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HOT MAMA

Jennifer Coolidge‘s name may not automatically ring bells, but say she played Stifler’s mom, the ultimate MILF in 1999’s American Pie (and American Pie 2 and American Wedding), and suddenly everyone remembers her . . . and her bodacious curves. Since seducing the precocious 18-year-old character Paul Finch on top of a pool table, Coolidge has gone on to star in three Christopher Guest mockumentaries (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration), among other films. Though not a regular on the stand-up comedy circuit, she’s recently been touring the clubs, dishing out hilarious stories about Hollywood, some less true than others (like her “lost” scene in Brokeback Mountain), while turning up that irresistible charm that makes men of all ages drool. Check her out at Comix for two nights. Cue the song from The Graduate.

Sun., July 25, 8 p.m.; Mon., July 26, 8 p.m., 2010

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W. Eugene Smith: Art, Not News

You’ve seen many of these black-and-white photos reproduced countless times—the pietà of a Japanese mother floating her deformed daughter in the bath, a G.I. cradling his wounded comrade on Okinawa, a welder’s goggles glinting in bright contrast to his grimy face. Yet here, divorced from the context of Life magazine photo essays, the individual frames reveal Smith to be not just an emphatic photojournalist but a wholly brilliant artist. While it is generally easy to determine the subject of these images, Smith’s narratives derive from more than sundry detail. Consider the stirring composition of 1944’s Burial at Sea: the corpse, a white, evocatively lumpy streak, is poised mid-drop, the ship’s deck providing a sweeping diagonal that emphasizes the finality of the solemn drama. A similarly powerful setup juxtaposes a tilting American flag against a Klan cross awaiting the torch. For a shot of Spanish women winnowing grain, Smith set his camera low to capture the weight of their labor, recalling the strain conveyed by Caravaggio when he painted St. Peter’s executioners raising his upside-down cross. That Smith evokes such classical comparisons is testament to his deep instinct—akin to that of a great athlete—for the physical grace and emotional resonance of the human form.


Matthew Brannon

Brannon leavens suave graphics with prose that is hard-boiled and brittle by turns. One letterpress print features a black bowl and yellow bars (lemon slices?) over the caption, “Mister, I work six ten-hour shifts a week. . . . If she was here she certainly didn’t look like that picture. Wearing that. I would have noticed.” Or this snippet, under a depiction of haute high heels: “I just nod and sip my vodka and soda. Soon he’ll be pinching my nipples. And undoing my skirt. While studying the small painting on the wall directly over his shoulder I find myself wondering if I’ll ever leave Los Angeles.” Brannon mixes Raymond Chandler with Sex and the City, adds a twist of consumer lust, and pours a smooth cocktail that might also conceal a roofie. Friedrich Petzel, 535 W 22nd, 212-680-9467. Through July 11.


Chris Burden

When you first look at this gleaming 65-foot-high tower, you might not connect it with Burden’s 1970s endurance pieces, such as when he stood for six hours on a wooden ladder set in electrified water, or attempted to lie under a tarp on a busy Los Angeles street, protected only by road flares—at night. (Killjoy cops put a swift end to what the artist described as “a piece of sculpture.”) Yet when you begin to contemplate how long it took to bolt these one million custom-made Erector Set struts together, or find yourself drawn into the see-through geometries that shift like quicksilver as you walk around the skeletal structure, Burden’s familiar obsessions about time colliding with space become manifest. A real attention-grabber, even on Fifth Avenue, Burden has constructed a monument to overindulged children everywhere. Rockefeller Center. Through July 19.


‘Present Tense’/’No Wave’

Curated by painters Mary Heilman and Don Christensen, the vibrant abstractions of ‘Present Tense’ (Spanierman Modern, 53 E 58th, 212-832-1400. Through August 2) coalesce into a buoyant summer group show. Polly Apfelbaum’s stained-fabric pieces are as delicately beautiful as mold blooms, providing a rich contrast to the radiantly furrowed canvases that Taro Suzuki creates by pulling a rake through layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow acrylic. Heilman’s own 1992 oil painting, Weave, also features primary colors, set in blunt rectangles that gain endearing subtlety from her lush, drippy brushwork. But it is Christensen, painting bright enamels over roughly cut wooden slabs, who steals the show. The misty pinks of 2008’s Up From the South are animated by painted black bars that, in combination with the wooden joints, create a rousing visual rhythm.

Long before arriving in such fancy uptown digs, Christensen was the drummer for the Contortions, one of the late-’70s downtown bands that were rooted as much in the visual avant-garde as in music. The ‘No Wave’ exhibition at KS Art (73 Leonard St, 212-219-9918. Through July 31) opens with a solid wall of brash flyers for such bands as Theoretical Girls, the Gynecologists, and Blinding Headache. Photos document many of the era’s highlights, including a Mudd Club performance by Von LMO featuring a welding helmet and a chainsaw. A portrait of the Contortions’ angular guitarist, Pat Place (one leg clad in a striped knee sock, the other in a high black boot), hangs next to her own photos of colorful toy monsters that swirl up from soft-focus backgrounds like demented taffy. In 1979, Robin Crutchfield, of the bands DNA and Dark Day, labeled identical baby pictures in a degraded Xerox “Dead” and “Asleep.” Three decades later, his diptych remains a sardonic talisman of yesteryear’s downtown wasteland. In an interview, Lydia Lunch, of Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, once related the era’s ethos: “Work? Are you nuts? Please. $75 per month—that was my rent . . . You begged, borrowed, stole, sold drugs, worked a couple of days at a titty bar if you had to.” This compendium of art and ephemera disinters the soul of a gritty bohemia now buried under chain stores and luxury towers.

