In today's art world, one so often hears about some awe-inspiring, seemingly novel concept for a work of art, installation, or performance only to be quickly let down by whatever physical manifestation appears implanted within gallery walls. In Chelsea today, several stalwarts have managed to produce work that stands alone, not bolstered by or tied to jargon scribbled on a press release at the front desk. From Peter Saul's sarcastic and always snappy paintings to Stan Douglas' narrative photographs, these works are witty and tough, provocative yet beautiful.
Peter Saul at Mary Boone (541 West 24th Street)
After years of eschewing traditional gallery support while still exhibiting widely, Peter Saul has finally settled down for his third solo show with Mary Boone. Throughout his career, this wily septuagenarian has interwoven themes from Expressionism and Surrealism while producing some of the first quintessentially "Pop" paintings. While his aesthetic has been refined over the years from rawer, more graphic images of the '60s to present day cultural critiques that shimmer with a comic flare and reflect a true mastery of the medium. Saul's latest pictures embody the same subversive spirit and technical aptitude that have earned him the reputation as one of the today's greatest "artist's artist." Saul's work has never been sleek nor kind but always had a sharp edge that cut deep. With early works like "True Crime" (1962), Saul splatters the word "Kill" in a comic bubble amidst a cluster of food stuffs and dripping paint resemblant of blood. With vivid color, the works reflect a sincere yet bleak viewer of the world in which we live today.
Stan Douglas at David Zwirner (525 West 19th Street)
For Disco Angola, renowned filmmaker/ conceptual photographer Stan Douglas has printed a series of staged images dwelling on the notion of observation and permeation into realms unknown. Assuming the role of a "fictional" photo-journalist, Douglas' purports to delve into the peculiarity that was the underground disco scene of the 1970s. With half of the images based in Angola and the other half in New York, Douglas draws in themes from the absurdism of Samuel Beckett, one of his favorite authors and sources of inspiration. Having just been announced as a winner of the 2012 International Center of Photography's Infinity Award, Douglas, already a star, is on a roll.
Michelangelo Pistoletto at Luhring Augustine (531 West 24th Street)
As a leader of the Arte Povera movement, Italian-born Michelangelo Pistoletto's practice needs little introduction. Now, at Luhring Augustine, a recent series of his classic mirror paintings position the viewer in a perplexing situation immersed in the work itself. With images of industrial products and practices from cement mixers to coils of cable screen-printed onto mirrored surfaces, Pistoletto's works address building and construction, an endeavor viewed as noble by the artist himself. The ensemble works perfectly as viewers delight hopping in and out of picture planes thus creating their own portraits while seeing each reflect off one another in the gallery space.
Hernan Bas at Lehmann Maupin (540 West 26th Street)
Not much is more difficult than being a young figurative painter in today's market but Bas continues to earn his stripes with Occult Contemporary, a series of large-scale narrative paintings inspired by the artist's own interest in the supernatural and Satanism. Bas' dark pictures often feature a solitary figure lost and trapped in an frighteningly large and looming environment. The plight of his figures remains open to conjecture, only addressable in the viewer's imagination.