Vik Muniz’s ‘Verso’; Tom Schmitt at Howard Scott; Johnston Forster at Rare


You might think the gallery is still installing Vik Muniz’s show: Framed paintings are turned to face the wall, their backs—stretcher bars, bare canvas, and wood panels—facing out. Look closer and you’ll see labels, many yellowed and torn, identifying the works as masterpieces of 19th- and 20th-century art and noting the museums to which they’ve traveled. Picasso’s Woman Ironing is owned by the Guggenheim but has been lent to the National Gallery in Washington and Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, and it’s nice to know that when the Art Institute of Chicago loaned Grant Wood’s American Gothic to the Dallas Museum in 1936, it was “Not for sale.” With stupefying verisimilitude—nicks and dings in the wood, elaborate hanging hardware, gesso cracking along canvas folds—Muniz and a team of “dedicated craftsmen, artists, forgers, and technicians” have exactingly re-created the backsides of various icons of painting. (Experts will check the verso of any artwork to help determine its authenticity.) Everyone knows Hopper’s Nighthawks, but here, amid screw heads biting into the back of the dark-stained frame, you get only the title and artist’s name on a small tag. That, and a maddening urge to tilt these objects—they’re essentially sculptures—away from the wall to see what’s on the other side. (No spoilers here; the pieces are pitched at an angle that allows a tantalizing hint.) Trompe l’oeil images of studio materials are a time-honored trope of painting, but Muniz’s 3D re-creations enter the realm of the forger’s obsessive attention to detail.

In the rear gallery, art history meets “the first draft of history”—Muniz and his team have re-created the backs of more than a dozen famous newspaper photographs from The New York Times‘ archives, including the Hindenburg disaster and LBJ’s swearing-in after JFK’s assassination. As with the paintings, you never see the actual images, only crooked date stamps, scribbled notations, and ragged Scotch-taped captions—physical surfaces as dense as Kurt Schwitters’s “Merz” collages of ephemera. In both these series, Muniz thumbs his nose at our age of effortlessly perfect digital reproduction. He gives us objects ravaged by handcrafted scars that lovingly replicate the presence of these cultural touchstones while denying us the aesthetics that originally made them famous. As Muniz once told someone who groused that a seven-year-old could paint a Picasso: “Probably, but he couldn’t do the back.”

Tom Schmitt

The four orange squares in Quad (2005) are divided by a gray grid; the transition between the two colors is as smoothly elusive as the intersections of colored light in Dan Flavin’s fluorescent-tube sculptures. Although these small works are wrought with a computer and Epson printer, they convey a physicality that calls to mind Rothko’s mystical joins of oil paint. While tools and materials change, there’s no substitute for a patient eye, and Schmitt’s been a painter for more than 40 years. Unlike most images disgorged from circuitry nowadays, these have the imposing beauty that comes only from experience. Howard Scott, 529 W 20th, 646-486-7004. Through October 4.

Johnston Foster

When you enter the gallery, you might feel like Frankenstein’s monster in a ’30s horror flick—angry villagers with torches and pitchforks crowd the entrance. The 50-plus figures of Mob Deep (2008) are all about waist-high and crafted from styrofoam, trash cans, mop heads, and other detritus. In the rear space, Foster shifts scale and mood in an eight-foot-long sculpture of a thrashing cockfight fashioned from shredded plastic trash cans and a five-and-a-half-foot-high human heart fabricated from discarded doormats and auto parts. Such sad-sack materials leaven poignancy into the visceral spirit of violence, passion, and pain. Rare, 521 W 26th, 212-268-1520. Through October 4.

Vidya Gastaldon

A spare web of red wool stretches across the gallery to form the outline of a cartoon heart, loose strands of yarn dangling like blood drips. This same tattered organ appears in a delicate watercolor floating above a landscape menaced by massive gelatinous creatures. In other images, tiny mystics of various persuasions populate gray plains and tenuous mountains, while misty auras ripple the skies. Gastaldon deftly blends cloying cuteness with malignant forms in a fantastical world offering equal parts hope and affliction. Salon 94 Freemans, 1 Freeman Alley, 646-672-9212. Through October 18.

Nathan Carter

These “Radio Transmission Contraptions” channel a dazzlingly retro vibe through spidery steel armatures reminiscent of Calder’s mobiles and brightly colored biomorphic forms that recall Picasso’s beach frolickers. A checkerboard zeppelin sprouting flowery appendages juts from one wall; elsewhere, a huge glass-and-steel bird hangs from the ceiling. Although such concoctions could be redolent of some bland “We are all one” U.N. sculpture circa 1963, Carter’s work instead provides the pleasure of snagging a bewitching shortwave signal from the midnight ether. Casey Kaplan, 525 W 21st, 212-645-7335. Through October 4.