Shit Happens

These umber-tinted photos of blue heron and white egret droppings scattered across the concrete conduits of the Los Angeles River are serendipitous wonders. While they occasionally catch the majestic birds in flight, it is the ghostly skeins of excrement (sometimes juxtaposed against the artist's own attenuated shadow) that deliver a revelatory shock: Shit can be gorgeous! But wait—there's more: Long has cobbled together colossal plaster and papier-maché sculptures based on the splatter patterns. The tentacles of these dirty-white, three-dimensional apparitions are embedded with broken glass, shredded plastic, and other industrial crap; sometimes these haunting creatures (as anorexic as Giacometti's existential wraiths) are topped with bulbous nodules and loom up like outraged goblins railing at humanity's profligate filth. Overshadowing any content however, is Long's knack for anthropomorphizing nature while retaining the primordial beauty of even her basest elements. Charles Long, Tanya Bonakdar, 521 W 21st Street. Through February 10


Kim Keever and Eugene Von Bruenchenhein
Keever photographs miniature sets placed inside 100- to 200-gallon glass tanks filled with water and pigment, creating such Spielbergian effects as a forested plain engulfed by a molten-red sky; a gloomy, turbulent ocean; and a desert oasis obscured by sulfurous clouds. The self-taught Von Bruenchenhein (1910–83), a finger-painting virtuoso, is represented by intensely colored phantasmagorias of sinuous creatures and riotous vegetation that deliver equally sensational, if more enigmatic, narratives. Kinz, Tillou + Feigen, 535 W 20th, 212-929-0500. Through March 10.

Charles Long's apparitions
courtesy of Charles Long and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Charles Long's apparitions


Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt
This dialogue between two powerful photographers separated by a generation finds the older Levitt enfolding workaday weirdness—children squeezed inside a phone booth with their hefty mother—into documentary-style pictures. Arbus, of course, heightens everyday strangeness, as in her 1966 shot of a Brooklyn brood: Mom sports a towering black bouffant, a child stands gape-mouthed, and Dad stares stoically into the lens, as if trapped in a John Waters film. Levitt gives us the warp and woof of the American fabric; Arbus zeroes in on its snags and unraveling threads. Laurence Miller, 20 W 57th, 212-397-3930. Through March 10.


John Stoney
By his own account, Stoney creates "pathologically accurate" scale models, which aptly describes his dual visions of the Empire State Building. The first lies on its side and is fabricated of tiny, individually embossed pieces of paper; at 6 feet, 7 inches long, it dwarfs its twin in the back gallery, which stands roughly an inch tall. Astonishingly, this second skyscraper is situated in the midst of a maniacally detailed reproduction of Manhattan, the miniscule buildings, avenues, and bridges all carved from a single pine board. The incredible shifts in proportion and perspective take the viewer on a journey from ant-in-the-street insignificance through colossus to all-seeing god (or, at least, omniscient spy satellite). Caren Golden, 539 W 23rd, 212-727-8304. Through February 17.


'Endless Western Sunset'
Adam Ross's 2005 painting Life at the End of The Rainbow 2 is a red Constructivist dystopia of abstract banners and industrial smoke, with the title appending a touch of wry humor. The drippy oil paint of Steve Hurd's military funeral scene recalls Jasper Johns's flags, even as the pixel-like blocks of color make this 41-inch-wide canvas feel like it was shot from a camera phone. Ed Ruscha's lithograph of a speedometer superimposed over sunlight falling across a wood-plank floor could document a physics experiment or be an elegy for lost youth, while Kaz Oshiro's life-size recreation of a washer-dryer set, constructed from bondo and stretched canvas, is vaguely unsettling—it's the consumer appliance version of a pod person. Leo Castelli, 18 E 78th, 212-249-4470. Through February 16.


Thomas Allen
A tough guy with Robert Mitchum curls and a drooping cigarette glances over his shoulder at another slab of beef, who, though seen in blurry focus, is clearly ripping open his own shirt. The figures in this ersatz gay tableau have been Exacto'd from two vintage paperback covers—the first stud was originally eyeing a woman entering a room, the second preparing to join a babe in a lake—and photographed with an old-school 4x5 camera. Allen carefully cuts around his figures and then hinges them up from the often worn-out covers, sometimes including the colored-edge bound pages or spines in his frame to act as floors, walls, or rumpled beds. Then comes atmospheric lighting and a mix of genres—a spaceman in a glass bubble helmet is menaced by a shimmying vixen whose shirt strains across her pert bosom—and these, cheap, luridly colored dioramas blossom into playful, open-ended melodramas. Foley, 547 W 27th, 212-244-9081. Through March 3.

 
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