Fall Preview

Doug Parry, Rip (2008), oil on canvas, 46″ x 34″; courtesy the artist

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The gallery season is in full swing and promises the usual mélange of novelties, big money, humdrum outrages, and stray oddments of aesthetic reward. Art types—students, collectors, curators, critics, Matthew Barney and Björk—will be navigating the streets of Chelsea, the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and—less so, one feels—57th Street and the Upper East Side. For those with a taste for its quiddities, the art season will, at the very least, entertain.

Brigid Berlin’s exhibition of needle-point pillows, at John McWhinnie@Glenn Horowitz Bookseller (Oct. 21 to Nov. 22), is bound to be among the most entertaining. Daughter of Richard E. Berlin (chairman of the Hearst empire in its glory years) Brigid grew up among royalty and privilege. Groomed for Fifth Avenue respectability, Ms. Berlin opted instead for the Chelsea Hotel and Andy Warhol’s cadre of misfits.

It’s less well known that Ms. Berlin is (in the estimation of Art in America) “a conceptual artist of no mean stature.” Her pillows, inscribed with headlines from the New York Post—Ms. Berlin reads it religiously—mix and match domesticity and tabloid hyperbole to caustic and often hilarious effect. Jim McGreevey makes an appearance in Ms. Berlin’s art, as do Saddam Hussein, Keith Richards, and Brooke Astor.

Brazil’s Beatriz Milhazes will exhibit new paintings at James Cohan Gallery (Oct. 10 to Oct. 15). Floral motifs, dotted mandalas, ornate arabesques, and steadying blocks of geometry float and spin within abraded fields of crisp and overripe color. Marked by decorative excess, headlong momentum, and more rigor than you might think, Ms. Milhazes’ art is almost too much of a good thing. That’s the point.

Exit Art marches forward with “Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Now” (Sept. 20 to Nov. 22). Organized by the gallery’s ominous-sounding “curatorial incubator,” the exhibition will sprawl: Hundreds of posters, photos, films, audio clips, and assorted ephemera document the struggles for civil rights, AIDS, democracy in China, apartheid, women’s rights, and other good fights too numerous to mention.

Politics are also at the center of “Invasion 68 Prague” (through Oct. 30), a show of Josef Koudelka’s large-scale photographs at Aperture Gallery. A witness to the Soviet-led invasion of Prague, Mr. Koudelka’s iconic photographs capture the resulting indignation, anger, confusion, and disbelief. Knowing full well the ramifications of his unsparing documentation, Mr. Koudelka didn’t claim authorship of the photos until almost 20 years later.

Peter Blum Gallery does history a favor by devoting an exhibition (Oct. 19 to Sept. 1) to Wendingen, an avant-garde journal published by Architectura et Amicitia, an architecture association based in Amsterdam. Appearing monthly from 1918 to 1932, the publication focused on sculpture, dance, theatrical design, and Frank Lloyd Wright (who was the subject of seven issues). Gustav Klimt contributed to Wendingen’s pages, as did Josef Hoffmann and El Lissitzky.

Mexican outsider artist Martín Ramírez (1885-1963) has been hyped as “simply one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.” Certainly, there’s no gainsaying how swiftly his vertiginous dioramas of trains, cowboys, and manic patterning blur the distinction between high and folk art. A group of Ramirez drawings recently discovered in a California garage (an Antiques Roadshow dream come true!) will appear at Ricco Maresca (Oct. 2 to Nov. 29).

Emily Nelligan took up charcoal because oil paint was too expensive—bad for her, good for the art of drawing. Working on a small island off the coast of Maine, Ms. Nelligan smudges, smears, and erases charcoal dust into dense and velvety landscapes. Transfixed by the fugitive nature of atmosphere and light, she responds to sea, sky, and land with moody, intuitive grace. Her drawings will be exhibited along with those of her husband, Marvin Bileck, at Alexandre Gallery (Nov. 20 to Dec. 27).

Other noteworthy exhibitions include Mark Wagner’s meticulous collages at Pavel Zoubok Gallery (through Oct. 4). Cut, pasted, and reconfigured from dollar bills, the pieces are tours de force of wit, astonishing craft, and neo-Dadaist whimsy.

On the Lower East Side, Jonathan Greene Gallery opens its doors with sculptor Nathan Skiles (through Oct. 5), whose bizarre and brainy amalgams of Styrofoam, cardboard, and felt offer meditations on our “convoluted culture.” Over in Brooklyn, Doug Parry’s suite of autobiographical paintings, The Thirteen Stages of the Double-Cross, at Art 101 Gallery (Sept. 12 to Oct. 5), make unsettling comedy from clowns, cruelty, and Freudian portent.

You might detect traces of porn under Cecily Brown’s flurries of oil paint on display at Gagosian’s Chelsea Branch (Sept. 20 to Oct. 25). Whether that redeems her umpteenth-generation Abstract Expressionism will depend on whether you like your titillation watered down or straight up.

© 2008 Mario Naves

Originally published in the September 9, 2008 edition of The New York Observer.

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