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A new level of ambition in art by 3 women

A new level of ambition in art by 3 women

Autumn tends to be a good time in New York City’s art world. The weather can be amazing. There is a tension left in the school as galleries reopen, sometimes at new addresses, usually with new shows. Even having art fairs arrive inappropriately early this year, during Labor Day week, did not dampen things.

As usual, much of the sum of a new season comes from gallery solos that reveal individual artists making changes and taking new risks. Going to galleries is on one level a search for such signs of growth and the cultural optimism they create.

Three of the most exciting gallery shows right now present the latest endeavors from renowned artists: Lisa Yuskavage at Chelsea, Mickalene Thomas at Upper East Side and Alison Elizabeth Taylor at TriBeCa. We get to see what is extremely in their minds as reflected in markedly different and improved work fresh out of the studio, often completed during the pandemic. All of this makes them very satisfying to visit and think about, especially in the way they handle women’s lives.

I used to respect more than Lisa Yuskavage’s work. Its eroticized Kewpie doll girls and pornographic tropes shrouded in a saccharine monochromatic atmosphere effectively conveyed the male inability to see women as anything but sex objects, as well as the damage this view visits both the viewer and the viewer. Yet the points raised by the artist often seemed primarily conceptual, and the greasy surfaces and exaggerated light seemed contrived, uncomfortable.

Without changing much, Yuskavage’s latest paintings in Zwirner miles are better. Her style has got a tune. Her paintings are more empty; the objects are still mysterious, but there is a bit of kitsch. Color, light and space are more refined and translucent, and sometimes the accompanying shadows add instant abstractions to the background. The subjects are more mature; we see the women in studies look serious. There are plenty of references to European art. So do examples of Yuskavage’s earlier paintings, which are found in the backgrounds of some paintings as markers of her growth.

One of the best paintings is “Yellow Studio,” which depicts a lonely seated woman confused in yellow light. She looks at the sole of her foot in the position of “Boy With Thorn” (also known as “Spinario”), the famous Greco-Roman sculpture; on her head she wears a medieval wimple known from paintings by artists from Bruegel to Vermeer. If the women are sparsely dressed, the men are naked and especially lukewarm.

In the bright green light from “Master Class” showing a stunning abstract painting in the background, there is no doubt that the woman is the master who evaluates a young man’s painting. Even though her breasts are bare and her jeans are unpacked (and she might still be judging something other than the painting), she has the responsibility.

Sometimes Yuskavage’s anger is quite direct, as in “Scissor Sisters”, named after a band as well as a love-creating position. It shows three tall women standing on a grassy slope, armed with short swords or a pistol. They are supple and topless, but not to be messed with. In a much smaller work – whose title cannot be printed here – we see only a woman’s face and the two hands she holds close to it, her middle fingers raised.

Yuskavage has made her paintings much more engaging formally. The four large studio paintings are as many color studies as narratives. Different shades of the dominant color define the sharp forms of furniture and repeat color samples that are wallpapered to the wall. Investigate backgrounds for yourself; they are breathtaking in many ways.

Mickalene Thomas’ show on Lévy Gorvy is her first solo appearance in New York in seven years, so a change of some kind could be expected. She has more than delivered. And according to her independent person, she has not signed up for the gallery.

In a way, she does what she’s always done, putting together a clever combination of grants and paints, highlighted with glitter and sequins, to celebrate black women, their bodies and their powerful ways of being, sometimes in terms of their dress and interior design; sometimes by inserting them into bags of white women or men in familiar modernist paintings (e.g., Manet’s “Olympia” or his “Lunch on the Grass”). Typically, her earlier work had a certain grandeur in its scale, bright, opaque colors, thick surfaces, and lavish patterns. Her furnished installation pieces expanded these paintings to three dimensions.

Now Thomas had taken her style into a new, less hedonistic area. Leaving the scale and grandeur of her work intact, she has removed everything by means of photography in several ways, emphasizing transparent layers instead of opacity. Each new work begins with a greatly enlarged photograph of a seminude black woman who ran in Jet magazine in the 1970s and has the title with the month and year of publication. And every woman gets some privacy from the various photo-based images and patterns that Thomas collages to their bodies, like little shields. Other times, the compositions are reduced to lines with quickly applied sequins. The result is a kind of flattened cubism, whose architectural clarity and consciousness have an in-process look. In “May 1977”, certain areas are filled with hand-drawn textures; in “March 1976” some pieces of collagen wallpaper work on. Throughout, a scrawled guide – “Print Silkscreen Pattern” or “Paint” – appears in blank areas.

In many ways, including their transparency, these works involve the viewer in more complex ways than before. They state that the future of Thomas holds limitless possibilities.

In the past, Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s extraordinary wood-marquetry paintings have been primarily interesting for their bravura craftsmanship. Taylor worked from photographs, mainly her own and using laser cutting (mainly), and Taylor shaped small pieces of different wood veneer into puzzle-like pieces that fit together to form detailed images. In her first few shows at James Cohan, she limited her subjects primarily to things made of wood, whether it was a wooden stand or the interior of a log cabin. She perfected a kind of wood-grained grisaille that became monotonous. It was almost as if Taylor loved wood too much to offend it with an unnatural color.

After tentatively breaking color in his 2017 show at this gallery, Taylor has taken the plunge into a full palette of intense, jewel-like shades that tend to steal the show. Her repertoire now includes painted veneer, photographs with shells (e.g. the chic pool curtains in “Midwinter”) and also real textures that have been laser cut from photographs (like the pool’s rough stone cladding). Her subject is no longer so rustic, though hardly urban. A scene with the hometown of the small town, “Night at the PS”, gives us a picture of a student play seen from the spectators’ point of view and shows a sea of ​​contrasting backs and hair.

The pictures seem more intricate than ever. “Statuary Inc.” centers on a fascinating look through a shop door to shelves full of tiny bright statues. Only secondarily do you notice the exterior of the store, a complex orchestration of painted bricks, peeling paint, bare bricks and graffiti. Another tour de force is the “Rock Shop”, which is centered around a display of slices of agates and geodes in colors that go on the artificial – each stone is a small painting edged in glitter. Much of the hilly southwest landscape out the window is also painted.

It’s great to see Taylor expand her art, but marquetry remains her focus. The show’s greatest work, “Meet You There”, takes us into familiar territory, but with a new intimacy that shows us up close a dizzying extravagance of tree grains, mostly unpainted, in a forest with pointed trees and branches. Only the pink sky of a fading sunset is painted. Taylor’s art brings wood what Lisa Lou brought to pearls: a new level of ambition and artistry with wide appeal that insists on being taken seriously.

Lisa Yuskavage: New paintings

Through Oct. 23 David Zwirner, 533 West 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 727-2070;

Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle

Through Nov. 13 at Lévy Gorvy, 909 Madison Ave., 73rd Street, (212) 772-2004;

Alison Elizabeth Taylor: Future Promise

Through Oct. 23, James Cohan, 48 Walker Street, TriBeCa, (212) 714-9500;

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