In Oliver Stone’s film The Doors, as the group navigates a trippy Warhol party, Ray Manzarek says to Jim Morrison, “This isn’t our scene, man — these people are vampires.” The keyboardist seems to have forgotten that his frontman is every bit as death-obsessed as Andy’s house band, the Velvet Underground, but he nonetheless taps a vein echoed in this sprawling summer extravaganza: Sunny psychedelia can cast a deep shadow. Strolling the Whitney’s galleries, you’re initially hit with pure visual sensation, as in the vortices of brilliant color swirling through Lynda Benglis’s 1969 poured-latex floor piece Contraband. Next, come myriad concert posters trumpeting performances by everyone from Albert King to Zappa, the Day-Glo texts twisted to near-unintelligible abstraction — voluptuous treats for the eye. Regional differences fascinate: A dark-green and purple poster for a 1966 Velvets show in Provincetown shares jagged affinities with Polish avant-garde graphics; a Doors gig at the Fillmore San Francisco inspires Beardsley-esque peacockery. Verner Panton’s Phantasy Landscape Visiona II, a biomorphic enclosure where you can lounge in your stocking feet, works less as an alternate reality than a funhouse pit stop, a bright memento of the belief that the dreaded military-industrial complex could be overcome simply by loving the one you’re with. But, paperbacks such as Sin Street Hippie were already commodifying the most titillating aspects of the era, and the Summer of Love also disgorged Peter Saul’s Grand Guignol canvas Saigon. Amid all the groovy doings, the visitor may forget that there was a war going on in 1967, but Saul, deploying LSD hues and the ejaculatory contours of underground comix, cranked out a flower-power Guernica — a howl of disgust at the dogs of war, especially the bitch of a pointless one. Sinuous palm trees, cola bottles, and gun turrets punctuate a fleshy daisy chain of rape, torture, and murder in livid pinks and bilious greens. Unlike much of the other work here, which delivers potent and sometimes gorgeous nostalgia, Saul’s polemic transcends its moment — he knows that no matter how many doors of perception we break on through, we ultimately fall face-flat on reality’s floor.
Michael D. Linares
One piece stands out in this group show of work from Puerto Rico—two pairs of large potted plants connected by ropes to a long row of planks on the floor. There is something viscerally engaging about this arrangement, and once the title, Wait till it grows (Hanging bridge)—is absorbed, a slow-burning jolt is delivered: It may take a few decades, but as the trees grow, the ropes will rise and tighten, and the flaccid planks will be transformed into a span with a purpose. What will be its future: transplanted over a plunging gorge, or locked away in some collector’s vault under a bevy of sunlamps? Nicole Klagsbrun, 526 W 26th, 212-243-3335. Through August 17.
The fun starts with Jasmine Zimmerman’s Please Touch, cones of primary-colored rubber bands stretched throughout the gallery, which become vibrating blurs at your slightest caress. Greg Lamarche’s four collages of drop-shadowed words and simple shapes speak smartly to the duo of Kuhl and Leyton’s large crime-scene images made of colorful acrylic tape. Elsewhere, Erika Somogyi’s sculpture of a lumpy orange lightbulb and schlubby flower keynotes the clumsy beauty evident throughout this sensitively curated show. David Krut, 526 W 26th, 212-255-3094. Through July 28.
John Salvest’s large illuminated sign with a flashing arrow pointing heavenward and vinyl letters spelling out the show’s title kicks off your perambulation down some of America’s weirder backroads. Charles Browning’s painting Who Put Pee-Pee in My Coke? tweaks colonial history with a scene of Chinese men and women (and one rascally baby) in founding fathers garb. Genuinely unsettling is David Kennedy-Cutler’s naked tree branch hung with a tattered Confederate flag fabricated from used bubblegum—like a flayed carcass, it’s as ugly and abject as the thought of flying a symbol of treason, oppression, and hatred atop Southern statehouses. Morgan Lehman, 317 Tenth Avenue, 212-268-6699. Through August 4.
Watercolor, a medium of beautifully evanescent effects, can also be brutally difficult: Errant strokes cannot be erased, and too many layers quickly turn to mud. Milton Avery (18851965) was a steady master of the form, in the ’30s laying down full-bodied browns to convey the solidity of a teapot, several years later using wavery runnels and soft washes of pigment for Landscape With White Horse. Avery’s best work reduces mountains, trees, and clouds to bold shapes and lively textures; quick daubs of rich gray and cascading blots of blue give drama to his shorelines, the sea foam conjured from the rough, unpainted white paper. In Abandoned Pier (1957), the brushstrokes are as black as creosote and dryly dissipate like rotten, splintering wood. And although a title such as Edge of the Lake promises water, woods, and sky, Avery eschews narrative detail for abstract bands of color that reduce nature to its bare essentials. Knoedler, 19 E 70th, 212-794-0550. Through August 10.