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New York Art Galleries: What to See Right Now

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

Through June 15. David Zwirner, 525 West 19th Street, Manhattan; 212-727-2070, davidzwirner.com.

As a painter, Josh Smith can be an infuriating contradiction in terms. He is a passionate cynic, an artist who degrades and celebrates his medium through the relentless yet fervent repetition of a selected motif. Mr. Smith tends to work fast and a trifle sloppily, until a certain image becomes second nature, a template. This automatism opens the door to incessant variations in brushwork, background and, above all, color — as well as our consideration of same.

With “Emo Jungle,” at David Zwirner, Mr. Smith has ascended to a “Big Four” gallery (Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth and Pace are the others) with a blowout of nearly 110 paintings spread through three enormous spaces. The best are the large Reaper paintings (too colorful to be called grim), which repeat faceless, genderless figures in hooded cloaks and landscapes of many vibrant colors. Carrying scythes, they sometimes stand among imprints of actual plants, beneath lurid suns and skies. And each image has a distinct border, or three: dots, diamonds, hearts, flowers or curling fringe.

A hallway of postcard-size “Small Reapers” in appealing touristy burned-wood frames leads to the second gallery, which offers red-on-red devils and more, mostly middle-size Reaper paintings. The last space harbors a gaudy frieze of 60 canvases, 4 feet by 3 feet, of stylized turtles, shown on their backs with elongated birdlike heads, a design that recalls the animal designs of Mimbres pottery. The turtles’ shells are painted every which way, as are the areas around them giving new life to the old formalist figure-ground duality. The visual deluge of this terrific if vexatious show meditates on painting as object, performance, psychic communication, pleasure and, yes, salable product. ROBERTA SMITH

Through June 1. Rick Wester Fine Art, 526 West 26th Street, No. 417, Manhattan; 212-255-5560, rickwesterfineart.com.

Nowadays, when you think about borders, walls and guards may come to mind. But borders were once something different — more like invisible acts of faith than hardened lines. In 1821, for example, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, the division between the new country and the United States was neither material nor stable. By the end of the Mexican-American War, in 1848, it had moved significantly south, and a survey of the border as we know it began.

For decades, however, Mexico had encompassed large swaths of what’s now the United States. Starting in 2014, the artists David Taylor, who is American, and Marcos Ramírez ERRE, who is Mexican, set out to mark this important but overlooked fact — overlooked, at least, in this country. They formed the fictional Binational Commission of Historical and Geographical Borders and drove the length of the 1821 boundary, placing 47 homemade steel markers as they went. Those were based on the official 19th-century border monuments, which still stand today; Mr. Taylor had previously photographed them.

The project, “DeLIMITations,” is represented at Rick Wester Fine Art by photographs of the markers in situ, sculptures of them, imitation road signs and a map triptych. The photographs are the most effective, with the obelisks shining like bizarre beacons in a range of peopleless settings like brush country, a riverbank or someone’s backyard among lawn ornaments. They monumentalize the transitory nature of a border, driving home its arbitrariness and bureaucracy. The pictures showcase a landscape whose recesses and vistas contain the invisible truths of history, and encourage us to go out in search of them. JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Through May 24. Crush Curatorial, 526 West 26th Street No. 709, Manhattan; crush-curatorial.com.

Alina Tenser’s installation “Reading Room,” at Crush Curatorial, centers on a waist-high, S-shaped wooden table with a fabric-covered top. On it she has placed four open-topped acrylic boxes lined with synthetic suede. Two of them are attached to each other, and the other two are free-standing, for a total of three discrete constructions, each of which is entered on the show’s checklist as a separate piece (“Volume 1: Twinning,” “Volume 2: False Bottom” and “Volume 3: Spider Splay”) along with the whole display.

The boxes are held together with a mix of hinges and magnets, so that anyone with good faith and clean hands can unfold them into three flat crosses, one green, one purple, one gray. Or, if a previous visitor left them flat, you could fold them up again. Or you could fold up one, unfold another and leave the third untouched — and so on. The options are all in front of you. The only thing you can’t do is arrive at a configuration that’s either final or complete.

In another context, that would simply make the boxes toys, or a design project. But in a gallery, this open-endedness feels profoundly liberating, like an inexhaustible well of fresh experience. I had plenty of ideas about the piece while I was looking at it: It’s a picture of the art world as a magic act, an abstract portrait of dislocation and loss, what Donald Judd might have made if he’d been interested in human beings. It’s a Montessori koan course, a hands-on demonstration of what it means for signs and objects to be both empty and real. But none of my ideas would stick to the boxes’ slick acrylic sides. They just slid off onto the floor, leaving “Reading Room” exactly the way it was when I came in. WILL HEINRICH


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