There’s a lot afoot this month. For this June edition of Art Beat, SIXTY includes a wildly diverse collection of aesthetic experiences in New York and Los Angeles. Wonder can be found everywhere this month. Plan to take yourself further afield. From a historic Brooklyn graveyard to a Smithsonian museum, Haitian contemporary to feminist performance, the rewards these six exhibitions offer are well worth the journey.
NEW YORK: Morbid Anatomy at Green-Wood
The typical image of an arts residency is a small, quaint studio, usually in a forest or on a mountain, where painters and sculptors can focus on their work in isolation. Cast these notions aside: Morbid Anatomy, the museum of macabre objects that closed its permanent space in 2016, has taken up residency in the gatehouse of Green-Wood Cemetery.
The historic cemetery—which has a lively array of programming, from opera in the catacombs to conceptual art installations—is hosting the DIY death museum for an exhibition about purgatory. Morbid Anatomy is known for its taxidermy, arcane texts, and literal body parts, and here you will find a library and ephemera that focuses on Catholicism and its concept of purgatory.
One fact explored is how Martin Luther, the 16th-century professor and theologian, helped birth the Protestant Reformation by challenging the Catholic church’s selling of indulgences, papal slips that shortened or cancelled one’s stay in purgatory. The exhibit draws from the collections of Morbid Anatomy as well as Green-Wood, and in stark contrast to the price of a get-out-of-purgatory card, this exhibition is free. Through June 30, 2019.
NEW YORK: Tarek Atoui at Kurimanzutto
Rather than “exhibition,” Tarek Atoui’s work at Kurimanzutto is posed as an “instrumentarium.” The Lebanese artist and electroacoustic composer, known for hybridic objects and performances that challenge notions of how sound is perceived, has created an instrument that examines church organs, modular synthesis, and how deaf people experience sound.
Composed of big plastic tubes, brass-colored valves, mysterious bags, and theremins, the instrument sits in the middle of the space, functioning as a pleasing modernist art object in the visual sense. The instrument takes on new meanings and functions as it’s explored by invited resident artists for a week at a time (culminating in performances on Saturdays at 3 p.m.), revealing unexpected connections between liturgical music and abstract sound art.
Titled organ within, Atoui’s piece combines electrical current and acoustic mechanics to open up horizons of sonic possibility, from ambient washes, to scratchy oscillations, to flutey, airy pipings. A metaphor for the structures in humans that use similar systems to perceive and create sound, this laboratory is as much in the gallery as it is in your head. Through June 25, 2019.
NEW YORK: T.C. Cannon at the National Museum of the American Indian
The Native Americans that populate T.C. Cannon’s paintings are not what you’d expect: people with beaded headdresses sitting in lawn chairs, or posing in front of famous paintings from the Western canon, or holding two guns, one in each hand. The late Kiowa Tribe member, who got his break while stationed in Vietnam during the war, is long overdue for this critical retrospective.
The National Museum of the American Indian is presenting a comprehensive collection of his paintings, poetry, and music, practices which fed each other as he explored diverse themes of social strife, pop art, and the role of Natives in the American imaginary. Bright colors, serial patterns, and slightly impressionistic portraiture resulted in boundary-pushing works that have gone unknown by the public at large.
Lost to a car accident near Santa Fe at the age of 31, Cannon was a rising talent that was getting recognition from an art world that so often ignores Native voices. Still, this Oklahoma-born renegade left a strong legacy. Inspired by the likes of Matisse and Rauschenberg but also drawing on the Native cowboy experience, this show is must-see. Through September 16, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: David Hammons at Hauser & Wirth
If you aren’t familiar with the work of David Hammons, here’s two pieces that work as a pretty good primer: one was the artist taking a piss on a Richard Serra sculpture in 1981, in then-gentrifying Tribeca, and another was Hammons selling snowballs during a frigid winter’s day on the sidewalk. If you think these historic works are flippant—or even “disrespectful”—you either don’t get it or are part of the problem.
A major exhibition of this black artist’s oeuvre is on view at mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth. With a scribbled line drawing as a press release, you start to get an idea of institutional critique that Hammons practices. But the works on view are not merely abstract gestures, they are sculptures and installations that explicate on race, class, and art-as-microcosm of society’s ills and imbalances.
Hammons is notoriously reclusive, never seen at his own openings and very, very rarely granting of interviews. And yet, he racks up some of the most tony collectors and dealers possible. It’s a hustle that actualizes the idea of working from within the beast of the belly, and at Hauser & Wirth, one of the top galleries in the world, you’ll get great insight into his work. Through August 11, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: Tomm El-Saieh at Matthew Brown
The work of Haitian painter Tomm El-Saieh, included in the 2018 Triennial at the New Museum, consists of trance-inducing patterns of hallucinogenic color. Inspired by digital aesthetics as much as the vodou traditions of his native country, El-Saieh’s work is captivating not only on a visual level but conceptually as well.
Abstraction at large scales might be the guiding principle of his work, and his exhibition at Matthew Brown pushes this principle further. Huge paintings of obsessively-applied dots and marks are overlaid on technicolor green swaths and clay reds, enticing the eyes. Taught by Haitian masters and raised on contemporary art, these paintings are a wild confluence of discourses and styles.
But still, they are abstract in the purest sense. There are no figures or landscapes, and yet, the brain searches for them in these pleasingly confusing paintings. El-Saieh is creating a new and vibrant vocabulary, and though it’s not exactly clear what language is being spoken, this is the intention, with tremendous effect. Through June 22, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: Andrea Fraser at Hammer
Andrea Fraser has a very special connection to museums. After moving to New York from Berkeley, California, in the early ’80s at the age of 16, the high school dropout spent a lot of time going to the MoMA and other institutions. Though she was enthralled by what they offered, this was also the beginning of a long, critical assessment of them.
A key figure in feminist art, Fraser’s performances and videos tackle the patriarchal powers that be in these cultural havens and in other institutions. While visiting those museums as a kid, she also felt intense anxiety about whether she could ever be legitimate enough to be included. Subsequently, her work has been shown at major institutions all over the world.
The Hammer is showing six of Fraser’s video works, including Men on the Line: Men Committed to Feminism, KPFK, 1972 (2012), an edited radio program with men talking about their commitments to feminism. In it, a lone Fraser faces the camera and functions as host of a talk show, having a staged discussion with the men and producing questions about the structures that purport to support women. Through September 15, 2019.
Header image: T. C. Cannon (1946–1978, Caddo/Kiowa), All the Tired Horses in the Sun, 1971–72. Oil on canvas. Tia Collection. © 2017 Estate of T. C. Cannon.