Source: The New York Times
If spontaneous, self-taught genius in step with the times exists, surely Thornton Dial’s unrelenting art is proof. Dial (1928-2016) came from a region of Alabama where African-Americans, including an uncle of his, frequently made sculpture, screens and fences from metal junk welded together. By 1981, when he could make art full time, he had flattened his assemblages into thick, painting-like rectangles, adding softer materials, especially hooked rugs and clothing, as well as paint. The result is fiercely formal in ways that connect to Jackson Pollock’s allover fields of dripped paint and the object paintings of Anselm Kiefer and Julian Schnabel. Dial was an untrained Neo-Expressionist, drawing emotional energy from his life and times, which spanned Jim Crow and the struggle for civil rights.
With three works from the 1990s and five from the first decade of the 21st century, this exhibition samples the amazing range of Dial’s work in his final decades, when he became more cognizant of mainstream art styles without losing touch with either his roots or the historical events that often fueled his art.
In “Setting the Table” (2003), the colors become so bright and the surfaces so thick with toys and logos that a refreshed Pop Art emerges. “Art and Nature” (2011) is relatively pared down: Dried twigs and flowers in one-half of a bifurcated ceramic vase rest on two tables improvised from scraps of wood and metal. They alternate with big gushes of pink, blue or white, pouring from squashed paint cans (a favorite Dial device), forming the “art” of the work’s title, but also suggesting figures, ghosts or drapes. It’s a haunted Matisse.
n “Black Walk” (2003), big chunks of corrugated metal painted black on a black-and-lavender ground resemble figures in a protest march, while also remaining implacably severe and abstract. And from the fiery red surface of “Ground Zero: Decorating the Eye” (2002) rises a large orb shrouded in ruffles, suggesting some kind of guardian or redemptive presence. Dial’s ability to commandeer any material into a painting has never been as canny or varied as it is in this show. It highlights the need for a full-scale account of his restless, dynamic achievement.
Through March 11. Jack Hanley, 327 Broome Street, Manhattan; 646-918-6824, jackhanley.com.
One of the 14 female nudes in Danielle Orchard’s impressive solo debut, “A Little Louder, Love,” is called “Girl Removing Her Shirt.” With a confidently slick shorthand of early-20th-century figurative abbreviations wielded with a casual 21st-century élan, Ms. Orchard paints a woman sitting on the floor, with her back against a pale blue bathtub. Arms over head, wrists crossed as if pinioned, face reduced to a sketchy profile beneath the sheer fabric of the half-removed shirt, and naked except for a red tulip held between her thighs, she seems to be acting out the traditionally subject position of an artist’s model. But if she’s acting, it’s not subjection, after all: It’s subversion.
The same discreetly topsy-turvy radicalism comes through in the way she’s constructed. Though the image as a whole is graphic, colorful and easy to read, its parts are as distinctly separate as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. One thigh is composed of an orange fin, a blush-colored bar and a brown rectangle; a section of dark wall fits neatly around a box of bath salts, more like a lid than a background. It all suggests a world in permanent flux, in which anything that seems permanent — gender, personality, identity — is an illusion.
Through March 31. Ortuzar Projects, 9 White Street, Manhattan; 212-257-0033, ortuzarprojects.com.
The stated mission of this new TriBeCa project space, founded by a former partner at David Zwirner, is to exhibit artists who’ve had significant foreign impact but little exposure in the United States. Its inaugural show certainly qualifies: This is the first American solo outing for Michel Parmentier (1938-2000), one of the most undeviating abstract painters of postwar France, whose radically simple paintings fused minimalism, performance and institutional critique.
Mr. Parmentier is best known as one-quarter of the swashbuckling but short-lived group known as B.M.P.T. (The letters stand for the last names of the artists Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Mr. Parmentier and Niele Toroni.) I n 1967, its members voiced their intolerance for gestural abstraction by painting ultra-minimal canvases at a Paris salon — in Mr. Parmentier’s case, horizontal stripes exactly 38 centimeters wide, done with spray paint — and then quickly withdrawing them from view. Four paintings here feature his trademark stripes, in blue or silver or red or black, spanning the unstretched canvas and bulging out from the wall; you can see the creases where he folded the canvas and the punctures where staples held it to his studio wall.
