Short Takes

Pieces of the Puzzle


Helen O’Leary calls her work “knitting with paintings,” but what I saw was much more in line with the refined carpentry of jigsaw puzzles. These quasi-paintings can be quilts, if intimacy is what you’re after, or if the macro is more to your taste, they can be the topography of an agrarian community (such as the one Irish O’Leary no doubt knows well) seen from a bird’s eye view. Either way, these works of the fitted-together are frank about their means of construction, one piece even exposing the “made in the USA” printed on its wooden supports, as if we could forget these works are a result of dedicated hands.

But the works which most piqued my interest were the single pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, looking as if they were lifted from the more complicated pieces and enlarged, hung alone on the wall. In the context of the other puzzles-- some cobbled from more than a hundred individual pieces-- these works had a personality that was defiant, almost challenging as if to ask, “Am I not enough for you?”


Helen O'Leary 

Lesley Heller Gallery

Until May 20  






Le Corbusier Meets Saddam Hussein  


The tiny non-commercial gallery space housing this show of Jordanian artist Ala Younis is really no more than a storefront, up a few stairs on Essex street. Once you find it, if you can’t immediately make sense of the model of a modernist building, surrounded by figurines, opposite a wall of old photographs superimposed with CGI renderings of women and palm trees sprouting flatbread, ask the gallery attendant for an explanation. She’ll tell you the story of the Le Corbusier commissioned Saddam Hussein Gymnasium in Baghdad, along with the untold stories of the women who had a hand in it. (The artist told the male perspective of this story at the Guggenheim in 2015.)

Because the records on these women architects are so spare, the reconstruction of their lives was a labor on the part of the artist, one that has her display careening between the real and the imagined. To bring these women back to life, the artist used imaging technology to construct identities based off of scraps of visual information. When she was unable to recover any photographic history of one of the women, she substitutes the archetypal image of a woman doubled over, clutching her papers as if they were children. The result is sometimes unsettling and cyborgian– a means of inventing a better future by dredging up the past.

Ala Younis: Plan (fem.) for Greater Baghdad


Until May 26

Our Holy Days  

Jesus is Thorned   (5) , 2018.

Jesus is Thorned (5), 2018.

For the Catholics, “ordinary time” is what stretches between Holy Days in the Christian calendar. For the rest of us, it might be the time it takes for the Q train to arrive, or what elapses as the clock ticks toward five pm and we can finally go home. Artist Em Rooney cleverly conflates the two, merging what we might think of as “ordinary times” into some of the most important images in the Christian faith: the Stations of the Cross. Two men climbing down a fire escape become Jesus lifted down from the cross. A cozy and casual evening house party is for Rooney the Last Supper. These photographs are printed on aluminum, giving them an eerily celestial cast and are overlaid by silvery numbers, to indicate the station portrayed beneath. These numbers impose the order and ritual of Catholicism, and do not strangle their overall meaning, but rather the variation in their fashioning mimic what lies beneath, signifying that ritualistic structure brings meaning to the everyday.

Em Rooney: Ordinary Time


167 Rivington St