Decapitations. Impalements. Stabbings. Hangings. Point-blank firing squads. Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) was more than 60 years old and ailing when he embarked on a series of 85 small etchings depicting Spain’s war against Napoleon’s invading army. It was this struggle, from 1808 to 1814, that birthed the term “guerrilla,” or “little war”—irregular resisters fighting a formal military force. The Disasters of War is a catalogue of atrocity, including a scene where two soldiers restrain a naked prisoner while a third hacks his crotch with a sword. Yet, the title of this etching, What more can one do?, seems to rail not only against the murderous invaders but more generally at the primitive barbarism that overwhelms a civilization during wartime. A famous image (appropriated 14 years ago for a Chapman Brothers sculpture) of torsos, limbs, and heads lashed to a tree and impaled on branches bears the disgusted yet ironic title Great deeds! With dead men! Goya is both horrified and world-weary, but too much a master not to discover powerful compositions amid humanity’s absurd cruelties. In Ravages of War, the pale bodies of women and children cartwheel through a dark space while a tumbling chair mimics their flailing limbs and everything piles up like garbage. Goya’s chiaroscuro views of hell on earth were not seen during his lifetime because they were deemed too horrific for public consumption. Their horror still resonates—do not miss them.
Ryan Johnson: ‘Watchman’
A figure wearing a parka labeled “SECURITY” stares from a face consisting of a clock with dozens of second, minute, and hour hands. The guard’s plaster body is anchored by a bucket of cement, his atrophied hand clutches a cane, and hundreds of keys burst like entrails from his stomach. More plaster “Sentinels” loom in a larger gallery, their husks adorned with graffiti courtesy of attached markers. One of these pathetic guardians reaches for a phone connected to a pole eternally out of reach; some wag has written the Public Enemy brickbat “911 Is a Joke!” across its straining arm. Like old-school surrealism, there’s an engaging literalness to this work, both funny and creepy, which sets the mind to wandering a homeland that doesn’t feel terribly secure. Guild & Greyshkul, 28 Wooster, 212-625-9224. Through June 14.
A needle rides the grooves of a vinyl record, emitting a rumbling drone, a motif echoed by dim Super-8 films of rocks tumbling in wooden sluices; additional footage of lava beds and ocean vistas is interrupted by bright flares of light. Across the darkened gallery, flickering white striations are projected onto dead fluorescent light tubes. All the objects are scattered about the floor, including a tall, narrow plywood box lit from the bottom and a photo of Mauna Kea’s astronomical observatories with their retractable viewing slits. This Hawaiian-born artist’s carefully calibrated environment leavens weird science into a paradise that blooms from molten volatility. LMAKprojects, 526 W 26th, 212-255-9707. Through June 7.
Tears stream from Hello Kitty’s eyes; across the courtyard from this bathetic fountain, a wind-up version of the marketing behemoth towers over the viewer. These huge effigies of Kitty (and two other characters, Miffy and My Melody) have been cobbled together with foam-core and glue guns, then cast in bronze and painted white, throwing the drippy seams into high relief. Do these sculptures comment on our ever more wasteful consumption of corporate pseudo-culture? Or do we simply yearn to see these cute Frankensteins rampaging through Gotham like escapees from a Japanese monster flick? It’s your call. Lever House, 390 Park Ave, 212-688-6000. Through September 6.
Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses
If you’ve seen his recent exhibitions, you already know the haunting drama that Crewdson achieves in his large-scale photos of individuals stranded on the streets of decaying small towns or atrophying in forlorn bedrooms. This intense book condenses these compositions into Technicolor movie stills for which the viewer must imagine storylines, although—as in the shot of a heavyset woman alone with her baby—you may not want to contemplate the denouement. Is there tenderness or infanticide in that frozen gaze? Also included are Polaroid studies, floor plans, lighting diagrams, and other materials that unveil Crewdson’s Hollywood-level production methods. 140 pp., $60, hnabooks.com.
In keeping with her fascinating videos, which imagine cohorts of women manufacturing products from their own tears and hair, Rottenberg’s exuberant new sketches are stamped with parts of her body. Here are globular markings from her buttocks; over there, spread-out handprints. At first glance as chirpy as a day-care-center bulletin board, these sophisticated compositions soon reveal figures merging into landscapes and such frantic characters as a pink pig that segues from cartoon mug to sweaty Lothario. Patches of densely scribbled graphite imply that some of the frenzied action has been censored. Nicole Klagsbrun, 526 W 26th, 212-243-3335. Through June 7.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2008