Art Writer Morgan Everhart selected five of the best female art shows to see in New York City this May.
The weather is fantastic and as we’re getting closer to mass immunization, New York City is bustling with people. I’ve never wanted to be out and about this badly and the shows highlighted in this article underscore all of the feelings I’m having right now.
Although there is an exceptional range of work on view in the city, the listed exhibitions are about what we’ve all missed so dearly: touch. We’ve long awaited the kind of communication we had before the pandemic and many of us have persisted through this period of isolation through humor and self-care. With this being said, the four solo exhibitors here, Phoebe Boswell, Cristina BanBan, Emilia Olsen, and Rebecca Goyette, should—without question—have an exhibition together.
- May 5–June 12: “Still Life: A Taxonomy of Being”—Works by Phoebe Boswell at Sapar Contemporary, Tribeca, NYC
- May 5–June 12: “Del Llanto”—Works by Cristina BanBan at 1969 Gallery, Tribeca, and Albertz Benda, Chelsea, NYC
- May 13–June 24: “ What the Poet Said to the Painter”—Works by Emilia Olsen at Pegasus Gallery, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn
- April 15–May 16, 2021: “My Snake is Bigger Than Your Snake”—Works by Rebecca Goyette at Freight+Volume, Lower East Side, NYC
- March 29–July 23, 2021: “Embellishing the Truth”—Works by Becca Van K, Claudia Santiso, Mandy Chesney, and Jennifer Caviola at The Yard City Hall Park, Financial District, NYC
1. May 5–June 12: “Still Life: A Taxonomy of Being”
—Works by Phoebe Boswell
at Sapar Contemporary, Tribeca, NYC
“Still Life: A Taxonomy of Being,” is Sapar Contemporary gallery’s second solo exhibition of work by Phoebe Boswell. The exhibition shows drawings and watercolors created between December 2020 and April 2021, while Boswell was sequestered at home during the UK’s third government-mandated Covid–19 lockdown. The works on paper are installed so as to create an immersive experience that also features video with a soundtrack of breathing. The works encapsulate a year in which breathing became perilous and, for many, technologies and devices functioned as the primary mediators of seeing, being, and socializing. The exhibition extends an invitation, from the artist to us all, to reflect on our shared experiences of isolation and what we will carry forward.
Underpinned by a transient and diasporic consciousness, Phoebe Boswell’s practice speaks from the porous space between here and there. She works intuitively across media, centering drawing but spanning animation, sound, video, writing, interactivity, performance, and chorality. This tends to culminate in layered installations, which affect and are affected by the environments they occupy, by time, the serendipity of loops, and the presence of the audience. Aesthetics of figuration and representation through the radical imaginary of Black feminisms become tools for contemplating the body as world, worldmaking, rather than merely as objects to be gazed at. Artmaking becomes a political act of service to the community, where labor-intensive drawing practices, immersive technologies, and calls for collective participation denote a commitment of care for how we see ourselves and each other; how we grieve, how we love, how we rest, how we heal, how we protest, how we remember the past in order to imagine the future.
Follow Sapar Contemporary on Instagram via @saparcontemporary.
2. May 5–June 12: “Del Llanto”
—Works by Cristina BanBan
at 1969 Gallery, Tribeca, and Albertz Benda, Chelsea, NYC
This comprehensive show, on view concurrently at two galleries, 1969 Gallery and Albertz Benda gallery, arrives at a pivotal moment in 33-year-old Spanish painter Cristina BanBan’s practice. Working for the first time in oil paint, BanBan debuts a new body of canvases and works on paper made over the past year furthering her exploration of the personal through exaggerated depictions of the female form. Allegorical in scope, BanBan’s newest work departs from overt narrative content while maintaining her interest in autobiographical themes. Their emotive compositional spaces communicate moods derived from the artist’s memories and private experiences. Coded personal symbols such as the stalks of Spanish wheat in Tres dones descansant al Delta or kitchen tiles in La pena de Pilar are suggestive of a nostalgic longing for home, while the studio table lurking in the dense background of Sentadita te pensaba may refer to feelings of creative anxiety or doubt. BanBan’s densely layered brushstrokes and large, distorted bodies advance her characteristic style and reveal an emergent, still-evolving formal language developing in response to the material properties of oil paint.
Brought together, these paintings catalog a range of psychological states experienced by the artist. BanBan explains, “I definitely focus on how I am feeling because that energy will dictate how the painting will look. I have to connect with myself. Painting is a very honest act for me.”
