A novelist’s relatively meager production—a single work every year, at best—would seem to have no equivalent in visual arts, where careers depend on a broad, brand-name presence. But for Mark Greenwold, a writer’s painter if ever there was one, deliberation has become a trademark. Best known for rich tableaux of surreal, domestic tension (typically not much bigger than a sheet of paper), Greenwold assembles his scenes one tiny stroke of color at a time, peering through a jeweler’s loupe and fussing over some sections for months.
Still, that’s nothing compared to the four years Greenwold took to finish Bright Promise, the extraordinary centerpiece in an exhibit that surveys the painter’s rarely seen efforts from the late 1960s and early ’70s. In those days of swinger circles, the artist was filling his canvases, most quite large, with sex. Working in acrylic, Greenwold, a classicist at heart, created candy-colored interiors that play off old master studies in perspective, then added stylized figures who loll around, nude or provocatively posed, with Balthus-like disengagement. But when he turned to oil, first in the Playboy-like fantasy Secret Storm, flesh met flesh in eye-popping photorealism. You won’t find a more stimulating work, sexual or visual, than Bright Promise: On the floor of a hallucinogenically colored bedroom, a young man mouths the breast of a naked redhead while a lithe, vampirish brunette undresses to join the fun. The details—wall shadows, tchochkes, tan lines—are astonishing (the chenille bedspread alone required a year), and the sense of imminent drama (present in all of the artist’s work) is thrilling. Greenwold has fulfilled his own bright promise many times, even for a guy who’s in no hurry.
‘Rare Cuban Posters’
While the acclaimed Polish poster movement of the Cold War years was often a protest against Communist control, the lesser-known Cuban version, which had its heyday in the decade after Castro’s coup, might be something close to celebration. Largely produced by the state-sponsored Cuban Film Institute and various government agencies, the designs were mostly advertising pro-revolutionary ideals, collective efforts toward productivity, and films that examined the common folk.
Among the 100 posters here—selected from the gallery’s giant collection—there’s a certain uninhibited delight in expression itself, exemplified by the childlike whimsy of self-taught designer Eduardo Muñoz Bachs. His cartoonish Charlie Chaplin, standing amid tropical flowers, perfectly captures the charms of Octavio Cortázar’s Por Primera Vez (1967), a documentary about villagers seeing a film (Modern Times) for the first time. Even a poster encouraging “conscientious repair” of sugar-harvest equipment gets playful, as a red wrench replaces part of a yellow R. The political imagery, too—often sympathetic toward the Vietnamese—is less angry than satirical, as in Luis Balaguer’s striking image of a grinning, red-eyed Nixon, whose head contains a photograph of the My Lai Massacre. Simple but bold, the graphics here are lessons in persuasion. Cuban Art Space, 231 W 29th St, 212-242-0559. Through April 30
Pawel Wojtasik: ‘At the Still Point’
The waypoints and endpoints of life, human and machine, continue to fascinate the video artist Pawel Wojtasik, who has now taken his camera to India. Designed for the gallery’s enormous space and accompanied by Stephen Vitiello’s moody electronic score, this five-channel project cycles through a series of startling images, shot in Wojtasik’s long, mesmerizing takes.
First we visit the dismantling of decrepit cargo ships: In one scene, several workers crouching near the massive vessels slowly hammer apart links of anchor chain. Their task, almost Sisyphean, would seem to run beyond any human measure, and it becomes, in Wojtasik’s careful framing, a vision of eternity. The theme replays in human death, as a body is prepared for a floating pyre on the Ganges, and later, too, in a vast grid of cement troughs near Mumbai, where bare-chested men clean an endless supply of shirts and pants by thrashing them on stones. There’s a bleakness to all this, but it’s filmed with such serenity that the solemn labor becomes a ritual of absolution. While much video art has moved toward slick storytelling, Wojtasik quietly meditates on the human condition. Smack Mellon Gallery, 92 Plymouth St, Brooklyn, 718-834-8761. Through April 11