What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries Right Now

Want to see new art in New York this weekend? Start in the Upper East Side with Lynne Drexler’s paintings. Then head to Chelsea for Rudolf Stingel’s Conceptualism with a sense of humor. Afterward, see Nicky Nodjoumi’s “Miami” paintings in NoLIta, and Corri-Lynn Tetz’s terrifying images of girlhood in TriBeCa.

Hours vary at galleries. Visitors should check in advance.

Upper East Side

Runs through Dec. 17. Mnuchin Gallery, 45 East 78th Street, Manhattan; 212-861-0020, mnuchingallery.com; and Berry Campbell, 524 West 26th Street, Manhattan; 212-924-2178 berrycampbell.com

ImageAn abstract work by Lynne Drexler featuring clouds of small dots, dashes and squares of colors in deep red, orange, pink and green.
Lynne Drexler, “Untitled,” (1960) in the exhibition “The First Decade,” at Mnuchin Gallery.Credit...via The Estate of Lynne Drexler

The painter Lynne Drexler (1928-1999) came to New York in 1955 and had her first gallery solo here in 1961. Those dates make it a bit late to call the artist either Abstract Expressionist or second-generation Abstract Expressionist, as do the news releases for her first solo exhibition in 38 years, “The First Decade,” running concurrently in two galleries. These terms have been widely used lately; perhaps they signal historical and market value. Drexler’s paintings are pretty and angst-free; they feature amorphous clouds of small dots, dashes and squares of ringing color on raw or stained canvases. They evoke mosaics, textiles and sundry post-Impressionist painters and seem most credible aligned with Color Field painting.

The “first decade” covered here is 1959-1969, a fertile period for new art in New York when younger painters confronted Pollock’s allover drip paintings — among them Yayoi Kusama, Frank Stella and Brice Marden. Drexler did too but in a more conventional, people-pleasing direction.

Lynne Drexler’s “Burst Blue” (1969) at Berry Campbell.Credit...Estate of Lynne Drexler; via Berry Campbell, New York

At Mnuchin, the paintings and works on paper date from 1959 to 1964. The best works tend toward lighter, even pastel colors scattered over raw canvas, or toward deep nocturnal tones. The colors grow stronger; larger squares and circles enter the pictures, as do long slender rectangles.

At Berry Campbell, where works from 1965 to 1969 are on view, Drexler’s style starts to harden. The colors become repetitive and the clouds of little shapes become dense, crowding the surface. The bunched rectangles morph into bulging, striated shapes suggesting floods, billowing smoke, wasps’ nests or great churning waves. The beguiling airiness of the earlier paintings is gone, which is not a good sign. ROBERTA SMITH


Through Dec. 22. Helena Anrather, 132 Bowery, Manhattan; 212-343-7496; helenaanrather.com.

Nicky Nodjoumi’s “They Emerged Triumphantly,” from 1981, at Helena Anrather.Credit...via Nicky Nodjoumi and Helena Anrather, New York

The first thing you notice in the “Miami” paintings of the Iranian American artist Nicky Nodjoumi, who left Iran in 1980 after the new Islamic Republic shut down his show at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, are the feet. Several figures appearing upside down, as in Max Beckmann’s “Departure,” make clear that we’re dealing with dream imagery, in which ideas meet their opposites and you can never be sure if you’re flying or falling. (There are also wine bottles, revolvers, screaming horses, watermelon, a corpse wrapped in a flag, assorted bluish-gray clouds, and various mullahs and politicians making nefarious deals.) The upside-down figures also emphasize the pieces’ vertical composition, which evokes traditional Persian painting even as it creates a breathless feeling of nightmare: Instead of resolving into any intelligible sequence, Nodjoumi’s memories, symbols and references simply pile up, one on top of the other.

The other thing about feet, though, is that they are lovely things to paint, utterly familiar but with a curvy, idiosyncratic shape that offers plenty of space for generous swaths of color. Rendered in various shades of rosy pink, the feet that appear in the Miami paintings add something critical. They counterbalance the violence and disorder Nodjoumi just barely slipped away from after the Islamic revolution with beauty — and with something that looks very much like love. WILL HEINRICH


Through Dec. 17. Arsenal Contemporary, 21 Cortlandt Alley, Manhattan; 917-262-0233, arsenalcontemporary.com/ny

Corri-Lynn Tetz’s “Heaven goes on forever and ever …” (2022) at Arsenal Contemporary.Credit...Corri-Lynn Tetz; PhotoGRAPH by Eric Tschaeppeler

One painting shows a demure blonde in a girlish blue frock, hands clasped modestly before her. In another, a brunette in a frothy white dress, white wrap and straw hat takes a seat among daffodils. A third gives us two young women out by themselves in nature — highlands in Maine, maybe, or a hillscape on Cape Cod. Barefoot, they wear sleeveless shifts in tasteful salmon-pink and blue-gray; pink girl stares off into the distance while her companion in gray braids her hair. These paintings and nine others in the same vein by Corri-Lynn Tetz, who is based in Montreal, present the most decorous, tasteful image of girlhood you could imagine.

