Chicago artist Michael Rakowitz’s work often foregrounds his heritage as the son of an Iraqi-Jewish mother and an American father. Familial rituals—cooking, hosting, and archiving the ephemera of personal histories—closely inform his processes and subject matter, as do the cycles of contact and conflict between Arab and Occidental cultures.
Brazilian artist José Leonilson (1957–1993) is a legendary figure in his homeland, where he is esteemed for the poetic vision he expressed during a period of social crisis. His work has rarely been shown in the United States, however, and this illuminating exhibition, “José Leonilson: Empty Man,” offered a comprehensive introduction to his quietly powerful art.
The five oil paintings in Frieda Toranzo Jaeger’s show at Reena Spaulings (all 2017) depict interior views of cars: one looks onto the electric engine of a Formula E racing car, and the other four—alluding to a future in which cars will drive themselves—focus on passenger seats in various electric models designed for the consumer market.
This exhibition remounted Providence-based artist Faith Wilding’s 1982 series “Natural Parables” for the first time since its debut, placing it alongside her works from the past couple years. Although made three and a half decades after the “Natural Parables,” the recent works employ similar conceptual strategies and iconography, raising questions about the relevance of the gendered tropes she invokes in this present political moment.
“Artists of Color” did two things bravely. First, it presented rooms of geometric abstractions, monochromes, and color fields from the likes of Josef Albers, Imi Knoebel, and Jo Baer—the sort of unabashedly pretty pictures that some viewers might dismiss as aloof or a sham. The second was to force the question of what it means to be an artist of color while allowing for ambiguous, complicated answers.
Among the most affecting pieces in this retrospective of work by Emirati conceptualist Hassan Sharif (1951–2016) was Images on Tracing Paper (2015), a simple book of drawings on translucent paper bound with cardboard and sewn together by hand with brightly colored thread.
In the early 1980s, Kenny Scharf, barely out of art school, emerged as a central protagonist of the short-lived, much mythologized East Village scene—a milieu that was celebrated as a neo-neo-avant-garde that collapsed the divide between high and low in its embrace of street culture and, alternately, derided as a bunch of publicity-hungry dilettantes whose bohemian posturing was aimed mostly at the market. By the end of the decade, the scene had been declared dead. Some of its best artists were dead, too.
In the Bay Area, the relationship between art and technology is a common topic for exhibitions. Such shows often focus on artists’ use of new computer programs and hardware. But rather than simply celebrate innovation qua innovation, “Mechanisms” offers broad, diverse interpretations of what machines are and how humans use and are used by them, asking whether it is possible for artists to utilize machines, or make new ones, and still question and challenge their hegemony.
Although Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg has had an extensive career photographing entertainment icons for magazines, another side of her practice has taken place far from the limelight. In 2005, for instance, she created a series of photographs of the homeless population of Jeffersonville, Indiana; a few years later, she photographed an Innupiaq community in Alaska whose existence has been threatened by global warming.
While Performa 17’s haphazardness at times seemed wrongheaded—the curatorial gatekeeping was simply not strict enough—there was an argument hidden in the overabundance. The mess and the potluck spread and the repurposed storefronts and the badly organized lines of people formed their own logic. As Vahtra showed us in her walking tour, New York can be so empty. Performa fills it back up.
The young Abu Dhabi–born photographer Farah Al Qasimi’s first New York solo exhibition, “More Good News,” featured a dozen images, many of them portraying Arab men or—given the artist’s interest in exploring the racial leveling that can occur in the eyes of Westerners—those who might be perceived as such in the West due to their features and clothing. Combining staged and candid shots, the show served as a meta-commentary on how images can codify identity.