Through Dec. 22. Gagosian, 980 Madison Avenue; 212-744-2313, gagosian.com.
The Italian painter Rudolf Stingel has spent 30 years upending expectations about the vitality and viability of painting, and even at its most beautiful, his art is always flecked with intimations of both human mortality and artistic exhaustion. He has burrowed into painting’s prospects by walking on panels of Styrofoam in acid-dipped boots, then hanging the crunched results like canvases; painting mercilessly accurate self-portraits in grisaille, and retaining the smudges or dye shifts of his photographic sources; and deploying abstract motifs on carpets, as when he upholstered the floors and even the walls of the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.
But in the five triptychs on view across two floors of Gagosian’s uptown space, Mr. Stingel seems to have finally run out of road. Better, though familiar, are two suites of paintings from 2014, which deploy a brocade pattern in raised silver paint on a purple surface. The metallic ornamentation gets gloopy and discolored in places, which disclose the stencil technique used; they sit precariously between not-quite-abstractions and not-quite-wallpaper.
Newer, and worse, are three suites of oil paintings that depict sunsets in lavish Technicolor, each as generically pretty as a Windows 95 screen saver. Where once Mr. Stingel used photographic sources with indexical significance (the Dolomites of his childhood home, or the dealer Paula Cooper for a show at Paula Cooper Gallery), here the original imagery is banal for its own sake. The smudges and footprints that sullied those earlier paintings are gone, and, except for some mottled passages of pink clouds, the canvases might as well have been inkjet-printed. Having pushed the potential of painting so far, he has arrived now at utter blankness.
Never did I think that I would visit an exhibition of this deep-thinking artist and be put in mind of Alex Israel, the lightweight painter of Hollywood sunsets who also shows at this supergallery. Very few contemporary painters have tangled with the limits of the medium as consistently as Mr. Stingel, but this is the first time I have ever thought of him as cynical.
Through Dec. 22. Peter Freeman, 140 Grand Street, Manhattan; 212-966-5154, peterfreemaninc.com.
I had to ask whether the sliding steel door in Peter Freeman Gallery, which dates to SoHo’s warehouse days and has nine irregular weights hanging from its mechanism by a wire, was part of Richard Wentworth’s new show, “Now and Then.” The 18 works that are his include “Curtilage,” a steel pipe draped in rings of razor wire and mounted 10 feet up; a small bundle of electronic garbage placed on top of an immaculate cherry-and-glass vitrine; pairs of bricks, blocks and lintels; and four careful lines of broken bottles sitting on brackets under the ceiling.
I should have known without asking, though, that the door didn’t belong. It’s designed to open and shut, while Mr. Wentworth’s variously cantilevered installations, for all their airs of fragility and impermanence, are solid. The loops of galvanized cable in “Lives (Suspended)” are lit so they cast multiple shadows on the wall, each a different but equally correct projection of their pattern. But even as Mr. Wentworth highlights the object’s potentially infinite ambiguity, he is also minimizing it, because the wires themselves, mounted in front of the shadows, remain exactly what they are.
The point is even clearer in “First and Last Word,” in which a paperback dictionary, resting on a neatly folded bedsheet, is open to page 206, “Lived” to “Lodgment”: For better or worse, we’re all just passing through.