Through October 23, Nicola Vassell Gallery, 138 10th Avenue, Manhattan. 212-463-5160; nicolavassell.com.
Alvaro Barrington’s debut in Manhattan with large, bright, sometimes object-covered paintings on burlap is called portentant “Garvey 1: Birth-The Quiet Storm” and should be taken as a statement of intent, far-reaching talent and exuberant ambitions. Ignore the exaggerated press release at the reception that links the artist’s life to Marcus Garvey’s life due to “similarities in their wandering paths”, and consider the work, which in turn is beautiful, awkward and a bit ridiculous.
Barrington was born in 1983 in Venezuela, where his parents (a Grenadian, a Haitian) were migrant workers; he grew up between New York and the Caribbean. He had an excellent solo American debut at the MoMA PS1 in Long Island City in 2017, and since then it seems to have taken London and Paris by storm.
The paintings here suggest an artist who may be stretching too thin; online shows at other galleries look tighter, his materials closer. But he also scales up his characters and adapts his narrative.
Barrington’s physique and color have roots in neo-expressionism, updated with personal references, an island sensitivity and a political edge. “Black Power”, for example, has a real orange oil barrel strapped to the front, which a muscular black man – painted on a burlap – can lift, thus connecting Venezuela’s primary product with non-white workers.
The attached items may remember David Salle unless they tend to be industrial. His big brushes, propensity for big scratched words and grandiose show titles can evoke Julian Schnabel. And like Schnabel, everything he touches seems to have a certain visual presence, whether you think it’s done or not. In “Cloud 1”, “Cloud 2” and “Cloud 3” dry weighty, enlarged cement streaks on expanses of Hermès yak wool rugs we do not think of them as paintings.
In “U the Wettest”, a black woman larger than life, wearing large chunks of green, yellow and orange, seems to be dancing hip-deep in blue water. Two steel drums attached to the upper corners of the work add a feeling that this loosely evoked image can simply, rhythmically, dissolve. Watch this show, but if you miss it, Barrington is back.
Through Oct. 30, Daniel Cooney Fine Art, 508 West 26th St., Suite 9C, Manhattan. 212-255-8158; danielcooneyfineart.com.
Embedding a police team in New York City was an unusual task for a photographer, especially a woman, when Jill Freedman took it on in the late ’70s. Today, her project works prior. In this exhibition of 50 vintage prints, Freedman, who died in 2019 at 79, depicts the wildly varied hours in the daily lives of the police: demands for suspected criminals, mediating domestic disputes, quietly intoxicated, playing with children. That’s what cops do, and it’s under review now.
Like Weegee, but without her dark sense of humor, Freedman poked her camera curiously into detective stories. Unlike Weegee, who was to be divine where she was to appear, she was an auxiliary member of the team. Finding the action came with the territory. This familiarity with the cops (they are almost exclusively male) separates the images. So does her balance. She sympathizes with both the accused and their arresters.
The best of these photographs sit unevenly in your memory. In a street fight at 4 on St. Marks Place lifts a woman whose face could have been carved of granite, a hand with fingers so outstretched that they appear to come out of a mannerist painting. One officer looks carefully, but the other two smile. They have seen it all many times before.
My favorite is a portrait of four officers, three whites and one black (because they reappear in this series, the cops are going to feel just as familiar as old friends) and three black men on the street. It is unclear what is going on. Do police arrest suspects, break a quarrel and conduct an investigation? At this removal it is impossible to know. But what you take away is their gazes. Every man looks in a different direction. They are together and they are apart. It is a powerful metaphor.