5 Must-See Gallery Shows in New York: Heidi Hahn, Amy Sillman, and More

A piece by Heidi Hahn at Jack Hanley Gallery.
(Photo by Scott Indrisek )

“this one is smaller than this one,” at Postmasters Gallery, through March 12 (54 Franklin Street)

Smallness — as virtue, as point of pride — is big these days. It’s a curatorial conceit (see: Chuck Webster’s “Age of Small Things,” 2013; Phong Bui’s “Intimacy in Discourse,” 2015; Artspace’s recent wallet-friendly small sculpture spotlight), and one that plays perfectly into a New Yorker’s ever-shrinking sense of personal and domestic space. Plus, who really needs another show of dick-swinging, it’s-impressive-’cuz-it’s-enormous art anyway? Enter the latest addition to the canon of tidy tininess, “this one is smaller than this one,” a show at Postmasters Gallery curated by director Paulina Bebecka. Ingeniously arrayed on a tiered platform that resembles a large-scale model of an exhibition space, the small sculptures encourage a slow, measured circumambulation. Some look like models for larger pieces, like two painted-wood structures by Olaf Breuning, or Nick van Woert’s shelf-sized statues, reproductions of classical sculptures of the male form, their pale surfaces molested by nickel-plated electroform copper, like an outgrowth of surprisingly beautiful warts. Hugh Hayden is another stand-out — pay attention to his subtle works, like one that appears to be nothing more than two logs propped against each other (one has been skinned of its bark, resuited with an elegant sheath of exotic bird feathers). Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw contribute a miniature arrangement of empty, purple-sheeted beds, each with a pair of Nikes next to it — a sick-funny homage to the Heaven’s Gate cult suicide that Charles LeDray might dig. Elsewhere, the body plays a primary role, with an emphasis on its more discrete bits: fingers, teeth, cocks. Witness Serkan Ozkaya’s pretty, pink terracotta offering, as dainty as a macaroon, and dubbed “Four Little Dicks On A Plate.”

Amy Sillman at Sikkema Jenkins & Co, through March 12 (520 West 22nd Street)
Sillman’s reputation as a true painter’s painter is warranted. Hell, even if you don’t paint, spending some time with these large canvases and smaller, wilder drawings might make you want to go home and start flinging pigment around. She’s a top-notch colorist, someone who knows how to introduce a salmony pink to a pistachio green in a way that’s pretty, but with friction. Her best pieces here look like cartoon Cubism, and Sillman actually does something interesting with that played-out, blah-blah, I’m-mingling-figuration-with-abstraction thing. Before you leave, consider splurging on a $20 slim paperback on offer from New Herring Press. Titled “Weird Fucks,” it’s a Lynne Tillman novella, first published in 1980, now republished and paired with paintings by Sillman. Framed in this new context, don’t be surprised if those jumbles of shape and form suddenly coalesce into something more teasingly suggestive.

Heidi Hahn at Jack Hanley Gallery, through March 13 (327 Broome Street)
Flip the gender on Keith Gessen’s 2008 book, “All The Sad Young Literary Men,” and you’d end up with a suitable alt-title for the terrific group of paintings in this young artist’s first solo with the gallery. Dudes, however, have been banished here — unwelcome, or perhaps just uninteresting. Hahn’s style tiptoes around Dana Schutz, Genieve Figgis, and fellow newcomer Grace Weaver. Her compositions feature groups of women, either clownishly happy or extremely sad-faced — this is emotion as emoji, surely. Her characters hang out on beds that are more like roiling oceans of abstract pattern (you might be sad too, or at least a little freaked out, if the fabric of reality proved so absurdly malleable). They mope beneath the clock’s angry tick-tocking hands, hide in the shadows behind the light cast by an oversized candle, or — in one instance — jump up in the air while their friends paint them, a suggestion that (no matter how bad shit gets) there’s a way to work around it, literally.

Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, through March 5 and Feb 20 (526 West 22nd Street and 201 Chrystie Street, respectively)
In Chelsea, Opie presents an insider-baseball array of portraits, mostly of friends and fellow artists, all of them captured in moody chiaroscuro: Matthew Barney’s shaved, brooding head floats out of the shadows; Lawrence Weiner flaunts a bare chest and scraggly beard, smoking either cigarette or spit-wettened joint. (This grouping also includes a tondo-shaped portrait of self-serious Jonathan Franzen, studying the endnotes to an edition of “War and Peace” as if it were holy scripture; one would hope he was in on the joke.) These images are paired with a number of shots of natural landscapes and iconic sites (like Niagara Falls), photographed all out of focus, as if by the most inept tourist in history. Somehow, it works. Downtown, Opie has a very different body of work on view: Images of the estate of the late Elizabeth Taylor. Here we get what might be termed a portrait-through-absence, to risk a dabble in the land of total pretentiousness; Taylor is gone, but still somehow present, through sparkling jewels, brand name labels, tiny dog statuettes, photographs of Michael Jackson, and other inanimate evidence of a life.

Butt Johnson at CRG Gallery, through February 21 (195 Chrystie Street)
We’ve had plenty of erotic anatomy in this exhibition run-down so far, but don’t get too excited by this artist’s name, which suggests a prurience that’s not on display. But do get excited by what the guy can do with simple colored pens, an excess of time, and a designer’s eye for the finely turned line. During my visit I overheard him describing his meticulous process — “it’s like surgery,” he said — and that steady-handed painstakingness pays off in drawings so intricate and maze-like that they can appear positively digital. The show bills itself as “Quaint Abstractions,” a nice humble-brag. Geometric intensity is achieved through taping off areas, messing with perfect grids, and physically gouging the surface, as in one white monochrome that’s all about such cuts. Painters, pay this one a visit — it might just make you yearn for paper.

 ALSO WORTH SEEING: While On Stellar Rays readies for a major expansion, they’ve got a small, quasi-informal selection of work from gallery artists on view through February 28, including Rochelle Feinstein and Tamar Halpern. But the star here is Zipora Fried, with two large-scale colored-pencil abstractions. The best one is a big, simple rectangle in indigo blue, a cousin to Serra’s oilstick drawings and Reinhardt’s inky black monochromes. Shifting light plays like crazy on each tiny, vicious, vertical mark. This is the kind of strange, ominous, lurking mass I could really learn to live with.