The Best Art Exhibitions To See Downtown
WORDS Natasha Silva-Jelly
Gallery hopping in New York City is a favorite pastime for locals and a rite of passage for visitors. Those familiar with the city’s dynamic art scene know traversing the streets of Chelsea between 21st and 27th—under the Highline—is the well-trodden path. And while the established gallery district is always worth a meander, venture further downtown to discover the growing gallery scene in the Lower East Side (LES), TriBeCa, and SoHo.
A recent arrival to bring an art injection to SoHo’s fashion district is the first New York outpost of LA gallerist Nino Mier. Opening its doors on cobblestoned Crosby Street, right around the corner from Baltazar—a coveted culinary and cultural icon—the elegant 4500 square foot ground floor space has taken up residence in a classic cast iron building—ironically in almost the same spot where German artist Thomas Struth took one of his most seminal photographs of the raw, architectural nature of New York when he captured the trash-strewn cobblestone street completely devoid of people in the early hours of a frigid, January morning in 1978.
We chatted with the gallery’s director Margaret Zuckerman about the new space, programming line-up, and Mier’s vision for the revival of the neighborhood’s arts district—SoHo was the city’s art epicenter in the mid-70s – 90s era when artists Frank Gehry, Richard Serra, Donald Baechler and Jean-Michel Basquiat all lived and worked there.
In addition to checking out the new Nino Mier Gallery, here’s our curated guide to more downtown exhibitions worth adding to the diary this spring/summer season.
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SOHO: Nino Mier Gallery
André Butzer (March 16 – April 29)
Art dealer turned gallerist Nino Mier opened his first space in West Hollywood in 2015 and in less than a decade has expanded at a rapid-fire rate to nine locations—four in West Hollywood, two in Brussels, a project space in a former gas station in Marfa, Texas and now New York a New York flagship. The decision to break the Chelsea norm and set up shop in SoHo—the gallery opened in late January with a solo show by German painter Jana Schröder—was an intentional play, says Zuckermann. “Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Soho is a destination and it felt like a natural fit energy-wise. We like to do things our way and wanted to create a young, fun, inviting atmosphere where we could connect with the community.” To transform the loft—which in previous incarnations had been home to a gym and a massage parlor—into an elegant, contemporary, light-filled, white-walled gallery Mier enlisted esteemed gallery architect Markus Dochantschi of StudioMDA. Dochantschi retained the classic SoHo design elements while adding a new concrete floor, state-of-the-art lighting, and specialty stone and metal finishes to accent the space which has 16-foot ceilings. “It’s such a beautiful build-out,” says Zuckermann who decamped from Mier’s LA gallery to spearhead New York, where she’s excited to be closer to the local artists on the roster, among them New York-based German painter Michael Bauer, native New Yorker Joanne Greenbaum and Indiana-born, Brooklyn based Cameron Welch. On the international front, in addition to Schröder and Butzer, notable other artists Alessandro Pessoli, Bendix Harms and Andrea Joyce Heimer.
German painter André Butzer has created six new paintings of one of his most distinctive characters—the figure of the Woman, for his solo show (just the second exhibition for Nino Mier New York). Blending European Expressionism with American popular culture, Butzer has for three decades painted his way through the artistic and political extremes of the 20th century—life, death, consumption, and mass entertainment—into the 21st century. With influences as wide-ranging as Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford, Butzer has developed a unique and elaborate fictitious universe populated with iconic characters that evoke ‘Science Fiction-Expressionism’ with their large comic-book eyes, inflated heads, and oversized hands. These recognizable bright figures and shapes, which first appeared in 1995 continue to star in subsequent bodies of work. Engaging with the fundamental dimensions of color, light, and painterly expression, Butzer’s practice has journeyed through the utter blackness of his N-Paintings (2010-2017), to return to vibrancy, following his move to California. In these new works, the women appear on the brink of this world and the beyond, whether one- or many-colored, the towering bodies and the surrounding spaces are created with bold hues and contrasts, strokes and planes are interwoven, highly concentrated, and solidified. Each Woman is a soulful individual with a unique temperament, modest and benevolent. Butzer’s paintings are the animated fabric of life and death, re-uniting what is present and what is absent.
