States of Flux

Too bad he died before its advent—Maciunas (1931–78) would've loved the Internet. A one-man Wikipedia, his charts and atlases from the 1950s, executed in immaculately hand-lettered grids on notebook or onionskin pages, take in numerous subjects, including the history of Russia ("900-973: Christianization") and the evolution of prehistoric Chinese art; these are frequently accompanied by postage-stamp-size photos with such captions as "Odin on horseback. Magic device—amulet." It's fascinating to see this Fluxus founder's meticulous mind, then turn to his "No camera" films of the '60s, made with "Prestype" and Benday dots applied directly to clear film strips; the letters, numbers, and dot matrices flash by like patterned strobe lights. Also on view is Maciunas's playful typography—letters are stacked, jumbled, and rotated, the various fonts forming shapes that read first as sharp graphics before the names of artists, composers, and writers become discernable. A "Skeleton Plan for Contents of the First Six Issues" of a never realized Fluxus magazine promised articles such as "Deflating the NY abstract expressionists" and "The great fakers of architecture," plus multiple definitions of "fluxus," including "To purge . . . an excessive discharge, from the bowels" and "any substance or mixture used to promote fusion." Which sums up this witty, half-century-old American art movement.

'The Picasso Influence'

These 16 small drawings and paintings reveal how three American abstract giants took cues from the Spanish virtuoso. Mark Rothko's frieze-like 1940s compositions of repeated heads, hands, and legs look back to Picasso's surrealistic figures and neoclassic bathers and ahead to his own stacked, amorphous rectangles. A similar influence is found in David Smith's stolid anthropomorphic canvases, which laid the groundwork for the soaring cut-steel sculptures of his mature style. Jackson Pollock's frenzied drawings of distended body parts and screaming faces are poised between the turbulent drip paintings yet to come and the master's 1937 Guernica. Washburn Gallery, 20 W 57th, 212-397-6780. Through Oct 28.

'Alfred Jensen: The Number Paintings'

A cross between Joseph Albers's sensitive (and exhaustive) studies in color harmonies and a mathematician's cluttered blackboard, these paintings (1960–80) feature numbers arrayed in geometric patterns. Some are based on Mayan calendars or classical Greek orders; all are painted with brushy brio in compositions reminiscent of periodic tables or complex game boards. The inherent geekiness of these colorful charts is offset in smaller works by passionate daubs of paint used to white-out ballpoint pen calculations and linseed oil stains on the paperboard grounds. Pace Wildenstein, 534 W 25th, 212-929-7000. Through Oct 28.

Abelardo Morell

As charming as a flea market Braque, Morell's cubistic photogram Still Life With Pearsfeatures silhouettes of a spoon, fork, and vases framed by angular black lines. Elsewhere, his camera obscura images include a projection of the Philadelphia Museum's facade upon one of its own de Chirico paintings—a real-world neoclassical colonnade layered over the surrealist's foreboding Italian cityscape. Almost as strange is a straightforward shot entitled $7 Million (2006): Light filters through thick bundles of $100 bills stacked as haphazardly as bales in a hayloft. Bonni Benrubi, 41 E 57th, 212-888-6007. Through Dec 2.

'Brain Salt'

Brooke Chroman, Elizabeth Huey, and Bryan Mesenbourg collaborated on this ersatz 19th-century insane asylum that offers mason jars filled with brightly colored powders sporting such labels as "Nembulaphobia—Fear of Fog," and "Hedonophobia—Fear of Feeling Pleasure." Mazes of thick wires connect decrepit oscilloscopes to Rube Goldberg–esque contraptions: A naked bulb framed by a cracked magnifying lens is gripped by a C-clamp suspended from a screwdriver stabbed into the wood-shingle wall. Patchwork quilts woven from Ace bandages and arcing bolts of electricity turn the gallery into a morbid funhouse. Feigen, 535 W 20th, 212-929-0500. Through Oct 21.

'Sean Scully: Wall of Light'

Scully has hammered away at his signature motif since the 1980s: bars of color arrayed like brick walls or post-and-lintel constructions across broad canvases (his wide-ranging palette is partial to oxblood reds, yellows leavened with bronze, and loamy grays). Their enduring fascination lies in the flecks of color that join each component like luminous mortar, and the vigor of his layered, barn-brush strokes, which cause his chromatic columns to well out and recede like the facade of a timeworn temple. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710. Through Jan 15.

Beatrice Wood

Doyenne of American Dada and consort of Duchamp, Wood explored many art forms in her long life (she died at 105, in 1998), and began working in clay in her forties. Along with examples of her justly famous "lustre" chalices (ravishing purple and green glazes glow with metallic intensity), this show includes photographs of "Beato," well into her nineties, bedecked in flowing white gown, toe rings, and elaborately tooled bracelets. A four-foot-high earthenware brothel from 1988, replete with a stern madame and fetching nudes leaning from each window, is titled Good Morning America; could this irrepressible free spirit have been gibing Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America"? Garth Clark, 24 W 57th, 212-246-2205. Through Nov 4.

 
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