Graphic Marvels

Precursors to Japan's huge manga industry, ehon (literally, "picture books") were first published circa A.D. 770 by an empress attempting to encourage Buddhist piety among her subjects with 1 million pictographic prayer scrolls. More than 12 centuries later, Takashi Murakami, maestro of Japan's world-girdling pop culture, created Gaudy Tawdry (2003), a book of saccharine-hued, gape-mouthed smiley flowers. In the interim, Mori Ransai offered, with twisting flares of ink (exquisitely reproduced through sensitive gradations in the woodblock printing process), his studies of bamboo leaves and orchid grass (circa 1782). Artists and printers alike experimented with pigments, in one instance (circa 1604) combining mica and a binding agent to create a shiny full moon on blue paper. In Map (1965), Kawada Kikuji joined a stark black graphic of the Rising Sun flag with photographs of the radiating struts of Hiroshima's Industrial Promotions Hall dome (one of the few structures left standing after the atomic bomb), conveying both Japan's World War II militarism and her grief in one volume.

Andrei Molodkin
There had been 2,764 American soldiers killed in Iraq when this former Soviet soldier finished his monumental (12 x 9 foot) ballpoint-pen drawing of George W. Bush as Bible-spouting preacher, the presidential bully pulpit now a fundamentalist altar. This same number of spent Bics lies in a plexiglass coffin in front of the piece. Nearby, a low white shelf is provided for the pen-scrawled graffiti of visitors; some praise the work, others defend Bush, one simply exhorts, "Fuck Don't Fight."
Daneyal Mahmood, 511 W 25th, 212-675-2966. Through December 23.

John Newsome
Thickly textured oil paint and layers of abstract patterning overlaid with images of animals, plants, and insects give Newsome's eight-foot-wide canvases an energetic edge. Bright red grounds battle for the viewer's attention with white skulls and magenta roses in Allegory of Nations, as do fang-baring bats and orange Bird of Paradise flowers in Final Settlement. The wing-splayed dragonfly at the center of Rest in Peace (2005–06) forms a midnight-blue crucifixion, attended by fat, lemon-yellow spiders eager to partake of the spoils.
Mike Weiss, 520 W 24th, 212-691-6899. Through December 30.

Shôchan, Squirrel, and Princess, by Kabashima Katsuichi
The New York Public Library
Shôchan, Squirrel, and Princess, by Kabashima Katsuichi

Details

Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan
New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
Through February 4

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