Gallery  May 11, 2020  Paul Laster

7 Must-See Virtual Exhibitions From NY Galleries

© Lee Friedlander. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Luhring Augustine, New York 

Lee Friedlander, Philadelphia, 1961.

When New York’s art dealers were forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of them were already equipped to shift shows online, while others quickly created online viewing rooms. In this round-up, we examine seven solo shows at the city’s top galleries, several of which have outposts in other cities, but since online content is accessible worldwide, these virtual sites function as an additional global space for all.

Presenting new projects made during the quarantine, overviews of artists’ extended bodies of works, and looks back at earlier series, these online exhibitions feature introductory videos, slide shows and walkthroughs with the artists, along with the selected images of works being presented to curators, collectors, and viewers like you.

© Marcel Dzama. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Marcel Dzama, I am her minotaur and she is my matador, 2020.

Marcel Dzama: Pink Moon
David Zwirner

Launching its first virtual viewing room in 2017, David Zwirner has one of the most sophisticated online presences of any international gallery, and Marcel Dzama’s Pink Moon exhibition lets viewers see why it’s at the forefront of this innovative movement. Offering a selection of the artist’s never-before-seen drawings inspired by his travels in Mexico and Morocco, the enchanting exhibition features source photos and videos for the two suites of works, slideshows of drawings in progress in the studio, a time-lapse video of the painting of a piece, and a downloadable coloring book of six new versions of the drawings, which was made during quarantine. 

The 2020 Mexican series mashes up memories of a family sojourn south of the border with surreal costumed characters and exotic wild animals. The beguiling I am her minotaur and she is my matador portrays a theatrical femme fatale with a third-eye standing under a palm tree as a mythical minotaur waits in the wings, while Grandmother Nature's portrait depicts a stylish woman in front of a chorus line of dancing dames with beastly heads, with all of them amusingly wearing polka dot dresses. The delightful Moroccan drawings, which were produced in 2018 and will be published in a forthcoming monograph from the Louis Vuitton Travel Book series, also mix reality with fantasy in watercolors of tourists cavorting with monkeys and mannequins sporting patterned kaftans in a store window.

© Martha Jungwirth. Courtesy Fergus McCaffrey

Martha Jungwirth, Untitled, 2019.

Martha Jungwirth
Fergus McCaffrey

The first presentation in the gallery’s new digital platform FM Forward, this online showing for Martha Jungwirth takes a look at the 80-year-old Austrian artist’s gestural abstractions on paper. A video walkthrough shows us her 2019 exhibition at the gallery’s New York venue and a virtual exhibition catalogue with works from that show and a current one at its Tokyo outpost, which is only open by appointment due to COVID-19 closures. In the video Jungwirth discusses her use of a painterly vocabulary of blotches and lines and her personal interest in a “unattractive” aesthetic, in which “the whole process needs to stay exposed.” In an essay on her work, the venerable poet and art critic John Yau proclaims, “she found her own way through a deep, ongoing questioning of what constitutes a picture.”  

The large-scale paintings from her panoramic Bride of the Wind series present layered splotches, strokes, and swipes of watercolors to create a sense of movement across the expansive surfaces of her paper grounds. And in her expressive Cambodia pieces, washes of violet, orange, and fuchsia watercolors rain down upon, form puddles on, and get smeared into the vertical sheets of paper. But the scruffiest paintings are the ones that start with soiled, torn-up sections of heavy brown paper from her studio floor, where she swiftly makes marks on the fields of ground-in paint and grime to build up streaks and blotches of color in tangled relations that are both intuitive and smartly achieved.

© Rineke Dijkstra. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris/London

Rineke Dijkstra, Alessandro and Sofia, London, February 9, 2020, 2020.

Rineke Dijkstra
Marian Goodman Gallery

Originating as a solo show at Marian Goodman’s London locale, Rineke Dijkstra’s engaging exhibition, which features video and photography, became a virtual one when the UK presentation was paused because of the coronavirus lockdown. The online production includes a video of the artist describing Night Watching, a fascinating three-channel installation commissioned by and first shown at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2019. There’s also a selection of her photographic portraits of children and young people in transitional stages of life from the series Family Portraits, Chen and Efrat, and Emma, Lucy, Cecile (Three Sisters), along with some recent commissions and pictures of people in parks.

Filmed at the Rijksmuseum over the course of six evenings when the museum was closed, Night Watching presents fourteen different groups of people from various ethnic backgrounds observing and discussing Rembrandt’s most famous painting, The Night Watch. Projected as a crisp, well-lit, three-screen panorama, the video captures an array of meaningless and significant commentary, as the viewers ponder everything from the creation of the painting and portrayal of the subjects to the time and cost of its production and its role in tourism and place on Instagram. 

“Every time I make a portrait I see it as an encounter,” Dijkstra declares in the introductory video. “I never have a plan before I start. I work from observation and like to improvise,” she adds while we view her striking family portraits. And when she gets to her durational pictures of young subjects photographed year after year, she states, “The passing of time has always been a theme in my work. I return frequently to my subjects to capture them as they grow and change.” 

The success of this strategy is evident in the mesmerizing portrayals of Israeli twin sisters Chen and Efrat, seen over a six-year period, and the vivid portraits of three Amsterdam sisters, photographed yearly for seven years, which marvelously capture an evolution from childhood and puberty to becoming an adult.

© Rashid Johnson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Rashid Johnson, Untitled Anxious Red Drawing, 2020.

Rashid Johnson: Untitled Anxious Red Drawings
Hauser & Wirth

Offering a group of new works made since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Rashid Johnson’s Untitled Anxious Red Drawings presents a variation on the artist’s coveted Anxious Men series of paintings, drawings, and sculptural reliefs, which he usually renders in black and white. In the video for the online exhibition, Johnson talks about his anxiety of being removed from the touch of other people and reflects on life during this time of isolation while he works on one of the expressive, red drawings and his son plays a calming, classical piano piece on a keyboard. 

