July’s art offerings are plenty, and SIXTY’s resident art writer Rob Goyanes is here to whittle things down to a more manageable list. This month, we’ve got poisons (of the literal and figurative sort), cherished childhood throwbacks, and a triptych of video that is sure to knock your socks off. Take a look, and then hit the galleries.
MIAMI: Diego Singh’s ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ at Central Fine
Diego Singh was born during the sunset of military dictatorship in Argentina. A time of severe oppression and violence when people were being forcibly disappeared, Singh developed an ear and eye for the codes of both power and resistance. In his new show, Don’t Get Me Wrong, at the gallery he runs, a group of what he calls “perfect paintings” are on display.
The works are striking, particularly the deep shades of blue and rippling lines that seem to glow. They’re firmly abstract but refer to neon signage. Somehow, Singh recreates their luminescent quality using only oil paint. The works, curvy and sketched, also signify the importance of language in both art and politics—in the latter, how it’s used to gain and exercise authority, and bend entire countries to its will.
This might be because of the scribbled quality of the lines, the clear traces Singh’s hand. But the brushwork is also chaotically applied so that it seem like a monstrous system is at work, an algorithm gone off-the-rails. Singh is keen on exploring the ways that abstraction can result in a threatening aesthetic, how the big swathes of color and nonpictorial shapes contort into the things we fear most. Still, these are beautiful paintings, and may contain scrawled messages of hope, despite the tumult. Through July 15, 2018.
MIAMI: ‘The Power of Poison’ at Frost Science
Besides the social venom described above, Frost Science is hosting an exhibition on actual, real poison. The Power of Poison documents the role of toxins throughout nature and in literature, myth, and culture. Though there are man-made poisons aplenty, the exhibition explores how plants and animals have produced their own poisons naturally—and how literal poison can also be the source of cures.
There’s an immersive recreation of the Chocó-Darién forests of Colombia, where an array of frogs and spiders and caterpillars who produce poison to ward off predators or kill their prey are on view. Besides nature’s poison, there’s also a theatrical exhibit that details the role of toxic substances in human culture, such as Snow White, Harry Potter, and Macbeth. And, of course, no exhibit in South Florida about deadly or paralyzing substances would be complete without a look at the poisons that exist in the region itself.
Florida’s ecosystem is rife with venoms and banes, from brown recluses to water moccasins to jellyfish. But the exhibit dives deeper into the world of poisons, and illustrates the fact that there are extremely low levels of poison in many things, even some of the vegetables we eat everyday. Through September 3, 2018.
NEW YORK CITY: ‘John Akomfrah: Signs of Empire’ at New Museum
It’s impossible for me to describe the breadth and awe of these films by John Akomfrah. The New Museum exhibition of his work, titled Signs of Empire, hints at the scale and emotional potency of what’s on view. Akomfrah, a member of the renowned Black Audio Film Collective, is a pivotal contemporary artist for his use of archival and found footage to depict the history of subjugation.
His film, Vertigo Sea, which screened at the Venice Biennale in 2015, is massive in both size and concept. Three giant screens depict crystal clear images of the ocean: creatures scouring the tops and bottoms of it, a blazing sun melting into its horizon, and the bodies that have traversed across it. Combining footage depicting climate change, slavery, and migration, the three videos independently show a panoply of images, and together they function like a single, churning painting.
His other films on display also illustrate his deft collection and editing of archival and original footage. Taking on subjects that transcend continents and historical epochs, Akomfrah brings to bear the full, planetary force of time and space, in a way that is heart wrenching and sublime. Through September 2, 2018.
NEW YORK CITY: ’74 million million million tons’ at SculptureCenter
What is to be gleaned from an absence, a gap, a space in between? The really incredibly titled 74 million million million tons at SculptureCenter presents a diverse group of artists who examine how art can function as a means of evidence-gathering. Artists are, of course, a inquisitive bunch, but this exhibit opens your eyes to the real value of art as investigative tool.
Shadi Habib Allah uses cellphones to recreate a system used by Bedouins to maintain secret communications via antiquated 2G networks. Carolina Fusilier paints the internal machinery of everyday objects in the same aesthetic vein in which they’re advertised. Hong Kai-Wang conducted workshops with Taiwanese farmers to help them reconstruct a forgotten song sung by sugar cane workers when Japan ruled the country.
The themes, material, and artists come from around the world, but all of them share something in common: discovering what’s hidden, lost, or purposefully obscured. The exhibition doesn’t only expose what is lost or secret—it also demonstrates, through the work of these artists, that the accepted narratives of how the world works should not be taken for granted. Through July 30, 2018.
Few artists have had such a resounding cultural impact as Jim Henson. He practically raised generations of kids through his work as a puppeteer, and an exhibition at Skirball Cultural Center is showing some of his most iconic creations, from Kermit the Frog, to Ernie and Bert, to the universe of Fraggle Rock.
Traveling from the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the exhibition contains 25 of these unforgettable, indelible characters, as well as a panoply of objects that detail the conceptualization and production of the shows they appeared in, including The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Labyrinth. There are sketches of characters, scripts, photographs, and costumes.
There’s also, of course, footage of these cuddly marionnettes in action, as well as behind-the-scenes takes. Part of the magic appeal of puppets is the knowledge that these characters come to life via the skilled movements of a human, so the exhibition also includes an interactive area where people can try their own hand at puppeteering. The chances that anyone will ever be as masterful as Jim Henson, though, is slim. Through September 2, 2018.
LOS ANGELES: Raul Guerrero at Potts
Mexican-American artist Raul Guerrero has been playfully and insightfully dissecting notions of travel, identity, and place since the 1970s, when he was a student Chouinard Art Institute. An exhibition of Guerrero’s work, titled An Abbreviated History of the Americas, now on view at at Potts gallery, includes works from across his long career. These images reflect not only his historical interests, but how they connect to his very personhood.
Guerrero made a group of works titled Bird Bone Whistles in the ’70s. After finding a book about early California which included detailed images of indigenous artifacts, Guerrero recreated flutes made from seagull bones. Privy to long-term, ambitious projects, for the past 30 years, the artist has also taken on the task of conveying the entire history of American conquest, from European settlement through today.
At times cartoonish, Guerrero unpacks complex histories of objects, including that of the hot dog, and how it was an appropriation of chorizo. For Guerrero, who grew up just minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border, these aren’t just curious cultural facts. They’re part of a much larger process, with consequences that bound between playful and profound. Through September 16, 2018.