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Edward Hopper, Lonely Guy

Edward Hopper conveyed the disjointed loneliness of modernity more acutely than any other American artist (or novelist or filmmaker) of his time. In these 13 etchings from 1918 to 1923, a number of which have become icons of Yankee existentialism, individuals are surrounded by shadowy force fields that turn viewer into voyeur. These are not portraits of people presenting themselves to us, but glimpsed scenes of enigmatic characters: a woman in a slip sits at a sewing machine, her thoughts somewhere far beyond the open window she faces; a nude woman, hair obscuring her face, climbs into bed while gazing out between fluttering curtains. In 1921’s House Tops, a lass on an elevated train stares wistfully at the metropolis of chimneys, roof hatches, and cornices passing by—the viewer is across the car, noticing, perhaps, that something other than the sights is on the girl’s mind. In Night Shadows, a famous, vertiginous view of a man walking a darkened city street, the broad sidewalk is bisected by the stark shadow of a lamppost that stands outside the frame. All the powerful abstract geometries of Hopper’s later masterpieces are foreshadowed in these small works—the sweeping curves and sharp triangles of his boating scenes, a processional of telegraph poles contrasted against sinuous train tracks. But unlike those magnificent paintings, in which people often act as mere vessels of light and shade, here they are supple human beings. In Night on the El Train (1918), a man and woman huddled in the corner of an otherwise empty car are literally twisted in knots—heads bent toward each other, ankles tightly crossed, her body uncomfortably torqued. Are they planning a wedding or plotting a murder? Perhaps both, though not necessarily in that order.


Stephen Wilkes

Photographer Stephen Wilkes says his trips to China feel like “watching a time-lapse movie,” because that country’s gargantuan public-works projects are so quickly altering its landscape. These large color shots include people or objects that provide scale for the surreal vistas: Workers on scaffolds look as tiny as mountain climbers against the windowless concrete towers that will house the Beijing Olympics’ data center; a ladder attached to locks for the Three Gorges Dam reveals the leviathan proportions of the 600-foot-high, one-and-a-half-mile-long structure. Wilkes documents the ongoing construction’s underlying social engineering in a diptych that focuses on an elderly couple outside their small house near a new factory development. When the photographer returned three days later, nothing remained of the house but a heap of bricks and neatly stacked rows of salvaged roof tiles. Clamp Art, 521-531 W 25th, 646-230-0020. Through September 13.


‘Works on Paper’

There are some real gems in this collection of drawings, collages, and paintings on paper. Gabriel Orozco’s repeated, bumpy pencil arcs might be fish bones or seismic waves; Jack Tworkov’s charcoal abstraction could be read as a jagged landscape; a duskily layered ink sketch by Brice Marden is more lively than his often overly precious paintings. But it’s the juxtaposition of a Rauschenberg collage and a sardonic Sigmar Polke graphic that’s worth the trip uptown. In the 1950s, Rauschenberg opened a door into a storehouse of everyday materials and subjects—like the photos of a deserted stretch of blacktop and a country shack included here—that none of his compatriots ever fully explored. But the now-67-year-old German kicked that door down in the mid-’60s, and he’s been ransacking the joint ever since. Polke’s piece begins with a blurry, dark-green photo of regimented foosball figures; in the center of this two-by-three-foot image, a comic-book gunman has been stenciled in dark red. Rows of repeated gauchos, sprayed in misty white, hover around the villain like a squad of avenging angels. This conflation of Old World soccer fanaticism with clichéd visions of the New World’s Old West is one gorgeous sucker punch. Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 1018 Madison, 212-744-7400. Through June 27.


Paul Fusco

When presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, his body travelled by rail to Virginia’s Arlington Cemetery. Fusco, then a 38-year-old Magnum photographer, was on board the funeral train that sweltering June day and took approximately 2,000 Kodachromes of mourners lining the route. Mostly forgotten in a vast archive when Look magazine folded three years later, these incredibly poignant images have rarely been seen. The vibrant film stock captures fluttering flags in rusting railyards and the overgrown lawns of ramshackle houses on the wrong side of the tracks. Citizens—black and white men and women in shorts and housedresses, nuns and uniformed schoolgirls, cops and bare-chested boys—wave goodbye, salute, and stand at attention. Often blurred at the edges by the train’s motion, the pictures focus on individual grief and shock amid national tragedy, and sometimes frame hand-lettered laments, such as “So-Long Bobby.” Danziger, 521 W 26th, 212-629-6778. Through July 31.

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Philip Guston: Galumphing Master

Philip Guston’s socially conscious 1940s drawings of the downtrodden and their hooded tormentors evolved into searching, tender abstractions in the ’50s, spare graphics in the ’60s, and galumphing, cartoonish narratives in the ’70s. This terrific show concisely charts how concentrated bouts of drawing re-energized the artist’s broadly influential paintings. At age 13, Guston (1913–1980) was studying at Cleveland’s School of Cartooning, but he was soon in thrall to such Renaissance masters as Giotto and Masaccio. This mix of low and high oscillated throughout his career—the rock-ribbed compositions of early street scenes that imagined kids battling with wooden swords and garbage-can lids combine Piero with Barney Google. A 1947 ink drawing, Angel, hovers between abstraction and winged figuration, but by 1951’s Untitled, only sensitive, gestural flutters of the brush remain, creating airy, ungrounded forms. In Prague (1967), three vertical slashes inside a square placed high on the page can be read as pure, reductive design or as a prison window, while 1970’s Figure in Interior gathers all of Guston’s artistic powers: Beautifully rendered in pencil, the cartoon contours of a Klansman and his fringed lampshade resonate with the abstracted buildings outside his window. Guston filtered the classics through America’s rough-and-ready culture and distilled 600 years of pictorial invention into an ever-intoxicating brew.


