“I consider myself a hedonist,” Yinka Shonibare related in a 2002 interview. The London-based artist, born of Nigerian parents, then added, “Pleasure is king—as well as a very strong basis for being subversive.” Although he may sound like the languorously licentious Lord Henry from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Shonibare assumes the title role in a series of 12 photographs employing period costumes and sets. Wilde, an Irishman who bum-rushed English high society with his wit and acid observations, would probably have enjoyed witnessing this black man portray his lovely Victorian dandy, who’s fatally corrupted by hypocrisy and vanity. Less than fleshly pleasures, the focus of this fascinating group show is how we live within our own—or imagine inhabiting someone else’s—skin. In the six-minute video Monster in the Making, Douglas Gordon channels that bugaboo of the psyche, Mr. Hyde; the artist first studies his own pleasant face in a mirror, then uses clear tape to flare his nostrils, grotesquely bind his ears, and finally pull back his top and bottom lips to emphasize the mouth as a gaping wet orifice. A nearby piece gives the show its title: In 1975, Marina Abramovic engaged an Amsterdam prostitute to attend a gallery opening while the artist sat in a red-light district window awaiting customers. “We both take full responsibility for our roles” reads a text under large photos of the two women performing their Role Exchange.
More family-oriented, Janine Antoni uses wigs and makeup to morph her parents across a span of three color photographs: First, mom is made up to look like dad; next, they both cross-dress; then dad poses as a double to mom. The two “women” are allowed to entwine their arms, but the “men” in the opening shot keep a more masculine distance. Things get overtly flamboyant in a portrait of demimonde icon Leigh Bowery, with syrupy midnight-blue drips running down his bald, egg-shaped head while his ample bosom is squashed by a confining emerald gown. Absolutely fab is a video of Kalup Linzy and Shaun Leonardo lip-synching a 1933 classic of bluesy titillation, “Lollipop.” These two bare-chested studs assume the roles of teasing inamorata and hounding beau, exchanging such lines as “Here’s one thing I’m guarding with all my might”/”Yeah honey, and I can see good and well that you sho’ is sittin’ on it tight.” Love is as love does.
The 14-foot-long Phykos Maximus lies on its side—a clear rectangular block containing what seems to be a scarlet sea anemone whose spiky arms radiate outward from an intricate floating axis. But approach the piece from one end and this elongated creature disappears like a hologram. Yellin lays down attenuated strokes of ink and acrylic on sheets of resin and then combines up to 200 of these flat layers to create the illusion of fanciful bugs and plants trapped in amber. Transparent totems—up to eight feet tall and containing willowy zigzags of color that shift in and out of view—are the most arresting of these drawing-sculpture hybrids. Robert Miller, 524 W 26th, 212-366-4774. Through July 28.
‘a point in space is a place for an argument’
John Chamberlain’s 1980 Couch is a soft variation on his more famous crushed-automobile sculptures: A thick rope cinched around a huge piece of foam rubber pulls at the dirty-custard bulges like a too-tight bathrobe sash. Nearby, Al Taylor’s Pet stain removal device uses white enamel to replicate blobs of pet urine across stepped layers of plexiglass on the floor. Fusing Rube Goldberg complexity with Duchampian whimsy, these puddles of paint delicately fan out and cast shadows on lower splatters, a visual weave that conjures a sensation of subtle agitation, like pungent aromas swirling up from a hot sidewalk. Katy Schimert’s small, irregularly shaped metal-mesh pieces feel like polychromatic asteroids and hold a lively dialogue with the brightly twisting banners in Joe Overstreet’s painting done on stainless-steel cloth; Paul Thek’s mushroom and seashore tableau speaks to the elegant rot in Dieter Roth’s fungal brown wall piece. In Cathy Wilkes’s installation We are pro-choice, a mannequin sits on a soiled toilet, glass bells and aluminum cans suspended on wires dangling from her eyes like massive tears. Amid other detritus in this elaborate tableau, a latex cast hangs beneath a ladder, flaccid as flayed skin. This 2007 piece pulls off the surreal feat of seeming to contemplate itself. David Zwirner, 525 W 19th, 212-727-2070. Through August 10.
‘First Contact: A Photographer’s Sketchbook’
Philippe Halsman’s six small prints of Salvador Dalí portray the artist leaping, crouching, and tiptoeing as he paints; cats occasionally sail into the frame opposite splashes of water and, in one version, a flying chair blocks the artist’s face. None of these exposures became the famous Dali Atomicus (three flailing cats and a graceful hook of water are captured in the keeper), but this group of images is testament to what was undoubtedly a grueling shoot. Photographers’ contact sheets, with their colorful grease-pencil notations, can feel quaint in our digital age, but they retain the raw power of first drafts. Leonard Freed’s vertiginous shot of pedestrians bustling through Wall Street’s canyons comes from a roll that included trips to a city park, the beach, and coverage of a street-corner orator. Malcolm X’s hat is darker in a final print when compared to Eve Arnold’s contact sheet, making the shape as emphatically bold as her subject. And although two other negatives capture the rubble and hopeless civilians of postwar Vienna, Ernst Haas chose to print a returning POW who is too elated to notice a mother holding up a picture of her missing soldier son. For wrenching voyeurism, try Harry Benson’s series documenting Bobby Kennedy’s assassination—the confusing scrum of figures is suddenly broken in frame 22A, where Ethel Kennedy throws her hand up, trying to shield her dying husband from the photographer’s lens. Silverstein, 535 W 24th, 212-627-3930. Through August 3.