Anyone who’s embarked on a gallery crawl in the last month knows we’re still in the post-Labor Day afterglow otherwise known as—if you’ll allow us to invent a helpful phrase—”art season prime time.” It’s a good time to be out and about, friends. Go get inspired. For this month’s edition of Art Beat, SIXTY has selected shows in New York and Los Angeles that include wheat fields, useless machines, and art that is very, very NSFW (don’t worry, you can keep reading). Herewith, your guide to the best shows happening this November.
NEW YORK CITY: Agnes Denes at The Shed
In 1982, a couple blocks from Wall Street, artist Agnes Denes completed a months-long project to plant a two-acre field of wheat. It was located in the Battery Park landfill, and produced over a thousand pounds of the golden grain. Denes, a visionary of conceptual and ecological art, has a huge retrospective at The Shed that is not to miss.
There will be over 150 works on view—projects that have been completed as well as those that have gone unrealized. Of those that were executed throughout her 50-year career, Denes has planted forests around the world, buried time capsules to be opened in the 30th century, and brought a flock of sheep to the American Academy in Rome.
Denes was making this kind of work before global climate change was a hot topic in the art world. But, more importantly, she was an artist who actually affected change, using art as a way of lowering carbon in the atmosphere, feeding people, and restoring landscapes to some semblance of nature. Younger artists, and audiences, should take note. Through March 22, 2020.NEW YORK CITY: Mark Twain at the New-York Historical Society
Even if you have never read Huckleberry Finn or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, if you’re American, your psyche is probably indebted to the satirizing humor of Mark Twain. However, these well-known books were not the writer’s most popular when he was alive: It was a work of travel writing called The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, the subject of a new exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.
The book absolutely roasted the travel writers of the time, who mostly wrote sentimental, starry-eyed accounts of their meanderings. Twain, who went on a nearly six-month-long cruise to the Meditterranean, took a different tack. Here’s a great example: “I have never felt so fervently thankful, so soothed, so tranquil, so filled with blessed peace, as I did yesterday when I learned that Michelangelo had died.”
Such scathing wit in published materials was practically unheard of at the time. Marking the 150th anniversary of the publishing of The Innocents Abroad, the exhibition contains journal entries, letters, costumes, and other ephemera belonging to the high priest of tongue-in-cheek. Through February 2, 2020.
NEW YORK CITY: Rube Goldberg at Queens Museum
Rube Goldberg is less well known than the phrase and adjective he spawned: A Rube Goldberg machine, or something that’s Goldbergian, is a device that’s overly complicated for the completion of a simple task. His “self-operating napkin,” a piece of headgear that wipes your face, only requires a lighter, bottle rocket, toucan, and some other elements.
After nearly 50 years of no comprehensive show, Goldberg is getting his due at the Queens Museum. Goldberg’s long career as a cartoonist—for which he won a Pulitzer Prize—is on display, tracing his 70 years as an artist. Also on view are sketches, interviews, and other materials that shed light on his work.
At a time when the United States was obsessed with new inventions, Goldberg’s work served as a warning. His cartoonish, zany “inventions” served, in his words, as “a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” In today’s hi-tech world full of devices, it might be a good time to meditate on what else classifies as a Rube Golberg machine. Through February 9, 2020.
LOS ANGELES: The Pleasure Principle at Maccarone
Ladies and gentlemen, it is officially 2019. Pornhub, the largest porn site in the world, has commissioned an art show at a gallery in L.A. And if you’re expecting a one-dimensional exhibition that is more, let’s say, low-brow than high-brow, you’re in for a surprise. This show is also intellectually stimulating.
The exhibit at Maccarone gallery, all women, includes iconic artists. You’ll find Tracey Emin’s nude neons, Louise Bourgeois’ nude goaches, Bunny Yeager’s titillating photography, and Marilyn Minter’s glossy closeups. There’s also a crop of younger artists, like Ann Hirsch, who’s used the opportunity to explore the website’s contents.
The show is definitely NSFW, while also exploring gender dynamics, power, and the function of pleasure in culture and technology. Karen Finlay’s “Sext Me If You Can” consists of the artist painting portraits based on sext messages she receives from people in the audience, Saturday afternoons only. So, those who blush easy: you’ve been warned. Through November 23, 2019.
LOS ANGELES: Betye Saar at LACMA
When Betye Saar was a little kid in Los Angeles, she witnessed Simon Rodia building the giant Watts Towers, an architectural behemoth made from found objects, like broken pieces of tile and bottle caps. Saar, working in a similar medium, went on to become one of the most revered artists of her time, though she has not become a household name like a Koons or Warhol.
Saar, now 93 years old, has spent decades making assemblage that challenges the whiteness and maleness of the art world. At LACMA, there’s a slim but powerful show of her work—18 works to be exact—that demonstrates her simple but very effective approach. Notebooks, ironing boards, a white sheet on a clothesline: these things are revealed as powerful symbols.
One day, while at a flea market sale, Saar saw a beat-up ironing board. She was struck with the realization that it contained a strikingly similar shape to the ships that brought slaves to the United States. With such acute historical observations, and a deft artistic hand, Saar moves people to look at the everyday world anew. Through April 5, 2020.
LOS ANGELES: Sayre Gomez at Ghebaly
Our final pick for this month is Sayre Gomez’s show at Ghebaly, a truly astounding suite of paintings that depicting the city in a bold, contemporary way. You wouldn’t be blamed for easily mistaking the paintings in X-Scapes for blown-up photographs. But they are simply acrylic and canvas, capturing some scenes that are both banal and breathtaking.
They include a cell tower with a backdrop of a beautiful sunset, a business door displaying the stickers for what credit cards they take, and corporate signage on L.A. highways. Masterful use of lighting and crisp imagery gives these paintings a mesmerizing texture, putting you in the scene.
Gomez, born in Chicago, has been shown around the world, and it’s clear that his aesthetic resonates. These paintings harken back to a style of painting that’s not around much anymore, and yet, they feel futuristic, super of-the-moment. An image of a vine crawling up a fence, with a blurry building hulking behind it, doesn’t sound like much. But it’s astounding in the hands of Gomez. Go see this show. Through November 3, 2019.
Header image: Sayre Gomez, Orale Raza, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Ghebaly gallery.