3 Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now

JoAnn Verburg

Through Aug. 20. Pace, 540 West 25th Street, Manhattan; 212-421-3292, pacegallery.com.

The images of olive trees in California, Israel, and Italy that make up “For Now,” JoAnn Verburg’s current show at Pace, are resplendent, enigmatic, and a kind of feint; Verburg’s real subject is time and how it’s experienced. The multiple frame photography and video works, lavishly textured and devotionally rendered, operate as Delphic objects, portals to nature. Of course, a climate-controlled gallery is far away from nature, but the power of Verburg’s images is such that even if they don’t exactly transport you to the stillness of the Umbrian countryside, you feel like they could, and the small gravity between those ideas is momentarily erased.

The interplanar effect is heightened by a few formalist flourishes. Verburg, who returns to olive trees like Morandi to his bottles, uses a vintage large format camera (the kind with bellows), which affords trippy swings in focus. Background, foreground, and mid-ground shift within the same composition. The gnarl of a tree trunk torques into velvet and sharpens back up. A close-up glamour shot of some young olive trees is so intimate as to be intrusive, while the canopy line behind them fuzzes out into broccoli florets, but in a sequential panel, the effect is reversed, a check on photography’s claim on the decisive moment. Here, as in reality, there are endless ways of looking.

The groves’ uninhabited air is also a kind of trick. These are working farms, tended to and fussed over. But people appear here only sparingly, obscured by branches, seemingly lost in thought. Their presence both disrupts the dream and provides a tether. Verburg is less interested in capturing the truth of any particular moment than creating the conditions for that moment to exist in perpetuity. The video works especially, with their birdsong and softly dissipating mist, suggest the anticipatory energy of some coming thing, which of course never does. Time progresses and then loops back on itself. There’s only you and the trees and the gallery attendant, for as long as you’re all standing there.

MAX LAKIN

Joshua Marsh

Through Aug. 15. Mother Gallery, 1154 North Avenue, Beacon, N.Y. 845-236-6039, mothergallery.art.

Marshmallow-shaped boulders roll up and down mountains or drift past misty waterfalls in the dozen small paintings of Joshua Marsh’s “Cascades” at Mother Gallery. Painted with only cobalt blue, permanent green, bone black and titanium white — along with some orange for the first and last of the series — they have an eerie effect. The blue, though vivid, is unplaceable — not quite sky, sea or even swimming pool — and the green evokes both toxic gas and early video games.

Marsh, who studied at Yale and now lives near the gallery in Beacon, introduces the boulders in each of his four colors, making them seem like stable terms in a simple visual language. (The four basic boulders appear, neatly arranged, in “Shiii….”) But the scenery in which they’re placed quickly makes them ambiguous. Are the two boulders mounting a slope over a shimmering nocturnal pool in “Elevation” black, or merely in shadow? What about the pair in “Shh”? Seen through a dense green fog — or reflected in a flat green puddle — they certainly look green. But are they?

Five small but labor-intensive drawings, displayed in an adjoining hallway, add more specifically realized natural scenery to the boulder arrangements — a fallen log, a distant fence, a pile of rotting fruit — offering a bracing tonal contrast. (It’s “Lord of the Rings” to the paintings’ Legend of Zelda.) By demonstrating how dramatically his idea changes when shifted from paint to pencil, Marsh also complicates his language even further, suggesting that any feeling of stability is only a passing illusion.

WILL HEINRICH

Cameron Spratley

Through Aug. 20. James Fuentes, 55 Delancey Street, Manhattan, (212) 577-1201, jamesfuentes.com.

The legacy of Robert Earl Davis Jr., more commonly recognizable by his stage name DJ Screw, continues to reverberate some two decades after his death in 2000 at age 29. In the early 1990s in Houston, he began producing tapes of “chopped and screwed” remixes that slowed, distorted and recombined tracks from local rappers and pop radio to pioneer a genre of distinctively Southern hip-hop. His influence, which has been palpable across pop music, has trickled into the mainstream art world, with a retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston that closed this past spring.

At James Fuentes Gallery, an exhibition of eight collaged paintings by Cameron Spratley adapts Screw’s mash-up sensibility onto canvas, in literal and metaphorical ways. Titled “In the Air Tonight,” after Screw’s remix of Phil Collins’s 1981 chart-topping single, the exhibition demonstrates the fluency with which Spratley edits and rearranges found imagery of sundry items like blades, mechanical parts and cartoons. All but one of the pieces are large in scale, inundating the viewer with layers of highly saturated photos, text and painterly details that cohere around themes of hard-edge masculinity, violence and protest.

Chrome hardware and steel knives are a recurring motif, as seen in “Apocalypse Painting (Hunker Down),” from 2021, in which drawings and photos of the sharp weapons are pockmarked by images of bullet holes. In “Strawberry Midnight” (2021), the screws and knives are layered atop an illustration of a spinal cord; a cutout of a newspaper headline announcing the arrest of protesters is pasted alongside the right of the canvas, alluding to the grievous injuries meted out by the police to quell contemporary social movements. Spratley delivers these juxtapositions with cool reserve, making use of the visual arsenal that is American mass media.

TAUSIF NOOR

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