Romare Bearden (1911–1988) was a brilliant narrative artist, his large collages famously capturing the chromatic choreography of Harlem’s bustling streets and the colorfully syncopated geometries of rollicking jazz bands. In 1977, he created 20 collages that transported Homer’s Odyssey from Greece to a land reminiscent of North Africa, populating the epic with forms derived from African sculpture, cubist tumult, and the action figures encircling Grecian urns. (This exhibit brings the work together for the first time in 30 years.) Instead of the sliced-up magazine photos familiar from his multi-textured street scenes, Bearden cut kings, queens, columns, arches, trees, ships—all of his characters, sets, and props—from brightly colored paper, as in Matisse’s late decoupages. The impact is grand: In Odysseus Leaves Circe, the capricious goddess writhes on her bed, clutching a pink pillow, one blue hand to her black breast as a ship sails into the blue distance; in Cattle of the Sun God, the paper has been delicately sanded, casting an abraded orange glow over a gray herd under green palms. Four 1946 drawings based onThe Iliad show Bearden’s searching ink line deftly defining the contours of his warriors’ thighs, shoulders, shields, and helmets, and forming dense black clots around their hardened, expressive faces—a revelation of the powerful draftsmanship underpinning his marvels to come.
After painting white zigzags or accordion-fold patterns onto wood panels or bare linen, Song delicately airbrushes in black shadows to create an illusion of depth and levitation in these large pieces. The white geometries are flat and opaque, sharply cutting across the wood grain or fabric weave that shows through the diaphanous shadows, providing an intriguing, graceful tension. A work such as 3X (2007), with its columns of fuzzy light and shadow bisecting solid grounds, becomes an abstract version of Magritte’s representational conundrums. Michael Steinberg, 526 W 26th, 212-924-5770. Through December 21.
As you walk around these roughly one-foot-square cubes, blurry prisms flare and shift within the semi-transparent depths. Tinted with pale hues, these 40-year-old cast polyester- resin sculptures feel vaguely futuristic. (Alexander learned of the then-new material while repairing surfboards—he was born in L.A. in 1939.) Only slightly more down-to-earth are the monochrome 1992 L.A. Riots paintings, TV-screen-size images of burning intersections as if seen from a patrol helicopter—gray smoke obscuring white fireballs against skewed black grids. Weirdest of all are the colorful Las Vegas paintings, in which spurting fountains and neon spires exude a bioluminescent glow. Franklin Parrasch, 20 W 57th, 212-246-5360. Through December 21.
Titles such as The Torments of Pleasure and The Technique of Conquest give these large paintings of typewriters, adding machines, steam irons, and the like an anthropomorphic charge. In 1969’s Amorousness, Klapheck (born in Germany 72 years ago) painted two telephone cords entwined like canoodling office mates, the handset askew on its old-fashioned Bakelite base. With their glossy advertising colors and smooth surfaces, this almost half-century’s worth of paintings reveals an amalgam of surrealism and pop roughly parallel to the expressionistic (and lascivious) hand tools of America’s Lee Lozano. Zwirner & Wirth, 32 E 69th, 212-517-8677. Through December 22.
‘Graphic Modernism From the Baltic to the Balkans, 1910–1935’
This succinct show and accompanying catalog form a primer on last century’s seminal graphic designers. In 1922, Russian expatriate El Lissitzky designed a title page for the Berlin-based journal Veshch (Object), in which a photo of a locomotive with a streamlined cow-catcher is juxtaposed against black Supremacist squares and circles. The artistic and social ferment that occurred between the world wars is evident in the angular layouts and bold typography, and by the license in Czech artist Toyen’s witty line drawing of a hermaphroditic nude cobbled together from classical fragments.New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd, 212-593-7730. Through January 27.
Is it too easy to mine pathos from beaten-down blue-collar toilers? The technical virtuosity of these hyperrealist resin, fiberglass, and auto-body-filler sculptures doesn’t obscure the real emotion that Hanson (1925–1996) conveyed. Queenie, standing behind a trash can laden with cleaning supplies, is resigned to a life that took a wrong turn, then barreled into middle age; Flea Market Lady is surrounded by bad paintings and back-issue magazines (one open to an article about Hanson that riffs on the “Is It Live or Is It Memorex?” campaign). Hanson easily surpassed waxworks sensationalism not by mimicking life, but by distilling it into well-keyed color, pitch-perfect body language, and dead-on props (see Rita the Waitress‘s label-tape name tag). The blue diner table that separates a 1979 self-portrait (in work shirt and jeans) from an elderly woman engrossed in soap-opera magazines measures about three feet across but feels as big as the sky, a gulf separating two people who could hold hands but are on different emotional planets. Van de Weghe, 521 W 23rd, 212-929-6633. Through December 15.