Gallery  September 25, 2020  Paul Laster

Reality Rendered Raw: 6 New York Solo Shows

Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery 

Installation view, Tal R: Boy Walking and Cinnamon: Sculptures and Paintings, Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

Over the past few years representational painting has been at the forefront of the gallery scene in both America and Europe. Although some artists prefer painting from life with a fine line, there are others who find a looser, rawer portrayal of reality more to their liking—and those are the artists we are focusing on today. 

Rounding up six New York solo shows that highlight reality rendered raw, we take you around the town for a look at some of the best painting and sculpture being made today.

Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery

Tal R, Untitled Flowers, 2020.

Tal R: Boy Walking and Cinnamon: Sculptures and Paintings
Anton Kern Gallery
September 9 – October 24, 2020

A Tel Aviv-born Danish artist who lives and works in Copenhagen, Tal R has an encyclopedic knowledge of European modernism, which he playfully taps into when making his colorful paintings and sculptures. With more than a hundred one-person exhibitions worldwide since 1994, the artist is making his solo show debut with Anton Kern Gallery, after nine previous one-person outings in New York. 

Presenting 15 recent, large-scale still life paintings and 12 bronze sculptures, Tal R turns the first two floors of the dynamically designed gallery into a lively playground of color and form. Rendered in a crude, childlike manner akin to the work of an Outsider artist, his flatly composed paintings feature toys on tabletops, flowers in vessels, and birds in cages. Inspired by the soul-searching short stories of Polish writer Bruno Schultz that were compiled into the 1934 book The Cinnamon Shops, the introspective paintings take us back in time—both in the objects portrayed, which have a straightforward, folksy quality to them, and the simple, color-saturated depictions of the still life subjects and their semi-abstract settings.

Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery

Installation view, Tal R: Boy Walking and Cinnamon: Sculptures and Paintings, Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

People and animals are the point of departure for the larger-than-life bronzes. Capturing such imaginary characters as a headless drummer boy, a circular-winged bat, and Copenhagen’s celebrated harbor statue of the little mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale in mashed-together clumps of hand-modeled clay, the artist eternally preserves these random relics in the high-art material of bronze. Speaking about the sculptures on a video walkthrough of the show, Tal R proclaimed “…they are all, somehow, walking from somewhere that has no language—where all the words that we have in our pockets are difficult to pull up—and I think that’s what art should be about, something that starts where language stops.”

Courtesy David Zwirner

Installation view, Josh Smith: Spectre, David Zwirner, New York, 2020.

Josh Smith: Spectre
David Zwirner
September 15 – October 24, 2020

A new series of paintings and monotypes, which the Brooklyn-based artist began in March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, when his industrial Bushwick neighborhood was in lockdown and the streets were empty, Josh Smith’s latest canvases convey a kind of old Hollywood studio street scene environment, where some sort of melodramatic activity is about to take place. 

“I’m interested in taking the mess that our world has become and just organizing it for a moment onto a squared surface,” Smith told an interviewer in 2016. “It’s the closest I’ll come to being a poet.”

Courtesy David Zwirner

Josh Smith, Untitled, 2020.

Robustly painted, the expressionistic works capture the stark, people-free paths of a rundown realm from a bygone era. Vibrantly colored buildings sprout striped awnings, railed stairs, and dangling fire escapes, while the neighborhood’s winding roads and stretched out skies are seen swirling with parallel hues and hallucinogenic, mixed together tints. Without a single soul visible in the blank windows of the houses or on the deserted streets, it’s the viewer who becomes the occupant of an otherworldly city that’s all his own.

Courtesy Petzel Gallery

Installation view, Nicola Tyson: Sense of Self, Petzel Gallery, New York.

Nicola Tyson: Sense of Self
Petzel 
September 2 – October 3, 2020

A London-born artist living and working in Upstate New York, Nicola Tyson makes psychologically charged figurative paintings, drawings, and sculptures that border on the abstract. Presenting five new self-portraits and a suite of four still-life paintings of bouquets of flowers, her tenth exhibition with the gallery captures a sense of self that was informed by the isolation of the pandemic yet developed to reveal the strength she gained from it.