I find them terrifying.

In Tetz’s paintings, our society’s clichés of the feminine have become a bear trap waiting to grab and disable any young woman who happens upon them, as almost every young woman is bound to do.

Several of the paintings are based on figures pulled from the pages of a Laura Ashley catalog. Others look like they could be ads for the latest “prairie” styles that have recently entered (I’d say, infected) mainstream women’s fashions. Their scenes are rendered in the free brushwork of the best of postwar fashion illustration, such as one rarely encounters today.

By enlarging this classic advertising style to the scale of old master statements about war and God and classical myth, Tetz turns the selling of femininity into the subject for a new kind of history painting. “The Rape of the Sabines” is hardly more chilling. BLAKE GOPNIK


Through Dec. 22, Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W 21st Street, Manhattan; paulacoopergallery.com.

Rudolf Stingel, “Untitled” (2022), oil on canvas, on view at Paula Cooper.Credit...via Rudolf Stingel and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; Photograph by Steven Probert

Photorealism can be a deathly dull exercise: self-regarding proficiency with no point. But Rudolf Stingel never seems interested in egoism; he’s too occupied with how a painting is experienced, often slipping in a knock on art’s self-seriousness — the rare Conceptualist with a sense of humor. (In 1989, Stingel published a manual for making a Minimalist painting, and then spent the next decade following his own deadpan instructions.)

There’s no chintzy carpeting or walls skinned in silver building insulation to set the mood this time, just five sedate paintings of paintings, or, more accurately, paintings of Polaroids of paintings. Stingel photographed several of his earlier abstracts and translated the images to paint, including not just the original paintings but also the plywood or concrete walls on which they were hung, and the softly dappled sunlight that washed over them at the time of their making. The final pictures are true to scale, but whose truth? Depending on your mood, they represent a cannily infinite loop of tactile perception, or the beginning of a headache.

Stingel has been after this sort of thing for 40 years, evidently not tiring of the pursuit, or satisfied with the answers he’s able to divine. His theoretical explorations of painting as something mechanical, a process that can be replicated and divorced from human feeling, can occasion an existential crisis. But they also presaged art’s current struggle between technology and authorship, one that’s far more tedious, largely because it lacks Stingel’s wit. MAX LAKIN


Through Dec. 4. 56 Henry, 105 Henry Street, Manhattan; 646-858-0800, 56henry.nyc.

Works by Al Freeman: at left, “Receipt and Change on Pavement” (2022); and at right, “Lotto Ticket on Dark Wood Floor,” (2022).Credit...via Al Freeman Jr. and 56 Henry, New York; Photo by Matt Grubb

A used scratch-off lottery ticket, torn in four, creates a fractured grid. The legible words and phrase “WIN” and “CASH / 4LIFE” across the top two fragments ironically read only of dashed hopes. While the lotto ticket may be a dud, Al Freeman’s artwork depicting it — sculpture hung on the wall like a painting — manages to capture the vivacious energy of a hoarse-voiced belly laugh.

The four works together in “Floors” tell a story in this small but boisterous exhibition, the Brooklyn-based artist’s fifth solo show with the gallery. “Lotto Ticket on Dark Wood Floor” (all works are from 2022) is joined by a receipt from CVS promising “$3.00 off” along with a handful of pennies in “Receipt and Change on Pavement.” The other two works each illustrate packages of over-the-counter meds: the twinned torn blue packets in “Alka-Seltzer on Blonde Wood” and the crumbled pair spilling their eight tablets like pink polka dots in “Pepto Bismol on Checkered Floor.”

