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Painting has endured myriad deaths followed by numerous uneven resurrections, but a visit to just the first section of Jensen’s show will restore even the most apostate video or performance artist’s faith in this art form that predates recorded history. As animated as the shadows in Plato’s cave, these dark paintings are leavened with golden gleams, unfathomably deep violets, and warm cascades of buttery black (Jensen makes his own intensely rich oil paints). Figure and ground are beside the point—we are in an elemental world where light wells up and recedes like the tides. The larger gallery lets loose with chromatic collisions of primary and secondary colors that have been scraped down, repainted, squeegeed, rubbed out—it’s the agony and the ecstasy, and no bullshit.
St. Sebastian (2005–06) has a white blob at its heart, patinated with purple and pierced by thick yellow strokes washed thinly with orange. Our minds reach back to Mantegna, Rubens, the Bible; our eyes are dazzled by luscious pigments and vibrant textures; our bodies sense the physical skill in the artist’s slashing brushwork. Jensen himself has noted, “The matter in the Milky Way is the same as the matter in my elbow.” In between are these paintings.
This Iranian-born painter brings together themes of night visions (both the religious type and those made possible by military reconnaissance goggles) and romanticized revolutionary violence. In the six-foot-high oil Blazing Glory, a white-robed angel’s head explodes into pink shards against an evening sky. Other canvases offer deft passages: drippy black over a green plant bursting with red flowers or pink blobs trailing horizontal drips like comets’ tails. One meticulous drawing features a black nationalist’s huge afro facing off against a mullah’s black turban. Oliver Kamm/5BE, 621 W 27th, 212-255-0979. Through March 17.
The macho abstractions of yore are embodied in these welded steel sculptures from the mid–20th century: rusted hot-water tanks joined to corroded mufflers or draped with weathered, industrial-grade chains stand like comic but vaguely menacing sentinels. Stankiewicz (1922–83) was not afraid to use drain holes for eyes or slap on an exhaust-pipe nose, and 1963’s
Two Tank Figures, shot through with diagonal steel rails and leaning into each other like lurching drunks, combines Dadaist absurdity with blue-collar empathy. Zabriskie, 41 E 57th, 212-752-1223. Through March 10.
Look through a glass door to a living room where a sandcastle has colonized a tabletop—this complex of crenellated walls, turrets, and curving staircases is so large that it continues onto a plywood sheet cantilevered over a chair. The ghostly frames of missing pictures mark the striped wallpaper, though a bucolic lake scene, an oceanscape, and some old-fashioned photographic portraits have been left hanging. The floor is strewn with sand and discarded cigarettes, wine bottles, coffee cups, and take-out food containers, as if some adult has tried to re-create the memory of a wondrous day at the beach in the midst of this curtained, melancholy room. James Cohan, 533 West 26th, 212-714-9500. Through March 17.
Leached of color save for some weepy brown stains, Rekevics’s plaster walls, girders, and beams feel like the forgotten corner of a plaza in some city of tomorrow that got stalled in the poured-concrete frenzy of the sixties. Yet there is a witty interplay between the curving walls and negative spaces of the girders, and the elements, arrayed in sets of three, speak to each other across the open areas of the installation. Artificial lights cast gloomy shadows up the wall and diffuse half-moon shapes onto the floor, a wan contrast of warm and cool. If you have someone you want to break up with, this might be the perfect setting. Lori Bookstein, 37 W 57th, 212-750-0949. Through March 9.
Wallace Berman (1926–76) gathered together a loosely allied group of artists in California and this sprawling show centers on his hand-printed—in editions of a few hundred—free-form poetry journal,
Semina, which he personally distributed among them. Filled with varying typefaces, drug references, photographs, and drawings (including one of highly stylized doggy-style sex, by the occultist Cameron, which garnered Berman an obscenity rap in 1957) it was a Beat howl against the crushing conformity of the Eisenhower years. Also included are Berman’s photographs of many of the other artists and poets, and his collages—an image of Lenny Bruce with a laurel wreath of insect wings juxtaposed with a flailing cop and an Iron Cross is particularly poignant. With works by approximately 50 artists (including photos by Allen Ginsberg, Dennis Hopper, and Dean Stockwell, nylon-stocking assemblages by Bruce Conner, paintings by Jay DeFeo, and films by Toni Basil), this show captures the counterculture in early bud. Grey Art Gallery, 100 Washington Square East, 212-998-6780. Through March 31.