When it’s up close and personal, photography can really get under your skin. In these separate but related bodies of work, Katy Grannan employs California’s paradisiacal sunlight and a gritty empathy to illuminate life at society’s margins. In a culture that worships youthful and surgically perfected flesh, one might imagine life as a sagging, middle-aged transsexual to be a tough row to hoe, but in this photographer’s downtown show (at Salon 94 Freemans), we meet Dale and Gail, best friends who revel in their ersatz femininity. Despite her truncated plumbing, Dale can’t escape her own square shoulders and boxy torso—whether posing in sheer pantyhose or nude on a bed, she projects a blond ideal closer to Edgar Winter than Marilyn Monroe. And yet those 20 jungle-red nails and that coquettish body language achieve a poignant, corporeal dissonance. Then there’s a photo of Gail, in tasteful white pumps, her russet tresses and frilly, crocheted shawl wafting in a Pacific breeze. Grannan’s models pose as they desire to be seen, even if, as Gail once told the photographer, “All we really have are our delusions, dear.”
Nicole, in the uptown show at Greenberg Van Doren, is not a transsexual—just a woman Grannan met on the street in San Francisco. Yet with her well-sculpted, if weathered, starlet’s mug, she has delusions of her own. We first see her in low-riding pants, writhing in a pebble-strewn parking lot. Then she’s a naked, red-haired siren, grinding meaty hips on a vortex of rock, surrounded by a blaze of vegetation. Or she’s sprawling across a fancy hotel bed, bleached wig seemingly dug out of Cindy Sherman’s costume trunk, black stilettos complementing white teeth exposed by snarling lips. In one shot that eschews theatrical pretensions, Nicole stands nude in a ratty, crepuscular apartment, cigarette smoldering, head thrown back in ecstasy—or is it resignation? Whichever, her belly is starting to bulge, portending a child on the way and paralleling a teddy bear in the frame, a talisman of youth burned through on the quick. Grannan’s models willingly offer themselves, sans texts or testimonials, for our delectation. All we know is what we see, but that’s plenty, thank you very much.
Olaf Otto Becker
In these photographs of Greenland, Mother Nature is a brilliant abstract sculptor: The sweeping wedge of an iceberg floats near the rusty triangles and brown bows of the shore; massive cliffs of gray stone open onto huge reaches of silvery sky; towering monoliths of ice trace a gamut of whites across indigo water. Other large-scale color shots include ramshackle houses, their rocky lawns strewn with garish plastic toys, the blunt geometries and unnatural colors adulterating the majestic landscape. Cohen Amador, 41 E 57th, 212-759-6740. Through March 14.
Park (b. 1918) was overshadowed by her husband, the Abstract Expressionist James Brooks, but this group of paintings from the heyday of that macho epoch reveals an artist with a strong vision and lithe hand of her own.
25 from 1951, 3 x 4 feet and painted in pure black and white, weaves figure and ground with bold, abstract aplomb. The deft palette-knife work in 1955’s Aztec creates slabs of orange and Chinese-red arcs that buttress the black totems of the vertical canvas, while Blue Warning (1953), with its layered, biomorphic grid and shifting textures, can be seen as a precursor to Terry Winters’s gorgeously painted hybrids of nature and science from the last quarter-century. Spanierman Modern, 53 E 58th, 212-838-1400. Through February 2.
I want to see Dooling’s shopping list: “Hardware store—threaded rods, 3 mil. plastic sheeting, steel turnbuckles, hot glue. Bodega—aluminum foil. Office Depot—pushpins. Taxidermy supply house—baboon, fox, prairie dog.” Using shredded plastic sheets and translucent creatures suspended from a grid of heavy-gauge wire, the artist has created a menagerie in what looks like an illegal asbestos-removal site. Her animals are fabricated from aluminum foil layered over taxidermy forms, which are then coated with hot glue; pierced by swathes of clear pushpins, this mutant flesh seems to have developed plastic mange. In a separate gallery, one critter has collapsed and is surrounded by a horde of smaller beasts who nose against her—whether sucklings or scavengers is unclear. Michael Steinberg, 526 W 26th, 212-924-5770. Through February 9.
’50 Years of Helvetica’
The degree to which this anniversary excites you undoubtedly speaks volumes about your social life. As concise as the font it celebrates, this small exhibition includes a wooden tray filled with old-school lead slugs, and an announcement for Italian artist Lucio Fontana, which graphically splits the clean sans-serif text in half to emulate his slashed canvases. Jazz posters and a Massive Attack CD demonstrate Helvetica’s broad appeal across half a century of musical styles, while Gary Hustwit’s 2007 video documents the Swiss typeface’s colonization of Gotham, from the TKTS booth to mailboxes and subway signage. (Helvetica is derived from the Latin name for Switzerland: Helvetia.) A display superimposing the typeface, created by Max Miedinger and Edouard Hoffmann in 1957, over its 1896 predecessor, Akzidenz Grotesk, reveals Helvetica’s slightly more streamlined 20th-century flow. So go ahead—revel in the evolution of the question mark and ampersand. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-708-9400. Through March 31.