Through April 13. Petzel, 456 West 18th Street, Manhattan; 212-680-9467, petzel.com.
“Détournement” means taking an existing artwork or artifact and transforming it into something wiser, funnier and cooler, as evidenced in the show “Strategic Vandalism: The Legacy of Asger Jorn’s Modification Paintings,” at Petzel Gallery.
Jorn, a Danish artist associated with the Situationist International group in Paris in the ’50s, was a master of the method. Starting with cheap, found canvases, he applied gestural splatters and scrawls of paint, “détourning” the works into critiques of “tasteful” bourgeois European culture, which had become available in mass-produced form after World War II.
“Détournement is the opposite of quotation,” says a text on the wall at the gallery, quoting the French writer and Situationist provocateur Guy Debord. So is it appropriation? Not exactly. Is it graffiti? No.
The target in this exhibition by Jorn and 30 prominent international artists working in a similar vein is not just art history, but political and social institutions. Arnulf Rainer’s defaced engravings of European royalty challenge the aristocracy while Betty Tompkins thumbs her nose at patriarchy by obscuring nude female bodies with text in reproductions of famous art works. Jim Shaw’s puerile “The Old Masturbator and the Far Away Hills” (2019) shows Ronald Reagan, drawn as smoke wafting out of a country cabin in a landscape painting, while Vidya Gastaldon’s near-abstractions and Enrico Baj’s mash-ups of kitsch ladies and brutalist monsters serve as delectably hallucinogenic examples.
Détournement is an attitude as much as a form, and generally the work of the underdog, disgruntled or dispossessed. (There are exceptions, like Martin Kippenberger’s minimalist table using a monochrome Gerhard Richter painting [!] as a table top.) When executed well, détournement is an exercise in getting the last word in, since art lingers longer than a snarky internet meme. MARTHA SCHWENDENER
Through April 14. Nurture Art, 56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn; 718-782-7755, nurtureart.org.
Humans in every age have speculated about when and how machines will render their labor obsolete. Today, as we inch closer to the realization of self-driving cars and delivery by drone, that future seems close at hand. In his solo show at Nurture Art, “Working Conditions,” Brett Wallace suggests it’s one whose implications and realities we haven’t fully thought through.
The show centers on a series of workstations, each holding videos related to the type of labor done there. At one generic desk feebly personalized with a plant and pictures, a video playing simultaneously on two computer monitors delves into Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace where people perform menial tasks for minuscule pay. The right side displays the screen of someone “turking”; on the left, workers answer questions about why they do it, often saying they need the money before admitting how little they make. (Mr. Wallace found his respondents through the platform, paying them $2 each to make a 2-minute video.) The piece offers an intimate, human view of a phenomenon that is distinctly dystopian.
The retail and technology giant Amazon isn’t the show’s only target, but it is a focal point for Mr. Wallace, who, as part of his investigation, founded a research-and-development start-up called Amazing Industries. The company’s logo appears throughout “Floating Factory” (2018), a video that takes viewers on a virtual tour of a sci-fi megafactory in the sky that’s based on a real patent by Amazon. Conveyor belts cut through the vast factory like slides, alongside orbs that connect laborers to the apparatus as they package “not only goods but ideas about the future.”
What keeps Mr. Wallace’s work from falling into preachiness is its canny and unsettling blend of installation, video, documentary, fiction and advertising — what feels like foreboding one moment becomes promotional the next. Many of us know, in theory at least, the human cost of our technological age, but Mr. Wallace reminds us how seductive it is to conflate convenience with progress, usually at someone else’s expense. JILLIAN STEINHAUER
Through April 6. Thomas Erben Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, Manhattan; 212-645-8701, thomaserben.com.
I was misled at first by the faces in Jackie Gendel’s oils. Half-finished female profiles, for the most part, they flicker like ghosts across a psychedelic shadow world of black and blood-red walls in the artist’s new show “Stained Glass Cliff” at Thomas Erben Gallery.
One 4-by-5-foot canvas — like all the others in the exhibition, it’s listed with the provisional title “tbt, ”or “to be titled” — is covered almost entirely with a network of tiny blue faces, as frothy and hollow as fish roe or ocean foam. Sitting over them are large, flat daubs of translucent scarlet and opaque orange and green. In another work, it’s not faces but slim white figures being buffeted by a storm of lush black and purple strokes.
How women are portrayed and perceived, in both fashion and art, is clearly on this Brooklyn-based artist’s mind, and there’s a halo of not-quite-explicit art-historical references around each canvas. But what the faces are really doing, along with the daubs, the strokes and the intricate but soft-edged zigzag patterns that occasionally appear, is keeping your conscious attention engaged while Ms. Gendel’s indelible colors stream directly into your unconscious. There, despite the action on the surface, each canvas makes a strangely singular impression of crimson, yellow, or black — like a monochrome that’s been flayed. WILL HEINRICH