Frank Stella’s Carbon Footprint


Frank Stella on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum
1000 Fifth Avenue
Through October 28

Why, as you look out over the verdant riot of Central Park, do these dark hulks seem to fit in just so? In the late ’50s, Frank Stella aimed the minimalist black stripes and geometric supports of his paintings squarely at abstract expressionism’s passionate heart. But over the next few decades, it seems, the emotions that Stella had so emphatically negated began to claw at the space surrounding his work, and the paintings began to expand off the wall, first as colorful aluminum reliefs, and eventually as full-blown sculptures. Yet some of the original, austere DNA remains in this rooftop sculpture exhibition, and the mishmash of architecture fringing the park’s greenery dovetails with Stella’s industrialization of nature. The tubular stainless-steel framework of 2005’s memantra spirals and curves around a huge black sail embossed with a massive leaf form, fabricated of carbon fiber (the stuff of stealth-bomber fuselages). This engineered fluidity is adulterated by lumpy, naked welds, heavy bolts, thick flanges, and epoxied fiber, conjuring a post-apocalyptic Raft of the Medusa. Stella’s maquette for the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, a flowing turban of sharply cut stainless steel, and his 15-by-34-by-30-foot Chinese Pavilion (in progress) both slip the bonds of the studio to become architecture. The pavilion is held aloft on wedges of shiny carbon fiber atop massive steel lily pads; the effect is like a Transformer dinosaur frozen mid-stride. Shifting shadows thrown by girders and twisting struts further animate these fascinating hybrids—simultaneously prehistoric and cutting-edge.

Ezra Stoller

A former architecture student, Stoller would often wait days for just the right angle of sunlight when photographing such landmark structures as Lever House and the Guggenheim Museum. In TWA Terminal, New York (1962), passengers bustle amid lithe, curving shadows and swooping stair rails, the men bisected by their ties, the women poised on high heels, all buttressing the optimistic grace of Eero Saarinen’s UFO-like building. A 1966 nighttime shot of the Whitney Museum softens its brutishness through smooth gradations of light cast upward across the stone façade. The huge window facing Madison Avenue seems to float in the darkness, as the visible interior ceiling grid creates a serendipitous abstraction. Danziger, 521 W 26th, 212-629-6778. Through July 20.

‘What About Sculpture?’

This group of Chinese artists comes at sculpture from diverse angles, beginning with Liu Jianhua’s human skull set atop a pillow, both objects made of glazed white porcelain. Suspended from the ceiling by thin wires, this life-size assemblage hovers like a ghostly visitation. Shi Jinsong goes for capitalism’s jugular, forging logos from steel honed to razor sharpness: The Nike swoosh becomes a nasty scimitar; a Mercedes hood ornament morphs into a deadly throwing star. Ai Weiwei goes beyond ironic updates of ancient weaponry with Painted Vases (Neolithic Pottery). Using latex house paint, he transforms ancient, utilitarian vessels (35005000 BC) into contemporary objets d’art, hammering home the point by calling the pigments “Warhol” colors. This rising star of Chinese conceptual art toys with ancestor worship, noting about his garish makeovers that “even disrespect itself is respect.” Chambers, 210 Eleventh Avenue, 212-414-1169. Through July 19.

‘From Berlin to Broadway’

The late lyricist Fred Ebb once offered to work on the film Funny Girl in exchange for an Egon Schiele painting owned by Barbra Streisand. No deal, but the man who wrote the lyrics for Cabaret went on to gather this insightful collection of early 20th-century German and Austrian drawings. Max Beckmann’s The Telephone (1945) features a helmeted Mars drawing his bow, while Venus, in a diaphanous gown, castigates the war god with her outstretched finger; in the foreground, an elderly, bat-eared woman hefts a clumsy telephone handset. Beckmanna World War I vet whom the Nazis forced from his homeland, citing his “degenerate” artacknowledges the end of Europe’s second great conflagration, but his characters here and in a dynamic ink drawing of nightclub performers seem resigned to grim futures. The 40-plus works on display also include some Schieles, his clean pencil and charcoal lines searching out the quivering contours of an embracing couple and the foreshortened repose of a young dandy. A 1932 ink sketch by Karl Hubbuch wryly captures the Weimar era’s class divide with its oblivious movie star primping while country folk ogle her negligee and lipstick; Otto Dix is more propagandistic in his 1923 vision of the decadent rich tippling in a haute restaurant while strikers march in the streets, their placards proclaiming “We Want Bread!” The Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue, 212-685-0008. Through September 2.

‘June Bride’

No bridezillas in these two dozen photos, just trailer-park maidens, sour damsels, and a hermaphroditic betrothal. Oh, and Wang Jin’s bride-to-be, a mule sporting pink wedding regalia. In Diane Arbus’s 1966 Groom Kissing His Bride, N.Y.C., the couple cowers from the lens like Mafia dons arriving at a RICO trial. Arthur Tress offers a cadaverous, top-hatted husband split down the middle, his better half even homelier in white veil and gown. Bill Owens’s 1981 Bride With Bubblegum is not only blowing a big pink one, she’s also hefting a reception drink the size of a Big Gulp from the local 7-Eleven. Par-tay! And then there’s Chris Verene’s beefy cousin Candi on her wedding day, flanked by two old-timers, her “favorite customers from her job at the Sirloin Stockade.” Tying the knot has never seemed more like a hangman’s noose. Yossi Milo, 525 W 25th, 212-414-0370. Through August 17.