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5 Exhibitions to See in January

With the new season in full swing, Aperture’s editors select five must-see photography exhibitions on view or opening soon in New York City.

Juno Calypso, Massage Mask, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Flowers, New York

The Real Thing

Flowers, 529 West 20th Street, New York
January 28—February 27, 2016

Sexuality and gender roles are the focus of this group show featuring four artists who question the construction of identity. Melanie Willhide’s faux-antique portraiture weaves a tale of love, loss, and the absurdity of using “aide-memoires” in place of real romance. Juno Calypso’s staged self-portraits portray a fictional character named Joyce, whose lonely scenes of would-be seduction in opulent hotel rooms reflect the intensive labor of manufacturing femininity. Pixy Liao inverts a traditional ideal that the best partner for a woman is an older, more mature man, taking possession of her younger lover in various domestic scenes. Natasha Caruana, in her clandestine snapshots of encounters with married men, arranged through an online matchmaking service, diverts viewers to the clues hinting at temptation and desire.

Bevan Davies, 480 Broadway, New York, 1975.Courtesy the artist and Deborah Bell Photographs, New York

Bevan Davies, 480 Broadway, New York, 1975. Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs, New York

Bevan Davies / Lower Manhattan: Vintage Photographs 1975–77

Deborah Bell Photographs, 16 East 71st Street, New York
Through February 27, 2016

Without the Landmarks Preservation Commission of 1973, which protected the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District from destruction, Bevan Davies’s mid-’70s photographs of the fabled neighborhood would be like the images of Atget’s Paris: relics of a lost time. Still, while the distinctive layered arcades and soaring warehouse windows of Lower Manhattan are largely in tact, the once-vacant streetscapes of West Broadway, Mercer, and Grand have today been replaced by the stylish bustle of luxury boutiques. Davies studied photography with Bruce Davidson at his studio, where he met legends such as Mary Ellen Mark, Danny Lyon, and Ernest Cole. As he swept through SoHo with tripod-mounted view cameras, Davies produced a methodical architectural survey, anticipating the sober “New Topographics” style that would define American landscape photography for a generation.

Jo Ractliffe, Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine, from the series Borderlands, 2011 © Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

Jo Ractliffe, Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine, from the series Borderlands, 2011 © Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York
Through March 6, 2016

Looking to the landscape as an archive of memory, Jo Ractliffe’s photographs from Angola, Namibia, and her native South Africa are remarkable for their subtle accumulation of historical evidence. Vacant plots, scrubby grassland, and vast deserts are revealed through Ractliffe’s documentary captions as former battlefields, mass graves, and sites of trauma associated with Angola’s decades-long civil war. In one lunar landscape in the Namibe desert, an enigmatic memorial is the only sign of human touch; near a roadside stall, jumpsuits hang from trees like ghosts. Ractliffe’s most recent series concerns the collateral effects in South Africa of the “border wars,” bringing into her frame veteran soldiers and a decommissioned military outpost. In Ractliffe’s photography, the past is never distant.

Penelope Umbrico, Everyone’s Photos Any License (654 of 1,146,034 Full Moons on Flickr, November 2015), 2015. Installation view courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York    

Penelope Umbrico, Everyone’s Photos Any License (654 of 1,146,034 Full Moons on Flickr, November 2015), 2015. Installation view courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

Penelope Umbrico: Silvery Light

Bruce Silverstein Gallery, 535 West 24th Street, New York
Through February 20, 2016

Penelope Umbrico’s wry sampling of iconic imagery is on display in new works describing the reflection and projection of light. Borrowing multiple iterations of a famous picture of Grand Central Station, in which sunbeams are manifest as klieg lights or portals to the heavens, Umbrico plays with issues of attribution by including watermarks or embellishments from the original source. For Everyone’s Photos Any License (654 of 1,146,034 Full Moons on Flickr, November 2015), a monumental, mural-sized collage of screenshots from Flickr tagged “full moon,” she provides the credits to each image, including the names, titles, and licensing terms. Like her grids of Flickr-derived sunsets, ongoing since 2006, Umbrico’s typologies of natural light in this exhibition are filtered through the screens and manipulations of the Internet, generating a composite imagery of collective witness.

Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975 © The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

Peter Hujar, Susan Sontag, 1975 © The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

Peter Hujar: Lost Downtown

Paul Kasmin Gallery, 297 Tenth Avenue, New York
January 28–February 27, 2016

The mythology surrounding New York’s downtown art scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s grows in sync with the unyielding force of gentrification that continues to gild the neighborhood. Peter Hujar captured the artistic and intellectual luminaries of this moment in a series of deft, black-and-white portraits that will be on view at Paul Kasmin Gallery in an exhibition co-organized with Pace/MacGill. The show includes a portrait of a youthful John Waters, donning his signature pencil moustache, looking more elegant than louche, and a well-known portrait of Susan Sontag reclining in a turtleneck, the embodiment of brainy chic. Indeed, Hujar cut his teeth in fashion photography, and last year the fashion label Patrik Ervell ran vintage Hujar portraits as a somewhat cryptic branding campaign, a testament to the cult appeal of his work. Hujar is also the subject of a simultaneous show at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery, and a major retrospective is scheduled for next year at Mapfre, Barcelona, and the Morgan Library & Museum, New York. The sharp-witted cultural observer Fran Leibovitz, the subject of one portrait here, famously observed that the AIDS crisis wiped out not only a generation of artists—including Hujar—but also the audience for the culture those artists produced. Thankfully, Hujar’s prodigious output is finding more and more eager viewers today.

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