'How Soon Is Now?' at the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Back in the '80s, when I first heard of the Bronx Museum's "Artist in the Marketplace" program, I thought it might be a great way to ease emerging artists into a frenzied—not to say insane—art world, where the likes of David Salle's awkward, overblown canvases were fetching a healthy five figures. But nowadays—when you hear off-the-record tales of investors transmuting hundreds of thousands into millions by immediately flipping purchases from the Chelsea art mall to an auction house, or your BlackBerry beeps as it tracks the fluctuating price points of your favorite minimalist—yesteryear's market manipulations seem almost quaint. Therefore, it's not surprising that market-oriented themes are employed by some of this year's crop of 36 AIM artists. Angie Waller's video (displayed on a screen set into a car console complete with cup holders) brings together promo clips from companies that provide armored sedans and SUVs to corporate bigwigs, described by one spokesman as folks wary of "disgruntled employees or stalkers." Another security expert says his vehicles are sold to government officials, executives, and other important people "whom we don't know what they really do." (An interesting follow-up project might chart how much overlap exists between major collectors and armored-car customers.) Vidal Centeno uses plastic sheets printed with information about corporate malfeasance to fabricate a chandelier in the shape of a jet engine. A fluorescent tube forms a central axis for the overlapping transparencies, illuminating such tidbits as this quote from former General Electric CEO Jack Welch: "Ideally, you'd have every plant you own on a barge." While such a scheme to escape labor, environmental, and tax laws never became a reality, other GE scandals (deceptive advertising practices, massive Superfund clean-up liabilities) did; documented here, they illustrate how even damning facts can easily get lost amid today's info-Babel. In a one-two punch recycling consumer debris into compelling objects, Matthew Burcaw populated an aquarium with shredded plastic bags and bunched athletic socks to mimic the surreal grace of sea creatures, while Mark Stafford created sculptural terrains from outmoded circuit boards. For his piece Black Coffee—No Sugar, Brendan Carroll trained a Polaroid camera on Jersey City's ramshackle architecture, pushing the old-school vibe even further by using a typewriter (and occasional flourishes of Wite-Out) to annotate each of his 98 shots with Bukowskian whimsy. His image of a clunky mural depicting an orange bowling ball barreling down on a towering bowling pin bears the caption "The story begins after Reagan crushed Mondale to win a second term in '84. I was eight, and just finished my first can of beer." Oh, for those innocent, bygone days.

'Eminent Domain'

This group photography show, typically well presented in the main library's soaring exhibition hall, focuses on New York City's ragged edges. Bettina Johae rode a bike around the outskirts of each borough, capturing images such as weathered asphalt abutting the rivers and street reflectors at weedy dead ends. Her carefully composed scenes are presented alongside maps that pinpoint their locations throughout the city. Zoe Leonard finds a more psychological desolation in her shots of building façades enervated by hand-lettered signs and graffiti, and a fabric store with rumpled bolts of cloth heaped against dirty windows. Ethan Levitas's rectangular photographs of subway cars on elevated lines limn changing seasonal light on rusty steel while framing the passengers' private reveries within public spaces. This is Gotham without glitz or wealth, poignant in its quotidian splendor. New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd, 212-592-7730. Through August 29.

Transparent design: Vidal Centeno's Illumina
Courtesy the artist and the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Transparent design: Vidal Centeno's Illumina

'When color was new'

John Pfahl's Altered Landscape—oranges hanging from a tree in a straight line that continues across the ground—is one of many highlights in this succulent group show of "vintage photographs from around the 1970s" (a subtitle as hazy and loopy as everything else in that fractured decade). Although color photographic processes had been available for a century, the medium was accepted in fine-art photography only after a controversial 1976 William Eggleston show at MOMA; the Tennessee native is represented here by a low-angled 1969 image of a rusty blue tricycle that seems to arch over the suburban ranch houses in the background. Beguiling geometries beneath bland domesticity are uncovered in Stephen Shore's pictures of a black-and-white TV in front of beige wood paneling (dryly titled Normal, Illinois) and a gelatinous TV dinner on a stovetop. Jan Groover's triptych of passing red, yellow, and blue cars channels the era's surveillance paranoia through the deadpan progression of the photographer's shadow inching up the telephone pole centered in each panel. A 1979 shot by Joel Sternfeld of a balding fellow surveying a crowd around the Space Shuttle Columbia conveys how quickly cutting-edge technology ages—almost as fast as the bell-bottom flare of his charcoal trousers. Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd, 212-627-2410. Through September 6.

 
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