Knifed

A sign on the front door orders you to "acknowledge that a dangerous condition exists inside" and to release the gallery from any liability. But upon entering, you are confronted only by such exquisite conundrums as a rickety chair whose four legs have been cobbled into a single stilt planted in a teacup. (Pitarch's five-foot-tall sculpture is as perfectly balanced as a stork.) Nearby lies a clothespin with its jaws forced open by the sawed-off section of one of its own wooden flanges, like a crocodile cannibalizing its own tail. A sketchbook in which the drawings have been erased, the ragged tailings compressed into a dull-gray, eraser-shaped block resting next to it, documents the simultaneous eradication and transfiguration of the artist's ideas. As you exit you might finally notice the ceiling of the entrance hall, where dozens of butcher knives, points barely embedded in the plaster, threaten to rain down upon your skull.

'Henry Darger: The Vivian Girls Emerge'
Although cowboys lassoing nude little girls—whose eyes bulge and tongues erupt as they are yanked to their feet by their throats—is standard fare from this outsider icon, other works in this concisely conceived show verge on abstraction. The 10-foot-wide Battle of Calverhine (circa 1929) is built up from myriad cut-out images of soldiers and explosions, achieving a beautiful, all-over, Pollock-like dynamism combined with the textural complexity of Anselm Keifer. Elsewhere, a form of proto-pop arises when type bleeds through a newsprint lamb nuzzling a Vivian princess. Andrew Edlin, 529 W 20th, 212-206-9723. Through Dec 23.

Robert Morris
Combining art-historical references (a slab of Hopper-esque light across a floor, Courbet's close-up of a vagina) with texts etched into the oil paint—"Hidden in plain sight shadowed by blindsight absent from foresight"—Morris, as he has often done throughout his career, explores the collision of memory and image. Like de Chirico's depopulated, shadowy plazas, Morris fills his paintings of eerie interiors with portraits of his family or figures visible only through windows. Leo Castelli, 18 E 77th, 212-249-4470. Through Dec 22.

Play Hard, 2006
photo: Jaime Pitarch/Courtesy of Spencer Brownstone Gallery
Play Hard, 2006

David Bates
The vibrant colors, blocky shapes, and dark outlines in these paintings—dead tree branches slash across an orange sun reflected in black water; quick brushstokes of purplish gray form a rain squall; an owl's feathers are as geometric and colorful as a Navajo blanket—convey the audacious beauty of the landscape and animals around Southern swamps and lakes. Bates's striking portraits of Katrina survivors capture both stubborn resilience and resigned sadness. DC Moore, 724 Fifth Ave, 212-247-2111. Through Dec 22.

Ivan Navarro
Navarro has filled part of the gallery with stick figures made of straight and circular fluorescent tubes; they crawl forlornly along the walls, their round heads hanging low. In the darkened main space, chairs made from blacklight neon glow eerily; the outline of a basketball backboard hovers much too high for any of the dispirited figures to attempt a dunk. Roebling Hall, 606 W 26th, 212-929-8180. Through Jan 10.

Jannis Kounellis
These sculptures of abandoned clothes tightly lashed with wire and shoved through holes in steel plates or bound to naked metal bed frames evoke collective memories of bureaucratic, mechanized mass murder, along with more contemporary nightmares of torture and extralegal imprisonment. A broad plane of battered wooden tables spreads out from a wall covered with worn and shapeless shoes; the tabletops are bare save for a water-filled enamel basin holding a cleaver, around which a goldfish slowly swims, like a drifting, bloody polyp. Cheim & Read, 547 W 25th, 212-242-7727. Through Jan 6.

Zoe Crosher
In her photographs, Crosher flash-blasts the interiors of hotel rooms around LAX, making garish drapes and generic furnishings as bright as the Los Angeles sky beyond the windows, each of which frames a landing or ascending plane. The compositions include out-of-focus air conditioner grills, water bottles, and takeout cups, their blurriness emphasizing the jet-lagged ennui of the transient. DCKT Contemporary, 552 W 24th, 212-741-9955. Through Dec 20.

Philip Guston

In 1970, Guston actually pissed people off with his cartoonish paintings of Klansmen, bottles, and big, cyclopean heads ("A mandarin pretending to be a stumblebum," huffed the Times's Hilton Kramer). But the critics were looking back only as far as Guston's gorgeous abstractions of the '50s, while the artist himself was returning to the Krazy Kat comics and Renaissance frescoes that so influenced him in his youth. These drawings (exhibited for the first time) of clunky clocks, disembodied hands holding cigars or pencils, and a few early, brushed-ink abstractions reveal anew that Guston, far from being a rarefied aesthete, was a masterful and determined maverick. McKee Gallery, 745 Fifth Ave, 212-688-5951. Through Dec 22.

 
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