A Delicate Balance at Caren Golden Gallery

Careful with the kids at this one—not because of any untoward subject matter, but due to that "you break it, you bought it" rule. Curator Shane McAdams has gathered together sculptures that offer insightful content and precarious formal equipoise, such as the stacked plates and carefully interlocked coffee cups that make up Ron Baron's End of an Error (2008). Supported on a base of four human skulls, this ersatz Trajan's column is topped by a George W. Bush souvenir mug and a tiny globe, but unlike the Roman emperor's monument to imperial conquest, this flea-market memorial commemorates presidential incompetence. Things get even dicier in the rear gallery, where Alejandro Almanza Pereda has constructed tetrahedrons out of bowling balls and delicately angled fluorescent tubes; perched atop these glowing pyramids, the solid orbs could be blind versions of the greenback's all-seeing "Eye of Providence." There are some snappy drawings and collages, but William Lamson's videos most fully realize the show's theme of stress and liberation. If Hemingway had made hi-def shorts, he might have come up with the 68-second Duel (2008), in which two young men stand back-to-back on a broad, snowy plain, each holding four black balloons and a handgun. They step off half a dozen paces, spin around, release the balloons, and track their weapons skyward. One protagonist is a crack shot, and the charcoal dust that filled his opponent's clutch of balloons gently drifts down through the azure sky as the other flock escapes from the top of the frame. Less macho but more poignant are the brightly colored helium balloons of Emerge (2007), which burst from a fog-shrouded lake, momentarily rest on the surface as water drips off their skins, then meander slowly heavenward.

Bill Owens

Pretty gunplay:  William Lamson's Duel, 2008
Courtesy the artist and Pierogi2000
Pretty gunplay: William Lamson's Duel, 2008

Whether it's a phalanx of porta-potties slyly echoing the soaring contours of a desert mesa, or a legless vet rolling past a marquee announcing "Russ Meyer's Production of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," few artists have captured America's quotidian weirdness as succinctly as photographer Bill Owens. These shots scan the warp and woof of the nation: A picture of two grizzled guys protesting Shell Oil in 1977 is titled "We like being on strike. The union pays us to be here"; another image from the same year features a blonde honey in skimpy stripes, the deadpan title reading, in part, "At the Dirty Sally Night Club I earn $80 a night on tips. . . . The outfit is part of the job." Black-and-white images of Vietnam War protests and counter demonstrations are bookended by more recent color photos of wooden crosses at Venice Beach memorializing the Iraq War dead. James Cohan, 533 W 26th, 212-714-9500. Through August 1.

'Contemporary Ruins'

Formerly grand theaters, now with bright paint flaking from ornate columns and wide arches collapsing in tangles of rebar, echo the tragedies that once played across their stages and cinema screens; heaps of rubble and gaping black windows punctuate the spalling concrete walls of an abandoned cement works. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have traveled throughout Europe and America in search of decaying structures, and their large-scale, deep-focus color photographs update Casper David Friedrich's paintings of collapsed Gothic cathedrals. But the German master depicted weed-choked edifices that stood for centuries before beginning their prolonged decline, a romantic vision of religious resilience entwined with spiritual mysticism. In contrast, these two young Frenchmen focus on utilitarian buildings constructed within living memory, and their vistas of contemporary rot emphasize the callow wastefulness of breakneck modernity. Point of View, 638 W 28th, 212-967-3936. Through July 19.

Ardeshir Mohassess

Before the Iranian Revolution, satiric artist Ardeshir Mohassess (b. 1938) often got himself in trouble with the Shah's secret police; one of his ink drawings features a comically dilapidated aircraft crammed with soldiers who strafe praying citizens. Densely stippled smoke trailing from the machine gun and light cross-hatching for the whirling propeller are typical of the varying textures in these depictions of religious persecution, arrest, and execution. The artist came to New York in 1976 and remained here after the ayatollahs toppled the Shah's government, using his pen to attack their cruelties in turn. A cartoonish line drawing from 2000, titled The Ruling Power, envisions rows of decapitated corpses laid neatly before seated mullahs. The exhibition also includes sketchbooks, collages, and reproductions of work confiscated or destroyed by the Iranian authorities. As Mohassess once said: "I do not believe in an ideal society. I do not need an ideal society either, as there is no need for me in such a society." Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, 212-288-6400. Through August 3.

 
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