“The fact that the show is emphasizing self-portraits wasn’t so much due to the pandemic but I kind of became glad that that was in an odd sort of way what I had decided to focus upon because we all needed to ground ourselves,” the artist stated in an online video accompanying the show. “You know, we only had ourselves, so it became a more intense relationship.”

Courtesy Petzel Gallery

Nicola Tyson, Self-Portrait: Stripes, 2020.

At times, a red mop of hair is the only thing that identifies the figures in her paintings as Tyson herself. Often looking more like hybrid animals or mutated plant life, the distorted figures float between the frightening and the surreal. The painting Don’t Look Back portrays a perplexing persona that epitomizes what French poet André Breton called “convulsive beauty.” At one moment appearing to be an octopus-like creature approaching its prey, while at another glimpse it looks like a panicked person running away. Her canvas Self-Portrait: Wings, however, depicts an angelic character—albeit a dark angel—being lifted from a lower state into the unknown.

Big Yellow Self-Portrait resembles a giant gourd with a dress and wig, while Self-Portrait: Stripes presents a stylishly robed figure standing erect like a tree that’s firmly planted in the ground. The smaller, bouquet paintings further blur the line between the supernatural and the real, with the strange arrangements of flowers taking on animalistic traits. Seemingly in sync with nature, Tyson creates boldly brushed canvases that unabashedly flaunt their graphic origins while maintaining a sense of mystery by rejecting any attempt to define fixed meanings for them. 

Courtesy, Grimm Gallery

Installation view, Matthias Weischer: Stage, Grimm Gallery, New York.

Matthias Weischer: Stage
Grimm 
September 3 – October 17, 2020

Best known for his collage-like paintings of age-worn interiors, Matthias Weischer gained international acclaim in the early 2000s as a member of the New Leipzig School, which included artists Neo Rauch, Christoph Ruckhäberle, and David Schnell. After more than two dozen solo shows at galleries and museums around the world, Weischer’s first one-person exhibition in New York features a series of paintings inspired by stage sets that the artist fabricated in his studio. Considering the objects that he places in his paintings as playing specific roles in his compositions, Weischer constructs a dialogue between the realism of the furnishings and the abstract attributes of the rooms.

Toying with illusions, the painting Fon, which means hairdryer in German yet sounds like the word phone in English, presents an old pink dial-up phone resting on a cabinet that’s only half there, which is similar to the nearby stool that is impossibly supported by only two legs rather than the usual three or four. A decorative painting is held on the wall by a trompe l’oeil painted piece of tape and a pitcher rests on another wall cabinet that’s painted perfectly flat, even though its outline implies a degree of dimensions, while the light fixture attached to the ceiling appears to be both in this room and the adjacent one.

Courtesy Grimm Gallery

Matthias Weischer, Fon, 2020.

Building up the grounds of his canvases with layers of paint, Weischer then chips away at and sands down the surface to get a weathered effect. In paintings like Lounge and Dawn, he adds patterned curtains and plants to create a visual contrast with the architectural formality of the rooms, while in Bulb a wordless thought balloon floating in a modernist interior achieves the same effect.

Small paintings like Bulb and Olympia—depicting a room with an oval-shaped reproduction of Manet’s famous painting on a wall, a view of a pyramid through a window, and a repeated motif of a painting in a magazine on the bed—pack as much punch as the larger canvases in the show. The idea of repeating motifs by making two nearly identical versions of a painting and presenting them side-by-side is a visual game that has preoccupied Weischer for the past few years and is evident in two sets of canvases on view, Mirror 1 and 2, which features a mirror on a wall reflecting contradictory aspects of a room, and Disciple 1 and 2, highlighting two monks interacting in an unfinished space.

“They are two single works created alongside one another in the studio,” the artist recently shared when discussing these types of paintings in a show at his Berlin gallery. “I sometimes make a mark here and then there again. The effect of having two identical paintings hanging next to each other is very interesting. They obviously have a complexity and each gesture is spontaneous, but they are really similar.” And it’s this precise type of visual investigation that makes Weischer’s work stand out.

