The Politics of Eradication

 Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
Through July 9

Some 3,500 years ago, around the time Queen Hatshepsut became co-pharaoh of Egypt with her nephew Thutmose III, one of her courtiers was interred with a copy of the Book of the Dead. This astonishingly well-preserved scroll speaks through words and pictures; especially striking are the images of sacred cows arrayed in columns beside a prayer requesting daily provisions for the deceased. Through an alchemy of millennia, pigment, and papyrus, the paint has seeped and spread, lending an ineffable glow to this early graphic novel. Hatshepsut's stone sarcophagus is adorned with deeply carved hieroglyphs of birds, ankhs, and gods; picked out by theatrical spotlighting, they seem to hover just above the red oxide surface as they reveal a betrayal: recarving ordered by Thutmose after her death. Despite his destruction of images of Hatshepsut as pharoah (a vitrine holds fragments of saucer-size ears and a chunk of smooth nose), enough has survived to fill this mesmerizing show and attest to Hatshepsut's triumph over this symbolic regicide.

Jim Dine
Ranging up to eight feet across, these recent "Botanical Drawings" are as visceral as nature—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

Hatschepsut as King
photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hatschepsut as King

The chilly fluorescent green of a night-vision camera infuses Thomas Ruff's photo of a prosaic street in Düsseldorf with menace. Similarly, Jana Gunstheimer transforms viewer into voyeur, capturing a flash-lit rumble (or interpretive dance?) between shadowy protagonists in a barren building, each of her seven grisaille watercolors the size of a small security monitor. Work by eight other artists is gathered under the umbrella of the show's subtitle, "Cold War Culture," from earth-shattering meditations by R. Crumb's "Mr. Natural" to Martha Rosler's exhumation of the "Unknown Secrets" of the executed Rosenbergs. Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 W 26th, 212-744-7400. Through April 29

Al Hansen
After their journeys from lips to L.A. ashtrays and gutters, hundreds of cigarette butts were glued into doll-size Venuses by this seminal Fluxus artist (1927–95); bulbous and splay-limbed, they pack a fetishistic charge. In 2-D pieces from the '60s, simple female outlines are enlivened by text excised from Hershey bar wrappers: "OH COCO / OOH FLAVOR / OH OOH / NOW ME." Such passionate wordplay still resonates 40 years later. Andrea Rosen, 525 W 24th, 212-627-6000. Through April 29

Joe Mangrum
Footprints contained within mandalas of sand, flowers, seashells, and glistening vegetables seem to radiate an energy that disrupts a grid of tiles on the gallery floor. This vibe of the human spirit trumping rigid geometries continues with installation shots of the San Francisco–based artist's Detonation Earth, in which he positioned a towering, 40-foot-high mushroom cloud of live wheatgrass above a tiny city constructed from discarded computer parts and plastic miscellanea. Ch'i Fine Art, 293 Grand St, Bklyn, 718-218-8939. Through April 17

'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. New York Public Library, Fifth Ave & 42nd, 212-869-8089. Through June 24

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 home front 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

Charles Thomas O'Neil
These eye-filling paintings reveal the scars of numerous reworkings: Surfaces are rawly scraped and repainted, organic blobs are flattened by opaque planes of bright colors, solid shapes are obscured by clumsy drips. O'Neil's remaining creatures frolic in an amorphous landscape, but as the artist notes, his method of layering and revision allows only the "survival of the fittest." Lemmons Contemporary, 210 Eleventh Ave, 212-337-0025. Through April 27

Jaume Plensa
Columns of steel letters suspended from the gallery's ceiling form a labyrinth of words connected by thin wires. The curtains of cascading text overlap incoherently from a distance, but on closer inspection resolve into excerpts from the Song of Songs. When swayed, the metal letters (each a few inches high) chime sweetly, an appropriate serenade for the lovers personified in the verses. Galerie Lelong, 528 W 26th, 212-315-0470. Through April 29

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