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

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Want to see new art in New York this weekend? Check out diagrammatic paintings in Chelsea or Catharine Czudej’s fun house on the Upper East Side. And don’t miss Lap-See Lam’s first U.S. solo show on the East Village.

Chelsea

Through Aug. 15. Marlborough, 545 West 25th Street, Manhattan; 212-541-4900, marlboroughnewyork.com.

When the paintings of the blockbuster Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who died in 1944, were first shown publicly in the 1980s, some critics argued that the works looked more like diagrams illustrating occult ideas than abstract paintings. Later audiences and critics disagreed. Tastes have changed perhaps — but so has our relationship to diagrams, as John Bender and Michael Marrinan asserted in their book “The Culture of Diagram” (2010).

Schema: World as Diagram” focuses on artists — mostly painters — who use the diagram in formal, conceptual and sometimes playful ways. Some use it to describe social, political and personal structures, such as Mike Cloud, Alan Davie, David Diao, Thomas Hirschhorn, Mark Lombardi and Loren Munk. Grids, networks and circuit boards appear in works by Alfred Jensen, Paul Pagk, Miguel Angel Ríos. Maps are a touchstone for Joanne Greenbaum and the aboriginal painters Jimmy and Angie Tchooga. More cosmic diagrams appear in paintings by Chris Martin, Karla Knight, Paul Laffoley, Trevor Winkfield and Hilma’s Ghost (the artists Dannielle Tegeder and Sharmistha Ray), who take af Klint as an inspiration.

For Raphael Rubinstein, who organized the show with his daughter Heather Bause Rubinstein, the diagram, which only became important in the 20th century in European and American art, closes the gap between abstract and representational art. Maybe this rich, dense show signals a shift, though: Who cares about abstraction anymore? Viva the diagram! Like painting itself, diagraming is a way of thinking and organizing information — speedier than the written word, more graphic and visual. In a chaotic, overstimulating world, no wonder diagrams are so popular. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Upper East Side

Through Aug. 12. Meredith Rosen, 11 East 80th Street, basement level, Manhattan; 212-655-9791, meredithrosengallery.com

It doesn’t take much for clowns to be creepy — the unnatural colors and rictus grins do the heavy lifting — an effect that’s been exploited by schlock horror for eons. Happily, the clowns in Catharine Czudej’s installation here never materialize, but one gets the sense, descending to a fluorescent-lit basement gallery, of entering the lair of some sinister Bozo who’s just stepped out for a smoke.

The dread never relents, not that it would have anywhere to go; color-wheel parachute tarps assault the walls and blanket the floor, strewn with bottles of irradiated-purple soda, giving the whole space the claustrophobic toxicity of a Chuck E. Cheese fever dream, or a house under a fumigation tent.

Puffy, cast-aluminum daisies and attenuated balloon animals creep along the floor, their color drained into cold gray. It is as if Giacometti did birthday parties, or if Jeff Koons stopped smiling. Elsewhere, two glittering wall works make up the deficit. Czudej melts down bismuth and lets it act on an aluminum frame, producing craggy accretions of stunning color. They mimic the shape of paintings, mocking the form: They look acid-eaten in places, or perhaps in revolt, returning to nature. An overly chirpy ad for a smoking cessation pharmaceutical plays on an upturned screen, its deranged tenor contributing to the deadpan darkness. Czudej’s fun house might be a place where only she’s having fun, but maybe that’s all right. Her berserk immersive environment taunts our endless consumption — of art, amusement, drugs, aspartame — our constant need for yucks. MAX LAKIN

East Village

Through Aug. 27. Swiss Institute, 38 St. Marks Place, Manhattan; 212-925-2035, swissinstitute.net.

In the 1990s, a Swedish businessman, Johan Wang, opened a Chinese restaurant that was also a three-story ship, replete with dragon head and tail. The Sea Palace sailed from Shanghai to Europe, docking in various cities, but ended up shuttered in Gothenburg, Sweden. Recently, the ship was moved to Stockholm and repurposed as a haunted house.

If this sounds like a contemporary ghost story about capitalism and orientalism, it is — which also makes it the perfect starting point for Lap-See Lam’s “Tales of the Altersea,” her first U.S. solo show. Starting in 2014, Lam 3-D scanned the interiors of several Chinese restaurants in her home country of Sweden, including Sea Palace and the one founded by her grandmother, who immigrated from Hong Kong.

