Art Beat: 6 Exhibitions to See in May

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SIXTY’s resident art writer Rob Goyanes is on the search for the best of what’s going on in L.A., Miami, and NYC this month. This May brings flowers, as it always does, but also Minimalism, Soviet propaganda, and ancient Mexican artifacts. Get ready for a spring bursting with cerebral potential. Herewith, your guide to the best art exhibitions in May.

Constructing Revolution Soviet Propaganda Posters from Between the World Wars

Image from ‘Constructing Revolution: Soviet Propaganda Posters from Between the World Wars.’ Courtesy of The Wolfsonian.

MIAMI: A Dual Soviet Propaganda Showing at The Wolfsonian

Before morphing into an authoritarian empire, Soviet Russia was a fervent zone of more utopian social and artistic experimentation. A pair of exhibits at The Wolfsonian FIU illustrate the radical applied arts from the era — the posters, books, and objects that typify the constructivist and machinic aesthetic that was birthed and perfected there.

The major show is Constructing Revolution: Soviet Propaganda Posters from Between the World Wars, and the addendum exhibit is Red and Black: Revolution in Soviet Propaganda Graphics. The explanatory titles give you a perfect sense of what they do. In the former, fifty posters by avant-gardists, such as Vladimir Mayakovsky and Alexander Rodchenko (don’t feel bad for not recognizing the names — I myself, the critic, have only a vague silhouette of Rodchenko in my mind), illustrate the geometrical vulgarity of these Soviet artists.

There’s a great story about MoMA’s first director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., visiting Moscow in 1927. In his words: “Rodchenko showed us an appalling variety of things—Suprematist paintings (preceded by the earliest geometrical things I’ve seen, 1915, done with compass)—woodcuts, linoleum cuts, posters, book designs, photographs, kino sets, etc… [He] showed much satisfaction at having delivered the death blow to painting.” Personally, Rodchenko sounds like my kinda guy. Through August 12, 2018.

donald judd

Donald Judd, untitled, 1960. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Judd Foundation.

MIAMI: Donald Judd Paintings at ICA

Arguably no other artist had such an outweighed impact on American minimalism as Donald Judd. Though he himself hated being boxed in by the phrase, his sculptures changed the course of art history with their barely-there composition. From the mid-1960s on, Judd’s repetitive stacks and progressions of boxes — monochromatic and humbly colored — garnered intense acclaim from critics, collectors, and institutions.

Which is why it’s easy to forget that Judd had any kind of art practice prior. A new exhibition, Donald Judd: Paintings, now on view at the ICA Miami, is looking to shed light on a very important period of the work that preceded his pop off. The 14 paintings on display were created between 1959 and 1961, and, no, they are not wildly different from the works that would nearly make him a household name, though seeing some Judd figuration and landscapes would be pretty weird and fun.

The paintings on view show an artist already working out the vocabulary: the open space that gives room for elements to breathe, the democratic attention allotment to each component. Simple lines and reds and blues, nothing complex or begging for your eyes, but arresting nonetheless. Created in the years before Judd’s ascension, they’re placemarkers on a path to breakthrough. Through June 24, 2018.


Dominique Duroseau, Black+construct+5. Courtesy of the artist and A.I.R. Gallery.

NEW YORK: Exhibitions at A.I.R. Gallery

Started in 1972, A.I.R. was the first non-profit, artist-run gallery by women, for women. Since then, it’s been pushing back against the culture of male hegemony by showing female artists from around the country and beyond. The three exhibitions currently on view are representative of its choral-like curation, with three artists working with distinct mediums and messages, but summoning a similar progressive call.

Dominique Duroseau collages the media and experiences of black culture to create works that evoke suppressed histories, the violence of language, and the cloaking of bodies. The hiding of injustice is a primary theme of the artist’s, and Duroseau probes this across the Haitian, American, and African diaspora.