“While making those scrawled faces and seeing myself reflected in them, I saw them as incredibly anxious characters,” Johnson said in an interview in 2016, shortly after he started the series. “The idea of anxiety and the idea of a world that’s not giving us as many answers as we have questions is something that I’m definitely negotiating in this body of work.” 

This is certainly true of the world we find ourselves in now, and the repetition of the artist’s wide-eyed, blood-red figures signify that we are all in this frightening dilemma together.  At the end of the online exhibition, however, Johnson leaves us with an upbeat list of ways to connect with culture from home that includes his recipe for baby back ribs, a downloadable drawing for your Zoom background, and a playlist of his favorite tunes.

© Arlene Shechet. Courtesy Pace Gallery. Photography by Phoebe d'Heurle

Arlene Shechet, Under cherry trees/ There are/ No strangers, 2020.

Arlene Shechet: Skirts

Another exhibition that began as a physical presentation, one that stages the artist’s first solo show with the gallery, Arlene Shechet’s Skirts has been transformed into an Online Viewing Room production. Blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture and craft and fine art, Shechet works in a variety of media and with diverse techniques to construct her eye-catching 3D pieces. “I’m working with a kind of seduction and I think all artists work with seduction, and that doesn’t mean that scary and repellent aren’t part of a seduction—and the grotesque—all of those things I love, but seduction where I know everybody is going to sneak a touch,” the artist shares during her video walkthrough.

Mixing carved and painted pieces of wood with ceramics and metalwork, Shechet works intuitively to assemble contrasting parts into a compelling work of art. Grammar brandishes the artist’s playful vocabulary in its big, beast-like ceramic structure, which sits atop a handcrafted steel stool with an abstractly painted, carved-wood pedestal form below. Magic Matters employs natural cuts of hardwood that are painted and silver-leafed and then juxtaposed with tubular and shaped sections of steel to make a sculpture that’s both hard and soft, organic and machined. Meanwhile, Under cherry trees/ There are/ No strangers, which resembles a standing figure with a walking stick, merges carved, sharply cut, and painted chunks of laminated wood with a glazed ceramic glob that looks like a morsel of food about to be devoured. Witty and wise, Shechet’s sculptures invite not just touch, but affection.

© Lee Friedlander. Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Luhring Augustine, New York

Lee Friedlander, Galax, Virginia, 1962.

Lee Friedlander: Little Screens
Luhring Augustine

What says isolation more than a television broadcasting its glowing imagery into an empty room? It may not have been his intention in the 1960s when Lee Friedlander made the black-and-white photographs of operating TVs in hotel rooms that are on view in the gallery’s online viewing room show, Little Screens, but it’s what comes across in our new reality. Highlighting pictures within pictures, a modus operandi favored by the photographer, the figures on the screens can be seen as readymade companions for the lone traveler, which Friedlander often was as he moved from city to city for editorial work and shows. 

The series was first published as a 1963 photo-essay with six pictures in Harper's Bazaar, shown in its entirety in a 2001 exhibition at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, and published as a monograph by Afterall Books in 2015. This exhibition brings together twelve of the seminal pictures, which are titled by city and state. Philadelphia captures the friendly face of a woman staring out of a console television that’s positioned amongst two empty chairs and a lamp, while Florida shows a policeman on a motorcycle zooming toward the viewer from a portable TV on a small table next to a radiator. Focusing on what was still a relatively new medium, Friedlander documents the beginning of little screens—now on all sorts of electronic devices—becoming the centers of our attentions, whenever we turn them on.

© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery

Barkley L. Hendricks, Still Life #5, 1968.

Barkley L. Hendricks: In the Paint
Jack Shainman Gallery

Best known for his life-size, realistic portraits of stylish African Americans flaunting hip street fashions in the 1960s and ‘70s, Barkley L. Hendricks captured the pride of a new generation of young men and women during the heyday of the Black Power movement. The gallery’s initial viewing room exhibition, nonetheless, presents another side of his artistic practice—his rarely seen basketball paintings. Inspired by the time he worked with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation as an arts and crafts instructor in the late 1960s and early 1970s, between his years as a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Yale University, these works present a more minimal, more abstract, approach to painting.

Still Life # 5 is a highly unusual still life, but conceptually it fits the category. Depicting a basketball passing through the metal hoop, it conveys both a sexual context and a spiritual situation. The artist’s spiritual side is most evident in the triptych Father, Son, and..., which portrays three backboards on arched canvases moving from darkness to light, while one cannot help but think of a curvaceous body in I Want to Take You Higher, a bright-red, suggestively shaped, abstract painting with black and green borders (the colors of the Black Liberation Flag) that’s bursting with wit. 

The online exhibition also includes a few basketball-themed photographs by Hendricks, who almost always had a camera in hand. One of them, a photo of a homemade backboard that has collapsed and fallen to the ground, looks like a funky sculpture by a self-taught artist, and yet its portrayal of a black rectangle on a white ground has an uncanny relationship to the artist’s more hallowed canvases. These and other works will be part of a forthcoming catalogue of the whole series, published by Skira.

About the Author

Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, advisor, artist, and lecturer. New York Desk Editor for ArtAsiaPacific, Laster is also a Contributing Editor at Raw Vision and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and a contributing writer for Art & Object, OculaGalerie, ArtsySculptureTime Out New YorkConceptual Fine Arts, and Two Coats of Paint. Formerly the Founding Editor of Artkrush, he began The Daily Beast’s art section and was Art Editor at Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine. Laster has also been the Curatorial Advisor for Intersect Art & Design and an Adjunct Curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.

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