Through Feb. 20. La MaMa Galleria, 47 Great Jones Street, Manhattan; Fridays and Saturdays, or by appointment, [email protected].
New York City art galleries form a resilient and irrepressible ecosystem, one that has survived recessions, gentrification, at least one hurricane, and now an aggressive pandemic. Through everything, the system continues to sprout new life. The group show “Downtown 2021,” curated by the artist Sam Gordon, pays homage to this phenomenon by giving more than two dozen galleries their hardscrabble props.
The show’s title is adapted from Edo Bertoglio’s “Downtown 81,” a film about the 1980s art-and-club scene in the East Village, La MaMa Galleria’s longtime neighborhood. But as surveyed by Gordon, “downtown” is expansive terrain, encompassing not just Manhattan but also Brooklyn and Queens. More than that, the word describes an attitude, one that blends a pull toward independence with a commitment to community.
The show, assembled from work by artists who have been included in current or recent exhibitions, opens with references to communal watering holes, old and new: the Stonewall Inn in the 1960s West Village, and Beverly’s, a popular artists’ bar on the Lower East Side that shuttered during the coronavirus lockdown last summer. Among the 25 galleries represented, Gordon includes a feminist landmark (A.I.R., founded in SoHo in 1972, now in Dumbo, Brooklyn), a veteran Chelsea-based enterprise (Luhring Augustine, which has branches in Bushwick and TriBeCa), and a number of new or newish spaces, most artist-run, among them Soloway, Orgy Park, Elijah Wheat Showroom, Gloria’s, Songs for Presidents, and ZAK’S.
What counts in any group show, no matter the theme, is what’s on the wall and the floor, and there’s a lot of good work here, much of it small-scale sculpture. Highlights include an openwork bronze piece by the unaccountably underrecognized Helen Evans Ramsaran (who shows at Welancora in Bedford-Stuyvesant); a gameboard-like parquetry of brass and copper panels by Zak Kitnick; a sardonic 20-year anniversary memorial to Sept. 11 by Leah Dixon; and a sweet, smart tribute by Polly Apfelbaum — a ceramic wall piece suggesting a string of prayer beads — to the gallerist Amy Lipton, who died last December and was herself very much a downtown type.
And to get a sense of how tightly knit the downtown art world is, it’s useful to know that Apfelbaum recently exhibited at ZAK’S in Brooklyn, which is also Kitnick’s studio; and that Dixon, who shows at Gloria’s in Ridgewood, Queens, was a co-founder of Beverly’s (which will reopen this spring as a performance and exhibition space). As it happens, Gordon himself runs a Manhattan gallery in partnership another artist, Jacob Robichaux, who has shown at Orgy Park (Brooklyn) and has a delicately tensile 3-D painting made from thread, pins and staples, on display here. A few of the show’s artists have exhibitions currently on view elsewhere. There’s a survey of work by Frederick Weston (1946-2020) at Ortuzar Projects in TriBeCa through Feb. 13, and the photographer D’Angelo Lovell Williams is doubling up as a curator of a group show at Higher Pictures Generation in Brooklyn.
Add to all this an online video program courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix and archive of information on all the artists compiled by Wendy’s Subway, a Bushwick-based independent publisher, and you’ve got a rich map of downtown: present, future, perpetual.
Through Feb. 27. Dickinson, 980 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, (212) 772-8083, simondickinson.com
The Whitney Museum’s 2016 retrospective of the Cuban-born abstract painter, Carmen Herrera, now 105, did not exhaustively examine her formative Paris period. “Carmen Herrera in Paris: 1949-1953” picks up the thread, presenting eight canvases, three of which were in the Whitney show, in the relatively intimate setting of a small art gallery, which is always a treat.
During this period, Herrera considered two very different approaches to abstraction, rational and wild. She ultimately chose rational — that is, geometry, exemplified here by “Castilla la Vieja (Venetian Red, White and Black)” of 1949, in which white polygons seem to float above black ones on an earthen red background; and “Field of Combat” (1952), which locks together motifs that conjure raised swords and spears. (The simpler geometries of her mature work are presaged in the painting’s lower right corner.)
For wild, there is an emotive freestyle automatism, as much drawn as painted, with heated colors and slashing (sometimes graphite) lines that combine elements of Abstract Expressionism and Tachisme, its European equivalent. The three here from the “Havana Series” were painted sometime in 1950-51 during Herrera’s visits to her domineering mother in Cuba. They may reflect an artist working without a studio, beset with family tension or the country’s political strife while inspired by the island’s tropical landscape. These paintings give the show its fire, but also contain little repeating strokes that counter abandon with close attention. Two other works echo the tumult more coolly, from the remove of Paris, their zigzag lines and textures leaning toward Cézannesque mountains, and geometry.