Anish Kapoor

Walk toward the convex, 16-foot-long mirror-like wall of Vertigo, and your reflection—at first upside-down and as elongated as one of Giacometti’s existential wanderers—suddenly flips upright and fills out to become the person you see in your bathroom mirror, before abruptly bloating to Macy’s-balloon scale. The four large reflective stainless-steel objects here—the curving wall, a stretched-out cone, a rectangular monolith, and a wasp-waist tower—go beyond funhouse mirrors by making the physics of light and perception palpable. Each heightens the banal geometries of the gallery, turning plumb corners into slingshot curves and rows of fluorescent lights into ever-shifting, luminous rubber bands. The sculptures reflect each other in turn, surrounding you with flitting, attenuated doppelgängers. Gladstone, 530 W 21st, 212-206-9300. Through August 15.


Alison Elizabeth Taylor

Who are these two young women—one dark-skinned, the other blonde and tan—sitting on the steps of a geodesic-dome homestead? The first knits a small garment, so perhaps they’re transplants from some Eastern city, lesbians with a baby on the way. They’re also knocking back a couple of beers—does that explain the frowning hombre sitting in the pickup just outside their barbed-wire fence? All of these narrative elements, including distant mountains and the truck’s Jesus-fish decal, have been pieced together from wood veneer, which Taylor chooses with the sensitivity of a painter deploying color and brush textures. Another scene features a pair of skinny-dippers who are seemingly oblivious to a third figure sinking below the ripples of a swimming hole. Taylor’s desert vistas are topped by differing striations, conveying sunsets or approaching storms. Lithely cut abstractions underpin these dense, open-ended tales—the curves of an abandoned swimming pool behind a flat scrim of chain-link fence are as sinuous as if drawn with charcoal, while the orange and burnt-umber sky bears mute witness to some obscure tragedy. James Cohan, 533 W 26th, 212-714-9500. Through June 21.


Dara Friedman: ‘Musical’

Gothamites are inured to living on a vast soundstage; they know that those long white trailers and catering tables mean a big-budget flick is on location. Dara Friedman has pared such productions down into a 48-minute video that can be seen as a social experiment: In collaboration with the Public Art Fund, she arranged for 60 individuals to burst into song in various midtown locations while she surreptitiously filmed crowd reactions. One songstress does a breathy “Lush Life” on Grand Central’s main staircase as a cop casts her a bemused glance and two young girls scurry around her to take snapshots of the main concourse; a woman jabbering on a cell phone leaves in a huff when a young man begins crooning “Tell It Like It Is” from atop a Central Park boulder. Friedman sometimes uses split screens to run alternate takes of the a cappella renditions, creating ersatz duets; after one singer has finished, he may appear in the background when another strolls by singing “On the Street Where You Live.” This fascinating visual weave captures passersby often knowingly scanning for a camera, sometimes edging away as they gauge the nut quotient, and occasionally just enjoying that moment we all secretly fantasize—a star turn on Broadway—which these intrepid souls have dared to enact in public rather than in the shower. Gavin Brown, 620 Greenwich St, 212-627-5258. Through June 28.

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James Kerry Marshall, Black on Black

Kerry James Marshall’s paintings of black people simply being human stand out in an art-industrial complex where subjects, artists, purveyors, and consumers are pretty much white folk. In his series of five large grisaille paintings, he imagines a young man lifting his girl through the air in graceful arcs. The lovers are seen from different angles, and viewing the panels in quick succession conveys a swirling, physical joy. This romantic vision is complicated by such kitsch as floating hearts, Black Power fists, and rococo cascades of flowers entwining the word “LOVE.” Marshall masterfully leavens old-school pictorial space with poster-shop sentiment, demanding classical vigor from his compositions while also embracing Everyman tastes. In a beach scene, he transcends purposeful cliché with Albers-esque color sophistication—a cuddling couple basks in an orange sunset, the dusky subtleties of their bodies echoed in the rich contrast of yellow sun flares engulfing a shadowy seagull. A series depicting black artists hefting palettes the size of grand-piano lids plays with an art-historical trope—self-portrait with the tools of the trade. A reminder that the canon has largely turned a blind eye to the black creator, each artist is posed before the ghostly grids you see on studio walls, where drawings and paintings of different sizes have been worked on and then removed. There’s defiance inherent in this poignant absence: Here I am, the subjects seem to say— I won’t disappear even if my work is unseen.


Erica Svec

These intense paintings slalom between hallucinogenic visions and Jasper Johns–ian formality. Break Thru (2008) features a flat, pale-peach human silhouette, its huge, fleshy fist tattooed with a target; trompe l’oeil Polaroids have been painted to the left of this image, creating a grid of vaguely organic shapes. The swaying tassels and enigmatic diamond shapes in Untitled are painted with vivid contrasts, everything geared to a circular motif centering on a rainbow-colored sprocket. With its obscuring vaporous clouds and peppy patterns, Svec-world offers nightmarish flights of fancy anchored by corporeal frisson. Larissa Goldston, 530 W 25th, 212-206-7887. Through June 21.


