This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

THE ROOF GARDEN COMMISSION: THE THEATER OF DISAPPEARANCE BY ADRIÁN VILLAR ROJAS

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

A man examines a hippo head in a unique way on the Met roof (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Met Fifth Avenue
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden
1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.
Daily through October 29 (weather permitting)
Recommended admission: $25 adults, children under twelve free
212-535-7710
www.metmuseum.org
theater of disappearance slide show

In 2014, Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas installed “The Evolution of God” on the High Line, cement and clay blocks that deteriorated over time, revealing such artifacts as clothing and sneakers while grass and plants grew in the cracks. The previous year, Villar Rojas’s “La inocencia de los animales” served as a decaying amphitheater where lectures and performances were held as part of MoMA PS1’s “Expo 1: New York.” He has now created the ultimate dinner party on the Met roof, “The Theater of Disappearance,” tables and chairs occupied by an amalgamation of characters based on sculptures in the Met collection.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

There’s much to see in Adrián Villar Rojas’s “The Theater of Disappearance” (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Some of the men, women, children, and animals are haunting in a ghostly white, while others are in an ominous black. Villar Rojas handpicked each item he re-created, milled or using a 3D printer and made in urethane foam coated with matte industrial paint to protect it all from the weather. Villar Rojas has mixed the ancient with the modern, the classical with the contemporary, including elements from Tomb Effigy of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, a boy resting with a horse on a fourteenth-century fragment of a queen’s face, a French knight from the Cloisters, a sixth-century Egyptian otter, fourth-century BCE Persian plates, a mid-twentieth-century Côte d’Ivoire bird, Edvard Munch’s “The Kiss” with the man and woman turned into horses, a boy general wearing business shoes, and a man sitting on a table, two disembodied arms forming binoculars over his eyes as he stares at the head of a New Kingdom hippo in his hands. There are also babies, cats, tiny lions, crabs, musical instruments, a hand holding a cigarette, coins, and abstract shapes. (Villar Rojas even designed the bar and the typography.) It’s as if Villar Rojas collected hundreds of works from the Met collection (he has referred to it as a scavenger hunt), tossed them like a salad, then put the pieces back together however he wanted, letting his imagination go wild.

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Figures nap on a table that is part of the 2017 Met Roof Garden Commission (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

There’s a decidedly playful feel to “The Theater of Disappearance” in addition to an endearing hope for the future; Villar Rojas has constructed a surreal fantasy world where art from cultures around the globe, including China, Japan, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America, have gathered for a Bacchanalian feast by way of Judy Chicago, their parts having been rearranged so that they cannot be easily identified by nationality, religion, or even gender, instead a melting pot devoid of time and place, built with the glee of a child playing with his or her toys. Oh, and look out for the hand in the symbol of devil horns; it’s a cast of Villar Rojas’s own, and it just happens to mean “I love you” in sign language.

GALLIM: STONE SKIPPING

Gallim Dance will engage in a performance conversation with the Temple of Dendur at the Met this weekend (photo by Nikki Theroux)

Gallim Dance will engage in a performance conversation with the Temple of Dendur at the Met this weekend (photo by Nikki Theroux)

MetLiveArts
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gallery 131, the Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing
1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.
October 28-29, $65 (includes same-day museum admission), 2:00
212-570-3949
www.metmuseum.org
www.gallimdance.com

