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What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries in May

Mar 09, 2023


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Want to see new art in the city? Check out Natia Lemay's sculptures at Yossi Milo, and Aria Dean's work at Greene Naftali. And don't miss Aliza Nisenbaum's paintings at the Queens Museum.

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By Martha Schwendener, Travis Diehl, Will Heinrich, Max Lakin and Blake Gopnik


Through Sept. 10. Queens Museum, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens; 718-592-9700;

Aliza Nisenbaum grew up in Mexico and now lives in New York. So do many of the people in Corona, Queens, whom she's spent years painting in their homes and workplaces, in her studio at the Queens Museum or while they were enrolled in a class she once taught called "English Through Feminist Art History." The museum's wonderful "Queens, Lindo y Querido" (Queens, Beautiful and Beloved), a wide-ranging show of her work, includes portraits of Delta Air Lines and Port Authority employees; of Hitomi Iwasaki, the show's curator, in her plant-filled office; and of an art class that Nisenbaum offered to food pantry volunteers at the museum, displayed along with a selection of the volunteers’ own works ("El Taller, Queens Museum").

It's worth mentioning all of this because Nisenbaum's interest in people, her need to connect with them, doesn't just provide content for her paintings — it comes through in their form. Realistic but with heightened colors and flattened planes, they’re homey and glamorous at once, capable of absorbing any number of idiosyncratic details. "El Taller" (The Workshop) presents 10 budding artists, five working on self-portraits with the aid of small mirrors, against the unreal purple mists of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. And then there are the paintings-within-the-painting, each with its own distinctive style, not to mention 19 naïve, multicolored games of "exquisite corpse." It's a tribute to Nisenbaum's generosity — and to her skills with composition — that it all inhabits a single room in harmony. WILL HEINRICH


Through June 17. Yossi Milo, 245 10th Avenue, Manhattan; 212-414-0370;

Three tiny sculptures, each less than 10 inches tall, fill all the psychic room in Natia Lemay's solo at Yossi Milo.

She stacks up miniature versions of banal furnishings — a chair, a sofa, a rocking horse — glued one on top of the other. Carved from soapstone, they copy the crude softwood miniatures that kids build from dollhouse kits.

Lemay was born into hardship in Toronto, with roots in African-Canadian culture and among the Mi’kmaq peoples of Canada's East Coast. Her generic home goods seem to commemorate the rough years she spent moving between public housing, homeless shelters and low-end rentals. I think of her sculptures as "memory towers," and their diminutive scale seems to concentrate their energies rather than diminish them. (Don't memories always feel small — small enough to fit into a skull?)

Lemay links her towers to the Native art of the totem pole, which makes sense in terms of their form and mnemonic function.

The soapstone she uses, some of which came to her from her father, also recalls Indigenous crafts. Using that material to render the troubled urban world she has known, Lemay claims it as her continuing birthright. She reclaims it from the decades it has spent in the tourist trade.

There are also 20 oil paintings in Lemay's show. To me, they accept the authority of the old master tradition rather than pushing back against it. But then, I feel that way about most recent painting. Lemay's terrific little sculptures seem more like hand grenades, primed to blow a hole in our hierarchies. BLAKE GOPNIK


Through June 17. Greene Naftali, 508 West 26th Street, 8th floor, Manhattan; 212-463-7770,

The young artist and theorist Aria Dean is known for essays connecting Blackness, objecthood and digital culture. (Her selected writings, "Bad Infinity," debuts this summer.) This is good to remember, since from the moment you pass through the bubble-gum pink saloon doors at Greene Naftali — a deadpan work titled "Pink Saloon Doors" — the polished sculptures and digital prints on view seem sparse and cryptic, defiantly superficial. Something's omitted. This show follows from Dean's dynamic thinking (or, less generously, illustrates points she's made on the page) regarding the ease with which lo-fi images circulate, although the uninitiated can also appreciate her chilly, cynical take on commercial art.

The sculpture "FIGURE A, Friesian Mare," a glossy, crumpled gray lump on a shipping palette, evokes a kind of trashed Minimalist cube or compacted equestrian statue, unsubtly twisting the connection between stark formalism and the viewer's body. The implications of treating living things as commodities are brutal.

