Minimalism pure and simple is on the menu at David Zwirner. The sleek, glossy sculptures of the late Westcoast artist John McCracken look like they came straight from a factory floor but the vibrant leaning planks, plinths, and wall-mounted rods were painstakingly sanded, painted and glossed to perfection by hand. Color and gloss owe a debt largely to the Californian obsession with cars but the influence of fellow minimalists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre are unmistaken. McCracken’s bright sleek slabs are flawless meditations on the complexities and limitations color; they explore the intersection between sculpture and architecture; and proffer important concerns with repetition and clarity. At David Zwirner through April 15.

Woe to the person who is at the other end of Raymond Pettibon’s poison pen! Over the past thirty years Pettibon has used drawing and text to square with politicians, journalists, artists, the plainly stupid, and the arrogantly snobbish. His exhausting retrospective at the New Museum, aptly titled “A Pen of all Work”, brings together hundreds of works that aim to expose political hypocrisies and take down sacred cultural cows.  Pettibon borrows freely from historical images and text to arrive at his often bitingly sarcastic drawings that expose the duplicity of our self-satisfied history and culture. Pettibon grew up in the surf culture of Hermosa Beach, California, and the sport quickly became one of his most iconic themes. Drawing on the breath-taking enormity and humbling force of the ocean, Pettibon has been extracting moral exhortations and subtle aphorisms that apply to people on either side of power and wealth.  Through April 17.

New York is one of the noisiest cities on the planet. It seems quixotic, then, to create a completely soundless environment amid honking cars, wailing sirens and rumbling garbage trucks. PSAD Synthetic Desert III is an immersive installation created by Light and Space artist Doug Wheeler on the top floor of the Guggenheim Museum that attempts to do just that. Groups of up to five people are led onto a platform in a hermetically sealed off white infinity space covered with small pyramid-shaped Styrofoam shapes. When the door closes, all goes mute. For ten or twenty minutes, all one can hear is the blood pulsating through the body or the stomach trying to digest lunch. All senses are on high-alert. Faint noises develop – any movement is perceived indefinitely amplified. The experience is aiming to simulate the serene soundlessness of the dessert or the quiet of a mountain top and offers a brief respite from the raging pandemonium of the city. At the Guggenheim through August 2. Photography by David Heald

One can get lost in the depth of the paintings by Vija Celmins. Eagerly anticipated by her extensive fan base, Celmins’ new body of work does not disappoint. Intimately scaled sea and sky paintings in her signature hyper-realist painting style are pure, absolute, and timeless beings that make no demands on the viewer other than to look and feel. Celmins works at an excruciatingly slow pace but the outcomes are well worth the wait. Her paintings work on a profound, intense, and metamorphic cognizance that gently pushes inward and drowns out the loud, the vulgar and the irritating in favour of a gratifying equanimity. At Matthew Marks through April 15.

Yuji Agematsu collects trash. Since moving from his hometown Kanagawa in Japan in 1980, Agematsu has been roaming the streets of New York and obsessively picking the kind of detritus off the streets that other people find worthless and revolting. On a typical day, his hoard may include a half-decayed slice of lemon, purple gum scraped off a light pole, piles of dust mixed with human and canine hair, glass shards, rusty nails, or a pile of colourful string held together by an indeterminate substance. Beautifully arranged in glass vitrines or on a White Cube wall, Agematsu’s trash becomes treasure and thus the context feeds the metamorphosis. Esoteric, bizarre, embryonic, compulsive: the quintessence of an artist. At Miguel Abreu through April 2.

The beguiling new paintings of Sao Paolo based artist Caetano de Almeida exude a vivacity and buoyancy that remind of his rich Latin American cultural heritage in music, textile arts, and modern architecture. De Almeida’s paintings are inspired by the grids of bustling Brazilian cities and descend from his fascination with the intricate webs of textile and cane weavers. Motivated by the graceful forms of landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx’s and the color exuberance of Beatrice Milhazes, de Almeida’s works are effervescent yet rigorous studies of rhythm, tempo and color. At 11R through March 26.

