At first blush Olaf Breuning’s ceramic sculptures appear like unaffected playdough creations of a preschooler. Simple, playful, and with a sly sense of humor, Breuning’s small figures inhabit a world of plain colors and little ornamentation. They are confined to a stage made of a rolled-out piece of thick oval dough, deprived of any added context. Look closer, however, and the scenes become psychologically foreboding. They trigger a disquieting cognizance that belies their mostly carefree presentation. Shown with Breuning’s pared down drawings, they leave a queasy aftertaste that stays long after you leave the gallery. At Metro Pictures through April 15.

Sue Williams’ new paintings are messy bursts of bright colors on neutral backgrounds that are highly abstracted forms of body parts, fragments of memory or complex political communiques. Scraggly lines often end in sharply executed graphic contours and are interrupted by thick smudges of aqua blue, seafoam green or Pepto-Bismol pink. Moving away from her earlier, denser compositions, Williams’ new undertakings allow more breathing room for dynamic orchestrations that seem to float on canvas. Yet the beauty, rhythm and harmony in these works defy the urgent social message in Williams’ long-time practice that counsels vigilance amidst political chaos and corruption. At 303 Gallery through April 14.

Humorous and verging on the absurd, the ceramic sculptures of Bruce M. Sherman are anthropomorphous forms which are rooted in modern spiritualism and old-fashioned Surrealism. A mélange of hands, eyes, plants and feet in pastel colors channel the unconscious into fantastical dreamscape and free the mind of conscious thought. Channelling Freudian ideas that our obsessions, fears and phobias are manifestations of repression, Sherman’s fragmented bodies unearth the two primary pillars of Surrealism: Desire and Fear. At Nicelle Beauchene through April 16.

A small treasure trove of first-rate collages awaits at the elegant townhouse gallery of Luxembourg & Dayan. The exhibition is loosely organized around the self-explanatory topic of “The Edge”.  It opens with Jack Goldstein’s superbly uncanny video “The Knife” from 1975 and moves along two more floors with treasures such as Jean Arp’s, Levre from 1926, Picasso’s Composition au verre. Nature morte au verre et raisins from 1914, several noteworthy Ellsworth Kelly Postcard collages, Cindy Sherman’s Doll Clothes, Rene Magritte Les fênetres del l’aube from 1928, a stunning recent collage by John Stezaker called Mask, Max Ernst’s Dada piece from 1929 La femme 100 têtes and many more. Here is a beautiful assemblage by Italian painter, poet and Futurist Giacomo Balla, Compenetrazione Bis from 1913. At Luxembourg and Dayan through April 15.

Anoka Faruqee likes to challenge the crystalline lens of our eyes. Located just behind the pupil, the lens focuses light rays on the retina which can alter its shape and allow the eye to focus on objects at various distances. Objects that are far away flatten the lens; zoom onto something closer and the lens contracts. Add a dizzying array of color into the mix, and the eye is in for a marathon workout. Drawing from Seurat’s Chromoluminarism which shifts the task of color mixing from the artist to the viewer’s eye, Faruqee, understands that a narrow placement of different colors can cause vibrations of colors that appear to be more vibrant and true. The result is a mercurial visual rollercoaster that is a different adventure for everybody. At Koenig and Clinton through April 8.

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.

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