Courtesy the artist, Jack Hanley Gallery and Marvin Gardens

Installation view, Susumu Kamijo: Lick Me Till Dawn, Jack Hanley Gallery, New York.

Susumu Kamijo: Lick It Till Dawn
Jack Hanley Gallery
September 9 – October 11, 2020

Repeating similar subject matter while aiming at a variety of ends, Brooklyn-based Japanese artist Susumu Kamijo strangely paints poodles in imaginary landscape locales. After establishing his unique style of painting through a series of oils and pastels on paper, the artist is presenting his initial body of works on canvas in this show, which is his solo debut with the gallery. A second one-person show is simultaneously taking place at the Queens-based gallery Marvin Gardens, where the artist has shown in the past.

Working from pictures of friends’ poodles, images culled from magazines and from the Internet, and from shots that he takes when visiting dog shows, the artist uses the animals as a humorous motif for exploring his flat, semi-abstract style of painting.

Courtesy the artist, Jack Hanley Gallery and Marvin Gardens

Susumu Kamijo, Forevermore, 2020.

Forevermore offers a full-frontal view of a surreal red poodle with an orange, blue, and brown face and beaded collar set against a black sky lit by a pink moon. The face of the dog resembles an ancient mask while the animal’s fur is dotted with oval marks to give it a patterned texture and to create a lively visual movement within the painting’s flattened field. This type of action is repeated in other paintings with various patterned motifs filling the poodles’ distinguished forms as they are portrayed face on, in profile, and full-bodied.

Marching to the Sun pairs a blue poodle with an orange one as a big pink sun rises in the background; Joyous Step shows a prancing brown dog that’s dissected into parts, which allows the landscape behind to show through its floating forms; and Catch Me in the Garden places abstract shapes in the head bun, floppy ears, and frontal body parts of a poodle that’s portrayed in front of a row of abstract, cartoon-like trees, which adds further whimsy to an already amusing approach to making art.

Photo: Adam Reich, Courtesy Meredith Rosen Gallery

Installation view, Susan Chen: On Longing, Meredith Rosen Gallery, New York.

Susan Chen: On Longing
Meredith Rosen Gallery
August 15 – September 26, 2020

Fresh out of Columbia University School for the Arts’ graduate program, Susan Chen has been gathering praise for her talent for the past couple of years. Presenting thirteen new paintings in her gallery solo show debut, Chen offers lively depictions of Asian Americans that she has connected with online, along with portraits of family and friends and depictions of the artist at work, hanging out on Columbia’s campus, and preparing to tackle life and all of its obstacles.

“I often paint Asian-American sitters that I connect with on the Internet,” Chen shared on a recent podcast introduction to her show. “Most of them are strangers that I find on social media groups involved with raising awareness of the Asian American experience or empowering the community. Painting sitters has been very interesting because I’ve learned about how other people got here and the prejudices that they’ve experienced in their daily lives.”

Photo: Adam Reich, Courtesy Meredith Rosen Gallery

Susan Chen, COVID-19 Survival Kit, 2020.

Yang Gang shows a group of young people campaigning for Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang near Radio City Music Hall and About Face portrays a group of young women on campus with the names of male philosophers, including Homer and Plato, above the colonnade of columns on a library echoed by the names of women that Chen admires, like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, on another imaginary facade.

Nude Self Portrait captures the artist baring it all while sitting at the easel and drawing the exact same pose in a sketchbook, as though she is about to start the painting we now see. COVID-19 Survival Kit details life under lockdown with the artist surrounded by all of life’s necessities as Dr. Fauci urges people to “stay home” on the television in the background. And Streetcars of Desires depicts the artist resting on an island-like rug surrounded by inspirational books and sunflowers while train cars with the names of influential artists, including such Columbia professors as Gregory Amenoff and Shara Hughes and modern masters like Matisse and Bonnard, circle around Chen as though they are always in her thoughts.

About the Author

Paul Laster

Paul Laster is an artist, critic, curator, editor, and lecturer. He is a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Galerie Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Architectural Digest, Cultured, Garage Magazine, Ocula, ArtPulse, Observer, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was Artkrush’s founding editor, started The Daily Beast's art section and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld Magazine, as well as an Adjunct Curator of Photography at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.

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