by Thomas Love
at Arthur Roger
Rife with tension between humanity and the environment, imposed law and natural order, the twenty-four oil paintings in Amer Kobaslija’s exhibition at Arthur Roger, “Florida Noir,” forecast an ominous future. A Bosnian refugee who studied art in Germany before being granted asylum in the United States in 1997, Kobaslija takes inspiration from the people and landscapes of Florida, where he currently lives. The coastal Southeast is a bellwether
for the effects of climate change—a reality underscored by the hazardous algae blooms in Lake Pontchartrain during the show’s run and by Hurricane Barry, which caused major damage to the region in July. Kobaslija’s scenes of hunters and police officers patrolling forlorn lands suggest a postapocalyptic world, but his paintings also envision quotidian experiences during a slow-moving ecological crisis, with desolate landscapes inhabited by families, children, and pets. Quoting from the canon of European painting in his compositions, Kobaslija asks how historical traditions can aid our understanding of contemporary problems. ...
In the 1950s and ’60s, when he was already one of the most daring photographers in the United States, Roy DeCarava would complain that his critics expected him to be a documenter of black people in the most ploddingly literal sense. Four of his photographs appeared in “The Family of Man,” the Museum of Modern Art’s 1955 kitsch-classic exhibition that was seen by upward of nine million people by the time it finished touring the world, in 1963
. All of DeCarava’s photographs in the show were close-ups of black people: two couples embracing, a bassist, and a man walking up subway stairs. All but the bassist were plainly lit. While the images were compelling, they did little to challenge the exhibition’s bland, chirpy humanism.As his career progressed, DeCarava, who lived in New York and died in 2009, stripped more and more of the literal from his work. He continued to photograph black people, but the techniques he’d already begun to experiment with in the years prior to “The Family of Man” led him into lyrical, atmospheric territory in which subjects were abstracted from their environments, environments turned into shapes, and shapes softened—the artist, in short, developing a catalogue of the ways one could photograph blackness without merely documenting it....
at Michael Benevento
by Leah Ollman
The paintings that Pennsylvania-based Dona Nelson has been making in the most recent years of her nearly five-decade career are commonly referred to as double-sided, but that description is incomplete and limiting. Nelson does engage the canvas’s front and back in a rich, reciprocal relationship, but the sides matter, too. For some works in this vital show, titled “Painting the Magic Mountain,” she wrapped the canvas around stretcher bars and
stapled it to the back, but in many cases she pinned the fabric’s raw edges to the sides of the wooden frames, activating otherwise uneventful planes with bold, staccato lines of tack heads. In a painting suspended overhead, the bottom played a role as well. It’s not a metaphorical leap to suggest that Nelson’s paintings also have an inside and outside. Every dimension of her multidimensional work is made relevant.Eighteen pieces (one 2018, the rest 2019) were distributed among four rooms. Most of them, apart from the ceiling-mounted one and a few hung on the wall in the usual way, stood upright, held in steel stands placed on the floor. The pieces addressed the architecture of the gallery and assumed architectural presence themselves as space-defining panels or screens. Eight works in one room (all wryly titled either Shorty Q or Shorty A) were resonant with the scale of the body....
at Paula Cooper
War movies perform a clever trick: they create coherent, digestible narratives out of incomprehensible violence. Christian Marclay inverts this cinematic alchemy in his video 48 War Movies (2019), which premiered at this year’s Venice Biennale and served as the centerpiece of his Paula Cooper show. The work comprises forty-eight war movies edited together so that they play simultaneously atop one another at increasingly smaller sizes, each window
covering all but the outer edges of the underlying one. The result is forty-eight concentric rectangles composed of moving images. The source movies portray conflicts ranging from the American Civil War to the ongoing fighting in Iraq. At moments, recognizable images flit across the thin frames, as if passing by a cracked door: a Confederate uniform, a Vietnam-era helicopter, a World War II flag. Mostly, the slivers of footage merge into a mesmerizing, incoherent throb of colors that creates the effect of looking down an elevator shaft lined with flashing lights. ...