Photograph by Studio Gonella
Critic’s Pick: Carnal Desire
In one watercolor, a naked bedridden woman with amputated limbs erotically flashes her tongue. In another, a devilish nymph grasps an enormous snake writhing from her vagina. If you aren’t familiar with Italian artist Carol Rama (still virtually unknown in the U.S.), you might mistake the paintings — acerbically feminist, suggestive of underground comics — as contemporary. In fact, she created them (and other carnal works) in the Forties, when Mussolini’s police shut down her first exhibit for obscenity.
Self-taught and reclusive, sequestered in her dark Turin apartment, Rama never quite belonged to her time, ignoring trends that might have brought her far more attention. As the extensive survey “Antibodies” (April 26–September 10, New Museum, 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org) reveals, she often made art as therapy, to cope with her mother’s mental illness and her father’s suicide. Her bricolages from the Sixties, mixing thick paint, animal parts, and glass eyes, are like raw visions of a brutal inner struggle. In the following decade, reliefs and sculptures assembled with strips of rubber tubing seemed to memorialize her father, who’d owned a bicycle factory. Much later, psychosis and death figured into quirky mixed-media constructions that considered the human link to mad-cow disease.
In the Eighties, she returned to expressions of explicit sexuality. She painted them now on schematic diagrams, as if working out a conflict between desire and the oppressively industrial city she hated but never left. Over Rama’s seven-decade career, torment of one sort or another kept defining her odd art, which still manages to startle.
‘Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present’
March 31–April 6
Tyler Hubby’s engaging documentary celebrates the impish creativity of the late Tony Conrad, an artistic gadabout who did a bit of everything with everybody. He played guitar in a fake band with a kid called Lou Reed, cavorted with the Velvet Underground, created an infamous strobe-effect film that caused hallucinations, made “movies” with fried and pickled film stock, directed a young Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler in absurdist 16mm larks, pioneered a droning minimalism on his amplified violin, recorded with the avant-garde Kraut-rock band Faust, and conducted guerrilla interviews on public-access TV. Antiestablishment to the core, Conrad was one of a kind. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, manhattan, anthologyfilmarchives.org
Dawn Clements: ‘Tables and pills and things’
April 1–May 7
If you need a calming break from political stress, spend some time with these quiet dreamscapes of the ordinary. Giving the still life a cinematic twist, Dawn Clements sketches a room or tabletop as if viewing it through a slowly moving camera, capturing various perspectives, shifts in time, and, in larger works, a kind of tracking-shot movement. Gently drawn and delicately colored on thin, wrinkled paper, her domestic scenes convey both the fleeting significance of the daily routine and the poignancy of a moment later remembered. Pierogi, 155 Suffolk Street, manhattan, pierogi2000.com
‘Exploratory Works: Drawings From the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions’
April 14–July 16
Through the mid–twentieth century, before cameras became portable enough for remote fieldwork, wildlife researchers with the New York Zoological Society were still relying on a cadre of illustrators to record what they saw. Collected during expeditions to the tropics, these exquisitely detailed drawings of flora and fauna — including the stomach contents of a blackfin tuna — showcase a notable partnership between art and science. The pictures are all the more impressive for having been completed on location, in jungle or beachside shacks that artist Mark Dion will re-create for the exhibit. The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, drawingcenter.org
‘The Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life Is Cheap’
April 21–July 5
Two years ago, in a show at the Kitchen, Anicka Yi greeted visitors with a glowing, odoriferous “painting” — a piece created with cultured bacteria swabbed from female friends, and one that offered a singular view (and whiff) of femininity. As recipient of the Hugo Boss Prize, Yi gets to bring more such experiments to the Guggenheim. Expect the place to resemble a mad scientist’s lab, filled with microbiology, permeating smells, viscous fluids, and odd concoctions — all of which, in the artist’s trademark style, will make sly conceptual references to big social issues. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, manhattan, guggenheim.org
The Egg (1959), by Rat Bastard Protective Association founder Bruce Conner.
Bruce Conner. The Egg, 1959. Mixed media assemblage, including fabric, buttons, plastic doll, convex glass with brass frame. 24 1?2 x 16 1?2 x 2 in. (BC0148) Courtesy of Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC. Photograph by Adam Reich, NYC
‘The Rat Bastard Protective Association’
April 27–June 3
In 1957, shortly after moving to San Francisco and settling amongst Beatniks, Bruce Conner formed the Rat Bastard Protective Association, a serious if satirically minded attempt to unify and promote the artistic efforts of his fellow provocateurs, who included Jay DeFeo, Wallace Berman, and George Herms. Curator Anastasia Aukeman, an authority on the RBPA, has gathered gallery ephemera, photographic portraits, and forty works of art for this survey of a free-spirited, proudly defiant collective that helped usher in (among other practices) found-object assemblage. Susan Inglett Gallery, 522 West 24th Street, manhattan, inglettgallery.com
Nari Ward: ‘G.O.A.T., again’
April 29–September 4
Jamaican native Nari Ward, winner of this year’s $100,000 Vilcek Prize for immigrant artists, takes his large-scale, culturally pointed sculpture outdoors. Riffing on black experience (virility myths, exclusion, the Greatest of All Time moniker), the show focuses, humorously, on the goat motif: in lawn ornaments, in a monumentalized child’s toy, and in a big copper-plated bell, shaped and textured to resemble a billy goat’s gonads. Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Queens, socratessculpturepark.org
Rei Kawakubo’s Blue Witch (2016), appearing at the Met starting May 4
Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garc?ons. (Japanese, founded 1969), Blue Witch, spring/summer 2016; Courtesy of Comme des Garc?ons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: ‘Art of the In-Between’
May 4–September 4
They’ve baffled the runway crowds for decades, and now Rei Kawakubo’s marvelously wacky womenswear outfits get a solo show at the Met, only the second time the museum has given the honor to a living fashion designer. She outdoes them all in imagination. Appliquéd hands crawl up the chest of a pink jacket. A white, armless, mummy-like wrap recalls a campy creature from Lost in Space. A clingy red dress appears to conceal a giant worm. It’s haute couture from an alternate universe. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, manhattan, metmuseum.org
‘Projects 106: Martine Syms’
May 27–July 16
Calling herself a conceptual entrepreneur, Martine Syms examines and critiques portrayals of black life with performance, video, printed material, and lectures, ranging freely between pop culture, social theory, and wry humor (see her “Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto”). Her new feature-length film, Incense, Sweaters, and Ice — screening here as part of an installation — considers how surveillance, a form of reality TV, transforms behavior. Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, manhattan, moma.org