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first-ever artist-in-residence choreographer, Andrea Miller of Gallim Dance, will debut her site-specific project, Stone Skipping, on October 28 and 29 at 2:00 at the Met Fifth Avenue, at the Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing. The Salt Lake City-born, New York City-based choreographer, a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow who formed Gallim in 2007, created the piece as a conversation with the popular historical artifact, a Roman Period Egyptian temple completed in 10 BCE, during the reign of Augustus Caesar, who is depicted on one of the outer walls as a pharaoh. “I am curious to understand the capacity of the body, its anatomy, its power, and its instinct to connect with the space and events around us. In my work, I look for texture, a quality of energy, or a psychological pitch that surfaces in the doing of things,” Miller, whose previous pieces include W H A L E, Fold Here, Wonderland, and Blush, has said. That mission should resonate beautifully with the Temple of Dendur, a favorite of Met visitors. Stone Skipping features ten members of the Gallim company, joined by six guest dancers from Juilliard, with an original composition by Phil Kline (Unsilent Night, John the Revelator), performed live by the viola quartet Firewood, consisting of Ralph Farris, Stephanie Griffin, Jessica Meyer, and Lev Zhurbin; the costumes are by fashion designer Jose Solis. Stone Skipping will also touch upon the journey the Aeolian sandstone structure made from Egypt, which, in conjunction with the White House, awarded the institution the temple in 1967. “I am convinced that the Metropolitan’s plans for the temple will protect it and make it available to millions of Americans in a setting appropriate to its character,” President Lyndon B. Johnson wrote to museum director Thomas Hoving in April 1967. Exploring such universal themes as loss, preservation, and survival, Miller’s Stone Skipping should only add to the special nature of this extraordinary artifact. Tickets are $65 and include museum admission; for an addition dollar, you can bring a child between the ages of seven and sixteen to the performance, up to three kids per adult. Back in 2011, we saw Shen Wei give a gorgeous presentation in the Met’s Charles Engelhard Court, so we can’t wait to see what Gallim has in store for us.

HUMAN FLOW

Human Flow

Ai Weiwei takes a close look at the international refugee crisis in Human Flow

HUMAN FLOW (Ai Weiwei, 2017)
Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston St. at Mercer St., 212-995-2570
Landmark at 57 West, 657 West 57th St. at 12th Ave.
Opens Friday, October 13
www.humanflow.com

This past fall, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei had several concurrent exhibitions in New York City that dealt with the international refugee crisis. At Deitch Projects in SoHo, “Laundromat” included racks of clothing that had been worn by Syrian refugees at the Idomeni refugee camp in Iraq, all freshly cleaned and pressed, as if ready to give the migrant men, women, and children a new lease on life. Among other items, the gallery show also featured several monitors playing footage that Ai had shot in various refugee camps, film that has now been turned into the stunning documentary Human Flow. In 2016, Ai and his crew traveled to twenty-three countries, visiting dozens of camps in a year in which it was estimated that there were as many as 65 million displaced people around the world, fleeing war, poverty, famine, and persecution. In his first full-length documentary, Ai moves from macro to micro, shooting at a variety of scales. He uses drones to photograph tent cities in the desert from high above — reminiscent of the photography of Edward Burtynsky, turning individual items into parts of a vast pattern — along with gorgeous scenes of deserts and seascapes and intimate cell-phone footage and handheld camera shots that put viewers right in the middle of these makeshift villages, where some families live for decades. Ai, with his scruffy gray beard and in a hoodie, is often shown not only taking cell-phone videos but helping out and mingling with the refugees as dinghies arrive on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, or playfully trading passports with a refugee. Throughout the film, men and women stand proudly, often in traditional dress, looking directly at the camera for extended lengths of time, establishing their unique individuality, putting faces to what is most often seen in news clips as swaths of people struggling to survive. As Ai travels to each successive camp, he posts relevant quotes from writers and philosophers from that nation, from Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, the Dhammapada Buddhist scripture, and Persian poet Baba Tahir to Kurdish poet Sherko Bekas, Syrian poet Adonis, and U.S. president John F. Kennedy. Details about the situations are sometimes delivered news-crawl-style, along the bottom of the screen.

