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What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week

Uptown, the Met Breuer is hosting a broad exhibition of the art of Lygia Pape, Brazil’s most restless modernist; downtown, the Whitney is opening a retrospective of the psychedelic Brazilian Hélio Oiticica. Both artists appear in Galerie Lelong’s healthy introduction to Grupo Frente, the abstract art movement they participated in during the fecund 1950s along with Lygia Clark and seven others, many of whom deserve more renown here.

Shortly after World War II, Brazil’s dictatorial Estado Novo gave way to a democratic republic, and art production exploded. While artists in São Paulo’s contemporary Grupo Ruptura advocated exacting geometric abstraction, over in Rio de Janeiro the Grupo Frente members practiced a wilier style that had room for personal invention. Ivan Serpa’s wonderful gouaches of the mid-1950s, for example, feature dozens of parallel lines that break at the page’s midpoint at irregular frequencies. Rubem Ludolf used graph paper to delineate fractured squares and circles, but also painted cloudy abstractions of white blobs afloat in fields of blue-green.

Grupo Frente stayed together for four years, and by the end of the 1950s Clark, Oiticica and Pape would go on to embrace viewer participation in the experimental movement Neo-Concretism. The relatively hushed works here from Clark (a collage of gray diamonds and triangles) and Oiticica (flat gouaches of circles and rectangles) barely hint at what was to come, but it’s illuminating to see their art amid works by their old Carioca buddies, as Rio natives are known.



Part of the installation “The DRAMASTICS & The Fascinators.”

Courtesy of the artist and Jason Wyche, Casey Kaplan, New York


Through July 29. Casey Kaplan, 121 West 27th Street, Manhattan; 212-645-7335, caseykaplangallery.com.

The Dramastics are an all-girl punk band that invaded the imagination of the sculptor Nathan Carter in 2014. He hadn’t made figurative work before, but the band’s members came suddenly to life in his studio as paper dolls with exaggerated, slender proportions, naïvely drawn faces, and a perfect pop color scheme of Parisian bleu, blanc and rouge. He also constructed friends, rivals and venues, all on display in his latest show, in a busy, eager-to-please installation; wrote and recorded songs; and made an entertainingly silly animated concert video, which screened at the installation’s opening.

But the stars of this gallery show, as such, are six wall-mounted sculptures more in line with Mr. Carter’s earlier work. (Their connection to the band is that they are notionally “fascinators,” or decorative hats for the characters.) Made from found aluminum painted in an old-school but eye-catching palette of pastel and primary colors with latex enamel, these explosive swoops and swooshes balance the fun-for-fun’s-sake cheer of the Dramastics project with enough formal rigor to make the immediate hit of optical pleasure more lasting. In “Fascinator for Abby Abstract,” a spiral of thin lines is ornamented with half-moons of magenta and blue; in “Fascinator for Hyped-up Harriet,” a small yellow circle perches atop a lavender bow like a diffident moon.



Through July 28. Van de Weghe Fine Art, 1018 Madison Avenue, Manhattan; 212-744-1919, vdwny.com.

The popularity of wood as an artistic medium at last year’s São Paulo Biennial made clear — to this viewer, at least — the complicated nature of that material in Brazil. The different types of wood and the value and complex cultural significance ascribed to them is similar to that of gems and quarried stone. Wood is also the basis of the Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira’s impressive, immersive installation at Van de Weghe on the Upper East Side.

For this show, his first solo exhibition in New York, Mr. Oliveira has constructed a life-size, leafless tree in the gallery. Unlike artists including Robert Smithson and Mark Dion, who brought live or dead trees into white-cube gallery spaces, Mr. Oliveira has constructed a tree from scratch, using plywood and other materials, as well as wood brought from Brazil. Spanning the windowless space, the tree looks like a gothic, creeping creature or a giant skeleton. Mr. Oliveira has also paneled nearly every inch of the room, creating a wood environment that is simultaneously cozy and claustrophobic.

Mr. Oliveira has created a beautiful sculptural object. Where the installation falls short, however, is in registering some kind of meaning. Unlike revelatory works in São Paulo last year, where wood was implicated in everything from ancient rituals and slavery to colonialism and globalization, Mr. Oliveira’s work feels like a slightly vapid curiosity. It might be, as the news release says, a comment on the “disequilibrium of nature and society.” Or it might be a handsome woodworking project that showcases excellent craftsmanship, yet lacks the rigor of ambitious art.


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