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Top five shows: Jan 30–Feb 5, 2014

The best of the week in art.

 (Photograph: Courtesy the artist)
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

Ericka Beckman/Julia Wachte
Elizabeth Dee Gallery, through Feb 22
This show is a continuation of a recent trendlet that has seen several women artists from the 1980s returning to the limelight after a good number of years. Ericka Beckman is a filmmaker and graduate of CalArts whose 1983 work—a Super-8-to-video transfer titled You the Better—is on view. Julia Wachtel presents paintings from the same period. Both artists explored aspects of popular culture through the prism of post-Conceptual art: Beckman employed a mix of live-action-model effects and stop-motion animation to evoke a kind of Dadaist vision of suburbia and school playgrounds; Wachtel appropriated images from kitschy novelty postcards popular in the 1970s, with the aim of deconstructing the way culture creates artifacts, and how it decides what is art and what is not. Seeing these artists together reveals affinities between them that were not apparent 30 years ago.

 (Photograph: Musée Carnavalet; Paris)
Photograph: Musée Carnavalet; Paris

“Charles Marvill, Photographer of Paris”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, through May 4
The Met revisits the work of French photographer Charles Marville (1813–1879), who, in 1862, was appointed the official photographer of the city of Paris, tasked with documenting Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s radical modernization of the French capital. Haussmann created Paris’s famed boulevards by plowing under the city’s medieval-era neighborhoods, and Marville was there, capturing both the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new. His images of ancient twisting streets and alleyways awaiting the wrecking ball anticipated Eugène Atget’s famed photos of similar subjects by more than a decade.

 (Photograph: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library; Columbia University; New York))
Photograph: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library; Columbia University; New York)

“Frank Lloyd Wright and the City: Density vs. Dispersal”
Museum of Modern Art, Sat 1–June 1
MoMA unpacks contrasting sides of the iconic architect, exploring his role as a designer of both city skyscrapers and suburban utopias. Among the artifacts on display: Wright’s drawings for a proposed mile-high tower and a large tabletop model of his planned countryside community, called Broadacre City.

 (Photograph: Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co.)
Photograph: Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Josephine Halvorson, “Facings”
Sikkema Jenkins & Co., through Mar 1
Halvorson’s canvases harken back to the work of such 19th-century American trompe l’oeil painters as William Harnett and John Frederick Peto, though strictly speaking, Halvorson makes no attempt to fool the eye. Her style is quite painterly, at least on close inspection, but it is this tension between contemporary brushwork and historically resonant content that makes her work distinctive. Rendered at life scale, her latest canvases feature details—such as a door, foundation wall and boarded-up window—of structures around her home in Massachusetts. The distressed quality of the wood and concrete surfaces gives her ample opportunity to strut her stuff, paint-handling-wise.

 (Photograph: © Frank Thiel / VG Bild-Kunst; Bonn)
Photograph: © Frank Thiel / VG Bild-Kunst; Bonn

Frank Thiel, “Nowhere Is a Place”
Sean Kelly Gallery, Fri 31–Mar 22
This German photographer, who is known for expansive, large-format color images, has devoted most of his work to documenting the various changes that have occurred in Berlin—where the artist lives and works—since German reunification more than 20 years ago. For this exhibition, he ventures to a far more remote location—the Patagonia region of Argentina—to capture the ice fields at the tip of South America. Tree huggers should note that Thiel’s message isn’t about the vulnerability of these formations due to climate change, but in fact the opposite: The huge size of the photos here, including one measuring 30 feet in length, is meant to project the seemingly timeless, immeasurable physicality of the ice cap’s crags and crevices right into the gallery.