The other four works on view are luxuriously tall dye sublimation prints on aluminum, three or four panels each, depicting … what? From a distance, blurs and blotches, a sky, shapes whipping by at high speed, but blown up and zoomed in to such a degree that they’re basically abstract, flecked with stray pixels. In fact, Dean's project could be summarized as exploring the violence abstraction causes, or makes possible. The taciturn slickness of this show provokes an uncomfortable reaction: Is there no feeling here? No pain? No humanity? TRAVIS DIEHL

Upper East Side

Through May 26. Acquavella, 18 East 79th Street, Manhattan; 212-734-6300,

A kaleidoscopic show of Pierre Bonnard's paintings at Acquavella overlaps with a more modest selection at Jill Newhouse Gallery nearby — not bad for a practically hallucinatory painter who's been dead since 1947. Bonnard bridged Post-Impressionism and Modernism; he's famous for his colors, mind-bending and vertiginous, unfurling the full spectrum within scenes others might see as "white" or "blue."

Where Impressionists had their favorite cathedrals or lily pads, Bonnard's masterpieces came alive at home. Acquavella focuses on his later years, from the 1920s to 1940s, and showcases the wonders of simply laid tables and balanced baskets of fruit and fantastic landscapes rushing through the windows. "Dining Room on the Garden," 1934-35, on loan from the Guggenheim Museum, takes pride of place on the back wall: a purpling banquet, the feverishly blue-green sky through the French doors, the hay-toned walls overtaking the chairs, a figure.

There are portraits, too, including a periwinkle bath scene (one of Bonnard's specialties), where the red rug jostles the composition's peace, and an alluring, long nude from 1920, where the figure is one stripe up the canvas between vertical passages of mottled gold and chevroned blue. The still lifes? Abundant. The tablecloths? Ecstatic. The kinetics of Bonnard's compositions reside in the way objects and animals relate, appearing both detached and boundless. This is why he's a peerless painter of dachshunds, although here you’ll need to settle for the lazier chocolate hues of "The Dining Room, Fruit and Basset Hounds." TRAVIS DIEHL

Upper East Side

Through June 2. Di Donna, 744 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-259-0444,

Man Ray portrayed the artists and writers of Paris in the 1920s and ’30s as indelibly as Nadar did their 19th-century predecessors. Indeed, Man Ray's deathbed photograph of Marcel Proust makes a fitting bookend to Nadar's of Victor Hugo. But Nadar, when he memorialized France's literary titan in 1885, was himself a venerable Paris institution, while Man Ray, who rushed to Proust's apartment in 1922 at the bidding of Jean Cocteau, was an American who spoke terrible French and had been living in Paris for little over a year.

The marvel of "Man Ray's Paris Portraits, 1921-1939" is his access as well as his artistry. Before relocating, Man Ray had been befriended by Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara, two vanguard artists. They smoothed his Parisian entry, and are among the subjects in this exhibition of 72 vintage prints, mostly drawn from the collection of Timothy Baum, a private art dealer who knew Man Ray in the last years of his life and collaborated on this show.

Man Ray flattered his subjects. To soften wrinkles and other imperfections, he typically shot with a long lens from a distance, and he slightly overexposed the film. Yet his portraits were profoundly revealing: the knowing eyes of the poet Anna de Noailles, the glazed stare of the perennially pickled Sinclair Lewis, the burly forcefulness of a young Alexander Calder. And then there is his self-portrait, taken in his mid-30s — tie intentionally askew, eyes penetrating, and mouth set in a line of unstoppable determination. ARTHUR LUBOW


Through June 17. Nicola Vassell Gallery, 138 Tenth Avenue, Manhattan. 212-463-5160;

In her first solo show at Nicola Vassell Gallery, the self-taught painter Uman, who was born in Somalia and now lives near Albany, pretty much takes the place over. On gallery walls painted deep green, purple or gold, she has mounted 15 enormous, vibrant, unremitting square paintings, each framed in a dark shadow box produced in her studio, and even more small drawings. (Not for nothing is the show titled "I Want Everything Now.") The paintings’ colors are bold and saturated, and their textures range from slick, wet brushwork to the halting skitter of oil stick. Their forms mostly comprise circles, scribbles and squares, but also a smattering of eyes, flowers, suns, pointy teeth and ambiguous suggestions of intestines, chairs or vertebrae. The references are both cross-cultural and art-historical, but the effect, in general, leans toward the textile; one yellow canvas, divided into a triangular lattice by green and red lines, is also sewn together from triangular scraps. On another, what looks like a transparent sea horse rears over a bottle clearly labeled "Eau de Parfum."