Mr. Parmentier broke from B.M.P.T. just a year after the group’s debut; he gave up painting from 1968 to 1983. His second phase also comprises horizontal stripes on unstretched supports, but now he has used delicate paper rather than thick canvas, and composed the stripes with dense freehand marks in pastel, paintstick or pencil. These fragile later works are as dispassionate and skeptical of gesture as his early striped canvases, though instead of the extreme authorial abnegation of spray paint, here the handmade marks marry restraint and repetition with subtle individuality.
French abstract painting of the 1960s, dismissed at the time by chauvinistic American critics, is having quite a moment in New York: Elsewhere in town now are exhibitions by Martin Barré and François Morellet. But there is a particular satisfaction, in today’s snapping and yapping New York art world, in rediscovering this most stringent painter of all.
Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m. through March 24. The Artist’s Institute at Hunter College, 132 East 65th Street, Manhattan; theartistsinstitute.org.
The project notes for Madeline Hollander’s “New Max” are probably the best way to describe her current installation at the Artist’s Institute at Hunter College. “Performance begins at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and dancers continuously hit a new maximum temperature each round.” Lower on the page are directions for the four dancers to pause (“dancers rest”) before performing another of the 16 cycles in the work as the temperature in the room, controlled by four air-conditioning units, four heat sensors and four light panels, rises from a low of 65 degrees to a high of 85.
If “New Max,” which clearly descended from 1960s systems-based artwork, sounds dry, it is not. The four young dancers, clad in stylish silver boxing shorts, specially designed black chemises and Keds sneakers, perform a series of movements choreographed by Ms. Hollander that fall somewhere between an Yvonne Rainer sequence and stuff you’d do in an exercise class. (Many dancers make their living teaching various types of Pilates-Yoga-Gyrotonics, which inevitably surface in their choreography.) The overall impression is of a 21st-century version of the graces in Botticelli’s “Primavera” (1477-1482), but here dancing is a form of mechanized labor rather than a lyric pleasure.
The performance-installation gains further heft from a smart essay by A. E. Benenson, printed for visitors on thermal paper, as if it were a long drugstore receipt. The essay touches on the history of air-conditioners, climate change and the alt-surrealist Georges Bataille’s musings on energy and consumption. “Heat is the universe’s choreography,” the essay states, concluding that “we have built a kind of planetary-scale air-conditioner. It’s just stuck facing wrong-side-out,” with greenhouse gas trapped with us inside. Meanwhile, Ms. Hollander’s graces dance silently before you in the slowly rising heat of the room.
Through March 7. Aperture Foundation, 547 West 27th Street, fourth floor, Manhattan; 212-505-5555, aperture.org.
Aperture Foundation often produces exhibitions to complement issues of its photography quarterly, Aperture magazine. Such is the case with “Prison Nation,” a stirring show about mass incarceration in the United States, with the historian Nicole R. Fleetwood doing double duty as curator and issue editor.
Between what’s on the wall and what’s in print there’s a lot of history. In the magazine, the lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., and author of the 2014 memoir “Just Mercy,” traces the disproportionate degree of African-American incarceration back to 18th-century slavery, when American citizenship was restricted to property-owning white men. And in photographs in the show from the 1960s and ’70s by the folklorist Bruce Jackson, we see 20th-century East Texas prison farms that were, in effect, cotton plantations that used racially segregated forced labor.
Far from being coolly documentary, though, many of the images in the show are personal. The artist Jamel Shabazz, renowned for his images of contemporary black street fashion, and his fellow New York photographer Lorenzo Steele Jr., both worked as correction officers on Rikers Island in the 1980s. Their on-the-job pictures of colleagues offer a counterweight to the usually negative view of prison staff.
And, in general, the show gives a warmer image of prison life than we’re accustomed to seeing: in Jack Lueders-Booth’s beautiful 1970s color portraits of inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution-Framingham, one of the oldest women’s prisons in the country; in Lucas Foglia’s images of prisoners tending to Rikers Island flower gardens; in the artwork created from soap bars and newsprint photographs by a former inmate, Jesse Krimes; and in Deborah Luster’s extraordinary, monumental 2013 portraits of prisoners dressed for roles in an Easter passion play in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
The humanizing perspective of “Prison Nation” is deeply moving and long overdue. It’s crucial to remember, though, the unforgiving realities of incarceration. A majority of the prisoners at Angola, which is built on the site of several former slave plantations, are serving life sentences, either by judicial decision or by default. According to a text accompanying Ms. Luster’s photographs, some 90 percent of inmates who enter Angola, at whatever age, for whatever crime, are expected to die there.