Numbers by Painting


All is white—the walls, ceilings, floors, and doors—punctuated only by several gray-flecked, widely spaced vertical canvases and 24 black-and-white photographs of a man’s aging face and ever-whitening hair. A recorded voice intones deeply, although the adagio rhythm of the syllables hovers beyond the edge of understanding for your typically monolingual American, who may think she’s landed in limbo and is finally hearing the Latin judgment the nuns at school had warned about. But no, this is more down to earth: A closer look reveals that the canvases are covered, left to right, top to bottom, by white numbers, roughly a quarter inch high. The ridges of paint are raised slightly off the bleached background, which helps reveal that the integers are in sequence (5,210,331 to 5,226,270, in one case). The photos are part of a series begun in 1968, when, three years into his project, the then 37-year-old Opalka began shooting one photograph of himself after each number-painting session. A video documents the now 75-year-old artist, dressed in white, slowly intoning each number in Polish as he paints it onto the surface. The first canvas was on a black background, numbers 1–35,327, and is now owned by the Lodz Museum in Poland. In 1972, when he reached 1,000,000, Opalka began adding white to the dark background paint in 1 percent increments. He once thought he might reach 7,777,777; later calculations determined that he will not. Still, the museum has placed a reserve on his last painting, to hang with the first—whatever that final number turns out to be, it will mean the artist has taken his final step into the light.

Aaron Johnson

Hybrids of the id, Johnson’s monsters are collaged from pictures of rolled cold cuts and human and animal body parts. These nightmares range across his large paintings like walking, exposed intestines, bloated and veined with psychedelic colors. Add op-art-ish backgrounds and rainbow splatters, and the horror vacui sensation is akin to Bosch’s overpopulated Hell or underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson’s warring pirates, whose faces erupt into grape-shot coagulations even as they engage in drooling copulations. Be sure to take a gander at the back of the painting suspended from the ceiling to more fully appreciate the formal rigor underpinning Johnson’s lovely abominations. Priska C. Juschka, 547 W 27th, 212-244-4320. Through June 16.

Peter Fischli and David Weiss

A violin provides the tense fulcrum of a teetering Rube Goldberg–like assemblage, which includes a bicycle wheel, crate, bungee strap, whisk broom, and bent rod. The violin strains against the strap, which pulls the rod into a taut and graceful curve. These 80 photographs of various objects in ragged equilibrium (check out the clay vase as capstone between two rough boards wedged in a doorframe) led to this Swiss duo’s 1987 film The Way Things Go, which chronicles a marvelous chain reaction of rocking levers, rolling tires, spinning trash bags, and other kinetic detritus. Also on view is Making Things Go, a video documenting the artists in their studio, a place that feels like a shabby, life-size version of the game Mousetrap. Matthew Marks, 523 W 24th, 212-243-0200. Through June 30.

Jeffrey Gibson and James Lavadour

These two painters are part of a multimedia show of landscapes by Native Americans, situated in the Beaux-Arts splendor of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. Gibson’s images of lush, humid nature overlaid with garish webs of intricately textured silicone present visions of pungent swamps choked by beaded trinkets. Like broken layers of sediment, Lavadour’s roughly scraped surfaces evoke the vast, weathered reaches of the Northwest (he lives and works in Oregon). The upward strokes of white in Silver Light (2006) capture mist caught between an ocher sky and rocky brown ridges, an ephemeral equipoise of the elements. National Museum of the American Indian, 1 Bowling Green, 212-514-3700. Through September 3.

Martin Klimas

Cut-rate porcelain figurines hit the ground and shatter, the moment forever frozen in photographs Klimas refers to as “temporary sculpture.” Fast strobe lights, triggered by the sounds of the cracking clay, capture the hollow thigh of a kung-fu fighter’s exploding leg; his grimacing head remains intact, contrasting another shot in which a girl’s cherubic face disintegrates into three rosy shards. One uniformed figure, right arm rigidly splayed, head spun to the left, legs crumbling to dust, uncannily recalls Robert Capa’s famous photo of a falling Spanish Loyalist militiaman. Such pathos from such cheap tchotchkes. Foley, 547 W 27th, 212-244-9081. Through June 16.

Clive Murphy

Outlining a jagged mountain range, recording tape has been threaded through spools mounted on the wall. Looping through a cassette player—opened up to expose its gears and magnetic heads—the lo-fi tape plays a desultory piece of house music; in this iPod epoch, the analog mechanics feel as cumbersome as a Victrola. Elsewhere, words have been burned into the wall in forced perspective, as if an old-school Times Square lightbulb marquee has flamed out; it takes a moment to discern “Asian Tit Fucking” from the grid of wispy scorches. Murphy’s mix of past forms and degraded data is a succinct take on our “too much information” age. Magnan Projects, 317 Tenth Avenue, 212-244-2344. Through June 16.