The Google Riis


Doug Rickard: ‘A New American Picture’

The primary photographer behind the portraits of urban desolation in this oddly affecting show is a robot—the indifferent, computer-controlled spherical camera mounted on Google’s Street View cars. Although designed to document buildings and landmarks for navigational purposes, the eyeball-like machines are also taking snapshots of life at each location. Google blurs faces and license plates but doesn’t typically erase anything (unless by request), and so the amassed collection of images—now covering 3,000 cities worldwide—has become a fascinating database that describes, by happenstance, the human condition.

Spend enough time traveling through the virtual spaces and you’ll find—as many bloggers and artists have—dozens of startling moments. In separate efforts, Michael Wolf and Jon Rafman have assembled extensive online galleries of fires, mishaps, comical oddities, apparent violence, and at least one death. For his part in this treasure hunt, Doug Rickard has taken a more considered approach, extracting a series of scenes that reveal the forsaken edges of U.S. cities. Reshot without the Google stamps and then enlarged, the images hang on the wall as traditional photographs. Their grainy textures and muted palettes, recalling Kodachrome prints from the 1970s (in particular, the streetwise work of Helen Levitt), further distance the original context.

In fact, it’s a testament to Rickard’s eye for detail and talent for cropping that the compositions all appear intentional, with neatly arranged colors, dramatic angles, and poignant juxtapositions. In New Orleans, four young men stride down an abandoned block under a sky of shattered gray clouds, an ominous expanse that matches the landscape of decaying concrete. In Atlanta, a boy bikes past an oppressive brown background of autumn trees and boarded-up homes, as if in flight from such hints of death. For these and other works, Rickard emphasizes vanishing points to deepen your sense of bleakness.

But beneath all this, there runs a strong undercurrent of irony. An unfeeling contraption designed by a multibillion-dollar company takes drive-by pictures of poverty as part of a project advertised to help us “plan a summer vacation”—pictures that are then turned into high art. A moment captured in Baltimore exemplifies that divide: At a deserted intersection, in an hour of long shadows, two anonymous children gape outward, seeing what must have appeared to them like a visitor from another planet. The elevated viewpoint of Google’s eight-foot-tall camera, evident in every shot but particularly noticeable in this one, is imperious. Yossi Milo Gallery, 245 Tenth Avenue, 212-414-0370, Through November 24.

Martynka Wawrzyniak: ‘Smell Me’

The provocative invitation of the show’s title sets up something of a bait and switch here: The odors you’ll catch of Martynka Wawrzyniak are actually synthetic. The real stuff, not for sniffing, is stoppered up in four displayed vials, which contain yellowish liquids extracted by Hunter College chemistry students from the artist’s sweat, tears, hair, and nightshirt. The substances form the basis of four fragrances—manufactured in collaboration with two professional perfumers—that are released into a cylindrical chamber, squirted by a hidden diffuser through separate holes placed around the wall. Standing in the blank white space is an experience that’s almost entirely conceptual, but—because you’re encouraged to be there alone—it’s one that’s also undeniably intimate, even sexual. Pushing your nose into the bitter but pleasant stream of air identified as sweat brings any number of things to mind. Exploiting those sensitive, emotion-connecting olfactory neurons, Wawrzyniak’s installation—minimalist as it is—directly engages the imagination. Envoy Enterprises, 87 Rivington Street, 212-226-4552, Through November 18.

Sandeep Mukherjee: ‘New Work’

In his latest series of abstractions, Sandeep Mukherjee is a painter of pathways. Using various implements—brushes, Q-tips, brooms for brushing concrete—he maneuvers lush mixtures of earth-tone acrylics into arcing, zigzagging, and spiraling channels, which intersect and overlap in patterns that often suggest nature or botany. Within each band, meticulously brushed striations of color appear like segmented growth. Rendered on sheets of Duralane (a thin translucent plastic), layers upon layers of strokes and stain-like daubs achieve a gentle luminosity. The horizontal cluster of glowing filaments in Splice—perhaps the most accomplished piece here—spreads across the frame like one of Klimt’s ethereal forests turned sideways. Brennan & Griffin, 55 Delancey Street, 212-227-0115, Through November 25.