Best in Show: Doug Wheeler at David Zwirner; ‘It’s the Political Economy, Stupid’


When you walk toward Doug Wheeler’s bright, alluring enclosure, you might feel like one of those characters about to visit another dimension in fantasy films. Wearing paper booties (supplied for the journey), you will take tentative steps toward the glowing threshold, pass through what appears to be a solid wall, and then move into a foggy, indistinct void—white, pink, or blue depending on the time of day—that seems to be infinite. Heaven, perhaps, or an alternate universe or a dream. A glance backward reveals with unexpected clarity the world you have left behind. Engineered with nothing but light, the effects are cinematic, mystical, and a bit unnerving.

For decades, paralleling James Turrell to some extent, Wheeler has been experimenting with spare illuminations that invoke a quasi-spiritualism. In the 1960s, his earliest efforts imbued geometric solids indirectly lit by neon tubes with a kind of sacred importance. Later, the objects gave way to empty rooms that suggested chapels, where cleverly diffused light permeated the space with a godlike presence. Eventually, even the walls—and any visual focus—disappeared entirely from Wheeler’s installations, as in this one, leaving only your own self-awareness (a Zen-like concept) as the most immediate experience of his work.

Under the direction of the artist, who pays meticulous attention to detail, the gallery wisely limits the number of visitors in the space at one time. But if you can, enter alone. The wondrous blankness—the purest form of minimalism you’ll likely ever encounter—is naturally most effective in solitude.

‘It’s the Political Economy, Stupid’

“Money to burn!” chants artist Dread Scott as he strolls along Wall Street while setting dollar bills aflame in front of bewildered traders and appreciative tourists. The filmed performance, displayed at the entrance, sets the stage for this confrontational, intellectual, and occasionally amusing group show, which squarely aligns itself with the Occupy movement.

Satirical videos skewering greed dominate. Zanny Begg and Oliver Ressler combine hardcore economic commentary with crude animation (banker bears as criminals) in a stinging put-down of bailouts. Melanie Gilligan’s Crisis in the Credit System, a series of tongue-in-cheek, TV-like episodes, features various absurdly exaggerated market-movers, among them an analyst who spews buy-and-sell gibberish in a trance. Nearby, a sequence resembling a Charlie Rose interview, filmed by Jan Peter Hammer, updates the conversation from Fernando Pessoa’s The Anarchist Banker, a cynically philosophic 1922 story about a man who explains, more or less, why getting rich frees you from tyranny. Elsewhere, there’s a droll take on real estate from Julia Christensen, who presents a slide show documenting the reuse of abandoned big-box stores with functions that co-opt the ugliness, including a flea market, a megachurch, and the Spam Museum.

But the champions here of the populist outcry against financial inequity are members of a Spanish group called flo6x8, who assemble flash mobs to perform wild, sexy flamencos inside banks. Against a background of corporate rigor while tellers gape, the spirited dancers put a temporary halt on business with an insistent and poignant joy. Austrian Cultural Forum, 11 East 52nd Street, 212-319-5300. Through April 22.

‘Jean Dubuffet: The Last Two Years’

Two years before his death in 1985, at the end of a career spent rejecting theory and making art rooted in primitivism, Jean Dubuffet began a series of paintings intended to capture raw, electric expression—a projection, in a way, of the mind’s activity before it becomes thought. Similar to the surrealist experiments with automatism, the result (sampled here) was madcap. Hasty scrawls, jittery lines, and looping paths—intersecting and densely packed—form delightful tangles of energy.

Although rendered with a bright, crayon-box palette (emphasizing Dubuffet’s interest in the childlike impulse), the apparent chaos actually contains sophisticated patterns of shape and color, suggesting cellular clusters and neural networks. The brushstrokes run right up to the edges of each picture, as if we’re looking only at snapshots cropped from a much larger system. You really get the sense that the artist directly translated ecstatic signals from his brain into marks of acrylic on the paper. Like so much of what Dubuffet did, the collection leaves you feeling buoyant. The Pace Gallery, 510 West 25th Street, 212-255-4044. Through March 10.