The glitchy ruins of Sea Palace are just barely recognizable in “Tales of the Altersea” (2023), the 10-channel video at the heart of her exhibition. Lam turns the ghost story into a fable involving twins and characters from Chinese mythology, who swim through a murky ocean to the sounds of rhyming narration and haunting music. The work unfolds as a digital shadow play projected on the walls and floor of the Swiss Institute’s basement. It’s a transportive melding of old and new stories and technologies, with what sometimes feel like too many moving parts. But just let the dazzling video wash over you. The details are less important than the outline they create: of being trapped in the phantoms of history, until you find a way to break free. JILLIAN STEINHAUER

TriBeCa

Through Aug. 4. Chapter NY, 60 Walker Street, Manhattan; 646-850-7486, chapter-ny.com.

Two drawings by Lee Lozano, both untitled from 1964 and 1969, anchor this group show, which consists otherwise of recent paintings, sculptures, installation pieces and photographs by living artists. Lozano’s drawings of abstract but vividly spatial forms vibe with Philip Guston’s cartoonish figurative style from the same period.

At the gallery’s entrance, cameron clayborn’s sculpture “a short list of grievances” (2022), a gathering of dyed and stuffed muslin like oversized sausages, hangs above the wood floor feeling bodily, akin to Louise Bourgeois. The carbine red of two works by the Beirut-based artist Dala Nasser frame the back and a side wall. Hung like paintings, the large cloth-based works are like skin grafts of a landscape, as the artist exposes her materials outside to the elements before bringing them back inside to be hung. Here the landscape conjured is American. The works, “Cochineal I” and “Cochineal II” (both 2023), are named for the beetle, found on prickly pear cactus, used to make red dye.

The five silver gelatin photographs by Sam Moyer (all 2023) give the exhibition serious heft. Four depict giant slabs of composite stone, perhaps segments of an eroded sea wall, the fifth a field of long undulating grass — all in concrete frames inset with Long Island beach stone aggregate.

Summer group shows often feel motivated more by a desire to gather the participating artists together for the opening night party, but here the works cohere: a weighty whole, a sustained event. JOHN VINCLER

Queens

Through Aug. 7. SculptureCenter, 44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, Queens; (718) 361-1750; sculpture-center.org.

In important ways the New York contemporary art world was a much bigger place three decades ago than it is today, not in size but in its thinking. For a few multiculturalist years our smaller, adventurous art spaces experimented with bringing spirituality into their premises, not just as an object of study but as an active practice, a way to think about what art is, or can be.

The first institutional solo show of the artist Edgar Calel, titled “B’alab’äj (Jaguar Stone),” is a reminder of this. Born in 1987 in Guatemala, where he lives and works, Calel is of Mayan Kaqchikel ancestry and that heritage shapes the character of his monumental SculptureCenter installation of raw earth, rough stone and fire in the form of burning candles. In appearance, the piece suggests an altar, a memorial, and mazelike garden. Its content interweaves cultural, political and personal histories.

Obliquely, poetically, Calel refers to Mayan views of the earth as a dynamic, responsive, sacred being. He offers a lament for an Indigenous people historically persecuted in their own land. And he presents a tribute to continuity in the form of family, his own. (Sections of molded soil spell out the syllable “tik,” the sound he remembers his grandmother making to call wild birds for feeding.) The resulting SculptureCenter piece, beautiful to see, isn’t a “religious” work in any narrow sense. It’s a spiritual charging-station, multipurpose, real. HOLLAND COTTER

Chinatown

Through Aug. 11. Magenta Plains, 149 Canal Street, Manhattan; 917-388-2464, magentaplains.com.

The ground floor gallery at Magenta Plains is configured as a chapel — but of what faith? The New York artist Rachel Rossin is as much a programmer as a painter, and her exhibition embroiders the boundaries around “the human” with knowing reverence. On a round LED screen mounted to the ceiling, the video “The Maw Of” pans and zooms through 3-D renderings of disembodied nerves and skeletons, glowing networks, and the orange and blue blobs of bodies viewed in infrared. It’s a celestial tondo of the posthuman, a portal to the angels or their digital avatars. It turns the room red.

On the curved back wall hang five portraits of “mechs” — robotic suits of anime armor. Their purplish, blurred silhouettes seem printed on top of the ridges of milky paint depicting pale, layered figures and puddling abstractions. In “Just like Velveteen Rabbit, Mech Standing,” the largest and center panel, the mech’s beatific pose echoes an obscure, winged shape sketched into the pulsing lavender shadows in butter yellow and grass. Several, such as “SCRY. 1 Corinthians 13:12.,” a picture in minty pastels where the mech’s pilot’s face punches through the haze, incorporate line drawings of dragons labeled Bad or Good in a naïve hand; others feature angels. The apostle Paul had heaven in mind when he wrote, in 1 Corinthians, that “now we see as through a glass darkly”; Rossin’s cyborg icons hold out that true vision might require a higher power, a congestion of human and machine. TRAVIS DIEHL

Lower East Side

Through Aug. 11. Candice Madey, 1 Rivington Street, Manhattan; 917-415-8655, candicemadey.com

For many young artists in the cash-poor, art-rich East Village of the 1970s and very early 1980s, bathtub-in-kitchen tenement apartments were also studios. You get an immediate sense of forced spatial economy in “Luxe, Calme, Volupté,” a salon-style group show of some 70 works from that time and place, each small enough to have been done on a kitchen table.

