Through June 28. OSMOS, 50 East First Street, Manhattan; 646-559-5347.
The first overview of Darrel Ellis’s photo-based art in New York in over 20 years is suffused with a sense of tragedy and loss. This is not only because Mr. Ellis’s promising trajectory was cut short in 1992 when he died of AIDS at 33, or that his work incorporates family photographs taken by his father, a professional photographer, whose life ended violently in police custody in 1958, just before Mr. Ellis was born. This information makes the show sadder, but the mournful quality comes from the idiosyncratic ways the artist manipulated his father’s otherwise happy images of family gatherings.
Mr. Ellis, who was black, distorted his images by projecting their negatives onto little stepped reliefs of clay or plaster and then rephotographing the disturbed image. The results are washed-out and ghostly, with unexpected fissures of white and stuttering repetitions. Sometimes mirrors are added to the arrangement, introducing blank circles or fragmented reflections of the artist. These images convey a mysterious world, full of emotion and almost impossible to make whole. It is rived with fault lines, foremost among them the many ways American society itself threatens the wholeness of all families, especially black ones. ROBERTA SMITH
Through June 29. Gagosian, 980 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-744-2313, gagosian.com.
The problem with this exhibition begins with its title, “Picasso’s Women.” The possessive is uncomfortable in its implication of ownership. The news release tries to temper the effect by noting that Picasso’s many wives and mistresses were “not merely mute muses.”
Mute, however, is what they seem in the gallery. The exhibition, dedicated to the art historian John Richardson, who died in March, contains a rare and impressive collection of paintings and sculptures that largely haven’t been seen before in New York. But it also seems lacking in deeper context or curatorial logic, especially in light of recent shows devoted to two of the women, Dora Maar and Olga Khokhlova. The most successful groupings are those that demonstrate an artistic progression — the rounds of Fernande Olivier’s face turning to angles with the development of Cubism — or showcase variations on a theme, as with the sensual, colorful paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter in states of repose, including “Le Repos” and “Le Rêve,” both from 1932.
Still, I couldn’t escape a feeling of wearying sameness — a sense of how Picasso, who abused his lovers, made them into formal experiments by using their bodies, but rarely captured what made them unique. The exceptions are few but worth savoring, like “Portrait de Femme Profil Gauche Sur Fond Vert et Brun” (1939), which has a tenderness one rarely sees in Picasso’s work, and “Femme au Petit Chapeau Rond, Assise” (1942), from which Dora Maar looks out with a self-possession so striking it almost reads as a rebuke. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
The painter David Novros has long been devoted to geometric abstraction but not so much its primary format: the rectilinear canvas. This show traces his wide-ranging pursuit of the genre on multiple or shaped canvases, copper and iron as well as in ceramic, fresco and architecture.
Relating painting to architecture has been an interest of Mr. Novros’s since the early 1970s, when he exhibited at the storied Bykert Gallery, a haven for risky art. Combining a signature L shape with blocks of color, his compositions often evoke doors, windows or portals, and have always animated blank areas of either canvas or wall. See “Phoenix,” “DB” (both from 2000) and the monumental “Boathouse” (2016), which spreads seven panels across 20 feet. The show also includes a 2000 model for a painted atrium house.
Also on view are three wonderfully bulky, even goofy works painted on copper, creviced or curved by carefully controlled explosions of dynamite before paint was applied. But the core of Mr. Novros’s work remains a kind of spirituality, which achieves an architectural resonance in two imposing, moderately shaped paintings from 2019. “SW” is deep red, “NW” is deep blue. Their arched forms and side panels conjure Renaissance chapels, as if revisited by a devout modernist whose hero is Mark Rothko. ROBERTA SMITH
Through July 1. Safe Gallery, 1004 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-232-4897, safegallery.biz.
Rough little tiles — 306 of them — fill a wooden frame in an untitled piece by Maddy Parrasch. Most are glazed ceramic, teetering between indigo and black. But a scattered few — enough to break up the pattern of the others without quite forming a pattern of their own — are gypsum printed with found photographs. A lightning bolt, a pair of fighter jets, a detail of a painting by Giotto. It’s a very contemporary way of treating photographic imagery — as unimportant background noise, mainly good for decorative accents.
Emma Soucek treats photos the same way, stapling snippets cut out of magazines, along with the occasional drawing, sticker and even a laminated piece of Ms. Parrasch’s ceramic, into her striking, otherwise abstract compositions of paper pulp on canvas. (The two artists were friends, as well as classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design, before Ms. Parrasch died last year in a car crash.) Though they’re hyperactive with bright, textile-influenced patterns, these pieces by Ms. Soucek also share Ms. Parrasch’s version of a Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic. Every pinched bit of pulp is a clear record of Ms. Soucek’s fingers, which puts process on a par with product, and gives equal time to accident, to intention and to the materials. WILL HEINRICH
Post-truth and alternative facts are among the buzzwords of our era, and they are central to Peggy Ahwesh’s smart, unsettling exhibition “Cleave” at Microscope.
Four video installations here focus on recent topics and news stories, examining how these have been presented in images. “Verily! The Blackest Sea, the Falling Sky” (2017) features appropriated snippets from a Taiwanese news organization that uses animation to report the news, while “Re: The Operation” (2019) offers two different versions of the hunt for and execution of Osama bin Laden: the American government’s story versus that of independent reporters. In both of these installations, banal images of people in extreme situations — often verging on cartoon-cute — sanitize the violence and traumatic nature of the stories.
“Kansas Atlas” (2019) and “Border Control” (2019) use footage shot by Ms. Ahwesh to explore the American heartland and the country’s borders. Filters and special effects transform the landscape into a psychedelic Rorschach maelstrom, and “Border Control” shows a migrant from Ghana scaling a United States border wall near Tijuana, Mexico. According to the gallery, Ms. Ahwesh spoke with the man about his long journey — a bizarre tale that is also oddly characteristic of our chaotic moment. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Noteworthy Show CLOSING SOON
Through June 30. Jack Hanley Gallery, 327 Broome Street, Manhattan; 646-918-6824, jackhanley.com.
If I had to succinctly describe Janet Cooling’s early paintings, made between 1978 and 1982, I’d call them “apocalyptic camp.” In these strange, symbolic scenes with skewed perspectives, lightning flashes over tilted high-rises, while animals and people are colored with an acid glow. Portents of destruction are tempered by images of desire, like lesbian couples making love. These works, nearly four decades old, fuse personal dreams and societal nightmares in a way that feels deeply relatable. JILLIAN STEINHAUER