7 Must-See Shows in New York Right Now
Installation view of Tyler Mitchell, “I Can Make You Feel Good,” at the International Center for Photography, 2020. Courtesy of the International Center of Photography.
Here, Artsy’s editors share their favorite exhibitions that recently opened in New York.
Casey Kaplan, 121 West 27th Street
Jan. 23–Feb. 29, 2020
Given her first solo show at a major Manhattan gallery, 28-year-old artist Hannah Levy knocked it out of the park. Her work has long juxtaposed thin, sleek steel forms—often shaped like claws and legs—with pliable, fleshy silicone that she molds to resemble asparagus spears, rubbery dresses, patio furniture, or baby swings. The sculptures’ strange, discomfiting, and often humorous auras simultaneously attract and repel.
At Casey Kaplan, Levy’s practice adopts a new, medieval edge. In the main gallery, she’s hung three steel sculptures on thick linked chains. She’s adorned these tentacled chandeliers with three wildly different flavors of silicone: Across the works, the soft material alternately resembles an inflatable raft with pink nipple air valves, a bumpy cream-colored dress, and tumescent gourds. In the side gallery, smaller steel arms protrude from the wall like sconces, overlaid with her signature silicone asparagus spears. Altogether, the works suggest a wry mingling of quaint antique architecture with the indignities of corporeal experience. The show, as a whole, evokes a fairy tale gone wrong.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue
Nov. 25, 2019–Mar. 1, 2020
This charming exhibition throws visitors into a gilded time warp. The presentation transports you to Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries, where jewelry was big, massive silver basins were in vogue, and science and ornate design were in concert. The objects on view seem to argue that if you’re going to make clocks, levels, and odometers, you might as well make them as spectacular as possible. Intricately adorned automatons (moving mechanical devices)—shaped like a musician, a june bug, and the goddess Diana on her chariot—are particularly alluring relics, which evoke a sense of magic and supreme wealth.
The show also includes a reproduction of The Chess Player (The Turk) (original ca. 1769; reproduction 1975–2005), a sculpture with a fascinating backstory. The life-sized, so-called “Automaton Chess Player” or “Turk” was billed as a mechanized chess player capable of beating most of its flesh-and-blood opponents. A chess master was, in fact, hiding inside the machine. The exhibition text focuses on the awe the work inspired among its audience, which included the author Edgar Allan Poe. This centuries-old object has a particularly contemporary relevance: Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program crowdsources human workers to complete tasks that businesses are unable to automate themselves.
Lisson Gallery, 504 West 24th Street
Jan. 17–Feb. 22
Roy Colmer’s show at Lisson photographs terribly, and it’s immersive in a way that’s totally Instagram-unfriendly—one of my favorite types of exhibitions. It’s a refreshing reminder that even in the age of mechanical reproduction and social media, some in-person art experiences are still sacred.
The exhibition represents the first-ever comprehensive presentation of Colmer’s 1975–76 series “Doors, NYC.” For nearly a year, Colmer photographed every building he passed in New York City. The project resulted in over 3,000 images, capturing Manhattan from tip to tail. At Lisson, the shots are arranged in rows, by block. In one steel frame, for example, minimal text introduces the images: “Canal Street between Mercer Street and Greene Street. Odd numbers.” Trash bags, plaid shirts, and a bike propped in a doorway give character to the façades. Dated typography and signage proudly announce the names of shops and housing: Drama Book Shop, Pocahontas Apartments, and Yankel House of Pile Fabrics. Sometimes, a dark doorway reflects Colmer himself.
Walking among this incredible documentation of the city’s surfaces as they appeared 45 years ago, you might find yourself admiring the exquisite detail in Colmer’s instantly nostalgic work. No matter what your current relationship is with the city, you might find yourself once again enamored. As the Zen saying goes, “Attention is the most basic form of love.”
International Center of Photography, 79 Essex Street
Jan. 25–May 18
In 2018, 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell enjoyed a precocious, career-defining moment: He captured Beyoncé for Vogue and became the first African American photographer to shoot the magazine’s cover. Two years later, Mitchell presents his first solo show in New York, “I Can Make You Feel Good”—an excellent outing at the new Lower East Side location of the International Center of Photography. In the opening wall text, Mitchell explains his intent: “Growing up with Tumblr, I would often come across images of sensual, young attractive white models running around being free and having so much fun—the kind of stuff Larry Clark and Ryan McGinley would make. I seldom saw that freedom for Black people in images—or at least in the photography I knew. My work responds to this lack.” In the galleries that follow, he makes good on that statement.
In one section, bordered by white picket fences and carpeted with astroturf, viewers lounge on pillows and gaze up at a dreamlike video hung from the ceiling, featuring footage of a young black man hula-hooping before a bright blue sky. Just beyond this gallery, a long corridor is filled with Mitchell’s blissful portraits printed on swathes of cotton, linen, and silk and hung from a clothesline—an exhibition strategy that emphasizes his subjects’ sartorial choices and traces his work back to issues of domesticity and labor in the black community.
David Zwirner, 525 & 533 West 19th Street
Jan. 16–Feb. 22
David Zwirner’s unmissable Noah Davis show draws from the trove of around 400 works the artist left behind after his untimely death in 2015, at age 32. Davis, a beloved champion of the Los Angeles art community, was known for founding the Underground Museum with his wife Karon; the unconventional, inclusive space features leading contemporary artists and counters art-world elitism. This show pays tribute to that legacy—with a room that recreates the offices of the Underground Museum, including work by Karon Davis and Kahlil Joseph—while foregrounding Davis’s mesmerizing figurative paintings.
Davis drew from a plethora of sources including family photographs, art history, pop culture, and literature. Building up sheer layers of paint, he created engrossing, soft canvases. Wisps of paint coalesce around black men, women, and children in moments that appear real or imagined, plucked from everyday life or extracted from the talented artist’s mind.
Issy Wood and Doreen Garner
JTT, 191 Chrystie Street
Jan. 8–Feb. 9; Jan. 19–Feb. 23
Issy Wood’s enigmatic show features a curious mix of nostalgia-inducing canvases and painted garments. Works on view showcase the artist’s gauzy application of paint—a style she’s referred to as “lazy smudgy Renoir pointillism”—and her affinity for playful titles. A diptych of Barbra Streisand gazing towards the ring on her left hand is called Barbra discovers she’s married (2018); a still life of a plaster cast of teeth with orthodontia and a bunch of black grapes is called Slouching towards the maxillofacial unit (2018); and a cropped view of the leather driver’s seat and dashboard of a fancy-looking car is Car interior / the sack (2019). Like her writing (entries from Wood’s blogs have been published in compilations), these paintings are not exactly biographical, but they are laced with personal experience. Angsty and sinister at times, they are embedded with symbols related to mental health, social pressures, femininity, beauty, eating disorders, class, and wealth—making them feel quite dark, but ultimately relatable.
Don’t miss Doreen Garner’s works in the back room, a follow-up to her first show at the gallery last April.