5 Must-See Exhibitions in New York: Pia Camil, Alex Bag, and More

An installation view of Pia Camil's "A Pot For A Latch" at the New Museum, with a painting by the author's father, Peter Indrisek, hanging in the center.
(Photo by Scott Indrisek )

Pia Camil at the New Museum, through April 17 (235 Bowery)

As previously described, the concept behind Camil’s lobby-gallery-filling installation involves an exchange of “objects of power,” which the artist has collected and organized into a surreal assemblage. In plain English, that means that strangers, a few weeks ago, brought in things that mattered to them, which they traded for limited-edition sweatshirts designed by Camil. That initial slew of donations is what’s on view here, until February 7, when another bartering session will repopulate the display. (I dutifully lined up for the first round, turning in a landscape painting by my father, pictured above.) The process itself is a blast, but “A Pot For A Latch” is delightful even if you don’t take part directly: In Camil’s hands, a motley collection of clothing, stuffed animals, statues, books, artworks, mannequin parts, collectible kitsch, and other esoterica becomes a unified sculpture abiding by the logic of retail display and store fixtures. A stack of books and a cheap crystal paperweight assume the poetic heft of a Carol Bove shelf piece; elsewhere, a smile-stretched scarf, a hand mirror, and a plastic sculpture of a fried egg combine to form a goofy face. Provided with a random bounty of found objects, Camil curates them into an inspiring installation that happily slides between registers, from the comic to the profound.

Alex Bag at Team, through February 28 (47 Wooster Street)
This hilarious and fearless artist — who I think is personally responsible for affecting the course of everything from hyperkinetic video art, a la Ryan Trecartin, to the bizzaro, A.D.D. tempo of things like “Wonder Showzen” and much Adult Swim programming — currently has a major show up at ICA Miami, which is where the film being screened in New York was conceived and shot. “The Van (Redux)*” is a continuation of a piece from 2001 in which Bag portrayed three distinctly overwrought artists under the questionable tutelage of their dealer, Leroy LeLoup (played by Bag’s brother). In this update, LeLoup has become a protege of an unnamed art-flipper who is most definitely Stefan Simchowitz, a man notable for the unwise decision of posing in his boxer briefs for the newspaper of record, and for evincing an almost astounding lack of self-awareness (not to mention the inability to identify, or process, sarcasm) via various social-media platforms. Bag doesn’t appear herself in “The Van (Redux)*,” though the roles of three aspiring, 5-year-old artists are played by her son, August, who demonstrates an astounding, Cindy Shermanesque aptitude for both theatrics and wig-wearing. I won’t give away too much of the plot — go watch the whole piece, preferably at the end of your downtown art crawl, when it might prove a helpful antidote — but Bag is after more than just laughs at the expense of an art world still salivating over budding Zombie Formalists and obsessed with the New and Young. The fact that Team’s Grand Street location is showing an exhibition of paintings by Andrew Gbur only helps to complicate her devil-may-care satire. 

Lizzi Bougatsos at James Fuentes Gallery, through January 31 (55 Delancey Street)
For whatever reason, the single Bougatsos work forever burned in my brain is a rather obscene mixed-media piece — the media in question being a found print of Mickey Mouse, and a realistic rubber dildo. There’s nothing so provocative in this current outing from the artist — who, along with fellow multi-hyphenate Brian DeGraw, performs in the band Gang Gang Dance — but there’s still plenty of humor and perversion. “After The Pope Party,” 2016, incorporating wood, foam, a yoga mat, and other materials, looks like an upended chair that the holy pontiff might have sat on, now turned on its side following unspoken debauchery. A large print of a nun stroking a dog continues the Catholic theme (Bougatsos has clumsily collaged in a cigarette between the nun’s lips). “Window Dressing,” 2016, drapes what appears to be an oversized fashion element — perhaps the lacing mechanism of a corset — off an impromptu crucifix formed from blue construction scaffolding. It’s a sort of industrial-punk rejoinder to Diane Simpson. The entire show bakes under the red heat of “Unforgettable,” for which Bougatsos has covered the ceiling lights with a colored film. The title is perhaps a sly suggestion that we look with our old-fashioned human eyes, rather than our smartphones, and actually remember what we’ve seen; the weirdly colored light makes it almost impossible to photograph any of the works.

David Armacost and Nikholis Planck at Rachel Uffner Gallery, through February 20 (170 Suffolk Street)
Technically two solo exhibitions, though, as press materials note, the artists are “often working within arm’s reach of each other.” Planck’s contributions downstairs are enigmatic floor sculptures incorporating books, among other things, as well as mixed-media paintings (with wax, silicone, and other materials) that favor provisional compositions and sensual, synthetic surfaces. Armacost, in the upstairs gallery, presents 10 or so riffs on the same theme: an eerie view of an unpopulated theater stage flanked by billowy, fleshy curtains. Occasionally the curtains are strung with what appear to be cartoonish eyeballs, as if there’s an additional audience waiting to see what action unfolds. That stage remains empty, but there’s an unsettling drama, nonetheless.

 Matthew Kirk and Uman at Louis B James, through January 31 (143b Orchard Street)
Kirk continues to expand his unique pictorial language with dense fields of squiggles and almost-hieroglyphs that occasionally congeal into figurative sense (the outlines of a house, or a face). The paintings, rendered on canvas or expanses of Sheetrock, have a buzzy, caffeinated energy; their primary-colored oomph is offset by a few white-on-black pieces with a Cy Twombly chalkboard vibe. Uman, a Somali-born, Catskills-based artist that the gallery will also be showing at this week’s Outsider Art Fair, fills the accompanying downstairs space with shamanic objects: a large quilt covered in paint and hung on the wall like a DIY relic; and a sculpture incorporating a cheap chair, likewise covered in pigment; an image of Grace Jones clipped from a magazine; and a mirror on the floor.    

ALSO WORTH SEEING: "Vitreous Humour" (named after some especially soft material inside the human eyeball) at KANSAS, through February 14, is a tightly curated group of sculpture, photography, and textile work. Stand-outs include a small but energetic canvas by Robert Bordo (last seen filling an entire room at PS'1 'Greater New York'); a menacing chair-and-knife installation by Davina Semo; and a low-hanging, double-sided, mutant water fountain by Rob McLeish. Also don't miss the 10th White Columns Annual, curated by Matthew Higgs, and including work by Justin Adian, Birdie Lusch, Alice Mackler, Nancy Shaver, and many others, on view through February 20.