Let's put on a show! If that sounds like bad memories of summer camp, summer group shows are often like that.
As commercial pressures mount, all but the priciest galleries take shorter public breaks. (The lucky few can safely wheel and deal in private.) And as pressures mount, they then need an excuse to stay open. It is not often a pretty picture. One cannot expect to discover the latest thing, because that whole model of art has given way to diversity. And yet once again that diversity translates as real finds and real pleasures. Here is a quick tour for 2014.
Start with the possibilities, especially in painting—and especially when painting slips into other media. Two three-person shows pull those possibilities together. In each, artists in different media have much in common. Last comes one gallery's stubborn focus on sculpture, as a rebuttal. First, though, the possibilities and their limits. Take a collector's point of view.
Haul out the gallery artists? Been there, done that—and besides, art fairs now serve that purpose. A theme show? Entertaining at best, like a riff on bicycles at Marlborough. Survey a medium or a style? That worked a few summers ago, but it took perfect timing in a hot downtown scene, fantastic coordination among several dealers, and the return of abstraction. Creative shows this summer take up photography as object and a half-forgotten French movement, "Support/Structures."
That can leave little more than the sensibility of the curator, like a tribute at 33 Orchard to Hunter, founder of the late lamented Feature gallery. Its packed walls honor his accessibility to unsung artists. Yet they also mean another evening matching too many names to too much art. Still, a sensibility does matter—if that means experience, thought, and feeling. Consider, then, how this year's sensibilities translate into themes, styles, and ideas. Any one of them can put on quite a show.
Could two different galleries have stumbled on disaster? "About a Mountain" at Asya Geisberg may have you thinking of Paul Cézanne and Mont Sainte-Victoire. Yet it means Yucca Mountain, and somehow Gerhard Frommer's sharp colors, Rachel Niffenegger's stained shroud, and a copy of The Scream commissioned from a Chinese Web site all attest to the anxiety of the art world. Meanwhile James Cohan has the quiet attention of Mark Dion in his studio, the apocalyptic landscapes of Alexis Rockman, mappings from Pierre Huyghe, a limp reindeer from Carsten Höller, wildlife reduced to their weight in abstract marble from David Brooks, a kitchen turned inside out from Alison Elizabeth Taylor, a forest of future books by Katie Paterson, the decorative excess of Fred Tomaselli, an apple after Alfred Stieglitz from Erin Shirreff, and the romantic Modernism of Charles Burchfield. All attest to a disruption in the cycles of nature, "The Fifth Season." And yet they, too, are meditating as much on art's cooling as on global warming.
While Lesley Heller connects art and poetry, others return to painting. Zach Feuer puts in a plea for imagery, with its usual surfeit of irony, while Sargent's Daughters puts representation in the hands of women. McKenzie argues for "Color as Structure," from Cordy Ryman in wood to the networks of Kate Shepherd, Jason Karolak, or Rob de Oude. Elizabeth Harris, in contrast, is loosening up, as Gary Petersen, Joanne Matera, and others discover unexpected space in their color weave. The Hole indulges in spray paint, but Pablo's Birthday opts for more than a pat recap of Brooklyn abstract art, with names I shall definitely be tracking. From smeared paint to collaged fabrics, its artists treat flat surface as three-dimensional substance.
Is there still a hipper sensibility on the Lower East Side? And does it matter that the galleries there are growing larger by the month? At Lisa Cooley, Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacon as curators delight in excess. They select Judith Linhares with expressionism, Nancy Shaver with colorful blocks, Sheila Hicks with fabric, and José Lerma with painted flowers. Kamau Amu Patton's LED strip, Victoria Fu's abstract prints, Margaret Lee's leopard-skin Brancusi, and Rory Mulligan's dad staring at the moon add the poetry of restraint. Try to look at them all through David Kennedy-Cutler's crumpled, transparent draperies without walking into any of them.
The neighborhood's hip and industrial sensibilities meet in visions of the city, including Detroit, and at Laurel Gitlen. Nancy Lupo's toilet paper and plastic containers surround Sean Paul's mesh, printed with abstraction on one side and advertising on the other. So much for truth to independent media. Rachel Uffner says it all in calling a huge show "Crystal Palace," filling two floors with the archives of an Upper East Side gallery, Richard L. Feigen. Can one trace the 1960s unease of James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana at once back to Joseph Cornell and Balthus, "outside" to Ray Johnson and Peter Saul, and sideways to Sara VanDerBeek and Stan VanDerBeek? For better or worse, downtown is looking up.
In the ideal group show, no one could tell the artists apart. Well, not really, but if that were the goal, David Scanavino, David Kennedy Cutler, and Michael DeLucia at Derek Eller pull off the next best thing: their work starts as distinct and comes flawlessly together. Scanavino plays the painter, Cutler the sculptor, and DeLucia the sophisticate in an age of computer modeling. Each gets ample space to define his approach. And then they collaborate on a single work, which goes to show that they were bridging genres and media all along.
Scanavino also plays the colorist, but with materials straight out of industrial design. For those who see a lesson coming, he situates those design choices in the classroom. Linoleum supplies the angled, nested, mottled, and decidedly chaotic geometry that extends to the sides of a thick slab. Pulped construction paper supplies the almost Post-Impressionist color fields that defy flatness by their texture and optical activity alone. In each case, a child's experience of oppressive bureaucracy collides with an adult's sense of play. In each case, too, pixelation is never far behind.
