Well, apparently there’s a uniform for the new fall gallery openings this year. The girls are wearing Pleats Please in tribute to the passing of fashion iconoclast Issey Miyake. Three titans of the art the world have returned with major openings this month, each offering a dizzy breadth of work for collectors, tourists, and casual heathens like the rest of us. Each offers their own take on truth and denial, though not always with the same level of insight.
My first Miyake sighting occurs during the opening reception of Lorna Simpson’s early career retrospective on the Upper East Side. Just after their exhibit on the early work of Cindy Sherman, Hauser & Wirth has delivered another magical photography exhibit. On a drizzly Tuesday morning, I wind my way up to 69th Street pondering the promise of a Balthazar boxed lunch. Simpson and her daughter, Zora Simpson Casebere, discuss the integration of text and image, the importance of Black curators, formal innovation, and memory. Someone asks a question about motherhood and art which Simpson gently disarms and moves on from. All three floors deliver stark, original images including many of Simpson’s most famous works like Waterbearer, a piece Simpson said originated partially from the telling and retelling of a family memory. Many of Simpson’s subjects face away from the camera. A standout centerpiece, You’re Fine, depicts a woman laying down in a white dress looking away from the camera over multiple panels. The words “You’re fine” are above and “You’re hired” are below. Simpson’s evocative and playful blending of text and image create a powerful viewing experience rooted in denial and imagination.
A young woman, in Miyake naturally, is working hard to take a picture of a small metal scrap branded with a tweet by Trump. Personally, I did not want to write about ART IN THE AGE OF TRUMP. The smart little jabs at his physique, the hand-wringing over his use of Twitter as martial law, the way January 6th has become a rallying cry for Democratic fundraisers. I do not have a cute nickname for him. Jenny Holzer is smarter than this. At Hauser & Wirth on 23rd, we can rehash our feelings about Trumpism with gold leaf on linen. Holzer has constructed an exhibit based on the Roman ideas of “curse tablets.” Crafting gold plates and small metal tablets, Holzer plays with our former president’s pronouncements. Some are redacted, some left in full. WTF displays his Tweets in speedy neon on an LED sign crawling and swinging along the ceiling. This does not feel like the same work of the woman who created the Inflammatory Essays and Truisms. That said, the redactions are an artistic practice Holzer has been cultivating for years. She previously redacted documents about the Iraq War. “Some redactions are just plain pretty. Here’s to aesthetes!” Holzer told Even Magazine in 2016. “I don’t think I want to talk about Trump,” she continued. Perhaps Lorde will wear a Jenny Holzer dress with a curse tablet sewn on.
When an artist is absorbed into the commercial world so seamlessly, recontextualizing their work in a gallery is always a gamble. There’s Frank Ocean on the wall. Now at the Museum of Modern Art looms Wolfgang Tillmans’ first major institutional show in New York City. Issues of i-D Tillmans contributed to hang on the wall. The ephemeral nature of Tillmans work is accentuated by his unique gallery stylings–small and large pictures are scattered on fire exits, side hallways, nooks, and crannies too. His street photography style evolved out of his strict ethics. He uses a regular Canon S.L.R. just like thousands of amateurs. His eye, however, is unreplicable. Arranging jars, oranges, cigarette butts, HIV medication, and body parts just so. The altars of everyday staring at us, asking what more we can do today? Are we going to Berghain or staying in bed with our lover just a little while longer?
You can easily play I Spy regarding the artist’s celebrity milieu. John Waters, Patti Smith, Smokin’ Jo. All the hits are here in this massive retrospective: Shaker rainbow, Jochen taking a bath, Argonaut. There’s striking new work as well, Lüneburg (self) depicts a 2020 hospital video call. Two alcoves with plenty of seating hold treasure. Video art. The first alcove plays two spellbinding pieces back to back. The first, Lights (Body) is a bouncy rave scene. When I entered, a kid danced along in rapture. The second, Peas, is a quiet work displaying a pot boiling the titular little green orbs. The kid left before it finished. The contrast however felt like the summation of Tillman’s work—socks left on radiators after nights at the club.
Photography and conceptual art exhibits have a lot of bias to overcome. This is often the kind of work gallery-goers argue they could’ve done themselves. Holzer’s ambition is difficult to match, though this exhibit does not show her typical poetic venom. Simpson’s genius is in her layered play with audience expectations, dodging legibility and carefully crafting ambiguity. Tillmans more often than not fulfills our expectations of a good time with the sensual pleasure of texture. We live in an image culture. After scrolling through endless videos of red pandas, five restaurants you MUST try on the Lower East Side, and Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room selfies, the trick is pinpointing the viewer’s last remaining brain cell and tuning it. This is as much the artist’s job as it is the viewer’s. Surprise is a rare gift.
As I step out of MOMA, wishing I had worn my Miyake, I walk past a group of tourists admiring Trump Tower, an impersonator of the previous president starts flipping everyone off. The crowd cheers. It does not feel at all surprising.