Like other great war photographers, the late Tim Hetherington always went beyond the raw surface of armed conflict to find a more intimate view—and a better understanding—of the combatants. In his images of Liberia, which begin this absorbing show, there are no gruesome scenes of battle. Rather, we get ironic, unsettlingly calm portraits of a country ruined by a chaotic civil war. A boy in a soccer shirt slouches at a schoolroom desk with a defiant stare, cradling his AK-47. A young member of a rebel faction relaxes at a table, where a grenade stands before him like a glass of juice.
The juxtapositions, beautifully composed, can be striking. The window of an abandoned hospital frames a landscape so verdant you might mistake it for a painting. Emblematic of the nation’s destitution, a fisherman steers his makeshift sailboat around the toppled, rusting hulk of a cargo ship, commandeered years before by marauders.
In the back room, the subject shifts to an American Army platoon posted to Afghanistan’s deadly (and dreaded) Korengal Valley. The photographs here, selected from Hetherington’s book Infidel, once again forgo combat and instead depict the soldiers, with brotherly affection, in states of nervous joy and exhaustion. In one series, each man simply sleeps, curled up on a bunk like a vulnerable kid. The same images show up in a short video, layered over clips of gunfire, helicopters, and screamed grief; the sequence plays like a preview for Restrepo, the searing documentary that Hetherington co-directed (with Sebastian Junger) about the same group.
Even more affecting is Diary, a 20-minute film that captures a war correspondent’s schizophrenic shuttling between home and horror. Frequent shifts in perspective make for a dizzying dreamscape. A yellow car in a street battle becomes, in nicely rendered match cut, a New York taxi. Sun-dappled England cross-fades into a decrepit infirmary of the writhing wounded. A scene of imminent murder dissolves to a tidy hotel room. The effect, in the end, is emotionally piercing, especially because Hetherington died only a year after completing the work, killed in 2011 covering Libya’s bloody revolution.
THOMAS NOZKOWSKI: ‘NEW EDITIONS AND RELATED DRAWINGS’
If Thomas Nozkowski’s paintings and prints are enigmatic—the word most often used to describe them—then it’s because their biomorphic shapes and irregular geometric patterns always seem vaguely referential or imbued with logic. The new pieces here, too, tap into our pleasure with puzzle-solving: a teetering stack of polygons, a black mound with window-like squares, and rows of squashed hexagons that resemble 1970s op art. Slightly different iterations of each design encourage the notion that Nozkowski is embedding various codes of meaning.
A separate series of graphite drawings brings a more whimsical approach to similar sets of forms; their carefree lines are reminiscent of Philip Guston’s late cartoony period. That playfulness is what makes all of Nozkowski’s abstractions so instantly accessible, even as they resist the best efforts at interpretation. Senior & Shopmaker Gallery, 210 Eleventh Avenue, 212-213-6767, seniorandshopmaker.com. Through June 16.
TADANORI YOKOO: ‘KORA-JU’
Although best known as a designer of vivid posters in the 1960s and ’70s that advertised the arts, Tadanori Yokoo has spent decades making small but visually rich collages—exhibited here in their U.S. debut. Pieced together with snippings from vintage magazines, his surrealist scenes of incongruous images often gently satirize American icons, placing him in the arena of Richard Hamilton. In California Vision (2002), a nude pinup girl posing poolside appears oblivious to a fish, an acrobat, and a flying saucer hovering above her head. Another fantasy—Attack What? (2001)—has U.S. soldiers assaulting a sliced-open fruit pit, which displays decidedly vaginal clefts.
More recently, Yokoo has left narrative interests aside. The seamless layering of the earlier theatrical style has given way to rough mash-ups of cultural references. The astronauts and Neanderthals of Science and Primitive (2012) float in a cluttered sea of movie stills, text, and bits of advertising. No longer neatly trimmed, the individual parts seem to have been torn from their original pages and assembled in a frenzy—a reflection, perhaps, of today’s information overload. Friedman Benda, 515 West 26th Street, 212-239-8700, friedmanbenda.com. Through June 8.