From Coast to Coast, 8 Must-See Gallery Shows in January 2023
From Rico Gatson’s transformative abstractions at Miles McEnery Gallery, New York to Saudi emerging artist Alia Ahmad's lush landscape paintings at Kohn Gallery
Looking at the best gallery exhibitions across the United States each month, Galerie traveled from New York to California to assemble the top shows for January. From Rico Gatson’s transformative abstractions dealing with issues of race at Miles McEnery Gallery in New York to Saudi emerging artist Alia Ahmad turning desolate desert scenes into lush landscape paintings at Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, these are the American solo shows that we have at the top of our viewing list.
1. Rico Gatson at Miles McEnery Gallery, New York
A 1991 Yale MFA grad, Rico Gatson has been actively making and exhibiting work in a variety of media—including video, sculpture, painting and collage—for the past 30 years. Widely recognized for his “Icon” series of collages commemorating Black cultural beacons, which currently grace a Bronx subway station as massive mosaic murals, Gatson is presenting new abstract paintings that explore history, race and power through geometric symbols and vibrant colors in “Spectral Visions.”
Large-scale paintings on wood take confederate flags, Klansmen hoods, targets and keyholes as points of departure for hard-edge abstractions with graphic stripes, circles and triangles, which are dynamically rendered—and often layered—in a vivid, pulsating palette. Sparkling glitter brings attention to select areas of black paint, as if to highlight the suggested subjects of the racial wrongdoing. Preferring to keep his paintings in an objectified form, the artist paints on readymade wooden doors (think portals, leading to a better place) or planks of wood, as in his multi-patterned piece Untitled (Seven Panels). The powerful panels are displayed deeper into the gallery, where several new “Icon” images, including Cicely and Sidney, are also on view.
2. Ryan Sullivan at 125 Newbury, New York
The second exhibition at Pace founder Arne Glimcher’s 125 Newbury project space, which is named after the address of the first gallery he opened on Newbury Street in Boston in 1960, features new abstract paintings by Ryan Sullivan. When Glimcher initially saw photos of the paintings he thought they might be Abstract Expressionist works, but he sensed something different. By making his paintings through the suspension of pigments in resin, Sullivan updates the celebrated Ab Ex process while turning it on its head. Created face down on the floor (the opposite of Pollock’s way of working), Sullivan’s improvisational gestures only become visible when the resin has set and the painting is removed from its shape-defining mold.
Borrowing techniques from sculpture, Sullivan makes a rectangular rubber mold, brushes the bottom of it with pure pigments, pours industrial-grade resin into it, adds more pigments and resin, and then forever fixes the act of painting in the transparent compound. Sullivan is painting the foreground before the background, with no revisions possible. Max Ernst, when discussing his famous frottage paintings—made with rubbings of rough wooden floors—said that he felt like he was a witness to the making of his own work, which is what Sullivan is here. As a viewer, you might expect to actually find paint on the surface of the six untitled paintings in the show, but there is no surface to these paintings. Instead, all of the action is trapped inside, as though its in perpetual motion. There’s a volume to the form within, which wonderfully foils the concept of what we think a painting should be—making it a not-to-be-missed viewing.
Through January 28
3. Vincent Fecteau at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
A recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” Fellowship in 2016, Vincent Fecteau is a New York-born, San Francisco-based artist who makes papier-mâché sculptures. There’s more to his work, however, than that description might imply. Resembling architectural maquettes for extravagant modernist homes or—as one critic wrote—brutalist dollhouses, his modestly sized, polymorphous objects evolve greatly during the process of their being built. Discussing his sculptures, the artist has said, “I start with a form, I change that form, I change it again, I change it again, I change it again.” If that sounds strangely familiar, it might be because it’s similar to Jasper Johns’ oft-quoted maxim, “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”
Nevertheless, the result of Fecteau’s tinkering with his everchanging forms is brilliant. Taking months to create (purportedly he works on multiple pieces simultaneously while surveying, shaping and shading), his ambiguous forms are constructed by hand using the papier-mâché, along with epoxy clay, plaster, wood, cheesecloth, string and acrylic paint. Presented on pedestals placed throughout the gallery’s sprawling space, the dozen sculptures on view look surprisingly different from orbiting points of view (which makes total sense when we learn that the artist spent years working as a florist). Grand yet humble, Fecteau’s strikingly shaped pieces marvelously shift from being hybrid sculptures to hybrid paintings, which are ingeniously made by a master of both mediums.
Through January 28
4. Peter Saul at Venus Over Manhattan, New York
When the 88-year-old artist Peter Saul graduated from the Washington University in St. Louis in the mid-1950s, he packed up and headed straight to Europe; but the luck that was awaiting him there would eventually turn the Pop Art precursor into a superstar back in America. Living in Paris in 1960, he was introduced to the art dealer Allan Frumkin by the Chilean modernist Roberto Matta, who Saul had never met but to whom he had sent some drawings. When Matta suggested Saul meet Frumkin, the artist showed the dealer his work, which he bought and continued to acquire and exhibit in for the next 37 years. Returning to America, Saul taught at the University of Texas for nearly 20 years before eventually settling in New York and finding renewed interest in his work.
