Philip Guston’s socially conscious 1940s drawings of the downtrodden and their hooded tormentors evolved into searching, tender abstractions in the ’50s, spare graphics in the ’60s, and galumphing, cartoonish narratives in the ’70s. This terrific show concisely charts how concentrated bouts of drawing re-energized the artist’s broadly influential paintings. At age 13, Guston (1913–1980) was studying at Cleveland’s School of Cartooning, but he was soon in thrall to such Renaissance masters as Giotto and Masaccio. This mix of low and high oscillated throughout his career—the rock-ribbed compositions of early street scenes that imagined kids battling with wooden swords and garbage-can lids combine Piero with Barney Google. A 1947 ink drawing, Angel, hovers between abstraction and winged figuration, but by 1951’s Untitled, only sensitive, gestural flutters of the brush remain, creating airy, ungrounded forms. In Prague (1967), three vertical slashes inside a square placed high on the page can be read as pure, reductive design or as a prison window, while 1970’s Figure in Interior gathers all of Guston’s artistic powers: Beautifully rendered in pencil, the cartoon contours of a Klansman and his fringed lampshade resonate with the abstracted buildings outside his window. Guston filtered the classics through America’s rough-and-ready culture and distilled 600 years of pictorial invention into an ever-intoxicating brew.
Walk toward the convex, 16-foot-long mirror-like wall of Vertigo, and your reflection—at first upside-down and as elongated as one of Giacometti’s existential wanderers—suddenly flips upright and fills out to become the person you see in your bathroom mirror, before abruptly bloating to Macy’s-balloon scale. The four large reflective stainless-steel objects here—the curving wall, a stretched-out cone, a rectangular monolith, and a wasp-waist tower—go beyond funhouse mirrors by making the physics of light and perception palpable. Each heightens the banal geometries of the gallery, turning plumb corners into slingshot curves and rows of fluorescent lights into ever-shifting, luminous rubber bands. The sculptures reflect each other in turn, surrounding you with flitting, attenuated doppelgängers. Gladstone, 530 W 21st, 212-206-9300. Through August 15.
Alison Elizabeth Taylor
Who are these two young women—one dark-skinned, the other blonde and tan—sitting on the steps of a geodesic-dome homestead? The first knits a small garment, so perhaps they’re transplants from some Eastern city, lesbians with a baby on the way. They’re also knocking back a couple of beers—does that explain the frowning hombre sitting in the pickup just outside their barbed-wire fence? All of these narrative elements, including distant mountains and the truck’s Jesus-fish decal, have been pieced together from wood veneer, which Taylor chooses with the sensitivity of a painter deploying color and brush textures. Another scene features a pair of skinny-dippers who are seemingly oblivious to a third figure sinking below the ripples of a swimming hole. Taylor’s desert vistas are topped by differing striations, conveying sunsets or approaching storms. Lithely cut abstractions underpin these dense, open-ended tales—the curves of an abandoned swimming pool behind a flat scrim of chain-link fence are as sinuous as if drawn with charcoal, while the orange and burnt-umber sky bears mute witness to some obscure tragedy. James Cohan, 533 W 26th, 212-714-9500. Through June 21.
Dara Friedman: ‘Musical’
Gothamites are inured to living on a vast soundstage; they know that those long white trailers and catering tables mean a big-budget flick is on location. Dara Friedman has pared such productions down into a 48-minute video that can be seen as a social experiment: In collaboration with the Public Art Fund, she arranged for 60 individuals to burst into song in various midtown locations while she surreptitiously filmed crowd reactions. One songstress does a breathy “Lush Life” on Grand Central’s main staircase as a cop casts her a bemused glance and two young girls scurry around her to take snapshots of the main concourse; a woman jabbering on a cell phone leaves in a huff when a young man begins crooning “Tell It Like It Is” from atop a Central Park boulder. Friedman sometimes uses split screens to run alternate takes of the a cappella renditions, creating ersatz duets; after one singer has finished, he may appear in the background when another strolls by singing “On the Street Where You Live.” This fascinating visual weave captures passersby often knowingly scanning for a camera, sometimes edging away as they gauge the nut quotient, and occasionally just enjoying that moment we all secretly fantasize—a star turn on Broadway—which these intrepid souls have dared to enact in public rather than in the shower. Gavin Brown, 620 Greenwich St, 212-627-5258. Through June 28.