Taking its title from an observation by de Kooning, the show on the Whitney’s second floor is chockablock with New York School masterpieces, part of the museum’s “Full House” celebration of its permanent collection. Here are Franz Kline’s big canvas Mahoning, all brash, slashing strokes of black over white, and Rothko’s Four Darks in Red, the edges of its wine-dark, rectangular lozenges bleeding into that sublime void this suicidal Russian Jew spent his life’s work seeking. Robert Rauschenberg’s Yoicks springs from both these elders’ works: Its horizontal slabs of red create a broad vista Rothko would have recognized, while the underlying collage of comics and printed fabric owes a debt to the subtle textures in Kline’s bold compositions. In turn, Rauschenberg was a pioneer of art-world “happenings,” and his influence is captured in two early-’70s videos documenting works by one of his own progeny, performance artist Paul McCarthy. In one piece, McCarthy pours paint from a can while slowly sliding his entire body across the floor, using his face as a paintbrush; in the other he slaps a paint-laced sheet against the walls, floors, and columns of an empty loft—truly putting the “act” back into “action painting.”
Grouped around the title’s five frames of reference, this collection of photographs includes Edward Weston’s silver print of the elaborate folds and pleats of a cabbage leaf spread out like an elegant gown against a velvety black background. The loud interior of Rosemary Jamison’s Truck, a 1988 color print by Vincent Borrelli, is festooned with balloons, decals, and plastic toys—this vehicle is ready to par-tay. More somber and conceptually complex is Abelardo Morell’s Pieta by El Greco, 1993, which captures the phenomena of angled light bouncing off the glossy dark ink of a printed page; it reflects back brighter than the paper, turning any image—here, a religious painting by the Spanish master—into a ghostly, evocative negative. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-708-9400. Through Nov 27.
In the main gallery, Karlis Rekevics has cast life-size steel girders in white plaster; rivet heads and support plates are faithfully re-created; and the occasional rust stains and actual lightbulbs give the sense of a sepulchral subway station. Karyn Olivier’s soaring Junglegym is constructed from thin lengths of poplar, and although the ladders and crossbars are too rickety for actual play, the warm-toned, spindly framework contrasts beautifully with the blue-hued daylight pouring in through the windows. Iván Navarro’s Die Again (Monument for Tony Smith), a black, walk-in cube of painted plywood, takes a more claustrophobic tack: From the inside, triangular trick mirrors set into the dark floor repeat to a seemingly endless depth the bright reflection of the white neon strips surrounding them. A voice, accompanied by drumbeats, drones the lyrics of “Nowhere Man”; you may feel you’ve entered a sort of purgatory, because it’s too attenuated to be hell. Whitney Museum at Altria, 120 Park Ave, 917-663-2453. Through Nov 12.
Like refugees from a demented Disneyland, these life-size animatronic sculptures merrily convulse and gibber: the Marquis de Sade (sporting a Howard Stern–like flowing mane) performs self-abuse; George Washington ogles while the decapitated head of Barbara Bush squeaks, “That’s lip-smacking naughty!” In a tableau inspired by the U.S. Navy’s dumping of nuclear waste at sea, a frogman swims amid fluorescent coral, strobe-lit fish, and glowing storage drums emblazoned with radiation symbols. It’s the History Channel on crack. Jack the Pelican, 487 Driggs Ave, Bklyn, 646-644-6756. Through Oct 8.
‘Andy Warhol: Mao’
Even as Nixon journeyed to a summit with China’s leaders, Warhol, inspired by the pageantry of the event, used an official propaganda portrait of Chairman Mao to crank out scores of paintings, including some 15-foot behemoths (although the largest in this show are 50 inches high). Painted in wildly differing palettes, their expressionist strokes occasionally give Mao’s dour countenance a whimiscal twist—perhaps the Communist icon is bemused to find himself the subject of these mechanically reproduced luxury goods. L&M Arts, 45 E 78th, 212-861-0020. Through Oct 7.
‘1968 | 2001’
In the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, apes cavort around a mysterious monolith; one simian violently hurls a bone into the air. That same year saw the first manned orbit of the moon and the release of Planet of the Apes. America’s bicentennial year disgorged Dino De Laurentiis’s cheesy remake of King Kong, featuring the big ape scaling the twin towers. Multimedia artist Matt Marello entwines scenes of discovery and destruction from these films with images of the Apollo 8 astronauts and the ruins and heroism at ground zero, managing to transcend loopy numerological coincidences with wryly poignant juxtapositions. Pierogi, 177 N 9th Street, Bklyn, 718-599-2144. Through Oct 9.