Flags surrounding the Washington Monument flutter gently in a video of a young man standing at a podium, declaring: “The incredible war . . . has provided the razor—the terrible, sharp cutting edge—that has finally severed the last vestige of the illusion that morality and decency are the guiding principles of our foreign policy.” He then quotes a U.S. senator: “The United States may very well be the greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Whoa—which brave senator is he talking about? A presidential contender? Afraid not. The young orator is actor Max Bunzel, re-creating a 1965 speech by Paul Potter, the president of the Students for a Democratic Society. The war in question is Vietnam; the senator, Oregonian Wayne Morse, a lonely, early voice excoriating President Johnson’s foreign policy. The piece, We Must Name the System (2007), and other re-enactments of ’60s and ’70s political declarations are the brainchild of artist Mark Tribe, a professor of modern culture at Brown University, who began these historical simulations to counter the political apathy of his students. The speeches selected so far for The Port Huron Project (named after Tom Hayden’s 1962 New Left manifesto) reveal sad parallels between yesteryear’s wrongheaded military intervention and our own Iraq quagmire. (The first three videos are available online; later this year, Creative Time will sponsor live re- enactments of historic speeches by Bobby Seale, César Chávez, and Stokely Carmichael.) In 2006’s Until the Last Gun Is Silent, actress Gina Brown, wearing a somber black dress and a midnight-blue hat, channels Coretta Scott King’s poignant 1968 Central Park address, derived from notes found in her husband’s pocket at the time of his assassination three weeks earlier. She speaks of his vilification for opposing the Vietnam War, then moves on to the tension between the haves and have-nots, noting: “Our Congress passes laws which subsidize corporation farms, oil companies, airlines, and houses for suburbia, but when they turn their attention to the poor, they suddenly become concerned about balancing the budget.” Plus ça change. . . . The production values of these faux time capsules are spare, but the rhetoric resonates across the decades, hopefully making it easier for us—unlike the generation that trusted no one over 30—to heed the wisdom of our elders.
Born in 1914, Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman may be familiar to fans of the New York School, if only because she pops up on wall labels as the owner of such masterpieces as de Kooning’s Attic and Pollock’s Number 28, 1950. These and other works were collected, the press release notes, “without relying on advisors” and have been donated to the Met; they confirm Newman’s discerning eye, which presciently championed the cream of America’s early postwar artists. This rich survey includes the usual canon but also offers lesser-known artists, such as Milton Resnick, whose later monochrome canvases were as thick as elephant skin, though he began with colorful studies on cardboard that were nearly as lyrical as the Gorky and de Kooning drawings hanging nearby. Compare the Polish-born Theodore Roszak’s 1950 sketch to his iron Firebird statue of a year later—the jagged, swooping wings are more lively in metal, as if the sculpture came first and was then over-refined in ink. The Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Ave., 212-535-7710. Through February 3.
Like chain-mail tapestries, the wall hangings by this African artist gather and bulge with the heft of sculpture. Constructed from flattened aluminum bottle caps stitched together with copper wire—a vibrant palette that includes such colorful brand names as “Liquor Headmaster”—some of these works are massive. The 40-foot-wide Fading Scroll (2007) begins as a stately procession of silver squares, then grows more colorful and texturally varied (rounded tops bloom like a sudden rash) before collapsing in an elegant heap on the floor. In the 13-foot-highBleeding Takari II, red caps form rivulets that meander through broad reaches of gold and silver before coagulating like puddles on the ground, an over-the-top representation of gore subsumed by the abstract glory of its intense tactile presence. Jack Shainman, 513 W 20th, 212-645-1701. Through February 2.
Full disclosure: Although a fan of his movies, I’ve never liked Julian Schnabel’s paintings, finding Robert Hughes’s withering 1982 review “Expressionist Bric-a-Brac” the perfect storm of artist and critic. Poor draftsmanship deadened those huge broken-crockery pastiches of yore, but in these small new works, painted on maps of islands, the artist’s galumphing hand is more focused, achieving a stirring contrast between the paper grounds and bold slashes of oil paint. Schnabel has a gift for purple (a color leavened beautifully into perhaps his best ’80s painting, Maria Callas II), and in Santa Catalina Island, Vancouver Island, and Bahia de Cádiz (all from 2007), the hues range from bloody plum to flower-petal violet. Linseed-oil stains form halos around the fat brushstrokes, creating sepia echoes of the printed blue shorelines. A group of charts adorned with simple pink crosses suffers from the neo-Expressionist pitfall of too much expanse and too little idea, but the majority of the work here, done in water-spout gray, fish-hook red, rusty orange, and creosote black, evokes rough-and-tumble docks jutting into the alluring caprice of the sea. Sperone Westwater, 415 W 13th, 212-999-7337. Through February 16.
“Ralph! What is the physical nature of evil?” Hunter S. Thompson once asked. The illustrator Ralph Steadman has answered his late pal with a blistering caricature of Bush as a sword-wielding, oil-spewing demon. There’s not much subtlety in this show, but that’s not what illustration is for—the best illos deliver a clever visual argument demanding that you at least think about an issue. In this exhibit, Mirko Ilic imagines coffins as gas pumps, and Serge Bloch demarcates a soldier into “Chuck,” “Sirloin,” and “Tripe.” Illustration functions as the opening salvo of debate: “Artists Against the War” delivers the op-ed page in the raw. Society of Illustrators, 128 E 63rd, 212-838-2560. Through January 26.