“Nature Morte,” a still-life show featuring about 60 artists; Remy Jungerman’s painterly compositions of textiles and clay; and Florian Meisenberg’s abstract blobs and painted birds.
For those who find art galleries interesting but intimidating, the Hole is an excellent place to test the waters. Especially now, when the gallery’s annual thematic group show — traditionally a crowded over-the-top affair — is in full cry, along with the fearless sensibility of its founder and guiding spirit, Kathy Grayson.
Grayson has a preference for art of instantaneous appeal, whether in terms of startling subject matter, high-keyed color or dazzling, inventive, sometimes digital techniques — or all of the above. Her view seems to be that fine art is on a collision course with popular culture and sure to be invigorated.
The theme of this year’s extravaganza is still life and its traditional subtext — the transience of life and its inevitable descent into decay and death — is visible everywhere. Visitors are greeted on the show’s first wall by Robert Lazzarini’s 2000 sculpture of an anamorphic skull and Aurel Schmidt’s profuse, hyper-real floral arrangement in colored pencil, dotted with fat flies.
The show’s 60 or so artists are mostly painters, including Fernando Botero, represented by a watercolor of a characteristically corpulent blue coffeepot; youngish elders like Chris Johanson, Barry McGee and Holly Coulis; and emerging artists like Amanda Baldwin, Molly Greene, Mark Posey and Pedro Pedro.
Among the artists showing in New York for the first time is the British surrealist Ivan Seal (best known for his album covers for the experimental musician Leyland James Kirby), who is represented by two looming, crusty-surfaced paintings of fresh and less fresh bouquets; and Jon Young who contributes a large pillowy relief in iridescent fabric of a silver armadillo against bright green that looks like it might do double duty as a headboard. This year Grayson selected wall treatments that alternate faux-concrete Brutalist blocks with floor-to-ceiling black-and-white photomurals of woodland scenes. Initially benign, these turn “Blair Witch”-y as the art becomes more environmentally pointed. In his inimitable cartoon style, Taylor McKimens expands still life into a glittery landfill of all-American trash titled “See the U.S.A.”
Through May 15. Fridman Gallery, 169 Bowery, Manhattan, 646-345-9831, fridmangallery.com.
The Amsterdam-based artist Remy Jungerman was born in Suriname, the former Dutch colony in South America, with roots on his mother’s side in the Maroon tribes, descendants of Africans who escaped enslavement three centuries ago to form free communities in the rainforest. In his art, Jungerman places that cultural legacy — with its objects, rituals, cosmology — in relation to Modernism, particularly the Dutch strain epitomized by Piet Mondrian and the de Stijl movement, with its color blocks and uncluttered geometries.
Over the past two decades, Jungerman, who was featured in the Dutch pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, has progressed from large-scale sculptural installations that functioned by the accumulation of objects, to more introspective individual pieces. His approach is now almost painterly — except that the panels on view in “Brilliant Corners,” his absorbing exhibition at Fridman Gallery, downtown, are not paintings; instead they involve humble, plaid-like fabric that the artist glues to wood board, then coats with white kaolin clay, before cutting lines that reveal slices of the color beneath. The cloth and kaolin are distinctive of Maroon culture, while the marks evoke scarification.
Jungerman studied mechanical engineering, and the architectural disposition in his art remains apparent — in the gridded geometry of the panel works and also in horizontal sculptural pieces made of wood to which he adds cloth, beads, a clay gin bottle, nails. The overall form resembles a ship at sea, or an urban-planning sketch, while the details are sacramental and syncretistic.
“Visiting Deities” — a 1962 film by the anthropologist H.U.E. Thoden van Velzen documenting a Maroon ceremony — is on view on the lower floor. It offers useful references even as it reminds us how there has always lurked, beneath Modernism, an ethnographic counterpoint.
Through May 22. Simone Subal, 131 Bowery, Manhattan, 917-409-0612, simonesubal.com.
Stand at one end of Florian Meisenberg’s exhibition “A story is always told into two ears,” at the Simone Subal Gallery, and you see a lineup of paintings mounted at 90-degree angles to the gallery walls and a candy-colored mural covering the windows. Stand at the other end of the room and you see the backs of the same paintings — and an entirely different show. This sums up Meisenberg’s approach: He treats painting as a device, albeit a sophisticated one, for reminding us that everything can be viewed from multiple perspectives.
A yellow painting of a grid receding into space from 2021 — essentially describing how linear perspective works in painting to create a sense of depth — has a lengthy title in the form of queries. It starts, “Il grotto fiori (Why is sand so comfy everywhere? How does sand adhere so well to multiple surface structures?).” Other paintings depict roughly painted birds, fantastic creatures, abstract blobs and vegetal forms in front of or behind a gridded fence or in the mythical Tibetan bardo, a transition period between death and rebirth.
“This period of bardo state is believed to be a time of vulnerability,” Meisenberg explains in an accompanying zine you can view online. This state of vulnerability could also be applied, though, to the act of making or looking at new and otherworldly paintings like Meisenberg’s — or wandering around the world in the later stages of a pandemic.