The Examined Life

The exhibition announcement offers a juxtaposition of presidential pomp and peccadilloes: on the left, Jackie in a limo, white gloves and pillbox hat setting off that brunet tumble of hair and those dark, wide-set eyes; on the right, a spotlit Marilyn, photographed from behind, blond mane sparkling almost as luminously as her scoop-back beaded gown, her bare shoulders drawn up as she sings "Happy Birthday" to JFK. This feast of photojournalism by Ray, a Life magazine staffer from 1957 to 1972, includes Charles M. Schulz brandishing a squirt gun and chasing his young son across a broad lawn; a craggy, full-lipped W.H. Auden making instant coffee in his cluttered St. Marks Place kitchen; Barry Goldwater's pugnacious mug poking out of a swimming pool; and a bikini-briefed Arnold in full Pumping Iron mode. A 1980 color shot of Warhol holding up a life-size Polaroid of himself is a trenchant portrait of the master of replicated reality.


'Napoleon on the Nile'
Spreading an Enlightenment gloss over empire building, General Bonaparte included scientists, naturalists, and talented draftsmen in his army when he invaded Egypt, in 1798. The artists documented the expedition with engravings that are often beautiful: anatomical studies of the local fauna—crocodiles, spiny lizards, mongooses, a series of bat skeletons—or a rendering of the Rosetta stone, its chipped face and broken edges faithfully delineated. Although an official painting of Napoléon by Jean-Léon Gérôme is rather stiff, his sketch of the future emperor cross-legged atop a camel is a combination of careful observation and quick, graceful pencil arcs. A letter from the general to his quartermaster is flecked with rust-colored blots thrown by the flourishes of an impatient signature. Dahesh Museum, 580 Madison Ave, 212-759-0606. Though September 3.


Amer Kobaslija
There is a sense of violence in these realistic paintings of studio interiors, which comes less from their depictions of paint-splattered floors and walls than from their point of view—flush against the ceiling and wedged into the corner like a surveillance camera. Some include faint, drippy rectangles—the ghosts of small canvases primed and worked on. In one eight-foot-wide image, a piece of cheap plastic molding becomes a black chevron bisecting the two gray fields of floor and wall: the artist's atelier reduced to color-field abstraction. George Adams, 525 W 26th, 212-564-8480. Through August 18.


William Christenberry
Christenberry lances the South's gothic heart with color photographs of such subjects as funeral flowers cut from egg cartons with pinking shears (1977); numerous listing shacks with rusty, undulating corrugated-tin roofs; and 2004's Kudzu Devouring Building, Near Greensboro, Alabama, which features a rectangle of riotous green with occluded window and door—like sunken eyes peaking through the foliage. Various permutations of gourd trees, the bulbous fruits strung up on wooden crosspieces in lush fields, feel as sinister as skulls. Aperture Foundation, 547 W 27th, 212-505-5555. Through August 17.


'Opolis'
Although some of the 14 buildings in this DIY city don't quite transcend their cardboard origins, others, such as Ian Montgomery's painstakingly replicated brick rowhouse, teem with urban energy: the clay residents of his knee-high tenement gambol across faux-plank floors and the long circle of sidewalk is chalked with a hopscotch game. Andrea Dezsö has imagined a surrealistic workers' paradise where spray-painted circuit boards form factory walls, Krylon spray cans make up support columns, aliens build drones from bins (spray can caps) of human limbs and torsos, and red banners with yellow stars festoon the Lilliputian interior. Elsewhere, Nicole Tucker's J.B. Liminal Park features all the seasons simultaneously with its four stepped Plexiglas boxes filled with dirt and living plants. Winter's trees are bare and the ground is cornstarch white; summer's foliage shades a pup tent; strolling autumn's path under reddish leaves is an enigmatic woman with armband and pistol. Flux Factory, 38-38 43rd St, Long Island City, Qns, 718-707-3362. Through August 5.


'Freeing the Line'
Karel Malich's mid-'70s suspended-wire constructions swoop, twist, and curl like giant, 3-D pencil doodles, but as with everything in this austerely gorgeous exhibit curated by Catherine de Zegher (the former director of the Drawing Center), they exude emotional power. The diaphanous washes and blotted outlines of a lovely 1961 ink drawing by Eva Hesse could be cells dividing; Monika Grzymala's 8.3 kilometers of black and white masking tape colonizes two corners, one column, and a window of this large gallery. Its interleaved, contrasting strips and tautly stretched spans convey movement and tension while graphing unknowable information. Marian Goodman, 24 W 57th, 212-977-7160. Through August 26.

 
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