Four Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now

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Through Oct. 11. Participant Inc.; participantinc.org.

“An introduction to Nameless Love,” Jonathan Berger’s large, text-based installation at Participant Inc., is one of the sleeping beauties of the New York gallery lockdown. Luckily, it will reawaken Sept. 9 for a month.

I saw it during its initial opening five months ago, and was dazzled by its silvery texts, seeming to hang in midair and surrounded by darkness. They have stayed in my mind, aided by the wise and generous love-knows-no-bounds title; the crucial phrase is Allen Ginsberg’s, from a 1974 interview. The pieces make us privy to six unconventional relationships detailed in carefully culled words, and reiterated more abstractly in two tenderly handled complementary materials.

The show is an extensive collaboration, most of all between Mr. Berger and the people writing or talking about their own relationships or those they have witnessed. He knows most of them well, and participated in the creation of their texts, as did other friends, acting as facilitators or editors.

Made of one-inch letters punched out in a combination of tin and nickel, some of the texts are the size of walls; others aren’t much bigger than the tops of card tables; one is in the shape of a sphere. The words pull you in. “My aunt Rhoda died at the age of thirty-seven when I was fifteen years old,” begins a bit of memoir from Mady Schutzman’s book “Behold the Elusive Night Parrot.” She describes how inheriting and using her aunt’s clothing, jewelry and artworks led her to become a “living archive.”

An expanse of words in the shape of a towering gateway presents “The Tunnel,” in which Maria A. Prado is interviewed by Margaret Morton, known for documenting the homeless, with Esther Kaplan, the executive editor of the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting. Ms. Prado, a former resident of New York City’s underground homeless community, describes how the experience shaped, and maybe saved, her life, making her more sensitive to others and also more assertive.

The turtle conservationist Richard Ogust recounts the chance meeting with a diamondback terrapin — a true romance in many ways — that set him on course to gather and oversee the second largest captive group of endangered turtles in the country. We also hear from the Shaker Brother Arnold Hadd; the autistic writer and philosopher Mark Utter; and former assistants of the dynamic design duo Ray and Charles Eames, about whom Michael Stipe has written a song — “My Name is Ray” — whose lyrics surround the sculptural sphere.

The darkness enveloping all this shimmering language is most notable for a mysterious floor that seems covered entirely with tiny black tiles, strangely soft and a little dusty looking. They are actually small cubes of charcoal. This expanse of beautiful, immediate, absorbent, dumb material couldn’t be more different from the equally beautiful noise above. Constructed with great care — and no adhesives — the floor is a palpable act of love that, despite its muteness, amplifies the entire show as such. ROBERTA SMITH


The Beijing-based painter Liu Xiaodong first won international attention in the 1990s for his fresh depictions of an emergent China, drawing on the frank modernity of Manet and Courbet as much as the socialist realist tradition, and often executed en plein air. He has painted these genre scenes across his country, as well as in Greece, Cuba, Israel and Palestine — and now New York, where he has been on a protracted stay ever since flights home were canceled.

“Spring in New York,” an online exhibition of Mr. Liu’s recent watercolors at Lisson Gallery, presents some of the finest artistic representations I’ve seen of the pandemic-gripped city: small, ardent paintings of empty streets and budding trees, whose delicacy gives them astonishing authority. (The exhibition officially “closed” on July 12 but remains on view in full online.) Initial pictures of the view from Mr. Liu’s balcony precede cannily spare watercolors of an empty park, a lone pedestrian, or a hand truck laden with Amazon deliveries, mostly painted in the West Village under an electric blue sky. Yu Hong, Mr. Liu’s wife and a fellow painter, walks with another artist under a flowering magnolia tree, its rich pink leaves complementing the light blue of their face masks. By June, Mr. Liu is painting a Black Lives Matter protest as a spare panorama specked with gray, and gents sunbathing at what looks like the Greenwich Village riverfront, their half-dressed picnic explicitly recalling Manet’s 1863 “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.”

Online, Lisson is presenting these watercolors (as well as a few acrylics painted atop photographs, not as rewarding) alongside the artist’s diary entries from the days of sheltering in place, plus a film of Mr. Liu walking through Manhattan with his sketchbook and iPhone. The reproductions aren’t high-resolution, and so these paintings can’t be fully judged and appreciated. But somehow it feels appropriate that Mr. Liu’s pandemic works, shot through with tenderness and gratitude, can still be encountered only from a distance. JASON FARAGO

Through July 31, by appointment. Fierman, 127 Henry Street, Manhattan; 917-593-4086, fierman.nyc.

Galleries are slowly opening again, some with a promise to limit attendance and others by appointment only, and I, personally, can’t look at my computer screen for one more second. So last week, in mask and gloves, I visited a few shows, most notably Cristine Brache’s “Commit Me, Commit to Me (Cázame, Cásame)” at Fierman.

The installation, largely visible from the street once the window gate is raised, is a sculptural interpretation of Remedios Varo’s 1958 painting “Papilla estelar,” in which a slender, golden-haired woman feeds porridge to a caged crescent moon. Stripping the image of its whimsy, Ms. Brache reveals a disturbing subtext: The woman becomes a mute piece of furniture with a bowed, featureless head, her body upholstered in the same floral-pattern fabric as the chair she’s sitting on. The moon, blue and electric, is plugged in between two fluorescent lights on the gallery’s peeling, stamped-tin ceiling. The walls are covered with hospital curtains.

The argument is that women are the real Surrealists — not only the artists, like Varo, edged out by more famous men, but any woman who can evade the brutal censors of both society at large and her own conscious mind. But the mise-en-scène, which makes it impossible to tune out the work’s physical context in the way we habitually do with paintings, feels particularly appropriate to the experience of viewing art now, too. It still seems sequestered and unreal, like a stage set with the house lights on. WILL HEINRICH


Through Aug. 2, by appointment. Deli Gallery, 110 Waterbury Street, Brooklyn; 646-634-1997, deligallery.com.

In “Balsam,” Vanessa Thill’s solo show at Deli Gallery (which can be viewed by appointment or online), three sculptures stand in a semicircle. Lit dramatically, the works comprise thin, vertical, oblong strips with patches and swirls of caked-on, muddy color, as if they were excavated from the earth. They’re suspended in frames of wiry, blackened branches. They remind me of the three witches in “Macbeth”: seeming to hail from the spirit world but showing up in our own to deliver a message.

Over the past few years, Ms. Thill has developed a process for making sculptures that appear simultaneously base and preternatural, dirty and beautiful, messy and smooth. She dips strips of paper in mixtures of ingredients that have included pigments, coffee and tea, fake blood, flies and locks of hair. After letting her concoctions pool on the paper and evaporate, she covers the pieces in resin and finds ways to hang and suspend them. The finished works have a distinctive look but aren’t uniform, recalling, variously, slabs of meat, fossils and clothing.

The products of this method in her current exhibition — there are six in all, plus a pair of works on paper and two other sculptures — are called “Portals.” It’s a fitting name. Sitting at my computer, I imagined myself standing in front of one: The encounter would mimic looking in a mirror, except instead of my own reflection, I’d be staring at a handmade landscape, its marks and traces mapping depths beyond the surface. JILLIAN STEINHAUER



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