3 Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now

Fausto Melotti Through April 23. Barbara Mathes Gallery, 22 East 80th Street, Manhattan; 212-570-4190, barbaramathesgallery.com . The ...


Through April 23. Barbara Mathes Gallery, 22 East 80th Street, Manhattan; 212-570-4190, barbaramathesgallery.com.

The Milanese sculptor Fausto Melotti (1901-86) remains best known for abstract, lightweight constructions of metal filaments, from which he suspended thinly pounded sheets of brass and gold. (His friend, the writer Italo Calvino, called them “a score of weightless ideograms,” and used them as an inspiration for his novel “Invisible Cities.”) New Yorkers saw many of these rather outmoded sculptures at Hauser & Wirth in 2018, and another one, comprising seven strips of brass entangled in looping wires, is on view now at Barbara Mathes Gallery in the Upper East Side, sitting over the mantelpiece. But Melotti also worked in ceramics — and as everyone from MoMA’s curators to Brad Pitt is now rediscovering the importance of pottery, this artist’s colorful and crooked work in clay outshines the metal.

Melotti began making vases and vessels in the late 1920s, under the guidance of the towering architect Gio Ponti, and after World War II he refurbished his bombed-out studio on Milan’s Via Leopardi with a full-size kiln. For the next 15 years he worked only in ceramics and terra-cotta. Here at Mathes are nine simple, thin-walled bowls, each less than six inches across, with extraordinary polychrome glazes: a runny, pearlescent aquamarine that tints to black, or a milky white that overlays stains of mauve and olive. Stranger and more sculptural: a vase from 1965, glazed in splotchy blues and cinched at the center like an hourglass, with a brim like a mushroom cap wrapped around its midsection.

With their delicate wobbles and impure finishes, many of Melotti’s ceramics seem to be as ancient as they are modern — and indeed postwar Italy witnessed a flowering of decorative arts, including Carlo Scarpa’s glassware and Carlo Mollino’s furniture, that gently historicized and regionalized the rigors of European modernism. The modest confidence of these vases and bowls has a particular appeal if you have been trapped inside lately, scrolling through seemingly interchangeable ceramics influencers.

JASON FARAGO


Through May 1. Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA)
50 East 78th Street, Manhattan, islaa.org.

In 1981, four Mexican artists who went by the group name Colectivo 3 — Aarón Flores, Araceli Zúñiga, César Espinosa and Blanca Noval Vilar — put out an international call for other artists to join them in responding to the volatile political situation in Nicaragua, where the left-wing, Sandinista-led government was fighting U.S.-backed rebels. Colectivo 3’s call was for the creation of a single work of protest art composed of many individual voices. Revolution would be the theme. The form: work in any style that could fit a letter-size sheet of paper and be sent through the mail.

More than 300 artists from 43 countries took up the call, and their works make up the exhibition “Poema Colectivo Revolución” at the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) on the Upper East Side, which holds all the material in its archives. The show has been organized by the distinguished Uruguayan-born conceptualist Luis Camnitzer, who has covered the walls of ISLAA’s small gallery with photocopies of the mailed art. (The original pieces, some now fragile-looking, are viewable in binders in the gallery.)

Originating with Dada, mail art had a bump of popularity in the 1960s, and the 1981 project suggests both its pluses and minuses as a political medium. Its distribution through the mail made it democratic; its targeted art world audience made it elitist. Some artists took it seriously; for others it was a lark; for still others a way to do some career networking. Indeed, the project is most interesting — and very interesting — when viewed through a critical essay written by Camnitzer and available as a takeaway. In it, he hits on many of the potential strengths and weaknesses that “political art” as a category encompasses and that “Poema Colectivo Revolución” embodies. He questions the viability of the genre without dismissing it, setting out terms for a debate every bit as relevant as it was 40 years ago.

HOLLAND COTTER


Through April 24. JDJ, 17 Mandalay Drive, Garrison, N.Y.; 518-339-6913, jdj.world.

After studying at the progressive Black Mountain College in North Carolina (and inspiring her former husband, Robert Rauschenberg, to do the same) Susan Weil returned to New York to continue a long career making a wide range of mixed-media work. Despite the intimate scale of JDJ gallery’s rustic, one-room space, this current show provides a broad look at over four decades of output by Weil, who turned 91 this month. It reveals how her sly, inventive use of the figure (especially the feminine figure) evolved and persisted over time.

Her earliest works — spray-painted abstract compositions from the 1970s — have shapes suggestive of human limbs and torsos. Canvas pieces made in the 1980s and ’90s hang from walls like strange cloaks. They conjure the body too, if more indirectly, by evoking the folds and pleats of fabric that drape around it. Two collaged grids (from 1998 and 2000) break down the dynamic movements of female nudes into a series of freeze-frame shots, reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-motion photography.

Not to be missed: four artist books Weil made with the publisher Vincent Fitzgerald & Co. Texts by James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and the poet Rumi appear alongside Weil’s etchings and cut-paper collages. These hand-bound volumes, issued in editions of either 25 or 50, feel like profoundly personal labors of love. When a gloved gallery attendant shows you these books, it’ll be all you can do not to reach out and flip through their pages yourself.

DAWN CHAN

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