Best in Show: Guy Goodwin, Valeska Soares, Michiel Ceulers
As the highest peak in Japan, Mount Fuji looms, physically and metaphysically, over both the country and the culture, a major subject for artists and poets throughout the centuries. Over the past couple of decades, Masao Yamamoto's small photographs of the dormant volcano have segued between monumental vistas and intimate metaphors. A 1996 print features a rough boulder in a bare field with the snow-covered peak in the distance. Only six inches across, this scene of geographic expanse also foreshadows the eroded rubble that even the most magnificent range will one day become. In the 2 x 3 inch Untitled #248 (the works are all nameless), an arched jungle gym stands in for Fuji as a high sun draws a stark grid of shadows across tawny earth. The pale rump of a prone figure (man? woman?) mimics the summit in Untitled #1194, delineating how we instinctively relate even vast subjects to our primary frame of reference, the human body. In Untitled #1178, Yamamoto ramps up this existential theme in a striking image of a slab of shiny metal held up to partially obscure the distant mountain. A blurry black reflection of the artist's head replaces the contours of the peak, a beautiful postcard from human consciousness to whatever—God, nothing, entangled particles—ultimately awaits us.
The painter Guy Goodwin (born 1940) tells the story of sending an exhibition announcement featuring one of his abstractions to the photographer Rudy Burckhardt: "He sent it back with a photograph of a bird glued onto it. 'That fucker,' I thought, 'it's better than my painting.'" A brash and funny tale, but, as the critic Katy Siegel has pointed out, that bird back in the day gave Goodwin a sense of how the outside world could enter into abstraction. Fast-forward to Goodwin's 2012 painting Tania's Day, constructed from thick cardboard layered with upholstery-like density, the black-and-orange color scheme recalling the Symbionese Liberation Army's logo and heiress Patty Hearst's hapless adventures as a 1970s revolutionary. All of these works channel that manic, ad hoc decade through fervent color contrasts and the exposed staples, screws, and grommets that hold the bulging abstract shapes together. Matisse once wrote that he imagined art as an easy chair for the tired "brain-worker," but Goodwin's exuberant colors and oddball protuberances might put you more in mind of threadbare sofas and diner booths jammed with urban guerrillas hashing out radical theories. Brennan & Griffin, 55 Delancey Street, 212-227-0115, brennangriffin.com. Through April 8.
As if working with humongous pixels, Valeska Soares glues book covers onto 6 x 8 1/2 foot grounds of unprimed linen. These serrated collages work first as color-fields; in one example, Soares chooses bindings that are predominantly beige and purple. But closer up, a book title such as Sartre: Literary Essays causes oscillations in the mind between obvious literary associations and the visual impact of illustrations and typography. This clash becomes especially noticeable in several covers by the design genius Alvin Lustig, whose punchy amalgams of graphics and type act like exclamation points for these ocular narratives. Soares also leavens some pop-cult frisson into her found-art/text compositions, enlivening the corner of one grid with a hot-pink paperback version of Diamonds Are Forever. Eleven Rivington, 11 Rivington Street, 212-982-1930, elevenrivington.com. Through March 18.
Similar to the way Martha Graham angled her elbows and knees against an enveloping costume, Michiel Ceulers's purposefully irregular stretchers warp his canvases into compelling, bumpy trapezoids. Another series dispenses with crooked supports, but the invitingly tactile grids of gloppy red, white, and black paint reveal further technical mastery. Although a title such as Contempt of One's Own Work as Planning for Career (perfect, damn, wasn't that a great surprise?), 2010–12, might evoke the hypothetical course listing "Cynical Aesthetics: Damien Hirst 101," this ridiculously young painter (Ceulers was born in 1986) shows a prodigy's grasp of the ungovernable potential that has kept painting fresh for 30,000 years. Ana Cristea Gallery, 521 West 26th Street, 212-904-1100, anacristeagallery.com. Through March 31.
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