Best in Show: Gone Vicious


Nils Karsten: ‘Suburbia Hamburg 1983’

The woodcut might seem like a rather staid choice for relating memories of punk rock, but in Nils Karsten’s hands, the old-fashioned printing technique—German in origin—neatly evokes the raw energy of the music scene the artist encountered as a teen in Hamburg. In one series, Karsten has created giant versions of old album covers. Carved into table-size squares of plywood with dental drills, and then inked onto big squares of paper, the stark, outsize images shout as loudly as the bands did. Those burning police cars that advertised the Dead Kennedys’ 1980 debut record now carry a jolting, dreamy menace. Enlarged, that bygone nihilism rushes back.

Elsewhere, brief paragraphs recalling significant episodes from the era—also printed from handmade blocks—seem to emerge in their frames from the haze of time. Wood-grain marks, resembling the scratches on old film, surround the blunt bulletins (the suicide of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, the arrest of the Clash’s Joe Strummer) with that cinematic sense of the past.

Karsten again summons the death of Curtis in a provocative poster that features a woman’s eyes being stretched wide by a pair of male hands. Two phrases, spelled backward, sandwich her fright: “Licht und Blindheit,” a Joy Division single that means “light and blindness,” and “Sister Midnight,” the Iggy Pop song reportedly playing when Curtis’s body was discovered. Photo collages in the manner of Stan VanDerBeek shift the style into surrealism and include, among other amusing visions, the exorcism of Sid Vicious. Churner and Churner, 205 Tenth Avenue, 212-675-2750, Through February 2

El Anatsui: ‘Pot of Wisdom’

For his latest set of gorgeous, tapestry-like wall-hangings, El Anatsui has once again relied on alcohol—that is, the metal caps from bottles of Castello beer, First Lady brandy, Kasapreko liquors, and other such beverages consumed in Nigeria, the artist’s home country. With help from assistants, Anatsui flattens the aluminum tops into various shapes, then stitches them together with copper wire into colorful, impressionistic designs that can sometimes spread, undulating, across entire walls. Unlike his previous assemblies of the same material—rectangular curtains of glittering, Klimt-like patterns—the new works come in irregular shapes, with specifically referential motifs.

In several, Anatsui has focused on the earth. The delicate net of Basin forms an aerial picture of landmass drainage: On a sand-colored swath, black threads of tributaries wriggle their way to a thick central line that snakes as a river off the top edge. The ragged, silvery sheet of Topos conjures a barren plain crisscrossed by roads (green, gold, brown), several of which lead to oasis-like holes. Zooming us down, the striking Seed offers a magnified view of germination; the piece’s oblong form—beautifully textured in gradations of yellow—sprouts tendrils at its base.

That sense of growth and progress is pervasive. A suspended sphere composed of muddy red strips appears to be making a journey, leaving a trail of its links across the floor. Inside the two profiled heads of Enlightened and Visionary, a jagged electric bolt and a crazy quilt patchwork suggest moments of brilliant inspiration. The possession of knowledge is the theme, too, of the show’s largest piece, one that refers to a West African folktale—a sprawling, shining shroud depicts a broken clay pot, spilling out wisdom into the world. Anatsui himself, 68, has done something similar here, turning the remnants of cheap (and sometimes corrupting) booze into the substance of bright optimism. Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street, 212-645-1701, Through January 19.

Rudolf de Crignis: ‘New York 1985–2006’

Rudolf de Crignis spent the second half of his all-too-brief career becoming an intense minimalist, making paintings that were expressions of nothing but pure color. He built each work by covering the canvas with coat after coat of thinned-out oils in several different hues, taking care to eliminate virtually any trace of brushstroke. The results, sampled here, might look like little more than swatches. But stare for a while at the square of blue numbered “97-7″—slowly, its great depth becomes apparent, so much so that you might feel you’re falling into its space. Margarete Roeder Gallery, 545 Broadway, 212-925-6098, Through January 26.