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Published November 10, 2023

Seen by Testudo: November Exhibitions in New York

By John Dennehy

John Dennehy co-founded Testudo with the mission to establish a more accessible and fair art world. John is a passionate collector of works by queer artists and antique ceramics.

With autumn exhibitions in full swing, I’m excited to highlight six shows in downtown New York that should not be missed. November is the perfect month for gallery hopping in New York as the temperatures drop and the turning leaves create perfect conditions for walking between the galleries and neighborhoods.

Installation image, Willa Wasserman, Mirror xx,xxx,x. Photo by Dario Lasagni. Courtesy the artist and François Ghebaly.

Willa Wasserman: Mirror xx,xxx,x, François Ghebaly, October 28 - December 2

For Willa Wasserman’s first show in François Ghebaly’s New York gallery, the artist has made six works of oil and silver nitrate on bronze. The bronze canvas creates a mirror effect, reflecting the viewer, while the paintings depict Wasserman standing in the middle of the gallery, in a haunting pose with her limbs outstretched. The result is an immersive effect that creates space to consider this pose chosen by the artist. As the essay by Kay Gabriel that accompanies the exhibition references, Wasserman’s stance in the paintings leaves ample room for interpretation and has the potential to change based on each angle. Is it meant to evoke the symbol X? The concept of “no”? Or, a morbid crucifixion? Wasserman’s self-portraits combine with the changing, imperfect patina on the bronze canvas to create a very contemplative show on the idea of the body and its identification over time, revealing elements that resist all stability and certainty.

Installation images, Justin Liam O'Brien, Physical Education. Photos by Matt Grubb. Courtesy the artist and Marinaro, New York

Justin Liam O’Brien: Physical Education, Marinaro, October 25 - December 9

Justin Liam O’Brien’s first solo exhibition with Marinaro presented me with the opportunity to see his new work since his last solo show at Monya Rowe Gallery in 2021. As O’Brien is one of my favorite queer painters working today, I jumped at the opportunity to see this new exhibition. While O’Brien’s earlier work depicted figures with more sinuous, cartoonish appearances, his language has evolved to a crisper, defined figure that heightens the emotional value of each painting. Viewing each of the paintings, I noticed that every work in the exhibition contains a glimpse of sky, even indoor settings include strategically-placed windows. These cloud-filled views pair with the overall colors in the exhibition to create a sense of unease and the result is an incredibly harmonious body of work. The pinnacle of the show is Crossing the Frame, a circular painting installed from the ceiling, its central figure falling directly onto the viewer and an incredible final touch of worldbuilding in this show.

Installation image, Chanterelle, ASHES/ASHES. Photography by New Document. Image © the Artists, courtesy ASHES/ASHES, New York

Chanterelle, ASHES/ASHES, November 3 - December 17

In Chanterelle, ASHES/ASHES presents a group show that unites different mediums into a cohesive theme. Stemming from Lenard Smith’s photography, Lara Joy Evans's and Justin Ortiz’s paintings, to Vincent Pocsik’s sculpture and Erik Frydenborg’s collages, the show creates space for considering different modes of information collecting. While I had seen Frydenborg’s sculptures before, I relished the opportunity to view his current series of collages that present a different deployment of his distinct visual language through a 2D format. Another particular highlight is Vincent Pocsik’s Sunhands I, a skillfully crafted anatomical sculpture carved from resplendent black walnut that extends out from the wall. Sunhands I proves to be an excellent example of the incredible sculptural creations by Pocsik that I’d only been able to see online until now.

Installation image, Jaqueline Cedar, Tryst. Image courtesy of Shelter and the artist.

Jaqueline Cedar: Tryst, Shelter, October 19 - December 10

This summer I had the opportunity to meet Jaqueline Cedar and see her curatorial work when I saw Feeder, the group show presented as part of Upstate Art Weekend by Good Naked Gallery, her curatorial project. The strength of this presentation made me excited to see Cedar’s own pieces. In her second solo show with Shelter, Cedar is exhibiting a series of intimately-sized paintings. The ambiguous narrative combined with her bold use of color allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions about what exactly each piece depicts. The small-scale of the paintings creates more opportunity for viewers to feel more intimately involved, while also adding to the dreamlike quality of Cedar’s work allowing the size of each work to feel like a brief window into a hazy narrative.

Installation images, Maggie Ellis, Energy Broth. Photos by Daniel Greer, courtesy Charles Moffett.

Maggie Ellis: Energy Broth, Charles Moffett, October 27 - December 2

Maggie Ellis’s Energy Broth presents several paintings of crowds, continuing a theme the artist has been following for a few years. From a distance, the crowds in Ellis's paintings meld into one, but upon a closer look, each painting depicts the personality of the individual. Ellis's painting technique employs dense visual fields of color to introduce high energy into her paintings. I was particularly drawn to several smaller paintings that focus solely on the feet of figures in various everyday situations. Balance in particular shows a rider on one of those strange unicycle scooters that have cropped up in cities in the past few years, wearing what is distinctly ON sneakers, another very-recent trend. Contemplating this incredibly contemporary painting allowed me to think of the lifespan of all works in the show: how will these themes and symbols that contain deep connotations post-2020 be changed or lost in the future?

Installation images, Melissa Joseph, Irish Exit. Photos by Pierre Le Hors. Courtesy of the artist and Margot Samel

Melissa Joseph: Irish Exit, Margot Samel, October 19 - November 22

I have a strong affinity for artists who apply the techniques and ideas of painting using different materials. Melissa Joseph brings an exceptional example of this in her show Irish Exit. Primarily working with felt in these pieces, Joseph creates intimate works that often reference her personal experience growing up as a biracial woman. I was particularly drawn to Kadankavil Fish, one of the larger works in the show that depicts an aquarium placed on a credenza. Perhaps it's the nod to Matisse’s Goldfish or just my own personal experience keeping aquariums, but I was awed by Joseph’s delicate rendering of the fish, water, and colorful gravel adorning the tank. Elsewhere, Joseph metamorphosizes a found wooden vanity by using the space once occupied by a mirror as a canvas draped in felt obscuring the view through figuration.

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