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An Afternoon in Chelsea: Which Shows Are Worth the Sweltering Slog?

Before all the galleries close and their staffs make the customary late-summer retreat to cooler climes, we offer this guide to the season’s final must-sees.

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Alejandro Diaz's Ongoing Series of Cardboard Signs (2003 to present), at Sara Meltzer.  

1. "Ceci N’est Pas … (This Is Not …)
Sara Meltzer
, 525–531 W. 26th St.; through August 17
NAKED ARTIST INSIDE! reads the cardboard sign on the gallery door. There isn’t one, alas, unless you take it to mean the unadulterated cynicism, anxiety, and Schadenfreude on display. Billed as an irreverent response to this summer’s “grand tour” (Venice, Documenta, etc.), this show gathers some of the art world’s court jesters in an attempt to diffuse the toxic, careerist atmosphere young artists encounter. Expect some pure silliness (Jude Tallichet’s hooked rugs reading CURRIN and KOONS in big, flowery script; Jennifer Dalton’s statuettes of the top ten collectors of 2005), but also some truly incisive wit. Be sure not to miss Pablo Helguera’s etiquette guide (what to do when the painting doesn’t match the sofa), or the three short videos on the second floor; in the best one, Tamy Ben-Tor impersonates a European artist-in-residence with a Christo-size ego.


Gianni Colombo's Strutturazione Pulsante (1959).  

2. 1950s–1960s Kinetic Abstraction
Andrea Rosen
, 525 W. 24th St.; through August 24
No, it’s not the heat getting to you: Those paintings are actually moving. The Rosen gallery has collaborated with German collector Erika Hoffmann on a show of kinetic art mostly from the “ZERO” movement, an unusually lively branch of late-fifties and early-sixties minimalism that embraced chance and spontaneity. Julio Le Parc’s Mobile Noir Sur Noir (1960) resembles an animated Ad Reinhardt monochrome, Gianni Colombo’s Strutturazione Pulsante (1959) a breathing Agnes Martin grid. François Morellet’s Wave Motion Thread (1965), an oscillating floor-to-ceiling string, creates a mesmerizing double helix. Visitors are asked to flip the switches on several works that are too old and fragile to be run continuously. Some, like Jean Tinguely’s Maschinenbild Haus Lange (1960), are even a little creaky and chipped at the edges—which only adds to the charm of this forgotten corner of postwar art.


Eileen Quinlan's Smoke & Mirrors #200 (2007).  

3. Strange Magic
Luhring Augustine
, 531 W. 24th St.; through July 28
Anne Collier’s penetrating eye-within-an-eye greets visitors to this show of five trendsetting female photographers. Eileen Quinlan’s “Smoke & Mirrors” series reintroduces the clumsiest of special effects to a medium now besotted with seamless digital manipulation; her compositions, full of acute angles and acid-hued reflections, also have a graphic new-wave appeal. Liz Deschenes makes shimmery op-art moiré patterns by filtering light through perforated sheets, and, in the back room, Amy Granat projects scratched and punctured film. If the last few seasons were all about occult and “spirit” photography, this one seems to be forging a more scientific connection between light and paper.


Domenico Gnoli's Braid (1969).  

4. Project For A Revolution In New York
Matthew Marks
, 523 W. 24th St.; through August 17
In this summer sublet, gallerist Mitchell Algus, a tireless champion of underrecognized artists from the sixties and seventies, takes over a space normally given over to blue chips. Much of the work by the mostly male, mostly European artists therefore looks weirdly time-shifted; Felix Labisse’s orifice-sprouting orb The Wanton (1965) could have been painted by Magritte in the thirties, and Jacques Poli’s steely abstraction Kornet Sans Coupe Cuillère (1976) by Picabia during World War I. It’s a diverting, if not exactly historic, cache of repressed Surrealism.


George Kuchar's The Mongreloid (1970).  

5. Good Morning, Midnight
Casey Kaplan
, 525 W. 21st St.; through July 31
Titled after Jean Rhys’s novel of a depressed woman in thirties Paris, this show curated by Angeleno tastemaker Bruce Hainley is really a pleasure trip to the Left Coast. Emerging sculptors like Roger Hiorns, who splashes Jean Patou scent on a minimal slab of metal, mingle with underground film director and cartoonist George Kuchar. As one might expect from Hainley, the co-author (with John Waters) of Art—A Sex Book,” naughtiness abounds. Strangely, most of it comes from the elders: Jeff Burton’s NC-17 photos of porn sets, Sturtevant’s video of vibrating stuffed animals, and a Jasper Johns’s drawing featuring a set of hairy testicles that would look more at home in the oeuvre of R. Crumb.


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