A stunted column sporting mysterious control knobs rises amid five hard-plastic bubble chairs in a dingy lobby, bulbous white visitations from the 1980s. Toting an eight-by-10 camera and black-and-white film, photographer Lynne Cohen seeks out spaces that project a sense of “sadness or an asphyxiating order.” Untitled (Concave walls)—shot sometime in the ’70s (Cohen is lackadaisical about dates)—features a lounge chair set on the dark square of a large checkerboard-floor pattern; a side table sits on the adjoining white block. The curved background walls are unevenly lit, and scorch marks surround the ceiling fixtures, as if the lights have burned 24/7 with no one to notice. In another typically rigorous composition, Untitled (Formica planter, aluminum walls), elegant, angular reflections contrast with battered corners and drooping plants. There are no people in these forlorn lobbies, classrooms, and waiting areas, but the shabby carpets and uneven moldings represent the shadow that falls between an architect’s pristine geometries and a contractor’s cut-rate materials. Yet Cohen also finds humor through her lens, framing a pair of stacked TVs facing two chairs, mute furnishings awaiting shut-ins who can’t agree on a program. In an ’80s shot, overstuffed chairs and freestanding ashtrays pose under irregularly shaped, atrociously painted pictures of cowboys and covered wagons—perhaps the lingering thought balloons of unsuccessful job candidates or clients kept waiting way too long.
IBM Selectric typewriter ball? Geodesic sphere? Disco mirror? All of these objects are evoked by Yackulic’s small works, which feature painted orbs on grounds of typewritten characters. In some areas, the letters form dense shadows or undulating waves; occasional diamonds and squares coalesce from typed phrases, recalling concrete poetry and typewriter art. Titles such as The Uncanny Scent of Our Beginnings, or End throw narrative grit between the fluctuations of abstraction and schemata. Jeff Bailey, 511 W 25th, 212-989-0156. Through December 21.
Cathy McClure: ‘Menagerie’
Denuded of stuffing and fur, these mechanical animals, cast in precious metals from the plastic armatures of flea-market toys, galumph about like the Terminator’s own house pets. An installation of three zoetropes features ear-flapping, trunk-waving elephants slowly circling stainless-steel Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds—the flashing strobe lights and minor-key music leaven big-eyed cuteness with glitzy dystopia. Neuhoff Edelman, 41 E 57th, 212-838-1122. Through December 8.
Stripes of varying widths and colors, sometimes perpendicular, sometimes bisected by sharp angles, sometimes collapsing into vanishing points . . . are they furrowed fields? Rushing freeways? Garish paint for its own sake? At 87, Thiebaud shuffles landscapes, figures, and abstraction like a suave magician, though his candy-coat colors have developed some cataracts. Sunlit Trolley is barely that—the gray sky is streaked with early-morning pink above a silhouetted streetcar gathering for a plunge down a dark street. Day at the Beach has the heft of a side of beef, its striations of thick blues and browns applied with vehement grace. Thiebaud may be old-school, but he can still take you to school. Paul Thiebaud, 42 E 76th, 212-737-9759. Through December 22.
Emilie Clark: ‘The Weeklies’
Near the door hang a handful of blank, 12-by-nine-inch wood panels awaiting the brush. They hang in the last rows of more than 600 bold and colorful paintings that are ranged around the gallery in eight-high grids. Since 1995, the 38-year-old Clark has finished one painting a week, a series she intends to continue to the grave. Some individual works include grids of their own—a piece in the 1996 section featuring a painted gray network is immediately followed by one with half-inch wire mesh collaged over fat alizarin and yellow brushstrokes, and then a third panel with rows of small oval portraits in the background. Circles, sometimes framing text or images, other times in flat abstract designs or drippy coagulations, recur through the years. Clark’s other work (which includes installations of drawings, paintings, and texts) employs themes concerning “the history of natural history” and encyclopedic organizations of knowledge. According to actuarial tables, this vibrant project is in its youth—it should be fascinating to watch it grow up. Morgan Lehman, 317 Tenth Ave, 212-268-6699. Through December 22.
Thomas Demand: ‘Yellowcake’
This canny blend of art and artifice tracks the über-lie of the Iraq War down a rabbit hole of obfuscation. Demand gained access to the Republic of Niger’s Rome embassy, where the “smoking gun” documents on Saddam Hussein’s search for weapons-grade uranium ostensibly originated. Not permitted to take pictures, he built a life-size paper-and-cardboard model from memory; these nine large photos of his construction detail nondescript rooms filled with office banalities. The disjunction that occurs when you realize that the fax machines and desks drowning in paper are flimsy sets is heightened by the dawning degrees of separation—these are photographs of an elaborate sham, channeling one person’s memories of the scene of a fiendish forgery. Demand’s theatrics posit that our era’s “bright and shining lie” has so far proved blinding. 303 Gallery, 525 W 22nd, 212-255-1121. Through December 22.