Where the Mechanical Things Are

Recommendations by R.C. Baker

First, you have to blow on the vulture's pelvis placed at the front of Flagellating Systems(2007); that slight vibration triggers Karen Carpenter's dirgelike "Crescent Noon" and brings reedy steel arms and plastic cilia to clacking, skittering life. These delicate appendages are attached to orbs suspended from the ceiling, each made of fine wires, clear plastic housings, magnets, and other mechanical minutiae. As they rotate and quiver they conjure visions of microscopic, mindlessly voracious bacteria or, when the mind's eye blinks, become cosmic chandeliers (one of the alternate soundtracks plays the immemorial snap, crackle, and pop of pulsars). Smith has degrees in biology, sculpture, and diesel mechanics, an educational hat trick that probably explains the tough edge underlying his delicate hybrids of nature and technology. A maple seed pod, trapped between two tiny beads on an extremely fine wire, spins like a maniacal helicopter in the current of an antique fan. A prisoner of art, it will never fulfill its destiny in the forest loam, but it does offer a sense of life's outer limits.


Natalie Lanese
Collaged directly onto the wall, Lanese's huge mural imagines warring camps of pro wrestlers and World War I–era soldiers against a landscape of abstract red chevrons and towering mountain peaks. The hundreds of figures cut from photographs perform various tasks—applying choke holds, flexing muscles, shouldering rifles—repeated in varying scales, and, like Henry Darger's multiple tracings of little warrior girls, achieve a sense of receding perspective. Smaller works feature retro-cool interiors where a paper towel forms a rug under lettuce-leaf house plants and scantily clad blondes snuggle dark-skinned men—enigmatic narratives heightened by keen color clashes and jazzy textures. Jack the Pelican, 487 Driggs Ave, Brooklyn, 646-644-6756. Through May 6.


Kevin Landers
For the last 17 years, Landers has taken his camera to New York's streets, where he's found widely varied inspiration: panhandlers' ratty change cups, a sidewalk grate choked with cigarette butts and clotted gum, women insouciantly flashing crotches and breasts in parks and laundromats. In an increasingly homogenized city that shoves life's messiness behind a smug facade of glass and steel, Landers's tautly composed shot of a broom sweeping through brown sludge reveals the human stain in all its glory. Elizabeth Dee, 545 W 20th, 212-924-7545. Through May 7.


Melissa Pokorny
These assemblages mix sophisticated formalism with kitsch. Scraggly, fluorescent-yellow nets enclose rows of boxes collaged with pictures of bricks and flagstones, creating multilayered grids supporting such props as deer antlers, plastic melons, and life-size Scottie dog sculptures. Small plastic cups, half-filled with a translucent orange-yellow substance, perch precariously atop some pieces like forgotten urine samples, or perhaps the remains of a boisterous opening. Other work includes fragmented photos of garish pet-cemetery monuments, which combine with the homely aesthetic to evoke a wry melancholia. Front Room, 147 Roebling St, Brooklyn, 718-782-2556. Through May 20.


Julie Evans
These sumptuous little paintings lithely entwine dichotomies: East/West, pattern/depth, color/line, sensual/geometric. Evans's images begin with a tool grown dusty in many a basement and attic—the Spirograph. She spins her everyman mandalas with a pencil and sometimes painstakingly fills them in with vibrant flower-petal colors. She has worked in Nepal and India, and blends their rich traditions of patterning with the amorphously scraped color fields familiar from postwar abstraction, against which her lush curves, beads, and necklaces of paint coalesce into the flora of wondrous dreams. Julie Saul, 535 W 22nd, 212-627-2410. Through May 5.


Jill Freedman and Andrew Garn
Prior to the Disneyfication of Times Square (and before the laptop's isolating, clammy glow), you went to 42nd Street to share porn with your fellow citizens. In the '70s and '80s, photographers Freedman and Garn documented the hardcore hijinks at the crossroads of the world. "We work six shows a night. . . . If I come every show I can't wake up in the morning," reads the testimonial caption under Garn's nude portrait of Show World performers Diane and her beau Stix. In 1984, Freedman found a man on the street wearing a beret and holding a hand-lettered "Save Our Sleaze" sign. Whether capturing feminists marching against pornography (Freedman) or a preacher in a white suit Magic-Markered with his sermon (Garn), each artist discovered powerful compositions amid the Naked City's 8 million stories. A.M. Richard, 328 Berry St, Brooklyn, 917-570-1476. Through May 20.

 
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