In a way, though, Uman is a minimalist. Her gestures, like the schematic flowers that let her claim a toehold in figuration, are always distinctly efficient. Canvases may be covered edge to edge, but the paint application is thin, and the moment an explosive effect is achieved, she moves on to the next one. WILL HEINRICH


Through June 3. 125 Newbury, 395 Broadway, Manhattan, 212-371-5242,

"I discovered the secret of the sea in meditation upon a dewdrop," wrote the Lebanese-born painter and poet Khalil Gibran. Sylvia Plimack Mangold approaches painting the same way. Fifteen works on view at 125 Newbury all depict a single maple tree living outside her studio in Washingtonville, N.Y., that she has been painting for decades.

Many of the paintings here are titled "Leaves in the Wind" and capture a green-filled summer rendered, close-up, in lush but no-nonsense brushstrokes reminiscent of Fairfield Porter or Édouard Manet — as well as Claude Monet and his sharply framed compositions of waterlilies. Other works, titled "Winter Maple," function like dusty-blue skyscapes forked by leafless brown-gray branches.

The "secret" of the tree, of course, is that it is ever-changing, and hence produces infinite variations. (If, in fact, it is the same tree. We have to trust Mangold on this — although Magritte's famous 1929 painting "The Treachery of Images," commonly known as "Ceci n’est pas une pipe" or "This is not a pipe," offered a blunt lesson on how truth operates in painting.)

In Mangold's hands, parts become wholes and the exhibition a master class in synecdoche: the tree is the forest; the painter a human representative negotiating with the natural world. In an age of restless movement and too much information, the practice of painting a single tree also becomes a profound, even radical act of mindfulness, meditation and care. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through June 3. Miles McEnery Gallery, 515 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; 212-445-0051;

The artist Beverly Fishman has been thinking about the cure for what ails us for the last 40 years. Her candy-colored constructions exist somewhere between painting, sculpture and bad trip: uppers and downers pulsating in happy, fluorescent hues — a medicine cabinet stocked with remedies for being human.

The new work here, continuing her series of faceted, urethane-shellacked wood forms that protrude from the wall (a funny play on the idea of "relief"), are a workaround to figuration — about the body but never depicting it, geometric abstraction as a feint to talk about contemporary culture, and what we ingest to cope with it. They merge Frank Stella's hard-edged syncopation with Southern California's Finish Fetish movement, resulting in lustrous surfaces with an electric hum and smooth cast, like Everlasting Gobstoppers dipped in car paint. Each pill is rendered in concentric bands so that they resemble restless, polychromatic irises, or Wayne Thiebaud's glowing confections, if Thiebaud painted sherbert-ringed icons of existential pain.

Only their titles, doubling as diagnoses, reveal their nefariousness, as in "Untitled (Osteoporosis, Abortion, Depression, Anxiety, Birth Control)," 2023: healing as dictated by the medical-industrial complex, the promise of a quick fix and the drug dependency that promise has encouraged.

"Four help you through the night, help to minimize your plight," Mick Jagger sings on "Mother's Little Helper," the Stones’ buoyant tune about a housewife developing a Valium habit. Since then, the pharmacological spectrum has only become more florid. That gives Fishman an inexhaustible pill box, her dosages calibrated to symptoms that never let up. MAX LAKIN

Upper East Side

Through June 24. Gagosian, 821 Park Avenue, Manhattan; 212-796-1228,

There can't be many artists whose works are as textbook-famous and as rarely encountered as Chris Burden's. We can't expect to see repeats of the 1970s performances for which he was nailed to a Volkswagen Beetle or shot in the arm with a .22. He died in 2015, and even when he was living those were one-offs. But this rare Burden show presents other examples of the Angeleno's radical works of the 1970s. They shifted the boundaries of art, which makes them now look safely "artistic" and gallery-worthy.

The show gathers several of the "relics" — Burden's term — meant to stand for his performances: An empty display case represents "Disappearing," a piece for which he made himself scarce for three days; a telephone and cassette recorder represent "Wiretap," for which Burden taped calls with art dealers.