Cutler plays the sculptor, with tall, narrow columns out of Cubism or Futurism. Their surfaces, though, are both personal and painterly, inspired by plaid shirts and bathroom tiling and ending on aluminum and rags. In between, they, too, go through computer scanning. Other shapes draw on food, gloves, and his and wife's skin. Talk about hands-on. Only the overall lightness stands in the way of a major ick factor, a testimony to Cutler's concerns for both object and perception.
DeLucia's surfaces look the most mechanical, in blond or gold against black. Intricate 3D modeling forms toruses, a sphere, and perhaps a lamp in one wall-sized painting. Parallel lines etch sculpture, like a futuristic Tony Smith. Both look more to the age of Buckminster Fuller than to contemporary mass production, with a CNC router cutting into plywood, rather than the malleable plastic of 3D printing. And then, in the back room, contributions from all three artists spill across the walls and onto the floor as a single work. Painting, sculpture, and the computer—all three, they insist, are altering vision and the shape of space.
Patricia Treib, Nick Goss, and Zak Prekop make another admirably compact show, at Simon Preston. Treib plays the abstract painter, with colors out of Henri Matisse against largely bare white. As with Matisse, too, the shapes take on vaguely human form that could well stand for sculpture, in a show of art more than a little about art. Goss now plays the sculptor, with jagged white verticals not so far from Cutler's. Goss bases them on folded paper, again foregrounding the process of making art. Prekop then gets to play the analyst, with tiny loops and translucent larger outlines that direct attention to the canvas.
They each get their say, with separate walls and, for the sculpture, a large central table. Only just in case one was not looking for affinities, Goss also has an oil and screen print on canvas. Which is his? One may not spot it right away, especially if Trieb's hints of sculpture make one think of his. And, once one does, its floral doodles and evanescent shadows may look like a blurred version of Prekop's breaking up and layering of abstract painting. Call all three artists schematic—and call it a compliment.
Not every summer show trots out the usual suspects. "There are too many painting shows," begins one press release. "There aren't enough sculpture shows. / We are fixing that." If that sounds like boasting, it has nothing on the show's title: "This Is What Sculpture Looks Like."
Not convinced? Surely sculpture is everywhere and on an ever-increasing scale—with Urs Fischer, Richard Serra, Oscar Murillo, Tara Donovan, Paul McCarthy, and Sterling Ruby recently trashing the largest New York galleries. Ruby also held center stage in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. What could be hotter, too, than the everyday objects, broken symmetries, post-industrial landscape, and architectural presence of today's Neo-Minimalism? Of the sixteen summer artists, all of them women, Rachel Beach's totems of found wood and stacked triangles offer a perfect example, just as in the 2012 art fairs. So do Esperanza Mayobre's blond wood and black rods, like a miniature lightning field by Walter de Maria.
Diana Cooper, who has brought an expanded skylight to this very gallery, stacks tables in a crumbling "cubicle," while Natalie Jeremijenko, who has communed with birds, translates live mussels into sound art. Not even they know the formula. Joanna Malinowska has her monumental life forms, with tusks emerging from stuffed vinyl. A futon has never had it so primeval. Shinique Smith bundles stuffed fabric as well, as she has at the Studio Museum in Harlem, while another African American, Caitlin Cherry, has shown at the Whitney. Smith's blob hangs down like a dress form or a mafia hit.
You may not recognize Monica Cook, but you will probably know the crystalline crust and torn skin of her couple making love from David Altmejd. (This once, the woman is on top.) The same rawness animates Saeri Kiritani's standing nude entirely of rice. Her pale surface and small stature, at a mere hundred pounds, may embody female stereotypes or defy them. So might Rachael Mason's dolls up on the walls, clothed in shattered mirrors. Her role models include Laurie Anderson, P. J. Harvey, Eva Hesse, and Frida Kahlo.
You might have another objection, too: this is not what sculpture looks like, at least not for the history books. It has little debt to tradition, unless Smith's bulges draw on Constantin Brancusi or Brenna Murphy's Lego colors on Celtic patterns. Abstraction and figuration alike hardly intrude. Even Pop Art and Minimalism remain largely at a distance, although Michelle Matson simulates Dow insulation with silkscreens, like Andy Warhol in his Brillo boxes. Much, one might add, is not even sculpture.
Yet that has an upside, too, in extending the boundaries. Cherry's abstraction tiles the bottom of an actual swimming pool, and Kate Ostler's ceramics pick up on folk art, while bearing protest slogans on behalf of adjunct college faculty. Daria Irincheeva's suspension of wood pulp and paper functions much like painting, while Katie Torn offers only the illusion of sculpture with a print. Molly Crabapple's Portrait of Myself actually is painting, on a two-sided panel cut in the shape of her head. "Another 'narcissistic' artist," her thoughts read, "utterly subversive" but "seriously psychotic," to the point that "you should be ashamed." Along with painting, the shame of yet another medium may be losing its sway.
Shows in the quick tour ran at Marlborough downtown through August 3, 2014, 33 Orchard through July 26, Asya Geisberg through August 15, James Cohan through August 8, Zach Feuer through July 26, Lesley Heller through July 12, Sargent's Daughters through July 26, McKenzie through August 2, Elizabeth Harris through July 25, The Hole through August 23, Pablo's Birthday through August 3, Lisa Cooley through August 1, Laurel Gitlen through August 8, Rachel Uffner through August 16, Derek Eller through June 28, and Simon Preston through August 2. "This Is What Sculpture Looks Like" ran at Postmasters through August 2. Related articles survey 2015 summer group shows and 2016 summer group shows.