There’s a “what if…” energy electrifying some of the most exciting exhibitions in New York City this month, speculative propositions ranging from “What if we saw architecture as an unsettled pastiche?” to “What if a reclamation could occur through genre choice?”, from “What if bodies voided of subjecthood gained otherworldly abilities?” to “What if indices of representation changed?” Asking “what if” can be a galvanizing, powerful thing; as you take in these shows across the city, let yourself brim and fizz with the question’s possibilities.

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The Black Index

Installation view of The Black Index at Hunter College Art Galleries’ Leubsdorf Gallery, 2022. Alicia Henry, “Analogous III” (2020) (photo by Stan Narten, courtesy the artist)

When: through April 3
Where: Bertha & Karl Leubsdorf Gallery (132 East 68th Street, Lenox Hill, Manhattan)

Reviewed by Hyperallergic in its UC Irvine iteration, this traveling exhibition presents media-spanning work by six artists, including Titus Kaphar and Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, that challenge harmful colonialist and classificatory conventions around Black figuration in the United States while proposing thoughtful alternatives. “Black people should not visually only exist in relationship to violence, crime and racial hate,” exhibition curator Dr. Bridget R. Cooks told the Los Angeles Times. “We exist in other ways and these artists are trying to represent those ways to us or to remind us there are other ways to see us, to find us in American culture.”

Carlos Motta and Tiamat Legion Medusa: When I Leave This World

Still from Carlos Motta and Tiamat Legion Medusa, “When I Leave This World” (2022) (courtesy the artist, P.P.O.W. Gallery New York and OCDChinatown, New York)

When: through April 10
Where: OCDChinatown (75 East Broadway, Chinatown, Manhattan)

This two-channel video installation is the brainchild of Bogotá-born, New York-based artist Carlos Motta, whose oeuvre explores queer or otherwise marginalized counter-histories and alternative futures, and Tiamat Legion Medusa, a Texan trans performance artist who goes by it/its pronouns and has undergone extensive body modification surgery to metamorphose into a dragon, a corporeal protest against humans and what they represent. Medusa relays its personal history and politics in one video, while in the other, both artists are suspended in space through transgressive means (hooks and Shibari).

Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers Color, 1972-1975

Susan Meiselas, “The Star Tease, Tunbridge, Vermont” (1975) © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos (courtesy the artist and Higher Pictures Generation)

When: through April 16
Where: Higher Pictures Generation (16 Main Street, Ground Floor, DUMBO, Brooklyn)

Susan Meiselas may be best known for her documentation of Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution, but her photographic career first took flight with Carnival Strippers (1972-75), a visual record of striptease performers, their employers, and their clients at small town summer carnivals around the East Coast. Painting a nuanced picture of her subjects, Meiselas depicted the performers onstage and off and ensured that their voices were represented through taped interviews and consultation on photos. Due to a recent discovery of color film rolls in storage, images from the series are being exhibited in vibrant color for the first time.

Lyndon Barrois Jr.: Mirage Collar

Installation view of Lyndon Barrois Jr.: Mirage Collar at Artists Space, 2022 (photo by Filip Wolak, courtesy the artist and Artists Space)

When: through April 23
Where: Artists Space (11 Cortlandt Alley, Soho, Manhattan)

Cinema has long celebrated the art of the con. With an emphasis on the Three-card Monte trick, Pittsburgh-based multidisciplinary artist and writer Lyndon Barrois Jr. mines the vast archives of filmic depictions of duplicity, double-dealing, and legerdemain in his first New York institutional solo show. Transforming borrowed cinematic imagery into exactingly arranged paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations, the artist explores subterfuge’s many flavors on formal and narrative levels.

Kia LaBeija: prepare my heart

Kia LaBeija, “Mourning Sickness” (2014) (courtesy the artist and Fotografiska New York)

When: through May 8
Where: Fotografiska New York (281 Park Avenue South, Flatiron, Manhattan)

In her first museum solo show, Kia LaBeija (“Kia”), an artist, performer, and former Overall Mother of the Iconic House of LaBeija, presents tender autobiographical photographs and self-portraiture alongside personal archival material and ephemera. Through her vulnerable visuals, Kia, who was interviewed by Hyperallergic in 2020, opens a window onto her experience coming of age as a queer, HIV-positive woman of color involved with New York City’s Ballroom scene. prepare my heart is dedicated to the artist’s late mother Kwan Bennett, an AIDS activist.

