According to his bio from “Little Boy,” the 2005 breakout exhibition of young Japanese artists, Mr. (né Masakatsu Iwamoto) is a “genuine ‘lolicom’ (Japanese shorthand for ‘Lolita complex,’ and those possessing it).” Hence, the saucer-eyed nymphets bounding across the 24-foot-wide canvas Ah, Akihabara (2007). In bonnets, waitress uniforms, knee socks, and witch’s regalia, these gamines cavort through Tokyo’s bustling anime- and manga-obsessed otaku district. Should the occasional panty- exposing tumble feel more prurient than it does here? If not, a series of smaller, vertical paintings in which cartoonish lasses lift their tops, preen in French-maid outfits, or are simply nude and framed by hairless thighs and scrotum, fit the bill, even while Mr.’s spermatozoa-like signature implies a masturbatory distance from his fantasy objects. Elsewhere, he ventures directly into the mind of a Humbert Humbertian dream-—Strawberry Voice is a massive sculpture of a disembodied head with pontoon-size red pigtails and an eye propped open like a hatch, exposing a dollhouse interior of pink-patterned fabrics and plush toys. Mr.’s pop-art colors, sleek finishes, and witty, manga-inspired compositions coolly complement such fanboy fevers.
It’s fascinating to see these paintings in a setting where Rauch’s myriad influences can be studied up close: The figures and thrusting, ivy-covered wall of 2007’s Waiting for the Barbarians echo the hikers and rich, contrasting landscape in Balthus’s The Mountain (1936), which is directly downstairs in the Met’s permanent collection. Rauch’s characters are dream folk, one with rubbery, cartoon hands, others melding into each other like freak-show twins. These images move beyond stock surrealism, with slabs and washes of color that cause the backgrounds to oscillate between realism—or, considering Rauch’s East German youth, socialist realism—and vibrant abstraction. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710. Through September 23
What manner of fish lies here, dead and decaying? All that remains is a tooth-studded jaw attached to a gelatinous slab of thick, white skin, which sprawls like a discarded overcoat across jagged rhombuses of breaking ice. The guts are gone—a fishermen’s catch? A polar bear’s meal? Or a victim of unknown forces originating at the other end of the world? This huge resin sculpture covers the gallery’s entire floor, and its mix of desiccated, bleached curves against rich blue geometries of cracking ice achieves a desolate beauty. James Cohan, 533 W 26th, 212-714-9500. Through June 30.
Whether photographing a bullet-pocked washing machine or a Philadelphia crack addict firing up, Strauss is a born composer. She crops a jowly, frowning woman at the forehead, mirroring her stained T-shirt, which sports a teddy bear cut off at the chin; colorful mattresses propped against a barbed-wire-topped fence anchor an armada of pastel balloons. Strauss conveys more sympathy than schadenfreude in these images of down-and-outers, and her eye for the absurd urban moment (“Victory Annex” spelled out in large, uneven letters across a dilapidated building) brings genuine pathos to harsh stretches of asphalt. Silverstein, 535 W 24th, 212-627-3930. Through June 23.
Jack Kirby’s ‘Fourth World’
Even if you’ve never read a comic book, you can’t escape this four-color Wagnerian’s gravitational pull. With writer Stan Lee, Kirby gave us the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and other eternal denizens of the multiplex and syndicated TV. In 1970, at age 53, he began writing, drawing, and editing a group of interlinked series, which have been gathered together in an omnibus edition. The Forever People, Mr Miracle–Escape Artist, and—”King” Kirby never lacked ambition—The New Gods feature kinetic page layouts in which dynamically foreshortened antagonists hurl each other across galaxies, networks of steel divide the panels, Day-Glo pinks enliven hippie-inspired costumes, and coarse-screened collages chart multidimensional byways. Although the plots offer some pulp clichés—no matter how cataclysmic the day’s events, we know “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen,” will somehow pull through—this sprawling epic brims with prescient references to cloning and personal computers, plus a suicide bomber chillingly named “Justifier.” Humanity hangs forever in the balance, but Kirby’s gangly optimism provides the only god we truly need—unfettered imagination. DC Comics, 396 pp., $49.99.Assume Vivid Astro Focus
Upon entering this multimedia extravaganza, don the 3-D glasses and wander amid the objects—chairs, tools, and ladders, among others—that this Brazilian artist has wallpapered with sheets of blue and red type laid out like Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE design. Words such as SICK, BOMB, GRIM, HELL, HATE, SHIT, and that new four-letter fave, BUSH, seem to jut out at you. Next, gaze through wig-lined portholes at a strobing disco dystopia of writhing revelers, fluorescent outlines, and sirens. And still the treats keep coming—follow the booming music through a trapdoor and down the steps into a black tunnel ribbed with flashing neon synchronized to a rollicking synth track. The colors and throbbing beat wash over you; get up close and it seems to hurl past. For just a moment you might feel like Jack Kirby’s hallucinogenic Silver Surfer. John Connelly, 625 W 27th, 212-337-9563. Through June 30.