January 28, 2023

Until June 12th. Alexander Gray Associates, 510 West 26th Street, Manhattan. 212-399-2636; alexandergray.com.

Joan Semmel is famous for painting the body. Of course, the human body has been the main subject of Western painting for most of its history, but Semmel insists on aspects that are overlooked. She was best known in the 1970s for explicit close-ups of sexual encounters. For the past few decades, it has been her own aging body – she was born in 1932 – that shocked gallery walls.

That’s not to say that the body she paints is carnal. Some of the nudes in their impressive new double show “A Balancing Act” in two Alexander Gray locations (in Manhattan and Germantown, NY) are eroticized, some are not; most have their faces hidden or cut off; all have just enough white hair and limp flesh to tell that they are not young. But roll does not dwell on its material details. At least in these new paintings, her body is something that acts – assumes poses, casts shadows, reflects light. It is almost about to dissolve into pure light and energy.

In “Touching Toes” (2019) the painter can be seen from the side and from below with one leg crossed in front of a midnight blue background. It’s a sufficiently static position, but the rosy ball of the foot appears to shoot like a rocket from the green plains of her thigh. And the ringed right hand of the artist in “Red Hand” shines like a jewel on her shady purple belly.

WILL HEINRICH

Until June 11th. PPOW gallery. 392 Broadway, Manhattan, (212) 647-1044, ppowgallery.com.

Erin M. Riley’s exhibition of hand-woven tapestries – mostly photo-based – heralds her as an important visual artist. This exhibition brings the combination of fiery honesty and seductive candor that characterizes her work, and also the way she uses the beauty of weaving to bring us closer and soften the blows that her compositions take with near-perfect titles hand out, fully expressive. Its bright colors and complex, captivating scenes take full advantage of the autonomy of tapestry in every way.

The overall effect is both documentary and diary-like. Some tapestries quietly trace back to Riley’s traumatic childhood. Others reveal their attempts at self-care (which sometimes includes webcam sex), as the show’s title implies – “The Consensual Reality of Healing Fantasies”. Much of the work is incredibly intimate and yet reserved: We see Riley’s naked body, lavishly dressed in tattoos, but never her face. We are in the past with four tapestries reproducing the stained covers of 1970s brochures on domestic violence that affected her mother.

A tapestry entitled “An Accident” conjures up such abuse with a monumental close-up of an injured hand, while its title reflects the excuse hit victims and thugs alike commonly use to distract control. Riley’s composition books for teenagers appear in “The Rose” and “Beauty Lives Here” and signal her artistic instinct with their artfully collaged and decorated covers. One of the most compelling pieces here is “Anxiety,” which shows the artist’s bare breasts and the scars and crusts of self-mutilation. Underneath is an opulent tattoo, the word “Treasure” in implicitly “girlish” italics. It works as both a noun and a verb and either way admonishes: Our life is a gift, cherish it.

ROBERTA SMITH

Until June 19, Karma, 188 & 172 East Second Street, Manhattan, (212) 390-8290, karmakarma.org.

Good art is wonderful material, without which I cannot imagine living without it. But I have to admit that for all its glory, it’s inevitably something fishy. With so many people struggling for the essence of life, luxury properties that appeal to and belong to the wealthy can make you hold your nose.

I have seldom seen a work that speaks to the magic and rotting of art as perfectly as the Brobdingnagian sculptures by New Yorker Kathleen Ryan on display in an exhibition called Bad Fruit that fills both karma rooms in the East Village .

Ryan presents cherries the size of bowling balls, shiny and shiny wherever they’re not covered in mold. It presents lemons the size of a beer barrel that are crisp and fresh on the one hand and green and flaky on the other. A jack-o-lantern that would fill most NYCHA bedrooms is reminiscent of a sight from the days after Halloween: smooth orange skin outside; inside a mass of rotting pumpkin flesh. And Ryan has completely rendered all of these puffed up products in their health and rot in beads of different sizes, colors, and materials. The effect is almost trompe-l’oeil. The healthy parts of a lemon are captured in subtle shades of yellow, orange and amber, brilliantly implemented in glass and acrylic; Where the fruit is moldy, a chaotic mass of green, white, gray and brown tones is reproduced with pearls made from semi-precious stones such as malachite, smoky quartz, citrine and serpentine. The more rotten the meat of Ryan’s products, the more valuable the materials it is made from, and the more irresistible to the eye, like something Fabergé might have made for a prince.

Irresistible rot for the oligarchy? In 2021, Ryan’s trompe-l’oeil could only result in a vision of art.

BLAKE GOPNIK