Imagine a deluge of sociopolitical news and opinion funneled into the draftsman’s obsession known as horror vacuui, and you’ll come close to the dense, frenetic visions of Dominic McGill. On various themes—economic collapse, war, bigotry—the Brooklyn-based British ex-pat creates kaleidoscopically dazzling, impossible-to-follow flow charts of recent history. Cartoons, symbols, and images snipped from Life and National Geographic float like flotsam in seas of spiraling quotes taken from thinkers on the left and right.
In The Splitting of Reality in Two Parts Is a Considerable Event—a wild look at capitalism and religion—the writings of Guy Debord, Max Weber, and the Zoroastrians (to name a few) swarm around a zigzagging collage of photographic images descending into a Dante-esque Hell. There’s even more chaos in Not a Plan Has Gone Astray, a raging sea of rants and sketches that captures the paranoia in Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails, his classic 1956 study of a doomsday cult enthralled by UFOs.
Originally a sculptor, McGill sometimes takes his drawings into three dimensions. Inside a vitrine, like a medical oddity, a blobby construction of aqua-resin—three deflated orbs connected by bloated intestines—bears a multitude of phrases and figures that refer to Louis Althusser’s three-sphere model of society. And in the back room, on a panel curved to form an enclosure (riffing on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave), the artist has drawn a crazy mindscape of the Middle East, filled with symbols, caricatures, and those overwhelming masses of text, everything from Kant to Francis Fukuyama. This is highbrow, high-energy art, rendered with a doodler’s caprice.
Nicolas Touron: ‘The Kingdom’
There’s another riotous universe in the paintings and paper collages of Nicolas Touron, whose hopped-up imagination seems to take its cues from Dr. Seuss and manga. On wooden circles, in vivid bubble-gum colors, Touron paints hyperactive fantasies populated by squishy animals, bulging airplanes, knobby trees, soaring vines, and indeterminate lumps, all of them often swirling in vortices. The scenes are wonderfully indecipherable, though in rectangular pictures of layered paper cutouts—which depict a similarly colorful pop art madness—Touron adds little labels that suggest connections to current events. Whatever they mean, these illustrations can get addictive. Virgil de Voldère Gallery, 526 W 26th, 212-343-9694. Through May 22
Joachim Koester: ‘From the Secret Garden of Sleep’
In this darkened cavernous space, silent except for clicking projectors, Joachim Koester’s three simultaneous films present disquieting glimpses of altered-state acts. In one, men and women dance with frenzied spasms, performing a version of tarantism, a cure (originally medieval) for the effects of poisonous spider venom. Opposite, a shaggy youth mimes shamanic gestures that Carlos Castaneda, infamous consumer of peyote, claimed he learned from an ancient Yaqui Indian. And in the middle, shown in super-fast sequence, the drawings of Henri Michaux (made while tripping on mescaline) resemble TV static. Echoing the 1970s—drug-culture explorations, spare performance art—Koester’s installation, like a shared joint, doesn’t knock you out, but it does leave you feeling happily unbalanced. Greene Naftali Gallery, 508 W 26th, 212-463-7770. Through May 9
After you’ve risen seven floors above the ramshackle fast-food joints of Hell’s Kitchen, the tidy, gentle pieces here, from two artists who work with paper, seem almost like gifts. Laura McCallum brings a minimalist sensibility to organic forms, filling small polygonal and almond-shaped reliefs with networks of folded or furled paper strips, patterns that suggest the motion of cells. Employing symmetry, sequence, and familiar geometry, she makes metaphors of life—finely crafted frameworks of logic that contain moments of apparent disorder.
For her part, Hilda Shen has layered wedges of cotton-fiber sheets, painted on the reverse for a washy bleed-through effect, to form what appear to be, at first glance, accomplished abstractions. In each, jagged patches of brown surround a central swath of blue. But they’re actually the tunneled glimpses of sky you get when peering up the city’s canyon walls. More playful are Shen’s two intimate drawings of wobbly dark paths, both made using a broken mechanical pencil containing ink, and both intended as subtle jokes on the journeys of Chinese landscape. Cheryl McGinnis Gallery, 555 Eighth Ave, 212-594-4066. Through June 4