The Best Shows in New York Right Now

From Gordon Parks’s stunning photographs of Black America to Patrick Angus’s intricate queer portraits, these are the must-see exhibitions to start the new year

BY Terence Trouillot in Critic's Guides | 27 JAN 21

Haim STEINBACH Installation view, Haim Steinbach: 1991–1993, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, January 14 — February 27, 2021; Photo: Pierre Le Hors Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles
Haim Steinback, 'Haim Steinbach: 1991–1993', 2021, exhibition view, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles; photography: Pierre Le Hors

Haim Steinbach

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

14 January – 27 February 2021

Display #28 (rustic wall with music box and candle snuffer) (1991), a large wooden, cabin-like wall structure, sits diagonally on an axis across the entire main space at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. The work’s façade is marked by a set of large cabinets, two of which include the tiniest of items: a candle snuffer and a ‘Blabbermouth’ transistor radio. First exhibited at Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York, in 1991, Display #28 remains one Haim Steinbach’s more recognized works – partly for its size but also for its sheer sentimentality. The Israeli-American artist has made a career of creating intricate and obscure compartments or ‘displays’ to house the most intimate objects. In the back gallery, Untitled (table with towels, bone, pacifier) (1993), a wood and MDF table at the centre of the room, presents an assortment of hotel towels that the artist kept and collected throughout his travels in Austria. Surrounding this work are three large, wall-mounted boxes – their surfaces painted ivory white – each with a pull-out drawer featuring a white folded handkerchief with an embroidered name on it: that of a past lover or friend perhaps, immortalized in these cool, minimalist chambers.  


Gordon Parks, American Gothic Washington DC
Gordon Parks, American Gothic, Washington D.C., 1942, gelatin silver print, 27.9 × 35.6 cm. © The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy: The Gordon Parks Foundation and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Gordon Parks

Jack Shainman Gallery

7 January – 20 February 2021

Gordon Parks’s images are visceral in their beauty and intensity, inciting such an array of emotions they can only be described as magic. His photographs not only bear witness to some of the most memorable and difficult moments in African American history, but also capture a kind of unmistakable aura of Blackness with such subtlety, ease and imagination it transcends the medium itself. ‘Gordon Parks: Half and the Whole’, on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, not only reminds us of the photographer’s immense talent and breadth of output, but how relevant his pictures are today. In addition to some of his most iconic portraits of civil rights leaders, including Malcolm X and Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver, the exhibition features examples of his ‘Invisible Man’ and ‘Segregation Story’ series: a collection of candid colour photographs of Black life in 1950s America. This show is also bookended by MoMA’s recent rehang of their permanent collection, which includes a gallery dedicated to ‘The Atmosphere of Crime’, Parks’s 1957 photo essay in Life magazine documenting the prison system and policing in underserved communities.

Jesse Wine, “The Players” installation view at Simone Subal Gallery, New York, 2020. Courtesy: Simone Subal Gallery, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni.
Jesse Wine, 'The Players', 2021, exhibition view, Simone Subal Gallery, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Simone Subal Gallery, New York; photography: Dario Lasagni

Jesse Wine

Simone Subal Gallery

19 November 2020 – 30 January 2021

The strange, amorphous sculptures of Jesse Wine take centre stage in this small Chinatown gallery space. The exhibition, ‘The Players’, takes the form of David Lynch’s 'waiting room’ in Twin Peaks (1990–91; 2017): an extra-dimensional maze of long red velvet curtains. Wine's plush, velvety canvas curtains – here in bright orange and royal blue – frame his ceramic works like a cast of characters in a dark-comedy display. I was left with a pleasant feeling of unease.

