Blunt even for Serra, these thick slabs and mammoth plugs of steel look simpler than his earlier enclosing spirals and tilted walls. Yet to walk among the straight processionals of six-inch-thick, 30-foot-long rectangles (which vary from waist- to shoulder-high) is to enter a netherworld where man’s drive to construct geometries wars with nature’s remorseless desire to obliterate them. The rusty surfaces of scabby orange and dull, pitted gray form a patina of passing time. As peaceful and regimented as an ornamental garden, these passageways are also charged with the sheer weight of the freestanding bulkheads, which would crash like God’s own dominos if tipped off center. A small separate room contains a head-high, seven-foot-diameter cylinder, its solid bulk seemingly equal in volume to the empty space surrounding it. Serra’s magic is to make elemental, gross tonnage unnervingly physical and ephemeral.
Next to a subway poster of boxer shorts printed with bright red hearts that advertised the 1984 3-D flick,
The Man Who Wasn’t There (“Just like the trains!” has been added in black magic marker alongside the larger notation “HARING STOP IT/ENOUGH ALREADY”) is this natural cartoonist’s chalk drawing—on one of the black sheets of paper the MTA slaps up when no ads are available—of a huge robot labeled “84” being worshipped by hapless humans. Others in this series of breezy and entertaining white-on-black works feature flying saucers attacking a pyramid and a group of multi-panel ink drawings that narrate tales of alien abductions and anal probes—both of and by glowing canines. Alona Kagan, 540 W 29th, 212-560-0670. Through July 10.
Although rendered backwards through the lithographic process, the three-foot-high scrawl “Pay Attention Motherfuckers” comes across loud and clear. Always hard to ignore, Nauman’s acerbic, confrontational works almost overwhelm this intimate space: The constant “thuh-lunk”-ing of electric switches provides a soundtrack to the pink, green, and orange neon tubes that make up the facing heads and fingers of Double Poke in the Eye (1985); 1988’s luridly colored, cartoonish print Clown Taking a Shit features its title subject, wearing conical hat and floppy shoes, sitting on the porcelain throne while a surveillance camera immortalizes his grimacing efforts. Claustrophobic but compelling, this mini-survey has all the morbid charm of a cab ride with Travis Bickle. Craig F. Starr, 5 E 73rd, 212-570-1739. Through June 30.
Although these resolutely old-school abstractions are roughly 10 feet across, their surfaces have the delicacy of layered ceramic glazes: Tiny pinholes riddle the vast expanses of paint where air bubbles rose up through the thick coats of drying acrylic. The works (all from 2006) tower over the viewer, monochrome deluges on linen grounds. In one, rivulets of deep purple have separated from beneath a cascade of adulterated white; in a predominantly black painting, quick splatters of water have excavated squiggles of underlying orange as bright as campfire sparks. These hulking works are never ponderous; they revel in the simple elegance of gravity teasing drippy fringes from the bottoms of their curtains of color. Peter Blum, 526 W 29th, 212-244-6055. Through July 1.
An oddball even by surrealism’s standards, Bellmer created articulated dummies of women that could be bent, spread, and twisted into endless permutations; the resulting photos (taken in the mid 1930s and only a few inches on each side) are a cross between porn and crime-scene documents. In some, the “doll” slithers down a staircase; in others she is headless, with two sets of fleshy legs sprouting from the ample ball joint of her stomach, a four-legged creature splayed across chairs and floors (when not ghoul-lit amid tree branches). Occasionally the art-nouveau curves of a carpet beater provide a rigid but sinuous framing device. Ubu, 416 E 59th, 212-753-4444. Through July 28.
This Cuban artist mixes Edward Gorey’s dark Victorian intrigues with the loony narratives of such outsiders as Henry Darger, but rather than shut-in children or pre-pubescent hermaphroditic warriors, Monteavaro’s heroes include ’80s rock stars Adam Ant and the Go-Go’s, Bela Lugosi in Dracula drag, and Picasso. Her drawings of skeletons, vampires, and synchronized water-skiers are obsessively crosshatched all the way into the chads that hold pages in spiral bindings; a 10-foot-square work teems with tiny, bloody zombies plodding across planes of maniacally intricate ink textures. Monteavaro’s intensity is much scarier than her ridiculous, entertaining subject matter. Derek Eller, 615 W 27th, 212-206-6411. Through June 24.