Charles Ray: Figure Ground

Charles Ray, “Mime” (2014), Kunstmuseum Basel (photograph by Josh White © Charles Ray, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery)

When: through June 5
Where: The Met Museum (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan)

Quality trumps quantity in this spare presentation of 3 photos and 16 sculptures, spanning five decades, by Los Angeles-based artist Charles Ray, a “sculptor’s sculptor” who has produced around 100 works total over the course of his career — and is currently also the subject of exhibitions at Glenstone, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Bourse de Commerce. Spaced apart in an echo of the artist’s dictum “Space is the sculptor’s primary medium,” works on view in this focused survey range from an open aluminum box that riffs on the Minimalist cube to stainless steel figures referencing Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, a complex and problematic American cultural touchstone.

Kay WalkingStick: Mountains/Canyons/Clouds

Kay WalkingStick, “The San Francisco Peaks Seen from Point Imperiale” (2021) (image by JSP Art Photography, courtesy the artist and Hales, London and New York)

When: March 4–April 16
Where: Hales Gallery (547 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan)

While we might be (rightly) inclined to associate paintings of epic North American landscapes with the acquisitive violences of manifest destiny, artist Kay WalkingStick, who is of Cherokee and Anglo descent, has painted landscapes throughout her six-decade career to instead explore and honor the relationship between Indigenous peoples and nature. The multi-panel oil paintings on view, all made in the past ten years, overlay North American vistas with meticulously researched Indigenous patterns and designs that reference the people who once inhabited or currently inhabit the area.

Tenet: Wall Begins to Know Itself

Tenet, “Frame 2 (Hot Pipe/Transition Strip)” (2021) (courtesy the artists and CUE Art Foundation)

When: March 5–April 2
Where: CUE Art Foundation (137 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan)

With a focus on 19th century tenement housing built with working class, immigrant, and non-White inhabitants in mind, Tenet, or the collaborative New York duo Julia Eshaghpour and Kevin Hollidge, consider New York City’s layered pastiche of architectural styles, in which various social, material, and aesthetic histories awkwardly abut one another. Droll architectural sculptures and assemblages — a pillar is inexplicably made of fruit, a pipe snakes like a living thing — underscore the strange animacy of buildings.

​​Dewey Crumpler: Painting is an Act of Spiritual Aggression

Dewey Crumpler, “Sundown” (2020) (courtesy the artist and Derek Eller Gallery)

When: March 17–April 23
Where: Derek Eller Gallery (300 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan)

Since the 1990s, Bay Area artist Dewey Crumpler has been painting and drawing The Hoodies, anthropomorphic sweatshirts that act as bodiless proxies for Black subjects — perhaps above all, Black boys and adolescents. Whether they are zipping through outer space in Skittles-colored vehicles, wielding smartphones to photograph Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”(1907) and Faith Ringgold’s “American People Series #20: Die” (1967) at MoMA, or gathering at a protest with homemade signs that read “The Thang” and “Being Non Being,” the Hoodies are uniquely compelling.

Hassan Sharif: Political Paintings (2008–2009)

 Installation view of Hassan Sharif: I Am the Single Work Artist, Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, 2020 (photo by Helene Toresdotter, courtesy Alexander Gray Associates)

When: March 17–April 23
Where: Alexander Gray Associates (510 West 26 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan)

Emirati conceptual artist Hassan Sharif (1951-2016), who worked across media but is most closely associated with his sculptural installations of refuse, gained recognition for his political caricatures and cartoons in the 1970s. Highlighting that critical figuration remained an important thread in Sharif’s mature work, the late, Expressionism-inflected paintings on view depict decontextualized, distorted politicians who appear maniacal at press conferences or raise their hands in ambiguous public gestures emptied of meaning.

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Cassie Packard

Cassie Packard is a Brooklyn-based art writer. (cassiepackard.com)