2017-04-19 17:52:03
What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week

Through April 29. Mary Boone Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan; 212-752-2929, maryboonegallery.com.

Eccentric installations are nothing new, and the one in “Woe men — keep going,” at Mary Boone Gallery, initially feels just irritating, but in short order its possible meanings and perceptual demands muster a definite, valuable force.

It has been conjured by the artist Fia Backstrom and the independent curator Piper Marshall, and presents photographs by nine artists, including Ms. Backstrom, that hang, with two exceptions, from six spindly aluminum stands. This method of hanging, called the “flexible image arrangement system,” mostly ignores the gallery’s traditional white cube. The images resemble leaves on trees, or photographs on drying racks. A refusal of order prevails: Photographs hang at different heights and face different directions, without sequence. Our memories and our bodies are tasked in unusual ways.

As you move among the stands, similar images recur. Laura Aguilar’s photographs capture a heavyset woman partly visible in a desert landscape; Lee Miller’s images capture wartime loss. Emila Medkova shows natural details evocative of human bodies or faces. Ms. Backstrom also finds nature in the details — some mold in full bloom, for example. And Simryn Gill’s “Channel” images feature nature absorbing human interference with mournful grace. On the wall, a large color photograph by Deana Lawson goes to the bloody center of a Haitian Voodoo rite.

In the show’s small free catalog, Ms. Backstrom goes deeper into her subject and explains the titles — “somatic/energy/spirit” and “slit/texture/scar” — that define each grouping. One of Barbara Kruger’s word-image mash-ups puts it more succinctly: “Your Body Is a Battleground.” Body, battle and ground resonate throughout this delicate, insightful show. We are all woe men, all people of sorrow, and we must go on.

ROBERTA SMITH

Through May 20. Koenig & Clinton, 459 West 19th Street, Manhattan; 212-334-9255, koenigandclinton.com.

Peter Dreher has spent much of his career producing thousands of high-concept but technically exacting oil portraits of an empty water glass. This 84-year-old German painter’s latest show at Koenig & Clinton collects seven decades’ worth of his treatment of skulls, instead.

The works range from a 1947 watercolor with an upward gaze of doomed innocence to six 10-foot-wide black-and-gray gouaches, made between 2005 and 2007, that manage to look equally like punk-chic bedspreads and coolly abstract reckonings with wartime atrocity. They have a strange, motion-activated flicker, their more or less reflective skulls passing in and out of view as you shift your position.

This subtle formal paradox — a suggestion that black and white, as equal partners in a singular action of contrast, are essentially interchangeable — is a good lead-in to the back room, which holds 15 recent head-on views. Painted in thin, overlapping layers of white gouache, these skulls look like X-rays printed on celluloid. They vary widely in their particulars: One has a jackal’s grimace and a cleft chin, another a severe underbite and eight separately articulated lower teeth. But hanging them all in a line makes those details read as passing accidents, like the constantly mutating patterns of a tide pool.

Standing in front of them, I had what felt like a Buddhist revelation: For a moment, I could see that impermanence was inextricable from form.

WILL HEINRICH

Through May 7. Clearing, 396 Johnson Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-456-0396, c-l-e-a-r-i-n-g.com.

A few decades ago, referring to universal human consciousness was often viewed with suspicion: a form of colonial domination masquerading as “equality,” in which certain identities and localities were erased. This has shifted in the current era, with millennial artists like Korakrit Arunanondchai, who was born and raised in Bangkok and has degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design and Columbia University, serving as bellwethers.

The nearly-24-minute video in Mr. Arunanondchai’s show, titled “with history in a room filled with people with funny names 4,” at Clearing, ruminates on life, death, the past, images and technology. The middle room in the gallery features an elaborate installation with lights, fountains flowing with water and traces of indigo — a plant linked to Thailand, colonialism and slavery — and a floor made of dirt, crushed shells, resin and epoxy. The final room in the show includes some of the simple possessions of Mr. Arunanondchai’s grandmother.

Moving between East and West, human and nonhuman, science and speculative fiction, the exhibition considers how we are all connected, not just by global art, climate change and political upheaval, but also in ancient concepts like Buddhist reincarnation, which suggests life as a river of spirits where the past, present and future commingle.

Mr. Arunanondchai’s work overlaps with Afro-Futurism and with works like “The Flavor Genome,” Anicka Yi’s video in the current Whitney Biennial, which also imagines life in cross-cultural and trans-species terms. At a moment when human life is still defined by biological limits and life spans, these artists remind us that we are on the cusp of technologically augmented existence, in which consciousness itself will be altered.

MARTHA SCHWENDENER