All are composed primarily of colored vinyl of the sort you’d find covering the booth at a classic New York diner, also incorporating foam, polyester fiberfill and leather, further suggesting upholstery. This wall-mounted format shows Freeman evolving and honing her craft beyond a clever reimagining of Claes Oldenburg soft sculpture updated for the 21st century. She’s a keen observer, quite literally here, of New York streets and floors, with a cartoonist’s knack for honing a familiar object down to its essence. Witty, hard-edge and comfy. JOHN VINCLER


Through Dec. 4. 601Artspace, 88 Eldridge Street, Manhattan; 212-243-2735, 601artspace.org.

Credit...Rafael Gamo/601Artspace

In 1969, Mierle Laderman Ukeles wrote a manifesto for “maintenance art.” She proposed an exhibition spotlighting the tasks that go into the upkeep of everyday life, including cleaning and caring for others. “Show your work — show it again,” she wrote of the repetitive and often hidden nature of this type of labor.

In this group show, curated by the artist Gabriela Vainsencher and 601Artspace’s director, Sara Shaoul, the contributors both follow and complicate that brief. Three prints by Ukeles representing work clocks hang near the entrance; their direct conceptual descendants are Walead Beshty’s “Copper Surrogates” (2017—22), two wall-mounted L shapes that would be exemplars of minimalism if not for the fingerprints all over them. Beshty stipulates that the sculptures be handled without gloves, so traces of human labor accrue.

Most artists here don’t show their work so much as point to the systems that determine its value. In T.J. Dedeaux-Norris’s “Untitled (Say Her Name)” (2011-15), the artist, who uses they/them pronouns, tries to separate their lips, which are glued shut. A potent metaphor for the effects of racism and sexism, the silent video evokes a visceral discomfort that for me was heightened by Roman Signer’s nearby installation. “Schnarchen (Snoring)” (1992) features a tent and audio track of Signer snoring, alluding to a performance he did in Iceland. It’s funny, but listening to Signer sleep while watching Dedeaux-Norris struggle, I couldn’t help thinking about who gets license to take it easy and who has to work extra hard to be heard. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through Dec 11. Amanita, 313 Bowery, Manhattan; spazioamanita.com.

Works by Eva Beresin at Amanita, from far left, “Familiarity,” “What Is To Be Done?” and “Beyond the Blackboard.” On the floor: “Spontaneous Sights of Nature VII.” All works are from 2022.Credit...via Eva Beresin and Amanita; Photograph by Dario Lasagni

Brutality and tenderness commingle in the Hungarian artist Eva Beresin’s new paintings in her show “Aktenkundig (On Record),” which depict versions of herself and her family in scenes that clamor with both visual and emotional intensity. Rendered in a childlike hand and juicy palette that belies their gravity, Beresin’s pictures can feel fantastical, less surreal than the way anxieties tend to fall over one another in dreams, letting the mind sort them out, or not. Beresin often depicts herself naked, tumbling through space, à la Chagall. Soldiers are as likely to intrude as garden gnomes, ghosts are given equal status with art-historical allusions. Gloopy 3D-printed sculptures of melted dogs and turtles, as though escaped from the picture plane, amplify the allegorical mood.

Beresin’s current mode of figurative painting follows from discovering the diary her mother wrote after her liberation from Auschwitz. Despite that subject matter, or perhaps because of it, Beresin’s canvases brim with caustic humor (“Familiarity,” in which a woman surveys her aging body as cosmonauts leer from the corner), indebted to but not weighed down by the freight of memory.

Beresin works fast, applying paint to canvas on the floor without any intermediary sketching. (Tread marks from her shoes are often visible, like a faint map, revealing the traces of her movements.) Her fleshy, muddy figures are often barely legible, sometimes heaped into clots of roughly defined bodies, which suggest mass graves and other attendant horrors of the camps, an inherited trauma that reverberates. Her furious strokes read as impatience, but also freedom. MAX LAKIN


Through Dec. 15. Jacqueline Sullivan Gallery, 52 Walker Street, Manhattan; jacquelinesullivangallery.com.

Kristin Dickson-Okuda’s “Sussex” chair dressing features a pink silk arm rest in the show “Substance in a Cushion.”Credit...Dan McMahon

Galleries dedicated to truly artful design are rare as MAGA hats in New York City. They don’t always stay open for long. So I was excited to climb to this fourth-floor gallery in TriBeCa, up past the well-known David Zwirner and James Cohan spaces, and discover the inspiring group show that inaugurates Jacqueline Sullivan’s new gallery.

I found a wonderful mix of very new, old, and very old furniture and objects. Bold oak chairs, crafted in Yorkshire around 1700, are in happy conversation with a minimal wardrobe designed in 1974 by the Dutchman Juliaan Lampens, who made crude plywood read as refined. There’s a fine dialogue between a flowery Arts and Crafts carpet, woven in England around 1895, and geometric blankets produced this year by Grace Atkinson, based in Paris.

