Until April 3rd. Anton Kern Gallery, 16 East 55th Street, Manhattan, 212-367-9663, antonkerngallery.com.

The painter David Byrd was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1926. When he was quite young, his father, who was mentally ill, left the family. When David was 12 years old, his mother, who couldn’t cope with it, gave her six children to foster homes.

How this affected Byrd, who died in 2013, will never be known. But a trace of that trauma seems to be immanent in the delicate paintings and crayon drawings he made of life in the psychiatric ward of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Montrose, NY

Byrd worked there as an orderly for three decades after joining the merchant navy at the age of 17. served in the US Army during World War II; studied art for two years in New York with the cubist Amédée Ozenfant and tried to find a job that would give him time to paint.

The hospital made this and the topic available. In quiet times on the ward, Byrd made tiny sketches that formed the basis for colored pencil drawings and paintings. Its surfaces are delicately structured and thin: the white paper or canvas shines through without a body. Although Byrd also depicted life in Montrose, the infirmary remained his primary focus, serving as a kind of never-ending drawing lesson where the unpredictable patients faced the reduced geometry of the institutional architecture.

This appears to be the case with Hospital Hallways (1992), the largest screen on the show. Here, a long hallway that intersects with others creates a recession of concentric wedges of pale yellow light and pink walls in which four patients can be seen. aside, a doctor has just stepped into an elevator bathed in blue light.

For years, Byrd worked on a scrapbook of drawings, accompanied by cryptic observations. Last year the Anton Kern Gallery published a conspicuous facsimile of it with the artist’s estate: “Montrose VA, 1958-1988”. The current gallery exhibition of the same name shows Byrd how he methodically processes his haunting images and several pages from the scrapbook.

ROBERTA SMITH

Until April 3rd. Alexander Gray Associates, 510 West 26th Street, Manhattan, (212) 399-2636, alexandergray.com.

When Yale artist Hugh Steers made realistic figurative painting in the mid-1980s, that genre that was just so hot had gone out of style. His earliest images of gay-themed allegorical tales felt like art in search of an era.

In 1987 Steers tested positive for HIV. After that, the style of his work – a mix of Edward Hopper whimsy and Pierre Bonnard color – stayed the same as the narrative form, but the content took on a sharp focus that is evident in this beautiful painting show “Strange State of Being”. From later in his career. (Oxen died of complications from AIDS in 1995 at the age of 32.)

In some cases the environment is a hospital room and in some cases the allegorical mode still dominates. In the early 1988 “Crow”, a half-dressed man touches another man’s forehead as if feeling for signs of fever as a black bird swings toward them like an evil angel. In a later painting, “Hospital Bed” (1993), the story is simpler. A figure lies in a bed with another figure. It’s a classic Mary and Jesus Pieta, except that both characters are men, both naked, and the vulnerable man breathes oxygen through a tube.

Images like this had an immediate, living emotional weight when they first emerged during the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and reappear today during the pandemic. And that weight is different now. “I want to be able to act like that, or have someone to look after me, the way some of the people in my paintings behave or take care of one another,” Steers said in a 1994 interview. But the coronavirus has that Consoling in the extreme intimacy that it represents made almost impossible.

HOLLAND COTTER

Until April 17th. Greene Naftali, 508 West 26th Street, Manhattan; 212-463-7770, greenenaftaligallery.com.

When I stood in front of Cory Arcangel’s “/ roʊˈdeɪoʊ / Let’s Play: HOLLYWOOD” (2017-21) at Greene Naftali, I asked myself: “Why?” According to the artist, the work marks the debut of a “Deep-Q supercomputer system for machine learning that can play and learn open-ended role-playing games – in other words, a highly intelligent computer that can navigate video games with goals more vague than winning.

For his show “Century 21”, Arcangel, a multimedia artist whose conceptual continuity is technology, trained the video game “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” in which gamers try to become famous. On a big screen, I saw a figure with a blonde faux hawk and a goatee hanging around the Los Angeles airport with colored boxes and lines of emoji code flickering around him. It was boring, much like Warhol’s eight-hour film about the Empire State Building. The command center / roʊˈdeɪoʊ / – monitors, processors and cables – was placed on a nearby pedestal.

Why build such a sophisticated system just to run it through such a vapid game? Arcangel’s art sums up this question. For his legendary contribution to the 2004 Whitney Biennale, he removed “Super Mario Brothers” from every element except the clouds. With Arcangel, “why?” tends to prompt “why not?” which leads to a deeper exploration of our relationship with digital media and contemporary culture. At best, it gives us a new perspective on our own consumption habits.

He doesn’t always get it right. The video installation “elleusa, equinor, equinox, etrade_financial” (2020) shows a bot that likes every post on these Twitter accounts, which is less revealing than banal. Arcangel is spicier when it’s funny, as in “We Deliver / The King Is Checked By The Queen” (2020), in which two bots play chess over comments on corporate Instagram accounts. The intervention has a quiet absurdity that makes it seem both disturbing and like a satisfying joke.

JILLIAN STEINHAUER

Until April 10th. Galerie Eva Presenhuber, 39 Great Jones Street, Manhattan. 212-931-0711, presenhuber.com.

Lucas Blalock’s new show “Florida, 1989” is named after two events that marked his childhood. When he was 10 years old, his right thumb was severed in an accident at Disney World. and shortly thereafter the doctors replaced it with his own big toe in an experimental procedure.

The date is not the slightest. In his early 40s, Blalock is a photographer of his generation – not fully immersed in the fantastic possibilities of digital image manipulation, but also not so concerned about what those digital fantasies might say about it Medium. For him, Photoshop is just another tool available to help create large, beautiful, and often confusing still lifes. In Haunted Hearth (Witchcraft Advertisement) (2017-20), a close-up of a stone fireplace in a sticky hotel, he changes the color of the mortar and, along with his shadow, adds an additional, floating stone. For “Blep” (2020) he stuck a lifelike plastic tongue in the mouth of a toy tiger, but didn’t use any special effects at all.

This chopped up and repositioned tongue is not the only visual nod to the artist’s missing digit. There are finger-sized wooden clothespins overlaid with finger-sized black lines, and in the standout picture of the show “Reverse Titanic / Hell is in the Air” (2019), two severed plastic fish heads are locked in a strange embrace. But the real affinity between Blalock’s defining injury and his work lies in the overall tone: like a crazy accident or one-of-a-kind trauma, his images are almost too strange and vivid to make sense. They just have to be understood as facts.

WILL HEINRICH