Trent’s Top Gallery Picks: Jack Early at Southfirst

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Southfirst, 60 N. 6th St.; McCaffrey Fine Art, 23 E. 67th St., through 10/27

Jack Early gets super-duper hippie-dippy in these two stupendous shows. Pop psychedelia from the late 1960s and early 70s permeates everything—and even gets inside our ears. The exhibition at McCaffrey, called “Gallery Peace,” centers on Yoko Ono, with 13 life-size Yokos, one in each color of the rainbow, filling a room. Each is a plywood standee bearing a picture of her face seamlessly attached to the body of a classically posed French woman—stark naked except for a pearl necklace—culled from an old photograph. This repeating image brings to mind Botticelli’s 1496 masterpiece “The Birth of Venus,” but instead of emerging from a clamshell, Yoko bursts forth from various trippy American and Japanese iconography: shooting stars, a rainbow, a rising sun, Hokusai’s great wave.

Jack Early, “Jesus Had Two Dads (Oh Mary!),” 2012, wood, fabric, cotton batting, plywood, and rubber. Courtesy McCaffrey Fine Art. Photo credit: Tim Pyle.

Jack Early, “WWJD,” 2012, mixed media, installation view (detail). Courtesy Southfirst. Photo credit: Erik Rocca.

The vibrant standees surround the sculpture “Bed Peace,” a bare mattress imprinted with a large black-and-white photo of John Lennon and Yoko at the height of their hippie phase, which is meant to evoke the Shroud of Turin. Elsewhere, Yoko’s visage peeks out from a tie-dyed American flag and says in a speech bubble, “Jesus had 2 dads,” as campy comedian Rip Taylor exclaims, “Oh Mary!”

If “Gallery Peace” emphasizes the corporeal, the show at Southfirst, “WWJD,” is about transfiguration. The whole space has been painted sky blue, with pillowlike clouds attached to the walls, as if we’re floating in the stratosphere. A set of footsteps, made of muslin and filled with lentils, traverses the room and leads to a glowing cross, where an image of the main character from the 1970s play “Godspell” is crucified. If you’ve ever seen the play, you know that this isn’t your usual bearded and bedraggled Jesus in a loincloth. Rather, he wears a Superman shirt, striped pants, and suspenders, with big hair and sad-clown makeup—a sensitive, triumphant, and groovy savior. The installation is hippie culture gone to heaven, sacrificed for society’s greater good.

As with much of his recent work, Early has written soothing soundtracks to accompany the shows. This time, the songs, performed by Early and Britta Phillips of Dean and Britta, have a psychedelic tinge to the lyrics and instrumentation. (There’s a sitar and a flute!) These subtle and beautiful tracks demonstrate that the artist is just as formidable at crafting music as he is at making installations. Whatever the medium, Early’s creations have the power to transport.

Juergen Teller, No. 38 of the work “Irene im Wald,” 2012, C-print, 10 x 8 in. Courtesy the artist, The Journal Gallery, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

The Journal Gallery, 168 N. 1st St., through 11/4

Juergen Teller’s photographs have always shown it like it is, and his pictures of his mother are no exception. For the remarkably straightforward series “Irene im Wald” (Irene in the Forest), Teller photographed his mother strolling through the tamed wilds of Nuremburg, Germany, under pale, filtered sunlight. She wears a brownish-gray vest, blue jeans, heelless pumps, and large eyeglasses—just a regular lady. But, given that she’s the photographer’s mom, there’s an inherent sweetness to the whole thing, no matter how hard Teller tries to establish an uncompromising perspective.

Teller has no interest in idealizing nature, either. Only one picture shows an animal—a close-up of a slimy frog. (Another image portrays a bunny in a shallow hole, though it’s hard to tell whether we’re looking at a real bunny sleeping, a corpse, or a garden statue.) Elsewhere, the grass is dead, deciduous trees lack leaves, and every photo reveals some sort of human intrusion on the landscape: a park bench, a trail, a drainpipe, a crucifix, unnaturally stacked logs and branches, and, of course, Irene.

Stories printed beneath some of the pictures offer insights into Teller’s upbringing. This is where the art feels truly personal. We find out about the time that Irene sent money to young Teller while he was out the country, and then he got robbed but didn’t tell her. We learn of Teller’s father’s death, in 1988, and how his uncle Artur (his father’s brother) stepped in to become Irene’s companion. Artur appears in a few photos here, joking with Irene on a park bench. The series has also been compiled in a book, which comes with the next issue of The Journal magazine. It’s all a perfectly imperfect ode to a mother.

Sam Martineau, “Köln,” 2012, acrylic on muslin, 30 x 17 in. Courtesy Rawson Projects.

Rawson Projects, 223 Franklin Ave., through 10/21

Each of Sam Martineau’s minimalist canvases measures roughly the size of a torso, giving these ardently abstract paintings a decidedly human vibe. Some are loosely executed, while others are emblazoned with sharp lines that allude to sports uniforms and racecars. The stripes might zigzag over the surface, as they do in “Rainbow Over Autobahn.” Or they might form thick bands, like they do in “June,” which resembles a fresh slab of Neapolitan ice cream.

Martineau’s particular brand of minimalism is alluringly charismatic, thanks to his embrace of unconventional materials. A few paintings here have repurposed patterned fabrics and even cheap rags as canvases. And in a piece called “P,” the idea of a sports uniform becomes literal. It’s an Inter Milan soccer jersey on stretcher bars, with the Pirelli sponsorship logo visible under faint acrylic paint, and it is a perfect marriage of concept, substance, and humanity.

As for our Scottish terrier, Winston, who also saw the show, he had two very different favorites: “Köln,” an über-graphic expanse of beige paint with five racing stripes (which include the colors of the German flag), and “Memorized Breaths,” a messier field of pink acrylic and crayon with little wads of newspaper scattered about. Winston seemed to think the paper gobs were something he could eat.