Although he used such brutish tools as chainsaws, screw jacks, and acetylene torches, Matta-Clark (1943–78) had a surpassingly sensitive feel for the decrepit buildings, empty beer bottles (he once used a kiln to recycle discarded bottles into translucent bricks), and other forlorn materials that make up his sculptures. A four-bedroom house he’d sawn down the middle and gently split apart was described by the artist as “the perfect dance partner.” In 1974, he cut eight 9 x 5 foot slabs out of an abandoned Niagara Falls beauty parlor and the three remaining fragments are painterly wonders: The exterior sides feature faded red shingles punctuated by the white geometries of door and window frames; the interior faces present a sawed-off staircase zigzagging down one scarred green wall while truncated floor joists beat a dark, staccato rhythm across the cracked white plaster of another. Photographic collages of the massive arcs, teardrops, and cones Matta-Clark cut through walls, floors, and ceilings document the lyrical spaces he constructed through selective demolition. Edged with colorful crazy quilts of sheared-off linoleum, wallpaper, and lumber, these voids achieved anarchic beauty amid urban blight.
At first glance, Ruins (2007) looks like a weathered medieval wall with blunted crenellations and broken arches. But the squarish gray stones are actually
Time, Life, and National Geographic magazines that have been glued together and then sanded with an industrial grinder. Flecks of bright color and portions of text and photographs are sometimes visible on the ravaged surfaces; when a section of bar code or the shifting garishness of a printed hologram snaps into focus, you may get a prescient glimpse of the garbled remains of our empire. Zach Feuer, 530 W 24th, 212-989-7700. Through April 7.
Le porte-manteau, which this Belgian modernist (1860–1949) painted when he was 16, owes a debt to the palette-knifed realism of Courbet, even if the almost abstract swipes of red and black take a few moments to coalesce into hanging coats.
Duel des masques (1892–96) features not only Ensor’s signature mask motif but also impressionist brushwork, the seven figures deftly daubed in pinks and reds over a darker, contrasting landscape. Although all are dressed like clownish revelers, one figure lies prone (dead?) and another kneels (praying?). Other scenes envision masked characters contemplating a row of playing cards or closely regarding a tortoise. Ensor’s magic comes from his ability to impart baroque emotions through colorful, grotesque facades. Additionally, the catalog includes the artist’s 1926 answers to the “Proust Questionnaire,” including ”
How I would like to die: Like a flea crushed on the white breast of a virgin.” Peter Freeman, 560 Broadway, 212-966-5154. Through May 12.
High-school football players practice within a short jog of the cooling towers of a massive power plant; the same concrete behemoths loom directly over closely packed suburban yards. Epstein’s large-scale color photographs capture the visceral reality of our insatiable need for energy and its fraught intersections with daily life. A shot from the base of two enormous smokestacks is composed so that the belching emissions cascade down the wall like gray, upside-down tornados, a hellish evocation of the particulate matter that rains upon us daily. Sikkema Jenkins, 530 W 22nd, 212-929-2262. Through April 7.
Although his images of lions attacking horses can feel overwrought, Stubbs’s formal portraits of the prize livestock and thoroughbreds owned by England’s landed gentry are bucolic dramas of earth and beasts bent to human will. Five Hounds in a Landscape (1762) features a dark meadow with a row of white dogs in the foreground, their tails curled as precisely as teacup handles, their fur illuminated as if by heavenly Klieg lights. The X-shaped composition of Otho, with John Larkin Up locks a horse’s head, distant steeple, shed roof, and jockey’s foot into a chiaroscuro matrix of nature, God, and man. The Frick Collection, 1 E 70th, 212-288-0700. Through May 27.
The Transylvanian-born Dezsö has embroidered dozens of her mother’s sayings and arrayed them along the close-set walls of a maze-like corridor. Each of these small pieces includes neatly stitched diagrams and begins with the statement “My mother claimed that . . . ” followed by such homilies as “. . . you should not hold back your bowel movement or else the feces will come out through your mouth” and ” . . . my sister was a rubber accident.” The latter image includes a blue condom surrounded by beaded spermatozoa with wriggling metallic-thread tails. Such homey and intimate details recall Philip Larkin’s pithy lament: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”
Hungarian Cultural Center, 447 Broadway, 212-750-4450. Through April 13.