Summer Azure, 2020 Dye sublimation print 29 1/2 × 30 inches (74.93 × 76.20 cm)
Tourmaline, Summer Azure, 2020, dye sublimation print, 74.9 × 76.2 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Chapter NY, New York; photography: Dario Lasagni


Chapter NY

14 December 2020 – 31 January 2021

‘Tourmaline’s dream-like renderings of queer and trans ancestors on film reach back in time in order to divine the future, disrupting linear notions of history’, writes Muna Mire in their profile of the artist for frieze. Tourmaline’s first solo exhibition, ‘Pleasure Garden’, at Chapter NY’s temporary outpost on Madison Street in Chinatown, continues in this tradition of furthering counternarratives around the histories of Black trans and queer communities. In addition to Salacia (2019) – Tourmaline’s 6-minute film on the fictionalized figure Mary Jones, a black trans, sex worker in 1830s New York – the exhibition presents a suite of self-portraits inspired by Victorian-era pornography and the Black-owned pleasure gardens of Lower Manhattan in the 1820s. In these photographs, Tourmaline reimagines what these gardens might look like through the lens of a Black trans futurity.


Emma Stern, Chanel (Sour Apple), 2020
Emma Stern Chanel (Sour Apple), 2020 oil on canvas, 91.4 × 76.2 cm. Courtesy the artist and Meredith Rosen Gallery, New York


Meredith Rosen Gallery

5 December 2020 – 30 January 2021

Tucked away in a basement just steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this group show at Meredith Rosen Gallery presents a variety of works that attempt, in the words of Italo Calvino from If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1981), as quoted in the press release, to ‘erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition’. There's an oddly nostalgic quality to the exhibition, as if entering a lair of postinternet whimsy – a perfect getaway from our current condition. ‘Escapism’ features work from artists Donald Baechler, Frank Benson, Sebastian Black, Tina Braegger, Susan Chen, COBRA, Ryan Driscoll, Olivia Erlanger, Theo Triantafyllidis and many others. 

Patrick Angus Untitled, 1980s Watercolor on paper Artwork: 14 1/2 x 22 1/2 in (36.8 x 57 cm)
Patrick Angus, Untitled, c.1980–89, watercolor on paper, 36.8 × 57 cm. Courtesy: Bortolami Gallery, New York

Patrick Angus

Bortolami Gallery

15 January – 27 February 2021

This beautiful exhibition features three paintings and selected works on paper that span Patrick Angus's entire career up until his death from AIDS in 1992. The gallery walls are peppered with small, intimate portraits of men lounging or sleeping on couches, beds, and chairs – both nude and clothed – with a great economy of detail. Inspired by the early works of David Hockney, Angus’s drawings are simple and precise, exemplifying a very loose style and, at times, colourful palette. The works on paper – straightforward vignettes of masculinity – stand in contrast to his larger oil paintings that show scenes from gay theatres in New York’s Times Square of the 1980s. These gloriously raunchy depictions of gay sexuality take on a more playful tone when seen alongside the gravitas of Angus’s watercolour and coloured-pencil portraits.  

Jack Pierson, Pink, 2020, cardboard, cloth, Foamcore, bankers pins, 226 × 215.9 × 5.1 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Kerry Schuss Gallery, New York

Jack Pierson 

Kerry Schuss Gallery

1 December 2020 – 13 February 2021

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Jack Pierson is, of course, his ‘Word Pieces’– text-based sculptures made from found objects – and Tomorrow’s Man, his magazine series that acts as both queer photo book and a platform to highlight the work of other emerging artists. I was a bit surprised, then, to see his more recent abstract, assemblage pieces that make up the entirety of his new solo show at Kerry Schuss Gallery. ‘Five New Pieces’ features work that Pierson made during last year's lockdown, created from mostly discarded materials: everyday things in this studio, such as branded cardboard boxes, sheets of plastics, and assorted fabrics. These works are essentially collaged together – not unlike the scraps of images that make upTomorrow’s Man – each individual piece of detritus nailed to the surface of the gallery walls and arranged like Tetris blocks. The tableaux are infuriatingly plain and yet absolutely satisfying to look at – recalling, to me, some of Rodney McMillian’s earlier ‘Landscape Paintings’ on bedsheets – an elegant balance between shape and colour.  

Terence Trouillot is senior editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.