Installation view, "Frank Stella: Recent Sculpture", Jeffrey Deitch, New York.
Photo: Genevieve Hanson; Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch

7 Must-See Solo Gallery Shows in May

From monumental abstract sculptures by Frank Stella at Jeffrey Deitch in New York to a survey of significant paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Gagosian in Los Angeles

Rounding up the best gallery exhibitions across the United States each month, Galerie journeyed from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco to discover the top solo shows for May. From a striking show of monumental abstract sculptures by Frank Stella at Jeffrey Deitch in New York to a survey of significant paintings made in California by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Gagosian in Los Angeles, these are the shows that are not to be missed this month.

Frank Stella, The Petite Cascapedia, (2022). Photo: Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch

1. Frank Stella at Jeffrey Deitch, New York

Although he gained critical acclaim as a two-dimensional, abstract painter when his work was famously acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1959 when he was just 23 years old, Frank Stella began making shaped canvases in the 1960s, and by the mid-1970s he had pushed his hybrid paintings into the third dimension. Working with digital processes for the past 30 years, the recently deceased Stella continued to push the boundaries of the unfamiliar forms that contemporary art can take—even making an NFT that includes the right to 3D print its CAD files as sculptural artworks.

His show of colorful sculptures at Jeffrey Deitch’s massive gallery features five monumental abstractions created over the past decade. Working with his concept of “building a painting rather than painting a painting,” Stella started with computer models that he turned into 3D printed maquettes, which were then fabricated at a larger scale from high-density foam covered in fiberglass, a process derived from shipbuilding technology. The sections were refined and sublimely colored with automotive paint before being assembled in his Upstate New York studio. Shipped to Soho on double-wide trucks, his three lyrical Scarlatti Sonata Kirkpatrick sculptures now colorfully float on movable bases in the ground floor space, while the two dynamic pieces from his Atlantic Salmon Rivers series are striking displayed on suspending stands on a level above—providing a current view into what the abstract art of the future might look like.

Through May 18

Yves Klein, Anthropométrie sans titre (ANT 5), (1962). Photo: Courtesy Lévy Gorvy Dayan

2. Yves Klein at Lévy Gorvy Dayan, New York

A spiritual artist on a quest to represent the immaterial and the infinite through an enigmatic series of paintings, sculptures, actions, and events, Yves Klein had an immense impact on contemporary art in the 1950s and ‘60s. Associated with the Zero Group and one of the founders of Nouveau Réalisme, the French artist is widely known for his presentation of an empty gallery as a work of art, monochromatic blue paintings that suspended ultramarine pigment in synthetic resin, choreographed performances where nude women covered in blue pigment became “living brushes” as they were pressed onto and dragged across canvas and paper, abstract fire paintings created with a giant torch, and his simulated Leap into the Void—a photomontage of Klein taking to the air from a second story window.

The gallery’s overview, “Yves Klein and the Tangible World,” offers an impressive selection of his “Anthropométries body paintings, where female forms were physically imprinted, outlined, and brushed onto a variety of canvases and burnt sheets of paper. Accompanied by a dynamic group of fire paintings and a sculptural floor installation of his International Klein Blue pigment, the engaging exhibition shows the conceptual artist, who tragically died from a heart attack in 1962 at age 34, at his experimental best. The icing on the cake, however, is his rarely seen Sculpture tactile (S22), a large white box with two holes fitted with sleeves that allow visitors to touch and examine a nude human body without being able to see it.

Through May 25

Niki de Saint Phalle, La Déesse Noire, (1993). Photo: Matthew Praley; Courtesy the artist and Salon 94

3. Niki de Saint Phalle at Salon 94, New York

A model-turned-artist, Niki de Saint Phalle became an overnight success in the 1960s with paintings made by shooting a rifle at plaster-covered reliefs embedded with containers of paint, which would burst over their white surfaces. Without formal training, she began her artistic pursuit by painting naïve portraits before delving into more complex narratives with female figures. Inspired by the organic architecture of Antoni Gaudí, she added stones, beads, and broken dishes to her canvases and made symbolic assemblages with found objects. A media darling, the French-American artist parlayed her fame into blockbuster museum shows, public art projects, and signature products, which she used to wage a feminist battle against the religious, political, and cultural patriarchy in her time.

The exhibition “Tableaux Éclatés” presents five lively works from her eponymous 1990s’ series of mechanized pictures depicting landscapes with animals, figures, objects, skulls, and flowers dancing across isolated beaches and barren planes of color. Animated through a motorized armature activated by a photo sensor, the artworks (popularly known as burst paintings) activate the various parts of their mechanical compositions when they spot a viewer—setting the elements in an exploding motion. Featuring her iconic Nana figures and an assortment of art-historical symbols, the works also reference the motors of her Swiss artist husband, Jean Tinguely, and the coils of Alexander Calder, a close friend. Upstairs, the exhibition is complemented by a colossal fountain sculpture of a colorful Nana figure with water joyfully spraying from her breasts as she balances on the head of an ornate bird ready to take flight.

