At first, I wished that London-based Carey Young had eschewed multimedia to focus on the self-portraits in which, wearing a hedge-fund-managing art-collector’s dark suit, she strikes poses derived from the halcyon days of performance art. Whether Young’s arching her back between two rubble piles à la Dennis Oppenheim or sidestepping through a grid of pipes to channel Bruce Nauman’s film Square Dance, the kicker to these fascinating, large-format photographs is the sci-fi background provided by Dubai’s oil-soaked construction boom—a barren desert sprouting priapic skyscrapers and cookie-cutter villas. Yet the deadpan video of Young lying on a couch while a therapist reads advertising slogans aloud, testing her “product recall,” dovetails with the capitalist wet dream in the photographs, creating a character from some George Saunders dystopia where humanity is subsumed by brand identity. Elsewhere in the show, a framed printout detailing the chemical constituents of the artist’s body claims a value of £13,007.02—perhaps at Sotheby’s rather than a commodities auction. Still, even at that price, shipments of American artists across the pond for mineral harvesting won’t prop up our weak dollar. Such Swiftian musings are but one take-away from this conceptual bonanza.
Bold as all get-out, these mural-size canvases recall ’80s Schnabels, absent that epoch’s calculating bombast. Watts (born in the Ivory Coast in 1957) slathers plumy paint over brocaded rugs or stains canvases to resemble weathered parchment and then fuses these textures with a broad range of content—numbers, leopards, colonial maps—that evoke everything from Holocaust tattoos to Sun Ra’s extraterrestrial symphonics. Mike Weiss, 520 W 24th, 212-691-6899. Through January 5.
Which came first, children’s toys or adults’ machines? This trio of sculptures delivers another of Ray’s reliable mind-fucks, commencing with a life-size, white-painted steel egg pierced by a perfectly round hole that reveals a mottled porcelain claw, then segueing across the gallery to a little boy playing with a toy car, his penis and testes lined up like flaccid knuckles. This unconscious innocence is disrupted by the third actor in Ray’s spare extravaganza, a looming, square-headed farmer astride a green tractor. Father Figure is bigger than you are, 18-plus tons of solid steel mimicking the cheapest of hollow, made-in-China plastic playthings. Matthew Marks, 522 W 22nd, 212-243-0200. Through January 19.
Susan Wides: ‘Mannahatta’
With their shallow focus and skyscraper vantage points, Wides’s photos turn Manhattan into a colorful model. Best are shots in which the crowds are literally scaled like ants: Sun worshippers on the Sheep Meadow look toy-like when framed between towering facades; a nighttime skyline feels as endearingly phony as the ersatz metropolises lining the Vegas Strip. Kim Foster, 529 W 20th, 212-229-0044. Through December 22.
These paintings of cheap goods behind shop windows play smartly with reflections. Two Suns includes a mirrored disco ball cut off by a bright sun reflected in the store’s plate glass; other deftly painted Brooklyn scenes feature parking lots and avenues festooned with garish plastic banners, the colorful triangles wavering between keen abstraction and visceral figuration. Elizabeth Harris, 529 W 20th, 212-463-9666. Through December 21.
Damn near as funny—and certainly as abject—as the TV comedy, this large group show gains inspiration from the cubicle crowd. Jason Meadows contributes a towering assemblage of spray-painted file cabinets; nearby hangs Rivane Neuenschwander’s hellish clock, which perpetually reads “00:00.” Other entries include Nicole Wermers’s stacked minimalist boxes, titled French Junkies 2, which serve as an ashtray; Jay Heikes’s drop ceiling stained with beet juice and coffee, which veritably screams “Sick Building Syndrome”; and the baleful beauty that Martin Soto Climent discovers in a black mini-blind that droops down to the floor. Tanya Bonakdar, 521 W 21st, 212-414-4144. Through December 22.
Jean Foos: ‘The Other Me’
A fashion model looks over her right shoulder, her face softened by a chromatic network of lines drawn onto the photo. She could be Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, but she’s reversed—is she you, gazing into a magic mirror that transforms an everyday face into a runway goddess? Are those lines the cracks in the surface of a Baroque masterpiece, or, as the focus shifts, simply an intricate mesh of abstraction? Foos applies oil-paint markers to glossy fashion shots, turning vacuous expressions into smoothly gradated grounds beneath lovely honeycombs of color. These small pieces weave figure, abstraction, and content into a dense hybrid that transmutes the facile perfection of Seventh Avenue into the hard-won grit of art. Y Gallery, 32-70 85th St., Jackson Heights, 718-565-6285. Through December 29.