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The best contemporary paintings now on view in NYC art galleries

This month, galleries in New York are offering a cornucopia of artists and styles in contemporary painting

By Howard Halle

Painting is dead, people used to say, but that was never the case. Judging by the plethora of painting exhibitions currently on view in the city, the medium is certainly alive and kicking, more so than ever. Not only that, it’s everywhere: Uptown, Downtown, Midtown and in a panoply of styles from figurative to abstract. To celebrate contemporary painting’s vitality and currency, we offer this tour d’horizon of must-see shows.  

Judith Bernstein, The Voyeurs, 2015
Courtesy the artist and Mary Boone Gallery

The Voyeurs, 2015

Who: Judith Bernstein, first-generation feminist artist whose in-your-face aesthetic rattled the ’70s art world.

What: Paintings and works on paper transform limp dicks and vagina dentatas into cosmic spectacle.

Where: Mary Boone Gallery, through July 24

Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief over White, 2013
© Ellsworth Kelly

Red Relief over White, 2013

Who: Ellsworth Kelly, nonagenarian pioneer of Minimalist Color Field painting

What: A multi-space presentation of the artist latest painting reliefs. Single-colored shaped canvases are grouped with works featuring two or more solid-hued panels layered to create starkly gorgeous, geometric compositions.

Where: Matthew Marks (502 W 22nd St, 522 W 22nd St, 523 W 24th St), through June 20

Xylor Jane, 6th Order Magic Square for the Beast, 2015
Courtesy Canada

6th Order Magic Square for the Beast, 2015

Who: Xylor Jane, midcareer California artist

What: Paint-by-numbers meets Op Art in these numerical images, some of which are rendered as thickly textured aggregations of dots or lines. The result suggests a cross between Alfred Jensen and a Lite-Brite board.

Where: Canada, through June 7

Al Held, Particular Paradox 19, 1999
Kevin Kunstadt

Particular Paradox 19, 1999

Who: Al Held (1928–2005), the New York School mainstay who went from Minimalism to Pop-y, Op-y geometric abstraction

What: Large watercolors of vibrant patterns and forms floating within an abstract perspectival space of Escherian complexity.

Where: Van Doren Waxter, through July 2

Huma Bhabha, Untitled, 2014
Courtesy Salon 94

Untitled, 2014

Who: Huma Bhabha, Pakistan-born New York artist known for haunting totemic sculptures that mix tribal art with early modern Expressionism

What: This half of Bhabha’s two-space show features the artist’s pastels and collages depicting animal-human hybrids and other images that manage to combine beauty and horror

Where: Salon 94 Freemans, through June 28

Robert Motherwell, Cape Cod, 1971
© Estate of Robert Motherwell/Licensed by VAGA

Cape Cod, 1971

Who: Robert Motherwell, noted figure of the New York School (a term he coined), and associate of the Abstract Expressionists.

What: Monochromatic canvases from the 1960s and ’70s livened by three lines drawn at right angles to depict a rectangle missing one side in a dialectical dance between exterior and interior.

Where: Andrea Rosen Gallery, through June 20

Chantal Joffe, Night Self-Portrait In A Red Dress, 2014
Courtesy Cheim & Read

Night Self-Portrait In A Red Dress, 2014

Who: London figurative painter Chantal Joffe

What: Joffe’s style of intimate Expressionism seems to channel Alice Neel, perhaps more now than ever since her move from fashion-magazine images to self-portaiture (nude and not).

Where: Cheim & Read, through June 20

Jacqueline Humphries, :), 2015
Jason Mandella

:), 2015

Who: Jacqueline Humphries, contemporary abstractionist known for using metallic paint.

What: Commanding canvases covered with reflective paint that is scumbled, slashed and squeegeed with layers of color. The compositions are then topped with darker, thickly applied, marks or glyphs, which cascade down the front of the canvas like computer code.

Where: Greene Naftali, through June 20

Georg Baselitz, Orangenesser (IX), 1980–1981
© Georg Baselitz

Orangenesser (IX), 1980–1981

Who: German Neo-Expressionist extraordinaire Georg Baselitz

What: Baselitz literally turned the painting world upside down in the 1980s with works like this series of figures eating oranges and drinking booze—a what-the-hell theme for a WTF style.

Where: Skarstedt Gallery, through June 27

Lisa Ruyter, Arthur Rothstein: Detour sign, Chillicothe, Ohio
Adam Reich

Arthur Rothstein: Detour sign, Chillicothe, Ohio, 2013

Who: Lisa Ruyter, pop-imagist with a propensity for clashing color schemes.

What: Based on Depression-era photos from the WPA, these latest works by Ruyter follow her signature formula of breaking images up into paint-by-number outlines, then filling them in to create a jigsaw pattern of pigments

Where: Eleven Rivington, through July 3
Scott Treleaven, Your Head Is a Haunted House (for Derek McCormack), 2015

Your Head Is a Haunted House (for Derek McCormack), 2015

Who: Scott Treleaven, Canadian queercore artist who works in a variety of mediums

What: Treleaven’s lyrically abstract, large-scale gouaches on paper could be described as contemporary “nocturnes” featuring colored shapes and marks floating on black backgrounds.

Where: Invisible-Exports, through June 7

Deborah Kass, America's Most Wanted, Themla G., 1998
Courtesy the artist and Sargent's Daughters

America's Most Wanted, Themla G., 1998

Who: Deborah Kass, the feminist “Weird Al” Yankovic of Pop Art

What: Known for her Warhol parodies, Kass takes on Andy’s Wanted poster series with her own version, substituting museum curators for the hardened criminals featured in the 1964 original.

Where: Sargent’s Daughters, through June 28

Malcolm Morley, Trafalgar-Waterloo, 2013
Tom Powel Imaging

Trafalgar-Waterloo, 2013

Who: Malcolm Morley winner of the first Turner Prize in 1984, and painter whose work over 50 years has evolved from proto-photorealism to a looser, pop-inflected style.

What: Morley offers his usual talismans of boyhood memory—images of tin soldiers, model airplanes and military figures, including Napoleon, Nelson and Wellington.

Where: Sperone Westwater, through June 6

Julia Wachtel, stripe, 2014
Etienne Frossard

stripe, 2014

Who: Julia Wachtel, ’80s appropriationist having her first solo show in New York since 1993

What: Pop-cultural juxtapositions of cartoons and photo-based images combine into odd pairings like Psy and Kim Jong-un.

Where: Elizabeth Dee Gallery, through June 27

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