If you, too, were disappointed with Chelsea’s blockbuster shows this month, here are some dark horses on 24th Street.
The Art of Chess
Luhring Augustine, 531 W. 24th St.
Chess turns out to be the secret theme of this November. The Noguchi Museum opened The Imagery of Chess Revisited, a recreation of Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst’s kooky 1944 show, the Projectile Gallery displayed Glenn Kaino’s chess set of ammo boxes, and Luhring Augustine unveiled commissioned chess sets in The Art of Chess. The Luhring Augustine show is a special treat because the artists — including Damien Hirst, Paul McCarthy, Yayoi Kusama, Maurizio Cattelan, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Rachel Whiteread and Tom Friedman — are especially cheeky in their designs. As one might expect, the Chapman brothers flout all decency in a set where angry, sexualized white kids face off against black kids. Damien Hirst returns to sculpture with a sleek mirrored chess table and opposing silver and glass chemical bottles. Tom Friedman populates his set with miniature reproductions of his early works, and Yayoi Kasama, elegant to the end, presents a giant, patent-leather pumpkin that splits to reveal miniature blown-glass squash, which are also chess pieces that are not to be missed.
Fredericks Freiser Gallery, 504 W. 22nd St.
John Wesley’s paintings are baffling in the most delicious way. In Dream of Frogs, a naked woman reposes, hovering over three grinning, manic-looking frogs. In Camel, a camel-man wearing an undershirt makes advances on a pleased camelette. The style is almost pop art — heavy black lines outline flat pastel forms — but the content is too surreal, too enigmatic to easily fall within that category. A contemporary of Warhol and Lichtenstein, Wesley appropriated cartoon and advertising imagery in the 1960s with the best of them, but he also threw his personal fantasies into the mix. His work hasn’t changed significantly since then, but it never appears staid — his narratives are interminably opaque and his sexual innuendoes are timeless. Seeing his work for the first time, one might think he was a daring young painter who had rejected the current taste for baroque, exploding, phantasmagoria in favor of succinct comedy.