Kusama was a meteor on the ’60s art scene, arriving in New York from Japan, befriending Joseph Cornell, and painting dots and networks of lines on a vast number of surfaces, including furniture, people, animals, and phallic protuberances. She once crashed the Venice Biennale, offering small mirror balls for sale on the lawn outside the Italian pavilion, but was informed by authorities that one cannot “sell art like hot dogs or ice cream cones.” She has a history of hallucinations and stints in mental hospitals but has always continued working, and pieces like The Passing of Winter continue her obsessions: a box tiled with mirrors inside and out is pierced with cut-out circles; look inside and your reflection is bounced around a dizzying matrix of suspended and fallen reflective balls. Five-foot-high canvases hung in tight clusters have been silk-screened with obsessive patterns of repeated faces and braided abstract forms built up from wavy black lines, forming a river of graphic energy. Ladder to Heaven (2006) is threaded with fiber-optic cable that slowly cycles through a spectrum of color; large round mirrors placed top and bottom seem to offer a simple conclusion: Whether you climb to heaven or descend into hell, they are both illusions—all we can be sure of is the material fact of the beautiful object before us.
Polidori’s eye for composition (the blades of a ceiling fan droop like the petals of a dying magnolia, dried mud as thick and cracked as old concrete collapses a bed) and color (black and pink-pastel mold blooms on buckled walls, a framed beach scene of a lighthouse and blue waves lies crookedly across a filthy red recliner) heightens the impact of these photographs of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. These views of ravaged structures bring a disaster of biblical proportions down to human scale by documenting the destruction of the simple, mundane objects that make a house a home. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710. Through Dec 10.
A swatch of red-and-white checked cloth, some crumpled foil, a scrap of paper that has been sanded, blurring the printed image into soft halos of intense color—Beardon (1911–88) employed ephemera to create soulful collages. He wielded scissors like a paintbrush, cutting arms, legs, and other body parts out of different photographs and cobbling them together into lithe figures who populate urban scenes; snippets of brick patterns and alternating strips of gray and white paper form the stoops of world-weary tenements. In a horizontal composition, the differing scales of limbs and heads conjure a bustling street scene, while a skeleton, its rib cage flat as a flounder, lies in the gutter—a piece of visual poetry augmented by the title: Mr. Blues Leaves a Calling Card—You Learned Very Early On That Either Side of the Street Could Be Sunny or Blue. Michael Rosenfeld, 24 W 57th, 212-247-0082. Through Oct 28.
‘Andy Warhol’s Hats’
The Pop master’s sprawling career was grounded in smart illustration. Warhol designed this collection of “marvelous make-believe millinery” for McCall’s in 1958; the cutouts were intended to “transform any holiday get-together—the third-grade room party or the New Year’s Eve dance—into a festive Masked Ball.” Ranging from a jester’s drooping cone painted in a multicolored diamond pattern and trimmed with sleigh bells to a pirate’s hat festooned with crossbones and tied with a dainty red bow, each image is surrounded by rows of black printer’s crosshairs—a foreshadowing of the warts-and-all printing techniques he used later in his “Death and Disaster” silk screens. Like Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Warhol was in fact obsessed with the author), this is a time capsule from a lost New York, seeming at first fey and precious but on reflection filled with tattered insouciance and hard, remorseless edges. Paul Kasmin, 511 W 27th, 212-563-4474. Through Nov 11.
They slouch on a backyard glider. He sports a muscle tee, baggy jeans, and a goatee, and is dozing (or perhaps just closing his mind against a bleak future); she’s a big girl, her pretty face, spit curl dangling, perched on his shoulder. The title of this color photograph is The Pregnancy Test. Other scenes in Verene’s 20-year quest (begun when he was 16) to document the life of his family in economically depressed Galesburg, Illinois, include his cousin wrapping a Christmas gift: Steve Hasn’t Seen His Girls in 14 Years, and a dilapidated house with “WIPE FEET” painted on the door, titled Travis and His Mom and Stepdad Live Here Now. Whether shot in slanting sunlight or by flashbulb or dining-room lamp, these folks seem to be just living their lives when the shutter happens to go off. Alona Kagan, 540 W 29th, 212-560-0670. Through Oct 28.
The five-foot-wide canvas Aesthetic Discomfort Chart (2005–06) includes cut-away anatomical models with word balloons pointing to various regions: The groin gets “Ballbreaking of Feminist Art,” the bowels “Throbbing pain in rectum of Greenbergian formalism.” Munk himself could be termed a “Flo-Chart Expressionist”—his maps of Manhattan and Williamsburg are painted in thick, clashing oils and explicate, through arrows and overlapping captions, the history of “Art’s Town” by pinpointing various artists’ studios. Yes, Pat Steir is still over on 26th Street, but I didn’t know that the lesser-known second-generation abstract expressionist Ernest Briggs once lived there as well. Munk’s obsessions take the New York School back to school. Dam, Stuhltrager, 38 Marcy Ave, Bklyn, 718-387-9818. Through Nov 13.
While grabbing some six-packs in a Miami dive, Hunter Thompson once spied “a ruined platinum-blonde Cuban dazzler” haranguing her cheapskate date. Michael Eastman’s large (some are over six feet tall) color photographs of Havana’s once grand mansions capture that same sense of faded glory and lost riches. Now paint sags from soaring ceilings ringed by battered plaster molding; a tarnished chandelier seems to sob crystal tears over a vast room furnished with drying laundry strung above two tattered easy chairs. Yet even as the tropical light reveals every chip in a marble staircase and stain on a wall, it also saturates the pastel colors of the elegant archways, imbuing these images with a grande dame’s dignified beauty. Claire Oliver, 513 W 26th, 212-929-5949. Through Nov 11.