Human Flow

Ai Weiwei gets deeply involved in situation in Human Flow

In addition to giving voice to the refugees themselves — “Where am I supposed to start my new life?” one woman asks — Ai speaks with crisis workers on the ground and United Nations officials and other experts, such as UNHCR Communications Officer Boris Cheshirkov, Princess Dana Firas of Jordan, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, UNHCR Pakistan Senior Operation Coordinator Marin Din Kajdomcaj, UNICEF Lebanon representative Tanya Chapuisat, former Syrian astronaut Mohammad Fares, Dr. Cem Terzi of the Association of Bridging Peoples, and Dr. Kemal Kirişci, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who gets right to the point, explaining, “It’s going to be a big challenge to recognize that the world is shrinking, and people from different religions, different cultures, are going to have to learn to live with each other.” The powerful, immersive film was edited by Niels Pagh Andersen, who worked on Joshua Oppenheimer’s searing The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, from nine hundred hours of footage, with a score by Karsten Fundal and a dozen cinematographers, among them Ai, Christopher Doyle, Zhang Zanbo, Konstantinos Koukoulis, and Johannes Waltermann. “The more immune you are to people suffering, that’s very, very dangerous. It’s critical for us to maintain this humanity,” one woman says, and that gets right to the heart of the film. Human Flow is very personal to Ai, whose own battles with Chinese authorities and exile — he spent much of his childhood in a hard labor camp in the Gobi Desert because his father, a poet and intellectual, was part of a revolutionary group, and as an adult Ai has been imprisoned, placed under house arrest, and beaten for his activism — were detailed in the Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. A masterful Conceptualist whose work explores sociocultural elements through a historical lens, Ai has always believed that artists have a responsibility to reveal the truth, and that’s precisely what he does in Human Flow, with a determined fearlessness to do what’s right.

In one of the film’s most heart-wrenching moments, thirteen thousand refugees, mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, walk through the Greek countryside toward the Macedonian border, only to find that a fence has been erected and the entrance is now closed, leaving them with nowhere to go. It’s a harrowing scene, but Ai is no mere doomsayer. There are many shots in the film that show children running about and playing, laughing and smiling for the camera, still filled with hope for a better life. It’s the rest of the world’s job to make that happen, and as Ai exemplifies, every one of us can make a difference. Human Flow opens at the Angelika and the Landmark at 57 West on October 13; Ai will participate in Q&As following the 7:00 screening at the Landmark on October 13 and after the 1:50 show on October 14 at the Angelika. The film is being released in conjunction with the Public Art Fund project “Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” consisting of dozens of installations and interventions in all five boroughs: at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, the Washington Square Arch, the Unisphere, Essex Street Market, the Cooper Union, bus shelters, lampposts, newsstand kiosks, and other locations, furthering Ai’s artistic ideas about immigrant bans and the treatment of refugees, spread across a city he called home in the 1980s.

PERFORMA 17 BIENNIAL

performa 17

Multiple venues
November 1-19, free - $40
17.performa-arts.org

The seventh Performa biennial takes place November 1-19 in multiple venues around the city, featuring an impressive roster of international artists pushing the limits of what live performance can be. This year’s lineup includes ten Performa commissions and dozens of events, from film, poetry, and dance to architecture, music, and comedy, arranged in such categories as Performa Projects, Performa Premieres, and Pavilion without Walls. In addition to the below recommendations for this always exciting festival, there will be presentations by Kendell Geers, Xavier Cha, Yto Barrada, Brian Belott, Flo Kasearu, Jimmy Robert, Mohau Modisakeng, Kelly Nipper, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Nicolas Hlobo, Kris Lemsalu with Kyp Malone, the Marching Cobras of New York, and others at such venues as Abrons Arts Center, BAM, the Met, White Box Arts Center, Marcus Garvey Park, the Connelly Theater, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, Harlem Parish, and the Glass House in New Canaan.

Thursday, November 2, 7:00
Friday, November 3, 7:00 & 9:00
Saturday, November 4, 7:00

Teju Cole: Black Paper, BKLYN Studio at City Point, 445 Albee Square West, $15-$25

Thursday, November 2, 9, 16
Barbara Kruger: The Drop, Performa 17 Hub, 47 Walker St., $5, 4:00 - 8:00

Sunday, November 5
Monday, November 6

William Kentridge: Ursonate, Harlem Parish, 258 West 118th St., $25-$40, 7:00

Sunday, November 5, 12, 19
Eiko Otake: A Body in Places, Metropolitan Museum of Art, free with museum admission, 10:30 am

Wednesday, November 8
Estonian Pavilion Symposium: Call for Action — Key Moments of Estonian Performance Art, lecture and screening with curators Anu Allas and Maria Arusoo, free, Performa 17 Hub, 47 Walker St., 5:00

