Spring Cleaning Uncovers A Back Room of Treasures

Drawings & Sculpture, a group exhibition currently at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, is so modest in tone and even in tempo that it takes a few minutes before one notices how good the work on display is. There’s no theme to the show, unless one is so backward as to consider quality theme enough. Ms. Bookstein does, and if Drawings & Sculpture has allowed her the opportunity to dust off the gallery’s inventory and clean out its storage racks, then we should all have such treasures-or, at the least, superlative oddities-squirreled away in the back room. Albert Pinkham Ryder, Louis Elshemius, Morgan Russell, Arnold Friedman, Arshile Gorky, Robert De Niro Sr., Irving Kriesberg and Will Barnet provide the standard. Mystery is supplied by-who’s that again?-Meraud Guervera, an artist whose melancholy neo-classicism catches the eye and clings to the memory.

The revelation of the show is Jonathan Silver, a sculptor who died in 1992 at the age of 55, and whose three plaster heads are so good they have me kicking myself for having missed the exhibition of his work at the Sculpture Center some six years ago. Silver’s drawings declare his debt to Alberto Giacometti, yet the sculptures, while something related, are something else. One offers a realism of unrelenting severity; the other two, dramatic-verging-on-violent Cubist fracturing. All reconcile contradictions so extreme that matters of categorization are rendered beside the point. Totemic, terse and by no means easy, Silver’s sculpture, once seen, can’t be forgotten. Given an art world as aesthetically challenged as our own, it’s unlikely that his accomplishment will receive the recognition it deserves-but stranger things have happened. Keep your fingers crossed that this strange thing does. Drawings & Sculpture is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 50 East 78th Street, Suite 2A, until June 29.

Mourning the Death Of the Album Cover

No one is going to mistake the items on display in The LP Show, an exhibition currently at Exit Art, for high art, yet this compendium of over 2,500 album covers does have its uses. As someone who spent a good part of his adolescence rooting around the bins of record stores, I find that The LP Show functions best as an essay in nostalgia. Not just for one’s youth (and please note: While the album covers on view date back to the 1940’s and encompass a wide variety of music, this is, at heart and in fact, a rock ‘n’ roll show), but for the demise of the album cover as a physical entity. CD boxes encourage squinting and filing; album covers, scrutiny and tenderness.

Just how long one partakes of the walk down memory lane prompted by Exit Art’s “social narrative” depends on how much kitsch one can tolerate. While installed non-hierarchically, the album covers are arranged by genre-and what genres there are: superheroes and ventriloquists, cheesecake and sleazecake, The Sound of Music and, as a centerpiece of sorts, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream and Other Delights. Such groan-worthy camp can be amusing, but it is best sampled in small doses, an amenity The LP Show doesn’t extend. Instead, one leaves Exit Art fatigued, having come to the unremarkable conclusion that kitsch demoralizes faster than nostalgia consoles. The LP Show is at Exit Art, 548 Broadway, until Aug. 17.

Doyenne of Icky’s Genteel Genius

Gallery-goers who missed the pairing of Ian Wilson and Robert Ryman last April and May at the Peter Blum Gallery should consider themselves blessed: The exquisite next-to-nothings of that undynamic duo transformed the gallery into the Tomb of the Aesthetes. The gallery’s current exhibition of drawings, paintings and sculpture by Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama is, in comparison, positively jazzy. Jazziness is not, to put it mildly, the signature trait of either artist: Both pursue a hermetic vision that tiptoes promiscuously between nightmare and innocence. Ms. Kusama’s “infinity nets,” pictures filled with repetitive dottings and swirlings, are more tokens of obsession than works of art, although some of them-Pink Nets (1960) and Net Obsession #5 (1964), in particular-do get by, if just barely.

Ms. Bourgeois, the contemporary scene’s doyenne of icky and sticky, is a more substantial figure and a more galling one: She has a fatal tendency to indulge, rather than exercise, her sharp, dense kernel of a gift. Ms. Bourgeois isn’t exactly lacking in discipline; it’s just that she knows her audience and plays to it with savvy aplomb. Her finest work at Blum, the sculpture One and Others (1955), suggests a cautionary fable about mob rule as staged by a folk artist and scripted by a Victorian nanny. A gentility as precocious as it is creepy defines Ms. Bourgeois’ genius. How much of her genius one needs at any given time is a discussion for another day. Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama is at the Peter Blum Gallery, 99 Wooster Street, until Sept. 15.

Kid From Queens Towers Over Manhattan

It’s always a treat to visit the roof garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but less for the sculpture on display than for the spectacular views it affords. What New Yorker wants to ponder Auguste Rodin or David Smith when they can look down on a city that, night and day, looks down upon them? The roof garden’s current exhibition, Joel Shapiro on the Roof, is, however, a delight because Mr. Shapiro keys in to this top-of-the-world elation. His blocky and balletic sculptures are renowned for distilling not only the human form, but the human spirit. In their current context, they also distill, deflect and thumb their metaphorical noses at the hurly-burly that is city life.

If this seems a willful interpretation, remember that Mr. Shapiro is a kid from Queens, a fact likely to color his relationship to Manhattan. Then note the placement of the pieces. A red figure, seen against the skyline of midtown, kicks off the fetters of its (9-to-5?) responsibilities to engage in a primal rite of celebration. A figure of blue nearby makes a Chaplinesque comedy of the go-go-go of pedestrian traffic. A huge untitled piece, bordered by the treetops of Central Park in the distance, stretches its clunky appendages and proffers a humble entreaty to the heavens. A carper could note that Mr. Shapiro’s sculptures thrive outdoors in a way they never seem to indoors, but this is an exhibition from which carpers should be banished. Grab your sunglasses, head to the Met, zip up the elevator and enjoy. Joel Shapiro on the Roof is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, until late fall (weather permitting).