There's also footage of Burden's shooting and of "Bed Piece," a well-known performance that had him lying in a gallery for 22 days.

More surprising are the one-minute "TV Commercials" that let Burden infiltrate art into broadcast TV, after buying the ad space required. One of them, "Full Financial Disclosure," sits in Andy Warhol's Business Art genre, revealing the numbers for Burden's 1976 income and expenses — and for his paltry profit. In "Chris Burden Promo," names of world-famous artists fill the TV one after another: "Leonardo da Vinci," "Michelangelo," "Rembrandt," "Vincent van Gogh," "Pablo Picasso" and then … "Chris Burden." That final name would once have seemed a joke or wildly wishful thinking, but now it lives cozily with the others. BLAKE GOPNIK


Through May 19. Crossing Art, 559 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, 212-359-4333,

The artist Michael McGrath, who is based in Rhinebeck, in the Hudson Valley, paints what might be called the emoji landscape: screaming flowers; surprised-looking insects and trees. Scattered, wallpaper-like, across canvases whose titles nod to gods, witches and seasonal magic spells, his show "Moon Riot" at Crossing Art thrums with laid-back spiritualist energy.

McGrath's work took a radical turn a couple of years ago. (I discovered him on Instagram.) He was painting pleasingly anodyne landscapes and dark figures in the vein of Edvard Munch, and suddenly his work exploded with Day-Glo color and singing plants, unmoored in their compositions. Rather than serious or apocalyptic, his work is warm and funny, like folk art or children's drawings, and complemented by titles like "Intro to Hunting Gods," "Spring Training for Witches," "Redesigning Ghost Systems" and "Weekend Conference for Moons and Tiny Vampires."

The show includes a few missteps: It's overhung, and I could live without the fake-fur yeti figures that feel more like theme park mascots than sculpture. McGrath's work is refreshing, though, because it materializes the wonder of walking in the woods and a deeper sense that the world, minus humans, will be OK; everything regenerates, as it does in Thomas Cole's 19th-century Hudson River School masterpiece series "The Course of Empire" (1833-1836), which might be the first American paintings warning of the Anthropocene. McGrath has channeled something: maybe spirits, maybe gods, but mostly the anti-artifice of so-called outsider artists, who are plugged into a different frequency. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through May 20. Apexart, 291 Church Street, Manhattan; 212-431-5270,

Beginning in the late 19th century, Japan amassed an empire that extended far beyond its contemporary borders. It was dismantled after the country's surrender in World War II — but just because something is over doesn't mean it's forgotten. The exhibition "Kanten 観展: The Limits of History," curated by Eimi Tagore-Erwin, uses the work of eight artists and historical propaganda postcards to trace the scars left by imperial Japan.

In his photo series "Torii," Motoyuki Shitamichi documents Shinto gates that were once installed to mark the empire and now stand in other countries. The pictures show how the gates have been incorporated into their surroundings, becoming mundane but haunting remnants of the past.

Bontaro Dokuyama demonstrates how nationalist legacies live on in people. His video "My Anthem" (2019) features interviews with Taiwanese elders who can still recall the militaristic songs they had to memorize as children in a school choir. Scenes of them wearing uniforms and singing are both funny and sad.

My favorite piece, "Making a Perfect Donut" (2019), leans into humor as a tool for repair. The video features the duo Kyun-Chome trying to bridge the gap between Japanese locals and U.S. military personnel on Okinawa Island. They do so by enlisting people to make Japanese and American doughnuts on either side of a military fence and then put the two together: The small, roundish Japanese doughnut sort of fits, imperfectly, into the American one's hole. Their absurd quest becomes a metaphor for finding human-scale ways to navigate geopolitical complexity. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through May 20, Sara's, 2 East Broadway, third floor, Manhattan;

What do preppers, gamers and religionists have in common? Not least, a taste for magical objects. With "Inorganic Demons," the Massachusetts-based artist Harris Rosenblum draws out the overlapping aesthetics of several contemporary subcultures, from primitive survivalists on Instagram to practitioners of the tabletop role-playing game "Warhammer." Laughably big, lumpy anime swords hang from the rafters; thus arrayed, the gallery, an unfinished loft in Chinatown, has the air of a LARPer's treasure room. Weaponry and relics include "Mourning Bracelet (For Hatsune)," 2022, a thin braid of cyan fibers from a manga cosplay wig; and "Knife," a World War II-style blade delicately displayed in a case lined with pink camouflage satin.

