Sex and death are an eternal couple. Lucinda Devlin has dogged the pair across America, shooting 30-by-30-inch color photos of themed luxury suites and execution chambers. In a Minneapolis hotel’s “Northern Lights” room, guests are greeted by a furry polar bear rug and two plushie penguins beckoning from atop a massive round bed; not penguins but a thinly padded gurney crisscrossed with slack leather straps in the lethal-injection chamber awaits a prone body in a Parchman, Mississippi, penitentiary. Other dissonant juxtapositions include a private isolation tank in Syracuse, its step stained with salt from the warm water inside, and the bulbous steel door fronting the Arizona State Prison’s gas chamber, which is covered with valves and rubber seals like a diving bell. Boise’s condemned meet their maker on a broad bench in a wood-paneled, low-ceilinged room, with orange carpeting right out of a suburban den; surprisingly, the empty weightlifting benches in the windowless Kelly Lynne Figure Salon are similarly shot through with despair.
The most fascinating aspect of this 1960 to 2000 retrospective is not the Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist’s fluid lines or the abstract negative space between the jutting noses and chins of his famously neurotic New Yorkers, but the timelessness of the work. The president stands before a microphone, intoning, “The way they treat P.O.W.s is—” and reporters chime back, “Barbaric!” “The way we treat P.O.W.s is—” “Humane!” It’s Nixon, in 1971, before the press began baying for his blood; 35 years later, Bush enjoys an even more compliant media. In a cartoon from 1984, Reagan, in suspenders and mouse ears, welcomes us to “The United Disney of America”; a 1984 color strip from Playboy presents an amorous couple using the Meese pornography commission report as an aphrodisiac. Adam Baumgold, 74 E 79th, 212-861-7338. Though Aug 11.
‘A Four Dimensional Being Writes Poetry on a Field With Sculptures’
Charles Ray is well-known for sculptures that mix minimalism with bodily travails: His tiny self-portrait trapped within a bottle comes to mind. In this curatorial stint, he showcases a single work by four artists; Giacometti is represented by one of his emaciated women, who stretches her head upward futilely, unable to escape the bronze anchoring her feet. Her desperation matches the stifled horror of children viewing a creepy ventriloquist act in Jeff Wall’s 1990 photo re-creating a ’40s birthday party—a languid array of long-stringed balloons makes the doily-choked setting even more suffocating. A Mark di Suvero sculpture featuring a weathered wooden staircase hung from chains forms a chevron leading to Edgar Tolson’s eight wooden, doll-size tableaux delineating the fall of man, from paradise to expulsion to Cain’s birth and Abel’s murder. Four distinct ideas snake through this show, but the result is a surprisingly ravishing equipoise. Matthew Marks, 523 W 24th, 212-243-0200. Through Aug 11.
Revisiting Pinocchio’s journey into the whale’s maw, a boatload of Disneyland tourists fades to black; only the bored guide in the stern, cascades of blond hair tumbling down her back, is aware of Bill Owens’s camera. Three decades later, Justin Lowe plumbs vacation lassitude with a palm tree spray-painted black in front of a black wall on which “Welcome to Miami Everything’s Cheaper Than It Looks” is scrawled in white neon. Aaron Young has masked out a large pale “$” on his tanned back (over a hairy coccyx) in the 2000 photo Tourist (Havana). Falk Haberkorn’s black-and-white photographs of empty Venice tour buses broiling in an endless parking lot make a whale’s belly seem positively inviting. Nicole Klagsbrun, 526 W 26th, 212-243-3335. Through Aug 18.
‘A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts’
“Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk” is one of the lines in Wallace Stevens’s titular poem for this group show, which is filled with similarly multi-textured photographs covering a 100-plus-year span. In Simone Neiweg’s 1991 landscape, spidery, drooping tree branches contrast with the rigid struts and girders of an electrical pylon thrusting out of brown clods in a fallow field. An unknown 19th-century photographer contributes a grouping of long-haired women, all turned away from the lens to reveal their Rapunzel-esque locks; other vintage photos include loggers dwarfed by redwoods. William Wendt’s eerie 2005 shot of artificially lit piles of plowed snow transcends time and place to become a completely alien landscape. Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 W 26th, 212-744-7400. Through Aug 11.
A plastic brain wedged between two mirrors repeats its own image in an endless loop, as if trapped in a demonic barbershop. A large circle drawn on the wall and continued with plaster dust on the floor is pierced by a leg trap trailing a chain like a sperm entering an egg. This idea of death as the consequence of birth is continued in a diptych photo: one-half blurry skull, the other the elegantly curved shoulders and haunches of a beautiful woman. Scarritt pulls his lofty themes resolutely to earth with prosaic materials—twisted wires, plywood, paint splatters—showing us both our own reflections and the abyss in a shard of broken mirror. Cynthia Broan, 546 W 29th, 212-760-0809. Through July 29.