Precursors to Japan’s huge manga industry, ehon (literally, “picture books”) were first published circa A.D. 770 by an empress attempting to encourage Buddhist piety among her subjects with 1 million pictographic prayer scrolls. More than 12 centuries later, Takashi Murakami, maestro of Japan’s world-girdling pop culture, created Gaudy Tawdry (2003), a book of saccharine-hued, gape-mouthed smiley flowers. In the interim, Mori Ransai offered, with twisting flares of ink (exquisitely reproduced through sensitive gradations in the woodblock printing process), his studies of bamboo leaves and orchid grass (circa 1782). Artists and printers alike experimented with pigments, in one instance (circa 1604) combining mica and a binding agent to create a shiny full moon on blue paper. In Map (1965), Kawada Kikuji joined a stark black graphic of the Rising Sun flag with photographs of the radiating struts of Hiroshima’s Industrial Promotions Hall dome (one of the few structures left standing after the atomic bomb), conveying both Japan’s World War II militarism and her grief in one volume.
There had been 2,764 American soldiers killed in Iraq when this former Soviet soldier finished his monumental (12 x 9 foot) ballpoint-pen drawing of George W. Bush as Bible-spouting preacher, the presidential bully pulpit now a fundamentalist altar. This same number of spent Bics lies in a plexiglass coffin in front of the piece. Nearby, a low white shelf is provided for the pen-scrawled graffiti of visitors; some praise the work, others defend Bush, one simply exhorts, “Fuck Don’t Fight.”
Daneyal Mahmood, 511 W 25th, 212-675-2966. Through December 23.
Thickly textured oil paint and layers of abstract patterning overlaid with images of animals, plants, and insects give Newsome’s eight-foot-wide canvases an energetic edge. Bright red grounds battle for the viewer’s attention with white skulls and magenta roses in Allegory of Nations, as do fang-baring bats and orange Bird of Paradise flowers in Final Settlement. The wing-splayed dragonfly at the center of Rest in Peace (2005–06) forms a midnight-blue crucifixion, attended by fat, lemon-yellow spiders eager to partake of the spoils.
Mike Weiss, 520 W 24th, 212-691-6899. Through December 30.
The World of Tomorrow (2006) recalls the glittering spires and massive domes of the covers of Depression-era sci-fi pulps, though Edwards paints them in thin, ghostly oils, as if their promised utopia is an ever receding mirage. Other canvases feature robots and bionic humans strolling broad boulevards; transparent towers and stacked-up bungalows in the distance lie under skies filled with text and cryptic symbols.
Greenberg Van Doren, 730 Fifth Avenue, 212-455-0444. Through January 12.
These large paintings of tattoo artists who use their own bodies as canvases display swathes of skin buried under Queequeg-esque geometries, bursting flowers, colorful butterflies, and death’s heads. A revolver angles across one man’s stomach, the weapon eternally tucked into his waistband. These images of body artists and their handiwork are hyperrealist; the tiny dagger piercing a distended nipple may cause the sensitive viewer to wince.
Stellan Holm, 524 W 24th, 212-627-7444. Through December 22.
The Pop-meister revisits his favorite theme—death—in these late works, filling Gagosian’s Chelsea warehouse. A gorgeously amorphous, 16-foot-wide “Shadow” painting looms from the wall, a scythe of black appearing to slowly devour a broad expanse of yellow. An even more massive canvas features the Last Supper festooned with the logos of major corporations. Much smaller, but equally powerful, are four pink negative images of Marilyn Monroe’s face on a black ground, the sad icon reduced to femininity’s most obvious color, sealed in a dark tomb.
Gagosian Gallery, 555 W 24th, 212-741-1111. Through December 22.
Adrian Piper, Eric Baudelaire, Josephine Meckseper, Wayne Gonzales
Four different takes on the world since 9-11: Piper roughly erases faces in photographs and replaces them with the phrase “Everything will be taken away”; Meckseper contributes visceral shots of burning shopping carts during a Berlin riot; Baudelaire’s staged 7 x 12 foot photographic diptych gives clichés of war—a dead child, beseeching women, stoic warriors—dramatic relevance; and Gonzales emulates old-school graphics to skewer our political leaders, as in a coarsely screened Bush swathed in flags the color of bloody bandages. Elizabeth Dee, 545 W 20th, 212-924-7545. Through December 23.
James O. Clark
Sharing a name with the toilet-plunger-shaped, time-shifting aliens of Slaughterhouse Five, Clark’s Tralfamadorian (2006) is scintillating in its raw conveyance of space and force. Two small magnets attached to five-foot strands of brightly glowing blue electroluminescent wire—one stretched from the ceiling, the other from the floor—strain to touch each other; less than an inch separates them at the end of their tethers, a tiny interval charged literally (and emotionally) with primal attraction.
Elizabeth Harris, 529 W 20th, 212-463-9666. Through December 22.