Best in Show: Aldo Tambellini at Chelsea Art Museum

Plus: Leandro Erlich at Sean Kelly; “Boundaries Obscured” at Haunch of Venison

Apocalyptic, mystical, and almost always black, the art of multimedia visionary Aldo Tambellini—collected here in a marvelous retrospective that includes paintings, films, and sculpture—runs through the gallery like the 50-year chronology of an obsession. Suggested by a youthful and mysterious visitation, the dark circle or swirl became for the artist the subject of a lifelong study. Thickly brushed or delicately applied in graphite, the form appears again and again—a dead star, a forbidding storm, a hostile god. In the late 1980s, he spread the black masses across upside-down schematics or maps, depicting (it would seem) the obliteration of petty, earthly concerns as an act of transcendence. All this speaks to a kind of atavistic spiritualism, particularly evident in the primitive markings and roughly punctured surfaces of Tambellini's first abstractions, which resemble cave paintings.

Best known for his avant-garde films and video experiments, Tambellini, now 81, made some of his most vivid work in response to the growing power of television. A number of shorts, such as Blackout from 1965, bombard the viewer with frenetic, Brakhage-like shapes and splotches, produced by marring the film stock. Similarly, on a split screen, Black TV (1968) races through distorted, often disturbing news clips of the era's events like a bad acid trip. Constantly looking for new expressive modes, he once altered a television's scanner to make undulating radial patterns (the circle again), and then, treating the set like an oracle, captured the images (dubbed "videograms") on photographic paper.

If all that's not enough, on October 20, you can witness a performance of Tambellini's 1965 Black Zero, which essentially invented psychedelia: a frenzy of free jazz, wild dance, nightmarish drumming, projected spirals, hypnotic video, and a large black orb that slowly expands before exploding.

Tambellini's A-11, 1989
Courtesy Boris Lurie Art Foundation
Tambellini's A-11, 1989

Leandro Erlich: 'Two Different Tomorrows'

A magical realist of sculpture, Leandro Erlich builds elaborate structures that turn encounters with seemingly ordinary spaces into dreamlike moments. You might recall his Swimming Pool (installed for a while at P.S.1), which made it appear as if visitors were walking underwater.

Here, with less trickery, he satirizes our relationship to elevators. The conveyance's entrance, mocked up near the gallery's lobby, hints at the aftermath of calamity—peer through a gap near your feet and glimpse, in a clever simulation, the interior of a car stuck between floors. A newspaper lies in there, possibly indicating an escape. Erlich's exacting realism, suspending your sense of his art, makes you participate, for a moment, in the imagined drama.

Around the corner, a bank of elevators plays on expectations of those familiar, claustrophobia-relieving mirrors. Inside each car, the glass opposite the entrance holds no reflection at all while, on the sides, you appear before infinite corridors. The visual effects, though standard, slyly toy with our fears of confinement. The compartment becomes, like Willy Wonka's invention, a capsule of magical transport.

Sure enough, exiting, you'll see a small portal, which leads into a dim elevator shaft, meticulously modeled with cables, counterweights, and painted floor numbers. Conjuring disaster-flick danger, Erlich further unnerves you with spatial disorientation—the enclosure runs along the horizontal.

Finally, normalcy (of a sort) prevails with elevator doors that periodically open, like stage curtains, to reveal videos of life-sized passengers, shot in a Tokyo department store. This time, Erlich's participatory theatrics simply depict the human condition. He has slightly altered the footage to repeat certain gestures and twitches, highlighting the common states of boredom and impatience. Sean Kelly Gallery, 528 West 29th Street, 212-239-1181. Through October 22.

'Boundaries Obscured'

The cri de coeur, both political and personal, rises from a bevy of international stars in this delightfully quirky show, the first at Haunch of Venison's new space in Chelsea. Joana Vasconcelos, infamous for her tampon chandelier, imagines a child's view of war by covering a Morris Oxford car with toy rifles and filling the seats with chattering stuffed animals. Günther Uecker's outline of a struggling man, rendered in charcoal ash, reflects the horror of Chernobyl's catastrophe, while Patricia Piccinini's startling Eulogy, the centerpiece, addresses the near-extinction of the comically ugly blobfish with another of the artist's ultra-real silicone figures: a solemn young man cradling the poor helpless creature. Haunch of Venison, 550 West 21st Street, 212-259-0000. Through November 3.

 
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