Two bodyguards circle in the background as Fidel Castro, pale as death and wearing a red tracksuit, emphatically points and pontificates in the video Honorary Guest. Filmed inside the gallery the day after this rambunctious show of contemporary Cuban art was installed, the video depicts artist and curator Glexis Novoa discussing the various works with El Presidente (played by Asael Rosales). This doppelgänger of time and place captures the show’s essential question: How do you make art under a regime that places capricious strictures on art-making? The more than 80 Cuban artists presented here find an array of solutions, running from the humorous—Alain Pino’s large photos, hung from the ceiling like revolutionary banners, of women and youths in Castro–esque beards made of shaving cream—to Henry Eric’s poignant, if macabre, installation recounting the construction of funerary urns for the dead loved ones of families unable to afford customary rites. Walls of ephemera document decades of performance and conceptual art—photos of artists playing baseball, dirty jeans from dances (the Beatles’ music was once banned on the island), and pictures of artist Angel Delgado defecating on the national newspaper, a stunt that earned him a six-month prison sentence. Alexandre Arrechea’s two-channel video White Corner delves into racism, as the dark-skinned performer stalks himself with bat and machete. Alongside the sculpture and paintings are drawings made with menstrual blood and crushed insects, plus a calendar of the years since the 1959 revolution, which depicts Castro’s face slowly fading away. Like Cuba itself, this bountiful exhibit lives in the shadow of the Fidel deathwatch.
Blue lights cast an eerie glow over an undulating heap of bowed, wooden slats that cover most of the gallery floor. Gradually, these gently curved pieces, some as long as your arm, reveal their former function: white and black piano keys. An African sculpture juts from the tangle, anchoring one end of this splintery ocean; a model sailing ship, covered in black glitter, rides atop the jagged tempest. Bailey’s arresting juxtapositions strike an elegiac chord, with the dismembered keyboard evoking the vicious trade in African ivory even as the overall form conjures thoughts of the Middle Passage. Jack Shainman, 513 W 20th, 212-645-1701. Through June 29.
John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres
There’s a genuine emotional carriage to these collaborative wall sculptures, which depict people that Ahearn and Torres met while executing murals in Brazil. The life-size figures were cast in fiberglass, and careful application of enamel paint powerfully evokes individual characteristics. Senhor Antonio‘s mottled gray beard and deeply lined mouth edges toward a smile, one tempered by the experience of long life. Marlon and the Dancer (2005–07) offers a boy who appears flummoxed by his curvaceous, scantily clad partner, while her faraway eyes imply thoughts quite distant from the youth in her arms. Alexander and Bonin, 132 Tenth Avenue, 212-367-7474. Through June 30.
This smartly curated and wittily installed group show begins in the main gallery with Bruno Peinado’s Air Jordan Magic Tree Mercedes Fame Dreamcatcher—a slab of aluminum cut into corporate logos and festooned with colorful, fuzzy tassels—and finishes in the rear space with Virginie Barré’s The Dreamers, three body-size and -shaped white zipper bags suspended from the ceiling. Elsewhere, Joshua Stern’s silver print of figures constructed from wooden dowels—who inhabit a shadowy, Vermeer-style room of leaded windows and tile floors—speaks to an actual, half-round window frame with peeling paint, doily curtains, and a tiny Jesus figurine, by Gerard Williams. Other conversations among various works involve food and plants, but it’s Peinado’s second wall-hung aluminum piece that has the last word. This coffin-size box, finished in black automobile paint and misshapen by a hellacious dent, sports the apt title Flat Black California Custom Game Over. Parker’s Box, 193 Grand Street, Brooklyn, 718-388-2882. Through June 25.
Cribbing its title from a pseudonym that the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet used to hide his thievery, this lively show of Chilean artists pushes a number of emotional buttons. The four heads of a uniformed junta painted on the wall have been replaced with convex security mirrors that reflect your every move; elsewhere, an embalmed white rat has been stretched over a microphone, perhaps a metaphor about insidious propaganda, but undoubtedly a hilariously creepy sculpture. And Iván Navarro’s video, Homeless lamp, the juice sucker (2005) must not be missed. A guitar strums and a sad song in Spanish commences as two young men trudge through Chelsea pushing a shopping cart fabricated from fluorescent tubes. They scrape weeds away from the bases of street lamps, unscrew access plates, and jury-rig outlets to light up their “homeless lamp.” The lovely melody continues as one subtitled phrase—”Emiliano Zapata once shouted/’I want land and freedom!’/and the government laughed/as they buried him”—scrolls across a shot of the glowing cart in front of steel security gates and dumpsters; expensive cars and designer stores provide visual dissonance. Still, the cart itself sits in the gallery, a truly odd and beautiful object, reminding us that art, whatever else it may be, is the ultimate luxury good. Oh well. White Box, 525 W 26th, 212-714-2347. Through June 30.