Art Beat: 6 Exhibitions to See in November

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The mix of shows in this edition of SIXTY’s Art Beat has something to satisfy everyone, from modern sleekness to archival research to literal trash. The exhibitions picked by resident art critic Rob Goyanes include a neglected performance artist of the 1970s NYC queer scene, a painter who had to learn painting all over again after going blind, and a choreographer who, in short, changed everything. Herewith, a few of the best shows in November.

Manuel Solano. Image via Deskgram.

MIAMI: Manuel Solano at ICA

Manuel Solano, a visual artist who lives outside Mexico City, had to learn how to paint all over again after they became blind. After losing sight due to an HIV-related infection, Solano developed a series of techniques to gain some of the control back over the paintings, and found new territory as well.

Previously, Solano’s work included figures, flags, and splashy abstraction. The content hasn’t changed as much as the process. Using string and pipe cleaners on the canvas as guides, Solano uses touch as a means of feeling out what their paintings look like, and organizes paints in the studio in a very specific manner.

Solano has expressed an anguish over the inability to know what the paintings come out like, but a smartphone app called Be My Eyes enables them to ask questions about paintings in progress. As if these exercises weren’t touching enough, the paintings themselves have a beauty all their own, regardless of how they were made. It’s critical that you visit an exhibition of Solano’s work at the ICA. Through April 14, 2019.

Xaviera Simmons, Sundown, installation view, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and David Castillo Gallery.

MIAMI: ‘Sundown’ at David Castillo

This exhibition of Xaviera Simmons’s work at David Castillo Gallery charts the lineage of black life in America from the transatlantic slave trade through the discriminatory practices of today. The title Sundown references sundown towns—the places where it was whites-only after it got dark, a practice that continues today.

Simmons’s work, which spans text, archival imagery, and sculptural furniture, rigorously examines the many means of subjugation, displacement, and violence that have been deployed against black populations. From mixing black-and-white photographs with bright colorful portraiture, to the use of Columbus’s diary entries, these works spring from deep research and careful artistic operation.

The sculptural furniture on display at the gallery is a speculation: What types of craftsmanship and cultures would exist today if black Americans hadn’t been enslaved and oppressed? Simmons uses a stunning mix of leathers, velvets, and other materials to ponder this question, and to physically manifest some of the possibilities. Through November 17, 2018.

Jimmy DeSana, Untitled (Stephen Varble performing Gutter Art with onlooker), 1975. Courtesy of Jimmy DeSana Trust.

NEW YORK: Stephen Varble at Leslie-Lohman Museum

Costumes made from sequins, dumpster trash, mesh leggings, stolen goods: this was the material culture that artist Stephen Varble engaged during his freakout performances in 1970s New York. These outlandish elements added up to Varble’s genderqueer, anti-establishment persona, which has gotten criminally little attention by the art world.

Varble is getting his due at a show at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, which explores his subversive public performances in very unexpected venues. From stepping out of limos to bank teller windows, Varble eschewed the typical gallery or stage and took to the institutions that really needed a good show.

At a time when New York was becoming chichi and financialized, Varble was wearing breasts made of condoms filled with mysterious liquid and sporting outfits that made him look like an Elizabethan marionnette. Beautifully absurd and challenging tastes and norms, Varble is overdue this attention to his insurrectionary work. Through January 27, 2019.

Nina Beier, Baby, installation view, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.

NEW YORK: Nina Beier at Metro Pictures

This show is quite different from Varble’s in-your-face mutiny. Nina Beier, who’s based in Berlin, has a show at Metro Pictures of simple, clean objects mounted on the wall or to the floor. But look a little closer and you’ll see a bit of the same humor. Most of them are ceramic sinks containing cigars. Inexplicable art world nonsense or savory critique?

Beier is interested in the way that products circulate the world, and how different people come to associate them with different (or the same) meanings. The cigar, for example, is largely and historically associated with power, backroom deals, and perhaps masculine imprudence. The sinks obviously suggest flow and, well, plumbing. The meaning of the cigars plugging up the sinks is manifold.

The most aesthetically pleasing piece is the Baby series: waterbeds sagging down from the walls and filled with water, coins, and pebbles. Modernist, organic, and with a dash of Dadaism, Beier’s exhibition is as fun as it is cerebral. Through December 21, 2018.   

Merce Cunningham, Clouds and Screens, installation view, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and LACMA.

LOS ANGELES: ‘Merce Cunningham, Clouds and Screens’ at LACMA

There’s probably no figure that towers over dance more than Merce Cunningham. For 50 years, Cunningham shaped modern dance with his emphasis on every element in the production—not just the movements, but the costumes, stage, lighting, and everything else that goes into a performance.

It’s interesting then that, besides having total control, he was also interested in randomization, like his life partner John Cage was. This process resulted in abstract movements that would upend the dance world, opening people’s eyes to the vast potential of movement. An exhibition of works at LACMA illustrates Cunningham’s pivotal contributions.

The show includes immersive installations by Andy Warhol and Charles Atlas, both titanic in their own right, and both of whom collaborated with Cunningham. Present in the exhibition are also two early works by the progenitor of contemporary dance, delightfully titled Changeling and Night Wanderer. Through March 31, 2019.

Ian Davis, Tragedy, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery.

LOS ANGELES: Ian Davis at Night Gallery

If canonical modern dance isn’t so much your jam, might I suggest you check out Ian Davis’s paintings at Night Gallery. Mysteriously titled 2nd Dark Age (uh-oh), this show includes obsessively rendered, birds-eye-view portrayals of society and nature. They are dark, in the metaphorical sense, but are quite pretty to look at.

There’s a looong oil tanker snaking across a mountain, a gala held on the bottom floor of a massive prison, a strange fire in what appears to be the Hollywood Bowl. The paintings are all on a macro-scale, giving you a look at the larger structure of their subjects, but they’re exquisitely detailed. Patterns and objects repeat over and over, transmitting a creepy sense of the uncanny.

My personal favorite, for its eerie atmosphere, is the painting titled “Archive” (2018). A huge room of cabinets sprawls out before you, each with drawers open and papers on the floor, houseplants atop the black cases. It’s like a Where’s Waldo image, but with not a single Waldo in sight. Through November 17, 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.