Skip to main content
  • Source: NEW YORK TIMES
  • Date: JUNE 23, 2016
  • Format: ONLINE

What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week

Raúl de Nieves, ‘El Rio’

Raúl de Nieves’s “El Rio,” at Company Gallery. Credit Raúl de Nieves, Company Gallery

Raúl de Nieves has appeared in a number of guises in recent years: as a performer in Ryan Trecartin’s early videos; as a costume designer for other artists; and in“Greater New York” at MoMA PS1, where he was represented by a dancing figurative sculpture covered in plastic beads and wearing platform boots. “El Rio” atCompany Gallery brings together aspects of many of these activities, but mines darker territory as well.

He has turned the gallery into an environment bathed in eerie yellow light. Humanoid figures in ceremonial costumes, beaded or sewn with vintage fabric and trim, are reminiscent of Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits,” but also religious or cult figures. Other sculptures include taxidermied animals, driftwood, broken glass and military regalia. “The Journey” (2015) is a military backpack decorated with fake pearls, while “Celebration” (2008-16) has a funereal-looking figure, laden with colored beads and gravel, laid out on the floor, a ladder near the figure’s head leading up the wall into the symbolic unknown.

A gallery release accompanying the show describes how death has been treated as an ecstatic celebration by the Aztecs and in tribal cultures in places like New Guinea. (Mr. de Nieves is originally from the Michoacán state in Mexico.) But “El Rio” feels as much like a nightclub as a sacred tomb. The massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., naturally comes to mind while viewing this show, and Mr. de Nieves’s exhibition could be an ad hoc memorial. Nonetheless, it is also a weirdly potent and poetic reminder that, in many cultures, death flows like a river: a part of life rather than its abrupt cession.