Robert Polidori: ‘Versailles Etats Transitoires’

Using an 8 x 10 view camera, Polidori captures astonishing details of both the interior and the artistic contents of the ancien régime’s opulent palace at Versailles. An oval portrait of Marie Antoinette, alabaster cheeks rouged like a kewpie doll’s, hangs atop elaborate white molding; grimy handprints mar a concealed door cut into the ornamental trim. Another shot crops a canvas depicting Louis XIV, refashioning his sumptuously flowing robe into rich abstraction; Polidori’s composition contrasts the painting’s saturated colors against tacky burgundy wallpaper and faux marble edging. The prints are all five to six feet high, and one focuses on a modern surveillance camera bluntly mounted to frou-frou cherub decorations. Other shots capture chipped plaster, peeling paint, and a janitor’s floor buffer, documenting royal excess transmogrified into scruffy national theme park. Edwynn Houk, 745 Fifth Ave, 212-750-7070. Through June 14.


Jake & Dinos Chapman

Like Fred and Ginger, sex and death are perennial partners. Here, the Chapman brothers dismember the body and force the parts—brains and genitalia, mostly—into a danse macabre with maggots, rubber chickens, and surgical gloves inflated like distended udders. Arranged on tabletops along with hammers, saws, and drive chains poised to slash, pulverize, and flay the flesh, these gelatinous concoctions are actually fabricated from bronze. Painted in candy colors, the brothers’ “Little Death Machines” feel like the workbenches of psycho-killer clowns. L&M Arts, 45 E 78th, 212-861-0020. Through June 14.


‘Amerika: Back to the Future’

Keynoted to Rammstein’s rollicking music video “Amerika,” in which the Teutonic industrialists roll their R’s while bouncing about in Apollo spacesuits, this group show imagines various and sundry apocalypses by way of South Park. Jennifer and Kevin McCoy present two spinning dioramas of strip malls, the first depopulated and overrun by globally warmed vegetation, another scorched and swarming with zombies; Old Navy and Home Depot signs have been cannibalized into a billboard pleading “HELP US.” One Anthony Goicolea photo features burned-out buildings fronted by battered 55-gallon drums, while another envisions grain elevators swamped by ice floes. In the rear gallery, sculptor David Herbert offers Star Trek’s Enterprise propped up by a wooden framework—the spaceship is covered with Paleolithic markings and riddled with sheltering caves. It’s the same old story: Imperial plans crash and burn, becoming the mythos of the next empire. Postmasters, 459 W 19th, 212-727-3323. Through July 12.

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Digital Vandalism at Shafrazi Gallery

“Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?”
A show conceived by Urs Fischer & Gavin Brown
May 9 – July 18, 2008

This aesthetic mindfuck requires a backstory: In 1974, struggling Iranian artist Tony Shafrazi spray-bombed Picasso’s Guernica with the doggerel “Kill Lies All.” Variously described by the perp as a Vietnam War protest and/or a way to bring the 1937 mural “absolutely up to date,” this egotistical intervention did nothing for the victims of My Lai or for Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece. However, Shafrazi did manage to parlay his notoriety into lucrative art-mongering for the Shah of Iran; after the ayatollahs made that untenable, he peddled graffiti artists in Soho. Fast-forward to a recent show in Shafrazi’s Chelsea gallery, which reprised such ’80s stablemates as Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, and then add an intervention by gallerist Gavin Brown, artist Urs Fischer, and a high-resolution camera, and you get vandalism updated for our digital age.

Brown and Fischer photographed Shafrazi’s exhibition of the graffiti gang in situ, transformed the results into trompe l’oeil wallpaper replete with the shadows of frames and reflections in glass, then pasted the images back up on the walls in the exact same positions as the original show. The topper is works by artists from other generations displayed over the hi-res knockoffs: A Malcolm Morley painting of crashing planes and ships hangs athwart a photo of one of Haring’s radiating cartoon canvases; an exuberant John Chamberlain sculpture fairly leaps from in front of the towering facsimile of a Donald Bachelor collage painting. Particularly striking is a gray, untitled Francis Bacon portrait, half obliterated by vertical brushstrokes, which smolders like cremation ashes atop the digital remains of Scharf’s colorful, gibbering biomorphs. Lily van der Stokker has painted flat acrylic waves and blubbery curves over the photographic wallpaper, her confectionary blues and pinks adding a third layer of imagery; a fourth dimension appears when a guard stands next to his digitized doppelgänger. So, if you relish blithe provocations and peppy cynicism, this fascinating show’s the ticket — too bad you missed the opening, where two hot babes dressed as cops presented Shafrazi with a cake sporting Guernica icing.


Peter Beste

This is the music that Tipper Gore warned us about during those ’80s Senate hearings: A phalanx of severed lambs’ heads line the stage in front of longhairs clad in leather and studs. For seven years, Peter Beste has been photographing purveyors of Norwegian black-metal music, a witches’ brew of Satanism, paganism, stage blood, and pummeling beats born amid the Norse country’s winter darkness. Despite the subcult’s penchant for arson, suicide, and murder, it’s the less sensational shots that capture the willful marginalization of its true believers: The driver of a tiny car is confronted by a skinny grim reaper toting a massive scythe; passersby stare at a musician’s zombie-style makeup. One striking image evokes curdled Nordic myths in the corpse paint and black leathers of a paunchy dude rambling like a troll through a moss-encrusted forest. Steven Kasher, 521 W 23rd, 212-966-3978. Through June 7.


