New York Hit List: Futures, Lightness and Noir (Ran Dian, August 2016)
Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014, USA), until Sept. 25, 2016
In about 1969, as he showed photographs he took in Colombian brothels five years earlier, Richard Avedon laid into the then-27-year-old Danny Lyon, asking “Who’s the real Danny Lyon? You photographed civil rights, you photographed prostitutes, you photographed bikers.” Moving through this meticulously hung exhibition of over 150 photographs and films shot by Lyon over his deeply committed career, one could see this attack, in hindsight, as a compliment. Lyon’s huge output is one propelled by a sense of empathy and responsibility to his subjects, which include the Civil Rights Movement (during which he was the photographer for the SNCC), inmates of American jails in the 1960s (shown on film as well as in photographs), motorcyclists in the American Midwest, Lower Manhattan before it was razed to make way for the financial district, street scenes, couples, kids and their dogs, Colombian urchins and rural people in Shanxi, China. Although every lens needs to be pointed, Lyon’s intense documentary impulse serves almost to dissolve one’s sense of his presence. This is an immersive and raw purview that absorbs one in a multitude of small frames.
Guggenheim Museum (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY, USA), until Sept. 7, 2016
Another future-titled exhibition, this large retrospective of László Moholy–Nagy’s oeuvre, as is customary for Guggenheim exhibitions, attracted comments about the selection of works and what might be missing from it. To the non-scholarly eye, however, this is more than a sufficient introduction to the priorities and energy of the Bauhaus professor who died in Chicago aged 51. The compositions on show are hugely enjoyable, and extend through geometric paintings and a series of deft photographic collages. A stern photograph of Moholy-Nagy from his 1930 “Declaration of Intention” supports the seriousness of his vision—but there is a distinctly playful spirit evident from the works, too.
Totah (183 Stanton Street, New York, NY 10002), until Sept. 18, 2016
At Totah, a relatively new commercial gallery established by the collector David Totah on Stanton Street in the Lower East Side, there is a memorable exhibition of watercolors by Lauretta Vinciarelli. The late artist’s mastery of her medium is singularly impressive, put towards beautifully subtle renditions of mostly cuboid shapes suspended in a gentle warm and cool palate of emerald greens and shades of orange and blue. The iterative impulse that plays out here is testimony to Vinciarelli’s architectural background (she taught at a number of schools including Pratt and Colombia in New York, and was married to Harvard architecture professor Peter Rowe); meanwhile, the minimal urge behind these paintings speaks in part to her personal and working relationship with Donald Judd, whose complete writings, incidentally, have just been republished.
Klein Sun Gallery (525 West 22nd Street New York, NY 10011, USA), until August 19, 2016
Those who saw a sombre installation based on Pei Li’s grandfather’s abandonment of the bonsais he had been tending for twenty years at Taikang Space in 2010 (#9 in the 51m2 exhibition series) will recognize the use of containers of ink combined with sound or vibration in the current exhibition. But the highlight here is a video called “The Moles” in which Pei recounts life with a pet dog who eases her depression. Loneliness, vulnerability, intimacy and the mundanity of daily life are mixed together humbly in this short narrative filmed using a camera attached to the scruff of the dog’s neck; Pei’s themes have not changed, then, but her mood appears lightened in this new work.
Simuvac Projects (99 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222, USA), until Sept. 4, 2016
Ivy Haldeman’s “Pulp” at the four-shows-deep Simuvac Projects in Greenpoint is arguably one of the best solo exhibitions of the year so far. Haldeman’s first individual outing in New York, it has a brilliantly strong aesthetic using a limited number of elements, namely a “hotdog lady” clad in a soft yolk-colored bun, her high-heeled pumps, and open books pressed beneath tapering pink fingertips. Through a range of poses, Haldeman paints a strange icon fusing tenderness, grace, and disgust in ways that only an intersex anthropomorphic snack at leisure could. Drawing on memories of her grandfather’s takeaways from the plastic factory where he worked, taxidermy, and the physical attitudes of a tired female figure reworked by a procession of artists throughout history but who is now to be found softly reading, the paintings in “Pulp” occupy a supple world of their own.