4 Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now

4 Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now

Jack Pierson

Through Feb. 13. Kerry Schuss Gallery, 73 Leonard Street, Manhattan; (212) 291-9918; kerryschussgallery.com.

The deep content of Jack Pierson’s art is the vulnerability of life devoured by time. His primary materials are scavenged objects that he fashions into temporary arrangements, not finished artworks. His well-known word sculptures, for example, are basically detachable assemblages made of the bulky mismatched letters from old various signs nailed individually to the wall. What they spell out can be raw or tender: “You Don’t Own Me,” “Stay” and “His Quiet Waters.” His installation works center on one or two pieces of old furniture — a small dressing table, for instance — and can suggest a corner of someone’s modest past. And his lush photographs, whether of beautiful young men or tossed-off moments from his own life, have an overt freshness that we know will wilt.

Thanks to lockdown, the works in “Five New Pieces,” Pierson’s show at Kerry Schuss Gallery, are made from materials around his studio: assorted sheets of plastic, paper, foil and fabric that he pinned to the wall in squared-off arrangements that resemble paintings but with none of their solidity. “Blue” is an assembly of blue papers, a row of small berry cartons, a flattened Adidas box and a piece of spray-painted cardboard. “Pink” builds on the deep red of an Indian paisley bedspread, with flattened boxes for fruit and beer, Brillo and Coke. And “Empire,” mostly aluminum foil and clear plastic, is a clear homage to Andy Warhol and his famous film of the same name. “Xerox” punctuates dark garbage bags with ribbon, egg-carton foam and an old jazz club poster, while the relatively careworn “Ode” employs foam rubber, Styrofoam and two pieces of cardboard with orbs of spray-painted black and red. This piece conjures most directly the work of Robert Rauschenberg, to whom Pierson owes an obvious debt but also manages to circumvent with the clarity of his compositions, his color and that fragile, distinctly Piersonian elegance.

ROBERTA SMITH

Marsha Pels

Through Feb. 7. Lubov, 5 East Broadway, Ste. 402, Manhattan; 347-496-5833; lubov.nyc.

Jewels, in addition to being pretty, are symbols of culture and status. They can signify wealth or something less obvious, like patriotic pride. Such was the case with early-19th-century cut-steel and Berlin iron jewelry, which was given by Prussian royals to citizens who donated more valuable gems to help fund military campaigns.

Marsha Pels’s “Fallout Necklace” (2018) is a supercharged and supersized version of those unusual pieces. Part of a series called “Trophies of Abuse,” it hangs from the ceiling and fills an entire room. The artist has wielded an impressively intricate design from patined cast aluminum and steel, with inset glass portraits of world leaders. They run the gamut from autocratic to democratic — Kim Jong-un to Donald J. Trump to Angela Merkel — all equalized within the display. The necklace has the air of a speculative artifact, an imposing piece of treasure that suggests the distortional effects of power.

Suspended in the next room is a more intimate work that Pels — a longtime sculptor who’s invested in mastering materials as much as in crafting large, conceptual installations — made 20 years prior. “Pieta” (1998) creates the phantom form of a woman from a cast-bronze fetish outfit and gas mask. Rather than cradling her child, though, she holds a cast-crystal baby away from her, as if it were an offering.

This exhibition is titled “Solace,” but Pels’s artworks challenge more than they soothe. Maybe the consolation comes from transmuting complex emotions and weighty observations into objects that are boldly and beautifully precise.

JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Gordon Hookey

Through Feb. 20. Fort Gansevoort, 5 Ninth Avenue, Manhattan; fortgansevoort.com.

One of the biggest art world tempests in 2020 involved the postponement of a traveling retrospective of the work of Philip Guston (1913-1980), a white American artist who had painted hooded figures reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan members. Hooded figures arrive in 2021 from a very different source: the paintings of the Australian Aboriginal artist Gordon Hookey, in “Sacred Nation, Scared Nation,” an online exhibition organized in collaboration with the American artist Gary Simmons at Fort Gansevoort.

Hookey often focuses on popular spectacles, and the sinister hooded figures appear as audience members and occasional stars of his paintings. Trump, Elvis Presley, Osama bin Laden and a host of soccer players and political figures also appear throughout the paintings, which serve as sharp critiques of racism, colonialism and systemic oppression. Some of the works I can mention here are “Victory, Solidarity, Peace and Freedom” (2016) and “Elvis” (2003): Both are bright colored oil on canvas works, couched in a cheerful, comics-inspired Pop Art idiom, which point out how cultural appropriation and racism pervade sports and popular music.

A number of other paintings have unprintable titles or texts, often relating to female genitalia, which soccer hooligans and thugs have hurled at Indigenous players on the field. Similar epithets have been used in paintings by female artists like Lee Lozano, Judith Bernstein and Kathe Burkhart, in those cases offering feminist commentary on violence perpetrated against women. Here the misogyny goes unexplained or doesn’t fully translate, which is unfortunate, since much of what emanates from Hookey’s works — like the hoods in Guston’s paintings — is laudable, fearless and inspiring.

MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Emily Mason

Through Feb. 13. Miles McEnery, 520 West 21st Street, Manhattan; 212-445-0051; milesmcenery.com.

In 1979, the abstract painter Emily Mason quit a shared studio and took over an enormous loft on 20th Street in Chelsea. Mason, who died at the age of 87 in 2019, was the daughter of the great midcentury abstract expressionist Alice Trumbull Mason, and the painter she’d been sharing a studio with was her husband, Wolf Kahn. So it probably stands to reason that the canvases she produced in her own new space — 22 examples make up “Chelsea Paintings,” her first posthumous New York gallery show — were larger and more exuberant than the work she’d made before. (There’s also a show of Klimt-like but fantasy-colored views of birch woods by Kahn, who died last year, at the gallery’s other space.)

Her colors are so splashy, in fact, that I confess they put me off at first. Cascading tides of bright yellows and pinks can easily look garish, and so can the often raggedy edges between them. It takes a little while to get used to the volume and pick out the subtleties. But once you do, you find constructions as delicate and deceptive as spider silk.

The most successful of the paintings, or anyway my own favorite, is “The Bullock Farm,” 1987, in which an orange triangle crashes across a deep blue sky into yellow ground. The composition is balanced, but not exactly in harmony, and none of the overlaps are quite what they seem. As you try to get your bearings, the whole thing recedes like a desert mirage.

WILL HEINRICH

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