Normally late June in New York feels like some kind of artistic purgatory. The exhibitions that opened in May – placeholders while the dedicated and desperate beat it to Venice and Basel – are in their final week. And the summer group shows, those yearly waves of promised artist discoveries and curatorial handouts, have yet to break across the shores of Chelsea and the dunes of the Lower East Side. It’s a good time for reflection and recuperation. Head to the beach. Read a book – T.J. Clark’s Mellon lectures on Picasso, perhaps? Or Dan Brown’s Inferno? (ArtReview knows which is in your tote.) But no, though the littoral metaphor may be apropos, the quietude is not. A trio of artistic giants from the West landed in New York this week (Brad Pitt’s World War Z is not one of them), so surf’s up.
Paul McCarthy: WS
The drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory is not kind to artists. Grandiosity from even the most capable artists – Tom Sachs, Christian Boltanski – can appear meek, unfinished, trying. Not so Paul McCarthy’s WS. The letters stand for ‘White Snow’, and the work is his extended NC-17 (no children under seventeen) riff on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, long an obsession of the artist, and now cracked wide open – a sprawling set replete with enchanted forest; a seven-hour, eight-channel film screened through big, hi-def projections; a series of single-channel, sexually explicit videos – with no prop, character or fairytale storyline left undefiled. The drill hall didn’t stand a chance. There are more videos and set pieces in place at Hauser & Wirth’s 18th Street space for Rebel Dabble Babble, which McCarthy produced with his son Damon. Here the fairytale is Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and the set is Bungalow 2 of LA's famed Chateau Marmont, which is where James Dean met Natalie Wood. Hollywood is more present (the whole thing began as a James Franco project), and the sex is more graphic (real penetration), but just like WS, what McCarthy calls the 'abstraction of the absurd' is pushed to its limits. This ruckus of profane consumption might be, should be, must be enough to shake up the most jaded and cynical inhabitants of New York’s artworld, if only they’d return from the Hamptons long enough to see it.
WS, Park Avenue Armory, to 4 August
Rebel, Dabble, Babble, Hauser & Wirth, 18th Street, to 26 July
Ken Price: Sculpture A Retrospective/Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962-2010
Ken Price’s ceramics practice is an object lesson in how immense effects – maybe not McCarthy-immense, but profound nevertheless – can be wrought from the most modest of objects, a cup, say, or a 10cm fired-and-glazed block of clay. This retrospective at the Met began at LACMA, and it’s the biggest small show (one gallery divided into three spaces) that the Met has mounted in ages. But Price’s work doesn’t need a lot of room; it can hold and generate its own. What Los Angeles didn’t have to offer was the concurrent show of Price’s drawings, a selection of 65 from across the artist’s lifetime, which are on view at the Drawing Center. It’s a show that confirms not only Price’s fearless approach to colour – ‘eye searing’ is the word used to describe it by curator Douglas Dreishpoon – but also the noir sexuality that pervades, one wants to say ‘glazes’, all of the artist’s work.
Ken Price: Sculpture A Retrospective, Metropolitan Museum of Art, to 22 September
Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962-2010, Drawing Center, to 18 August
If McCarthy’s work is porno, and Price’s is all sly innuendo, James Turrell’s is pure enlightenment repression – which is to say sublime. Turrell hasn’t had a museum show in New York in more than 30 years, and while a number of artists have conquered Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda (Motonaga Sadamasa’s Work (Water), 2013, is only the most recent, with Maurizio Cattelan’s All, 2011, not far behind), Turrell’s Aten Reign promises to be transformative. Billed as a pendant to his magnum opus, Roden Crater (1979–), Turrell’s Guggenheim intervention bathes the building’s central atrium in shifting hues and gradients of natural and LED light, a Skyspace the likes of which New York has never seen – that is, unless you’ve ever wandered the midtown cross-streets at dawn with your head cocked to the heavens. That’s right. New York doesn’t fetishise the West. It just entertains it and, in Turrell’s case, respects it – madly.
Guggenheim, to 25 September
And what can New York offer in the face of such a West Coast incursion? The summer group show as mitzvah: Jew York. What more need one say? Perhaps, mazel tov.
Untitled and Zach Feuer, to 26 July