside-Down Body With Beads),” from 1993, but our access is blocked by thousands of beads arranged on the floor. Chibuike Uzoma’s oil and acrylic spray-painted canvases of blurred men are installed in an inaccessible nook, viewable only through windows. Bodies are abstracted, as in Marina Perez Simão’s untitled oil painting that hovers between landscape and a laparoscopic vision of the body’s interior, or presented via surrogates, as in Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola’s corporeal canvases consisting of hundreds of durags. By complicating the viewer’s visual grasp of others’ bodies, these artists make us hyper-aware of our own visibility.
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