‘A Future We Begin to Feel’
Through Sept. 11. Rosenberg & Co., 19 East 66th Street, Manhattan, (212) 202-3270, rosenbergco.com.
This beguiling solo exhibition of four sculptures and nine works on paper by the artist Dorothy Dehner (1901-1994) is given context by a fascinating if slightly piecemeal group show titled “A Future We Begin to Feel: Women Artists 1921-1971.”
An active artist since 1925, Dehner did not begin to show her work until 1950, after the end of her 23-year marriage to the sculptor David Smith, who saw no need for another sculptor in the family. The works in wood are the main draw; made in the mid-1970s, they nod toward Brancusi and Giacometti but maintain their individuality. Even better is a little bronze beauty titled “Garden at Night,” which has an ease that Smith rarely achieved These sculptures’ delicacy of line becomes dominant in the watercolor and ink works on paper from 1949 to 1953, where starbursts and washes of color often coalesce into constellations on the page.
The group show “A Future” presents paintings, collages and watercolors, mostly from the 1950s and ’60s by 22 artists (Dehner included). Most were born around 1900, and worked abstractly in the United States. One interesting outlier is the Russian Constructivist Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), whose village scene from around 1950 evinces a softened version of the slashing style of Rayonism, a Russian form of Cubo-Futurism. Another surprise is the work of the Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-91): abstract paintings on paper whose brilliant colors peek through nets of black lines drawn in ink. There is much to see here, including uncharacteristic works by Alma Thomas, Charlotte Park, Sonja Sekula, Esphyr Slobodkina, and Eileen Agars’s sleek fusion of Surrealism and geometry. These two shows dovetail well: The Dehner works remind us that every piece in the group show represents a career that deserves greater visibility. (Rosenberg & Co. will be closed from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7.)
Through Aug. 27. Nathalie Karg Gallery, 291 Grand Street, fourth floor, Manhattan; (212) 563-7821, nathaliekarg.com.
Spend enough time on social media these days and photographic self-portraiture can start to seem banal. The group show “Mirror, Mirror” is a rebuttal and reminder that this remains a fruitful, fascinating art form.
Take the artist Tommy Kha’s “Guise Like Me” (2021). In the largest of three images, what looks like a cutout of Kha lies with his back to the camera, holding a mask of his face. In a smaller photo, the face reappears over the shoulder of Kha’s mother, who seems haunted by an old picture of herself. Kha uses playful artifice to get at an emotional truth: the fractured layering of identity.
Ilona Szwarc takes a similar approach, with images that depict her look-alike turning into a werewolf-type creature. The woman appears in colorful, lavish settings, and it’s unclear if she’s initiating the transformation or if it’s happening to her. In “She was unsexed as a doll” (2019), the woman’s expression issues a kind of challenge: Is this a nightmare or a fairy tale?
Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photographs are more genuine but not more straightforward. He captures himself and friends in the studio, frequently nude and intertwined, with faces hidden or obscured by cameras. There’s a push-pull between casualness and formality, what’s hidden and displayed — a tension that Whitney Hubbs also seems to aim for, although in the two pieces here, her conceptual grounding feels lacking.
What makes these works so striking is that they withhold as well as reveal. They deny the legibility often associated with photography (and selfies), instead offering deftly staged riddles.
Through Sept. 11. Michael Werner, 4 East 77th Street, Manhattan, (212) 988-1623, michaelwerner.com.
Heavy, brooding landscapes spread out in Markus Lüpertz’s 13 recent paintings at Michael Werner’s Upper East Side gallery. The reference to European art and history and literature is overt: His wobbly trees, daubed skies and unnatural lights pay homage to the postimpressionist art movement in France. The mood of the paintings recall Paul Gauguin’s oeuvre — particularly his work in Tahiti, which Lüpertz makes especially glaring by including a recurring female figure similar in gesture to those in Gauguin’s; she is also present in other Lüpertz works like “Nymphe Märkisch,” “Idylle” and “Fisher und Nymphe,” always with her back to the viewer. Mythological figures from Greek legends like Jason also appear in paintings such as “Jasons Abschied.”
But Lüpertz, after paying tribute, veers off quickly on his own path. Unlike Gauguin, who worked with bright, lively colors evoking a sense of sometimes problematic exoticism, Lüpertz uses colors that are dark and weighty and suggest a sense of longing. He sheds off the smooth skin in Gauguin and embraces a rocky, blocklike body structure for the people in his paintings, as though they were sculptures interrupting the landscape.
Now 80, Lüpertz’s hand is definitely strong, well-trained, and experienced — he skillfully transports his influences into his own fully formed landscape, his own universe. One wonders: in what atmosphere did this painter work? Did his practice as a sculptor inform his choice of these fat strokes and thick swabs in creating people with stony flesh? Why is it evening in all the paintings?
In 2010, Lüpertz’s “Pastoral Thoughts” showed at this gallery, buoyed with themes like history, abstraction and his signature landscape motifs. A decades later, in “Recent Paintings,” he sheds off abstraction but moves further into history. It is as if he’s dreaming backward — albeit clearer now, leaning once again toward what it might feel like to be there in the beginning, at the garden of Eden.