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Cement Greenberg #4: Seedy Spring

Cement Greenberg #4: Seedy Spring

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A bi-monthly collection of mixed reviews.

Tom Burr Bortolami Cement Greenberg
Tom Burr. Installation view, 2023. Bortolami, NY.

Tom Burr at Bortolami

A gay white able-bodied man is still a white able-bodied man. Tom Burr deserves respect as a sculptor who during his career has shared beautiful works rich with historical content and charged with emotional baggage that has made gay people feel they belong. While his past achievements are impressive, the strength of Burr’s newest body of work at Bortolami is questionable. On the walls of the exhibition space there are three series of photographs that form sequences: Capricornus 1, Capricornus 2, and Capricornus 3. In several photographs, the artist is captured sitting and reading a book. His library consists of Breuer’s Bohemia by James Crump, Caravaggio’s Secrets by Leo Bresani and Ulysse Dutoit, and a book by Pier Paolo Pasolini, the title is illegible. Burr identifies himself with a fascinating body of knowledge that celebrates love and sexuality shared between men; a world rich with fun and beauty. Still, one cannot help but find this bibliography outdated, and painfully out of fashion. Have we not moved onto queer theory that celebrates a less binary sexuality? A culture more inclusive where men are not only people who were born with a penis? Burr’s show may be aesthetically pleasing but its content is stuck in the 80s. The temperature of the work is cold and there are no meaningful points of entry for a viewer who is not a cis man and who does not want to be relegated to only reading stuff written in the previous millennia. Burr seems to be looking mostly into the mirror when he should be looking out toward the nightlife of Bushwick queer kids.

ektor garcia James fuentes cement greenberg
ektor garcia. Installation view “esfuerzo,” 2023. Image courtesy of James Fuentes.
ektor garcia. Installation view "esfuerzo," 2023. Image courtesy of James Fuentes.
ektor garcia. Installation view “esfuerzo,” 2023. Image courtesy of James Fuentes.

ektor garcia: esfuerzo at James Fuentes

To tap into a wholly different atmosphere, I went to see ektor garcia’s recent work. Sensibility and care are the coating on all the variety of raw materials brought together in the space, tied together in small clever knots. garcia not only creates objects made to be incredibly touching, but also uses the space in its entirety leaving no element untouched or unexamined. A built-in metal beam becomes a hanger, the floor is ornamented with copper circles made out of delicate wire. The title of the show esfuerzo translates as ‘effort,’ a refreshing word in times of worship for “coolness” and “flat affect.” In this case ‘effort’ takes the shape of concentration, gentleness, and stamina. garcia is indeed an artist whose practice is “in perpetual evolution, sprawling and splendid, familiar and deeply unfamiliar, collapsing in on itself and bursting forth to follow thrilling uncharted courses” as garcia’s friend painter Cy Gavin writes in the show’s thoughtful press release. As the saying goes: ‘tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.’ In garcia’s case, all signs are good.

Areum Yang Derek Eller Cement Greenberg
Areum Yang, “Faraway Land,” 2023. Oil, acrylic, pencil, charcoal, oil pastel on canvas. 70×60 in. Courtesy Derek Eller.
Areum Yang at Derek Eller Cement Greenberg
Areum Yang. “Night and Day,” 2023. Oil, acrylic, pencil, charcoal, oil pastel on canvas. 72×46 in. Courtesy Derek Eller. 

Areum Yang: Liminal Sojourns at Derek Eller

Is it below the belt to mention that an artist is “fresh out of grad school” if they are having a solo show? Not if we like the artist and think that they are on the right track to do better. Areum Yang is a young, talented painter with a biting visual language. In each painting, the paint lands on the canvas in many different ways, and different patches of the surface are treated with different intensity. Her figures seem to come from various worlds of iconography, and something about them is strong enough to stay with the viewer well after leaving the show. The paintings are made with skill and rigor. Clearly Yang is in touch with her unconscious, and there she’s digging for content that finds its way to the canvas and communicates with us. But this line of communication could be more coherent. Piecing the imagery together does not really add up to anything, and the press release does not help. The titles provide no counter action to the vagueness of each painting either: Night and Day, Forest Oddity, Apple Tree Town, and so on. Since the work is so rich with intelligence, we are left with the hope that next time, the conversation will be somewhat more fluent.

Don’t get your bloomers in a twist. Next batch out within the next two weeks! Stay tuned.

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