Through April 15. Nicola Vassell Gallery, 138 10th Avenue, Manhattan; 212-463-5160, nicolavassell.com.
Che Lovelace’s “Shallow Pools” (2022) in his show “Bathers” at Nicola Vassell Gallery.Credit…via Che Lovelace and Nicola Vassell Gallery; Photo by Luis Corzo
Before, after, during, long ago — it’s hard to determine when things are happening for Che Lovelace’s figures in his show “Bathers” at Nicola Vassell. Not all of the framed paintings, rendered here in acrylic on board, suggest a narrative, but many do, such as “Shallow Pools” (2022), so I want to see temporal progression in it. Are the two embracing women in the foreground at the bottom of the painting the same women seen separately in the composition’s receding distance, perhaps at another time that day, or in an imagined future? Adding to this fey lyricism are Lovelace’s formal choices, including the quasi-Cubist fracturing of each scene into four equal squares that don’t quite align. Hues so bright they are almost garish hum through prismatic washes. Linear time stops, then staggers dazedly.
Born and based in Trinidad, Lovelace portrays people who dwell in the waters of the Caribbean, but more, they bend and stretch, squat or sit, pose with an arm akimbo, or flung over a head, while the other arm supports a languorous torso arcing like a crescent moon. The water is a transformative, poetic medium — through Lovelace’s attentive gaze — the otherwise prosaic routines of his fellow Trinidadians become lyrical. Even our inherited classical mythology can be transmuted. In “The Gun” (2022), a figure peers intently into a pool, but the scene isn’t a version of Narcissus falling in love with himself. Rather it’s an act of seeking in those depths something bygone, antiquated that may be rescued and made anew. SEPH RODNEY
Through April 22. PPOW Gallery, 392 Broadway, Manhattan; 212-647-1044, ppowgallery.com.
Shellyne Rodriguez’s terrific debut exhibition at PPOW is forthrightly political art warmed by tender personal detail. The artist was born in the Bronx in 1977. That’s the terrain she focuses in her photographically precise color pencil drawings on black paper. And a wide terrain it is, global in population, rich in cultural history.
Rodriquez broadly charts it in three big word-and-image pieces generically titled “BX Third World Liberation Mixtape.” Stylistically, they’re modeled on early 1980s hip-hop event fliers designed by the Bronx-based handbill artist Buddy Esquire. Compositionally, they’re action-packed interlaces of figures and words: lyrics, rap group names, magical numbers, and place names spelled in Arabic, Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish and Twi.
Each “Mixtape” functions as a nodal point for a gathering of large portraits. Several are of Rodriquez’s neighbors — bodega owners, barbers, playground kids. Others are of activist friends and mentors: the abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore; the queer theorist Jasbir K. Puar; the former gang matriarch, now community leader Lorine Padilla. As in Baroque paintings of saints, each is depicted with symbolic attributes: Gilmore and Puar with books; Padilla with a compact Santeria altar.
Just as art and life meet in the paintings, so they do in the gallery. A real altar sits on the floor near Padilla’s portrait. And Rodriguez has turned the space into a study center, a reading room, with a table holding revolutionary literature, and pens and paper for taking notes. Pull up a chair. You’re in awesome company. HOLLAND COTTER
Upper East Side
Through April 15. Meredith Rosen Gallery, 11 East 80th Street, Manhattan; 212-655-9791, meredithrosengallery.com.
The painter Rudolf Maeglin (1892-1971) grew up upper-middle class in Basel, Switzerland, and studied medicine after high school. He worked as a doctor for only a year, though, before making a radical break: He decided to become an artist. Maeglin spent the next eight years traveling around Europe and studying art. Then he returned to Basel, where he worked in chemical factories and building sites. Those places, and the people who labored there, became his subjects.
Maeglin didn’t work in solitude; in 1933, he helped found the antifascist Gruppe 33 and exhibited publicly. But his art hasn’t been seen much beyond Switzerland. This exhibition is its first outing in the United States.
The show consists entirely of portraits, to mixed effect. On one hand, the larger context of how these painted people relate to Maeglin’s architectural scenes, and thus his project of rendering the city, is missing. On the other hand, seeing just the portraits — small, colorful oil paintings on board — emphasizes how beguiling and modern they are. Almost all depict flat, frontal, full-body figures, almost all of them men. Maeglin was gay, and there’s more than a hint of homoeroticism in his subjects’ pursed lips and cocked hips. Especially in paintings like “Controllore” (1960) and “Junge” (1961), I got a sense of gender as a performance — not necessarily on the sitters’ part, but on Maeglin’s. These aren’t romantic renderings of the working class or faithful likenesses of people, but rather, intimate character studies that fall somewhere in between. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
Through April 22. Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 West 21st Street, Manhattan, 212-255-1105; paulacoopergallery.com.
Bubbles combine the geometry of perfect spheres with the chaotic behaviors of floating, bursting, conjoining and pressing up against one another. In the dozen paintings, each titled “Foam” (all 2023), Tauba Auerbach finds a mass of bubbles a fitting subject for their coolly elegant art. The exhibition, titled “Free Will,” is this New York-based artist’s first hometown gallery show since the success of their 2022 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art survey exhibition. The paintings reproduce images of bubbled foam photographed through a microscope, here painted using accumulations of pointillist-like dots. When viewed up close, they resemble topographical maps marked by multicolored pins or even reptile skin.
Shown alongside the paintings on four low metal tables are six beaded glass sculptures, also all sharing a title, “Org” (2023 with one from 2022). In the front of the gallery, where light floods in from the street through frosted windows are seven semicircular arcs of kiln-fired glass mounted on vertical aluminum armatures, again all titled “Spontaneous Lace” (2023). These translucent half-moons feature colored powdered glass that after heating look delicately patterned, like melted lacework. The tabletop beaded sculptures suggest minimalist jewelry as well as instructional models of complex molecules. All of Auerbach’s works here seem to capture order at a moment before seizing into chaos, or vice versa. The works may seem at a glance almost coldly scientific, but is there anything more human than the struggle of barely maintaining order with grace? JOHN VINCLER
Through April 15. Anonymous Gallery, 136 Baxter Street, Manhattan; 646-478-7112, anonymousgallery.com.
“Photography Then?” The title of this group show takes a swipe at perennial museum exhibitions (“Photography Now”) that try to sum up the state of the art. The six artists here exploit the broad cultural fluency in the medium to variously frame American masculinity as fraught, turgid and heavily constructed. Alyssa Kazew’s portrait of five muscular, shirtless young men looks Photoshopped: Even if they earned their abs the hard way, their bodies look strange and taut, disjointed from their laughing faces.
In this show, photography has been manipulated to manipulate. For the photo “Saying Goodbye,” Jesse Gouveia staged a tearful embrace at the airport, the son clutching the father as if for the last time. As the soft-focus strangeness of the moment settles in, the cherry-red tags on their clothes punch through, and the eerie feeling dawns that this might be an ad for Supreme x Levi’s or an airport. Buck Ellison stuffed “Christmas Card #2” with upper-class signifiers; as for how the other half lives, Chessa Subbiondo gives us an Instagram star posing like a cutoff-jean-shorts Venus in the flash-lit night, in front of a Big 5 Sporting Goods, while an awkward, awe-struck boy behind her spills his drink. This is the desirous world photography makes.
Not all of the artists in the show identify as photographers. When everyone and their mother has a 12-megapixel digital camera in their pocket, photography is a choice, not a vocation: “Photography, then.” TRAVIS DIEHL