Museums and galleries are in Manhattan unless otherwise noted. Full reviews of recent art shows: nytimes.com/art.
‘THEATER OF CRUELTY’ Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) was a Surrealist poet, mystic, drug addict and playwright who is said to have died sitting at the foot of his bed, holding a shoe. Rebellious young writers and artists have long admired him, especially his 1938 manifesto, “The Theater and Its Double,” which includes the essay “The Theater of Cruelty,” describing performances that try to shock, affect and unsettle the audience as much as they can. At White Box in Chelsea, the curator Raúl Zamudio has gathered a marvelously twisted assortment of artwork by two dozen artists from as many nations, all paying homage to Artaud; some of it will no doubt leave you scratching your head in wonder. Video dominates, including Daniel Joseph Martinez’s “Hollow Men” (video image, above) and Sislej Xhafa’s poignant, chilling close-up of a gun on muddy ground being pelted with rain. Something terrible has happened here. Marcos Lopez shows small but intriguingly staged photographs of autopsies, with the arrangement of the figures mirroring scenes from Western religious iconographic traditions. Teresa Margolles has a sound installation of a real autopsy guaranteed to give you goose bumps, especially when the pathologist pulls out the power tools. Then there is Martin Durazo’s vibrant, chaotic installation in a cubbyholelike crevice in which strobe lights, sound, sculpture and psychedelic video projections, among other things, freely intermingle. The show’s wider purpose can be hard to grasp, but the setup gives a clear nod to Artaud. (Through Aug. 11, White Box, 525 West 26th Street, Chelsea, 212-714-2347, whiteboxny.org.) BENJAMIN GENOCCHIO
★ AMERICAN FOLK ART MUSEUM: ‘THE GREAT COVER-UP: AMERICAN RUGS ON BEDS, TABLES AND FLOORS,’ through Sept. 9. The more than 60 rugs in this extraordinary show count among the best pictorial art of 19th- and early-20th-century America, which means that quite a few of the women who made them qualify as great, if unidentified, artists. Densely textured, gloriously colored, boldly scaled and exuberantly frontal, they were made between 1800 and 1950 and provide something of a history of the American handmade rug, from bed to floor, and from mostly yarn-sewn to the wildly popular hooking technique. Their intuitive intelligence, where space and composition are concerned, proves once more that modern form is not a modern invention and flattens the always provisional distinction between art and craft. 45 West 53rd Street, (212) 265-1040, folkartmuseum.org. (Roberta Smith)
★ AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: ‘GOLD,’ through Aug. 19. Having delved into pearls, diamonds and amber, the museum applies its time-tested show-and-tell formula to the premier precious natural material, gold. This astounding array of art, artifacts and natural samples — larded with fascinating facts and tales — ranges from prehistoric times to the present. Stops along the way include pre-Columbian empires, sunken treasure, Bangladesh dowry rituals and the moon landing. It turns out that gold comes from the earth in forms as beautiful as anything man has thought to do with it, but that gold ingots have a brute force all their own. You are certain to emerge with mind boggled and eyes dazzled. Central Park West and 79th Street, (212) 769-5100, amnh.org. (Smith)