These are the accessories of subcultures that, maybe more than most, rely on fantasy. Several sculptures take the form of biblical paraphernalia. There's "The Sacrificial Lamb," a hollow statue patched together from disturbing, spongelike chunks of resin; and "Censer (Mechanical Squonk Mod)" made from PC parts and vaping components — a peek into the sympathetic cults of customizable smoking and gaming gear. Rosenblum dedicates special attention to materials, the way a splinter of wood or bone proves the lives of the saints. Today, the rites of devout nerds involve PCs and fast internet, nicotine and fast food. In "Earth and New Earth Miku," one Hatsune figurine is 3-D printed, another made of clay from a Wendy's construction site. It takes some imagination to see past the crudeness of the objects to the magnificence of the beliefs they anchor. TRAVIS DIEHL

South Street Seaport

Through May 21.‌ ‌ Barro‌, 25 Peck Slip, Manhattan; 646-642-2625,‌‌

The Argentine artist Marcelo Pombo is deviant in the best way: He depicts human sexuality as acts of speculation and ingenuity. Barro gallery's "Artisanal Conceptualism: Starting Point" offers the 1980s and ’90s work of Pombo, who had fled the Argentine dictatorship for Brazil to avoid conscription in the Falklands War. This is half of the two-part exhibition — Pombo's "Dibujos de San Pablo" ("The São Paulo Drawings") made in 1982 — portraying human figures with bird bills or snouts like mice, or sex organs in the place of heads. These figures are engaged in all manner of gazing and wanton bodily exploration. It's utterly refreshing to see sexual relations as pansexual instead of expectedly heteronormative, or even rigidly homosexual. Using animal figures as surrogates, Pombo makes two human-bird hybrid creatures with wet beaks fondling each other ("Untitled 1982") intensely erotic, and curious.

Simultaneously Pombo uses this vocabulary of surrealism to make the terror of that time palpable. He draws a bird-man bleeding in a street from what are likely two bullet wounds, a dog and two witnesses weeping for this loss.

The other half contains everyday objects such as curtains and mosquito nets decorated as if Pombo insisted on recognizing that beauty often holds hands with tragedy. And his drawings of textiles, for example, the one with the knitting needles, "(1) ST," is so realistic I want to touch the paper. And that is the key to this work: the desire to touch and to come to know by touching. SEPH RODNEY

Upper East Side

Through May 25. Alexandre, 25 East 73rd Street, Manhattan; 212-755-2828,

The unmissable first full survey in a quarter century of the great American modernist painter Arthur Dove (1880–1946) is a swoony, museum-weight exhibition compressed into an Upper East Side gallery the size of a one-bedroom apartment. With 40 works, more than half of them paintings, all on loan from private collections, the show deftly sketches Dove's leaping, jolting career trajectory from Manhattan magazine illustrator, to Paris Impressionist, to fully abstract painter, some say the first such in the United States.

What he was for sure was American Modernism's great visual Transcendentalist. His images of molten rain clouds and God's-eye sunrises are views of the natural world as Thoreau might have seen and, more important, felt it. Dove always said that the meteorology — the "sensation of light" — he painted was a personal, intuitive one. And only somewhat more objective were his depictions of forces he saw as threats to that light: images of derricks, freight cars and cinder barges that evoked a spreading plague of industry and pollution.

Dove's art, despite its exultations, is tough and complex, as is clear at a glance through the splendid catalogue raisonné by Debra Bricker Balken. And although his reputation grew steadily in the New York art world, that world wasn't the one he really cared about. For years he lived in a sailboat moored on Long Island. And he spent his last years in a converted one-room former post office, a space probably not much different in size from that in which this gallery survey, one of the best of the season, is installed. HOLLAND COTTER


Through May 18. Jenny's, 9 Pell Street, Manhattan; 646-861-1581,

It's been over a decade since New York has seen one of the grand, hyperrealist installations constructed by artists like Mike Nelson, Christoph Büchel, Gregor Schneider or Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman. These large, psychedelic fun-house affairs functioned like surrealistic movie sets, à la Luis Buñuel or David Lynch, and came with warnings and waivers that visitors had to sign. The Minneapolis-born artist Pentti Monkkonen has created a much smaller but effectively unsettling environment with his new show, "Oscillator."

