Last Saturday’s art gallery tour started with a failed experiment…and several eye-openers at Jack Shainman Gallery.  At least that was Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s intention with his presentation near the gallery entrance of two vitrines filled with aging lab equipment printed with crowd scenes from protest marches, a piece that suggests social experiments that didn’t go as planned.  This sculpture was the first of several that cleverly walk the line between overt and merely suggested political meaning.  The show stopper, a ceiling-high rendering of Castro’s face in rusty door hinges begs the question of what will happen now as the U.S. seeks to change its diplomatic relationship with Capote’s home country.

Political awareness charged the work of several artists at our next stop, Andrew Edlin Gallery, where seven artists painted murals related to the environment directly onto the gallery walls.  The show will literally come down later this summer when the gallery’s building will be demolished.  Until then, Peter Fend proposes a submarine to harvest floating trash islands as fuel, Chris Doyle presents a Technicolor city dotted with waterfalls and former police sketch artist and Newark community activist Kevin Sampson decries injustice with a wonderfully eccentric mural contrasting hooded KKK members and cornucopias.

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‘Eccentric’ only begins to describe Olaf Bruening’s new work at Metro Pictures, where the Swiss-born New Yorker presents a jumble of images on jumbo-sized MDF panels recalling thought bubbles.  Towering over the first gallery, a human figure in a mask resembling a poop emoticon is besieged, Gulliver-like, by tiny figures with emoji faces.  With his typical provocative mix of ugliness and absurdity, Breuning mixes studio portraits of a woman putting a plunger to her face or a fourteen-armed man reaching for trash buckets piled high with human heads.  Surrounded by a flood of cheap consumer items (including inflatables that nod to Jeff Koons) and references to our digital age, Breuning’s vision is shiny, new and more than a little disorienting.

Tel Aviv-based artist Nevet Yitzhak also questions what we know, but zeros in on Islamic art.  Invited by the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem to make artwork in response to their collection, Yitzhak selected several objects to photograph and animate.  At Yossi Milo Gallery, we saw an incense burner turned into a ship hosting a belly dancer, a 16th century Persian illustrated manuscript featuring images from Arab films and a mysterious ivory-inlaid Mughal box into which she’d set a clip from an old CBS show called ‘What in the World?’  While those pieces suggest that understanding of Islamic art is thwarted by lack of knowledge and by pop culture interpretations, Yitzak’s three-screen installation in the back gallery of animated ‘war rugs’ that substitute weaponry for decorative designs sends a clear message that war hits close to home.


Our last stop at ‘Eureka’ – a group show of artwork inspired by the study of the origin and development of the universe – and a solo show of portraits by selfie forefather Lucas Samaras was far more serene and esoteric.  Tim Hawkinson’s mesmerizing rotating sculpture depicting a Mobius loop made of bamboo stole the show, but a hologram by James Turrell, early sculpture by Alexander Calder and a prize abstract painting by Julie Mehretu all took the mind out of the every-day realm.  Next door, Samaras showcased a mirrored room that invited visitors (unfortunately just from the outside – no entry allowed…) to examine themselves as Samaras as done relentlessly over the years.  In over 700 images selected from childhood to the present day, the artist known for constant experimental self-portraiture uses a toolbox of techniques to distort his own image.  As a fresh-faced boy with prominent ears or a wizard-like man in his late 70s with flowing beard, Samaras makes it new on a daily basis, making for an inspiring end to another gallery walk.