Ouattara Watts: Paintings
Until 4 June at Karma, 188 and 172 East 2nd Street, Manhattan
In his first exhibition with Karma, the American-Ivorian painter Ouattara Watts presents a series of recent expressionistic paintings that are populated with references to the Senufo religion, Napoleonic-era warfare, shamanism, Modern art, numeral sequences and coding and various esoteric elements. The mystifying compositions (which could be likened to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a late friend and peer of the artist) visualise both political and spiritual themes. Watts says he uses identifiable pictorial elements to be “better understood”, although his work aims to evoke a more astral plane; he defines his practice as “painting the cosmos”. While Watts has had a storied career, his work is now gaining renewed attention. His painting Afro Beat (2011) soared above its estimate in a Christie’s New York sale this week, selling for $781,200 (est $100,000-$150,000).
Lydia Ourahmane: Tassili
Until 1 August at SculptureCenter, 44–19 Purves Street, Queens
The multidisciplinary Algerian-British artist Lydia Ourahmane, best-known for her conceptual and research-based works, is showing the new film Tassili (2022) in her first institutional solo exhibition in New York. The 47-minute film is an atmospheric record of the ancient cave paintings of Tassili n’Ajjer in south-eastern Algeria, a collection of thousands of minimally-recorded esoteric pictographs of ceremonies, animals and deities. Backed with an ambient soundtrack by musicians like Nicolás Jaar, the film evokes the impact of colonialism on the site and the double-edged sword of surveillance and documentation. The exhibition follows Ourahmane’s major presentations at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, the 34th Bienal de São Paulo and her inclusion in the 2018 edition of the New Museum Triennial.
Future Retrieval: Crystal-Walled Seas
Until 4 June at Denny Dimin Gallery, 39 Lispenard Street, Manhattan
What if our lives could be as thoroughly designed and ordered as the interior of an aquarium? That seems to be the ideal of optimised habitation that the artist duo Future Retrieval (Guy Michael Davis and Katie Parker) is hinting at in this show, which takes its title and some inspiration from Ocean Gardens: The History of the Marine Aquarium, an 1857 book by the British illustrator and naturalist Noel Humphreys on man-made aquatic habitats. Appropriately, stepping into the duo’s exhibition feels something like plunging into an enormous aquarium brought to life by aluminium sculptures, collages of cut paper and a wool weaving based on illustrations of undersea plant life. But the stars of the show are the duo’s superb ceramic sculptures based on the imitation rocks and coral formations designed for use in home aquaria. Their psychedelic patterns and rippling forms give them such otherworldly auras, they could seemingly be the devotional objects of some deep-sea society of very sophisticated crabs. In fact, small crustaceans (likewise rendered in stoneware) stand perched on several of the faux coral sculptures, as if they were reclaiming these human approximations of nature’s strange, inimitable beauty for the crab kingdom.