This marvelous exhibition of drawings and prints reveals anew why Rembrandt is always in vogue. Two stages of a Crucifixion scene have the freshness of Warhol: Funnels of divine light bathe Christ and the crowd beneath him, but the inking and re-etching of the plate for each impression imbues these chiaroscuro dramas with jagged, human imperfection—Hollywood directors would kill for such flair. Nor can Tinseltown top the master’s contemplative print of Jan Lutma, which has the verisimilitude of a photograph but is built up from the carefully placed crosshatched lines that etching demands, giving it an emotional depth that comes from the artist’s sustained observation of his subject. Soft light carves the septuagenarian silversmith’s heavy face out of the dark background, his craftsman’s hands at rest in the penumbra of his weary girth. Even more haunting is a sketch of a chained lioness that captures her distant gaze, and, in a few lithe charcoal lines, the predatory twitch of her powerful paws.
The abstract expressionist’s technical mastery over the art form he invented is evident in this exhibit of his works on paper. In Number 4 1948: Gray and Red, halos of the titular colors define the edges of white and black splatters; these wavy outlines slow frenetic action down to an elegant, intricate waltz. Abstract Painting (1943) mixes thin calligraphic pen scratches with cartoonish paint squiggles over shadowy washes on pink paper. Pollock walked this tightrope of competing textures and skillfully bound them together into a ravishing scrim that flutters between diaphanous landscape and mere scratch-pad doodles. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave, 212-423-3500. Through September 29.
The dense fields Donovan creates by inking rubber bands and pressing them onto paper conjure many allusions: writhing sperm storming an egg, hairy vortexes, clumps of sea anemones. Yet this impulse to read shapes into clouds falls away on closer inspection, as the repeated forms of the thousands of rubber bands—sometimes knobby bulbs on either end of a pinched waist, sometimes sinuous parallel lines curving in on themselves—resolve into fascinating, maze-like patterns. Although these drawings don’t have the impact of the ersatz snowdrifts Donovan recently created from 3 million plastic cups, they are another example of her transformative touch with the most banal of materials. PaceWildenstein, 534 W 25th, 212-929-7000. Through August 25.
Herzog & de Meuron
One component of the current “Artist’s Choice” exhibit at MOMA, selected by these Swiss architects from the museum’s permanent collection, is an array of 15 silent video screens playing short loops of sex and violence from various films. Goodfellas De Niro and Pesci pummel a fellow gangster into hamburger; Dunaway sensuously drapes herself around Beatty before their orgasmic, slo-mo deaths as Bonnie and Clyde; Duvall lackadaisically slurps coffee while his Huey absorbs heavy fire from the Vietcong. But the flat screens are suspended from the ceiling, and to watch these brutal snippets you must crane your neck, lie on a wooden bench, or stare into a small handheld mirror, ensuring that veiwers are far more uncomfortable watching these bloody spectacles than they would be reclining in a stadium-style seat. Plus there’s no popcorn—it’s practically un-American. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-366-1549. Through September 25.
Included in this exhibition of the Renaissance master’s multipanel Colonna Altarpiece are preparatory sketches that fascinate the modern eye. On one sheet, a muddy blot of ink adds serendipitous formal verve to Standing, Bearded Saint; on another, a deft landscape with church and farmhouse is counterpointed by an unrelated Madonna and child hanging upside-down from the opposite corner. A view of the city of Perugia’s buildings on the other side of the page provides a blurred texture that binds together these disparate elements—it’s reminiscent of a David Salle composition, only much better drawn. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710. Through September 4.
‘Soutine and Modern Art’
This broad exhibit brings de Kooning and other modern artists’ works together with some prime Chaim Soutines, and each gallery is a pitched battle between master and admirer. The ripe, curvy striations of color in Soutine’s early-20th-century paintings of beef carcasses also show up in his tilting, wavering landscapes and figures, something de Kooning studied and brought forth in the “vulgarity” he ascribed to his own “Women” paintings. Louise Fishman’s dark grid is spanned by patches of translucent pink, the drippy bottom edges akin to lacerated skin; Lucian Freud’s impenetrable forest scene could be pure abstraction until a lushly painted tree trunk snaps into focus. One particular highlight (among many) is Bill Jensen’s small but astonishing conglomeration of yellow and orange circles smeared with blues and purples like bruises—despite the chromatic clash, these thin layers of paint meld naturally into each other, reminding us why de Kooning said, “Flesh was the reason that oil paint was invented.” Cheim & Read, 547 W 25th, 212-242-7737. Through September 9.