In this weekly column, art critic Lori Waxman adapts her 60wrd/min project to review work by artists whose practice has been affected by the pandemic. Waxman covers shows that have been cancelled, postponed, shuttered, made remote or opened by limited appointment, as well as art made during quarantine. Reviews are written in the order in which requests are received. This iteration of 60wrd/min is a democratic, good-faith effort to document more of the art making that is happening at a time when much of it is relatively unobserved.
When wrapped around bodies, wool promises warmth and dryness in even the most awful weather. In the hands of Cynthia O’Hern, a master of felting, it proves capable of confronting other sorts of human trials. O’Hern mattes wool fibers together to create realistic nudes so palpably tangled with nerves and sinews, so viscerally mottled in shades of bruise, as to seem nearly skinless. Two of her larger-than-life-size tapestries, on view earlier this fall in Threads Laid Bare, a group exhibition at Drake University’s Anderson Gallery in Des Moines, offer little comfort but plenty of raw honesty. In “The H(a)unch,” a woman squats with her back to us, her spine and ribs painfully articulated, her pose a defiant combination of primal and professional. In “Sensing the Flux,” a bust of a woman grips her chin, gnashes her teeth, and bulges her eyes in a state of terrifying anxiety. No surprise that it was made in 2020.
—2020-11-30 2:17 PM
When the pandemic forced New York’s Lesley Heller Gallery to permanently shutter this spring after twenty-five years of existence, the exhibition that closed with it, unseen, was Dana Melamed’s Natural Suspension. Looking at images of the artwork meant to have been displayed, the irony of their apocalyptic vision is palpable. A series of drawings from 2018 use acrylic, ink and clay to fill sheets of paper with brutal, sprawling tangles at once arboreal and human, as if mammoth thorny brambles were also diseased lungs, flayed flesh and spindly bones. Ochre washes add an earthy dimensionality, a breath of aliveness, though not necessarily a human one. Three small sculptures, carved from cholla wood, weave endless stairways around dry and leafless trees, dense with shaggy bark. Their bareness disheartens, but in being foreboding they are not unmagical. The ills of nature entwine with the illnesses of humanity, and we are all now suspended.
—2020-12-02 1:15 PM
Fête Galante, a group exhibition curated by Gwendolyn Zabicki and shown recently at Heaven Gallery, is peculiarly timed. Certainly, it’s poignant in this era of social distancing to contemplate our temporary inability to safely party together indoors and out, but most of these paintings—gorgeous and colorful to a one—offer up festive pleasures of which even Dr. Fauci would approve. Karen Azarnia’s glowing, washy “Yellow Lily” has nary a person in sight. The erotic shenanigans got up to by the pair in Katarina Janeckova’s loosely brushed “Power Couple” are less orgiastic than domestic. The deliciously thick swirls of paint in three floral pictures by Tess Michalik can be consumed solo, like frosting roses on a cake. Kelly Neibert’s “Stormy on a Floral Chair” is no picture of a crush perched on a bar stool; it’s a grey tabby curled up amid dizzying swirls of tapestry, a can of Old Style just visible at the rear. That hottie in the cowboy hat, plaid shirt and diamond earring, posed against a hot-pink ground in Greta Waller’s tight little oil portrait? Probably a Zoom date. The largest picture, Sophie Treppendahl’s picnic, complete with charmingly naïve watermelon slices and cheese plates atop a checkered blanket, frames its two guests at opposite edges of the six-foot-wide canvas. Shindigs for our times, indeed.
—Lori Waxman 2020-12-03 4:50 PM