Art Beat: 6 Exhibitions to See in January

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What will the year 2020 mean for art? If these exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles are any indication, expect a lot of discovery and rediscovery: artists from the past that have been forgotten or deserve reappraisal, artists from places that aren’t New York or L.A., and those young practitioners fighting for the critical spotlight. Herewith, your guide to the best shows happening this January.

NEW YORK CITY: member: Pope.L at MoMa 

At different points in the past 40 years, an artist named Pope.L could be seen crawling across New York City streets. For different crawls, he would wear a suit as he pulled himself through a gutter, then a Superman costume down the entire length of Broadway. Two major exhibitions—a retrospective at MoMA and a newly commissioned work at the Whitney—showcase his labor-intensive, cerebral performance work.

Since his art-historic crawls are moments in time, the show at MoMA includes a wealth of documentation of the pieces: videos and photos capture the unique interactions and struggles of each. Besides these and other street actions that Pope.L enacted, the show also includes painting, drawing, and installations that people are less familiar with.

The Whitney meanwhile contains an installation called Choir, an 800-gallon upside-down fountain set to a soundtrack of early 20th-century black labor songs and white choirs singing black spirituals. Pope.L has been challenging the conventional narratives around gender, race, and labor for many years, and these exhibitions are an opportunity to discover. MoMA through Feb. 1, 2020, Whitney through March 8, 2020. 

NEW YORK CITY: Manual Override at The Shed

Ever since it burst onto New York’s art scene one year ago this month, The Shed has been presenting some of the freshest, most innovative artists working today. A new show titled Manual Override—referring to the technological systems that are increasingly present in our lives—hinges on one of those most interesting, lesser known artists.

Working for over 40 years, Leeson has developed alter egos, sculptures with artificial intelligence, and robotic installations that probe surveillance, performance, and identity. At The Shed, she has new video works, one of which is a program that creates “digital shadows” of audience members based on the private information of theirs that’s available on the internet.

The other artists in the show, considerably younger and impacted by Leeson’s work, include Martine Syms and Morehshin Allahyari, the latter an Iranian artist who uses 3D printing to think about gender norms and the way we archive. If these artists and Leeson are not on your radar, we highly recommend you surveil this exhibition. Through January 12, 2020. 

NEW YORK CITY: All Connected at New Museum

Ah, good ole’ institutional critique: that brand of artmaking that criticizes the conditions in which it’s produced and circulated. At times lovely, other times yawn-inducing, Hans Haacke was a pioneer of the field and fits firmly in the former. At a moment when museums are being roasted for their problematic relationships, this retrospective at New Museum is right on time.

One work on view, probably his most famous, is “Shapolsky et al Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System as of May 1, 1971.” Consisting of dozens upon dozens of diagrams and maps from public records, the piece showed that just one company dominated the urban space of New York. If this doesn’t sound like art to you, the Guggenheim didn’t think so either, and refused to show it back in 1971. (To be clear: you and the Guggenheim are likely wrong.)

If you enjoy such conceptualist undertakings as this—how about a giant cube condensating with humidity?—then you will be thoroughly riled by this show, which is, incredibly, the first major retrospective of Haacke in over 30 years. Through January 26, 2020.

LOS ANGELES: The Conspiracy of Art Part 2 at Chateau Shatto

The chicly titled Chateau Shatto, a gallery that mixes high taste and high mindedness, is showing an enigmatic exhibition of works related to one of the most important philosophers of the 1980s and 90s. Jean Baudrillard, known especially for the idea that we live in a form of hyperreality (long story), also wrote an essay called “The Conspiracy of Art.”

It’s a little complicated, but Baudrillard basically was analyzing the relationship of art to media, war, insider trading, and to itself. He scandalized the art world by saying that contemporary art had no reason to exist anymore; he also took some languid photos, on display at this show.

Alongside them are some beautifully paintings by Dana Lok, wielding an impressive control over color in darkness. A series of eerily screen-printed busts by Michael Richards navigate pain and social alienation; and a barely-there pastel drawing leaves ghostly, elegant traces that boggle the mind. If you haven’t figured, the function of the word “conspiracy” is a little hazy. Through January 25, 2020.  

LOS ANGELES: Thieves of Time at François Ghebaly

Before this month’s trawling for the best shows on both coasts, we here at SIXTY were totally unaware of artist Marius Bercea. This phenom paints large-scale paintings of post-Communist Romania, Bercea’s home country. The subjects, dressed leisurely and just kind of chilling in different settings, are captivating.

Bercea is deeply influenced by Dutch Golden Age painting—think “Girl With a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer—but takes the realism and adds a dash of surrealness. Languorous, they populate either placid grassy areas and cafes or intensely detailed architectural spaces. A mix of bold color and busy frame complement the elegance of the figures.

Bercea grew up during an era of extreme Communist austerity, and has seen his part of the world radically change. Though there is no representation of political struggle, violence, or shattering event, there’s still a charge to these paintings that makes them feel fiercely political. On display now at François Ghebaly. Through Feb. 2, 2020.  

LOS ANGELES: Julie Mehretu at LACMA

Artist Julie Mehretu practices a different kind of abstract art. Rather than splattering and dribbling paint a la Pollock, or painting big imposing shapes like Rothko, Mehretu takes the grids and lines of urban planning to convey the complexity of our globalized world. This show at LACMA is the artist’s mid-career survey, with 40 works.

In a mind-boggling approach, Mehretu looks at historical development on a civilizational scale—the growth of cities, conflicts, massive infrastructure—and converts elements of these processes into pictorial representations. The highly gestural works, resulting in busy and captivating canvases, have been lauded for their aesthetic might, and have also garnered a lot of monetary value and awards.

On one of her works, a writer for the New Yorker said it was “the most ambitious painting I’ve seen in a dozen years.” Though she’s not quite a household name, this survey of work from 1996 to the present may just help in making her one. Through March 22, 2020. 

Header image: The Conspiracy of Art: Part II, 2019. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Chateau Shatto. 

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