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What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in March

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This week in Newly Reviewed, Holland Cotter covers the Studio Museum in Harlem’s residency results at MoMA PS1, Sarah Grilo’s little-seen paintings at Galerie Lelong and Mary Lucier’s heartfelt video art at Cristin Tierney Gallery.

Through April 8. MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Queens; (718) 784-2086, momaps1.org.

In 1968, the Studio Museum in Harlem initiated a yearly residency program that provided a stipend and studio space for making new art, with, as the museum’s website notes, “priority given to artists working in nontraditional materials.” This year’s cohort of three young participants handily meets that formal criterion, as seen in their lively topping-off show, hosted by MoMA PS1 while the Studio Museum’s new building is under construction.

Two of the artists create imaginative worlds from found materials. The first thing you see in a gallery of work by the Haitian-born Jeffrey Meris is a large suspended sculpture, “To the Rising Sun,” made from dozens of outward-bristling crutches held together with C-clamps. The solar reference makes descriptive sense, though the piece also suggests a giant coronavirus. Apocalyptic, trending Afrofuturist, is the vibe here, in the presence of two silicone-cast human bodies that seem to be melting, and a monumental collage called “Imperial Strike” that catches a terrestrial Big Bang in progress.

A second alternative universe, this one a kind of magical garden of paintings and sculptures assembled by Devin N. Morris, is more recognizably earthly, with its images of landscapes and people. But it’s formally even more unorthodox, combining standard art materials (watercolor, pastel, oil paint) with scraps salvaged from Harlem’s streets: dice, mirror shards, electrical cords’ wires, bamboo reeds, silk flowers, nail polish bottles and fentanyl test strips. Morris turns all of this into a kind of walk-through urban Eden of grit and delicacy.

The installation by Charisse Pearlina Weston feels more like a straightforward sculpture display, but this work too has its twists and contortions. Weston’s primary medium is clear blown glass, often slumped, collapsed or broken, and, in some cases etched with barely readable images and words. While staying abstract it clearly alludes to authoritarian tactics including “broken-window policing.” And the work here — organized by Yelena Keller, an assistant curator at the Studio Museum, and Jody Graf, an assistant curator at MoMA PS1 — along with her 2022 solo at the Queens Museum, establishes her a remarkable talent, and one fully arrived.

Through March 30. Galerie Lelong, 528 West 26th Street, Manhattan; (212) 315-0470, galerielelong.com.

The painter Sarah Grilo (1919-2007) was born in Buenos Aires and spent most of her life in Europe. But a Guggenheim fellowship brought her to New York City in 1962, and an eight-year stay here transformed her art, as demonstrated in this fine survey of little-seen paintings — “The New York Years, 1962–70” — organized by Karen Grimson.

Grilo arrived here as a purely abstract painter and stayed one for a while, as the 1963 “Green Painting,” with its brushy blocks of emerald and aquamarine, attests. But the United States, racially divided and headed toward war in Asia, was in a manic mood, and New York was New York, always jacked to the max. Those environmental factors, along with an art world in which Pop was huge and abstraction in retreat, shook up her work.

Her paint application began to get lighter and looser but wired. And she began to add a new element: language, in the form of headlines cut from news magazines. These words and phrases — “Our heroes,” “Win, it’s great for your ego” — filter up from tangles of paint. In 2017 Grilo had a memorable moment with the inclusion of a painting in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction.” The work is on view in the museum’s permanent collection galleries, and it’s great to have a context for it in this fuller sampling at Lelong.

Through March 2. Cristin Tierney Gallery, 219 Bowery, second floor, (212) 594-0550, cristintierney.com.

The experimental video artist Mary Lucier turns the medium that she pioneered in the 1970s in a distinctly personal direction in a wonderful new installation called “Leaving Earth.” The piece begins with a screen scrolling short, ruminative phrases excerpted from a journal kept by Lucier’s husband, the painter Robert Berlind, recording his thoughts on his approaching death in 2015.

These phrases also appear on several other screens affixed at different levels to upright poles in front of the gallery’s west-facing windows. But here the words are interspersed with a succession of images, still and moving. Some are snapshot-like: faces of family and friends; the interior of the house in upstate New York that Lucier and her husband shared. Nature is ever-present in close-ups of breeze-touched field flowers and nesting birds. Mortality, repeatedly, intrudes: in a shot of ground zero on Sept. 11; in pitilessly sustained footage of a dying fawn breathing its last.

Lucier is silently present for all of this: Her face, passive, stares down from a high-up screen. And her husband is present too, seen swimming underwater in a clear stream. “Leaving Earth” is a deeply emotional piece, and a complicated one: a heartfelt lament, a stoic salute and a thing of great beauty.

See the February gallery shows here.

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