Independent curator Donna Harkavy and legendary East Village gallerist Gracie Mansion have brought together 40-plus works exploring transience and transformation. First comes a picture of Nixon secretary Rosemary Woods, in a 1973 issue of Time magazine, re-enacting her “accidental” erasure of a Watergate tape. A nearby color video documents Oscar Muñoz’s attempts to paint his self-portrait in water on a hot stone, his visage endlessly dissipating before its completion. Ann Hamilton uses saliva, Pink Pearl erasers, and grinding labor to eradicate the complete texts of five books, leaving the gutters between pages clogged with scraggly gray crumbs of rubber. Robin Clark employs a similar strategy of negation, but his careful and selective scraping of pigment from American currency creates such phrases as “I am God,” with only flourishes of decorative borders intact. Tiny test tubes filled with infinitesimal flecks of printer’s ink flank each greenback, creating fascinating case studies in commerce: Clark has destroyed the original purpose of these paper rectangles and pushed them into a realm more conceptual and ethereal than any creative impulse—the art market. Now only God (and perhaps Sotheby’s) will know their true value.
A rainbow arcs across a bed, and a pyramid abuts a pillow; a few lonely figures are dwarfed by a cityscape where the teeth in dental charts provide windows; a businessman hefts a bundle of question marks, hugging them to his chest like an oversize infant; a Paris métro map becomes a writhing, Miro-style abstraction. This collection of drawings (and a few mixed-media constructions) from the 1950s–80s reconfirms Steinberg’s status as the master of existential charm.
Adam Baumgold, 74 E 79th, 212-861-7338. Through Feb 10.
Part of a group show titled simply “Abstract,” Allen’s small pieces are layered both literally and metaphorically. The top and bottom edges of each painting are heaped with gobs of oil paint; the center plane is scraped and sometimes sanded down to the wood-panel ground, leaving ghosts of earlier colors. Allen then paints in lithe, bouncy contours and adds shading to imply volume. Finally come evocative titles such as Dubious Plan (2006), which features a legion of ovoid-winged triangles marching toward the viewer like a clumsy army. Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 W 26th, 212-744-7400. Through Jan 6.
Two chipper, pendulously pregnant women with small, never-too-rich-or-thin breasts beneath casually stylish clothes epitomize an overripe wholesomeness that elsewhere among these sumptuous oil paintings erupts into porn—2006’s Rotterdam features an engorged scrotum as taut and shiny as a baby’s bald head. An image of the artist’s young son with that downward stare of a fresh brain struggling to understand some new mystery is another puzzle piece in a show in which innocence is shadowed by decadence. Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave, 212-744-2313. Through Dec 22.
Sandback uses a profoundly simple device—colored yarn stretched from floor to ceiling—to create vibrating slices of space. Named in homage to Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie fairly dances as the viewer circles the vertical striations of red, yellow, and blue, which entwine, separate, and then merge again in ever shifting combinations—an elegant powerhouse conjured from the humblest of materials. David Zwirner, 525 W 19th, 212-727-2072. Through Dec 22.
‘Masterpieces of European Painting’
A typically thrilling Caravaggio is among these 14 works on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art; the baroque master’s Crucifixion of St. Anthony (1606–07) is all straining muscle, anguished expression, interlacing diagonals, and theatrical shadow—Cinemascope for the 17th century. Andrea del Sarto’s unfinished Sacrifice of Isaac offers sketchy animals and the pentimenti of reworked angels in an aqua sky, providing insight into Renaissance working methods. Frick Collection, 1 E 70th, 212-288-0700. Through Jan 28.
Casino Rooftop, Asbury Park, NJ (2004), with its slabs of smudgy orange and drippy black accents, initially registers as a thrift store impressionist painting. Closer inspection reveals it to be a photograph of a decrepit building slathered with industrial fireproofing and tar, slender weeds growing from brackish puddles on the roof. Other equally beguiling images include the long, bright trails made by lanterns carried through a chilly Swiss fog and a towering Soviet statue gilded by the setting sun. 535 W 22nd, 646-230-9610. Through Jan 27.
Trevor Paglen: ‘Black World’
Like Mulder and Sculley hotly pursuing an X-file, Paglen uses telescopic cameras in his quest to document way stations along the CIA’s worldwide “extraordinary rendition” routes. In one video shot from 20 miles away, heat waves blur an unmarked plane taxiing through a secret Nevada installation; a different surveillance tape exposes woeful fitness standards among our clandestine operatives—bureaucrats deplaning in Vegas are a veritable parade of jiggling man tits and parabolic guts. Also displayed are documents from a CIA front company, which reveal laughable variations in the same corporate officer’s signature, and a collection of secret-military-service insignia patches featuring a motto cribbed from the depraved Roman emperor Caligula: “Let them hate, so long as they fear.” Bellwether, 134 Tenth Ave, 212-929-5959. Through Dec 23.