Through Aug. 15, by appointment. Talwar Gallery, 108 East 16th Street, Manhattan; 212-673-3096, talwargallery.com.
“Pull With a Direction,” a lovely and engrossing show at Talwar Gallery, presents a compressed, in-a-nutshell version of the development of Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990), one of the most original modernist artists of post-World War II India. While following the trajectory of the much larger retrospective at the Met Breuer in 2016, this show’s 25 works is dominated by the early drawings and some prints of the 1950s and ’60s, when Mohamedi had various styles and materials under consideration. (The years to come are signaled by a handful of photographs, paintings and later abstract drawings.) There’s an alluring wildness to the proceedings, as different artists often emerge from work to work.
During those years, Mohamedi was alternately describing or distilling natural forms substantiating anew how crucial nature — especially trees and plants — are as a path to abstraction. The delicate linearity of her later classic drawings is apparent in a series of nervous twigs and branches erupting from a pale pink earth in an ink-and-watercolor work dated around 1960. In pieces from about five years later, lines thicken and tangle, in wet-dry undergrowths of ink and watercolor with graphite and pastel that involve erasures as much as additive marks. One drawing creates the sensation of looking through an expanse of unruly fishing net at the gray-wash wall of an oncoming wave. Linearity is submerged in a dark atmospheric aquatint, also from around 1965, whose hanging forms suggest Chinese lantern flowers seen in a nocturnal photograph. By the late ’60s, her lines are turning toward seismographic autonomy, but a sense of natural disarray and intimations of landscapes persist.
The show implies that the significance of Mohamedi’s photographs — which she took throughout much of her career but never exhibited during her lifetime — cannot be overestimated, even though there are only four here. Two capture the warp and weft of textiles on looms; one shows dry twigs in packed earth, and another focuses on a shadowy, low-lying form that might be Post-Minimalist sculpture. Effortlessly combining abstraction and representation, expressivity and precision, mystery and fact, these images are as important as anything she did.
Through Aug. 9. Ulterior Gallery, 172 Attorney Street, Manhattan; 917-472-7784, ulteriorgallery.com.
It’s hard to clearly see the diptych that forms the heart of Gaku Tsutaja’s exhibition at Ulterior Gallery. I don’t mean that physically — the gallery is open, or you can view the virtual tour on its website, as I did — but perceptually. The two paintings, “Spider’s Thread: This Landscape” and “Spider’s Thread: That Story” (both 2020), are bursting with imagery, including an ominous plane; plumes of smoke; the wavy lines of Sanzu-no-Kawa, a mythological river that the dead must cross to reach the afterlife; and anthropomorphized animals riding horses through the sky. Such elements swarm the black-and-white canvases so that your eye barely knows where to land.
Ms. Tsutaja’s exhibition, titled “Spider’s Thread,” grew out of her research on the Manhattan Project and the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 75 years ago in August. One of the paintings represents the perspective of Japan, the artist’s home country, the other, the view from the United States, where she lives now. In both, time and space seem to have collapsed into a pair of nightmarish flashbacks.
The work isn’t overtly didactic, though; Ms. Tsutaja uses surrealism to turn history into a kind of myth. This is especially evident in the show’s online component: a daily drawing by the artist posted on social media. Scrolling through these smaller works from the beginning recalls reading a comic book. The grand narrative of the “Spider’s Thread” unravels bit by bit into something more legible but no less haunting and profound.
Through Nov. 1. Malin Gallery, 515 West 29th Street, Manhattan; 646-918-7696, malingallery.com.
Sylvia Maier’s beautifully crafted canvases in “About Sangomas and Soothsayers and Mischief” at Malin Gallery, which you can visit in person or view online, are ideal for this moment in New York. Coinciding with the reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement, and recalling the 2018 exhibition “Posing Modernity: The Black Model From Manet and Matisse to Today,” which opened in New York at Columbia University and later moved to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Ms. Maier’s paintings portray activists, dancers, musicians and denizens of Brooklyn with a cool and masterly approach drawn primarily in classical European painting.
“Activist Row/Reclaiming Her Time” (2018) shows a young woman taking a break from insurgency (presumably) with posters and fliers in the background depicting earlier civil rights and radical movements. “The Festival” (2018) captures people at the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, while “Drummer’s Grove” (2017) focuses on a vibrant group of percussionists in Prospect Park. A young man with a Maori-style tattoo on his face appears in many paintings, adding a contemporary element to her work that is countered by works like “The Beheading” (2020), an update of Renaissance and Baroque compositions drawn from biblical stories like Judith beheading Holofernes and referencing the 18th-century Haitian revolution that overthrew the French colonial regime. Here, it is women of color beheading a white man.
Ms. Maier’s work is bold in its narratives and deft in its execution. Yet it could depart more from historical models like those of Caravaggio, Manet or Puvis de Chavannes. Her subjects are inspiring, disruptive and sublime. It would be nice to see Ms. Maier’s compositions, brush stroke, palette or general approach emulate some of that same vital energy and revolt. MARTHA SCHWENDENER