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BWW Review: Exhibitions for the Holidays at the Jewish Museum, Asia Society, and More


Take Me (I'm Yours) (Until February 5 at the Jewish Museum)

The Jewish Museum's latest group showcase is, basically, a showcase that functions as a gift shop-and best of all, all the gifts are free. Take Me (I'm Yours) is not the first show of its kind; it's actually the second coming of 12-artist showcase (expanded here to 42) that the London's Serpentine Gallery housed about 20 years ago. Nor is it the first time that the Jewish Museum has gone full-whimsy in its treatment of postmodernism; with Other Primary Structures only a few years ago, a group exhibition just as variegated, likable, and at times lighthearted set up shop in roughly the same galleries. What Take Me (I'm Yours) offers is, nonetheless, a novel experience, an experiment in interactive art that may reveal a lot more about you than it reveals about any of the artists on display. And yes, if any of you need a super-cheap or complete last minute Christmas gift, you do get to take plenty of the artwork home.

A little about how that works: many of the artworks in Take Me (I'm Yours) are made up of repeated units, though perhaps nowhere is this tendency more dramatic than in the red, white, and blue candies in Felix Gonzalez-Torres's Untitled (USA Today). Take a plastic bag from the entryway to the exhibition and, within limits, take home whatever you want. What you probably won't get out of this motley display is immersion in even its standout artists: Yoko Ono, for instance, is represented by the well-installed and coyly thought-provoking Air Dispensers, but this show can't explain how it corresponds to the rest of her work (or, beyond hints and suggestions, how it influenced the work of younger artists). What you will get is exposure to a few entries that are guaranteed to linger in your thoughts, like Dispersion by Christian Boltanski, a mound of clothes that could either be a reminder of death and loss or an attempt to make the Jewish Museum feel like the Salvation Army. (Or just a mound of clothes. Keep thinking...) What I got were two of Rirkrit Tiravanja's T-shirts, one of Adriana Martinez's beverage cans, and a bunch of those red, white, and blue candies. Take and enjoy.

Zao Wou-Ki: No Limits (Until January 8 at the Asia Society Museum)

Can abstraction be deep and accessible at the same time? Those aren't easy qualities to reconcile, but somehow the latest offering from the Asia Society Museum achieves harmony between them, at least in its best moments. With Zao Wou-Ki: No Limits, organizers Melissa Walt, Ankeney Weitz, and Michelle Yun have delivered a compact yet encompassing treatment of an artist whose work, by some mystery, hasn't yet been given its due. A painter of Chinese descent who emigrated to France, Zao absorbed European high modernism and created large canvases that are both more varied and more transparently awesome than the output of a Pollock or a Rothko. Don't ask me how a man whose work recalls calligraphy, Paul Klee, rainforests, and volcanic explosions-sometimes all in the same composition-took this long to get a major American retrospective and a definitive monograph.

It's easy, especially if you're used to more austere abstract art, to take Zao as something of a guilty pleasure. He can make standard blues and yellows more searing than other artists can make the wildest pinks and reds. And when he does turn to the hottest end of the color spectrum, the results are overpowering: among the Asia Society's showstoppers is a six foot-wide canvas from 1998, which looks like the ornate black-and-orange innards of a volcano, or like something that should be on the bedroom wall of the world's smartest teenager. Though intrigued or at least entertained by his works in color, I prefer Zao, for subtlety, in monochrome. An entry from 1972 takes Franz Kline's aesthetic-figments of black on a light ground-and brilliantly complicates it with streaks, spots, and ruptures. The 1954 Black crowd is even more of a stunner; it uses almost-pure abstraction to create numinous surfaces and soaring masses of the kind that only bronze sculpture of the best kind can normally conjure. Larger and more lavish works would follow-a ravishing aqua-palette subway mural among them-yet this one, at this early of a date in Zao's career, is the sign of a fully-realized artist.

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