Best In Show: Almanza, Bernard, Messenger, Cruz-Diez + The Dog of the Month


Although the Tenth Avenue gallery’s shattered-glass front door resulted from an accident, it lends a Duchampian celebration of chance to Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s exhibition. Born in Mexico, the artist was educated in Texas, and his sculptures can conjure thoughts of El Norte’s stability versus the volatility found south of the border. Almanza’s precarious constructions delve beneath such simple clichés, however, as in his tower of glass boxes enclosing an incongruous mix of items, including axes, paper lanterns, splattered cement, and U.S. currency. Danger lurks within elegance: The tumbled bricks filling one modular unit combine with a bundle of cash to summon visions of undocumented laborers toiling to erect luxury skyscrapers, OSHA regs be damned. Almanza’s work delivers the thrill of materials pushed to their physical limits. In Magnan’s West 28th Street space, a huge snarl of heavy chain hangs from a rafter like a menacing chandelier, its shiny bulk challenging the load-bearing capacity of a single link. As with Richard Serra’s torqued steel slabs, you can appreciate the brusquely fetching aesthetics even as you contemplate the potentially crushing weight. Nearby, a water-filled aquarium perched atop tall steel struts contains a sledgehammer buoyed by Christmas balls. Unlike Jeff Koons’s floating basketballs, there’s humor here, a giddy equipoise between the glass vessel and the means of its own destruction. Visceral, absurd, and dicey—just the art our age deserves.

Cindy Bernard: ‘Silent Key’

The gallery is densely hung with colorful reproductions of postcards that were originally sent from places that now exist only in old atlases: Nazi Germany, the USSR, Burma. Bernard’s grandfather, a ham-radio operator from 1923 until he died in 1999, received the missives from other hams around the world that he’d contacted using Morse code. The Nazis were demons for nationalistic graphic design, and the Soviets were no slouches, with their bold Cyrillic texts and heroic aviators. But a card labeled “Radioamateurs work for peace and friendship,” sent from Czechoslovakia in 1962, and a picture postcard of a long-haired Russian named Serge (with a cat on his lap), sent in 1991 as the Soviet empire collapsed, relate a more human history. Tracy Williams, 313 W 4th, 212-229-2757. Through October 25.

Sam Messenger: ‘Straightedge’

Messenger’s large drawings discover new wrinkles in the grid game. Thick, drippy acrylic or gesso grounds give some of his obsessively drawn ink lines the feel of nets or spiderwebs. In one, he creates an astonishing vortex of abraded light through a graceful spiral of white ink drawn over a rough, black surface. This free-hand virtuosity shifts gears in a series of crisply drawn rulers—each number, hash mark, even brand name, carefully delineated in pen and ink at one-to-one scale. With the advent of computer-graphics programs, these measuring tools feel obsolete, becoming perfect subjects for Messenger’s painstaking methods and timeless materials. Davidson Contemporary, 724 Fifth Avenue, 212-759-7555. Through November 1.

Carlos Cruz-Diez

As if you had walked into a Josef Albers painting, Cruz-Diez’s Chromosaturation environment shifts colors with a scientific rigor that yields to fun-house perception. Banks of red, green, and blue lights mingle into gradations of purple, orange, tenuous yellow, and voluptuous gray; the opposite faces of cubes suspended from the ceiling offer stark complements of color, which sometimes become white as the illumination drifts into perfect balance. This light chamber was originally conceived in 1965, after Cruz-Diez (born in Venezuela in 1923) had experimented with his series of Physichromies—3D paintings fabricated from slats of cardboard, wood, and Plexiglas. Opposing colors mix in your eyes as you walk past, a phenomenon roughly analogous to a TV screen’s scan lines. This old-school fabrication method adds a charming physicality to the artist’s optical peregrinations. The Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, 212-249-8950. Through December 13.

Dog of the Month: Cecily Brown

Often compared to De Kooning because of her splashy energy and elusive figures, Cecily Brown has filled Gagosian’s massive space with 39 canvases that might be termed Attention-Deficit Abstraction. Unlike the Dutch master’s sweeping contours and fleshy bulges of paint, Brown’s brushstrokes are disjointed smears that deaden any sense of movement. Depicting what seems to be plein-air cunnilingus, the three “Skull Diver” canvases (each about seven feet square) belabor the sexual vein that has lent Brown’s work a wan notoriety. The series features mushy heads bobbing between splayed legs, and while there’s a nicely foreshortened arm here or some thrumming fingers there, which hint at quivering ecstasy, the scattered background daubs congeal into a deadfall of turgid color. Smaller works prove even more inert. Rather than sharpening her all-over motifs, Brown’s smatterings of color feel random and clotted, more paint rag than painting. Gagosian, 555 W 24th, 212-741-1111. Through October 25.