The setting is a wood-paneled office — but things are off at the office. The shelving units radiate an icy glow; a giant moth sculpted in epoxy hangs on one wall; an enlarged vintage Visa card, issued to King Kong, on another. Embedded in the fourth wall is an old desktop computer outfitted with a synthesizer that visitors can play, creating their own retro-futuristic soundtrack. "Oscillator" mimics not so much the contemporary minimal office cubicle as a hallucinogenic rendition of a ’70s Sidney Lumet movie involving contraband and hostages.

The overall medium here is nostalgia. Some appurtenances are outdated while others, like King Kong, have morphed over decades from movie monster to furry folk hero. The art world is similarly nostalgic: It used to embrace (and fund) epic installations; now we’re stuck with immersive Van Gogh or Hieronymus Bosch "experiences" and art fairs. In this sense, "Oscillator" serves almost like a mnemonic device, reminding us not only of pop culture past, but lost art worlds. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through May 13. George Adams Gallery, 38 Walker Street, Manhattan; 212-564-8480,

In Enrique Chagoya's painting "Detention at the Border of Language" (2023), three Native American figures in a canoe marked "Border Patrol" appear to be abducting a woman who has the head of Donald Duck. As if with a squeegee, the greenery flanking the scene has been dragged by Chagoya across the still-wet surface, creating a Gerhard-Richteresque visual glitch. The work characteristically mashes up pop and abstract elements with historical sources — in this case by reworking Charles Ferdinand Wimar's 1853 painting, "The Abduction of Daniel Boone's Daughter by the Indians." This and the 13 other paintings, prints and book works included in "Borderless" provide a potent introduction to the Mexican-born, Californian artist's method of exploding history so as to make collages from the wreckage in a process Chagoya calls "reverse anthropology."

Chagoya's father moonlighted as an artist while working for Mexico's central bank, where his day job involved identifying forged currency. Following this example, Chagoya went on to study economics before turning to art and printmaking. This background informs "The Enlightened Savage Guide to Economic Theory" (2009-2010), in which two golem-like figures battle: one made of oil rigs with the head of Saddam Hussein provided by his portrait from an Iraqi dinar bill, the other made of fighter-jet parts with George Washington's head sourced from a U.S. dollar. Chagoya's best work remains these "codex" formats, where pre-Columbian Mayan and Aztec book traditions nearly obliterated by Spanish Catholic colonizers are hybridized with comic books and steeped in art-historical allusions. Chagoya's good-troublemaking remains ever fresh. JOHN VINCLER


Through May 13. JTT, 390 Broadway, Manhattan; 212-574-8152,

The schlock shock attitude of the artist known as King Cobra (a.k.a. Doreen Lynette Garner) announces itself with the ghoulish "Salome's Revenge" (2023): a pink silicone cast of a human head wedged in a deli slicer. So when you come to the tondo layered with rubbery, flesh-like scraps, you know what it's made of. Cobra's previous sculptures have used similar grindhouse techniques to explore the brutal history of medical experimentation on the Black body. Here, the "meat" contains "dirt from J. Marion Sims's grave," damning the man who pioneered gynecology on enslaved Black women, often without anesthesia.

The exhibition, "White Meat," imagines the racial concept of whiteness as a kind of mortadella — an abstract meat, flecked with nuts and fat. Cobra's metaphorical butchery asks whether abstraction is itself a racial concept. Did white men invent abstract art? Can you abstract an artwork (or a medical "achievement") from the monster who made it?

The show's tour de force is a life-size model of a necrotic shark, patched together with pigmented silicone, beads, hair weave, steel mesh and razor blades (for the teeth), suspended in an open steel frame — a clear parody of Damien Hirst's formaldehyded blockbuster. Work in a second gallery includes a rope of blond dreadlocks and a giant necklace of white, dreadlocked scalps. Maybe it takes this kind of bloody overstatement to show whiteness its own cruelty. And if there were ever purity in abstract art, Cobra's rough way of working rejects that, too. TRAVIS DIEHL


Through May 13. Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, Manhattan; 212-242-7727,

Peter Shear's little paintings resemble terse, challenging poems. Painting and title resonate in the mind and eye. You decide whether these ricochets hold your interest.