Thursday, November 9
Friday, November 10
Saturday, November 11

The Tracey Rose Show in Collaboration with Performa 17 and Afroglossia Presents: The Good Ship Jesus vs The Black Star Line Hitching a Ride with Die Alibama [Working Title], the Black Lady Theatre, 750 Nostrand Ave., $15-$25, 7:30

Friday, November 10
Zanele Muholi on Visual Activism, grand finale of two weeks of meetings, performances, discussions, and art-making, the Bronx Museum, 1040 Grand Concourse, free, 7:00

Friday, November 10
through
Sunday, November 19

Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley: The Newcomers, with Lena Kouvela and Sarah Burns, 28 Liberty Plaza, free, all day

be here now

Saturday, November 11
Architecture Conference, with Giovana Borasi, Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, Yve Laris Cohen, Cooking Sections (Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe), and Elizabeth Diller, Performa 17 Hub, 47 Walker St., free, 2:00 - 6:00

Monday, November 13
Tuesday, November 14

Wangechi Mutu: Banana Stroke, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, free with museum admission, 7:00

Monday, November 13
through
Friday, November 17

Kwani Trust: Everyone Is Radicalizing, multimedia installation and public programs, Performa 17 Hub, 47 Walker St., free, 12 noon – 6:00 pm

Wednesday, November 15
Thursday, November 16
Friday, November 17

Anu Vahtra: Open House Closing. A Walk, Performa 17 Hub, 47 Walker St., free, 5:00

Thursday, November 16
Julie Mehretu and Jason Moran: MASS (HOWL, eon), Harlem Parish, 258 West 118th St,, $25-$40, 7:00 & 9:00

Thursday, November 16
Friday, November 17
Saturday, November 18

Gillian Walsh: Moon Fate Sin, Danspace Project, St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, 131 East Tenth St., $22-$25, 8:00

SIKKEMA JENKINS AND CO. IS COMPELLED TO PRESENT THE MOST ASTOUNDING AND IMPORTANT PAINTING SHOW OF THE FALL ART SHOW VIEWING SEASON!

Kara Walker, “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” cut paper on canvas, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Kara Walker, “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might Be Guilty of Something),” cut paper on canvas, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 15, free
212-929-2262
sikkemajenkinsco.com

In the summer of 2014, California-born, New York City–based multidisciplinary artist Kara Walker entered the public consciousness in a big way with “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby: an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant,” her massive white-sugar sculpture of a Sphinx-like “mammy” in the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, shortly before the factory was torn down. While the piece worked magnificently on many levels, including artistically, historically, and politically, many visitors entertained themselves by taking selfies and posting photos in which they made fun of various parts of the figure’s body, leading Walker to question the ways people, especially of different races, look at and experience such work. In fact, throughout her career, her oeuvre has been misunderstood and/or taken at face value; her cut-out silhouettes in particular can seem adorable and playful until one zeroes in on their harrowing portraits of Civil War–era rape, violence, child abuse, and more perpetrated by white plantation owners and their families on black slaves. Walker attempts to preempt any such critical or popular misunderstandings or misreadings in her major follow-up exhibition, essentially titled, “Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present The most Astounding and Important Painting show of the fall Art Show viewing season!,” a timely collection of new paintings, drawings, and collages that closely examine the state of race relations from slavery to the present time, when the president of the United States has declared that some white supremacists are “very fine people,” the media is under attack, and the country is arguing over patriotism and flags that represent different things to different ethnicities.

Kara Walker, “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” Sumi ink and collage on paper, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Kara Walker, “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” Sumi ink and collage on paper, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

In fact, Donald Trump makes an appearance in the centerpiece of the new exhibit, Walker’s grand “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” a reimagining of James Ensor’s “Christ’s Entry into Brussels,” complete with depictions of James Brown, a Confederate soldier, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Trayvon Martin, a mummy, black stereotypes, and a wilting flag. Flags also appear in the watercolors “Rebel Flag (with Ghosts)” and “Rebel Flag (with Bows)” and “Libertine Alighting the World,” with a partially undressed, flaming Lady Liberty, a mixed-race couple, and a black female centurion burning the Confederate flag, and “U.S.A. Idioms,” with characters in a winding tree, a stump and a freshly dug grave below. Graves play a role as well in “The (Private) Memorial Garden of Grandison Harris” and “Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” death ever present. But some semblance of life emerges in the cut-paper, black-and-white “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might Be Guilty of Something),” with images of eggs and birth alongside snakes and demons.

