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First Week in September

Photo: Rachel Mason, "Kissing President Bush," 2004
Rachel Mason, Kissing President Bush, 2004. Via Creative Time.

It's the first week of September, when most of the art world wakes from its collective stupor to offer a slew of new openings. And, being an election year, the press releases resound with politics -- the War, the Market, the Race -- with everyone from this year's pile of wits, activists and mandarins looking to add their two cents. Featuring several different takes on things to come -- from moods of veiled optimism, to more cautious, seasoned approaches -- here are ten shows that provide an engaging start to the political season.

Creative Time is throwing its own version of a national convention with Convergence Center, filling the massive Park Avenue Armory with performances, installations and artworks. Among the myriad spectacles -- wandering surveillance balloons and a "functional replica of America's first submarine" -- there's a laundry list of political theorists, artists and activists scheduled to give talks tackling a range of issues from "city cultural production." Downtown, artists are embracing the market. The latest iteration of Phoebe Washburn's fascinating, crude factories (see the Gatorade-fueled nursery she furnished for this year's Whitney Biennial) is at Zach Feuer in Tickle the Shitstem. A vision in plywood, the eponymous Shitstem manufactures "beverages, pencils, colored urchins and t-shirts" endlessly -- until it breaks. Kevin Bewersdorf's shamanistic take on corporate culture will be on full view when his website-slash-corporate identity, Maximum Sorrow, plasters V&A with brochures, posters and videos in Monuments to the INFOspirit. Taking a more meditative approach to labor and production, Amanda Coogan will scrub a wide, sun-colored dress for hours at a time in her Sisyphean performance Yellow at Artists Space.

Phoebe Washburn, detail view of "Tickle the Shitstem," 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable.
Phoebe Washburn, detail view of Tickle the Shitstem, 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Several exhibitions are looking backwards for instruction -- a line-up of shows gives photographic renditions of some of the 20th century's most notable conflicts. Susan Meiselas' retrospective In History will exhibit the stark work she completed following the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and, later, her coverage of the Kurdish uprisings -- providing a framework to ask incisive questions about the use of photojournalism in war. An admittedly more wistful take on the possibilities of revolution, Burt Glinn's Havana remembers a peach-faced Castro and a fawning populace at the end of the Cuban revolution (the gray afterglow of Castro's reign or the messy politics of a Ché t-shirt should a provide good counterpoint to the show's sheeny idealism). Of the three, it's Josef Koudelka's Invasion: Prague '68 that may prove the most prescient of the bunch; his feverish series of large-scale photos capture Russia's invasion of Prague nearly 40 years ago, bringing swiftly to mind the superpower's recent military intervention in South Ossetia. In a more contemporary vein, stalwart Martha Rosler updates these references with her photomontages that splice vignettes of the Iraq War with haute-couture spreads in Great Power" at Mitchell, Innes & Nash.

A more indirect, puckish appraisal of American politics is available too. While Allison Schulnik's goopy avatars of clowns appear garish and kitsch, it's her unsparing and exacting use of paint that betrays a tragic reading of culture in No Luck Too at Mike Weiss. The monomaniacal Agathe Snow follows up on her previous projects (an eschatology of New York, a week-long dance marathon) with Just Say Yes, an all-over installation at James Fuentes. From the artist's statement--an effusive rant on Leonardo DaVinci and the American Dream -- to the lines of at-attention ladders in the work, Just Say Yes provides a welcome buoyancy, wallowing in primary colors and the possibilities of a wide-open gallery.