Small size is the only constant here; otherwise, variations in color, suggestion, internal scale and style, prevail. "Same Day" (2021), the show's first painting, isolates a short band of meager, wobbly white lines and two narrow horizontal shapes, midway on the right edge of a dark brown field. It could depict outdoor furniture — an earlier a center of lively human interaction — abandoned on a beach as dusk darkens. There's an end-of-summer sadness that's a lot for a painting to sustain, but it does.

Next to it, in "Door to Door" (2022), Shear lavishes loaded brushes of white, blue, brown and green across the surface — for a bit of forest stream, melting snow or rocky beach. Although an end in itself, this work evokes the painting-study genre and its pleasures. And soon thereafter, "Following Sea" — which gives the show its title — is again white on brown but solidly painted — a suggestion of whitecaps at sea or trailed white garments left on the floor.

The paintings in the show's small first gallery are especially strong. In the two larger spaces that follow, you may find that you’re able to resist and argue with more of them — at least for a while. Shear's next direction may be signaled by the jewel-like, more solidly structured forms of "Match." ROBERTA SMITH


Through May 13. Ulterior, 424 Broadway, #601, Manhattan. 917-472-7784;

I’ve never seen watercolors quite like Mamie Tinkler's. The still lifes of "A Troubling," her second solo show at Ulterior Gallery, depict densely patterned textiles, unusually tinted feathers, mirrors, skulls, curious rocks, glass globes and crackling flames. All these things shade imperceptibly into patches of saturated color that sometimes read as continuations of the pictures — as red velvet backdrops, say, or deep black shadows — and sometimes as a loosening into abstraction. The contrast between exactingly rendered detail and the paint's naturally soft edges is subtle, but it registers as an undertone of tension, even anguish. It's as if Tinkler is using her medium against itself.

This tension struck me as very apropos to a moment when many old certainties are melting away. Things that used to look solid, like science, journalism, the Arctic ice shelf or liberal democracy, are starting to seem more like passing apparitions. But it also says something about perception and knowing. In the show's title piece, a golden finch alights on a twig atop a blue celestial globe. Above it and beside it, as reflections or possibly familiars, two more finches rest on two more globes, their highlights indicated by larger or smaller circles of unpainted white paper. The "real" twig, in front, is loose and fuzzy, like a vision or a dream; the shadow it casts is as crisp as a razor blade. WILL HEINRICH


Through May 6. Bortolami, 55 Walker Street, Manhattan; 212-727-2050;

In the 1930s the Angeleno modernist Helen Lundeberg advanced a style referred to as Post-Surrealism, an American splinter movement meant to temper the European version's weirder imagery (but not by much; one of her early efforts includes a wrench plucking a wilted nail out of a crimson pool). By contrast, the ‌10 bracing canvases ‌here share more with the strain of work Lundeberg created contemporaneously as a W.P.A. muralist in Southern California: hard-lined geometric abstraction rendered in plush color delineating domestic zones. But Lundeberg's feel for space wasn't entirely rigid, leaving room for Surrealism's psycho-geography to haunt its corners.

Made between 1952 and 1975, the selection here focuses on bands of vertical color, soft tones dialed up or down the spectrum to achieve an enigmatic interplay of shadow, flatness and depth — an uncanny sense of spatial perception that collides classicism with the illogical dimensions of de Chirico, his empty arcades shot through with ‌Los Angeles's‌ sepia-smog light.

When Lundeberg's uniform fields are ruptured it's with beguiling effect: punctuated by three-dimensional still lifes, as in two versions of the same arrangement called "The Mirror and Pink Shell." The earlier painting, from 1952, appears to fuzz, its brushwork legible, while the later version, started in the same year but not completed until 1969, stiffens into focus, its fields smoothed and amplified. This vignette — a simple chair, a mirror reflecting a bare bulb — was one Lundeberg returned to for over ‌30 years, the contours of her life distilled into the metaphysical plane. MAX LAKIN


Through May 6. Chapter NY, 60 Walker Street, Manhattan; 646-850-7486,

Erin Jane Nelson's ceramics seem curiously alive — not as recognizable creatures, but as biomorphic forms, maybe microorganisms blown up to visible size. Mounted on the wall, they have irregular, curvy shapes and short, spindly tentacles. They’re almost always clumped together, in pairs or larger groups, as if each one were dependent on the others for its existence.

