This series of fantastical watercolor drawings and semi-abstract paintings brings a fresh sensibility to the issue of architectural reincarnation. As a child in SoHo in the 1980s, Charles Koegel grew up in the midst of intense neighborhood transformation. Now a Brooklynite, he is displeased with how the borough’s skyline has been mutating: low-rise family homes are out, skyscraping glass towers are in. Two of his watercolor drawings seek to alter this trend by stacking siding-clad houses on top of one another—buildings as building blocks—in a satirical mimicry of high-rise living.
Koegel’s paintings on canvas take a more nuanced approach to the life and death of structures. For the piece “In Bloom,” thick layers of oil, acrylic, and spray paint are made to resemble old boards, with cracks revealing other colors (past lives), as well as faded wallpaper and comic strips, beneath the surface. Tufts of grass grow along the creases of the trompe l’oeil boards. The work celebrates the ravaging acts of time and nature, which are constantly laboring to make artificial environs natural again.
CHARLES KOEGEL, “ANY COLOUR YOU LIKE”
Slate Gallery, 136 Wythe Ave., through 12/19
Alicia Ross takes the folksy art form of cross-stitching to a whole new level of kitsch. Absent are fluffy kittens and cozy cottages. Present are the queens of tabloid culture—Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Kate Gosslin, Octomom, et al.—in needlework portraits culled from the Internet and collectively titled “Phrenology Studies.”
Ross’s innovative style is anything but old-fashioned. Her embroidery combines photorealism with threaded lines and pixels to give the headshots an unfinished (or unraveling) bitmap quality. By employing the earnest medium of cross-stitching, the portraits simultaneously counteract the phoniness of celebrity hype and call to mind an obsessive female fan.
Near the rear of the gallery hangs the Holy Grail of tabloid snapshots—Britney Spears’s hairless crotch, which a paparazzo captured as Spears climbed out of a car. Ross has placed a gaudy gold frame around an enlarged digital print of the photo and titled it “The Origin of the World (Britney),” a riff on Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting of the same name. All this pomposity heightens the importance of the image (and Spears’s vagina) to religious proportions, but the piece distracts from the narrative thread of the skillful embroidery works.
ALICIA ROSS, “HOT MESS”
Black & White Gallery, 483 Driggs Ave., through 11/21
“Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z is the New York City anthem for the 21st century. But Antek Walczak, in his collection of text paintings titled “Empire State of Machine Mind,” perceives the song as a stream of formulaic recurrences. The paintings spell out the song’s chorus in black sans-serif letters on whitewashed canvas and convert the lyrics into a sort of puzzle. Repeating letters, words, and phrases have been removed and replaced by empty bubbles, while arrows indicate where repetitions appear elsewhere.
These simple yet highly original paintings require a few minutes to fully decode if you don’t have the song memorized. Your eyes dart across the canvas as you follow the arrows and try to piece together the lyrics. However, the artist did not conceive the works as mere word games; they symbolize the shortcuts used by data compression schemes. Walczak shows us what communication looks like in the “minds” of our hard drives.
Real Fine Arts, 673 Meeker Ave., through 12/19