1. Lisa Yuskavage
David Zwirner; 525 W. 19th St. Through November 18.
Maybe it’s the year she recently spent in Rome, or maybe it’s the Zwirner effect (her new dealer also shows the smoky canvases of Luc Tuymans and Marlene Dumas), but Lisa Yuskavage seems to be exercising restraint. As her voluptuous subjects have transitioned from Playboy to the playground (now flaunting baby bumps along with the bosoms), her palette has shifted from a lurid fuchsia to an autumnal ocher. Her latest paintings are stretched a bit thin in Zwirner’s cavernous space, but the best of them display a muted eroticism. The two figures embracing in Imprint (2006) may be showing lots of skin, but the effect is hardly seductive; they’re clinging to each other for dear life. Likewise, the pregnant woman at a table of pears and pomegranates in Biting the Red Thing (2004–5) looks strangely distracted. She’s not really satisfying her cravings, or ours.
2. Steve Mumford
Postmasters; 459 W. 19th St. Through December 2.
In the tradition of the “war artist” (a figure long since superseded by blogs and online video), Steve Mumford spent part of the first year of the Iraq conflict embedded with U.S. military units. His watercolor sketches from the field have been widely exhibited and published in the 2004 book Baghdad Journal; since returning, he’s been working them into larger, occasionally epic scenes of military life. “These aren’t antiwar paintings. They aren’t political,” he writes in the press release. Maybe not when they’re compared with Richard Serra’s Stop Bush poster, but it’s difficult to look at Mumford’s wheelchair-bound amputees practicing archery and a dying insurgent without feeling a partisan twinge. Mumford is at his best when he lets himself get personal, if not explicitly political. Steve in Baghdad is a small painting of journalist and art critic Steven Vincent, who shared a house with Mumford in Iraq before being abducted and shot to death in Basra in 2005 (not long after publishing a Times editorial that criticized the local police). It’s a war artist’s tribute to a war reporter, and there’s no question as to who’s at greater risk.
3. Christian Jankowski
The Kitchen; 512 W. 19th St. Through December 9.
Christian Jankowski’s latest investigation of the ways that well-known film genres can insinuate themselves into everyday interactions looks at horror movies—but in giving random violence a redemptive backstory, he mostly takes the fun out of it. For the project Angels of Revenge (2006), he asked participants at a horror-film conference to write letters in which they imagine wreaking vengeance on people who have harmed or betrayed them; these revenge narratives are dramatized in a video and series of photographs. The show’s centerpiece is the deadly sounding Lycan Theorized (2006), which Jankowski made in collaboration with the cast and crew of an actual straight-to-DVD werewolf movie. As the gory action unfolds, actors pause to recite bits of film theory; for example, one brutal scene is prefaced with the solemn proclamation, “Otherness represents that which bourgeois ideology cannot recognize or accept.” It’s funny, in a B-movie kind of way, but nothing that winking slasher sendups like Scream haven’t done already.
4. Angela Strassheim
Marvelli; 526 W. 26th St. Through December 2.
Honing the spectacularly apprehensive vision of midwestern family life she revealed in the most recent Whitney Biennial, Angela Strassheim focuses on daughters in her new photograph series “Pause.” Saccharine shots of birthday parties and horse-riding lessons are interspersed with more awkward and dramatic moments—presumably, the kind that later surface in therapy sessions. We see a JonBenet clone holding a dove on an immaculate canopy bed, a tween Botticelli standing in a backyard kiddie pool, and—more disturbing—an older girl being spanked by her father in a dimly lit bedroom. With its punched-up color (more pinks and greens than the Pottery Barn Teen catalogue), this series could easily have become cloying, but Strassheim, with her background in forensic photography, makes it work.