Jack Bankowsky is a critic, a curator, and Artforum’s editor at large. He currently organizes the spring seminars for ArtCenter College of Design, bringing notable artists and writers to the school’s Pasadena, CA, campus, and is working on a series of biographical studies of contemporary artists.
DEANA LAWSON (MoMA PS1, NEW YORK; CURATED BY PETER ELEEY AND EVA RESPINI WITH ANNI PULLAGURA)
These photos are good, good in the way a Nan Goldin is good, which is to say that Lawson’s subjects, Black subjects, are at once real people and reliably larger than life—larger, certainly, than their typically make-do habitats.
These photos are good—I took a harder look—good in the way that a Jeff Wall or a Stan Douglas or a Cindy Sherman is good, which is to say that while Lawson’s images begin with a charismatic encounter (“I know when I need to ask someone to photograph them, because it feels like time stops for a minute, like a movie”), they are more staged than fly-on-the-wall, the “decisive moment” not so much found as mysteriously imagined.
CHARLES RAY (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY KELLY BAUM AND BRINDA KUMAR); CHARLES RAY (CENTRE POMPIDOU, PARIS; CURATED BY JEAN-PIERRE CRIQUI); CHARLES RAY (BOURSE DE COMMERCE, PARIS; CURATED BY CAROLINE BOURGEOIS); WHITNEY BIENNIAL 2022: “QUIET AS IT’S KEPT” (WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY DAVID BRESLIN AND ADRIENNE EDWARDS)
A shit-faced student literally rusting into the terrace pavers; a recovering drug addict in glistening stainless steel, his abjection made bearable only by the liquid sunlight refracting his wrinkled features; a Black man absorbed in a hamburger, the 1,300-pound whole painted white. A fitting finale to the extraordinary sequence of shows that began at the Met in New York and unfurled in twinned Paris surveys, Ray’s rooftop Whitney installation imbricated its public in a choreography as complex as the living city below.
WINSLOW HOMER (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY SYLVIA YOUNT AND STEPHANIE L. HERDRICH)
Toni Morrison’s epochal Playing in the Dark (1992), a book that rereads the American literary canon against the disregarded Black presence/absence she argues is in fact constitutive of America’s literary self-understanding, might have served as a primer for the juxtaposition of Homer and Ray in adjacent Met galleries. Purposeful or serendipitous, the pairing enlarged our comprehension of both artists’ work by foregrounding the separate, necessarily period-specific, ways they grappled with the fraught fundament of race in this nation’s life. Oh, and if you’ve ever asked yourself whether it’s possible to paint a stormy ocean without descending into kitsch, the answer this breathtaking survey supplied was a resounding yes!
SIMONE LEIGH, “LOOPHOLE OF RETREAT: VENICE” (59TH VENICE BIENNALE; ORGANIZED BY RASHIDA BUMBRAY WITH SAIDIYA HARTMAN AND TINA CAMPT)
Morrison’s study surely counted as a touchstone of this three-day conference convening some seven hundred Black women—artists, writers, and thinkers—on the occasion of Leigh’s double presence at the Fifty-Ninth Venice Biennale. The intellectual and artistic show of force was as empowering as the back-to-back lineup of scholarship and creation proved cathartic (such a convocation, of which I am humbled to have been a part, must have felt a long-awaited miracle). I risk trivializing this historic confabulation, but let it be noted that the fashion quotient made the annual Met Gala look like a PTA potluck.
DAVID RIMANELLI’S INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT (@RIMANELLIDAVID)
Go with your passion, as they say, and so the beloved art writer does. A week of posts will run from a shirtless, sweat-drenched Henry Rollins to a multipost tribute to the simmering-below-varnish homoeroticism of Waspish New York figurist John Koch; from the exactingly curated paparazzi find (“Robert Plant in a heated pool,” anyone?) to an impassioned paean to art historian T. J. Clark. But the real payoff is the straight-up high-art connoisseurship. Deep dives into the outputs of the modern greats reliably deliver the forgotten favorite or genius delight from the outer limits of their oeuvres. I’m lost without my daily hit.
PAUL CÉZANNE (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY NATALIA SIDLINA, GLORIA GROOM, AND CAITLIN HASKELL); T. J. CLARK, IF THESE APPLES SHOULD FALL: CÉZANNE AND THE PRESENT (THAMES & HUDSON)
The monstre sacré of modernist painting meets the monstre sacré of modern art history. I’m not sure if this show was as perfect at it seemed the afternoon I visited or whether my capacity for appreciation was honed by a first dip into the brand-new, long-in-the-works volume from a writer whose crazy-close readings plumb the depths of the prime mover’s art, even as he remains palpably humbled—how could one be otherwise?—by its ineluctable mysteries.
EMMELYN BUTTERFIELD-ROSEN IN ARTFORUM
Art history has never been this publication’s primary bailiwick. And yet I wonder if it might be said that each regime has its Michael Fried? If so, then this reader’s vote for the scholarly cherry on the belletristic cake goes to Butterfield-Rosen.
SUSAN CIANCIOLO (OVERDUIN & CO., LOS ANGELES)
This disgorging of the kitchen-counter atelier of artist–cum–bare-knuckle couturier Susan Cianciolo featured a lot of, well, everything. But the highlight was the central-gallery survey of some two decades of RUN, the artist’s mind-bogglingly inventive line of handmade clothing, composed of recycled garments, textiles, and everyday detritus (a bag of Friskies, a scrap of gingham, a repurposed helium balloon), displayed on garment racks.
Once upon a time, Cianciolo really was a fashion designer—at least, she performed said vocation between the cracks of the adjacent industries of fashion and art—but her production has always felt more folkways than Seventh Avenue, her métier everyday existence rather than its etiolated adornment.
JAMES BENNING, ALABAMA (O-TOWN HOUSE, VAL VERDE, CA)
How enticing the notice in these pages inviting the public to tour this fabled California filmmaker’s Val Verde home; how unnerving the trove of artifacts arrayed among its tastefully monkish furnishings; how flabbergasting to think of anybody cohabiting with these often horrific reminders of our country’s racist bedrock or—deploying them in this most improbable of house museums.
Ostensibly a social archaeology of Alabama as a distillate of our larger American story, the sequence began in the kitchen with a display of Coushatta arrowheads and a map of the state circa 1856 and traversed the territory’s Confederate, Reconstruction, and civil-rights eras via offerings by turns chilling (a child’s Ku Klux Klan robes), exhilarating (a recording of Angela Davis’s 1972 California State Prison address), and delightful (his own bed made up with a Gee’s Bend quilt), pointedly arranged to speak to the secret gymnastics by which power justifies and sustains itself. How odd, how sobering, how powerfully alert-making: I weighed my warring impressions as I stepped out into the unkempt yard, where the artist awaited me with a cup of tea.