Renderings of dream states seem to be everywhere these days, but two shows of paintings—virtual opposites in subject and style—make the fantastical distinctive. At Haunch of Venison, Ahmed Alsoudani once again depicts the violence of Iraq, his native country, with bitter irony. A George Grosz for the modern era, he populates surreal and chaotic allegories with cubist figures mangled and misshapen; in one, a grotesque bull carries a bizarre creature across a bleak landscape while, in another, a scarecrow has exploded into a mess of scattered parts.
The DC Moore Gallery offers a far more serene experience with Darren Waterston’s cosmic visions. Evoking vintage covers of sci-fi paperbacks, he often places objects of vaguely terrestrial origin—a dark island, a makeshift wooden ship—in the middle of glowing voids. Idyllic in conception, rendered with the delicate brushwork of Chinese landscapes, the images shine on glazed wood panels like postcards from the edge of space. Haunch of Venison, 550 West 21st Street, 212-259-0000, haunchofvenison.com; DC Moore Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, 212-247-2111, dcmooregallery.com. Both through November 3.
Peter Sacks: ‘New Paintings’
History, geography, literature, and culture all merge into dense streams of consciousness in Peter Sacks’s beautifully textured semi-abstractions. The gallery calls them paintings, but paint is really secondary here. Sacks constructs each work by gluing to the canvas numerous items made of cloth, many from the 18th and 19th centuries. Wrinkled layers of lace, linen, and embroidery—stiffened with thickly applied adhesives—form undulating surfaces that suggest topographic maps, sometimes embedded with subtle pictorial elements. Running over the contours, long stretches of text—manually typed onto the material before it’s attached—give each piece an underlying theme.
A prizewinning poet and an English professor at Harvard, Sacks frequently pays homage to literary work. In Cargo 2, he has arranged sailcloth sections, netting, and pieces of various garments over a patchwork of linen sheets to depict a vessel carrying a lifeless figure—the death ship, it turns out, from Kafka’s “The Hunter Gracchus.” Excerpts from the story, along with Virginia Woolf’s journal entries, flow across the scene in curving sentences, like lines of wind. Elsewhere, the haunting triptych Se Questo è un Uomo—the Italian title of Primo Levi’s account of the Auschwitz death camp—combines work clothes, shrouds, and burned wood with selections from Dante’s Inferno, Jewish mysticism, and Levi’s writing. Colored black and ochre, smears and jagged streaks lie across a grayish background like ash and bones.
Except for the titles, none of these references have been made explicit; sources for material and text are available, but only by special request. Although the typed passages offer hints of meaning, they’re mostly unreadable, distorted by folds in the cloth. In Durban Point (Indian Ocean), the listed texts—a Homeric hymn to Apollo and several oceanography reports—appear to be completely buried under a rich indigo. Forms and figures, too, aren’t immediately obvious. It might require some study to identify a leg, an arm, a cap, a rifle, and a canteen of the sprawled Civil War soldier in the stonelike memorial of The Living (Gettysburg). But Sacks isn’t interested in bold statements. The subtlety of the detail suggests his efforts are deeply personal—an intensity of thought, revealed to the viewer or not, that makes each work here so engrossing. Paul Rodgers/9W, 529 West 20th Street, 212-414-9810, paulrodgers9w.com. Through December 29.
Gego: ‘Origin and Encounter, Mastering the Space’
For Gertrud Goldschmidt, the artist who adopted the sobriquet of Gego, there was nothing more expressive than the ordinary line. After fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 for Venezuela, she began a career in architecture, but, in her forties, found herself attracted to the avant-garde. For the next 30 years, briskly surveyed here, she explored the beauty of grids, arcs, and various geometric configurations—a fascination captured by her charming 1964 Autobiography of a Line, a small foldout panel displaying the progress of a squiggle. Drawings and prints of mesh-like arrays led to elegant wire sculptures (all sampled in the exhibit), and then to her best-known pieces, the Reticulareas—complex, room-size networks of wire segments that look, in photographs from the 1970s, like prescient models of our Web-dominated world. Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, 212-249-8950, as-coa.org/visual-arts#exhibitions. Through December 8.