Peter Schjeldahl: ‘Let’s See’

A master of stacking dead-on adjectives atop descriptive nouns (“antic brawn” and “majestic brain” for Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, respectively), Peter Schjeldahl avoids the jargon that lends so much art criticism the charm of a physics dissertation. This collection of his reviews for The New Yorker includes the usual suspects, such as Vermeer (whose “silence-drenched paintings, mostly of unremarkable domestic scenes,” are “blatant and ineffable, like the Sphinx”) and Pollock (“the artist’s last major drip painting [was] Blue Poles (1952), whose eponymous forms snarl like overloaded lighting rods”). Yet some of Schjeldahl’s most bracing prose is found in his broader essays—one on the Whitney’s collection notes that Americans “lack sacred ground except by expropriation from the Indians. We skitter about this beautiful continent like drops of water on a hot plate.” When discussing individual artists, he distills what the body senses on confronting a work of art: A group of Brice Marden abstractions inspired by Chinese landscapes seem to “use up as much energy as they impart.” His concision often veils a complicated thesis. For instance, I couldn’t understand why he and the painter John Currin were rapturous about the Met’s wolf-hunt canvas by Rubens’s workshop — an illustrational pastiche of finely wrought animal hides by the studio’s worker bees, with some daubs by the boss — until I accepted that the article centers on Currin’s penchant for second-rate classicism as the underpinning for his prurient updates of the old masters. Like any critic of long duration, Schjeldahl has contradicted himself: Marsden Hartley is “shrunken and stale” in a 1999 group show, but receives his true due during a 2003 retrospective, in which the “violent compression” of his “jazzy Cubist compositions” created “something new that stayed new.” A scintillating review of the artistic milieu surrounding Hitler—”Nazism’s blend of dash and malice, its brilliant technology and skulking atavism”—ends with what might be a summation of this critic’s clear-eyed philosophy: “We must remain vigilant against malevolence, and we should resign ourselves to the truth that beauty is fundamentally amoral.” 256 pp., $29.95, thamesandhudsonusa.com.

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Goya Does Gore at Peter Blum

Decapitations. Impalements. Stabbings. Hangings. Point-blank firing squads. Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) was more than 60 years old and ailing when he embarked on a series of 85 small etchings depicting Spain’s war against Napoleon’s invading army. It was this struggle, from 1808 to 1814, that birthed the term “guerrilla,” or “little war”—irregular resisters fighting a formal military force. The Disasters of War is a catalogue of atrocity, including a scene where two soldiers restrain a naked prisoner while a third hacks his crotch with a sword. Yet, the title of this etching, What more can one do?, seems to rail not only against the murderous invaders but more generally at the primitive barbarism that overwhelms a civilization during wartime. A famous image (appropriated 14 years ago for a Chapman Brothers sculpture) of torsos, limbs, and heads lashed to a tree and impaled on branches bears the disgusted yet ironic title Great deeds! With dead men! Goya is both horrified and world-weary, but too much a master not to discover powerful compositions amid humanity’s absurd cruelties. In Ravages of War, the pale bodies of women and children cartwheel through a dark space while a tumbling chair mimics their flailing limbs and everything piles up like garbage. Goya’s chiaroscuro views of hell on earth were not seen during his lifetime because they were deemed too horrific for public consumption. Their horror still resonates—do not miss them.


Ryan Johnson: ‘Watchman’

A figure wearing a parka labeled “SECURITY” stares from a face consisting of a clock with dozens of second, minute, and hour hands. The guard’s plaster body is anchored by a bucket of cement, his atrophied hand clutches a cane, and hundreds of keys burst like entrails from his stomach. More plaster “Sentinels” loom in a larger gallery, their husks adorned with graffiti courtesy of attached markers. One of these pathetic guardians reaches for a phone connected to a pole eternally out of reach; some wag has written the Public Enemy brickbat “911 Is a Joke!” across its straining arm. Like old-school surrealism, there’s an engaging literalness to this work, both funny and creepy, which sets the mind to wandering a homeland that doesn’t feel terribly secure. Guild & Greyshkul, 28 Wooster, 212-625-9224. Through June 14.


Andy Graydon

A needle rides the grooves of a vinyl record, emitting a rumbling drone, a motif echoed by dim Super-8 films of rocks tumbling in wooden sluices; additional footage of lava beds and ocean vistas is interrupted by bright flares of light. Across the darkened gallery, flickering white striations are projected onto dead fluorescent light tubes. All the objects are scattered about the floor, including a tall, narrow plywood box lit from the bottom and a photo of Mauna Kea’s astronomical observatories with their retractable viewing slits. This Hawaiian-born artist’s carefully calibrated environment leavens weird science into a paradise that blooms from molten volatility. LMAKprojects, 526 W 26th, 212-255-9707. Through June 7.


Tom Sachs

Tears stream from Hello Kitty’s eyes; across the courtyard from this bathetic fountain, a wind-up version of the marketing behemoth towers over the viewer. These huge effigies of Kitty (and two other characters, Miffy and My Melody) have been cobbled together with foam-core and glue guns, then cast in bronze and painted white, throwing the drippy seams into high relief. Do these sculptures comment on our ever more wasteful consumption of corporate pseudo-culture? Or do we simply yearn to see these cute Frankensteins rampaging through Gotham like escapees from a Japanese monster flick? It’s your call. Lever House, 390 Park Ave, 212-688-6000. Through September 6.


Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses

If you’ve seen his recent exhibitions, you already know the haunting drama that Crewdson achieves in his large-scale photos of individuals stranded on the streets of decaying small towns or atrophying in forlorn bedrooms. This intense book condenses these compositions into Technicolor movie stills for which the viewer must imagine storylines, although—as in the shot of a heavyset woman alone with her baby—you may not want to contemplate the denouement. Is there tenderness or infanticide in that frozen gaze? Also included are Polaroid studies, floor plans, lighting diagrams, and other materials that unveil Crewdson’s Hollywood-level production methods. 140 pp., $60, hnabooks.com.


Mika Rottenberg

In keeping with her fascinating videos, which imagine cohorts of women manufacturing products from their own tears and hair, Rottenberg’s exuberant new sketches are stamped with parts of her body. Here are globular markings from her buttocks; over there, spread-out handprints. At first glance as chirpy as a day-care-center bulletin board, these sophisticated compositions soon reveal figures merging into landscapes and such frantic characters as a pink pig that segues from cartoon mug to sweaty Lothario. Patches of densely scribbled graphite imply that some of the frenzied action has been censored. Nicole Klagsbrun, 526 W 26th, 212-243-3335. Through June 7.

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George Lois Covers the ’60s

In 1962, erudite but commercially ailing Esquire magazine hired prominent adman George Lois to juice up its covers; the 31 gathered in MOMA’s concise show are an exhilarating time capsule of politics, graphic design, and journalistic daredevilry. Shortly before his 1970 My Lai Massacre trial, a nervous Lieutenant William Calley sat for a cover shoot. Lois soothed the suspicious defendant by claiming: “The picture will say, ‘Here I am with these kids you’re accusing me of killing. Whether you believe I’m guilty or innocent, at least read about my background and motivations.’ ” The image of four dour Vietnamese kids surrounding the blond Calley, his chipmunk cheeks propped up by a buck-toothed smile, remains shocking today. At the time, Lois’s extremely supportive editor Harold Hayes opined: “We’ll lose advertisers, and we’ll lose subscribers. But I have no choice. I’ll never sleep again if I don’t muster the courage to run it.” Hayes knew what he was in for—in 1963, Lois had given the nation its first black Santa Claus in a glowering Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champ and former street thug, who had no interest in being a credit to any race. An estimated $750,000 in ad revenues went up the chimney as advertisers scurried to outlets more amenable to America’s demand for complacent Negroes. The MOMA exhibit also includes contact sheets and transparencies from such iconic shots as Muhammad Ali pierced by arrows (the St. Sebastian of Vietnam draft resisters) and a 1969 riff on the decline of the American avant-garde, which imagined Andy Warhol drowning in a can of tomato soup. With an adman’s brazenness, Lois transported the magazine cover beyond Norman Rockwell’s small towns and Time‘s head-shot formality to something that snagged the eye and flummoxed the brain.


Dinh Q. Lê

This Vietnamese artist has created a four-channel video that hypnotically traverses the weathered cells of an 1854 French colonial prison on Vietnam’s Con Dao Island. Many nationalist Vietnamese—not necessarily communists, but definitely anti-American—were imprisoned and tortured there during the Vietnam War. Lê’s slow, rotating pans of stained, pockmarked walls set with high, barred windows convey both the boredom of captivity and a vertiginous anxiety. Other works feature strips of cut-up black-and-white photos of Cambodian prisoners woven through large color shots of a notorious Khmer Rouge prison. The fractured images are striking and evocative of the shadow world of atrocity that underlies all wars. PPOW, 555 W 25th, 212-647-1004. Through May 31.


‘Rococo: The Continuing Curve, 1730­–2008’

What do Frederick the Great’s bejeweled 1765 snuffbox and a psychedelic 1968 poster for the rock band Canned Heat have in common? Both exude extravagance through sinuous compositions, entwined textures, and rich color. This large survey traces the Rococo style from its opulent Paris beginnings (swirling golden waves encasing perfume bottles), through the organic undulations of Art Nouveau, and right up to Nicolette Brunklaus’s 2002 Blond Curtain, printed with cascading labial curls just waiting to be parted. These decadently beautiful objects (and the museum’s airy environs) are perfect for a spring art wallow. Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, 2 E 91st, 212-849-8400. Through July 6.


DISHONORABLE MENTION: ‘Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy’

Maybe it was that huge white fashion tent obscuring the Met’s grand outdoor staircase on a beautiful spring day. Or perhaps it was those Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman statues perched atop the information desk, as poorly realized as the bronze Rocky Balboa that keeps turning up at the Philadelphia Museum like a bad penny. Whatever, this show of haute couture celebrating superhero comics, which should be fun and perhaps even inspiring, is in fact enervating and rather pointless. The tent and statues were there only for Anna Wintour’s staunchly regimented gala, but the hoi polloi still must stagger past dark bays filled with enough black leather and vinyl for a remake of William Friedkin’s Cruising. And while eroticism, homo or otherwise, has provided an undercurrent to superhero-costume design since Superman first donned his blue unitard, this show is the antithesis of sexy—with the possible exception of a Sandman-inspired gas-mask ensemble, which features a long black hose and steel canister hanging fetchingly between mannequin breasts. The designs look even more uncomfortable than most runway toggery and have little understanding of the loopy flights of fancy that the superhero genre inspires. Here, flaming hairdos and football shoulder pads look ridiculous, whereas Jack Kirby’s similar costumes for the ’70s comic book Forever People set up an unhinged oscillation between the earthbound and the cosmic. Or consider ’40s artist Jack Cole, who launched Plastic Man through page after page of roller-coaster compositions, stretching the witty superhero and his red tights to pinnacles of thinness that supermodels can only salivate after. Sadly, you’ll find no such charm or abandon in these fatuous pastiches. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710. Through September 1.

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New York Schooled: Spring Art-School Exhibitions

Art school has always been about stealing from your elders, then hacking your way through those influences to something of your own. For centuries, that meant copying master works and drawing from live models to discover new ways of depicting the human body’s arching slabs of meat in perspective. But that was before Cubism fractured the body, Abstract Expressionism dispersed it, and Minimalism dispensed with it. Now all we’ve got is amorphous Pluralism, and students have no cohesive movements to revere or rail against (although dealers desperately flog Neo-Whatever-isms to boost sales). Still, while beauty and conviction can’t be taught, talent can certainly be enhanced by technique and critiques, and that’s where art schools come in. So, join us on a jaunt through the training grounds of Gotham, where today’s students grapple with that utterly useless, but hopefully enthralling, object—or event or concept—that is “art.”

There are still plenty of institutions that will drill you in the eternal basics of the figure, and the Art Students League (home of such august alumni as Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe) has long featured rotating exhibits from individual instructors’ classes. In the gallery on May Day was Paul Oestreicher’s maniacally grinning skeleton astride a charging horse, the bones, muscles, and sinews (of human and beast) convincingly sculpted from tricolored clay. Jayson Mena’s roughly foot-high sculpture of a puppy-bellied young woman, while perhaps not perfectly proportioned, offered nonchalant poise. (Hormones may briefly prove blinding for novices confronted with nude models, but the serious student is soon lost in a cloud of charcoal dust while squinting past an outstretched thumb to measure thighs against torso.) Instructor Frank Porcu exhibited life-size, energetic drawings, in which colored chalk delineated geometric weaves of muscles while sussing out how many stacked skulls equal the full height of a body. This is pipe-armature and pushpin discipline, eschewing frames and polish in favor of a down-and-dirty understanding of flesh and bone. (theartstudentsleague.org; work by students deemed the best from each class will be exhibited May 19–25 and June 2–11)

Arriving at the National Academy just as the judges were selecting winners from among the 234 student works on display, the Best in Show staff decided to award a few blue ribbons of its own. Only one coincided with the 38 official picks: Stephanie Terelak’s atmospheric gray abstraction, its floating shapes and shifting light owing a debt—as does much abstract painting nowadays—to Terry Winters. Our eye also snagged on April Kim Tonin’s lithe Thirty-Second Gesture Drawings, featuring a progressively more bent-over model, a classic method for developing eye/hand coordination. Finally, we were struck by Victoria Wulff’s truly odd painting, Theater of Faith, wherein pedestals and flowers painted with scabby, clashing pigments marry yesteryear’s surrealism to contemporary dissolution, an anxious composition that thankfully didn’t take its Prozac. (nationalacademy.org; closes May 14)

In Brooklyn, Pratt‘s senior-thesis photography show, “Hire Education,” offered a gamut of expertly presented digital and old-school emulsion prints. Kristen Klosinski’s magnified color shots of hairy warts and viscid lesions turned flesh into fascinating alien landscapes. Andy Zinsser went spelunking through the psyche with his collection of black-and-white snapshots of bizarre intimacies—one features a young boy in his underpants threatened by the shadow of the photographer looming over him. Colleen Schultz’s large shot of a couple kissing as they flash themselves with their own camera held at arm’s length explores our era’s penchant for exposed privacy. (pratt.edu; closed)

If Pratt’s exhibit had the sheen of a Chelsea gallery, visiting the crammed-together studio cubicles of the School of Visual Arts‘ MFA candidates got one nearer the hurly-burly of creation. Cameron McPherson’s suave destruction of his own studio space—a collapsing wall held in place by a twist of metal strut, gray flooring jimmied upward to form a trapdoor leading to an older substrate half an inch down—led to a conversation with a visitor about form, theory, plagiarism, action painting, and sports. Open studios are great for breathing the miasma of art, whether a searching figure study or Tom Weinrich’s satirical, tri-part video of exasperated handlers stage-managing President Bush’s legacy. (schoolofvisualarts.edu; various shows, including MFA Illustration and Computer Art exhibits, will take place from now until mid-June)

While SVA’s rabbit warren of clashing master’s-degree aesthetics exudes affable competitiveness, the undergrads at the Cooper Union display a thoughtful camaraderie. Just one example from four floors of engaging group shows: Jessica Minn, Maximiliano Ferro, and Benjamin Santiago forged a kinship by collaborating on a ramshackle tent that sheltered a video monitor and was festooned with colorful balloons. Minn’s yellow-and-blue painting evinced a frazzled exuberance that Ferro’s contraption of air blower, ping-pong balls, and amplified guitar strings sonically emphasized. Santiago’s détourned Mario Brothers video game added sunny gravitas, as players scored not points but Joseph Campbell quotes: “And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal . . .” (cooper.edu.; on May 27, the school opens its annual exhibition of art, architecture, and engineering)

A very partial list of spring exhibitions includes MFA thesis exhibits for Columbia, through May 25 (flcart.org/exhibit.htm), NY Studio School, through May 21, (nyss.org), and NYU through May 24, (nyu.edu/pages/galleries), plus St. Johns University’s Annual Student Art Exhibition on the Queens campus through June 30 (stjohns.edu).

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Leigh Ledare: My Mom’s Crotch

Imagine that in 1966, long before you were born, your mom, a 16-year-old beauty named Tina, posed for Seventeen magazine, her slightly large nose emphasizing her fawn-like blue eyes and swooping russet curls, her body lithe under pink angora. She was training to be a ballerina, and her porcelain skin was as ethereal as her performances with the Joffrey. Fast-forward 25 years: In a snapshot, Mom is helping you with your tie before a Sweet 15 dance, her red hair flaming a few degrees beyond what nature granted. A formal shot from later in the evening captures your date—a cute girl, though not a stunner like Mom, even if her hair is a radiant match to the maternal thatch. By 2003, Tina’s ballet career has devolved into Seattle Weekly personal ads: “EXOTIC DANCER—Not kidding! Beautiful, glamorous, sexy, intelligent & talented former ballerina & serious artist . . . who excels at fantasy and reality . . . seeks wealthy husband.”

This decline has been documented in the pictures that Leigh Ledare has taken of his mother, her lovers, himself, and other family members over the past decade. Mom Spread With Lamp (2000) doesn’t beat around the bush—it’s Tina, on a bed, dramatically lit, her naked, depilated crotch thrust at the viewer, her stomach and thighs taut from strip-club exertions. In Mom After the Accident (2005), she’s full-frontal again, a post-car-crash neck brace above heavier breasts, her hips wider, her legs doughier, her regal countenance set off against a textured ceiling glowing as orange as a tropical sunset, her hair still blazing. Leigh’s typed reminiscences from seventh grade include a rare reference to Dad: “in his tighty whiteys on these green couch cushions on the laundry room floor . . . Mom thinks he’s trying to make her look bad, like she married a loser.” He recalls his mother after a shower, lying down near him: “The mound of red hair at her crotch is starting to dry and get fluffy.” A haunting color portrait of Tina from 2007, her closed eyes as serene as a death mask, contrasts with four 2008 photo-booth strips of mother and son mugging and staging kisses. This mix of ephemera and unsettling photographic fact coalesces into a particularly graphic novel of the mind, about one family that’s definitely unhappy (or not) in its very own way.


Robert Colescott: ‘Troubled Goods’

This African-American artist has long pushed his fragmented forms, lurid colors, and audacious subjects to just this side of frenzy. Love Hate Relationship (1989) depicts a white man wearing a mud-orange tie choking a black woman, her skin bulging pink from the pressure. Colescott never shies away from miscegenation, including in his media—a striking 1998 series of five-foot-high collages deploys green bubble wrap and other materials as vividly as brushstrokes; in one deft move, a woman’s vagina is created from an orange-polka-dotted shoulder pad. Acrylics direct from the tube supply large paintings such as Olympia’s Fountain with the chromatic sinews to power bold narratives—a woman as black as the maid in Manet’s Olympia rises up on a red-and-gold background, emphatic as Botticelli’s blonde Venus. G.R. N’Namdi, 526 W 26th, 212-929-6645. Through June 7.


‘Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing’

There’s still no substitute for drawing—for that ineffable moment when brain, eye, and hand team up to give form to thought. MOMA has culled roughly 100 works from 50 artists, including Saul Steinberg’s 1950 sketch of ostentatious gendarmes on spindly bicycles; Amy Sillman’s densely colored gouaches of Texas townsfolk; Christopher Knowles’s typewriter graphics; and the undulating dance of Yayoi Kusama’s ink dots. These disparate sketches, studies, and mixed-media musings make for a fascinating Babel. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-708-9400. Through July 7.


Piotr Uklanski

With a drippy boldness similar to that in Motherwell’s stark Elegies to the Spanish Republic, Uklanski’s red-and-white resin paintings recall the sorrows and hopeless bravery of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis. Poland’s national colors also appear in two massive sheets of glass, white atop red, the 20-by-12-foot scale leavened by enthralling subtleties of light at the edges and joins. This grand show includes a rocket blast of crockery cemented to one wall, which reaches a soaring red pinnacle at the ceiling, and a huge photo of thousands of shipyard workers posed in red and white shirts to form the Solidarity logo. A second shot reveals everyone walking off in different directions, individuals finished with their moment of glorious unity. Gagosian, 522 W 21st, 212-741-1717. Through May 17.


Tamara Kostianovsky

Kostianovsky was born in Jerusalem and raised in Argentina; when she moved to New York, her parents sent her warm clothes, which she eventually cannibalized for her artwork. In life-size sculptures of livestock carcasses, she uses plum, beige, and white fabric of varying textures to conjure flayed flesh, gristle, bone, and slabs of fat. The evident dryness of the surfaces throws the senses for a loop—twisted strands from a coarsely knitted burgundy rug seem to drain from a utility sink, spreading like a coagulated puddle onto the floor. Some pieces are strung on chains, pierced with meat hooks, stuffed into plastic bags, or labeled with purple numbers that recall concentration-camp tattoos. Ask to see the 2007 photo Unbeknownst, in which thin leaves of actual bloody meat resemble pages in a book—a beautiful, tenuous alliance of knowledge and brutality, wisdom and the ravening needs of the body. Black & White, 638 W 28th, 212-244-3007. Through May 24.