Through June 22

Enrico Baj, Des êtres d'autres planètes violaient nos femmes, (1959). Photo: Courtesy David Nolan Gallery

4. Enrico Baj at David Nolan Gallery, New York

A Surrealist, Dadaist, CoBrA, and Art Informel artist who was obsessed with creating art for the nuclear age, Italian artist Enrico Baj co-founded the Arte Nucleare movement, whose manifesto warned of the dangers of the misapplication of nuclear technology, in 1951. Opposed to geometric abstract art, the members of the anarchist movement, which faded out around 1960, preferred the use of automatic techniques. His paintings are populated with mushroom clouds, devastated landscapes, and two sardonic series of army officers (the Generali works) and their wives (his Dame portraits) composed from found objects and household debris.

“Enrico Baj: Alter Ego and Other Hypotheses Celebrating the Artist’s Centennial” features nearly two dozen works by the inventive artist and a selection of works by artists who influenced him—ranging from Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Bellmer, and Man Ray to anonymous indigenous Americans—and those whom he influenced, including Richard Artschwager, Nicole Eisenman, Martin Kippenberger, and Jonathan Meese, as well as his peers, artists like Asger Jorn and William Copley. A playful mix of paintings, collages, drawings, assemblages, and sculptures, this finely curated exhibition offers a fascinating investigation of some of the most imaginative, hand-crafted art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Through May 31

Jim Lambie, Metal Box (Lusaka), (2024). Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Anton Kern Gallery

5. Jim Lambie at Anton Kern Gallery, New York

A Scottish artist, musician, and DJ, Jim Lambie creates colorful installations and hybrid sculptural objects with everyday materials that visually function like three-dimensional paintings. Best known for his floor pieces made with colored vinyl tape arranged in geometric patterns, Lambie has also used album covers, doors, potato bags, mattresses, sunglass lenses, belts, and mirrors to create a variety of idiosyncratic yet highly inventive artworks.

The Glasgow-based artist’s tenth one-person exhibition with the gallery, titled “Liquid Head: Body and Soul,” brings together a group of colorful pieces that revisit the diverse ways the artist has worked since his first New York solo show 24 years ago. The show’s central, fantastic feature is the silver-and-white vinyl tape floor with arc-shaped stripes covering the gallery’s ground floor, winding staircase, and second level with a mirrored wall that continues the reflective floor into infinity. The floor also becomes the ground to carry such wall works as colorful clusters of sunglass lenses, abstract canvases painted with cosmetic make-up, and shaped-metal paintings that are mirrored and spray-painted surfaces, along with floor pieces like a mattress sewn with thousands of multicolored buttons and well-placed Psychedelic Soul Sticks that are woven together with bamboo, yarn, and hidden objects—all key factors in the artist’s alchemistic, material-centric, highly amusing artworks.

Through May 18

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Flexible, (1984). Photo: Courtesy Gagosian

6. Jean-Michel Basquiat at Gagosian, Los Angeles

A self-taught artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat initially made a name for himself by tagging cryptic aphorisms on the streets of Soho as part of the graffiti artists duo SAMO before painting on whatever materials he could find on the street and turning that DIY, altered found object style of creativity into one of the most recognizable trademarks of his unconventional body of artworks. He met his artistic hero, Andy Warhol, who bought a collaged postcard from the young artist when he was just 17 years old. Four years later, in 1981—the same year that his artwork earned critical acclaim in the “New York/New Wave” exhibition at PS1 in Long Island City—Basquiat fortuitously met Larry Gagosian, who quickly invited him to show at his Los Angeles gallery.

Looking back at his first West Coast solo show and the subsequent time between 1982 and 1984 that Basquiat lived and worked in LA, the exhibition “Made on Market Street” focuses on the iconic work the emerging artist produced there. With loans from the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat and major museums and collectors, the show features nearly 30 of the artist’s works, including some of his most important paintings and works on paper. Living and working at Gagosian’s home on Market Street, he met Fred Hoffman—the co-curator with Gagosian of this exhibition—who produced an edition of Basquiat’s most important prints, which are included in the show, and was introduced to Eli and Edythe Broad, who became early collectors of his work. Returning to Market Street, where he rented an apartment in 1983, Basquiat painted Hollywood Africans, his response to the portrayals of African Americans in the entertainment industry, which is also on view in this momentous show.

Through June 8

Clare Rojas, What Remains, (2024). Photo: Phillip Maisel; Courtesy the artist and Jessica Silverman

7. Clare Rojas at Jessica Silverman, San Francisco

Born in Columbus, Ohio, and trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received a BFA in Printmaking—a medium that still influences the formal qualities of her artwork—and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned an MFA, Clare Rojas broke out on the art scene in the early 2000s with her folk-art-inspired figurative works illustrating traditional gender roles. Exhibiting her paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations in nearly 40 solo shows since 2002, her work has shifted from figurative to abstract and a colorful combination of both ways of working. Inspired by Indigenous American textiles, Quaker Art, folk art quilts, modernist architecture, and various vernacular forms, the Bay Area artist constructs charming narratives that depict nature and people in peaceful, loving ways.

“Clare’s Balls,” her third solo show at the gallery, presents 23 paintings that explore the motif of dots, circles, and orbs. Working in a mix of modernist, naïve, and contemporary styles, she references art history, everyday life, and magical realism with reoccurring geometric motifs connecting her playful pictures as a whimsical body of work. From images of women sweeping floors and putting on boots to flowers and dots forming people and linear patterns illustrating stormy weather, Rojas has an incredible knack for making mystical art.

Through June 1

Cover: Installation view, "Frank Stella: Recent Sculpture", Jeffrey Deitch, New York.
Photo: Genevieve Hanson; Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch


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