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“The Omen” Albert Oehlen’s Paintings and Paul McCarthy’s Sculptures (Now until April 22)
Larry Gagosian opened his first gallery in LA in 1980, and his international empire now extends to 20 spaces including six in NYC (you’ll find 3 of them in Chelsea). A champion of contemporary modern art, Gagosian was the first gallery to launch a publishing arm and today they have published over 600 catalogs raisonnés, monographs, art books, scholarly exhibition catalogs, and rare limited editions. On the Gagosian, A-list artist lineup is marquee living artists John Currin, Rachel Feinstein, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Jenny Saville, Jonas Wood (and the list goes on), and over the past four decades the gallery has presented museum-quality exhibitions of historical art icons like Diane Arbus, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol, and Picasso.
The ömen: Albert Oehlen paintings and Paul McCarthy sculptures, is a showcase of recent paintings by German artist Albert Oehlen and large-scale sculptural works by American artist Paul McCarthy. Oehlen invited McCarthy to collaborate in the ömen in part to highlight a shared fascination with works that are “on the way to becoming something else, ” and underscore how both artists toy with and deconstruct the myth of white, male creative heroism. Oehlen’s work employs abstract, figurative, and collaged elements to disrupt the histories and conventions of modern painting while acknowledging the continued significance of classical art. Championing self-consciously “bad” painting characterized by crude drawing and jarring coloration, he infuses expressive gestures with a Surrealist attitude. His works in this exhibition center on his cryptic Ömega Man motif, a genderless humanoid form inspired by Dr. Robert Neville, a character in the dystopian sci-fi action movie The Omega Man from 1971. McCarthy, who has been renowned for performances, videos, sculptures, and installations since the 70s features work that focuses on sex and violence as he probes the darkest corners of the American subconscious. In his sculptural installation, an elevated platform is surrounded by airbrush paintings of images from popular magazines, produced by an illustrator. Also present is a nude, partially dismembered mannequin modeled after the artist wearing a wig and seated on a throne and a portrayal of the first woman to denounce Bill Clinton for sexual harassment.
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LOWER EAST SIDE: Karma
Paul Mogensen Paintings: 1965-2022 (Until April 22)
With three gallery locations in New York’s Lower East Side (as well as a bookstore) and one in Santa Monica (a West Hollywood space is also on the horizon), Karma specializes in modern and contemporary art and champions a multigenerational roster of artists and estates active in the development of twentieth and twenty-first-century art. Founded in 2011 by Brendan Dugan, then a designer of limited-run artist publications, Karma evolved into a gallery when it set up a space in the east in 2015, and now presents over 30 exhibitions each year showcasing historic artists like Alan Saret, Thaddeus Mosley, and Peter Bradley, alongside contemporary artists such as Nicholas Party, Matthew Wong, and Woody De Othello, often accompanied by a Karma-published monograph, series of commissioned texts and public programs.
Paintings: 1965-2022, is a survey exhibition of works by New York-based painter Paul Mogensen. Described as “a painter with a philosopher’s disposition,” by sculptor Lynda Benglis, Mogensen’s paintings are informed by his training in mathematics and geometry and influenced by Russian Constructivists like Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, and Alexander Rodchenko, who aimed to create art from basic principles. The artist never plans out his paintings on paper, explaining that “once you decide on the arithmetic and then you just make it, it makes itself.” The proportions of his forms, and of the canvases are predetermined by expanding sets of progressional sequences. Mogensen’s treatment of color is elemental, working in monochrome or in solitary applications of paint straight from the tube. Mogensen also eschews titles and dates for his pieces, allowing his geometric explorations to be seen without qualification. One of the few pieces with a title, Copperopolis (1966) consists of sixteen parts fixed to a wall. The separate sections are unified with an even, smooth layer of vibrant monochrome, an effect Mogensen achieved using copper medium and a sprayer. The work derives its order from an arithmetic progression in which height and width are doubled. By employing all of the original painter’s tools, yet stripping away everything except what is measurable, Morgensen orients the viewer toward the real, while from the constraints of geometry and unmixed color, the artist finds limitless possibilities in the realm of numbers and fixed formulas.