The show is a piquant tasting menu of a moment when realist art was suddenly in high flood after a long Minimalist/Conceptualist-induced drought. For a sense of new possibilities explored, or revisited, check out a 1981 Times Square cityscape by Jane Dickson, or Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s 1986 altar boy valentine, or a sculpted pair of spike heels (real spikes!) by the great Greer Lankton, or a companionable 1988 trifecta in the form of Gail Thacker’s photograph of Mark Morrisroe photographing Rafael Sánchez.

More than anything, this is a portrait show, of artists’ lovers and friends, almost all artists themselves. Together they define a brief, bright community occupying a gentrifying bit of turf, and a dolorous passage in time: Several of the artists represented here would die of AIDS, with Richard Brintzenhofe, Luis Frangella, Peter Hujar, Nicolas Moufarrege and the experimental photographer Darrel Ellis among the early losses. (The Madey show has been organized by Antonio Sergio Bessa and Allen Frame, curators of the Darrel Ellis retrospective now at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.) Happily, illusions of “luxe, calme and volupté” were still possible when much of what’s here was made. HOLLAND COTTER

Hudson Yards

Through Aug. 11. Sean Kelly Gallery, 475 10th Avenue, Manhattan; 212-239-1181, skny.com.

For the concluding exhibition of NXTHVN’s graduating fellowship cohort, the artists in this program founded in 2019 by the painter Titus Kaphar and two partners in New Haven, Conn., have produced work that is visually arresting, materially inventive, and takes real risks.

In the group show, “Reclamation,” Donald Guevara has fashioned collages of human limbs, animal appendages and bits of popular iconography mounted amid a rabble of multicolored shards titled “Glitches” (2023). His installation, which reads as a stop-motion blur of activity, brings to mind Sylvia Plath’s line from “Elm”: “a wind of such violence will tolerate no bystanding.” Another highlight is Anindita Dutta’s assemblages that combine black boots and shoes in which the heels are replaced by cruelly curved horns paired with sumptuous leather, cloth and feather textiles. Her series “Sex, Sexuality, and Society” (2023) finds that sweet seam between the phallic and the feminine, making it obvious that clothing really is talismanic conjuring in disguise.

Edgar Serrano’s paintings flirt with horror, but with a light, comical touch. The red-eyed ghoul shrieking underneath a Stahlhelm military helmet in “Doctor Hardcore” (2023) seems both silly and disturbing. Lastly, in the downstairs gallery, Ashanté Kindle’s circular paintings of hairstyling strips and acrylic on wood panel expound on her fascination with Black people’s hair. Her previous work was mostly obsidian, but now has added variegated pigmentation and objects such as hair bows and beads that give the paintings more visual voltage. The entire exhibition is like this work: sensuality embedded in intellectual curiosity. SEPH RODNEY

Tribeca

Through Aug. 11. Klaus von Nichtssagend, 87 Franklin Street, Manhattan. 212-777-7756; klausgallery.com.

Oranges are uniquely at home in the imagination. You can easily look past their surface texture and treat them simply as shapes, and they share their name, if not their very identity, with a color. There’s also their history as symbols of exotic luxury. In other words, they’re the perfect subject for “Mirror Grove,” the latest seminar in perception and design from the Brooklyn-based painter’s painter Graham Anderson.

In eight modestly scaled paintings with evocative titles like “Masks Without Owners” and “The Chimeric Mesh,” Anderson makes oranges look like hazy spotlights, paper cutouts, hovering planets, bouncy Art Deco ornaments, office-supply stickers, glowing buttons and elements of ancient Roman frescoes. He does all this with a combination of flat, saturated color, trompe l’oeil shadows and tiny, overlapping daubs of paint that split the difference between TV static and Ben-Day dots.