The found painted rocks on Torey Thornton’s painting hail from disparate places such as Waring Avenue and El Centro in Los Angeles, the Van Wyck Expressway and 106th Avenue in New York, and North Avenue 52 and Lincoln Avenue in Louisiana. Two rocks were purchased from the craft exchange Etsy and from the Westbeth flea market. They converge on a steel saw blade akin a violently mad constellation of stars where the center holds but the fringes mean obliteration. Thornton’s work inspires readings into subject matter ranging from political commentary on extremism to sexual violence but it is his firm grasp of the formal aspect of painting that makes this work stand out. Thornton is a relentless pioneer of the tactile possibilities of varied surfaces such as paper, wood and steel. He is a master of the perimeters of pictorial space and a skilful colorist. Simply titled Painting, the work is part of the scintillating new Whitney Biennale and proves Thornton’s rightful place as one the most brilliant new young American contemporary artists. At the Whitney, through June 11.

The sexual ambiguity of the person at the BBQ grill in Henry Taylor’s monumental painting The 4th, is vexing. The stance, heft, clothes and a traditional penchant to ascribe men to the BBQ, all point to a male figure but on closer inspection the pearl necklace, long painted nails and dainty fingers suggest that a woman sneaked into the picture. Taylor’s towering diptych, part of the brilliant new Whitney Biennale, represents a tour de force in new American painting. The lower half of the canvas is almost entirely occupied by the crowded surface of a round BBQ grill where meat and coals blend into each other in an indeterminate disarray. The top of the work is dominated by the BBQ master in a white generic t-shirt; a barren prison yard looms in the background.  An outline of a child’s head in profile finishes the symmetry of the composition. Taylor’s grasp of color is superb – the ternary horizontal color bands owe emotive homage to Rothko and Barnett Newman – his choice of pine green against the white of the t-shirt underlines its crispness. Taylor usually paints his friends and acquaintances yet the painting’s close proximity to Taylor’s other masterpiece The Times Thay Aint A Changing, suggest a ‘what if’ to the senseless murder of Philando Castile. Likewise, the placement of the work high on a wall in a large room commends a divine reverence – an honour that the painting and artist most certainly deserve. At the Whitney through June 11.

This week, sixty-three artists are showing America how it looks and feels today outside the overbearing news cycle. Selected by the dynamic young curator duo of Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, and sprawled over two and a half floors amid the bright and lofty Whitney Museum, this year’s Whitney Biennale shows a country that is at times anxious and hopeful, burdened by racial tension and violence, weighted by working class angst and geo-political division, yet multi-cultural, spiritual and charismatic as well as aggressive and oppressive. No new ground is broken in regard to new art forms; instead there is lots of representational painting, immersive installations, gripping video works, and ambitious sculpture. Several works stand out: photographer Deana Lawson and painter Henry Taylor point to deep-seated racial tensions, Jordan Wolfson’s virtual reality video underlines the numbing effect of real and virtual violence, Raul de Nieves bejewelled faux stained glass wall finds beauty in the esoteric and spiritual and Samara Golden’s disorienting multi-storey installation illustrates the unnerving effect of insipid architecture and urban sprawl. Here is Henry Taylor’s “The Times Thay Aint A Changing, Fast Enough”, a chilling reminder of Diamond Reynolds’ video that captured her fiancée Philando Castile’s final moments after being shot by a police officer in July 2016.

The largely man-made utopian cities of the United Emirates are the subject of Sarah Morris’ new metropolitan abstractions. Morris distils her minimalist paintings of urban networks, maps, and people into sharp-edged fragments and colourful grids, outlined by black swaths of erasure. Executed in her signature household gloss paint, her works are dynamic city puzzles that show people on the move, nature in flux and ancient architecture being replaced by mega malls. At Petzel through April 8.

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