Until August 25th. CUE Art Foundation, 137 West 25th Street, Manhattan. 212-206-3583; cueartfoundation.org
“¡Se buscan testigos!” Last year Lizania Cruz painted this announcement – “Looking for witnesses!” – on signs made from rice sacks and posted on the outskirts of the Dominican Republic. Everyone asked a question about Dominican history and identity – do you believe what you learned about Christopher Columbus? Did you know that the mangu plantain dish was made by enslaved blacks? – and made a WhatsApp number available to the public to send replies. Later, Cruz, who grew up there and now lives in New York City, took the exercise to Washington Heights, where she posted her appeal in bodegas, published in community newspapers, and took to the streets herself with a primrose coat and briefcase, asking Dominicans- Americans as they see their identity in every country.
The friendly yet exploratory exchange is captured on video in “Gathering Evidence: Santo Domingo and New York City”, Cruz’s exciting field report exhibition at the CUE Art Foundation, curated by the artist Guadalupe Maravilla. The show also puts together objects that shed light on how the narrative about Dominican nationality was built, from sugar cane to record covers to a confusing table of racial subcategories.
In the middle of the room, an installation made of tall stacks of paper – in a more abstract, sculptural language – addresses the bureaucratic violence of La Sentencia, in which around 200,000 people were stripped of their Dominican citizenship due to their Haitian origins. This event happened only recently – 2013 – and shows how raw the social wounds affecting Cruz are and the importance of the repair work.
Cruz’s social practice is one of the most interesting these days. “The audience is always the focus,” she notes in the catalog (available free of charge in the gallery and online, where you can also browse through her testimonials). And you don’t have to be a Dominican – or American – to follow the QR codes on the show inviting you to apply to be a “civilian reviewer” of their research and get a printout telling you if you qualify .
Until August 27th. Lehmann Maupin, 501 West 24th Street, Manhattan. 212-255-2923; lehmannmaupin.com.
The figures in Arcmanoro Niles’ paintings suggest something radioactive that emanates from within. Her skin, which is held in cadmium-licked bronze, pulsates. Whether that is a source of strength or a malicious malevolence, they don’t seem to notice. They also don’t seem concerned that all neutral colors are being bled from their world. Niles’ subjects go about their day-to-day business – lounging at home, waiting for the bus, getting into a car under a clear sky – with a feeling of peaceful resignation.
They’re black too, and the choice of reproducing their skin tones in an unnaturally shrill palette and topping them off with electro-pink, glitter-encrusted hair gives them the sublime charisma of religious icons in the form of a Lisa Frank fever dream or a Kehinde Wiley den, where the dream died a little. Niles’ motifs (often himself) stare with a mixture of rigidity and slight annoyance from the airplane, male figures often shirtless and well-bulbous. They are portraits of friends and family in which trauma and remorse have hardened into a cornea.
Interior scenes, absent from their residents, are still psychologically dense: a urine sample glistening in a blue-washed public toilet; a nightstand full of liquor bottles and sports drinks. “Don’t think I’m not going to go too far with a good cause (maybe I’m looking for something I can’t have),” is a still life of takeaway containers, minis with used liquor, a money counter and a half-eaten pie almost unbearably sad.
In this composition the faint whisper of a female figure can be heard, one of Niles’ “seekers,” as he calls them: goblins crawling into the corners of his pictures, swinging knives, ruts, or both; or are more crudely defined, skeletal versions that haunt the edges of the frame and short-circuit the classic formality. These creatures are either imperceptible to human subjects or are simply tolerated – manifestations of the pure id, barely suppressed destructive tendencies, and spirits hanging in the air.
Until August 22nd. Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, Manhattan. 212-598-0400; abronsartscenter.org.
Flags have a history as a controversial topic in the arts, probably because they hold our political imaginations under control. For example, in 1970 New York City, three artists were convicted of flag desecration, and in 1988 Dread Scott sparked controversy by laying a US flag on the ground. I thought of these incidents when I saw Counter Flags, curated by Natalia Viera Salgado, a co-founder of the Pública art space in Puerto Rico and a resident of the Abrons Arts Center.
The exhibition is a philosophical mini-investigation into flags as a symbol of nationalism combined with pride and criticism. Edra Soto and the duo Melissa Raymond and René Sandín contribute eye-catching celebrations of Puerto Rican culture, although a version of Soto’s work, Tropicalamerican 21 (2021), was recently and more impressively exhibited on Governors Island, where there is a conservatory accompanied by music . In Jason Mena’s photo series “Failed States” (2011), a person wearing T-shirts with the flags of the G-7 countries buries his head – not in the sand – but in sidewalks, rubble or a toilet, an amusing metaphor in the Self-interest of wealthy democracies. Esvin Alarcón Lam’s “América Invertida (bandera plurinacional)” (2021) symbolically dissolves boundaries by combining the flags of the countries of America into a thought-provoking pink and white mash-up.
Kahlil Robert Irving’s “The Sentinel – (Mixed Realities – Defund the Police)” (2021) is a sober trio of banners that serve as racist comments: one black and white that includes a third for Blue Lives Matter. Work was missing when I first attended the show and later reinstalled it in a different location – a mysterious move that I believe suggests the flags of power have yet to be crossed.