8 Art Shows to See in New York City, May 2024

Maybe it’s something in the springtime air — all the new growth and wild nature — but fantastical landscapes and creatures seem abundant in galleries this month. While Sanam Khatibi’s uncanny scenes feel like memento mori transplanted to a land between life and death and Joy Curtis’s strange anatomies reimagine life as we know it, Hell Gette’s brightly colored worlds combine art history with a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Goyette and Florencia Escudero delve into technicolor imaginations as Julia Bland, Claude Lawrence, and Annette Wehrhahn saturate the gallery spaces with the soaring colors of their abstract works. — Natalie Haddad, Reviews Editor

Claude Lawrence: Reflections on Porgy & Bess

Chicago-born and Sag Harbor-based artist Claude Lawrence has a strong love of jazz and that passion endows his large abstractions with a clear, rhythmic quality. There are hints of well-known Modernists, like Picasso and Pollock, in his all-over paintings, but it’s Lawrence’s ability to bury his ideas — cloak may be a better word — in these canvases through hand-drawn lines, self-aware forms, and distinct colors that makes the work really fascinating, and he achieves it all with a sense of improv that always retains a layer of enigma. 

This two-gallery show on Great Jones Street is a refreshing mix of familiarity and innovation. The paintings focus on the classic Gershwin musical Porgy & Bess and its lyricism, a favorite artistic mode of his. “Summertime” (2022) takes its title from the famous song and Lawrence’s painting is an embrace of large yellow, blue, peach, white, and red.

My favorite quote by Lawrence is one in defense of abstract art: “Many jazz artists supported social issues by playing for huge crowds and raising money for the civil rights movement, the music didn’t have to be about the issues of civil rights, music could be in the service of these issues, and I believe the same of art.” The potential for change in unexpected ways is very much present in this show. — Hrag Vartanian

Venus Over Manhattan (venusovermanhattan.com)
39 and 55 Great Jones Street, Noho, Manhattan
Through May 4

Sanam Khatibi: We Wait Until Dark

Many landscape painters phone it in when it comes to bark, lavishing attention on foliage instead. Refreshingly, Sanam Khatibi paints bark worth looking at, evoking aspens with black and white speckled textures in paintings like “Open Season” (2024). But those frilly blue leaves — pruned like a bonsai — do not bud from the branches of any real tree. Khatibi masterfully renders remarkable details in this exhibition of witchy landscapes whose ritualistic imagery is open to interpretation. The show also features still life paintings that may be varnished like the Dutch Old Masters, but the artist is more fantastical: close inspection reveals intriguing fictitious plants as well as eclectic objects like an Egyptian blue faience statuette of Thoth. — Daniel Larkin

PPOW (ppowgallery.com)
392 Broadway, Tribeca, Manhattan
Through May 11

Joy Curtis: Night Hike and Ocean Grandma

The body is central to Curtis’s art, with its corporeal forms that evoke spines, skeletons, and organs, so the recent performance by Michael Mahalchick “wearing” her soft sculptures at the gallery was a perfect complement to the work. Fans of Kafka would immediately recognize the Metamorphosis that occurred during the event, and the strange appendages of Curtis’s art makes the transformation almost appealing. Her love of indigo dye, transparency, and new skins is apparent in her current show, and the results are, at certain times, anthropological and at others fantastic, in the ways her biological imagination manifests. 

“Ocean Grandma, Sympathetic/Parasympathetic, and Future Organs” (2022–23) is at the center of the show, and it encapsulates her soft biofuturism that verges on the epic — my first reaction was that someone dissected the Greek mythological figure of Icarus and placed it on display (her work, I find, has always encouraged such leaps of fancy). The care and delicacy of her art challenges you to see her scale differently, and the results are hard to categorize, thwarting any attempts to “get” it. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back for more. Highly recommended. — HV

Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery (klausgallery.com)
87 Franklin Street, Ground Floor, Tribeca, Manhattan
Through May 11

Rebecca Goyette: Mother, Mother, Mother

Rebecca Goyette can’t wait for the matriarchy. Her works do their utmost to center women and their interpersonal connections, even if she’s always returning to the myriad of absurdities that represent functioning as a socially conscious woman in contemporary US society. In past work, she’s explored her familial history with the Salem witch trials (a female ancestor was burned at the stake), the sexual proclivities of certain shellfish (google it!), and the travails of being a strong woman who won’t take no shit (I’ve seen it and she’s the real deal). In this body of work — and all her work feels bodily — Goyette collaborates with her mother to make quilts, which she supplements with her distinctive style of sculptural ceramics. Her drawings and ceramics are starting to look more in sync than ever and that symbiosis has helped solidify her fanciful vision of a world that blends fairy and real tales into a visual goulash, retaining its fascination with figures without relinquishing the grotesque obsessions they contain. Also make sure to check out her ceramic tribute to a cousin who died in a horseback riding accident at a young age. — HV

Shelter Gallery (shelternyc.com)
127 Eldridge St, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Through May 12

Julia Bland: Rivers on the Inside

Something is always happening between the seams of Julia Bland’s woven textile paintings: a child is born, a friend is lost, a vermillion sun sinks below the horizon, its rays glistening over a rolling river. These are expressions of life’s ups and downs, ebbs and flows, stitched together into lovesome, comforting wall tapestries. Some of my favorite pieces are airy, lightly threaded compositions that reveal the wall behind and give the eye some breathing space. I recommend this show, especially for those in urgent need of some tenderness and healing. — Hakim Bishara

Derek Eller Gallery (derekeller.com)
300 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Through May 25

Annette Wehrhahn: Comb, as in to Search

This new body of work by Annette Wehrhahn pays homage to and expands upon the legacies of American women abstractionists such as Pat Passlof, Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell. Yet these brightly colored paintings — created with homemade paint, car wash sponges, and DIY cardboard scrapers — stay true to themselves, sometimes even hiding some figuration in the background. Soft fringes, shredded from the canvas, frame the works, adding warmth and harmony to a world out of whack. The effect is uplifting and life-affirming, which is exactly what we need these days. — HB

Tappeto Volante Gallery (tappetovolantegallery.com)
126 13th Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn
Through June 2

Florencia Escudero: Phygitalia

If we could bottle the feeling of scrolling on Girlcore TikTok, wrap it in soft satin, stuff it with foamcore, and adorn it with trippy silkscreened images and uncanny jutting elements, it would probably look something like Florencia Escudero’s enticing soft sculptures. Staged throughout the gallery’s cozy but spacious upstairs space, these objects vibrate with the anticipatory energy of a slumber party, evoking bonding and shared secrets, blow-up furniture and nervous giggling. “Phygital,” the marketing neologism that refers to the seamless blending of our real-life and digital selves, inspired the show’s title; the artworks on view conjure this increasingly amorphous space, where cyborg aesthetics meets the human need for connection.  — Valentina Di Liscia

Rachel Uffner Gallery (racheluffnergallery.com)
170 Suffolk Street, Lower Manhattan
Through June 29

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual…
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Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the…
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A man once knocked Daniel Larkin off his bar stool and flung mean words. He got up, smiled, and laughed as the bouncer showed him out. He doesn’t give anyone the power to rain on his parade. It’s more…
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