In 1966, Stan VanDerBeek (1927–1984) presciently wrote: “It is imperative that we quickly find some way for the entire level of world human understanding to rise to a new human scale. This scale is the world.” Four years later, from his studio at MIT, he faxed a wall mural of ghostly handprints and advertising snippets to venues all over the world—a brash precursor of the PDFs zipping around today’s Internet. This computer-graphics pioneer could paint with the verve of Max Ernst—check out the surreal ’50s landscapes topped by black suns in the rear gallery—and draw with the passionate clarity of Ben Shahn, as in a bold ink sketch of three gesturing hands. Allying a gift for collage with insightful absurdity, VanDerBeek’s animated films, some of which are projected simultaneously in the gallery, are by turns charming and startling: The silverware in Dance of the Looney Spoons (1965) gambols to a percussion soundtrack, fork tines twisted like Hell’s own bad-hair day; similar abstract squiggles explode from Nikita Khrushchev’s mouth in 1960’s Achooo Mr. Kerrooschev. Such mordant burlesques prefigured Monty Python’s spasmodic cartoons by years. In manifestos, films, and kinetic computer animation, VanDerBeek sought a universal means of communication, but he didn’t live to marvel at the Web’s promise of worldwide connectivity (or be disappointed by its blaring tribalism). His work’s invigorating clash of sounds and images reaches back to the bittersweet provocations of Dada and the Beats while keenly foreshadowing our own cacophonous age.
Diana Al-Hadid: ‘Reverse Collider’
Inspired by notions of the Tower of Babel and the new Large Hadron Collider’s search for the “God particle,” Al-Hadid constructs huge, scorched conglomerations of wax-coated cardboard tubes that perhaps envision future ruins. As in an H.R. Giger–designed set from Alien, Al-Hadid layers a patina of decay over mysterious technology. The shattered honeycomb walls and melted footings of her labyrinthine towers offer the desolately beautiful remains of some unknowable disaster. Perry Rubenstein, 527 W 23rd and 534 W 24th, 212-627-8000. Through October 9.
Although these grainy black-and-white shots of Warsaw Pact tanks crushing civilian demonstrations during 1968’s “Prague Spring” are wrenching, photos of the posters that the Czechs hung all over town are equally devastating. In a cartoon-style diptych, one half, labeled “1945,” depicts a little girl offering flowers to a Soviet soldier after the defeat of the Nazis; “1968” shows her dead at his feet. Buses were papered with signs reading “SOS-UN,” but the world did nothing other than issue diplomatic protests. Although he had previously photographed Gypsies and theater companies, Koudelka rushed to the streets during the invasion, and captured his countrymen confronting tanks and pleading with the heavily armed invaders to withdraw. His photographs were later published abroad—anonymously, to protect him from Communist reprisals—where they won the Robert Capa photojournalism award. These images of average citizens brandishing their bodies and reason against guns and bombs are enduring documents of moral courage. Pace MacGill, 32 E 57th, 212-759-7999, through October 11; Aperture, 547 W 27th, 212-505-5555, through October 30.
David Harrison: ‘Green and Pleasant Land’
Let’s get the affinities to other painters out of the way first: Ryder’s crepuscular ambience, Florine Stettheimer’s clotted languor, Thomas Kincaid’s kitschy cottages. Throw in the exhibition title, cribbed from a Blake poem (another line refers to the Industrial Revolution’s “dark satanic mills”), and you’ll get a sense of the baleful beauty suffusing these bent fairy tales. Harrison paints on battered wood grounds, which lend his gargoyles, hooded vandals, satyrs, and woodland creatures the feel of specters glimpsed in a tarnished looking glass. Daniel Reich, 537A W 23rd, 212-924-4949. Through October 18.
‘Abstract Expressionism: A World Elsewhere’
Hoisting their flag over the colonies, London-based Haunch of Venison’s new Rockefeller Center gallery gives us Yanks what-for with a crowded show of New York School behemoths. Included are a glowering plum-and-beige Rothko; a small, wonderfully fluid de Kooning; an oddball Pollock featuring paint-slathered pebbles; and a shape-shifting Gorky drawing that underscores why the other Abstract Expressionists so admired his work. This high-rise gallery space is as intricately subdivided as an upscale law firm’s—perhaps appropriate for a venue with the built-in conflict of interest of being owned by Christie’s auction house—and all of the work is on loan from collectors and museums. (“Nothing is for sale,” the gallery assistant incongruously informed me when I inquired about press materials.) Good-looking but gratuitous, this show is less about America’s most triumphal art movement than about money—old, new, and yet to be made. Haunch of Venison, 1230 Sixth Avenue, 212-259-0000. Through November 12.