Kara Walker, “Paradox of the Negro Burial Ground,” oil stick, collage, and mixed media on paper, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Kara Walker, “Paradox of the Negro Burial Ground,” oil stick, collage, and mixed media on paper, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Walker takes on colonialism in the oil-stick “Brand X (Slave Market Painting),” references classical paintings of Judith holding the head of Holofernes in “Scraps,” takes a shot at French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme and colonialism in “A Piece of Furniture for Jean Leon Gerome,” and shows a black child proudly raising his left fist in the air, his right hand on his heart, in “A Spectacle,” paying no attention to the white man with the lasso near him. This is heavy stuff that demands extended attention, reveling in not only the allegorical and true-to-life scenes but also the majestic skill displayed by Walker, who takes a giant step with her use of paint, oil stick, and cut-outs.

The official press release was prepared for all kinds of reactions, from critics and the public:

“Collectors of Fine Art will Flock to see the latest Kara Walker offerings, and what is she offering but the Finest Selection of artworks by an African-American Living Woman Artist this side of the Mississippi. Modest collectors will find her prices reasonable, those of a heartier disposition will recognize Bargains! Scholars will study and debate the Historical Value and Intellectual Merits of Miss Walker’s Diversionary Tactics. Art Historians will wonder whether the work represents a Departure or a Continuum. Students of Color will eye her work suspiciously and exercise their free right to Culturally Annihilate her on social media. Parents will cover the eyes of innocent children. School Teachers will reexamine their art history curricula. Prestigious Academic Societies will withdraw their support, former husbands and former lovers will recoil in abject terror. Critics will shake their heads in bemused silence. Gallery Directors will wring their hands at the sight of throngs of the gallery-curious flooding the pavement outside. The Final President of the United States will visibly wince. Empires will fall, although which ones, only time will tell.”

Kara Walker, “Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” triptych, oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Kara Walker, “Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” triptych, oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Meanwhile, in her artist’s statement, Walker makes her purpose very clear:

“I don’t really feel the need to write a statement about a painting show. I know what you all expect from me and I have complied up to a point. But frankly I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice’ or worse ‘being a role model.’ Tired, true, of being a featured member of my racial group and/or my gender niche. It’s too much, and I write this knowing full well that my right, my capacity to live in this Godforsaken country as a (proudly) raced and (urgently) gendered person is under threat by random groups of white (male) supremacist goons who flaunt a kind of patched together notion of race purity with flags and torches and impressive displays of perpetrator-as-victim sociopathy. I roll my eyes, fold my arms and wait. How many ways can a person say racism is the real bread and butter of our American mythology, and in how many ways will the racists among our countrymen act out their Turner Diaries race war fantasy combination Nazi Germany and Antebellum South — states which, incidentally, lost the wars they started, and always will, precisely because there is no way those white racisms can survive the earth without the rest of us types upholding humanity’s best, keeping the motor running on civilization, being good, and preserving nature and all the stuff worth working and living for?”

Alive, not Dead, 2017 Sumi ink and collage on paper

Kara Walker, “Alive, not Dead,” Sumi ink and collage on paper, 2017 (Photo: © Kara Walker / Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Walker’s show at Sikkema Jenkins is bold and in-your-face, daring viewers to feel deeply no matter what part of the political spectrum they find themselves on. It’s both threatening and thrilling, offering little comfort as it lays bare the ills of contemporary society in fearless ways. When I visited the show on a crowded Saturday afternoon, there were a lot of people, black, white, and brown, taking photos, but nobody posing stupidly or making fun of the artwork. Does that mean we have made progress since “A Subtlety”? Just roll your eyes, fold your arms, and wait.

