On entering this dimly lit gallery you are greeted by a teetering wooden totem of rectangular blocks topped with a classical head; a realistic nude man, likewise carved from wood, complements these references to Brancusi’s sculptures and Michelangelo’s David. Between them lies an overcoat, the words “I like Africa and Africa likes me” written across the back, recalling a shamanistic 1974 performance in which the German conceptualist Joseph Beuys tussled with a live coyote amid scattered copies of the Wall Street Journal. On the floor, On the floor, boards cut roughly in the shape of a woman and a child lie flat like toppled tombstones; they are separated by a hollow figure constructed of matchsticks that casts a towering shadow, which is echoed by a cross-hatched charcoal drawing looming on the opposite wall. Mpane’s shadow-play, while dense with tragic allusions—a wooden cross reads “Congo–1885,” the year the European powers met in Berlin to carve Africa into colonial chunks—also projects a rough beauty. A separate series of strong paintings deftly captures the flickering light of a campfire as it turns faces and figures into visceral slabs of color. Skoto Gallery, 529 West 20th Street. Through January 27
Sin City’s crass vibrance courses through the confectionery textures and candy colors of these paintings, selected by the maverick Las Vegas–based critic Dave Hickey. Bright disks of acrylic, ranging in size from nickel to pancake, are arrayed in cartoonish loops and swirls across contrasting grounds. They exude a carnival-esque energy akin to a glitzy 24/7 casino— a lot of fun, even if you’re not sure whether it’s night or day. Cue, 511 W 25th, 212-206-3583. Through January 27.
Skid Chains on Your Tongue (2000), the words spelled out by Suzanne McClelland in gracefully vigorous bubble letters, calls across the gallery to Lee Lozano’s Let Them Eat Cock, one of the maniacally bawdy drawing/text pieces she pioneered in the ’60s. On another wall hangs Ilya Kabakov’s four drawings of a man standing stoically under a showerhead that sprays out the blue profile of a woman; a nearby vitrine features blue ball-point pen drawings of fantastical architecture by Eugene von Bruenchenhein. This sprawling group show ranges from the scarily obsessive to the sublimely beautiful; some works, such as the densely interwoven, mandala-like patterns of Eugene Andolsek, combine both. Ronald Feldman, 31 Mercer, 212-226-3232. Through February 3.
Brent Green: ‘Paulina Hollers’
Using elongated figures sculpted from detritus or drawn with Sharpies on plates of glass, Green’s stop-motion animation channels The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari‘s vertiginous sets, Tim Burton’s gothic ambience, and Dr. Seuss’s creepy ebullience to tell the tale of an unpleasant dead boy, the suicide of his mother and their journey through Hell, accompanied by a cacophonous soundtrack of overlapping voices and music. Often the plate edges and Scotch tape are visible amid the fluctuating lighting, but this DIY Dante spins one grotesquely compelling yarn. Bellwether, 134 Tenth Avenue, 212-929-5959. Through February 3.
‘Pieces of a City’
A street stripe zooms up Robert Frank’s 1948 composition to meld with the sky between buildings; two mini-skirted women stare apprehensively, and a bit bemusedly, through a cafe window into Garry Winograd’s lens; “I need” is plaintively chalked across dirty bricks in a 1955 William Klein shot. These pictures by 12 prominent photographers (all taken between 1938 and 1972) share a matter-of-fact grittiness, and capture a Gotham that remains at its most bewitching in black and white. Tibor de Nagy, 724 Fifth Avenue, 212-262-5050. Through February 3.
Pools of blood, decapitations, preserved carcasses—curated with mordant wit, this group exhibit is perfect for curing those post-holiday blues. A photograph of a nude man wearing a bull’s head, taken in a slaughterhouse, recalls Picasso’s randy minotaurs while visually hooking up with a nearby mutant animal sculpted from shredded tires. Closets heaped with amputated elephants’ feet and drawers of stuffed birds are left open in the behind-the-scenes photos taken at the Museum of Natural History; a series of “American Raptors,” painted in black tempera on paper grocery bags, conflates nature’s claws and sharp beaks with our much lazier methods of procuring food. Daneyal Mahmood, 511 W 25th, 212-675-2966. Through February 3.
At first glance, this looks to be a group show of misfit abstractions, but then the fuzzy blotches of gray and ocher , the rough black contours that haltingly allude to nature, and the thin chromatic washes over thick clots of pigment coalesce—against all odds— into startlingly coherent loveliness. This gathering of 19 small oil paintings is all about the pure pleasure of form and color adulterated by the brutal struggle to express it. Elizabeth Harris, 529 W 20th, 212-463-9666. Through February 3.