But a more thoroughgoing marriage of old and new comes in a new project from Kristin Dickson-Okuda, one of several creators commissioned just for this show. Dickson-Okuda has taken an Arts and Crafts “Sussex” chair, produced by William Morris in the 1870s, and, magpie-like, added black ribbons to its sides and clear vinyl squares to its arms and even hand-knit white cozies around its legs. Her additions feel completely contemporary, but also completely respectful of the vintage objects they adorn and update.

In design, a mix of old and new often feels like a showy accumulation of treasures, ignoring what each piece once meant. Sullivan, with degrees in both poetry and design history, turns anachronism into a creative force. BLAKE GOPNIK


Through Dec. 17. David Zwirner, 525 West 19th Street, Manhattan; 212 727-2070. davidzwirner.com.

William Eggleston’s “Untitled,” circa 1970-1973, in his show “The Outlands” at David Zwirner.Credit...via Eggleston Artistic Trust and David Zwirner

Because to me William Eggleston’s “The Red Ceiling” is as monumental as Matisse’s “The Red Studio,” I would argue that, with his alchemist’s secret of using color to transform banality into beauty, Eggleston is the Matisse of photographers. An ingenious rhymester, he could as easily be compared to Stephen Sondheim, or as the distiller of strip-mall America into something cold, clear and hard, to Raymond Carver. But why compare? With the death this year of William Klein, Eggleston stands alone as the greatest living photographer.

The 29 photographs in his show “The Outlands” (and many more in the accompanying catalog) were also-rans in the selection made by John Szarkowski for Eggleston’s 1976 MoMA exhibition, which fiercely divided viewers (the Times critic panned it as “perfectly boring”) and towers as a milestone in the recognition of color photography as art.

“The Red Ceiling” — officially, “Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973)” — wasn’t in MoMA’s show, although a related photograph appeared of the lord of this manor, Eggleston’s drug-abusing best friend, naked and befuddled in a graffiti-smeared room. This exhibition includes another view of that room, with a tank of compressed gas, gunmetal green against the red wall.

A two-tone Oldsmobile, all doors open, sits on a dirt road beneath a lowering sky. A woman is inside, her face blurred, but visible through the windshield. Her foot in a red sandal has swung out the passenger side. The red rhymes with the combs of two browsing chickens. In a hardscrabble nowhere, disorder has magically composed into harmony. ARTHUR LUBOW

Upper East Side

Through Dec. 23. Sprüth Magers, 22 East 80th Street, Manhattan; 917-722-2370, spruethmagers.com.

Louise Lawler’s “Three Flags (swiped again, one),” from 2022, in her show “Not Enough to See.”Credit...via Louise Lawler and Sprüth Magers

Barely discernible, the American flag appears only as an apparition, a ghost. Or has it been caught in the process of vaporizing altogether? The flag photographs in “Not Enough to See,” a Louise Lawler solo exhibition of new works that opened days before the midterm election, read as a potent metaphor for democracy in the United States in an era when election lies entered the mainstream.

But the photos here actually document the deinstallation in February of the Whitney Museum’s epic Jasper Johns retrospective, “Mind/Mirror.” They most prominently feature his iconic painting “Three Flags” (1958), seen off-center to the right in the camera’s frame in each of the seven iterations of Lawler’s pictures on this theme. Each one captures the camera’s movement creating a diaphanous blurring effect. Sometimes only Johns’s painting is visible within the white space of the museum, as in “Three Flags (swiped again, one)” (2022) where a central white stripe in the painting disappears or blends perfectly into the white of the wall behind it. In others, labeled crates for artworks ready for shipping or storage are also visible on the left.

Lawler’s choice to use the term “swipe” throughout her titles in this series also teases a link between elections and dating apps. They also remind us that Johns chose to paint his stack of three flags in encaustic, a medium of pigment suspended in wax that turns to liquid when heated. These flags, like democracy itself, are imposing but ultimately fragile. JOHN VINCLER


Through Dec. 17. Pace Gallery, 540 West 25th Street, Manhattan; 212-421-3292, pacegallery.com.

Sonia Gomes’s “Untitled” (from “Entre Pérola e Vergalhão” series), 2022.Credit...Sonia Gomes, via Pace Gallery

Sonia Gomes didn’t go to art school until age 45. She’d been deconstructing and reassembling fabrics since childhood, but facing prejudices as an Afro-Brazilian woman working with textiles, she thought of what she did as craft. It took a new context to see it as art.

