Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, and Butch Hancock

Recommendations by R.C. Baker

Although this pairing of drawings and small paintings by two art-market heavyweights ostensibly targets their affinities, it feels more like a prizefight in an exclusive boutique. Both artists have used a lush-lashed eye motif, and Guston (1913–1980) often depicted the soles of tired shoes and disembodied heads and limbs; this matches up with the prosaic objects and body parts that Johns (b. 1930) has long used as themes in his work. So, in this corner, in clunky charcoal strokes and weighing a metaphorical ton, we have Guston's drawing of a book. The open tome casts rough-hewn shadows, and the pages are covered with hash marks that can be read as windows in a monumental tenement building—a powerful evocation of knowledge joined with life's hard knocks. Wisdom, in other words. Nearby, Johns's paintings feel facile by comparison: eyes with sun-ray lashes, lips as big as mountain ranges. Both artists shift subjects through scale, a flux that comes across as searching passion in Guston but often mere technical aplomb in Johns, who, even when being purposely obscure (a charcoal drawing of a flaccid face on a folded cloth nailed to a crosshatched wall), tells us things we already know. Guston delights in the discovery of, say, the powerful shapes latent in trash-can lids; such forms feature prominently in a 30-inch-wide drawing from the year of his death, a battlefield that also includes heads, arms, and stretcher bars. The dense strokes of his pen summon the force of his youthful abstractions for one last round of poignant cartoon haymakers. Unfortunately, little here recalls the glory of Johns's early masterpieces—stick figures and wide eyes are shoved to the edges of one untitled work, blue paint lying inert on the canvas. In this bout, at least, it's the dead man by a knockout.

John Chervinsky

These black-and-white photographs of fossils, antique light bulbs, and curved steel wrenches writhing like Medusa's snakes could be tarnished illustrations for Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics. A distended balloon hangs heavily over a target; hand-drawn schematic lines veer in and out of focus; a time-lapse exposure turns an ephemeral arc into a white ball. Not exactly surrealism—more physics as poetry. Peer, 526 W 26th, 212-741-6599. Through December 1.

Deceased winner: Untitled, 1973, by Philip Guston
photo: The Estate of Philip Guston
Deceased winner: Untitled, 1973, by Philip Guston

Edward Burtynsky

These vertiginous photographs of stone quarries capture visions of God's own Legos. Workers and equipment are rendered toy-like amid gargantuan blocks and sinuous truck ramps; rusty streaks and bright pools of water add color to sepulchral white marble. An abandoned, weed-choked section of Vermont's "Rock of Ages" quarry is filled with rough terraces and tumbled chunks of granite, the ruins of cities built elsewhere. Charles Cowles, 537 W 24th, 212-741-8999. Through December 1.

Andreas Magdanz

A hydra-head of surveillance cameras oversees a steel security gate; long, window- less corridors terminate at closed doors; small arms and bullets are laid out as if for inspection. In 2005, Magdanz was granted access to photograph West Germany's decommissioned spy complex (in use from 1947 to 2003). One black-and-white shot documents the "Situation" room, its utilitarian array of computers, clocks, and conference tables less flamboyant than Hollywood visions of secret command bunkers. A color photo reveals dots of paper pasted over bullet holes so that a target-practice enemy agent might be reused. Janet Borden, 560 Broadway, 212-431-0166. Through December 8.

Elaine Reichek: 'Pattern Recognition'

How far can you scale down a Warhol and still recognize it? A Matisse? Mondrian? Pretty far, it turns out, if you're stitching each like Grandma's samplers. Reichek's four-inch- square embroideries include all-white versions (Robert Ryman), colorful targets (Kenneth Noland), and pink cakes (Wayne Thiebaud). Even art of more recent vintage—such as Kara Walker's stark silhouettes or Damien Hirst's chromatic dots—has imprinted itself on us in the last decade, and even in miniature is instantly recognizable. Reichek's witty piecework distills the art world to an interior decorator's swatch book. Nicole Klagsbrun, 526 W 26th, 212-243-3335. Through November 24.

Butch Hancock

A popcorn kernel as a mushroom cloud; a dog leaping with the manic grace of a Tex Avery cartoon; a flying concrete buttress stud-ded with beer cans—and those are just the photographs. It's Hancock's ballpoint-pen drawings of labial, biomorphic architecture that really get weird: Pulp sci-fi covers meet Gaudí's Barcelona cathedral. This Texas troubadour (his band, the Flatlanders, has performed on Letterman) combines a keen eye for contrasting textures—that fluid dog against pointy fence slats—with rock-solid composition: A ladder's shadow beautifully reprises the angles of the building it's cast on. If, at first, this insightfully curated show seems a tad schizophrenic, give it time—you'll soon experience a meeting of the minds. Cue, 511 W 25th, 212-206-3583. Through December 1.

 
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