THE LEGACY OF LYNCHING: CONFRONTING RACIAL TERROR IN AMERICA

Rashid Johnson (American, born 1977). Thurgood in the House of Chaos, 2009. Photograph: Rashid Johnson/Brooklyn Museum

Rashid Johnson, “Thurgood in the Hour of Chaos,” 2009 (photograph: Rashid Johnson/Brooklyn Museum)

Brooklyn Museum, Robert E. Blum Gallery, first floor
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Through October 8, $10-$16
212-864-5400
www.brooklynmuseum.org
lynchinginamerica.eji.org

There are only a few more days to see the Brooklyn Museum’s shattering “The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America,” a searing, must-see collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative and Google that looks at the past, present, and future of the lynching of blacks in the United States. The exhibition is built around a series of short EJI videos in which such men and women as Anthony Ray Hinton, Thomas Miles Sr., James Johnson, Mamie Lang Kirkland, Dee Dee Johnson, and Vanessa Croft share their personal stories about how members of their families were lynched, visiting graveyards and the trees from which the innocent victims were hanged as well as making comparisons between lynching and black and brown men who are or were on Death Row despite substantial evidence against their guilt. The oral histories are vividly photographed by Melissa Bunni Elian, Kris Graves, Raymond Thompson, Andre Wagner, Bee Walker, and Rog Walker and are utterly haunting, ending with explanatory notes from EJI founder and executive director Bryan Stevenson. (To further the discussion, EJI will be opening a national monument in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2018 called the Memorial to Peace and Justice.) The exhibition also features related works from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, including Elizabeth Catlett’s “I Have Special Reservations,” Jacob Lawrence’s “Harlem Street Scene,” Kara Walker’s “Burning African Village Play Set with Big Hour and Lynching,” Rashid Johnson’s “Thurgood in the House of Chaos,” Theaster Gates’s “In Case of Race Riot II,” Jack Whitten’s “Black Monolith II (For Ralph Ellison),” and Titus Kaphar’s “The Jerome Project (My Loss),” which explore slavery, segregation, the civil rights movement, and modern-day racism. A kind of companion piece to such films as Ava DuVernay’s 13th and such books as Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, the exhibit is a powerful, gut-wrenching experience that visitors walk through in near-silence — when I went, the only talking was between a white father and his young son, who whispered that he wanted to know what various words and images meant, and the dad told him, thoughtfully and directly. It was a microcosm of what should be happening more today, expanding the conversation about America’s Original Sin.

CHRISTIAN MARCLAY: PHONES

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Christian Marclay’s three-part “Phones” exhibition reminds visitors of old times (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Paula Cooper Gallery
534 West 21st St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 7, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
212-255-1105
www.paulacoopergallery.com

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Christian Marclay’s “Phones” exhibition at Paula Cooper is a statement about the demise of the old-fashioned corded landline telephone in the face of the mobile phone revolution. But you’re likely to be surprised that the three works all date back to the 1990s, a generation before the latest technology took over. The sixty-two-year-old California-born Swiss and American artist has been exploring the evolving nature of sound and image throughout his career, as highlighted by his multidisciplinary “Festival” show at the Whitney in 2010. The three-part exhibit at Paula Cooper is centered by 1990’s “Boneyard,” a large room filled with 750 white hydrostone casts of handheld telephone receivers, together resembling a graveyard of scattered bones. But here it is the disconnected phone parts that are dead, victims of time. Marclay displays how old phones were used in the seven-minute 1995 video Telephones, consisting of scenes from movies in which phones ring, characters pick them up and say hello, listen to the person on the other end, engage in brief conversations, then say goodbye and hang up, forming mysterious narratives; Marclay would expand the idea to his international favorite The Clock, a captivating twenty-four-hour film of timepieces in movies that played to packed houses at Paula Cooper, MoMA, and Lincoln Center a few years ago. And in another room is “Extended Phone II,” a winding length of dark plastic tubing, evoking a garden hose, that is an outdated, overly thick phone cord. The long separation between base and handset represents the physical distance between callers, which in the modern age is no more because of such apps as FaceTime and Skype. If you have kids, be sure to bring them, as “Phones” is like a diorama at the American Museum of Natural History, a trio of renderings of extinct existence, of what once was and will never be again.