3. May 13–June 24: “ What the Poet Said to the Painter”
—Works by Emilia Olsen
at Pegasus Gallery, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This solo exhibition, in collaboration with the poet Jamie Hood, is a love letter to Emilia Olsen’s (b. 1989) community, and the artists and writers who inspire her practice. The show is centered around “Le Tableaux,” a painting of a party with no people. A table at golden hour is set with artist ephemera: Asp and Hand glasses, food cravings, cigarettes, shells, sketchbooks, painting materials, a bird—a scrubjay—named Nufrank, and a corner 1 of Hood’s 2020 book how to be a good girl which features paintings by Olsen on the cover.
Other paintings in the show feature a dreamlike, intimate portrait of Olsen’s day to day, while borrowing narratives from mythology, fairy tales and poetry, signaled in the paintings’ titles.
The exhibition also ruminates on the contextual and mutual understanding between poets and painters, via an animated reading of Hood’s poem “Mourning Doves.” The animation (2021) comprises over 1,300 hand printed oil monotypes.
Follow Pegasus Gallery on Instagram via @pegasus_prints.
4. April 15–May 16, 2021: “My Snake is Bigger Than Your Snake”
—Works by Rebecca Goyette
at Freight+Volume, Lower East Side, NYC
“My Snake Is Bigger Than Your Snake” is an exhibition initially conceived in 2018 when artist Rebecca Goyette’s father passed away and she placed her childhood home on the market. Goyette immediately started to create a ceramic replica of the house, fashioned after a dollhouse that her father had crafted when she was five. For Goyette, who has an interest in magic, “Childhood Home” was designed to set off prosperous intentions. She ended up selling her father’s actual house to a man wearing a shirt that read: “My Snake Is Bigger Than Your Snake.” Goyette was dressed in red, carrying a lobster-shaped purse so she could safely carry the sizable check back home to NYC on the Greyhound bus. Goyette saw this comical exchange as a face-off between Lobster Queen and Snake Man.
The characters developed through ceramics, and an elaborate ceramic installation in tribute to her father, and small-town New England life began to grow. A Doggy Dominatrix was added in homage to the suburban Veterinarian who wanted to buy the house and turn it into an animal hospital. The likenesses of Townsend cops brutally shooting down a rabid raccoon entered into her work when Goyette witnessed that very thing through a bedroom window while she was emptying her father’s house. She traced out in clay her final exodus from the provincialism of Townsend, Massachusetts.
The exhibition was delayed for a full year due to the pandemic—thrusting the whole world into a state of grief similar to Goyette’s personal experience. As a result, the show’s subject matter is more relevant than ever, reminding us “never to lose our sense of defiant joy” as we move through this era of transformation.
Follow Freight+Volume gallery on Instagram via @freightandvolumegallery
5. March 29–July 23, 2021: “Embellishing the Truth”
—Works by Becca Van K, Claudia Santiso, Mandy Chesney, and Jennifer Caviola
at The Yard City Hall Park, Financial District, NYC
Decorative and fine art is a false dichotomy informed by a systemic misunderstanding that reality should be mundanely visible. Beauty gives us different degrees of reality and this exhibition, “Embellishing the Truth,” curated by Morgan Everhart, shares four artists’ convergences of their truths through adornment. The name of this exhibition is purely ironic because there’s nothing to hide with Claudia Santiso, Jennifer Caviola, Becca Van K, and Mandy Chesney’s work. Each artist openly welcomes the implications their materials and references have. In some cases, there is so little rejection of their mediums that the works are inherently sculptural.
When something is considered realistic, it’s true to reality and involves a practical view of life. With that in mind, Santiso’s work is considerably the most matter-of-fact in this exhibition, letting paint’s sheen and viscosity run candidly and intuitively. Respectively, Chesney’s iridescence and jewels are celebratory and indulgent in a rebellious way of the possessions that give most beings desirability and advantage. Caviola’s Leaf Grids may be the most widely understood as realistic, as they clearly depict the underlying geometry that shapes how we understand relativity and space. However, Caviola completely subverts that universality through her use of color and gold. Van K explores the personality and agency embedded in evocative materials and boldly lets the viewer decide how they define us.
In a time where we are transitioning out of our solitude and re-establishing our new day-to-day, we deserve to celebrate what makes us who we are and share that with others. This is a chance for us to be unabashedly ourselves like these artists are.