Richard Serra: "Equal"
537 W. 20th St., through July 24
By now it's not unusual when confronting one of Richard Serra's gigantic, metrically menacing, magnetically mighty curving steel sculptures, which are simultaneously architectonic and geological, to walk all around its meandering curves, maybe spot lovers kissing in the center of one, look at it in utter awe, yawn, and say, "Great!" This new show consists of four huge stacks of two cubic slabs, one atop another, and find Serra's mastery of material, mass, gravity, density, and an almost uncanny not-thereness now joined by ideas of the empty spaces between these shapes of steel and the tremendous forces acting upon them — but nevertheless being empty presences, interstices that you can look into and know in your body. This is his best show in more than 15 years of great shows, and it resounds with a complexity and cosmic instability not seen in solitary objects since Giorgio Morandi's miraculous vibrating arrangements.
Leidy Churchman: "The Meal of the Lion"
453 W. 17th St., through June 6
On a handful of occasions over 20 years of teaching, I've walked into a student's studio and had to catch my breath at the kind of raw, sheer talent I felt, at the same time thinking that since there's almost nothing I could say to this artist to improve his or her game, I fell almost instantly into listening as carefully as I could, learning things I never knew I needed to know until I was told them. That happened to me the first time I visited the studio filled with little realist, folkish, and strange paintings by Leidy (pronounced Lie-dee) Churchman — an incredible name that sounds like it comes from a play about the Puritans. In a show of 19 impeccable paintings, all that latent talent rushes to the fore in a tour-de-force of animals, text, fish, and landscapes, all rendered in a jeweler's palette of powdery color, especially a work that should be bought by a museum, a lavender depiction of the New York view from the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere.
533 W. 19th St., through June 13
Lisa Yuskavage has added a wrinkle to her 20-year obsession with depicting women masturbating posed with legs spread so wide it was almost embarrassing to look (a weird feeling to have in the presence of something painted so beautifully), voluptuaries with erect nipples, sloe-eyed beauties, bushy pudenda, and freakishly twiggy women. Now adding men and penises to her bag of subject matter, the new works are, as always, skillfully painted in Fragonard-like rococo tones of acidic, luminist color and have slick, shiny surfaces. The addition of men is a welcome move, a penis not being the most typical subject matter for a contemporary woman painter, but the paintings, as lovely as they are to look at and as sure as they are to attract rapt crowds studying details, still feel strangely sealed and caricaturelike.
Gavin Brown's Enterprise
620 Greenwich St., through June 13
For his first solo New York gallery show in five years, we find Alex Katz, now 88, not having lost an ounce of his focus or painterly intensity, painting not only at the very top of his form — a kind of contemporary Monet, an artist who almost every time out is painting something like a masterpiece — but making some of the most glorious paintings anywhere right now. Those last two words — right now — are the cosmic core of these giant paintings of black brooks, trees at night, summer shade, drifting clouds, cityscapes, fog, and winter, all rendered without an ounce of feel-good sentimentality, nostalgia, or easy viewing. Black Brook 18 radiates like an electric Rothko; Untitled Landscape I is like the largest folk painting ever made, and as magical; Untitled Cityscape 5 combines the mysteries of Goya's black paintings and Hopper's solitude; and Snow Scene 2 shows Katz embodying the state of grace that poet Wallace Stevens called "a mind of winter."