Textile works by Kathleen Schneider explore the transcontinental movement of birds. Simple sayings and straight lines, vibrantly colored, respond to the ability of our feathered brethren to traverse across space in defiance of borders. In the third exhibit on view at A.I.R., Karen Leo — in her first solo exhibition in NYC — presents a universe populated by puppets, animate objects, and other things from a place she calls the “dumb zone.” Through May 20, 2018.

Freedom Farming 2014_sm

Li Binyuan. Freedom Farming. 2014. Image courtesy the artist and MoMA PS1.

NEW YORK: Zhang Huan and Li Binyuan at MoMA PS1

One video shows Li Binyuan standing way, way too close to what looks like a giant industrial spinning pizza slicer. In another, Zhang Huan lies naked as he gets sprayed with fiery sparks from some anonymous machine. These two men, in a really incredible show called Land, represent two generations of Chinese artists bridged extreme physical engagement.

Zhang Huan, born in the ’60s and pretty well-known amongst the art world intelligentsia, is revered for boundary-pushing pieces that are poetic and slight, if not grueling. In one video work, the artist brought together a group of villagers and instructed them all to enter a lake, suggesting that together they could have a real (but infinitesimal) effect on something much larger than themselves. In another, the artist covered himself in fish and honey to attract flies while sitting on the toilet.

Li Binyuan, born in the ’80s, takes Huan’s methods into contemporary territory. In one video, Binyuan climbs a bamboo tree in sandals, and the tree arcs down over the concrete until he falls and hits the ground hard. In another, the artist sits in a chair in the middle of the road and throws fireworks as cars beep and go around him. Poignant, Sisyphean, and capturing human struggle in ways both tender and demanding, I can’t recommend this show enough. Through September 3, 2018.

andy woll

Andy Woll, installation view, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery.

LOS ANGELES: Exhibitions at Night Gallery

When Night Gallery first opened in 2010, it was tucked within a strip mall and only accepted visitors in the late evening on weeknights. Now, it’s located in Downtown L.A., and the artist-run space is a staple of the aesthete’s scene. Two exhibitions are currently underway, one by Brie Ruais, a sculptor, and one by Andy Woll, a painter.

Ruais makes ceramic sculptures that look both like something spit from the earth and a performance a sculpture would do if it could accomplish the task. Crater-like, vibrantly-hued, they are huge–to the tune of 135 pounds. The eros and intimacy radiates out in her work, and it turns out these sculptures feel like performances because this is how they’re created: Ruais scripts out actions before she makes, using words like “shoving,” “scraping,” and “twisting” to sculpt.

Woll, on the other hand, uses a process that mixes intuition and chance. His abstract paintings, also vividly colored, often use Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains as a subject. This new suite includes many of these, as well as other, even-more-non-representational works. To create them, Woll applied thickly and sparsely to create big gestures. Inspired by James Joyce, Greek myth, and automatic writing, the works lack a center, and pleasingly so. Through May 26, 2018.   


Figurine, Teotihuacan, Mexico. Image courtesy of Jorge Peréz de Lara Elías/INAH and LACMA.

LOS ANGELES: The Arts of Teotihuacan at LACMA

It’s all too easy to get caught up in contemporary life/art. It’s important to look back at civilizations before and beyond. City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan at LACMA presents recent findings from the city that was, in its day (the years 0-1000 A.D.), the largest urban center in all the Americas.

Located northeast of present-day Mexico City, Teotihuacan is a major tourist attraction, but that belies its immense value to humanity. The show at LACMA includes monumental sculptures and smaller objects that have been buried for centuries. Recovered from the city’s three main pyramids (structures cosmically-titled Sun, Moon, and Feathered Serpent, respectively), the exhibition presents the pieces with the question of how such a city came to be.

Teotihuacan translates to “the place where the gods were created,” and the scale of the city leaves no room for doubt about its literality. And the show at LACMA, organized in partnership with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, displays the art of an era and place that makes us look at our own cities in new light. Through July 15, 2018.

Rob Goyanes

Rob Goyanes

Rob Goyanes is a writer from Miami, Florida, now living in New York City. He has work forthcoming in the Paris Review Daily and Interview Mag.