Smiley Apocalypse

If you took the curlicue doodles and smiley faces from a schoolgirl's binder and grafted them onto malignant tumors, you'd get some idea of Gastaldon's drawings. This Geneva-based French artist uses various media to conjure visions that mingle apocalypse and ecstasy: The 2006 animation Nucléarama begins with a pan across a simply drawn field of flowers leading to a nuclear power plant that is suddenly struck by lightning. The ensuing meltdown features strobing chromatic auras, then switches to flashing stills of mystical symbols, artworks, organisms, and plants, which segues into a film of rainbow pigments billowing and blooming in water—jellyfish morphing into mushroom clouds and back again. In the main gallery, one wall offers Coeur de guru (2005), a six-foot-high conglomeration of bulbous pink and red blobs made of embroidery, wool, and foam connected by fabric tubes into a vague heart shape; elsewhere, three nine-foot-high cones fabricated from wool over iron thread are suspended from the ceiling, hovering like a range of magical mountains. Gastaldon offers spiritual concoctions as antibodies to our will to destruction.


Rolf Behm
Behm, who divides his time between Berlin and Brazil, carefully treads the fault line between landscape and abstraction in his five-foot wide-canvases. Pyramidal gray mountains collide with clunky orange and blue clouds amid cascades of green and purple rain, but the compositions are never cloying, because these exuberant vistas are tempered by variegated paint handling (a mix of thin acrylics and passionately worked oils) and the insightful positioning of just that exact daub of yellow or just this precise skein of drippy red. At the end of the day, Behm achieves a gorgeous balance between his ideas and the material fact of their expression. Howard Scott, 529 W 20th, 646-486-7004. Through March 3.

installation view of "Stop Believing, Start Knowing" show
courtesy Swiss Institute
installation view of "Stop Believing, Start Knowing" show

Details

Vidya Gastaldon
Swiss Institute
495 Broadway
Through March 10


Jim Wright
Although images of black-and-white-striped chain gangs with such titles as Bangstry's Flafter and Dulocray's Disboscation (2006) exude an old-timey vibe, Wright's thickly impastoed paintings (collaged from prefab acrylic brushstrokes) also have the colorful flamboyance of psychedelic posters. Whether showcasing convicts struggling to create a new society in the Appalachian woods or two couples on either side of a puppet show frolicking in waving pink grass as streamers of birds and rainbows flow from their bodies, these narratives mine some weird veins of Americana. Rare, 521 W 26th, 212-268-1520. Through February 24.


Qiu Zhijie: 'The Shape of Time'
As with Picasso's Minotaurs carved from thin air with a penlight, Qiu Zhijie uses a flashlight to "draw" calligraphic symbols in his long-exposure color photographs. This 2006 series was executed on the specific days that mark the beginning of each of China's 24 solar seasons; the disembodied characters in "Start of Summer" are white streaks hovering over decrepit, fish-shaped amusement-park boats abandoned in tall weeds. In most shots the artist's lower legs are visible, but his upper body—moving swiftly to create symbols as lithe as eels—is a ghostly blur. Chambers, 210 Eleventh Avenue, 212-414-1169. Through February 24.


Isabella Natale
The Bushites get hammered in these LOL paintings that hijack the bold graphics of everyday consumer goods: Secretary Rice is portrayed as "Condi Crocker" on a box of "Yellow-Cake Uranium Mix"; elsewhere, her marbled "ConPosition" book reveals that this rigid student (and Peter-Principle poster child) excelled at "Cooking for Christ" and "Intelligent Design." W himself becomes a "Prez Dispenser," spouting candy-coated lies, and also lends his name to a gilt-lettered "King George Bible." Showcase Gallery East, LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens, 718-482-5696. Through March 31.


Joseph Beuys
This concise exhibit of works by the Luftwaffe pilot turned world-reknowned humanist draws affinities between the scraggly though sinuous lines in his pencil sketches and the gnarly telephone wires, tufts of straw, and sagging plastic tubes of his sculptures. In the hands of this German shaman (1921–86), a construction such as 1983's Prison—a filthy rectangle of Plexiglas atop another of battered sheet metal—is as metaphorically tragic as a Rothko painting (which it compositionally resembles) and as viscerally tactile as a tired epidermis ready to be sloughed off. Zwirner & Wirth, 32 E 69th, 212-517-8677. Through March 31.


Shannon Plumb
A fashion model herself, Plumb sets Chaplinesque choreography to a disco beat in this video sending up the rituals of haute couture. She struts down the runway in flaring gowns and spiky wigs crafted from brown paper, posing for a furiously scribbling editor decked out in a black minidress, a sunken-eyed fashionista yammering into her cell phone, and other front-row egotists who battle for attention by flashing jewels and shopping bags. A flannel-clad photographer with crooked mustache (Plumb plays all of the characters) seems in awe of her statuesque hauteur; the escalating whistle of his recharging flash complements the comely, granular light of the Super-8 film stock. Sara Meltzer, 525-531 W 26th, 212-727-9330. Through March 17.

 
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