With a growing number of museum and international gallery shows over the past 15 years, a fascination with the artist’s breakthrough work has also increased. His exhibition “Early Works on Paper (1957-1965)” offers 47 colorful works on paper that shine a light on his inventiveness in those formative years. Adopting the language of Abstract Expressionism, he added everyday objects to transform it into what was soon to become Pop Art. Creating pastels and collages featuring cartoon characters, consumer products, sex, soldiers, violence and the police, Saul irreverently commented on the concerns of the day, which are now displayed throughout the gallery, where viewers can experience them anew.
Through January 21
5. Laurie Simmons at 56 Henry, New York
Celebrated for her dreamlike photos of dollhouse figures, ventriloquist dummies, life-size love dolls and commonplace objects on legs, Laurie Simmons has been a fixture on the New York art-scene since the late-1970s. A member of the postmodernist art movement known as the Pictures Generation, which featured artists appropriating imagery and styles from movies, magazines and other media sources, Simmons has long employed surrogate figures in her photos and films to cleverly comment on gender, domesticity, tourism, love, fashion and design.
Touching on all of these subjects, her exhibition “Color Pictures/Deep Photos 2007–2022” reimagines a group of images featuring women from amateur porn sites that she made 15 years earlier. Posing the cutout porn characters in staged settings, which include appropriated objects and scenes combined with dollhouse furniture, Simmons photographed the tableaux but never turned them into final prints. Revisiting the pictures last year, the artist printed them at a small scale, put them in deep frames, poured clear resin over the images and added new elements to make them even stranger. Often wicked and sometimes comical, her arresting pictures feature male cameos from art and entertainment icons—with Salvador Dali, Willem de Kooning, Andy Kaufman and Walt Disney at work and play, alongside an accommodating cast of paper-doll-size femme fatales.
Through January 15
6. Shahzia Sikander at Sean Kelly, Los Angeles
Another MacArthur Foundation Fellow (receiving the generous genius grant in 2006), Shahzia Sikander mixes the art of South Asian miniature painting with contemporary Western forms and styles in her detailed watercolors, murals, mosaics, sculptures and animated films. Trained as a miniaturist at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, before studying modern and contemporary art at the Rhode Island School of Design, her engaging works explore gender roles and sexuality, colonial and postcolonial histories, cultural identity and racial narratives through the meticulous merger of traditional motifs and contemporary images.
For her first solo show in Los Angeles, the exhibition “Radiant Dissonance” offers an overview of the artist’s working methods in all of her mediums. Visitors are greeted by the suspended installation Epistrophe, consisting of successive layered pieces of tracing paper, covered in painted patterns, symbols and dots, which mingle her abstract and figurative motifs. Three impressive mosaics expand the mystical nature of miniature paintings to a larger scale, while a related animated film restages the miniature’s method of storytelling with motion and sound. Sikander’s sole sculpture in the show introduces her first foray into working with bronze in Promiscuous Intimacies, which intimately blends the Venus figure from Bronzino’s painting An Allegory with Venus and Cupid with an Indian Devata figure from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—a powerful piece, marrying East and West for eternity.
Through January 7
8. Erik Parker at Over the Influence, Los Angeles
A visionary artist inspired by MAD magazine, underground comics, graffiti, hip-hop, dub, and conspiracy theories, as well as the art of the Chicago Imagists, Francis Bacon and Peter Saul, Erik Parker makes fantastic paintings and drawings of biomorphic maps, twisted heads, humorous hieroglyphics, surreal stills lives, and bizarre landscapes that exquisitely exploit both psychological and psychedelic realms. Moving to New York in the late-1990s after studying with Saul at the University of Texas, he earned an MFA from SUNY Purchase and was soon on his way, with a rollicking solo show, ironically titled “Thiswhiteboysteals,” at Leo Koenig’s hip downtown gallery.
Exhibiting worldwide with major museums and standout galleries since 2000, the Brooklyn-based artist’s “Good Luck” exhibition is his 40th solo presentation, which indicates that luck has undoubtedly been on his side. Titled after one of his seminal hieroglyphics pyramid paintings, the exhibition presents a look at his labor-intensive compositions and inventive styles—ranging from tondos with complex portraiture and totemic planks with visual bric-a-brac to lysergic tropical landscapes, à la Henri Rousseau. A poetic freestyler, Parker steals his slang from media and music sources while mining the internet, ads and social media for his hyper-pictorial imagery.
Through January 15
7. Alia Ahmad at Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles
Making her American exhibition debut, which is her third one-person presentation since earning her Masters in 2020 from the Royal College of Art in London, Saudi painter Alia Ahmad brings the lush desert landscapes from her studio in Riyadh to the gallery in Los Angeles for her solo show “ من الحلم .. . روضة (A meadow … from a dream).” Merging her natural surroundings in Saudi Arabia with a vivid imagination, the 26-year-old artist transforms a desolate desert environment into delightful dreamscapes in a series of large-scale, abstract canvases.
Starting with charcoal drawings of places she visits and sketches in situ, Ahmad paints the natural landscape scenes with an unnatural color palette. Keeping her brushstrokes visible, she wants the viewer to see how the painting is made—to keep the viewer’s eye in motion as her vision unfolds. Inspired by the visual fluidity of Japanese Ukiyo-e paintings and prints and desert tales told by family and friends, she constructs a new view of the region through a flurry of mark-making and a kaleidoscope of colors—a vision that fits the exciting changes her country continues to see.
Through January 14