Exquisite hanging scrolls and gilded freestanding screens reveal a keen sensitivity to the change of seasons as witnessed by Japanese artists during past centuries. A 14th-century Zen monk painted ink on silk to capture geese pecking in reedy waters; another flock forms a chevron in the steely sky above, suggesting that imperceptible moment when the weather changes and migration commences. A painting from 1750 of bamboo covered with snow contrasts white, unpainted paper with sharp black triangles representing leaves—the scene conveys a muffled, contemplative quiet. An adjoining scroll features three herons, two with heads tucked against the winter cold, the third craning its neck, the artist’s quick but precise strokes capturing the frozen concentration of a remorseless hunter. A 17th-century six-panel screen portrays a full moon rising behind crisscrossed green grass and ocher fall flowers: The silver moon has transmuted to tarnished gray, but there’s a sense of the coming harvest in the gold-leaf sky.
Olive Ayhens’s large watercolor Electronic Labyrinth (2006) imagines Medusa-like snarls of yellow, orange, and black wiring hanging from the ceiling of a disheveled and deserted office. Other works in this show of off-kilter views include Michael Hayden’s Lake Wesserunsett, a recent gouache portraying a cross-section model of a temperate forest and lake sitting atop a red table. Alison Fox’s dark abstractions shot through with triangles of light and furious pastel strokes impart a mood of clandestine and mysterious industry. Frederieke Taylor, 535 W 22nd, 646-230-0992. Through Sept 9.
The Pure Products of America Go Crazy
A 2000 drawing by conspiracy maven Mark Lombardi (who was found hanged in his loft that same year) employs his sinuous flowchart-and-captions format to ensnare former CIA chiefs, various U.S. senators, both Bushes, and shady Arab bankers in a literal web. This section of the Whitney’s “Full House” exhibition, culled from its permanent collection, also includes America’s Darker Moments (1994), Chris Burden’s flat tin sculptures re-creating national nightmares like the Kennedy assassination and the My Lai massacre. Nam June Paik’s 1965 Magnet TV may be the most sinister object here: a huge industrial magnet sits atop a battered, filthy television cabinet, causing abstract lines to silently shimmer and twist across the screen. Warhol silk screens of Elvis and Jackie, done in varying grays, blacks, and blues, continue an elegiac vibe that Jasper Johns’s still astonishingly vibrant Three Flags (painted at a time when only 48 stars were necessary) and Claus Oldenburg’s 1966 Soft Toilet—white porcelain and blue water forever frozen in the schlubby collapse of its vinyl material—cannot completely dispel. Whitney Museum, 945 Madison, 1-800-WHITNEY. Through Oct 8.
Landscape: Recent Acquisitions
The Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson took color aerial photographs of his country’s Jokla river and arrayed them in an imposing grid of almost 50 images. The river is like a black serpent threading through fissured ice and wind-sculpted snow; practically all color has been leached from this frigid panorama. One of the largest prints in this photo show, Mountain IV (2004), by Clifford Ross, has the majesty of a Hudson River School painting: Snowy peaks are reflected in a vast lake and strong sunlight casts trees into opposing zones of color and obscuring shadow. In Eadweard Muybridge’s 1872 sepia-toned print, a barren tree trunk is mirrored in a perfectly still pool of water, its branches and their doppelgängers lending an intimate scale to Yosemite’s craggy summit in the background. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd Street, 212-708-9400. Through Sept 4.
Absolute Kingdom Come
This Wagnerian tale of the old-guard übermenschen (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, among others) battling later generations of “metahumans,” who scorn ideals of justice and sacrifice in favor of pyrotechnic vigilantism, has been reprinted in a deluxe, 10th-anniversary edition. After ordinary citizens become collateral damage, the now middle-aged demigods band together to give the young ‘uns a lesson in the American Way. Credit Mark Waid’s script for keeping the mood dark and morally muddled, but it’s Alex Ross’s thousand-plus watercolor panels (reproduced in captivating detail) that propel these scenes of Revelation-style apocalypse and reborn hope. Ross’s figures are convincingly strong and lithe (unlike the hypertrophied hulks typical of the genre), but it is emotion—a world-weary emperor heavy on his throne, laughing gangbangers, an old pastor’s righteous anger—that gives his art gravitas. dccomics.com
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