"Sylviculture" Through June 23 in Nina Freudenheim Gallery, 140 North St. 882-5777 or www.ninafreudenheimgallery.com.
If the world has seemed a bit out of order lately, a short visit to the Nina Freudenheim Gallery may put your mind at ease about the natural order of things.
"Sylviculture," a group show of painting and photography by the likes of Peter Stephens, John Pfahl, Steve Miller, John McQueen, Gregory Amenoff, Joseph DiGiorgio and Wolf Kahn, is a study in balance, if not quite in tranquility. It is full of compositions that could hardly be more symmetrical, more self-assured or more quietly sublime about their subjects, which, as the show's title rather poetically informs us, is the tree.
The beauty of Miller's work -- X-rays of plants that serve to heighten their ethereal nature, their entrancing fragility -- at first seems almost at cross-purposes with his conceptual goal, which is to draw attention to deforestation in Brazil. He has described his work as "a medical checkup" of "the lungs of our planet." And judging from the good doctor's examination, those organs that are still alive are looking pretty good, their shoots and leaves branching out in wisps delicate as silk to form gorgeous and otherworldly compositions.
Stephens' work in the show consists of several lovely and -- surprise, surprise: exquisitely balanced -- paintings of trees, as viewed through a kind of scrim. Two perfect little pastels on paper by Wolf Kahn shoot longing glances at one another from opposite walls. One of them, "Shrub Oak Woods," is a delightful soft-focus impression of a wooded grove in burnt oranges, muddy browns and muted greens.
Each of four luminescent photographs of the Susquehanna River by Pfahl kidnaps the eye and holds it hostage with various visual weapons, the most arresting among them light and shadow. "Jewell Weed Riverbank, Liverpool, PA" reproduces a shimmering beacon of river at the right framed by a drooping tree, its already blinding brightness made stark by the deep greens of the adjacent wooded grove. This exhibition is here to remind us that, whatever might be going wrong on city and suburban streets, all can be right in the woods.
"Life in the Chelsea Hotel: The Artwork of Irene Zevon" Through Aug. 7 in the Benjamin Gallery. 886-0898 or www.thebenjamangallery.com
The Benjamin Art Gallery, which has been in operation some 40 years, has not mounted an official single-artist show in more than a decade. They've returned to the exhibition scene with this large and engrossing collection of work by the late Irene Zevon, a New York City-based artist who worked for many years out of her studio in Manhattan's famed Chelsea Hotel.
Zevon's oil paintings from the 1950s through the '70s, bursting with color and very much in the Cubist tradition, bear the hallmarks of her long artistic association with her husband and fellow painter Nahum Tschacbasov. Zevon's canvases, clearly tied up with Picasso (and what canvases aren't?), evince an innate sense of balance, as in her self-descriptive 1958 abstraction "Centrifugal Force," in which a collection of spherical forms conglomerate in the center of the piece in front of a background of solid intersecting stripes.
Human figures abound in Zevon's work, whether directly, as in the electric "Reclining Figure" from 1971 or in her rustic, straight-ahead portraits, or through that fascinating Cubist filter, as in the expertly constructed explosion of shapes that forms her 1958 painting "Flamenco #5."
The organizers of this exhibition have rescued much of Zevon's forgotten work from a New York City attic, propped it back up, and shone a new light on an artistic life that, despite the fact that the artist lived until 2006, had largely faded from view and from memory. It's clearly a life worth reconsidering.
"Vertigo: Recent work by Dorothy Fitzgerald and Joyce Hill" Through July 10 in Indigo Art, 74 Allen St. 984-9572.
The works in this pair of shows, curated by Indigo Art's Elisabeth, is designed to throw you off kilter. In Hill's case, the sense of disjunction comes from a series of collages that manage to communicate a sense of urban rhythm and a pervading melancholy at once. In "The Word for Today Is ," for instance, a human figure dances on top of a piece of sheet music, but a sad green void stretches out to the right with nothing to interrupt it but a clock face you can almost hear tick. Other collages scream with graffiti and images of abandoned structures. It's both ode and an elegy to the urban condition.
In Fitzgerald's paintings, the conceptual and/or narrative thrust of the work is somewhat more difficult to ascertain. You get the sense she's telling some very personal stories, though truth be told, the manner in which she tells them doesn't strike me as particularly compelling from a purely formal perspective either. But the work clearly has a deep and conflicted soul, and may yet yield up rewards upon more sustained and concentrated viewing.