‘Joshua Abelow: Abelow on Delancey’ at James Fuentes

Installation view. (Courtesy James Fuentes)

Installation view. (Courtesy James Fuentes)

After a string of solo shows abroad over the past two years, Brooklyn-based poet, painter and blogger Joshua Abelow is back for his second stand at Fuentes. As its title makes plain, it’s an off-Broadway show—a proudly scrappy, ambitious one. His work has gotten larger. Stick figures, many sporting gargantuan erections, fill his paintings and drawings. They run and dance about in wee top hats or brandish painting palettes in front of his trademark, precisely sloppy (and thus perverse) riffs on classical abstraction: slightly misaligned chevrons in many cases. Text dances alongside the men: “BLOG BLOG,” “MR. INTERNET,” “BLOG ME,” referring to his blog, Art Blog Art Blog, which he updates relentlessly (but not impartially) with photos of art by a vast array of artists.

That nude stickman—perhaps a stand-in for the artist’s (or any artist’s) most craven desire for attention—seems harmless enough at first, as he begs for your eyes and the chance to be put into digital circulation, but his sheer omnipresence unsettles. Ditto for Mr. Abelow’s tight, sophisticated drawings. There’s not an erasure in sight among their long lines, which conjure up all sorts of beastly collage-style scenes (the stickman’s inner turmoil, I like to imagine) that are populated by devils and various sexual imbroglios, with hints of art-historical sources.

Taking ideas for paintings that he has admitted in interviews are questionable and executing them with absolute, puckish confidence, Mr. Abelow cuts the figure, or at least the sly caricature, of that rare, ennobled brand of artist: breezily cool on the surface, hell-bent underneath, like Andy Kaufman or Chris Farley. You may wish he would loosen up a bit, and get even weirder, but uptight repetition is the fuel for his discomfiting, faintly evil magic. He’s playing the Lower East Side right now, honing his material. The Great White Way should come soon enough, and then a plush, well-deserved residency in Vegas. (Through Nov. 10)