Now, Gomes, 74, is having her first solo show in New York, titled “O Mais Profundo é a Pele” (“Skin Is the Deepest Part”). Rather than a retrospective, it’s an assembly of recent work that demonstrates both the range of her approaches to fabric and her mastery of it. Gomes uses found and donated objects and textiles, often twisting, stretching and bundling them to create wiry or knotty forms.

In the series “Entre Pérola e Vergalhão” (“Between Pearl and Rebar”), pearls are embedded in clusters of colorful cushions that sit atop rebar — a metaphor for creating nurturing spaces (and shoring them up). In the “Tela-Corpo” (“Canvas-Body”) series, bulges of cloth emerge from canvases painted with biomorphic forms — protrusions that feel integrated, despite being disruptive.

If Gomes has a central theme, that may be it: a sense of willful connection, a determination to use what’s on hand to forge something unexpectedly beautiful. My favorite piece, an untitled work (2022) from the “Torção” (“Twists”) series, is a mix of media and fabrics wrapped, sewn and tied together to form a loose web. It looks born of struggle, as if wrestled into being, yet it hangs open and light, almost dancing on the wall. JILLIAN STEINHAUER


Through Dec. 17. Galerie Lelong, 528 West 26th Street, Manhattan; 212-315-0470. galerielelong.com

Installation view of Ursula von Rydingsvard’s show at Galerie Lelong & Co., New York. At far right, “Here & There,” from 2011.Credit...via Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

The tension in Ursula von Rydingsvard’s wood sculpture arises from its yin-and-yang coupling of brute strength with refined delicacy. At 80, the Brooklyn-based sculptor is at the top of her hard-fought game. In this exhibition of sculptures and drawings, most of them made in the last two years, you feel the effort (carried out by assistants under her close supervision) that goes into the cutting of blocks of her favorite material, Western red cedar. The lightly grained wood is colored with graphite before the components are assembled into forms, often 10 feet tall or higher, that engage a viewer as animistic emissaries from the natural world.

Born in Germany to a Polish mother and Ukrainian father, she began her childhood in refugee camps after World War II, before her family of nine immigrated to the United States and settled in Connecticut. (The aristocratic name is the legacy of her first husband.) In an artist’s statement, she asked, “Why do I make art?” Her long list of reasons began: “Mostly, to survive. To survive living and all of its implied layers. To ease my high anxiety, to numb myself with the labor and the focus of building my work.”

Remarkably, that struggle is evident in the art, even in the bronze castings (there is one in the show) that are made from a wooden model. Of the cedar pieces, I was most impressed by “Ursie 1” (2022) and “here & there” (2011). They curve with the softness of aprons and the hardness of shields. ARTHUR LUBOW


Through Dec. 21. Ortuzar Projects, 9 White Street, Manhattan; 212-257-0033; ortuzarprojects.com.

June Leaf’s “Two Women on a Jack,” from 2001, at Ortuzar Projects.Credit...via June Leaf and Ortuzar Projects, New York

June Leaf’s memorable new show at Ortuzar Projects rounds up decades’ worth of work by the 93-year-old artist. There are unframed drawings of shadowy figures confronting existential dilemmas. There’s an expressive, rainbow-colored painting of what looks like a sounding whale. And there are evocative, Torah-like devices constructed from old sewing machine parts and mesh, as well as loads of dashing little figures cut from tin. But “drawing, painting and sculpture” hardly seem like the right words for any of this, because the pieces all come across less as objects than as urgent gestures, thoughtful but intuitive, that Leaf just happened to make with charcoal or sheet metal instead of with her body.

The best work is in the figures, which are deceptively precise despite their rough edges. They hide funny, unnerving details like thumbtacks for breasts or a hinge-like pin sticking down between two legs. Leaf sends her little avatars up and down spiraling staircases and has them walk along thick, kinky strands of wire as if they were in the circus. One little figure flies with hollow wings while a pair of larger ones, in “Two Women on a Jack,” ready their drumsticks to play an empty circle of wire — as beautiful a metaphor for the self-willed quality of art as I’ve ever seen. WILL HEINRICH

Lower East Side

Through Dec. 23. Perrotin, 130 Orchard Street, Manhattan; (212) 812-2902, perrotin.com.

