Spring at Last

Art's top venues this season

John James Audubon considered himself to be "of fair mien, and quite a handsome figure." Considering the accuracy he achieved in his monumental, four-volume, "Double-Elephant"-size bound print collection, The Birds of America (1827–38), perhaps we can trust such an immodest self-assessment. His 1825 watercolor of three ivory-billed woodpeckers ransacking a rotting tree for grubs depicts one with a chunk of bark impaled on its beak and another wing-flared and upside-down. Obsessed with faithful depictions, he worked in the wild, from captive specimens, and from taxidermy models: His portrait of a robin family includes squawking, craning babies, one squatting outside the nest, mouth clamped shut in a teenage sulk. In addition to 40 large watercolors, this lavish exhibit includes historical ephemera (locks of Audubon's hair, family letters) and 3-D sound environments that simulate flyovers of calling birds. Maybe spring is finally here.


'1968'

Audubon’s Birds of America: White Pelican
image: New-York Historical Society
Audubon’s Birds of America: White Pelican

These 500 anonymous snapshots, each taken during that tumultuous year, are smartly arrayed to reveal affinities of content and composition. In one, a man gives a mock Hitler salute, his rigid arm mimicked by another shot in which guests strain after a tossed wedding garter; in between, a naked woman, splayed hand concealing her face, sprawls serendipitously amid the testosterone. Culled from dupes and rejects (some because of photo quality, others prudishly censored) at a large Boston lab, these Instamatic prints document homefront families and soldiers (is the sultry landscape Vietnam's?) pursuing their prosaic tasks—hairdressing, cleaning M-16 rifles—that coalesce into the penumbras of history. Andrew Roth, 160A E 70th, 212-217-9067. Through April 29


Jim Dine

Ranging up to eight feet across, these recent "Botanical Drawings" are astonishingly visceral—stippled acrylic paint congeals into pollen-like clumps; green splatters conjure cascading rain. In Silence After Winter, the thick paper's surface has been ripped away to create a glistening fungous stalk amid the magentas and yellows of bursting flowers. Pastel, charcoal, and acrylic are basic stuff, but the 70-year-old Dine brings them masterfully alive. Wildenstein & Co., 19 E 64th, 212-879-0500. Through April 15


'Switching Worlds: Desires and Identities'

This eclectic show includes objects that Nin Brudermann found hidden in a Brooklyn basement, which she then conflated into a story of ephemeral intrigue bolstered by fanciful "evidence"—lost glove, South American bank statements, key fob—all documented in a sprawling wall installation. Higher tech is a projected spider web that snarls and tears as viewers pass by, while Ursula Endlicher's "mouse chair" (gyrate your rump to control a computer cursor) is literal low-tech. Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 E 52nd, 212-319-5300. Through April 15


Jack Youngerman

Many of the 159 ab- stract drawings by this 80-year-old New York School painter are done in bright gouache, some with Rorschach-like compositions that recall the uneven symmetries of nature: butterfly wings here, split fruit there. Each is approximately six inches high, but many of the compositions feel monumental—thick blotches of oily black echo spiraling galaxies while a red gash through a black field conveys vast, operatic space. Washburn Gallery, 20 W 57th, 212-397-6780. Through May 6


'New York Street Photography'

These powerful black-and-white images include a couple arguing at Coney Island, her unrestrained scolding and his tight-lipped fury made more scabrous by the rough grain of Diane Arbus's film. A decade later, in 1970, Joel Meyerowitz framed a tired dandy replete with bowler hat beside an astronaut's space suit propped up in a Rockefeller Center shop window. Four other heavyweights (including the German Thomas Struth) portray our towering city at street level. The New York Public Library,Fifth Avenue at 42nd, 212-869-8089. Through June 24


Ward Shelley

Crafted from oil paint on Mylar, this "Timeline" series chronicles the lives of various outré artists in witty flow charts employing emblematic shapes. Chris Burden's career is explicated through text boxes on a splay-armed figure, appropriate for an artist once crucified over a Volkswagen; Carolee Schneemann's diagram includes rusty brown smears abutting the title of her seminal body-art performance Meat Joy; and bulbous word balloons recall the brilliant comic-strip collages of the underground film genius Jack Smith. Pierogi, 177 N 9th St, Brooklyn, 718-599-2144. Through April 10


Hank Willis Thomas

Coke. Gucci. Mickey-D's. And Nike, Nike, Nike. Thomas detourns print ads aimed at black consumers by enlarging them and digitally removing the text: A 1969 campaign featuring models in pink, electric blue, and orange Levis earns the sobriquet The Oft Forgotten Black Flower Children of Harlem. Elsewhere, a stop-motion film of partying GI Joes captures the murderous delirium of status seekers who value absurdly ostentatious bling over young men's very lives. Jack Shainman, 513 W 20th, 212-645-1701. Through April 15

 
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