Through Sept. 2 at MoMA PS1; 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, 718-784-2084, momaps1.org.
Gina Beavers’s sculptural paintings are too much. Caked with multiple layers of acrylic paint, they can look like earnest art projects more than bona fide art. However, this survey, “The Life I Deserve” at MoMA PS1 shows Ms. Beavers honing her idiosyncratic aesthetic that translates images into high-relief objects, offering canny statements on contemporary bodies, beauty and culture.
Ms. Beavers begins with pictures borrowed from social media and the internet and remakes them in a very material way: extreme manicures, makeup tutorials and foods simulating body parts. A painting of a body-shaped cake with a slice removed from the buttocks is reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud’s Pop canvases of pastries and cakes, which equated food (or frosting) with painting and consuming art with eating — but amped up to 21st-century internet grotesqueness.
The best-known historical example of a work famous primarily for its excessive paint application is Jay DeFeo’s “The Rose” (1958-66), a near-abstract canvas that weighs nearly a ton. The work hovers on the edge of being gimmicky, relying on the shock-value of paint accretion. Like Ms. DeFeo’s project, the result of a seven-year devotion, however, Ms. Beavers’s works tackle the weirdness of immaterial images floating through the ether, building them up into something monumental, rather than dismissing them, as most of us do. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Through Sept. 13. UrbanGlass, 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn; 718-625-3685, urbanglass.org.
In Monica Cook’s world, and by extension her solo show “Above and Below,” everything is both beautiful and decrepit. Glass serpents gleam in the sculpture “Honeypot” (2019), but the treelike structure they guard appears weathered and aged. The painting “Physalia” (2017) contains a congruous rainbow of colors yet looks like the residue of the chemical processes from an oil-slicked ocean.
For Ms. Cook, decay is not to be avoided or feared. Bringing together castoff objects with handmade ones, organic and artificial materials, she creates mutants and totems that seem less of our world than descended from it — like a glimpse of a mythical, postapocalyptic, but still somehow human future.
What’s unusual about that future is that it feels hopeful. “Receiver” (2017), a marvel of assemblage, suggests that salvaged junk, if recombined in the right way, might just receive broadcast messages. The hollow, headless “Snowsuit” (2015) so stunningly and casually evokes the form of a woman that it seems like skin shed naturally, not through violence. In the video “Milk Tooth,” a grotesque, humanoid pair lives surrounded by animals, eating corn, drinking watery milk, and caring for each other. Rather than be afraid of what comes next, Ms. Cook’s work dares ask, what if we saw in it strange new possibilities? JILLIAN STEINHAUER
‘Day After Day: RongRong and the Beijing East Village’
Through Oct. 12. Walther Collection, 526 West 26th Street, Suite 718, Manhattan; 212-352-0683, walthercollection.com.
What is an avant-garde? It may be a real group, it may be a historian’s later confection, but once every few decades a young, mutinous generation collides with the rogue wave of history, and changes everything. It happened in 15th-century Florence, in 1860s Paris, in 1950s New York — and it happened in Beijing 25 years ago, when a circle of underfed bohemians, including Zhang Huan, Ai Weiwei and Ma Liuming, fought censors and developers to forge contemporary Chinese art.
A 25-year-old photographer named RongRong was among them, and 40-odd black-and-white prints here document the low-rent fecundity of Beijing’s East Village, named in tribute to New York’s own beggared art quarter. RongRong witnessed Mr. Zhang’s fabled, revolting performance “12 Square Meters,” for which the artist slathered his naked body in honey and fish sauce, then let flies gorge on his flesh in a noxious public latrine. He photographed Mr. Zhang’s nude body and shaved head, gleaming with sweat, angst and total dedication — and then wrote to his sister, “It felt like the end of life.”
The police shut down Beijing East Village in 1994. The next quarter-century would witness the flourishing of Chinese contemporary art, and then the arrival of a new president more powerful than any since the Cultural Revolution. If you know your Chinese art history, RongRong’s photographs capture myths as foundational as Pollock dripping paint in front of Hans Namuth’s lens. But you needn’t be an expert to see RongRong’s pictures of these young Beijing hipsters as a lost horizon, effaced by the capital’s harsh new leaders and smooth glass towers. JASON FARAGO
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