Now is the most exciting time of the year for art – most galleries have just reopened from a summer break and with a collective ‘tah dah!’ are showcasing some amazing exhibitions. Last Saturday, we took in six shows that played with the themes of individual and collective identity, from Nick Cave’s spotlight on America’s uncomfortable history of racial stereotyping to Do Ho Suh’s ephemeral monument to his tiny New York living space.

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Just inside Nick Cave’s show at Jack Shainman Gallery, a museum-style wall text by the artist recounts his shock at a flea market find – a ceramic head of an African-American man, meant to hold tobacco, but labeled as a spittoon. Cave enshrines similarly offensive depictions of lawn jockies, a ‘Gollywog’ and more in cocoons of beads and ceramic ornaments, creating what look like devotional shrines. Though he aims at rehabilitating his subjects, the show is a strong reminder of how once widely embraced folk art has been used to reinforce discrimination.


(Nick Cave, Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street, through Oct 11th)


By contrast, Jacob Hashimoto’s Skyfarm installation at Mary Boone Gallery was pure uplift. 30,000 kite-like shapes in paper and bamboo fill the upper reaches of one of Chelsea’s most beautiful, light-filled galleries in a configuration that some liken to a garment, to hanging festival pennants, or to – as the title suggests – a piece of architecture that supports plant growth. Installed during the entire month of August by the artist and his team, the piece is an expression of Hashimoto’s personal vision on a new and astounding scale.

(Jacob Hashimoto, Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24th Street, through Oct 25th)


Anyone who’s been stopped going through security will connect with Roxy Paine’s ‘Checkpoint,’ an all-wood replica of a TSA checkpoint that’s the centerpiece of his first solo show with Marianne Boesky Gallery. Created in the computer and hand crafted in monochrome maple, the piece’s odd perspective, reduced from around 80 to 18 feet, gives it a dream-like quality. This, its uniform color and stillness do a lot to eliminate the unease of a real checkpoint, making the piece a kind of uber-contemporary, decorative object very much of its time.

(Roxy Paine, Marianne Boesky Gallery, 509 West 24th Street, through Oct 18th)


At 77, iconic British artist David Hockney is going strong at Pace Gallery with new charcoal drawings, iPad drawings and a video, collectively titled ‘The Arrival of Spring.’ For those of us not wanting to believe that summer is over, the timing feels a little incongruous, but the vivid color of the iPad work will bring you around. Hockney’s detractors accuse him of being seduced by technology, but the artist has always been inventive with his media (including his Polaroid and photo collages), and the folk-art appeal and sheer exuberant brightness of many of these digitally rendered landscapes is hard not to love.


(David Hockney, Pace Gallery, 508 West 25th Street, through Nov 1st)


At Pace’s neighboring space, we discovered another Brit, Paul Graham, whose grim portraits of the north of England made his name in the 80s. Photos of rainbows shot in Ireland, ‘cash-for-gold’ shops in New York and portraits of his sleeping partner create a much brighter picture than we’re used to from Graham. Could these personal photos and the suggestion of gold at the end of the rainbow mean that Graham has found his luck in his personal life?


(Paul Graham, Pace Gallery, 510 West 25th Street through Oct 4th)


Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh likewise takes his personal situation as subject matter; his move from Korea to the U.S. in the 90s continues to inspire artwork that makes architecture a stand-in for his identity. Though one recent ambitious project had the artist anchoring a house to the top of a building in California, Suh steps down the scale in recent work for which he made and displayed a rubbing of the inside of the 500 square foot pied-a-terre he keeps in New York. “It’s very sensuous…you carefully caress the surface and try to understand what’s there,” Suh explains. On that note, we wrapped up the tour, oursenses newly attuned to the unique identities and messages of six ground-breaking artists.

(Do Ho Suh, Lehmann Maupin, 540 West 26th Street through Oct 25th)