‘Present Tense’/’No Wave’


Curated by painters Mary Heilman and Don Christensen, the vibrant abstractions of ‘Present Tense’ (Spanierman Modern, 53 E 58th, 212-832-1400. Through July 11) coalesce into a buoyant summer group show. Polly Apfelbaum’s stained-fabric pieces are as delicately beautiful as mold blooms, providing a rich contrast to the radiantly furrowed canvases that Taro Suzuki creates by pulling a rake through layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow acrylic. Heilman’s own 1992 oil painting, Weave, also features primary colors, set in blunt rectangles that gain endearing subtlety from her lush, drippy brushwork. But it is Christensen, painting bright enamels over roughly cut wooden slabs, who steals the show. The misty pinks of 2008’s Up From the South are animated by painted black bars that, in combination with the wooden joints, create a rousing visual rhythm.
Long before arriving in such fancy uptown digs, Christensen was the drummer for the Contortions, one of the late-’70s downtown bands that were rooted as much in the visual avant-garde as in music. The ‘No Wave’ exhibition at KS Art (73 Leonard St, 212-219-9918. Through July 31) opens with a solid wall of brash flyers for such bands as Theoretical Girls, the Gynecologists, and Blinding Headache. Photos document many of the era’s highlights, including a Mudd Club performance by Von LMO featuring a welding helmet and a chainsaw. A portrait of the Contortions’ angular guitarist, Pat Place (one leg clad in a striped knee sock, the other in a high black boot), hangs next to her own photos of colorful toy monsters that swirl up from soft-focus backgrounds like demented taffy. In 1979, Robin Crutchfield, of the bands DNA and Dark Day, labeled identical baby pictures in a degraded Xerox “Dead” and “Asleep.” Three decades later, his diptych remains a sardonic talisman of yesteryear’s downtown wasteland. In an interview, Lydia Lunch, of Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, once related the era’s ethos: “Work? Are you nuts? Please. $75 per month—that was my rent . . . You begged, borrowed, stole, sold drugs, worked a couple of days at a titty bar if you had to.” This compendium of art and ephemera disinters the soul of a gritty bohemia now buried under chain stores and luxury towers.

Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon. Starts: June 13. Continues through July 10, 2008

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