Ron Klein, a Philadelphia-based artist, ventures to far-flung locales to gather seedpods, seashells, thorns, and other organic matter, which he mixes, in sinuous assemblages, with small man-made objects collected from city dumps. These bits of flora and manufactured detritus are pinned to the wall in arcing constellations and rhythmically snaking conga lines. In 2007’s I to I, a barbed vine spirals downward near a rough slab of tree bark crisscrossed with thick rubber bands—a miscegenation of shapes and textures conjuring a Frankensteinian double helix. In ToBlue, a pair of rough dark seedpods, each longer than a banana and filled with indigo-colored beeswax, creates a coarse but graceful visual couplet. Elsewhere, a splayed baseball hide, one end lightly cupped and filled with translucent white wax, mimics the husks and other organic vessels surrounding it. Lance Letscher’s collages deliver an assonant echo to Klein’s meditations on nature versus manufacture. This Texas-based artist scrawls brambles of colored-pencil lines onto yellowed pages taken from cast-off books, then adds snippets cut from old magazines to form elegant textural tumbleweeds. In Ugly Baby (2007), tattered pink spheres bloom like mold across the worn black covers of a discarded hardback book. A sense of technology bent and subsumed by nature arises from both artists’ work, as if beautiful mutants have taken root in the loam of our waste.
A large flat disk, several feet across and plastered with small craters and jagged hills, rotates slowly; this ersatz lunar surface is illuminated by a desk lamp, the honey-yellow bulb throwing ever-shifting shadows across the revolving landscape. A tiny surveillance camera transmits a close-up of this movement to a projector, which casts the image onto a facing wall. Bluer in transmission, like an old-time TV broadcast, the detail seems to spin faster than the disc itself. Nearby, a large replica of the escape pod from 2001: A Space Odyssey rests on the floor; inside it, another video feed, from a revolving camera timed to the disk’s rotation, transmits a partial view of craters and lunar dust. Because of the synchronization, the landscape appears still, the only motion coming from its drift across the pod’s windows, recalling the moon’s stately orbit in the night sky. Briand’s installation, accompanied by a minor-key piano soundtrack evocative of cosmic voids, makes visceral those ideas of time and space that sound numbingly abstract in science textbooks. Martos, 540 W 29th, 212-560-0670. Through January 12.
In “13 Dark Pictures,” photographed between 1972 and 2004, Misrach finds literal and metaphorical shades of meaning in the concept “dark.” A desert palm tree is shot with a bright flash, the unnatural light tracing shadows in the air. In a mural-size photograph of a large body of water, the ripples among the small, even waves suggest that something recently dove beneath the surface—closer inspection reveals a swimmer leisurely backstroking near the disturbance. Although sunlight glints off the bronze-hued water, the juxtaposition of the mysterious and the unsuspecting leavens menace into a scene of serenity. In a painterly composition of rich blues and flaring reds, a beacon marking a rocky point that juts into the Salton Sea is paired with a heron sitting atop an adjacent pole. This idea of bright warning contrasted with steely predator adds narrative depth to an already gorgeous image. Pace MacGill, 32 E 57th, 212-759-7999. Through January 5.
Visually reminiscent of Elizabeth Murray’s rambunctious shaped canvases, Ballen’s paintings on fiberglass at first look to be large collages of cardboard boxes, duct tape, trash bags, and other street-level refuse. Up close, however, the surface becomes abstract, with passages of acrylic paint that shift from brightly bold to layered, watery patinas. A large triptych includes a working stereo receiver connected to boxy speakers surrounded by trompe l’oeil cardboard and tape. Draped with wires and tuned (on the day of our visit) to static-laced classic rock, the work conveys a misleading DIY vibe—don’t try molding fiberglass at home, kids—part ’70s wood-paneled basement, part our own age’s disinformational overload. Winkleman, 637 W 27th, 212-643-3152. Through January 5.
Ah, the mendacity of images. I’ll admit, I almost hit my pivot foot when I entered the gallery and saw what looked to be black-and-white Xeroxes pinned to the wall. But my job demands patience, and this time, at least, it was rewarded. Oh, the pre-Internet ordeal of plowing through books in search of a crucial reference, then making a copy on some creaky black-and-white machine at the library: Springfield has captured that monochrome drudgery in her graphite drawings on paper, replicating spreads from such tomes as Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object From 1966 to 1972. Does that title give you any idea of the conceptual rabbit hole awaiting you uptown? Springfield begins with the contents page of one scholarly text and moves on through various illustrations and indexes from others, concluding with a back cover complete with library barcode. Executed at 1:1 scale from real photocopies, Springfield’s drawings nail the gray shadows between pages when an open book is forced down upon the platen, the out-of-focus striations beyond the copier lens’s depth of field, and even the occasional hairs on the glass. Ideas expressed through language turned into art illustrated in books copied on machines and faithfully recreated in an ancient medium—that’s what I’m talkin’! Mireille Mosler, 35 E 67th, 212-249-4195. Through February 2.