There is a cinematic thrill to the jump-cutting between five centuries of imagery in this splendid, sprawling show, as if the Guggenheim’s vertiginous spiral is now an IMAX screen. Here’s Goya’s unsparing 1812 meditation on violent death—a sheep’s carcass, all red and white diagonals of ribs and meat beside the baleful, skinned head. Nearby is a 1939 Picasso, chockablock with bloody sheep’s skulls stacked like cannonballs, an apt metaphor for Europe’s just-declared war. Painters have always stolen from their predecessors (one early Velazquez of diners at a still-life-laden table nabs everything but the kitchen sink from Caravaggio), and this exhibition’s simplest pleasures come from watching modern mavericks advance pictorial forms by joyfully ransacking old masters. But as good as Miro, Gris, and Picasso are (plus Dali, who comes off here as inquisitorially dark and serious instead of bleatingly melodramatic), they can’t outdistance El Greco. His
Adoration of the Name of Jesus includes distant crowd scenes, full-length shots of rapturous saints, and portraits of nobles bathed in bolts of orange light amid roiling skies, with wildly painted red cloaks and abstract slabs of black leading the eye to a gargantuan shark gorging upon the damned. The Greek beat Spielberg by 400 years.
‘The Building Show’
Featuring more than two-dozen artists, this exhibition channels the public’s love-hate affair with architectural design. Heidi Neilson’s sundial drawings document the long shadow the Citibank tower casts over Long Island City, both literally and metaphorically, as more artists are forced out of yet another rapidly gentrifying area. Emily Katrencik’s curtain of lollipops (made with flakes of “food-grade marble similar to the calcium used in vitamin supplements”—who knew?) is an homage to 2 Columbus Circle, known derisively as the “Lollipop Building.” Tim Spelios constructed his
Leaning Tower of Bass Drums as a tribute to what he terms “the well-deserved screw you to gravity” manifested by the leaning tower of Pisa. Seth Weiner’s life-size reconstruction of Ted Kaczynski’s tiny, rough-hewn cabin sits atop powerful speakers, causing the Unabomber’s abode to shake from a synthesized recording of the words of another famous American hermit, Henry David Thoreau. Exit Art, 475 Tenth Avenue, 212-966-7745. Through March 31.
Like an Ikea store gone goth, this dimly lit group of sculptures juxtaposes brass lamps and room-divider-style golden screens with massive curvilinear frames that mimic skeletal insect wings. The “Love me Knot” series suspends various animal skulls—crocodile, wolf, Siberian tiger—inside bags of braided wires, where they engage in jaw-clamping battle with human counterparts. This mix of polished home furnishings with bones and bugs lands the viewer inside a Brobdingnagian spider’s parlor. Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th, 212-206-9100. Through March 24.
‘High Times, Hard Times’
Lynda Benglis’s Blatt (1969) lies on the floor like a massive novelty vomit. A gelatinous, 10-foot-wide slab of poured latex, its edges are shriveled, its bright rivulets of color diminished by the grime of time. Yet the gesture—taking painting off the wall, and indeed removing any sort of canvas or traditional support at all—captures the power of this show, which features 37 New York painters who worked during the hard-scrabble years of the late ’60s to mid-’70s. (A 1974 photo in the catalog depicts West Broadway in all its glorious decrepitude, before the ’80s gallery explosion and today’s pricey boutiques.) These artists grappled with abstraction’s past by going optical (as in Roy Colmer’s 102, which vibrates with contrasting stripes) or by seeking out new materials that worked as both content and supporting ground (Harmony Hammond salvaged knit fabrics from local dumpsters to make braided floor pieces). In 1967, Carolee Schneemann literally threw herself into her work, slathering paste onto her naked body and then rolling amid strips of paper. The tatters hang off her like flayed skin, a reference to the Vietnam War, but she is also clearly reveling in pure physicality as she dives, kicks, and struts. This three-and-a-half-minute video captures both the anger and the exhilaration of that period of feminist ferment.
National Academy Museum, 1083 Fifth Avenue, 212-369-4880. Through April 22.
This Lebanese-born artist was 15 when Israel invaded Beirut, and he took black-and-white photos of the battles, soldiers, and weapons. These large digital prints from those 1982 negatives are so filled with scratches and color blotches that a fighter jet high in the sky is almost lost amid the visual noise, while an image of Israeli soldiers relaxing in the shadow of their tank takes on the feel of a battered family snapshot. On the opposite wall are prints featuring bullet-scarred buildings festooned with variously colored dots, which represent the international arms suppliers who produced each type of ammunition. Paula Cooper, 521 W 21st, 212-255-1105. Through March 24.
‘Paul Jenkins in the Fifties’
If at first you feel overwhelmed by a surfeit of painterly technique—energetic pouring, dripping, and staining amid wet-into-wet coagulations—take the time to find the raw beauty in a work such as
Black Dahlia (1956). At its center is a round maw of red and white surrounded by undulating curtains of blue and ochre; thin washes of drips spread and bend at angles like coral, dark swathes meld into yellow flares. This is nature—omnipresent, yet elusive—distilled down to pigment on canvas with bravura grace. D. Wigmore, 22 E 76th, 212-794-2128. Through April 14.