If you’ve seen some of these pieces before, like in Nelson's contribution to the 2021 New Museum Triennial, it may not come as a surprise that her current exhibition, "Sublunary," was inspired by the Okefenokee Swamp. There's a purposeful murkiness to the work of this Atlanta-based artist, who is also a curator and writer. Nelson's creations are rarely one thing or another, but hybrids that thrive in between.

"Sublunary" displays the outgrowths of a private performance Nelson conducted on multiple visits to the Okefenokee. There are quilted silks featuring photographs; a set of 365 glazed stoneware mounds titled, collectively, "Chronomicrobiome" (2023), that could represent a kind of ritualized, abstract calendar and the wall-bound ceramics, which still intrigue me most. They have rims and are covered with a clear layer of waterlike resin, so that looking at them recalls peering into a series of shallow pools.

What's inside? Sculpted mini-mounds, flowers, and fungi; multicolored patterns; and real photographs, sometimes of Nelson. If these complex artworks were alive, I would imagine them as swimming or slinking omnivores, accumulating bits of swamp and traces of Nelson's experiences as they go. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through May 6. Mrs., 60-40 56th Drive, Maspeth, Queens; 347-841-6149,

Photography was well on track to becoming Image Producer of the millennium — then came smartphones. Now we are so inundated with images artists have to work like archivists to wade through the morass. Sarah Palmer, a Brooklyn-based artist, does this, using images from old catalogs, New York Public Library archives, slides bought on eBay and A.I.-generated images to create photomontages. The curious and uncanny results are on view in "The Delirious Sun" at Mrs.

Recycling and repurposing are essentially the subject of the work, immediately obvious in the jumble and juxtaposition of image fragments. But Palmer teases out some through lines, like how the female body is represented in photography. In "Age of Earth and Us All Chattering" (2022), an assemblage tinted an eerie orange, photos clipped from a vintage bondage catalog sit alongside an A.I. representation of a bouncy blonde. The bondage magazine images are attached with hot pink tape to a landscape photograph of the American West taken by Palmer, and rephotographed. "Under the Tangled Forest" (2023) visually rhymes human hair, tape and ribbons; other works feature a sculpture of a female torso and close-ups of the artist's pregnant belly.

Palmer scrambles the codes of photography that tell us what, when and why an image was produced — which is what A.I. does too. However, by putting her own body in the image, Palmer reminds us that making, crafting and contemplating photographs remain a deeply human and embodied enterprise, even at a moment when machines, once again, seem to be taking over. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through May 6. Templon, 293 10th Avenue, Manhattan. 212-922-3745;

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Michael Ray Charles's paintings excavated the ugly history of antebellum minstrelsy with nervy appropriations of ubiquitous racist imagery — the grotesque faces and rictus grins of Sambos and mammy figures — and not always to appreciative reception. He was accused of perpetuating painful stereotypes when many people would have preferred they remain buried. For the last 20 years he has shown sporadically, mostly in Europe.

The pictures in Charles's first New York exhibition since then finds an artist still surfacing that past, but with a slicker veneer. Where the demeaning depictions of minstrel performance and advertising were replicated at confrontational scale, unblinking in their harshness, here their bitter taste is blended into ornament. The shining obsidian bust in "(Forever Free) Veni Vidi" (2002) sits in a richly appointed Baroque interior, a recognition of the ways racism smooths itself into the background of modern life.

These are contextually complex paintings, incorporating ideas about performance (of gender, race, sexuality) and the theatricality of identity. Blackface caricatures still haunt the canvases, but they’re flattened à la wheatpaste street art and spliced onto burlesque dancers and dominatrixes. The figures are often half-formed — Black faces grafted onto white bodies missing limbs or segments of torso, obscured by gimp masks or African ones studded with cowrie shells, performing in circuses and masquerades — a dizzying cascade of historical references that reveals the nightmare of our insatiable need for extravaganza. The metaphors can get tangled, but Charles's equation of American racism with entertainment is hard to shake, a sadomasochistic relationship dependent equally on pain and pleasure. MAX LAKIN

Will Heinrich writes about new developments in contemporary art, and has previously been a critic for The New Yorker and The New York Observer. @willvheinrich


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