TRIBECA: 52 Walker
Bob Thompson: So Let Us All Be Citizens (April 21 – July 08)
TriBeCa (the triangle below Canal) has seen an influx of new galleries in the past few years and a recent experimental addition joining the ranks of Canada, Theta, Chart, and Bortolami is 52 Walker, the latest outpost of the David Zwirner empire. The expansive high-ceiling white-walled space—formerly a trendy lounge bar — is divided by columns and features intimate nooks to inspire artists to engage with the space through performances, readings, and events. Spearheaded by curator Ebony L. Haynes—a mutual friend of the late designer Virgil Abdol Haynes with whom she shared a commitment to elevating black culture and voices into the mainstream—52 Walker is out to disrupt the art world ecosystem. It doesn’t operate as a traditional gallery representing artists but rather collaborates with galleries to give artists a new platform to showcase their work—each exhibit lasts for three months — and be part of the conversation.
So Let Us All Be Citizens is a display of 10 paintings from the 1960s by African-American figurative painter Bob Thompson whose bold, colorful canvases are influenced by the Old Masters and jazz-influenced Abstract Expressionist movement. Hailed as one of the many great 20th-century artists that died too young (just 28) — like his contemporaries Eva Hesse, 34, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 27, and Keith Haring, 31— Thompson, who would be in his late 80s had he lived, painted incessantly in 50s and 60s. His works symbolize a powerful, personal hybrid of Fauvism and Neo-Impressionism created with Matisse-like color and feature surrealistic figures seen in swelling nature, lynchings, and scenes with demons and angels.
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For The Fashionistas: Karl Lagerfeld, A Line of Beauty (May 5 – July 16)
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will devote its spring 2023 exhibition to the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, celebrated as one of the most influential designers of our time.
‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’, which will be unveiled in star-studded style at the annual Met Gala, will be a showcase of the iconic designer’s six-decade-long career, his creative process, the evolution of his designs and his monumental and lasting impact on fashion.
In addition to his 36-year reign as creative director of Chanel, the kaiser as he was affectionately known, worked his magic for luxury fashion houses Fendi, Balmain, Chloé, and the exhibition will explore the “artistic methodology and stylistic vocabulary” of his designs through recurring themes seen from the 1950s to his final collection in 2019.
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For The Family: Arcadia Earth (Permanent)
Even if you don’t have kids, this is a must-see exhibition for all ages that has thrown the spotlight on sustainability in the sexiest way. The 18-room exhibition powered by AI and virtual reality that takes viewers on a mind-bending, multisensory journey through underwater worlds, breathtaking landscapes mystical forests, and underground caves. Created to expose, explore and inform viewers on the biggest environmental threats facing our planet—there is a cave made out of 44,000 discarded plastic bags: the number used in New York state every minute—Arcadia Earth, the brainchild of Italian-born, New York–based experimental artist Valentino Vettori is designed to inspire environmental action through a visually stunning immersive art experience. In addition to the plastic cave, there is a room made from the pages of discarded library books, a tsunami of waves created from plastic that washed up on the shores of Long Island, and an ocean filled with vibrant plastic-coated jellyfish, to represent the mass of plastic that is predicted to outpace marine life in our oceans by 2050.
WORDS Natasha Silva-Jelly
FEATURED IMAGE Exhibition view: Paul Mogensen, Paintings:1965-2022, Karma, 188 and 172 East 2nd Street, New York (3 March–22 April 2023). Courtesy Karma.