‘The Perfect Show’ at 303, ‘Out of the Blue’ at Bortolami, ‘Problem Play’ at Leo Koenig, Thornton Dial: ‘Viewpoint of the Foundry Man’ at Andrew Edlin

Installation view of 'Problem Play' at Leo Koenig Inc. (Courtesy Leo Koenig Inc.)

Installation view of ‘Problem Play’ at Leo Koenig Inc. (Courtesy Leo Koenig Inc.)

“Problem Play”
Leo Koenig Inc.
Through Jan. 12

Though Koenig had been at work on “Problem Play” before the storm, it’s uncannily resonant with the present moment. A pale Ed Ruscha drawing from 1977 reads, “America Has Three Climates: Cold Hot Moderate.” Three decades after he made it, climates are spinning out of control. The show takes as its very loose inspiration the tragicomic problem plays of the 19th century, which confronted audiences with debates on social issues. The work here is split about 50-50 between good and bad—a pretty solid group-show margin.

Artworks and objects are falling apart or misfiring. A picture by Swiss police photographer Arnold Odermatt, simultaneously humorous and horrible, shows a car that’s shot off the road and landed in a small pond. A cube made of hundreds of pounds of confetti, Absolutely No Donations (2009), is slowly shedding on its way to collapse—a bit of predictably witless academic post-minimalism from Lara Favaretto.

Similarly wan and blandly conceptual is a sculptural installation by Bethan Huws that combines 28 found bottle racks like Duchamp’s iconic 1914 readymade, and one made from neon—a sort of visualization of artistic epiphany. But that’s a generous description of the glitzy piece—somewhere, the Dadaist is rolling in his grave. (Perhaps in honor of the 100th anniversary of the readymade next year, we should declare a moratorium on references to Duchamp’s trademark objects.)

Another Duchamp heir, John Armleder, does considerably better. His Untitled (Furniture Sculpture) (1994) is a garden of real flowers, surrounded by broken glass. Nature is growing in the gallery’s white cube, both protected and menaced by those shards.

Installation view of Andrea Fraser'Kunst muß hängen (Art Must Hang),' 2001. (Courtesy the artist and Leo Koenig Inc.)

Installation view of Andrea Fraser’
Kunst muß hängen (Art Must Hang),’ 2001. (Courtesy the artist and Leo Koenig Inc.)

Andrea Fraser’s 30-minute film Kunst muß hängen (Art Must Hang) (2001) is alone worth the price of admission. In it, Ms. Fraser, wearing a crisp white shirt and dark suit, holding a glass of beer and standing in front of a plain white wall, re-enacts a speech that the famously loquacious and notoriously Dionysian artist Martin Kippenberger once gave at a dinner celebration for a friend’s art opening. She speaks in German, but even if you don’t know a word of it, it’s a virtuosic performance. She jokes and yells, charms and rambles, leaning against the wall one moment, refilling her beer the next, all the while heading deep into a hall of mirrors, an artist playing an artist who was playing an artist, performing in public. All careers, the piece argues, involve a kind of self-conceived caricature.

Thornton Dial, 'Viewpoint of the Foundry Man,' 2012. (Courtesy the artist and Andrew Edlin Gallery)

Thornton Dial, ‘Viewpoint of the Foundry Man,’ 2012. (Courtesy the artist and Andrew Edlin Gallery)

Thornton Dial
“Viewpoint of the Foundry Man”
Andrew Edlin Gallery
Through December 29

Save a visit to 84-year-old self-taught artist Thornton Dial’s show at Edlin for the end of the day. It’s a potent, cleansing tonic after the self-consciously refined contemporary art that dominates Chelsea. His new works are dense assemblages of paint and found objects, typically bent or battered on panels. They are intended to be autobiographical, recalling his life as a laborer in Emelle, Ala. The show’s namesake work (2012) is a tangle of bedsprings, punctured corrugated tin and other detritus, painted in earthen red, blue and silver. Recalling the Pain (2011) is an achingly spare Constructivist form, consisting of no more than a few chunks of charred wood that float about and touch in space like fragments of memories strung together. Like the artificial flowers that sprout up in some of these pieces, Mr. Thornton’s works are fragile–looking but resilient, evergreen tributes to the pleasure and pain of living life with, and through, art.