In “Advice From the Sun,” an enormous disc hangs like Pharaoh Akhenaten’s abstracted sun god between two gently rolling spheres. A smaller disc, nearby, is adorned with a sprig of schematic leaves. The fact that each of these planetlike orange circles is itself made up of tiny orange circles makes clear that the music of the spheres is also the music of atoms, and vice versa. But Anderson isn’t using his painting to illustrate this familiar, if always mind-boggling, truth. He’s using the truth to adorn his painting. WILL HEINRICH

TriBeCA

Through Aug. 19. Artists Space, 11 Cortlandt Alley, Manhattan; 212-226-3970, artistsspace.org.

The entrance to rafa esparza’s exhibition “Camino” is flanked by two paintings. In order to face either one head on, you must stand on a small, uneven platform of homemade adobe bricks. This is a message from the artist: He’s not interested in a seamless viewing experience. He wants you to think about the ground you’re walking upon.

The Los Angeles–based artist may be best known for his extreme performances. For example, at Art Basel Miami Beach last December, he turned a coin-operated pony ride into a lowrider bike outfitted for his body, so that participants rode him. By comparison, his first solo show in New York is tame. It recalls his contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial, where he created a room of adobe bricks. That installation was more immersive; this one is conceptually tighter.

Here, a winding path of bricks connects life-size portraits of members of esparza’s largely queer community. The paintings are also on adobe, referencing his Mexican heritage and accentuating his subjects’ brown skin. On the walls hang renderings of L.A.’s 110 Freeway, featuring concrete tunnels and embankments. This sets up a tension over how we build society — in concert with people and the earth or with little regard for them?

A striking painting at the back depicts P-22, the mountain lion that famously crossed two L.A. freeways. Its stride and stare mimic those of the human figures, all coalescing to issue a kind of challenge: What would it take to embrace a more sustainable way of life? JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Brooklyn

Through Aug. 12. Picture Theory, Greenpoint (address available with an appointment), Brooklyn; 917-765-9762, picturetheoryprojects.com.

Apartment galleries offer intimate experiences with art that the blue-chip behemoths of Chelsea cannot. At Picture Theory in Greenpoint, a record played on a turntable in what would normally be a sitting room. The music was familiar: the distinctive fingerpicking style of the guitarist John Fahey — folk and blues flecked with traditional Indian raga — whose artwork rather than music I came to see.

The phrase “American primitive,” used for Fahey’s music, equally fits his visual art: All 17 works on paper or poster board were made in the last few years of his life when he was on the road touring or at home in Salem, Oregon. (He died in 2001.) Tempera, spray paint and markers are mostly employed to render layered fields of poured, soaked, sprayed and impressed color. Emergent forms in the compositions are occasionally outlined with a marker. Two jotted drawings, in marker only, are vaguely surrealist. The other untitled and largely undated works tend toward primary colors or, less frequently, pastel tones. Some incorporate glitter or iridescent materials.

Despite the exhibition’s title, “Fields of Reptiles and Mud,” the work is bright and joyous, a vivid and fascinating contrast with his vast body of music. The exhibition is the result of collaboration between Picture Theory’s founder, Rebekah Kim, and John Andrew, the manager of Fahey’s painting archive — two former colleagues at David Zwirner gallery who bonded over a shared appreciation for outsider art. It’s worth seeing what spills onto the page when a musical genius turns to another medium. JOHN VINCLER

Greenwich Village

Through Aug. 27. Institute of Arab & Islamic Art, 22 Christopher Street, instituteaia.org.

Behjat Sadr, who died in 2009, was a prominent painter in Iran before moving to Paris in the early 1980s. Her work demonstrates how artists absorbed a dizzying array of influences after World War II. For Sadr, this meant the earthy approach of European Informel painters like Alberto Burri and Jean Dubuffet, but also the systemic geometries of Islamic architecture — and even the exaggerated, Pop brushstrokes of Roy Lichtenstein. This show at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art shows off her range with paintings, installations and haunting collages.

Sadr studied in Rome in the mid-1950s and the canvases from that period, many painted on thick, toothy surfaces like Burri’s, are charged with carefully controlled formal energy. Later, she would scrape patterns into the “abstract” image, creating what looks like wood grain or that Lichtenstein brushstroke. The buoyant stripes in a kinetic work from the late 1960s, made with window blinds attached to the surface of a canvas, appear and disappear, depending on your perspective. The collages made in Paris feature photographs of arid Iranian landscapes, but also one of an unidentified man, seemingly silenced by a criss-cross pattern plastered over his mouth.

At root, many of the works are charged with subversive politics. Sadr left Iran after the 1979 revolution and her work reverberates with radical poetry and powerful histories. It feels vitally important now, at a moment when women are leading a protest movement in that country, to see the visionary work of this groundbreaking woman artist. MARTHA SCHWENDENER

Queens

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

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

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