To Eire Is Human

“In the mid-sixties, I was broke,” begins Brian O’Doherty, in three typewritten pages displayed near what appears to be an art history tome. Then he’s off to the races, recounting a hilarious scheme to dodge repaying a $1,500 advance for a book of art criticism he’d been hired to write during those lean years, but failed to hand in. Although already well known for his writing and theories, the Ireland-born O’Doherty had also been making art for years, and was working on his first New York gallery exhibition, under the nom de studio Patrick Ireland. He discovered he couldn’t reconcile “going from the private workbench out onto the balcony to speak to the multitude below,” and the book died after a 90-page draft. As the years and increasingly demanding letters from the publisher’s lawyer piled up, O’Doherty donned his beret and had a roughly 8 x 11 x 2-inch wooden block milled into the shape of a book. Next he added to the cover a facsimile of an Ad Reinhardt (whom, he informs us, art-book publishers considered “a poor risk on the mass market, since all his pictures were black and looked much the same”), stenciled “Art Since 1945 / O’Doherty” on the spine, and, with assists from astute counsel and a wealthy collector, beat his debt. The septuagenarian O’Doherty has been switching hats for more than half a century now, and this retrospective brims with abstraction, figuration, conceptual work, film, and drawings. It also includes a lovely rope installation that torques the gallery space with classical aplomb, and, on the whole, exudes more moxie than McSorley’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

Ed Paschke

Through meticulously stippled brushwork, Paschke (1939–2004) achieved the look of a grainy TV close-up for the polyracial, oval face featured in each of these four large paintings. The subject’s pale skin absorbs the color of its background, a chameleon in red, brown, green, and blue, and is tattooed with contrasting religious and ideological symbols—a Star of David on one cheek turns into a crescent and star on the other. But in these canvases from 1991, Paschke conjured less a cloying, we-are-the-world poster child than a prescient personification of the cultural mash-up that was just beginning to thunder down the nascent information superhighway. Franklin Parrasch, 20 W 57th, 212-246-5360. Through May 19.

Mark Wyse, Gordon Terry, Alexander Lee

Within the stretch of about 30 paces, three artists in three separate galleries form a strong (if unintentional) ménage. The Los Angeles–based Wyse (Wallspace, 619 W 27th, 212-594-9478) photographs the seams where life ripens into rot. In Tangle (2006), plump orange berries and juicy green stalks mingle with desiccated brown husks. Additional images—riotous vegetation engulfing cinderblock fences; a dented silver station wagon; the raw, red eruption from the mouth of a roadkill rodent—combine to capture Tinseltown’s dissolute Eden. Terry’s paintings (next door at ATM, 619b W 27th, 212-375-0349) are as black as the La Brea Tar Pits, his darkly reflective acrylic grounds supporting abstract blooms that, like oil mixed with water, pool into discrete webs and runnels of color. Titles such as Mr. Iboga, Mysterious Crop Formations, and the Approach of 2012 (when the Mayan calendar prophesizes the end of the world) give the work the feeling of a drive-in theater showing trailers for the apocalypse. A few steps away (Clementine, 623 W 27th, 212-243-5937), Lee’s massive installation of blackened, glittery heaps studded with seared human limbs and scorched fish is a take on his native Tahiti’s volcanic creation myth. Like a charging tsunami, molded plywood waves curve up to the ceiling, perhaps a promise of cleansing destruction. This threesome of death, regeneration, and spectacle makes for the perfect springtime stroll. Through May 26.

Jacob Lawrence

Five beautiful tempera-and-gouache paintings by one of America’s best are currently on display in the Met’s modern wing. Ranging from domestic scenes (a Harlem street photographer’s flash is a triangle of beige daggers, echoed by his yellow tripod) to historical narratives (Washington and his men struggle across the Delaware while waves as sharp as bayonets clutch at their low-riding boats), all are punctuated by vibrant circles, squares, and angles that resonate like cymbal crashes. Whether depicting blue octagons filled with nails in a cramped cobbler’s shop or pink cue sticks zigzagging through a smoky pool parlor, Lawrence (1917-–2000) allied graphic simplicity with masterful compositions to convey his self-described “observations of the human condition.” The Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710. Ongoing.

Takashi Murakami

The Japanese pop maestro has eschewed his bubbly anime knockoffs for portraits of Daruma, an Indian sage who legendarily attained Buddhist enlightenment when he sat unmoving and unblinking for nine years, during which time his legs and arms atrophied and fell off. Murakami uses platinum and gold leaf as grounds for large paintings of Daruma’s broad brown visage; the eyes are made from concentric, fluorescent circles shaded by Benday screens, which lends them a faraway, unseeing stare. The finishes recall the obsessive perfectionism of Jeff Koons; each element in the huge faces is outlined meticulously in acrylic, a marriage of Warhol’s celebrity portraits and classic Hokusai woodblock prints. One head sits atop fat drips of bright primaries, as if its dark ordeal has led to an ele- mental flow of beauty. From an artist who has perversely said of his cuter creations, “I express hopelessness,” these vivid works are weirdly inviting. Gagosian, 980 Madison, 212-744-2313. Through June 9.

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