Imagine Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rain (a corrosive 1942 painting conjuring the shattered landscape and psychological devastation of World War II) spray-bombed with Day-Glo colors—that will give you some idea of Mala Iqbal’s dazzlingly painted vistas. Or picture the Summer of Love four decades on, all its psychedelic energy and bubbly hope curdled by pollution, acid rain, and global warming. The title of the seven-foot-wide In Sight of Coconino (2007)—which features a sky as livid as a lava flow, yellow mountains formed from blocky graffiti letters, and a lake of fluorescent acrylic drips—references the classic comic strip Krazy Kat; perhaps Ignatz Mouse and Offissa Pupp will escape the coming storm in the little blue boat painted near the center of the canvas. Grimm’s Sunset (2007) evokes a fairy-tale forest, but the hot orange glow beyond the trees feels more like onrushing wildfire than soothing sundown. After the Flood (2006) depicts sagging trees and washed-out gullies littered with cartoonish piles of bricks. But don’t let Iqbal’s drips, splatters, sprays, and brushy pyrotechnics fool you into thinking you’re watching a Bob Ross landscape tutorial on LSD (rather than PBS); her techniques create canny compositions in which blurred contours serve as both animator’s focus-pull and effusive abstraction. The warring moods—environmental armageddon? FEMA apocalypse? bootleg Disney?—feel just about right for our age of calamitous abundance.
‘The Gates of Paradise’
Don’t visit expecting to see all 10 of the narrative reliefs that Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378–1455) designed for the doors of the Baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence—the work in its entirety is represented by a towering photograph of the 60-ton gilded bronze portal. But you can count on being overwhelmed by the three original panels on view for the first and last time in America (the doors will be reassembled next year for permanent display in Florence). Each of these roughly three-foot-by-three-foot biblical scenes transmutes optical perspective into early Renaissance art. In Jacob and Esau, angled floor tiles and layers of simple arches provide a stately recessional behind the figures, who reflect light and gather shadow in a beautifully realistic manner—some are sculpted almost in the round. In David and Goliath, the upstart youth decapitating the prone giant is portrayed at the bottom of the scene; farther up the panel, in smaller scale, he triumphantly marches with the head toward distant Jerusalem as warriors in richly detailed armor contest the middle ground. Twenty-seven years in the making, this masterpiece was the Hollywood blockbuster of its day and has lost none of its original verve. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue, 212-535-7710. Through January 13.
‘From a Distance’
Glass boxes FedEx’d from Walead Beshty’s L.A. studio arrived at the gallery in a markedly different state than when they left, although safety laminate prevented their complete destruction. The cardboard mailing boxes serving as pedestals encourage the viewer to contemplate time, distance, and interstate commerce as seen through a conceptual lens: Has the courier’s handling enhanced or reduced the aesthetic impact of the work? Another standout in this sharp group show is Graham Hudson’s ad hoc assemblage, in which a tape measure pulled down from the ceiling meets another extended up from the floor, their end flanges meeting at roughly eye level and their spring retractors keeping the scant column in constant tension. A flick of your finger would change the piece from an isometric sculpture to a pair of carpenter’s tools.
Wallspace, 619 W 27th, 212-594-9478. Through January 5.
Is any city more haunted by living memory than Berlin? The nine artists gathered here have created a darkly engaging mood, beginning with Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton’s wall mural, which superimposes a reconstruction of the biblical city of Nineveh atop its modern-day ruins near Mosul, Iraq. Christian Pilz’s 2007 drypoint prints depict frenzied geometries that evoke the destruction, partition, and manic rebuilding of Germany’s capital while recalling the gnarly intensity of Otto Dix’s ink drawings. Dennis Rudolph conflates the bombastic tropes of National Socialist aesthetics—towering columns, massive eagles, simplified classical figures—with Old Testament wastelands.
Perry Rubenstein, 527 W 23rd, 212-627-8000. Through January 5.
Born in Vienna in 1929, Rainer has long sought a graphic evocation of our human emotion and animalistic imperatives. By violently painting over his own photographic self-portraits, often canceling out his features with slashes of pigment or crayon scrawls, he makes a case for the innate brutality of our species. The best works in this concise 1955-85 retrospective attain a cathartic loveliness, as in a photo of a medieval crucifixion statue that has been X’d out with pink and black paint slathered on in sweeping handfuls. This elderly artist has given the world what he himself describes as “scrawled to death pictures.” David Nolan, 560 Broadway, 212-925-6190. Through January 5.
Never one for subtlety, this former Soviet soldier has draped the gallery with clear tubing through which a pump circulates Iraqi crude oil; this swooping, dark circulatory system is juxtaposed with the hangman’s curlicue ropes in a large photo of Saddam Hussein’s execution. Nearby, a painted rendition of a Sotheby’s press release gushes over the sale of Jeff Koons’s Hanging Heart. Although it’s a stretch that Molodkin has substituted “G.W. Bush” for “Koons,” “The White House” for “Sotheby’s,” and “Hanging Saddam” for “Hanging Heart,” you can’t help but choke on a chuckle. Daneyal Mahmood, 511 W 25th, 212-675-2966. Through January 5.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 18, 2007