’Tis the season for cultural explosion. When it comes to art in the three major metropolises SIXTY calls home, December translates to “too much to see.” That’s why our resident art critic Rob Goyanes studiously skims the calendar in search of the finest exhibits in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. The following picks are a rousing bunch of emerging and established artists at galleries and institutions—all sure to prick the eye and mind alike. Herewith, a few of the best shows in December.
MIAMI: Pedro Neves Marques at PAMM
I’ll bet you haven’t considered the connections between mosquitoes and the far-right politics of late. Pedro Neves Marques is a filmmaker and writer who engages subjects such as Brazilian cannibalism, digital archives, and economics. His work weaves narrative, theory, and history into a tantalizing and disturbing fabric. For his first solo museum show, his film A Mordida (The Bite) is on view at the PAMM—and it draws blood.
The film is sorta like a suspenseful arthouse thriller. One of its settings is a Brazilian lab using genetically modified mosquitoes to eradicate its kin which contain Zika and Dengue Fever. Beyond the obvious technological thrust, it examines the ways in which laboratories (and ecologies) are gendered. But there’s no didactic dryness: Marques waxes on these ideas like a master of dystopian sci-fi.
Besides the scientists in the lab, the other arc of the film is a character struggling against the rise of Brazilian fascist conservatism, drawing parallels between the spread and containment of disease and contemptuous politics. With brooding synths and creepy tight shots, Marques is guaranteed to get under your skin. Through July 28, 2019.
MIAMI: Jim Drain at Nina Johnson
A little contemporary art history: Forcefield was an artist collective/band in Providence, Rhode Island that espoused wild integrations of material, figuration, and abstraction, primarily known for their full-body knit suits. Shortly after their inclusion in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the group disbanded. One of its members included Jim Drain.
Drain’s work today retains the DIY ethos and material concerns of the Forcefield days. Assemblage-y and brightly colored, with a deadpan humor and slightly detectable politicization, Drain merges fabric and sculpture and collage. For his solo show at Nina Johnson, titled Zapf Dingbats, Drain is drawing on a favored topic of his: utopia.
Cotton, silk, beading, appliqué: these are just a few of the materials and methods he’s employing in the new works, which include 3D collages and specially designed wallpaper. Though not obviously political, I suggest you inquire regarding the symbolic language at play in some of the pieces—there’s a hidden message in the revelry. Through January 5, 2019.
NEW YORK: Tauba Auerbach at Paula Cooper
For those who like their art on a cosmic level, Tauba Auerbach delivers at every scale. Drawing from quantum mechanics to recent discoveries in anatomy, Auerbach creates intriguing work that explores form and concept with equal heft. However, she’s not the kind of artist who’s simply interested in science: Auerbach also pulls from what might be considered more archaic fields.
Her exhibition at Paula Cooper includes a sculpture that references an inexplicable healing tremor; a restaging of an wave-particle experiment using silicone droplets; and other works that present material specimens and their gripping, automated behaviors. Besides the phenomenon explored, the audience’s observation is key to the works, bringing up questions of the philosophy of science and how we know what we (think we) know.
Also on view are the artist’s Ligature Drawings, a series of calligraphic works that meditatively repeat, like code or rhythm materialized. They close the distance between science and spirit, objective and subjective reality. Oscillating between warm and cold, supple and mechanic, the show is a meditation on how mathematics is a language everything speaks. Through December 22, 2018.
NEW YORK: Martha Rosler at the Jewish Museum
It isn’t easy to sum up Martha Rosler’s work in the little space we have here, but, in short, Rosler has shaken up the art world for over 50 years. Biting feminist critique, dissections of the public/private dichotomy, and multimedia dexterity have made her one of art’s most respected makers and thinkers. A big survey of her work at the Jewish Museum is both timely and necessary.
Rosler’s most well-known early works, from 1967 to 1972, combined media images of the Vietnam War with clippings from home decorating magazines aimed at women, suggesting the complicity of wartime housewives. Throughout her career, domestic space has been a target of her work: her iconic video piece “Semiotics of the Kitchen” shows Rosler parodying kitchenware demonstrations.
Her photomontages, videos, and writings have electrified aesthetic as well as political nerves, and her more recent work—which takes on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as gentrification in New York—continues to strike a belligerently critical tone. It’s suiting then that this survey, in a play on the pompous idea of an artist retrospective, is titled Martha Rosler: Irrespective. Through March 3, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: David Horvitz at Chateau Shatto
Plants make a home, but they can also make an art show—if done right. Though a trend in recent exhibitions, David Horvitz’s use of plants in his show is a pleasing and intrinsic crux. Titled a n e m o c h o r y, and taking place at Château Shatto, Horvitz is interested in the ways that natural and unnatural materials cross borders, and how they change along the way.
Horvitz’s oeuvre spans many media and concerns, and he’s also taken on the role of gallerist, bookmaker, and internet artist. He’s maybe most famous for his work titled “Mood Disorder,” wherein he took a photo of himself cradling the crown of his head and uploaded it to the Wikipedia page for mood disorder. He was playing on the idea of stereotypical imagery, but his new exhibition at Château Shatto is not stock.
The word “anemochory” means the dispersal of seeds by wind, and indeed the show contains a lot of movement. From neon to photos to texts—and the aforementioned plants—Horvitz is examining the interrelations of disparate things, from oceans to postcards, marble to glass. Through December 15, 2018.
LOS ANGELES: Sally Mann at the Getty
Photographer Sally Mann gained national attention in the early ’90s for the photographs of her children at the family’s summer cabin. Though heralded for their beauty—large format, black and white images that are truly astounding—people like Pat Robertson assailed her because, in some of the photos, her children were naked, skinny dipping or napping or romping through the forest.
Prude and body-shaming critics aside, Mann has continued her practice as a documenter of life. Titled Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, this exhibition at the Getty is the first major survey of Mann’s work, and represents a haunting collection of imagery that reflects on family, landscape, decay, and joy. The American South figures powerfully as a character in its own right within these images.
Besides portraits of her children—seen in the midst of play but also in moments of loneliness and anger—there are compelling shots of scarred trees, eerie swamps, and beguiling churches. Cinematic and elegiac, Mann’s work conveys the emotional complexity not just of humans, but of lands and objects, and the frailty of it all. This is a heartbreakingly beautiful show. Through February 10, 2019.
Header photo: Tauba Auerbach, Still from Pilot Wave Induction III. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery.