* Stan Douglas "Midcentury Studio" @ David Zwirner Gallery / 525 + 533 W 19th St. Douglas commands two galleries with this awesome installation, constructing a postwar period-specific studio lined with hypothetical "caught-in-the-moment" prints from the imagined late '40s, documented with outdated equipment particular to the time.
* Lee Kit "1, 2, 3, 4…" @ Lombard-Freid Projects / 518 W 19th St. The debut stateside solo show of the Hong Kong-based artist. I discern something temporal about his oeuvre, but sort of rockstar too, evident in his hand-painted cloths revealing song lyrics of like Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, The Lemonheads etc. Plus his work in cardboard paintings and image-transfer "stickers" sound pretty awesome too.
* Jennifer Riley "Fire-Fangled Feathers" @ Allegra LaViola Gallery / 179 E Broadway. New kinetically abstract paintings, solid colors encapsulated in thin white-lined slashes and strokes. Riley begins by producing intuitive pastel drawings, then reinterpreting them freehand as much larger line drawings on canvas.
* "I Am Still Alive: Politics and Everyday Life in Contemporary Drawing" @ MoMA / 11 W 53rd St (E/M to 5th Ave, 6 to 51st St). Expressions of personal existence, from the deceptively mundane to the utterly emotive, spanning the '50s through present day and feat. On Kawara, León Ferrara, Lee Lozano, Robert Morris, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and more.
+ "Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now". Printmaking culled entirely from the museum's collection and packing a sociopolitical wallop from antagonizing Apartheid's rule to contemporary circumstances. With Conrad Botes, Sandile Goje, Claudette Schreuders, Senzeni Marasela, Kudzanai Chiurai and others.
* Glenn Ligon "On the Death of Tom" @ Whitney Museum / 945 Madison (6 to 77th St), 8p. Ligon is subject of a wonderful career survey "AMERICA". His latest video piece "The Death of Tom" — an abstractionist recreation of the ending of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (Edwin S. Porter's 1903 silent film) screens tonight with a live, improvised score by jazz composer Jason Moran, followed by a conversation with the artists and Terrance McKnight.
* Fujiya & Miyagi @ Santos Party House / 96 Lafayette St (ACE/NR/6/JZ to Canal St), 8p/$15. Magnetizing krautrock rhythms, ass-shaking grooves and deadpan Brighton humor = Fujiya & Miyagi. w/ locals Body Language (proponents of the live neo-disco circuit)
* The Beets @ Union Hall / 702 Union St, Park Slope (D/NR to Union St), 7:30p/$8. Few rock a party w/ the woozily raw energy harnessed by the mighty Beets, Jackson Heights' own garage-rock trio. w/ indie super (duper) group Beachniks and Las Robertas (garage-punk all the way from San José, Costa Rica!)
* Almagul Menlibayeva "Transoxiana Dreams" @ Priska C. Juschka Fine Art / 547 W 27th St. The transporting nature of the Kazakh artist's oeuvre, like her previous exhibition at the gallery "Daughters of Turan", places us viewers securely w/in the steppe, stretching as far the eye can see, imbued w/ history, folklore and blended cultures. She tells stories via the titular new video, from the POV of a young girl observing a fast-changing landscape, w/ accompanying fantastical prints.
* Sandra Cinto "After the Rain" @ Tanya Bonakdar Gallery / 521 W 21st St. Cinto's last solo exhibition recalled Gericault's difficult journey via a flotilla of paper sailboats and digital prints of tumultuous waves. She returns with more sea and sky imagery, including a transcendent wall mural, and I'm hoping the journey is a bit calmer this time.
+ A Gentil Carioca (Rio de Janeiro). Complementing the Sao Paolo-based Cinto is this artist-run gallery based in Rio, feat. works by five artists in the program: Ricardo Basbaum, Carlos Contente, Laura Lima, Maria Nepomuceno and Thiago Rocha Pitta.
* Miru Kim "The Pig That Therefore I Am" @ Doosan Gallery / 533 W 25th St. Perhaps you remember Kim's riveting photo series "Naked City Spleen", self-shot in NY's industrial catacombs, profiled in a NYTimes article a few years ago. I sure as hell do! That was my intro to this local artist and her latest series, shot amongst pigs in an industrial animal farm, underscores the cycle of life and consumption.
* Chie Fueki @ Mary Boone Gallery / 745 5th Ave. Fueki combines essences of her Japanese background and upbringing in Brazil in life-sized, mixed-media abstract renderings of her friends.
* Kate Shepherd "And Debris" @ Galerie Lelong / 528 W 26th St. The compositional control that Shepherd exerts, creating these sublimely featureless monochromes and then incising jittery, overlapping polygons on top, spinning them into unease, is practically unparalleled.
* "Foil" @ hpgrp NY / 529 W 20th St 2nd Fl. As the name hints, this is a collab with Tokyo's Foil gallery, which began in '04 as a cutting-edge photography magazine, w/o text! Feat. works by Rinko Kawauchi (showing in "Bye Bye Kitty!!!" at Japan Society, see under CURRENT SHOWS), Shoin Kajii, Yoichi Nagano and Eye Ohashi.
* Jonathan Monk "Your Name Here" @ Casey Kaplan Gallery / 525 W 21st St. A time capsule of Monk's photographs and drawing output from southern California, juxtaposed against new sculptures in marble, neon, fabric and leather, plus the second installment of work-in-progress "Rew-Shay Hood Project".
* Stas Orlovski "House and Garden" @ Mixed Greens / 531 W 26th St. Orlovski collapses the exterior and interior in his history-mining works, blending Japanese landscapes, Russian abstraction, Victorian engravings, Modernism and nostalgia.
* Tim Rollins and K.O.S. @ Lehmann Maupin / 540 W 26th St. The previous collab b/w Rollins and student collective K.O.S. was a riveting combination of geometric minimalism and sociopolitical awareness, seeded in the words of Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their new exhibition engages literature and historical texts, too, focusing on Twain, Fitzgerald and Weill and those works' original illustrations.
* PAT "Unseen, unheard, unexplained" @ Thomas Erben Gallery / 526 W 26th St 4th Fl. The debut U.S. exhibition of Mumbai photographer PAT, presenting some two decades of his identity-based work.
* Xiaoze Xie "Layers" @ Chambers Fine Art / 522 W 19th St. Photorealistic closeups of stacked Chinese periodicals and library books, a vivid representation of both the physicality of and blending between histories.
* SEOULSONIC: Vidulgi OoyoO + Idiotape @ Knitting Factory / 361 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg (L to Bedford, G to Lorimer), 7:30p/$15. Brace yourselves for one wild and sweaty night straight from Korea's underground scene. Scorching shoegazers Vidulgi OoyoO lead the charge, channelling Lush and your other favorite mid-'90s classics w/ uncanny aplomb. Idiotape plunge into Seoul's club scene, but expect brutal electro-punk riffs over canny K-Pop tracks. w/ Galaxy Express and Kite Operations
* Charlene Kaye @ Bruar Falls / 245 Grand St, Williamsburg (L to Bedford), 8p/$8. Come early for local spellbinding chanteuse Kaye, straddling folk and gospel with rockin' panache to spare. Stay for the midwest, incl. Akron, OH's White Pines, Chicago's Cains & Abels and that local Aussie Paul Dempsey.
* James Siena @ The Pace Gallery / 510 W 25th St. Recent paintings, drawings and prints from the past three years, a mix of the artist's technical "visual algorithms" (resulting in vividly complex pictures) to biomorphic figurative forms.
* Jimbo Blachly "Lanquidity" @ Winkleman Gallery / 621 W 27th St. After a 30-year hiatus, the NY-based sculptor and installation artist returned to painting, and these small-scale sublime abstracts are part of the result of his labors. The presentation of these works should echo Blachly's own intuitive angle toward installation.
* David Dupuis "Green, Green Grass of Home" @ Derek Eller Gallery / 615 W 27th St. Dupuis' personal reactions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus other current events, filter into his exploration of the human condition in new emotive works on paper.
* Lordy Rodriguez "The Map is not the Territory" @ Hosfelt Gallery / 531 W 36th St. Three huge bodies of new ink drawings, like visual cartographies on acid. His abstracted map-making forces us to discern our own subjective locations and references in their vivid renderings.
* Hermann Nitsch "Die Apotheke" @ Leo Koenig, Inc / 545 W 23rd St. He's going to freak you out, Nitsch — few living artists today embody the Austrian's existential, even sinister, actionist style. Beyond nearly 30 years of large-scale paintings in this exhibition, the gallery has included a virtual "cabinet of curiosities", which Nitsch will cull from in a performance this evening and SAT midday. I'm not expecting any lamb crucifixions or orgiastic bacchanals (which Nitsch did in his notorious "6-Day Play"), but the inclusion of his Quintetto (five musicians who have collaborated with him for several years) should keep the vibe theatrical, if not so shocking.
* "R. Crumb "Lines Drawn on Paper" @ Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators / 128 E 63rd St (F to 63rd/Lexington, NR/456/7 to 59th St). The humble title is just a guise for a wonderful career-spanning survey of the ineffable underground artist's career! Chock full of original artwork, from "ZAP", "Head Comix", "Bijou Funnies", "Motor City Comics" etc and feat. an all-Crumb all-star counter-culture cast, like Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, Lenore Goldberg and Her Girl Commandos, and loads more.
* "Sucker Punch" (dir. Zack Snyder, 2011) screenings in wide release. I'm pretty sure I haven't been looking forward to a "mainstream" film this long since "Piranha 3D". OK, so maybe "Rango", but that's a cartoon. "Piranha 3D" had Jessica Szohr — HELLO. "Sucker Punch", mind you, directed by the same bloke behind "300", feat. a whole host of cuties incl. Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung (and even the babydoll lead Emily Browning), vs. samurai, dragons AND robots. Yes, I'm stoked…so stoked it hurts.
* "Miral" (dir. Julian Schnabel, 2011) @ Angelika NY / 18 W Houston St (BDFM to Broadway/Lafayette, 6 to Bleecker). Growing up during the turbulent '80s Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told through the sensationally gorgeous eyes of Freida Pinto. As tempers flare and people invariably die, Schnabel never ceases to capture the quiet beauties of this fast-changing landscape.
* "Potiche" (dir. François Ozon, 2010) @ Angelika NY / 18 W Houston St (BDFM to Broadway/Lafayette, 6 to Bleecker). Straight off this year's "Rendez-Vous with French Cinema", is Ozon's adaptation of the comedic 1970s play, w/ the ineffable Catherine Deneuve playing a trophy wife taking over her wicked husband's factory during a strike.
* "Irreversible" (dir. Gaspard Noé, 2002) midnight screening @ Sunshine Cinema / 143 E Houston St (F to 2nd Ave). Not for the remotely faint of heart, seriously. From the lolling camera and nausea-inducing soundtrack rumblings, to the backwards storytelling, to the viciously conceived onscreen violence — if the bludgeoning with a fire extinguisher doesn't do it, the traumatizing, drawn-out rape absolutely will. The naively calm, hindsight-20/20 "ending" only makes for more unease. ALSO SAT
* Jacuzzi Boys + Web Dating @ Bruar Falls / 245 Grand St, Williamsburg (L to Bedford), 8p/$10. Sigh…oh, to be a Jacuzzi Boy. They're young, they like the sun, and the want to have fun — and by fun I mean rocking your socks off w/ their psych-tinged Miami rock. And despite my hesitation to embrace Total Slacker, frontman Tucker's other band Web Dating is the kind of taut post-punk I can dig w/o hesitation. w/ Outer Minds (Chicago)
* Light Asylum @ Glasslands / 289 Kent Ave, Williamsburg (L to Bedford, JM to Marcy), 8:30p/$10. Shannon Funchess saved '80's soul-house. She and Bruno (the bloke behind the decks) will get that body grooving in no time flat, all right, but it's Funchess' formidable vox that rule the night. w/ SHAMS
* Violent Bullshit + Open Ocean @ Union Pool / 484 Union St, Williamsburg (L/G to Lorimer), 9p/$10. What do you get when you combine local hardcore dudes Violent Bullshit w/ local ethereal post-punk girls Open Ocean? Totally different, yet similar, question: what do you get when you combine Mexican beer w/ tomato juice and hot sauce? A: a refreshing Michelada, of course.
* Rachel Whiteread "Long Eyes" @ Luhring Augustine / 531 W 24th St. Whiteread's eighth exhibition w/ the gallery should be another foray into awesomeness, as she casts doors and windows in resin and creates sculptures of beverage containers in her exploration of space pervaded with memory and history.
* Romare Bearden "Collage" @ Michael Rosenfeld Gallery / 24 W 57th St. A centennial celebration of the powerful, socially conscious artist, specifically his stunning collage narratives of civil rights and Black communities.
* Mel Kendrick "jacks" @ Mary Boone Gallery / 541 W 24th St. Four new blocky b&w sculptural works from the NY-based artist, whose last big one in the city was his idolic "Markers" installation at Madison Square Park in 2009.
* Peter Moore "Pictures of George" @ Paula Cooper Gallery / 465 W 23rd St. The 'George' here is Fluxus founder George Maciunas, captured in photos taken by NY art-world's celebrated documentarian Moore throughout the '60s, up until Maciunas' passing in 1978.
* Christopher Daniels "People Doing Different Things" @ Number 35 / 141 Attorney St. This young NY-based artist wowed my pants off at 2010 VOLTA NY w/ his incredible, large-scale crayon landscapes on canvas. You read that correctly: super-detailed, pop cultural-referential CRAYON works. His new series incorporates some pencil too and is way starker, but his deftness in encapsulating the mundane and everyday in these vividly conceived renderings should be super fantastic.
* Moon Duo + Jacuzzi Boys @ Cake Shop / 152 Ludlow St (F/JMZ to Essex/Delancey), 8p/$10. That Miami trio Jacuzzi Boys: love 'em (see FRI), but their energetic psych-rock gets all whole hell of a lot psych-ier when San Fran's Moon Duo (that would be Ripley from Wooden Shjips, wielding his searing guitar and echoing vox, and Sanae Yamada) take the stage. You'll get a contact high from the distortion alone.
* Year of the Tiger @ Fat Baby / 112 Rivington St (F/JMZ to Rivington), 10p/$8. Why would I ever send you out to Fat Baby? When Year of the Tiger mount that stage, exuding the sexiest and hardest vocal-driven electro I've heard since…uh…the late '90s, that'll answer all your doubts. Yes it's more than totally worth it.
* "German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse" @ MoMA / 11 W 53rd St (E/M to 5th Ave, 6 to 51st St). I am so glad to be a MoMA member (shameless plug) b/c I get to preview this exhibition before the ensuing throngs of tourists. I have a love affair w/ German Expressionism belying my affinity for Minimalism and super-contemporary art. Something about E.L Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel that get me going, the arresting, troubling works around WWI, the collisions of glamour and postwar chaos in decadent Berlin. This entirely printmaking-based exhibition should be a destination show.
* Rochelle Feinstein "The Estate of Rochelle F." @ On Stellar Rays / 133 Orchard St. The NY-based artist created 13 graphic paintings during 2009's economic crisis w/ whatever unfinished/unused materials she already had in her studio, then indexed them via ink drawings and texts in a separate catalogue.
* Moon Duo @ Knitting Factory / 361 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg (L to Bedford, G to Lorimer), 8p/$12. I tend to drop Moon Duo's trippy sound-scaping firmly w/in the realm of mind-frying psychedelia, but their latest LP "Mazes" (or at least the previewable title track) is kinda pop, in a good way! Or at least it's a bit more accessible, whilst remaining spacey and sonically enveloping. w/ Coconuts
* Ushio Shinohara + Tomokazu Matsuyama "Neo-Dada Mix/Remix" @ Asia Society / 725 Park Ave (6 to 68th St0, 6:30p/FREE. A matchup b/w the legendary Japanese Neo Dadist Shinohara (who I'll always remember for dipping boxing gloves in paint and punching canvases) and the Pratt-grad Matsuyama, contemporary and colorful, continually reshaping classical Japanese motifs. The two fiercely pioneering artists conversate w/ the museum's Associate Curator Miwako Tezuka.
* LUX presents "The Artists Cinema" @ E-Flux / 41 Essex St (F/JMZ to Essex/Delancey), 7p/FREE. Benjamin Cook, dir. of LUX London, showcases 35mm shorts by Bonnie Camplin, Keren Cytter, Aurélien Foment, Amar Kanwar, Deimantas Narkevicius, Rosalnd Nashashibi, Catherine Sullivan w/ Farhad Shamini, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Akram Zaatari.
* Joseph Kosuth @ Sean Kelly Gallery / 528 W 29th St. The pioneering Conceptualist reveals a new installation work "Texts (Waiting for—) for Nothing" that incorporates two works on Samuel Beckett (based on "Waiting for Godot" and "Texts for Nothing"), plus Kosuth's classic installations "Nothing" (1968), his seminal dictionary definition works, and a neon from '98 based on James Joyce's "Ulysses".
* "Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art" @ Japan Society / 333 E 47th St (E/M to Lexington/53rd, 6 to 51st St). Hello Kitty dies in the end, surmounting a gravestone for pet animals and photographed — I'd like to think innocuously, like the gravestone actually exists in a cemetery somewhere — by Yoshitomo Nara, the punk-rocker of Japan's contemporary art world. I trust I didn't spoil the whole exhibition for you (the clue's in the title, hello!), because besides the general flow through rooms, or "Critical Memory", "Threatened Nature" and "Unquiet Dream" as Japan Society calls 'em, there is no right or wrong way to progress through this exhibition. Though I do advise you to begin at the conventional entryway, at least to face Makoto Aida's heavy "Ash Color Mountains" (2009-11) and put that past you. It would be a disturbing painting anyway, a massive hazy landscape broken up by hills of office workers, not ostensibly gory like his notorious 2001 work "Blender" (not shown here, but you'll find it in the catalogue!!! A little warning: this show as a whole is NOT kid-friendly. Maybe the last third is…hence the other entrance, but the Nara photograph is liable to freak them out too) but imbued with this unseen, unimaginable disaster, it cannot help but conjure images of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. I suggest you give it a closer look, at the endless multitude of ONLY corporate staff, like a landfill to Japan's salaryman way of life, and the title's meaning may resonate truer to Aida's original intent. Its neighbor, the feverishly colorful and shiny "Harakiri School Girls" (2002), its grouping of saturated-toned sailor-suited students lavishly committing seppuku (which any jidaigeki aficionado knows was originally reserved only for samurai, as part of the bushido honor code), is a blunter and therefore more immediately accessible Aida. The whole print is on this holographic sticker, and he's inscribed his name and the title in cute futuristic type whilst echoing in shodo-style Japanese cursive, bookending the brutality ritualistically enacted by these trendy ko-gals. Maybe he's commenting on teenagers' blind lust for following the next hot new thing (I mean, take director Yoshihiro Nishimura's hyperbolized version, the wrist-cut "Ge" fake commercial, during his film "Tokyo Gore Police"), or his general disdain for moralistic suicide and belligerent schoolgirls. If you can get past the gore — and believe me I can — it's damn beautiful to look at. Now it's to my understanding that Aida's slasher-film-crossed-with-a-rave style tends to dominate a room, but he shares it here w/ Kyoto-based photographer Miwa Yanagi. She is one of EIGHT women artists in this 16-person show, so fully half the artists. Way to go, Japan Society! Plus, I am sorely lacking on the Japanese women photographer front, and we've got three of 'em here. Anyway: Yanagi shows four stylized C-prints from her "My Grandmother" series, depicting college-age girls under SFX makeup and Photoshop manipulation, as they see themselves in 50 years. In essence, they free themselves of youth's societal restrictions to think big and project themselves in limitless (but attainable?) fantasy scenarios. She represented Japan w/ her recent monumental series "Windswept Women" at the 53rd Venice Biennale, and though "My Grandmother" aren't nearly as massive, nor generational-mixed (lithe, youthful bodies and prematurely aged faces), they still draw a strong, if complex reaction. Tomoko Kashiki is nearly a full generation younger than Yanagi, and depicts women too but in slightly amorphous, slow-blurred animation, retaining trails of their movement as they disintegrate in woodgrain floor ("In a Box", 2008) — there's a lucid dreamlike element to it, like they're trying to rouse themselves back into reality. Maybe that's why the landscapes they embody seem a bit too perfect. Yamaguchi Akira (who I should note retains the Japanese way of ordering his family-name Yamaguchi first, even in English text) and the slightly younger Manabu Ikeda both create wildly detailed, environmentally imbued imagery. Yamaguchi's approaches that traditional "Floating World" cutaway style but sets his pens and watercolors on Tokyo's bustling Narita International Airport, thronged with businessmen and tourists and eclipsed in yellow smog clouds. I've encountered Ikeda before in group shows and art fairs (his "Foretoken" re-imagines Hokusai's famous "Great Wave off Kanagawa" as a tidal wave of traditional architecture), and I'd like to believe his huge diptych pen-and-acrylic-ink renderings embody some utopian arcology thinking. The swelling "History of rise and fall" (2006), an infinite-pagoda-roofed structure populated with cherry blossoms, Buddha hands and waterfalls that towers over stamp-sized rice fields and its primeval forest neighbor "Existence" (2004) imagine worlds proscribing the metropolis. Though considering the devastation wrought upon Miyagi Prefecture's farmland and townships, Ikeda's organic works feel like pastoral time capsules. Or to continue the arcology idea, these fantastical environments perpetuate their existences above and away from the modernization and disasters, man-made and natural, though on the other hand they appear to crumble under their own wildly unrealistic structures. It's here the exhibition switches gears into "Threatened Nature" (I think??), as a corridor separates the previous pairing of classical technique and super-contemporary pop with an overall naturalistic angle. Chiharu Shiota's installation "Dialogue with Absence" (2010, eschewing her telltale hairlike black-yarn tangles for transparent plastic tubes, siphoning red-dyed liquid from peristaltic pumps into a painted wedding dress. Surface-level, it reminded me of Tony Feher's lyrical "Next On Line" installation at The Pace Gallery crossed w/ Anselm Kiefer's history-steeped, ruined dioramas. It does embody some of Shiota's ongoing dialogues with an individual's ties to their ancestors, peers and environment — quite literally in the attached "blood supply" — but for me it didn't have that unnerving 'oomph' factor like her earthier, hairier installations. Though it segues well enough into Motohiko Odani's set of malformed Noh masks, purposefully imbalanced with sections of lifelike human bone and flesh, and with Kohei Nawa's "PixCell-Deer #24" (2011), a taxidermy buck covered in different-sized plastic globes. Stare into the sculpture, discerning that indeed it used to be a living creature, and you'll see yourself — many dozens of you, actually — locked w/in its beaded "skin", staring back at you. That interconnectivity with nature reappears throughout Rinko Kawauchi's "AILA" series, over a dozen picture-portrait-sized C-prints of natural forms, dead and alive. I was fortunate to experience Tomoko Shioyasu's thrillingly meticulous cut-paper shadow installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo last year, and am stoked she reappears here with 'Vortex" (2011), a new screen-sized whirlpool that places viewers within this channel, linking history, environment, experience. Shioyasu's conduit propels us into the third phase of the exhibition "Unquiet Dream". Kumi Machida's Nihonga-based figures, created entirely from traditional pigments on handmade paper, exist in like a half-womb half-sensory deprivation chamber. Tomoko Yoneda's series of sparse interiors, like windows into unpopulated worlds (or, again, echoes of the quake and tsunami devastation), are centered in infamous history, taken in the former HQ of Korea's Defense Security Command in Seoul. I fortuitously first experienced this series at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, during that same trip last April. The past charges of torture and political unrest unleashed in Yoneda's stark photographs mutes Haruka Kojin's beautifully conceived artificial flower mirrored installation (it's lovely and a bit disorienting, how she's crafted this Rorschach effect, but almost requires its own space to breathe). We conclude with two video works by London-based Hiraki Sawa (whose wonderful "O" installation, originally commissioned by the Queensland Art Gallery for the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia, ends this Saturday at James Cohan Gallery), his borderless fantasy "Within" (2010) and his superb early work "Elsewhere" (2003), a poetic silent video of household objects with lives of their own. Do the materials we own control us? Are we so attached to our 'stuff' that we forfeit 'real' relationships? I'm not sure if that's fully Sawa's intent here, but there is a duality to his whimsical display. And yes, here occurs Nara's aforementioned C-print, the Hello Kitty duo holding court as guardians in a pet cemetery. This is a show that benefits from unhurried visits, because small as the overall gallery space is, there is quite a bit of layered meaning to distill. That so much here seems to preempt and visualize the wrath of Mother Nature makes it all the more emotive. And considering my deep affinity for Japan, for my awesome friends there and my ongoing studies in the language, I feel extra connected to the exhibition.
* Günther Uecker "The Early Works" @ L&M Arts / 45 E 78th St. Things that get me going: indie art counterculture groups seeing retrospectives/proper surveys in NY galleries. Case in point: the Chicago Imagists and The Hairy Who last year (incl. Karl Wirsum, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke and Peter Saul) and now German Informel-opposites ZERO group members like Heinz Mack. Enter Günter Uecker and his cache of nails. His background in optical phenomena and light as medium are evident in the shadows and visual patterns thrown off and created by gorgeous, plainly textural selection from the '50s through '70s, from the tombstone-like rows and ashen hues of "Untitled Painting Nailed Over" (1957), the medium itself fingerpainted by Uecker, to the cloudlike shadow of "Nailed-Over Table" (1964), which as the name suggests is a side-table mimicking a blowfish in repose. Then we get "New York Dancer" (1965), a classic kinetic sculpture — oh yes, I mean kinetic, as this human-sized sailcloth form, drenched in long nails, spins wildly on its base when activated like some Torture Garden bondage performer. It's frightening, but you probably won't be able to look away, either. Quick: check out "Black Lung" (1957), a nailless inky monochrome, bearing sensual gestures from the artist's fingers. Also: "String Chair" (1969), which to me looks like a Wookiee crossed w/ a chair. Upstairs contains an incredibly sublime kinetic sculpture incorporating strings, "Sand Mill" (1970), the ropes dragging circular patterns recalling a Japanese Zen garden, plus the huge "Five Light Disks, Cosmic Vision" (1961-81), five rotating nailed circles spotlit and emanating rays of light.
* "Unpainted Paintings", curated by Alison Gingeras @ Luxembourg & Dayan / 64 E 77th St. Way to go Gingeras! The chief curator of the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and prolific writer has turned all four floors of this UES townhouse into a visual wonderland. Fighting somehow balletically for wall-space is several dozen postwar and contemporary international artists, some known better for their paintings but nearly everyone here eschewing that medium for other methods of mark-making. Where to begin? Dive right in: Andy Warhol's bed-sized "Piss Painting" (1978) and Dan Colen's similarly sized "Psychotic Reaction" (2011), gesso-drenched flower petals matted on canvas, greet us upon entry. Straight ahead and beyond this tunnel of sensationalism lies David Hammons' power-packed "Untitled (Kool Aid)" (2007), a double-stroke of compositional genius and sharp wit, a miasma of Kool-Aid stains soaked through paper, framed in gilded gold. The imagery at play here — the blending of synthetic hues into a dull brown, the history of this unhealthy beverage's marketing to African-American children, the fancy Abstract Expressionist language subsumed by racial and cultural meanings — is super potent. Ascend the stairs to the 'dirty pictures', like a nailed rhombus by Günther Uecker, a reddish fabric snarl by Otto Muehl and Alex Hubbard's toxic (and OK, intoxicating; I'm impressed what he did w/ just beach rubbish and sludgy resin) "Garbage Painting 3" (2011). Paul McCarthy cheekily contributed a nasty clay-muddied carpet to this room. Beyond that some slashed and tortured mixed media (think Lucio Fontana, Steven Parrino, Alberto Burri), and a rather gorgeous array of knitted and sewn 'paintings'. If you've never witnessed a Blinky Palermo in person, this massive, Mark Rothko-sized "Untitled (Stoffbild)" (1969), a vibrating duel b/w midnight and cobalt blue cotton fabrics, is a joyous encounter. It precedes Palermo's overdue retrospective at Dia:Beacon by three months. Palermo's faux colorfield faces a lovely thick-knit wool composition from Rosemarie Trockel, which she topped off w/ spraypaint, and a typically giant Julian Schnabel shag carpet "Nil" (1981), aping a high-textured Minimalism. I didn't understand the third floor's 'meta-painting' modus, but the inclusion of Lynda Benglis ("Baby Contraband", a 1969 pour like the Whitney Museum's epic wave, only child-sized), Paola Pivi (pearl dreadlocks) and a sinister Kishio Suga (his "Ultimate Limit Defining Elements" from 2007, which due to post-tsunami Miyagi Prefecture instills imagery of hazard fencing and ensnared rubble, at least in my mind) totally works. Some final brutality on the 4th Fl, courtesy Salvatore Scarpitta's strapped and pierced canvas "Tishamingo (for Franz Kline)" (1964) and my brain immediately experienced a stimulation overload. Revisits are necessary.
* "Longing for Identity: Postwar Japanese Photographers" @ Yoshii Gallery / 980 Madison Ave. An array of equally rare, important and jaw-droppingly gorgeous prints, via seven of Japan's heavyweights from the '50s through '70s, replete w/ advances onto unpaved paths of modernism, experimentation and expressionism. Daido Moriyama's vintage prints from "Tokyo, Meshed World" ensnare your gaze with their glimpses of flesh amid contrasty b&w, whereas Shoji Ueda's pair "A Nude on a Sand Dune" (from nearly three decades earlier) embodies some surreal, timeless realm, though he took them less than 10 years after the atomic bomb. Perhaps that's precisely the reason for this displaced vibe. Shomei Tomatsu's neighborhood prints are all very 'of the moment', like "Oh Shinjuku" (1969), the sunglass-wearing tough guy having a smoke next to Coca-Cola and Fanta adverts. That Western signage reappears in Nobuyoshi Araki's restrained compositions from "Theater of Love", including some naturalistic (and thus slightly voyeuristic) beach-crowd shots. These "New Wave" artists and their kindred were making the rules in this new era of Japanese photography.
* Martin Kippenberger "Eggman II" @ Skarstedt Gallery / 20 E 79th St. OK so I didn't get into this electrifying postwar German artist's mega retrospective at the MoMA a few years back. Joke's on me, of course: this exhibition is dope. Nine paintings, some very large and incorporating Kippenberger's knack for odd media (coins, shards of Plexiglas), plus a ridiculous kinetic sculpture like out of some "Jurassic Park" lab and fun related drawings (on hotel stationery!) round out the show. Everything here was last shown together in the final exhibition of Kippenberger's lifetime, in Städtisches Museum Abteilberg, in Mönchengladbach, Germany. So I already covered the coins and Plexiglas bit, but how about an emotive portrait of a bleary-eyed dog, balancing an egg on its head against a pseudo colorfield backdrop? Or its sorta kinky neighbor "Egg Sock", the titular object stuffed into a tartan plaid sock like a bulging condom, framed by an eye-popping tartan plaid screen? In Kippenberger's own words: "In painting you must look what fallen fruit is left that you can paint…The egg is white and insipid, how can a colorful picture come from that?" Two seconds into his show and that answer becomes quite evident.
* David Altmejd @ Andrea Rosen Gallery / 525 W 24th St. Altmejd's previous solo show here was mainly about huge scale: monumental frost giants and forest spirits rendered in his confoundedly dazzling mixed media style. He's concentrated these cyclical notions of rebirth and the environment in three automobile-sized Plexiglas boxes, self-contained worlds of wildly abstract organisms. I'll do my best to describe (but if you dug Jim Henson's "Labyrinth", you know the one w/ David Bowie as that sorta androgynously hot vampiric lord, then you'll be just fine) what he's done: "The Vessel" contains like a swooping swanlike diaphanous form, or a frozen wormhole, bearing an assembly line of human ears, noses etc. "The Swarm" contains bees made of wire and assorted minerals plus lots more kelplike diaphanous forms, in rainbow hues. Meanwhile "Spectre" is a methodical progression of mineral stones, which I'll not fully name but include aragonite, spessartite garnet, rose quartz and amethyst. He includes sculptural elements outside the Plexiglas, like the winged "The Architect 1" tearing through a gallery wall (its kindred unfurls knifelike wings in the smaller gallery w/ "Spectre"). Creation and destruction and recreation.
* Claudette Schreuders "Close, Close" @ Jack Shainman Gallery / 512 W 20th St. The Cape Town-based artist uses old family photos and literature as source material for her incredible carved-wood sculpture and lithographs, which continue a narrative on the complexities of family life. She includes the porosity of race relations within families, too, as her ancestors were white colonists in Apartheid-era South Africa. The striking "Abba", of a Black woman cradling a white baby on her back, is blended from images of Schreuders' grandmother, mother and aunt and their childhood maids, plus carved from the same block of wood. "Both Hands" could be a mixed-race young mother, holding up her white-featured twin infants. Everything is smaller than life, like the artist imparted the souls and histories of her figures in these child-sized sculptures.
* Gary Hill "of surf, death, tropes & tableaux: The Psychedelic Gedankenexperiment" @ Gladstone Gallery / 515 W 24th St. Brace yourself for disorientation! The pioneering multimedia artist returns, manipulating sound, speed and sequence in his concern over homogenized video culture and creating a very sensorial experience. If his backwards-talking lecture in a spikily soundproofed gallery doesn't grab you, I suggest you plunge into the pitch-black back space. But hang close to the walls: there's a huge floating chemical-structure in the center of the room. Every 10 seconds or so a strobe pops on, flooding the room in light before reverting to "perfect" darkness, which for you should now be marred with wild aftereffect visions! How fun, right? Check the endless tide, a soothing video projection just outside, to calm yourself.
* Marcia Kure "Dressed Up" @ Susan Inglett Gallery / 522 W 24th St. In Kure's debut solo exhibition at the gallery, she unfurls huge photomontage portraits, collaged from contemporary hip-hop figures and Victorian couture, like pan-gendered, multigenerational knights. I never realized before how closely Victorian fashion resembles armor. It's as if the structured bodices and gathered skirts have colonized the (mostly) men confined in their layered fabrics. The finery of the outfits contradicts that era's oppression, and in its cruel mashup forces its "wearers" into easy targets for social derision. Don't miss Kure's concurrent works on paper exhibition "Fashionable Hybrids" at BravinLee Programs, a potent all-women brigade that evolved from her "Dressed Up" series.
* Kenneth Noland @ Mitchell-Innes & Nash / 534 W 26th St. We draw from our own experiences when looking at art, right? Yes, very much yes. That's how I do it. So when I write that looking at Noland's "Highlight" (1961) — one of a dozen in this grouping of the pivotal postwar painter's early geometric works — I'm totally reminded of 'Simon', that '80s electronic game from Milton Bradley. Or that the orangey crescent in "Epigram" (also 1961) looks like a lovingly applied McDonalds 'orange drink' stain. This is written with all due respect. I REALLY like these: how one gets lost in the rippling concentric pours of "Askew" (1958) or the massive chevrons of "Morning Span" (1964), whose golden yellow, orange and red-orange colors remind me — yes! — a bit of McDonalds again. That Noland's works illicit both nostalgic feelings yet remain timeless, or at least unchallenged in their respective ages (50+ years old for the earliest), reflects his awesomeness.
* Ian Francis "Fireland" @ Joshua Liner Gallery / 548 W 28th St, 3rd Fl. If I had a million dollars, I'd commission British artist Ian Francis (marking his solo debut here) to do portraits of all my best girl friends. Or hell, even ONE portrait of ONE girl. I'm admittedly totally about this show, its moody and scintillating mixed media paintings that couple this easy cyberpunk vibe amid rainy London and after-hours Roppongi. Francis composites angular planes of almost flat color, creating architectural bases and swooping perspectives, then layers w/ semi-blurred, semi-nude hotties, rocker types, softcore starlets, and indie kids. Check the frozen surrealism in "Three People Lose Track of Time in the Financial District of San Francisco", the sweaty environs of "A New Band Gets Tired of Their Own Song", the almost pixel-evaporating nature of "Girl on a Park Bench". Some haunting works on paper (another beguiling mix, but mostly charcoal) and razor-sharp pen and ink drawings fill out the lot, accentuating Francis' gift for rendering sexy human forms.
* Marc Handelman "Geological Sketches at Home and Abroad" + Elizabeth Neel "Leopard Complex" @ Sikkema, Jenkins & Co / 530 W 22nd St. Handelman situates landscape painting w/in various manipulated contexts, from a foreground-less "matte painting" film loop to large-scale framed paintings of dimension stones. Meanwhile, Neel (who had a solo exhibition in Long Island City's SculptureCenter last year) also works between paintings and 3D objects in a visually arresting grouping of chaotically patterned works.
* Ali Banisadr "It Happened and It Never Did" @ Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects / 535 W 22nd St. The Tehran-born, Cali-based artist draws recollections of the Iran-Iraq War, the literature of Umberto Eco (which I've GOT to get on) and a medieval English text on the Middle East's "odd, magical and barbaric" inhabitants, in liquidly abstract, gestural canvases. Think a bit of Hieronymous Bosch but on century-blended battlefields, combined with Bacchanalian festivities and fantastical landscapes. The personages' movements are fluid and blurred, their insignia impossible to make out, as his brush swipes, hews and traces paint.
* "Elemental" @ Paula Cooper Gallery / 521 W 21st St. Subtle perception changes and patterns can go a very long way in producing a heady viewing experience. The gallery has assembled a beautifully sublime group show to achieves just this. Donald Judd's four brushed aluminum crates, their interior element angled differently to reveal a toffee-yellow Plexiglas backing, like the sun through clouds, is incredibly organic despite its industrial materials. Likewise Sherrie LeVine's series of hugely pixellated prints recalling Paul Cezanne and Carl Andre's line of 13 cedar timbers, alternated vertical and horizontal like the turrets of a castle. And there's an interesting interplay b/w Robert Wilson's "Snow Owl" trio's asynchronous nature: ostensibly it's the same owl perched in front of a polkadot curtain in each plasma screen, but their 'independent' movements suggest otherwise.
* Hiraki Sawa "O" @ James Cohan Gallery / 533 W 26th St. There was this super-popular show in Chelsea for awhile, Christian Marclay's durational filmic work "The Clock", which screened at Paula Cooper Gallery and included 24-hr marathon runs on Fridays that drew queues down the block. Guess what: there is another fascinating time-themed video work, a multi-channel audio/visual installation by Sawa, that you should definitely pay attention to. He's compressed and abstracted time here, presenting perpetually spinning, silent objects, their respective clatters and rollings echoing elsewhere, punctuated by organ ebbs and flows that mimic the visuals of birds, shadows across an arid landscape, fluttering leaves. Sawa initially created this installation for Queensland Art Gallery's 2009 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane. It's so smoothly enveloping, like the moon's cycles, that your notion of time vanishes.
* Wei Dong @ Nicholas Robinson Gallery / 535 W 20th St. The artist reaches for the jugular in his satirization of Maoist China and its contemporary effects in phantasmagoric groupings of gender-blended people, performing ceremonial motions like "The Newleywed 2" or half-clothed like "Sunset 2" and "The Mystery 1". It's not mermaids, I can tell you that much — so it's even more disturbing, pseudo-utopian and vaguely sinister.
* Ursula von Rydingsvard "Sculpture 1991-2009" @ SculptureCenter / 44-19 Purves St, Long Island City (E/M to 23rd St/Ely Ave, 7 to 45th Rd/Courthouse Sq). One of the fun things about von Rydingsvard's massive cedar sculpture, their rippling surfaces prodigiously rubbed w/ graphite, is the artist's own matter-of-fact naming conventions. How else would you describe the monolithic figure with its brooding concave inlet? That would be "Wall Pocket" (2003-4), a wall-sized behemoth w/ a 'pocket' in one of its surfaces. Obviously. Another hanging wall relief, like a magnified plate dotted w/ ridges, its circumference surrounded by a raised collar? "Collar with Dots" (2008). Her titles add a weightlessness to another five-part piece, these barn-door-sized carved and chalk-etched planks leaned against the wall, called "Five Lace Medallions" (2006). And while I love seeing von Rydingsvard's cedar sculpture outdoors, interacting w/ the environment like upstate at Storm King sculpture garden, the Hoovering land-mover "Droga" (2009), cutting across the gallery's concrete floor, and the landscape-like undulations of "Krasawica II" (1998-2001) blend that outside/inside vibe quite nicely. Plus, don't miss her newest work "Elegantka" (2011), a resiny torch in SculptureCenter's courtyard. At dusk, this sculpture illuminates from within, producing a bluish glow that worked quite perfectly off the once-snowy field.
* Donald Judd "Works in Granite, Cor-ten, Plywood & Enamel on Aluminum" @ The Pace Gallery / 534 W 25th St. I can always do with more Judd, and an exhibition showcasing over a dozen of the industrial "minimalist"'s classics from 1978 to 1992, each one an envelope-pusher on non-traditional mediums and inspired constructions, is pure aesthetic catnip to this writer. What is evident here for even the nascent Judd-viewer is his ingenious incorporation of mediums. His Douglas Fir plywood crates are handsome (check their meditative array upstate at DIA:Beacon), but a pronouncement of glossy red enamel-painted aluminum adds a human warmth. I love his forays in Cor-Ten — feels very different than Richard Serra's epic torqued forms and Mark di Suvero's paleolithic-like sculpture, for two — but was particularly impressed by Judd's addition of black aluminum in several stacked Cor-Ten boxes, echoing off the steel's weathered patina. And that bomb-shelter granite construct, four slabs menacingly balanced on/against one another? It's a receptacle of brooding potential energy.
* Pat Steir "Winter Paintings" @ Cheim & Read / 547 W 25th St. The fruits of Steir's laborious, meditative, monolithic abstract paintings are their jewellike surfaces, resulting from layers and layers of poured and dripped paint, like the luxurious fizz of "Winter Group 3: Red, Green, Blue and Gold" (2009-11), where the latter asserts itself strongest on half the canvas against a deep blackish rectangle, or the silvery panes recurring in other works. Spending time losing yourself in Steir's paintings — they're like 11' tall, each — is an effortless task.
* Heimo Zobernig @ Friedrich Petzel Gallery / 537 W 22nd St. New grid and monochrome paintings and two new sculptures, bearing some reference to Yves Klein and Zobernig's continued trawling of post-Modernism, Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism. The latter are raw and particulate, "prop-like" as curator Martin Clark says. Zobernig's paintings, however, command the room, pulsing w/ not just Klein's "Anthropométries" but even, kind of, Brice Marden's whiplike style, as if Zobernig distilled Klein's "living brushes" down to their simplest serpent-like forms.
* Chuck Webster "My Small Adventures" @ ZieherSmith / 516 W 20th St. This Brooklyn-based artist's small-size oil on panel abstracts carry an interesting vocabulary of shapes and creatures, floating above or stacked within roughly painted, stark landscapes.
* Maria Lassnig "Films" @ Friedrich Petzel Gallery / 535 W 22nd St. The gallery follows up Lassnig's bodily, figurative paintings from last autumn w/ an exhibition of her raw animation works, an important facet of the Vienna-based artist's oeuvre and a major blindspot for this writer. I like 'em: I stayed for the brief animated vignettes out of "Shapes", amorphous pseudo-figures preempting Amy Sillman's style, dancing and dissolving to a harpsichord soundtrack.