Through Jan. 13. Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, Manhattan; 212-832-1155, japansociety.org.
In 1988, on the pinnacle of the Japanese bubble financial system, as sneering westerners watched Japanese companies snap up van Goghs and Monets, a younger photographer flabbergasted the Venice Biennale with self-portraits that drew on the imagery of western artwork historical past, disrupted and re-evaluated by the artist’s personal face. For three many years now, Yasumasa Morimura has scrutinized the premises of Japanese id by means of photographic restagings of European work, performances as western and Japanese figures and, most not too long ago, the opening of a museum in his hometown, Osaka. Sometimes he will get too jokey, too direct. But his finest work, as proved by a stunning exhibition at Japan Society, reveals the self as a rickety factor, and nationwide id as much more fragile. (A associated survey of Mr. Morimura’s images is on view on the Bushwick location of Luhring Augustine by means of Dec. 22.)
In the exhibition’s practically two dozen images, Mr. Morimura restages self-portraits by van Eyck, Dürer, van Gogh (a longtime fixation of the artist, thanks to the Dutchman’s Japanese affect), in addition to feminine painters like Élisabeth-Louise Vigée le Brun and Frida Kahlo. In some he wears little make-up, whereas in others he seems in whiteface, which solely heightens the incongruence of his personal physique in these historic and geographical flights.
Yet a associated function movie, in which the artist walks by means of modern Japan in the guises of Vermeer, Velázquez and lots of different European forebears, reveals that historic imitation is hardly a objective — in any case, even Snapchat helps you to overlay your pictures with a van Gogh filter — however a method to reckon with trendy alienation. “I still don’t have any idea who I am,” he says in his van Gogh costume, agog on the lights of Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. He walks by means of a pristine Japanese studio in Rembrandt’s ratty robes, lamenting “the monotony of having to paint the same face over and over.” National, racial, or gender discordances are solely a part of the story; simply as essential is a way of existential absence that enables, or forces, the artist to slip into the lives of others.
In “Ego Obscura,” the engrossing new video set up that offers this present its title, Mr. Morimura revisits one in all his most well-known performances. In 1995, he strutted right into a classroom at Tokyo University the place Yukio Mishima as soon as ranted — however Mr. Morimura was dressed as Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch.” He provides to this older efficiency a brand new one as Mishima himself, dressed in navy garb and shouting nationalist claptrap. The free trade between Monroe and Mishima, figures who each selected demise over the calls for of postwar America, reaffirms that Mr. Morimura’s actual mission is giving type to the formlessness of contemporary selfhood, in which even ethnicities and genders are mere costumes donned by a vacant self. Mr. Morimura, following Roland Barthes in “Empire of Signs,” identifies this vacancy he feels as quintessentially Japanese — yet I suspect no shortage of Westerners, desperately monitoring the likes on their filter-fixed selfies, will recognize it, too. JASON FARAGO
Through Jan. 6. Fortnight Institute, 60 East Fourth Street, Manhattan; fortnight.institute.
Usually an artist makes some art, and if all goes well, that work gets shown, and the gallery (or museum) hosts a dinner celebrating the exhibition. Jane Kaplowitz reverses this process. Fancy-art-dinner invitations and lavish menus serve as subjects for paintings and drawings hung salon-style in “Jane Kaplowitz: RSVP Jane Rosenblum (1977-2018),” a sharp, funny and subversive show organized by the maverick curator Alison M. Gingeras at Fortnight Institute.
So who are Jane Kaplowitz and Jane Rosenblum? Actually, they are one and the same person. Ms. Kaplowitz is an artist; Ms. Rosenblum is the widow of the well-known art historian and curator Robert Rosenblum. These identities merge in paintings and drawings made with pencil, acrylic and marker that highlight the ups (fabulous parties) and downs (a bottle for anxiety medication prescribed for Ms. Rosenblum) of that dual identity. In addition to considering her own bifurcated self, Ms. Kaplowitz explores collapsed binaries in the form of “homosexual” animals or celebrities briefly posing as gay, like Madonna kissing Britney Spears.
The not-so-subtle sexism of the art world is also illuminated by the fact that virtually all the invitations and menus recreated here celebrate Great Men of the art world. And while a steady supply of spicy tuna tartare, rack of lamb and blistered, fricasseed and tartlet vegetables is nice, these are mere compensatory gestures for artists. A painting suspended in the window, remaking the invitation for Ms. Kaplowitz’s last New York solo show, 19 years ago, underscores this point. Filled with sly gestures of this nature, “Jane Kaplowitz,” clearly egged-on by Ms. Gingeras, sets about gleefully, cheerfully dismantling the patriarchal art world from the inside out. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Through Jan. 5. Burning in Water, 505 West 27th Street, Manhattan; 646-918-7696, burninginwater.net.
Everything in Valerie Hegarty’s exhibition “Bloom and Gloom,” at Burning in Water, looks as if it is broken, dead or falling apart. A ceramic relief of a rosebush is cracked all over; the sculptures are pots filled with drooping flowers; and wall works made from paper and paint (among other materials) have peeled, crumbled and dripped. In some cases, piles of scraps have pooled on the floor below, seeming evidence of the fatal conspiring of the passage of time and human neglect.
All these pieces were meticulously crafted by Ms. Hegarty, who has made an art practice of exploring the imaginative possibilities of decay. In the past, she has used her techniques to challenge the romantic legacy of whitewashed American history; here, the subject matter is more personal. The paper works represent parts of walls from her life, including one in her mother’s bedroom. The ceramic flowers are mostly tulips in reference to 17th-century Dutch vanitas paintings, but it’s easy to imagine them as houseplants that couldn’t survive the harshness of life in New York City.
“Bloom and Gloom” is a dark show. Ms. Hegarty’s rendering of her bathroom walls with the rot so fully in command offers an intimately dystopian vision. Yet the artworks also contain beauty — as in the gray-black luster that coats “Charred Tulips” (all works are from 2018) — and inspire wonder, as at the edges of “Boarded Up Window, Brooklyn,” where Ms. Hegarty has painstakingly blended an illusory derelict wall with the gallery’s pristine one. The care she takes with her acts of creation suggests a distinct approach to rot: Rather than fear it, she considers what it can teach us about ourselves. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
Through Jan. 5. Petzel, 456 West 18th Street, Manhattan; 212-680-9467, petzel.com.
For his new show at Petzel, “Hell Has Everything,” Seth Price put together a couple of overlarge photo light boxes, a bank of giant screens playing an exacting survey of a blotchy dead squid, and thirteen inkjet prints of complex, smoky formations enlivened with stickers, bulging puddles of clear acrylic polymer, images of anonymous men and boys, and clods of raw earth.
A dancing reflection in the center of the video, by calling attention to the small but definite distance between the animal’s slick outermost membrane and the rosy pigment underneath, suggests a clever formal parallel with the inkjet prints: They’ve all got complicated surfaces, some virtual, some literal. The light boxes show close-up views of human skin cropped into jagged shapes that don’t quite read as either abstract or figurative, and the fact that they’re in black and white makes the skin racially unidentifiable, too. The forms in the inkjet prints could be pelvises, pools of ink or plumes of smoke.
What does it all add up to? It might be high-concept art about art, or it might be a cynical example of art that merely looks like art. It could be a purely formal search for surprising images or an earnest meditation on the way digital media undermines our connection to material reality. The work’s content, in other words, is as ambiguous as its form. But this is no easy ambiguity that dissolves once you get a better look. It’s an entrancing, hard-won kind that confounds the very categories by which you make sense of the world. WILL HEINRICH
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