On CNN, the Ball Drop at Times Square—New York City’s long-running New Year’s Eve ball—looked not too dissimilar to mind-altering performance art, inspiring a fleeting few memes online. Then the new year arrived in the midst of an Arctic blast that brought temperatures in New York down below 10F, the coldest of any such celebration in fifty-five years, and the first shows of the year opened on nights as cold as 3F. It’s certainly not the most tempting time of year to brave it out to see some art. Indeed, many top managers, advisers and other art-world luminaries are almost certainly sunning themselves in St. Barths or the like at this very moment. If you can’t afford such sunny luxuries, pull yourself together! There are some really great shows opening this month in the chilly city.
Cheim & Read’s exhibition of work by Barry McGee opened last Thursday, in spite of blizzard conditions that deposited eight or more inches of snow throughout the day. However, a performance by Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, was pushed back until January 15. Alicia Hall Moran, a mezzo-soprano and artist of multiple mediums (including theatre, dance and visual arts), will also be performing at MASS MoCA on 27 January. That production employs experimental uses of the music from Carmen, telling the story of East Germany’s Katarina Witt and American Debi Thomas, figure skaters who both competed and skated with selections from the opera during the 1988 Winter Olympics. The show will be on ice, in case you’ve been especially enjoying the cold.
Spieltrieb is now showing at Jack Hanley Gallery, with works by Polly Apfelbaum, Beverly Fishman, Ryan Mrozowski and Kathleen Ryan. The exhibition’s title refers to German philosopher Friedrich Schiller, and his “spieltrieb”—the “play impulse”. The sculptures and paintings on view are playful. I always delight in Apfelbaum’s bright mutant works and the way in which they confound expectations of divisions between contemporary and modernist imagery, or between two- and three-dimensional art. Downstairs in the same building, at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, is a new show of single-colour canvases by Jim Lee, which opens the same night.
It’s amazing that people devoutly drink iced coffee when the outside is frozen. I guess there’s no accounting for taste. On your way between shows I would stop in at Irving Farm Coffee on Orchard to get a real coffee, a hot one, and trudge through the snow and slush a few more blocks over to Klaus Von Nichtssagend, which currently shows Demetrius Oliver, themed around moving air and featuring paintings, photographs and sculptures rooted in fans.
Afterwards, if you’re hungry, go down the street to Canal, hang a right, and up the block is Dimes, a hip, cosy restaurant with a weird menu that’s really good. Its eclecticism is pretty sure to fit both budgets and diets of, I’m pretty sure, any variety. I like the black rice and the cauliflower.
If you’re in this area, don’t miss the exciting Ebecho Muslimova at Magenta Plains, with drawings of her exuberant everywoman, Fatebe, all smile, libido and cartoon supermorphia.
Also recently opened on 28th Street is Joshua Liner Gallery tenth-anniversary group show, with works by twenty-one artists from its diverse roster. Anniversary shows of this sort can be really wonderful—for instance Anton Kern’s Implosion 20 in 2016 and Jack Hanley’s thirtieth, in January of last year. Such shows are often lovingly and generously curated, and the atmosphere is familial.
A few blocks south, also in Chelsea, at Marlborough Gallery, is a show by the San Francisco-based collective Survival Research Laboratories, led by Mark Pauline. The gallery’s press release describes that Marlborough is “pleased (and slightly nervous)” to mount the exhibition. These guys have been making unwieldy robots that really work for forty years. Their bots produce fireballs, pitch 2x4s with great force, stomp, create lightning, make blood-draining noises, produce shock waves and generally terrify in Futurist-like performances. A friend in San Francisco was in a group show with some of their beasts and texted me a video of one being escorted out the gallery. There’s a terrific 1992 video of the group inaugurating the then-new SFMoMA space with fire; you will be amazed that they were permitted to stage such an event, with a live audience, downtown in an American city.
In the gallery’s viewing room, a show of work by Rita Ackerman and Carol Rama, organized by Leo Fitzpatrick, will likely be quieter, and also worth spending a good amount of time with. Rama’s show at the New Museum over the summer was one of the best in the city in 2017.
From here you can catch the C or E trains at 23rd street and ride down to Canal. A little north, on Mercer between Canal and Grand, is Ronald Feldman, with a show by Cameron Hayes that recalls the work of Bruegel and Bosch. The paintings here are maniacally dense, with sprawling moral tales starring famous personalities such as Caligula, Martina Navratilova and Elmyr de Hory. Perspective goes out the window, and Hayes playfully builds scenes rising vertically, spreading horizontally and receding into space all at the same time. A few blocks east and south of Canal, near Broadway and Franklin, is Postmasters, which is currently showing an exhibition by LA painter Canyon Castator. His work touches on allegory and caricature, and is nonetheless convincing and humane, and has verve. It reminds me of Nicole Eisenman, but with more of the crudity of youth.
It’s well worth taking the L train out to Brooklyn to see John Newman at Safe. The show is curated by Dan Nadel, who is familiar with really weird art having been an editor at the Comics Journal and publisher of books on Gary Panter, Karl Wirsum and the Hairy Who. Newman’s work is also weird, and his sixty-five-year career is surveyed here, with all its polygonal and textural oddities, which combine references to, say, Warner Bros. cartoons, reductivism a lá Robert Mangold or the aforementioned Beverly Fishman, ceramics by Ron Nagle and Ken Price, and the erotic melting of Lynda Benglis.
After Newman’s noodly sculptures and drawings, walk back to the L train Graham Ave. station, take a left, and have some warm Thai food at Sage. It’s unlikely to break any new year’s dieting resolutions, and anyway, it’s really cold out there.