The current “Stressed World” exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery is the school in Kinderhook is a graceful dreamscape grounded in moments of sheer existential gravity. The impressive transnational and multi-generational list of 30 participating artists – including Carrie Mae Weems, Radcliffe Bailey, Carlos Vega, Hank Willis Thomas, Gordon Parks, Odili Donald Odita, Nick Cave, Paul Anthony Smith, Tyler Mitchell and Claudette Schreuders, among others – offers a friendly path through an otherwise intense range of socio-cultural complexities.
Upon entering the exhibition, we are first confronted with Yoan Capote Status quo (reality and idealism) (2010) sculpture of an oversized ladder. On one side is a large gold dish and on the other a smaller black one. This work serves as an authoritative preface that symbolically announces darkness as the central theme of “Stressed World”.
The show then takes the viewer down a winding path of various aesthetic narratives, some of which seem to contradict the title itself. Among these are the charcoal drawings on paper by Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu. The deep tones and natural exuberance of his chosen subjects – African women and girls – reflect the traditions and myths of the Nigerian people while providing a kind of stanza to Capote’s sculptural “opening lines” in regard to the balance and power. One of these works lost page (2018), depicts a goddess-like woman weaving a large basket, her gaze fully fixed on the age-old object she is creating with her bare hands.
Another sincere section is a room of mixed works by Lyne Lapointe. Its charming characters made of linen and fabric display a sensibility and psychotherapeutic quality but also recall the solitary world of the Little Prince on his distant planet. Other digressive moments offer a romantic look at a “past time” that remains relevant, such as Andy Warhol’s New York City Scene (1976-1986) series of black-and-white photographs of a nondescript street corner repeated in a grid.
If many works presented in this exhibition seem accessible or even joyful, others accentuate the weight of our time. The holder stressed world (2011) by El Anatsui is a massive installation made entirely of ravaged aluminum bottle caps strung together by wire, a candid commentary on the scale of global consumption and waste. Jackie Nickerson’s series of digital C-prints from 2019 are an eerie foreshadowing of the reality of the 2020 virus, when the entire planet was turned upside down simultaneously and indiscriminately. Each of his eight photos, with titles such as clear head and Cloud– features a solitary figure that is somehow obscured by a painted plastic object or other random covering, suggesting personal desolation and disconnection.
Another example of the anxiety of the “Stressed World” theme is a room of dark paintings by Pierre Dorian. Although these visions of simple architectural scenes comprising hallways, corners and doorways seem innocuous enough, the haunting alienation of these spaces is palpable. The abstract works on paper by the late Barkley L. Hendricks also express a sense of loneliness that runs throughout the exhibition, and his painting Untitled (1971) of nine ellipses on a green background provides perfect lyrical reverberation with Hank Willis’ endless column Thomas (2017) sculpture of nine basketballs frozen in time, developing his concern for the commodification of black men and their identities.
As I progressed, I could hear the Talking Heads “we’re on a road to nowhere” melody ringing true to the dynamic assemblage of artwork included in this show. The works have something powerful to say, but the fantastic “nowhere” of art itself as a parallel realm of understanding provides an imaginative pathway of insight that is also idealism contrasted with harsh realities, in fact a true reflection of our increasingly stressed world.
@ Jack Shainman Gallery: School
25 broad street
When: until December 3
Art galleries and exhibitions