BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 08 MAR 24

What to See in the US This Spring

From Cauleen Smith's elegiac songbook to Marcel Dzama's surreal landscapes of Canoe Lake, here's what not to miss this March

BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 08 MAR 24

Cauleen Smith | 52 Walker, New York | 19 January – 16 March 

Cauleen Smith, The Wanda Coleman Songbook, 2024
Cauleen Smith, The Wanda Coleman Songbook, 2024, film still. Courtesy: the artist and 52 Walker, New York

Wanda Coleman is a poet’s poet, known for her biting lyricism and deeply-felt explorations of the quotidian and personal. Alternately dubbed ‘the LA Blueswoman’ (by poet Tim Joyce) and ‘LA’s unofficial poet laureate’ (by the Los Angeles Times in her 2013 obituary), her raw vulnerability and unwavering resilience recently inspired artist Cauleen Smith to turn Coleman’s work into a collaborative songbook. Featuring ten musical artists and bands – Kelsey Lu, Shala Miller, moor mother and Aquiles Navarro, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jeff Parker and Ruby Parker, Alice Smith, and Jamila Woods and Standing on the Corner – the resulting EP, The Wanda Coleman Songbook, like the eponymous exhibition it spawned (both 2024), is a remarkably tender ode to both the late poet and her native city.

Smith, who grew up in Sacramento, began digging into Coleman’s prodigious output in 2017, when she moved to LA and found herself trying to navigate its startling mix of natural beauty and sprawling poverty. That dissonance, along with the alienation limned by Coleman in her evocations of the racism she endured as a working-class Black woman in her hometown, imbue both the EP and the multi-sensory installation with a particularly elegiac or ‘bluesy’ register. – Jane Ursula Harris

Auriea Harvey | Museum of the Moving Image, New York | 2 February – 7 July

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (Tales of Tales), The Endless Forest​​​, 2006
Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (Tales of Tales), The Endless Forest​​​, 2006–ongoing, online game still. Courtesy: the artist

The first museum survey devoted to Auriea Harvey – a relentlessly experimental artist who was prescient about digital media’s capacity to reshape experiences of intimacy and embodiment – is overdue, but worth the wait. Chronologically charting nearly four decades of the artist’s work with emergent technologies, ‘My Veins Are the Wires, My Body Is Your Keyboard’ encompasses net art, video games and digital sculpture, contextualized with sketchbooks and ephemera. Explorations of worldbuilding lore (in games and life) and the interpenetration of the virtual and the physical constitute compelling throughlines, as pivots in media that coincide with phenomena like the rise of Web 2.0 or Gamergate suggest a shuttling between enchantment with technology’s possibilities and disillusionment with its uses. – Cassie Packard

Frieda Toranzo Jaeger | Travesía Cuatro, Mexico City | 6 February – 23 March

Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, Una serie de ausencias que, paradójicamente, nos hacen percibir nuestra propia presencia
Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, Una serie de ausencias que, paradójicamente, nos hacen percibir nuestra propia presencia (A Series of Absences That, Paradoxically, Makes Us Aware of Our Own Presence), 2023, ‘Uber: Déjame entrar’, 2024. Courtesy: Travesía Cuatro and Galerie Barbara Weiss; photograph: Ramiro Chaves

In recent years, Frieda Toranzo Jaeger has developed a unique practice that critically engages with the medium of painting and its historical and contemporary discourses. With her canvases she builds three-dimensional structures, often at large scale, which evoke both early Renaissance altar panels and futuristic-looking vehicles – such as rockets or cars with gull-wing doors – symbolizing capitalism’s essential drive toward ‘progress’. Her detailed imagery in oil paint, supplemented by traditional Mexican embroidery, depicts queer-erotic scenes within lush landscapes and high-tech car interiors. Telling of lust and pleasure, but also of control and domination, they are reminiscent of the 15th century paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and of works by 20th century Mexican artists, such as Francisco Toledo and José Clemente Orozco. – Anna Goetz

Steffani Jemison | Greene Naftali, New York | 26 January – 9 March

Steffani Jemison, Untitled (Projection), 2024
Steffani Jemison, Untitled (Projection), 2024, galvanized steel, brass pole, metal hardware, found silvered glass, acrylic, 2.7 × 3.8 × 2.9 m. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York; photograph: Zeshan Ahmed

Like many haunting stories, the Ancient Greek myth of Icarus is irreducibly linked to the question of freedom. Imprisoned on Crete, Icarus attempted escape on wax wings, which melted when he flew too close to the sun, sending him plummeting into the sea. His death was an accident, but it can be likened to the many thousands of drownings driven by a devastating intention: those of captive Africans who, seeking deliverance from slave ships, plunged themselves into the Atlantic Ocean.

Steffani Jemison weaves this pairing of myth and history together in her exhibition, ‘Bound’, at Greene Naftali, New York. The restrained yet incisive videos, paintings and sculptures on view deal with the body in flight: acrobats soar against skylines while silhouettes of falling figures cascade against painterly surfaces. More specifically, the exhibition’s ambit is the flight of Black bodies absconding into skies of liberation, into vast and unfettered possibilities. – Zoë Hopkins

Marcel Dzama | McMichael Canadian Art Collection | 9 December – 9 June 

Marcel Dzama, Grandmother passing the ecstatic forest in a swarm of star light, 2023
Marcel Dzama, Grandmother passing the ecstatic forest in a swarm of star light, 2023, pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolour, graphite on paper, 33 × 34 cm. Courtesy: the artist and David Zwirner

Canoe Lake, in Algonquin Park, Ontario, is where the great Canadian landscape painter Tom Thomson occasionally lived and worked – and where, at the age of 39, he drowned. Thomson’s influence lives on in the Group of Seven, with whom he was associated, and in ‘Ghosts of Canoe Lake’, Winnipeg-born Marcel Dzama’s first exhibition in Canada in nearly a decade. Across three dozen pictures at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Dzama transplants the vision of Thomson’s and the Group’s landscapes onto our ecological reality.

Effective landscape painting beckons the viewer with nature’s majesty, and works by Thomson and the Group will transport them to the foot of a river in British Columbia or to the top of rolling mountains in Quebec. Dzama has long been captivated by Thomson’s paintings, yet here his interest seems less in landscape as a genre and more in how such exalted scenes occupy our imagination – and how the climate crisis in turn fuels a crisis of inspiration. – Brandon Kaufman

Main image: Auriea Harvey, Stygian Hand, 2021, video game still. Courtesy: the artist

Contemporary Art and Culture