Mutilated bodies sensuously posed inside antique glass cabinets might bring to mind any number of horror flicks, but these victims of horrible acts—all molded in red-streaked wax—are part of Berlinde De Bruyckere’s unsettling homage to the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The lifesize figures, each suggesting a sexual position, appear to have been attacked by a meat cleaver in the midst of copulation—they’re headless, split down the middle, and disfigured. Upstairs, you’ll find what might be leftovers of a brutal experiment: branch-like entrails, also in wax, suspended between two sawhorses.
The Pasolini connection isn’t really central. The director did often focus on brutality (his last film, Salò, had fascists torturing teens), and his death, a murder, was extreme: a bludgeoning, followed by a repeated mashing under his own car. But for all its suggested violence, the exhibit is less shocking than quietly absorbing. Nodding toward Pasolini’s use of anachronisms, De Bruyckere has conjured a genteel, 17th-century milieu: marble-like sculptures, formal displays, and old-fashioned drawings of viscera on intentionally aged paper. Your response softens, and that’s perhaps the point: Under artful manipulation, human degradation can become frighteningly acceptable.
A wild, boozing provocateur, Martin Kippenberger made art with such manic energy—and so prodigiously—that you wonder if he suspected he’d never live to see his 45th birthday. An entertainer at heart, he typically pitched his work toward stinging satire or the practical joke. He once crucified a wooden frog (pissing off the pope); titled a 1984 abstraction With the Best Will in the World I Can’t See a Swastika; and later constructed entrances to an imaginary worldwide subway system.
But the dedicated clown often touched on pathos, particularly in his last years. The late paintings here, styled in expressionist Pop (a trademark), convey a brooding melancholy—Kippenberger’s final considerations of a favorite image, the egg. This time, that symbol of purity, birth, and femininity seems to hold end-of-life fears and dreams. In one painting, based on a centuries-old engraving, a swordsman prepares to crack open the “philosopher’s egg,” an alchemical vessel that produced (medieval cabalists claimed) an elixir for prolonging life. Elsewhere, an ovoid female figure stands exposed and bloated, a Kippenberger surrogate; the stitched-up doll in Sick Egg Child suffers alone in a room of muddy brown; and an angular woman—perhaps evoking the artist’s mother, who died in a freak accident when he was 23—fiercely clutches a large yellow ovum.
Kippenberger’s hasty brushwork has always suggested a man too impatient, cynical, or drunk to bother with details, but in this selection, the rough picture-making feels driven more by emotion and foreboding. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Spreading of Mediocrity, from 1994: The familiar white oval, immersed in a field of gray, oozes a black goo of disease, presaging the cancer that would kill the artist three years later, turning the iconoclast into an average mortal. Skarstedt Gallery, 20 East 79th St, 212-737-2060. Through April 16
The intriguing space at Invisible Dog, a former factory, continues to host moody installations of light. In Prana (Sanskrit for “vital energy”), Chris Klapper and Jen Lusker have fashioned a living wall. A dense array of 2,000 glowing mushroom-shaped objects pulses with a slow rhythm of breathing, and then reacts to an approaching viewer with anxious flickering, as if estimating the threat. Assembled from simple lamps, hand-soldered wire, and ultrasonic distance sensors, the piece charmingly recalls ’60s sci-fi—a mysterious machine Captain Kirk might have encountered in an early episode of Star Trek.
In the basement, a darkened room becomes a three-dimensional screen for Julien Gardair’s alluring video (Camera Locus 2) of colored shapes and figurative shadow. Photographs and footage of factory artifacts blend with animated drawings, all of it precisely projected on walls, beams, and poles. As you wander past the dream-world visuals, listening to a haunting song by Claude Debussy, you may feel as if you’ve stumbled into a set for a film by the Brothers Quay. Invisible Dog, 51 Bergen St, Brooklyn, 347-560-3641. Through April 3 (Camera Locus 2 ) and April 24 (Prana )