The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 W. 125th St.
Scratch, the Studio Museum’s show of resident artists William Cordova, Michael Queenland and Marc André Robinson, is diverse and rambling, but determined viewers can detect a shared interest in cultural identity and formalism. A native of Lima, Peru, William Cordova makes delicate drawings of speakers, cars and sneakers and accumulates piles of memory-laden detritus. In referencing hip-hop culture, Cordova obliquely addresses poverty and discrimination, but primarily constructs beautiful images. Queenland, a Californian of Jamaican-Guatemalan descent, offers an enigmatic combination of sleek black-and-white photographs, Fred Wilson-esque black shapes and Shaker-inspired domestic objects. His sculptures, particularly those based on Shaker designs, are striking in their bare simplicity and suggestive in their stark blackness or whiteness. Dominating the exhibition is Robinson’s memorable contribution, the enormous Throne for the Greatest Rapper of All Time, constructed from bare wood and chair parts. All three artists offer precious objects, carefully constructed and heavy with cultural associations. The cultures they reference are widely disparate but in each case their restrained, formal approach to materials creates an interesting tension with the subject matter.
War/Hell: Master Prints by Otto Dix and Max Beckmann
1048 Fifth Avenue
As promised, the works in the War/Hell show are gruesome and tragic, but above all, wickedly humorous. In one densely-packed room, Otto Dix’s War confronts Max Beckmann’s Hell. Both print series were published immediately following World War I, in the spirit of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, which advocated realism as a tool for social criticism. In this portfolio face-off, Dix dominates with the sheer quantity and frenzied complexity of his images. After surviving four years in the trenches of World War I, Dix made this series of fifty prints, which, though reminiscent of Goya’s Disasters of War series, is more eerily comical. To craft these dense compositions of grinning skulls, bug-eyed corpses and robotic soldiers, Dix combined several printing techniques, alternating deep etching with light dry-point. On the opposite wall, Beckmann’s lithographs are packed with wounded veterans, persecuted radicals and pretentious intellectuals, depicting the Hell of German politics after the war. The dark humor of Beckmann and Dix’s prints is what ultimately unsettles the viewer. In treating death with absurd levity, the artists mock the attitude of a reckless nation.