Top 5 Shows to See in the US in July

From Deana Lawson's cosmic portraiture at the Guggenheim to Christina Quarles splayed out figures at MCA Chicago, these are the must-see shows in America right now

BY frieze in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 16 JUL 21

Kandis Williams, still from Annexation Tango , 2020 (h. 264 video, 10 minutes 19 seconds)
Kandis Williams, Annexation Tango (video still), 2020. Courtesy: the artist and Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

Kandis Williams

Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

Last autumn, Williams installed a site-responsive project, A Field (2020), in the upper gallery of the ICA at Virginia Commonwealth University. Elaborating her earlier experiments on a grand scale, the work addresses a vast historical sweep without sacrificing a feeling of immediacy made all the more potent by its contrast with the screen-bound textures of most COVID-19-era interactions. The gallery – an airy, vaulted white cube – had been transformed: when visitors exit the elevator, they are greeted by a sense of lush overgrowth, more evocative of the region’s tidal marshes, kudzu and dense forests than the Richmond streetscapes beyond. Faux banana leaves and abundant fronds sprout from elongated vases of black water; others form a canopy over a makeshift trellis. Closer inspection reveals low-res images on the leaves’ versos – found photographs from mid-century magazines, fragments of pornography, scenes of men working the chain gang and portraits of the 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass. These elements are echoed on five elongated banners encircling the space, while patches of turf dot the walls like canvases. — Ian Bourland


Christina Quarles, Underneath It All, 2019. © Christina Quarles Courtesy of the artist, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Pilar Corrias Gallery, London
Christina Quarles, Underneath It All, 2019, © Christina Quarles. Courtesy: the artist, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Pilar Corrias Gallery, London

Christina Quarles

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Christina Quarles’s paintings take pleasure in rendering the broad spectrum of thoughts, emotions and sensations available to the body – feeling inside out and upside down, everywhere and nowhere, played and splayed out. Quarles’s current solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, extends the logic of her paintings to the exhibition space by subtly (yet decisively) nestling an antechamber into it. A temporary, floor-to-ceiling partition occupies the centre of this new space. It also hides and prefaces an oddly scaled, arched passage leading back into the larger gallery. Echoing the planes that cut against Quarles’s multivalent figures in all manners and from every angle, this wall inflects our movements. — Sylvie Fortin


'Janiva Ellis: Rats', 2021, exhibition view, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Courtesy: the artist and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; photograph: Zachary Balber
'Janiva Ellis: Rats', 2021, exhibition view, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Courtesy: the artist and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; photograph: Zachary Balber

Janiva Ellis

Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami

Ellis’s ‘Rats’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, her first solo museum outing, is dominated by heroically sized, glistening oil paintings thick with references to the Western canon. The heaviest example is Hollow Provocation (2021) – a fiercely chunky, semi-abstract mecha in army green cradling a shrivelled pink human – that riffs on Robert Motherwell’s series ‘Elegy to the Spanish Republic’ (1948–67). This invective moves cruelly, intimately in Bloodlust Halo (2021), where Ellis has closely re-created the grisaille composition of Walker Evans’s photograph A Child’s Grave, Hale County, Alabama (1936), adding an intestinal rose screed to its row of desaturated votives. Evans’s original photo appeared in his and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), a landmark publication of leftist art and sociology that depicted poor, white sharecroppers – to the omission of equally poor, perhaps longer-suffering Black ones. Agee’s tormented text summarizes the racial dynamics of the day in an anecdote about a Black couple who, when the two white journalists approached them, ran in fear. — Travis Diehl

Deana Lawson, Barrington and Father, 2021. Pigment print, 73 3/4 × 57 7/8 in. (187.3 × 147 cm). © Deana Lawson, courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
Deana Lawson, Barrington and Father, 2021. Pigment print, 187 × 147 cm © Deana Lawson. Courtesy: the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Deana Lawson

Guggenheim Museum, New York

There’s plenty of chemistry in the new Deana Lawson show, ‘The Hugo Boss Prize 2020: Deana Lawson, Centropy’, at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, though not the kind concocted in the aseptic confines of a laboratory. Seventeen large-scale pigment prints are displayed in the museum’s top-floor gallery, alongside crystal installation pieces and a stand-alone hologram displaying an organic swirl. In the photographs, Lawson’s Black portrait sitters are accompanied by homely icons and symbols that incarnate faith, but also ground spirituality in the earthy realm. Meanwhile, the intermingling of portraiture with celestial bodies encourages a reading of the whole as a constellation of spiritual forces, elemental powers visible and hidden. — Ela Bittencourt 

Sin Wai Kin (fka Victoria Sin) Today’s Top Stories , 2020 6:30 second video
Sin Wai Kin (fka Victoria Sin), Today’s Top Stories, 2020, video. Courtesy: the artist and The Bronx Museum of Arts, New York

'Born in Flames: Feminist Futures'

The Bronx Museum of Arts, New York

Visitors to ‘Born in Flames: Feminist Futures’ at The Bronx Museum of Arts will first encounter Wangechi Mutu’s Heelers (2016): stiletto-shaped clay sculptures – with resin noticeably embedded in the material – displayed on high supports in the gallery. The installation resembles a shrine and invites a grounded moment of pause – an  homage to the feminine. Organized by Jasmine Wahi, the Holly Block Social Justice Curator at the Bronx Museum, the exhibition is committed to celebrating the specificity of intersectional feminist consciousness. Rather than couch this reverential tone in a universal entry point, Wahi preserves the fundamental intention of collective space cultivated by women and femmes of colour by marking it with this spiritual crossing. – Erica N. Cardwell

Contemporary Art and Culture