Through Dec. 22. ZieherSmith, 516 West 20th Street, Manhattan; 212-229-1088, ziehersmith.com.
Once again, Christoph Ruckhäberle has painting surrounded, approaching it as reusable history, wisecracking craft, visual delight and abstract form, as ever beneath the guise of a slightly retro figurative style that he usually manages to make new. His latest efforts — in a show called “New Paintings” at ZieherSmith — are savvier and even more enticing. They revisit modernism with varied depictions of one of art’s oldest motifs: the reclining odalisque, sometimes nude, sometimes clothed. These works are small and portable, bright and taut, and use unmixed colors of high-gloss enamel in extraordinary combinations. Their hard, shiny surfaces are like shop signs: Odalisques Painted Here.
The women are uniformly wholesome and assume the same pose — one knee is bent and pointed, alertly, upward. But otherwise the works are highly diverse, with variations on Cubist and Surrealist distortion and segmentation as well as the classical representation of the early 1920s. Every occasion for geometry is exploited, be it a hairdo, a raised thigh or a garment. But most geometry is in the background, especially those tightly controlled with narrow parallel or gridded lines achieved by taping. Accidents are welcome, like the tendency of the colors to bleed from behind the tape in tiny fuzzy bursts.
Mr. Ruckhäberle has titled his series “Netsuke” — after the small sculptures invented in 17th-century Japan to fasten the cords on kimono sashes. Like Mr. Ruckhäberle’s paintings, netsuke are small, delightful, knowing objects that while highly aesthetic also fulfill a significant practical function. This may sound like a stretch, but spend a little time with these apparent sweet nothings as they reveal themselves and suggest that their deliberation and pleasure could make life better.
Ms. Maloof takes a nocturnal view of the animal world, as the show’s title suggests, but it is also culled from comics and animation. Her anthropomorphic menagerie includes tigers, dogs, cats, monkeys, bats and insects (or apparent versions of these), painted in acid yellows and greens, and the orange and purple of an illuminated night. (Her “Starry Night” nods to van Gogh, but it is a window screen fixed with bugs rather than a celestial display.) Expressive and thoughtful, the animals in Ms. Maloof’s paintings clearly conjure humans, just as two canvases featuring a blank-eyed blond woman suggest a slinking, silent animal.
In past centuries, animals in art represented many things, from religious faith to political affiliations. Ms. Maloof’s mirror the popularity of animals on social media, where, despite disagreements on virtually every other topic, we can usually reach consensus on cute animal antics or admire cross-species friendships. These serve as utopian models for humans, of course. And while Ms. Maloof doesn’t make any grand claims in her paintings, her subjects’ goofy, uncanny expressions and psychological states suggest a post-human (and postelection) art world in which animals seem purer, more attractive and sympathetic than we do.
Through Dec. 22. 56 Henry, 56 Henry Street, Manhattan; 646-858-0800, 56henry.nyc.
The sculpture that, along with a few tense drawings of interior scenes, constitutes Dan Herschlein’s haunting, tightly-focused new show, “The Stillness of Eddies” at 56 Henry, is visible from the street — or at least, its installation is. This pocket-size gallery has only one window, but behind it, Mr. Herschlein built another, which he surrounded with wooden shutters oozing plaster. From the sidewalk, this inner window looks opaque, but that’s only because it’s facing a wall.
Deceptive transparency is a good introduction to the unfiltered blast of psychic complication sitting on the floor within: a streaky gray bathtub, built from scratch with materials including plaster, joint compound, plywood and milk paint. On the bottom of the tub is modeled a human torso with hands crossed peacefully at its belly. The throat is a lump that disappears into the back wall of the tub; where the crotch would be is a hole.
The impression is singular, but it’s hard to put your finger on the tone. Is the drain a cloaca — making the body some kind of Lovecraftian mother-demon — or is it a mouth, with the faucet for a nose and hot and cold knobs as bright cartoon eyes? Or is it all more ambiguous and confounding, an unresolved emptiness as hard as a rock?
Through Dec. 23. Derek Eller Gallery, 300 Broome Street, Manhattan; 212-206-6411, derekeller.com.
As a member of Forcefield, the Providence, R.I., art and music collective that disbanded in 2003, Ara Peterson worked in a jumpy, distortion-embracing fusion of noise-rock and strobing videos, often delivered by him and his bandmates in colorful hand-knit shrouds that doubled as sculptures. Lately he has been making paintings, which feel much tamer by comparison but still deliver the odd eye twitch.
The reliefs in his first show at Derek Eller, made of thin laser-cut pieces of wood laminate arranged on-edge in dense, wavelike formations, might make you think of topographical maps, classic Op Art, or very complicated data visualizations. (That last reference, according to the news release, is more or less how these paintings begin; Mr. Peterson “plots the relationships between color, mood, scale, weight, surface tension and directional flow,” before cutting the wood and assembling and painting it by hand.) The earth-toned ripples in one example (all the works are untitled) beg to be read as markers of elevation; the more high-contrast red, gray and beige crests in another work suggest a Bridget Riley canvas in 3-D, with an added perceptual buzz in blurry areas that have been painted with an atomizer.
Size is another variable; for all the immersive kinetics of the bigger works, you may find yourself drawn to the smaller, tighter ones, which are closer in scale to a computer monitor or TV screen. They feel more of a piece with Mr. Peterson’s video and sound art and with some of the craft-based processes, like knitting, that gave Forcefield its retro-futuristic zing.
Through Dec. 24. Foxy Production, 2 East Broadway, Suite 200, Manhattan; 212-239-2758, foxyproduction.com.
The high point of Gabriel Hartley’s fourth solo show at Foxy Production, “Reliefs,” is either the small wall-mounted sculpture “Sash,” or another, called “Lunch Break,” with “House” as a close runner-up.
The show also includes three large oil paintings, nearly five feet by six feet, that this British artist blasted with a pressurized water gun and scraped off, over and over again. The loosely gridlike compositions, though mostly nonfigurative, contain distinctly windowlike rectangles; with their thick crusts of paint and overlapping eddies of garish color, they look like plastics warehouses on fire. (Some of Mr. Hartley’s earlier paintings, vibrant tangles of unresolved lines, resemble sci-fi takes on Brice Marden’s works.) And just like a fire, they hold your gaze without quite letting it settle.
But their dissonance is a little hard-won. The sculptures, by contrast, twist rectangular segments of foam — the kind of cheap plastic foam you might rip out of an unwanted love seat — into shapes simple enough to take in at a glance, and then makes them entrancing by dipping them in resin and marking the sides with different colors. The slide from green to yellow, as you follow one segment, is an elegant distillation of the busier work; the texture, meanwhile, looks impossible, squishy and hard at once.