Spring Gallery Guide: Below and Above Canal Street

“The art world should be understood as a complex ecology with many microclimates and some macro ones,” said the curator Okwui Enwezor, who died in March. He could have been describing the geography of New York City galleries. In the 1970s, the climates were macro and few (the Upper East Side, SoHo). In the 1980s, they were joined by the East Village; in the 1990s, by Chelsea; and in the 2000s, by the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. And there are spillovers everywhere. Today, it can be hard to tag a gallery by district, as I learned when visiting a handful that straddle either side of Canal Street, a cross-island axis that runs from SoHo to Chinatown, without claiming full allegiance to either.


This small storefront gallery, in Chinatown, is a distance from Canal Street, but well worth a walk for the local debut of the artist LaKela Brown. The look of her mostly white plaster reliefs is austere. The subject, ornamental bling associated with 1990s hip-hop, is the opposite: door-knocker earrings, rope neck chains and gold teeth. All are artifacts of the pop culture Ms. Brown grew up with in Detroit, her home city. Although the show’s title, “Surface Possessions,” hints at a critical remove from that culture, the work itself, exquisitely done, feels like an honoring gesture. Lining the gallery walls, the reliefs might have been lifted from an ancient royal tomb. Through June 16 at 56 Henry Street; 518-966-2622, 56henry.nyc.

For 25 years, the nonprofit apexart has been inviting curators from across the globe to produce thematic group shows in its small space. Many of the curators have been artists, as is the case with Porpentine Charity Heartscape, the digital game designer who assembled the current show, “Dire Jank.” Keeping her checklist short, she has surrounded her own work with that of just three fellow gamers, all but one transgender. The exception, an artist who calls himself Thecatamites (Stephen Murphy), takes a sardonic look at old-school games in a click-heavy conquest narrative that goes nowhere, very slowly. Tabitha Nikolai, self-described as a “trashgender gutter elf” from Salt Lake City, offers a tour through a luxury mansion that houses a Borgesian library, a sexology institute, and opens up onto vistas of cosmic space. Devi McCallion, the rock star of the bunch, delivers a despairing, pulsating plea for environmental awareness in a music video. As for Ms. Heartscape’s work, centered on the risks of queerness, it’s startlingly soul-baring. Where most conventional games are about predation and its thrills, hers are about the evils of predation. I should mention that in the gallery I found the interactive pieces glitch-prone. (Maybe they’re meant to be? After all, jank is gaming talk for, among things, low quality.) But when I reran the show on my laptop everything worked like a charm. Through May 18 at 291 Church Street; 212-431-5270, apexart.org.

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