Damien Hirst’s print, with its spots excised, in front of the spots removed from it.Credit...via MSCHF and Perrotin; Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli

This is the first gallery outing for the Brooklyn collective known as MSCHF (pronounced mischief), well known beyond the art world for pranks that poke fun at commodity culture. In this show’s most striking piece, that culture comes to include a work of art.

For that work, “Severed Spots,” MSCHF’s creators spent almost $45,000 on a Damien Hirst print that bore 108 of his trademark spots. They then sliced out those spots to function as separate works by MSCHF, on sale at Perrotin for $4,400 each. The Hirst print, now a spot-free web of holes, is listed at $75,000. Profit is this work’s true subject and art supply.

In another project, also on view at Perrotin, MSCHF offers to forge the metal from any gun into a sword: They have already turned a grenade launcher into a massive two-handed blade; a pump-action shotgun is now a Scottish dirk. If Americans want to bear arms, maybe these are closer to what the founding fathers imagined.

The project known as “Wavy Shoes” consists of sneakers from brands like Adidas and Asics redesigned by MSCHF to look half-liquefied, like shoes seen in a fun-house mirror. The price and status of high-end footwear is clearly not about function; by making versions you could never run in, MSCHF puts that fact on view.

Some gallerygoers are going to ask if all this caustic play counts as art. My question, rather, is whether it fits too cozily into the business art genre established decades ago by Andy Warhol and his fellow conceptualists, and then pursued by descendants like Takashi Murakami and Hirst.

MSCHF’s surgically altered spots could almost as easily be by Hirst himself. BLAKE GOPNIK


Through Jan. 7 at 52 Walker, 52 Walker Street, Manhattan; (212) 727-1961, 52walker.com.

Installation view of Tau Lewis’s “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” at 52 Walker.Credit...via 52 Walker, New York

We, as a species, are impressed by big things: large animals, supertall buildings, supersize food. In art, however, bigger is not always better. Take Tau Lewis’s current batch of sculptures in her solo debut, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei, ” at 52 Walker.

The Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based artist blasted onto the North American art scene half a decade ago, a hugely talented 20-something who cobbled together gritty, almost haunted sculptures and tapestries with scavenged materials. Then she was discovered: tapped by important curators and recruited by large galleries, culminating in her participation in the current Venice Biennale.

“Vox Populi, Vox Dei” follows on the heels of that heady experience and finds Lewis running a little low on ideas. Six giant heads with bombastic titles like “Mater Dei” (all works are from 2022) and “Trident” conjure masks and ferocious monsters, deities and power figures from a panoply of cultures. Materials here include repurposed leather, fur, silk, rawhide, shells and snakeskin. The works are impressive — i.e., big — but rather basic. (I always think, in these instances of “giantism,” of what Roberta Smith once wrote about Zhang Huan’s giant sculptures: “The main subject here is scale itself; height, volume and quantity as well as hours of human labor.”)

Much ink has been spilled on the art world devouring its young. On the one hand, it’s fortunate that Lewis has found success. On the other, it’s bittersweet: The wild ideas and compositions Lewis created when she was relatively unknown, crafting curious objects in her studio, were better. MARTHA SCHWENDENER


Through Feb. 19. Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 East 84th Street, Manhattan. 212-992-7800; isaw.nyu.edu.

Credit...Ádám Vágó/Field Museum

The premise of “Ritual and Memory” at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World — to give some overdue attention to antiquity in the borderlands of Europe and Asia, using rare loans from 11 countries — is alluring, if not ultimately convincing. The show’s 5,000-year spread is simply too long, and it’s difficult to find the continuity between primitive clay artifacts and sophisticated Thracian armor, or a pinstriped drinking horn terminating in a gilded sphynx.

That said, though, the armor alone is worth a visit — a silver shin protector with a woman’s lugubrious face at the kneecap is particularly memorable, as are several discrete hoards of identical solid-gold ornaments. And a 7,000-year-old clay man and woman found, along with tiny altars, toy-size‌ houses and other primitive figurines, in what is now Hungary, are extraordinary. The man has something over his shoulder that, according to the wall labels, might be a sickle or something like a boomerang. The woman, missing head and legs but identifiable as such by two tiny protuberant breasts, is flat and angular, and incised from sternum to knees with an intricate decorative pattern. The original meaning of these incisions is lost, along with the cultural context in which they were made. But the unglazed figure looks so simple, so much like a sculpture you might arrive at yourself, given a few hours and some clay, that you can’t help feeling you might recapture its maker’s intention if only you imagine hard enough. WILL HEINRICH