‘I’m Not Your Mother’
Through Dec. 3. PPOW Gallery, 390 Broadway, Manhattan; 212-647-1044
Gallery exhibitions are often neatly packaged, easily consumable art experiences. This group show, centering on an early — and superb — landscape painting, “Secret Garden” by Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019), isn’t that. The show, “I’m Not Your Mother,” is invigorating, challenging, uneven and a bit chaotic. It’s also one of the most thought-provoking exhibitions now on view and cause for a deeper appreciation of the artist’s legacy and contributions beyond performance and film.
Chronologically, Schneemann’s 1956 landscape fits among the action painting of Joan Mitchell and de Kooning, but it also conjures — through Schneemann’s commanding play of violets off greens and yellows — El Greco’s heightened treatment of color in his skies and undulating cloth. “Secret Garden” is joined here by an eclectic range of mostly contemporary work.
“Mother” suggests both maternity and ecology, as in Hortensia Mi Kafchin’s “Mother Nature” (2022), a dreamy midnight-blue oil painting on wood, which offers one emblematic summation of the exhibition’s theme. Nodding to surrealism, it depicts a mountainside resembling a weathered female figure with a windblown, scraggly tree growing from one breast while a waterfall spouts from the other. And a pair of photographs (both from 2011) by LaToya Ruby Frazier documents the destruction of a hospital complex in the photographer’s hometown, Braddock, Pa. The link to Schneemann may seem oblique, but in their recording of the cruel profit-driven machinations of the medical-industrial complex, they recall how Schneemann, one of her generation’s great artists, struggled at the end to cover her medical expenses after 20 years of living with breast cancer. JOHN VINCLER