Well, apparently there’s a uniform for new fall gallery openings this year. Girls wear Pleats Please in homage to fashion iconoclast’s demise Issey Miyake. Three titans of the world’s art are back with major openings this month, each offering a dizzying array of work for collectors, tourists, and casual pagans like the rest of us. Each offers their own view of truth and denial, but not always with the same level of insight.
My first sighting of Miyake comes at the opening reception for Lorna Simpson’s early career retrospective on the Upper East Side. Hot on the heels of their exhibition of early work by Cindy Sherman, Hauser & Wirth delivered another exhibition of magical photography. On a rainy Tuesday morning, I head down 69th Street thinking about the promise of a Balthazar lunch box. Simpson and her daughter, Zora Simpson Casebere, discuss the integration of text and image, the importance of black curators, formal innovation, and memory. Someone asks a question about motherhood and art which Simpson gently disarms and moves on. All three floors offer original and striking imagery, including many of Simpson’s most famous works, such as water carrier, a piece that Simpson said partly came from the story and the retelling of a family memory. Many of Simpson’s subjects do not face the camera. An exceptional centerpiece, You’re okay, depicts a reclining woman in a white dress looking away from the camera in multiple panels. The words “You are fine” are above and “You are hired” are below. Simpson’s evocative and playful blend of text and image creates a powerful visual experience rooted in denial and imagination.
A young woman, in Miyake of course, is working hard to capture a photo of a small piece of scrap marked with a tweet from Trump. Personally, I didn’t want to write about ART IN THE AGE OF TRUMP. The clever little jabs at his physique, the twist of his use of Twitter as martial law, the way January 6 has become a rallying cry for Democratic fundraisers. I don’t have a cute nickname for him. Jenny Holzer is smarter than that. At Hauser & Wirth on the 23rd, we can dwell on our feelings about Trumpism with gold leaf on linen. Holzer built an exhibit based on the Roman ideas of the “curse tablets”. By making gold plates and small metal tablets, Holzer plays with the statements of our former president. Some are redacted, others left in full. WTF displays its Tweets in fast neon on a crawling and swinging LED panel along the ceiling. It doesn’t sound like the same work by the woman who created the Inflammatory Essays and Truisms. That said, essays are an artistic practice that Holzer has cultivated for years. She has previously authored material on the Iraq War. “Some writing is just plain pretty. Aesthetes! Holzer said magazine even in 2016. “I don’t think I want to talk about Trump,” she continued. Maybe Lorde will wear a Jenny Holzer dress with a sewn-in curse tablet.
When an artist is so seamlessly absorbed into the commercial world, recontextualizing their work in a gallery is always a gamble. There’s Frank Ocean on the wall. Today, at the Museum of Modern Art, the first major institutional exhibition of Wolfgang Tillmans in New York is looming. The iD Tillmans numbers helped hang on the wall. The ephemeral nature of Tillman’s work is accentuated by his unique gallery styles – small and large images are equally scattered over fire escapes, side hallways, nooks and crannies. His style of street photography evolved from his strict ethics. He uses an ordinary Canon SLR, just like thousands of amateurs. His eye, however, is impossible to replicate. Lay out jars, oranges, cigarette butts, HIV medications and body parts. Everyday altars stare at us, asking what more can we do today? Are we going to the Berghain or do we stay in bed with our lover a little longer?
You can easily play I Spy regarding artist celebrity background. John Waters, Patti Smith, Smokin’ Jo. All the hits are here in this massive retrospective: rainbow shaker, Jochen taking a bath, Argonaut. There are also striking new works, Lüneburg (auto) depicts a hospital video call in 2020. Two alcoves with plenty of seating hold a treasure. Video art. The first alcove plays two captivating pieces back to back. The first one, Lights (Body) is a bouncy rave scene. When I entered, a child danced delightedly. The second, Peas, is a silent work displaying a pot boiling the titular little green orbs. The kid left before the end. The contrast, however, looked like the sum of Tillman’s work – socks left on radiators after nights at the club.
Photography and concept art exhibits have a lot of bias to overcome. This is often the kind of work that gallery goers claim they could have done themselves. Holzer’s ambition is hard to match, though this exhibit doesn’t show his typical poetic venom. Simpson’s genius lies in his layered play with audience expectations, dodging readability and carefully crafting ambiguity. Tillmans most often meets our expectations of a good time with the sensual pleasure of texture. We live in a culture of images. After scrolling through countless videos of red pandas, five restaurants you MUST try on the Lower East Side, and Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room selfies, the trick is to identify the viewer’s last remaining brain cell and fix it. . It is as much the work of the artist as that of the viewer. Surprise is a rare gift.
As I exit MOMA, wishing I had worn my Miyake, I pass a group of tourists admiring Trump Tower, an impersonator of the former president begins to freak everyone out. The crowd applauds. This doesn’t seem at all surprising.