Imagine that in 1966, long before you were born, your mom, a 16-year-old beauty named Tina, posed for Seventeen magazine, her slightly large nose emphasizing her fawn-like blue eyes and swooping russet curls, her body lithe under pink angora. She was training to be a ballerina, and her porcelain skin was as ethereal as her performances with the Joffrey. Fast-forward 25 years: In a snapshot, Mom is helping you with your tie before a Sweet 15 dance, her red hair flaming a few degrees beyond what nature granted. A formal shot from later in the evening captures your date—a cute girl, though not a stunner like Mom, even if her hair is a radiant match to the maternal thatch. By 2003, Tina’s ballet career has devolved into Seattle Weekly personal ads: “EXOTIC DANCER—Not kidding! Beautiful, glamorous, sexy, intelligent & talented former ballerina & serious artist . . . who excels at fantasy and reality . . . seeks wealthy husband.”
This decline has been documented in the pictures that Leigh Ledare has taken of his mother, her lovers, himself, and other family members over the past decade. Mom Spread With Lamp (2000) doesn’t beat around the bush—it’s Tina, on a bed, dramatically lit, her naked, depilated crotch thrust at the viewer, her stomach and thighs taut from strip-club exertions. In Mom After the Accident (2005), she’s full-frontal again, a post-car-crash neck brace above heavier breasts, her hips wider, her legs doughier, her regal countenance set off against a textured ceiling glowing as orange as a tropical sunset, her hair still blazing. Leigh’s typed reminiscences from seventh grade include a rare reference to Dad: “in his tighty whiteys on these green couch cushions on the laundry room floor . . . Mom thinks he’s trying to make her look bad, like she married a loser.” He recalls his mother after a shower, lying down near him: “The mound of red hair at her crotch is starting to dry and get fluffy.” A haunting color portrait of Tina from 2007, her closed eyes as serene as a death mask, contrasts with four 2008 photo-booth strips of mother and son mugging and staging kisses. This mix of ephemera and unsettling photographic fact coalesces into a particularly graphic novel of the mind, about one family that’s definitely unhappy (or not) in its very own way.
Robert Colescott: ‘Troubled Goods’
This African-American artist has long pushed his fragmented forms, lurid colors, and audacious subjects to just this side of frenzy. Love Hate Relationship (1989) depicts a white man wearing a mud-orange tie choking a black woman, her skin bulging pink from the pressure. Colescott never shies away from miscegenation, including in his media—a striking 1998 series of five-foot-high collages deploys green bubble wrap and other materials as vividly as brushstrokes; in one deft move, a woman’s vagina is created from an orange-polka-dotted shoulder pad. Acrylics direct from the tube supply large paintings such as Olympia’s Fountain with the chromatic sinews to power bold narratives—a woman as black as the maid in Manet’s Olympia rises up on a red-and-gold background, emphatic as Botticelli’s blonde Venus. G.R. N’Namdi, 526 W 26th, 212-929-6645. Through June 7.
‘Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing’
There’s still no substitute for drawing—for that ineffable moment when brain, eye, and hand team up to give form to thought. MOMA has culled roughly 100 works from 50 artists, including Saul Steinberg’s 1950 sketch of ostentatious gendarmes on spindly bicycles; Amy Sillman’s densely colored gouaches of Texas townsfolk; Christopher Knowles’s typewriter graphics; and the undulating dance of Yayoi Kusama’s ink dots. These disparate sketches, studies, and mixed-media musings make for a fascinating Babel. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-708-9400. Through July 7.
With a drippy boldness similar to that in Motherwell’s stark Elegies to the Spanish Republic, Uklanski’s red-and-white resin paintings recall the sorrows and hopeless bravery of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis. Poland’s national colors also appear in two massive sheets of glass, white atop red, the 20-by-12-foot scale leavened by enthralling subtleties of light at the edges and joins. This grand show includes a rocket blast of crockery cemented to one wall, which reaches a soaring red pinnacle at the ceiling, and a huge photo of thousands of shipyard workers posed in red and white shirts to form the Solidarity logo. A second shot reveals everyone walking off in different directions, individuals finished with their moment of glorious unity. Gagosian, 522 W 21st, 212-741-1717. Through May 17.
Kostianovsky was born in Jerusalem and raised in Argentina; when she moved to New York, her parents sent her warm clothes, which she eventually cannibalized for her artwork. In life-size sculptures of livestock carcasses, she uses plum, beige, and white fabric of varying textures to conjure flayed flesh, gristle, bone, and slabs of fat. The evident dryness of the surfaces throws the senses for a loop—twisted strands from a coarsely knitted burgundy rug seem to drain from a utility sink, spreading like a coagulated puddle onto the floor. Some pieces are strung on chains, pierced with meat hooks, stuffed into plastic bags, or labeled with purple numbers that recall concentration-camp tattoos. Ask to see the 2007 photo Unbeknownst, in which thin leaves of actual bloody meat resemble pages in a book—a beautiful, tenuous alliance of knowledge and brutality, wisdom and the ravening needs of the body. Black & White, 638 W 28th, 212-244-3007. Through May 24.