X Initiative, Phase 3
548 West 22nd Street
Through Jan. 16
During its yearlong tenancy in Dia’s former quarters, the nonprofit X Initiative has focused primarily on large-scale one-person shows and is doing so again in its third and final program with an Artur Zmijewski survey on the second floor and a Hans Haacke solo show on the fourth. Sandwiched between them, though, is a solid group exhibition called “Ecstatic Resistance,” organized by the artist Emily Roysdon.
Ms. Roysdon’s title connotes a spirit of Zen activism, with absurdity substituting for ideology, but with politics still in the picture. In a 1973 video called “Solidarity,” the Canadian artist Joyce Wieland (1931-1998) films a rally of striking union workers by keeping her camera trained not on the strikers’ faces but on their constantly moving feet.
And in a video made earlier this year, Jeanine Oleson, assisted by a troupe of zany helpers, is seen burning an enormous sage stick on the steps of the Federal Building in Lower Manhattan to fumigate Wall Street of bad vibrations.
If you missed the remarkable installation of found signage — 2008 campaign posters, real-estate advertisements, personal protests — that Sharon Hayes planted in Marble Cemetery in the East Village for a few days in October, you’ll find a condensed reprise of it here. You’ll also have a chance to revisit Yael Bartana’s well-traveled and powerful film “Mary Koszmary,” in which an actor playing a left-wing Polish politician delivers a speech in an all-but-deserted sports stadium, exhorting his country to bring back Jews driven out in World War II.
In a series of scathing political cartoons, Juan Davila, born in Chile, now living in Australia, offers a portrait of the Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar as a mixed-race transsexual.
The images of women in a mural-size photo installation by A. L. Steiner would probably be labeled exploitive if produced by a male, but within a lesbian-feminist context they take on a different, more ambiguous reading.
Other work reveals its political edge slowly. Filmed performances by the Los Angeles collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon and Alexandro Segade, working with Liudni Slibinai) start out looking winsome enough but feel more aggressive the longer you watch. Xylor Jane’s abstract line drawings interrupt exquisiteness with a static of glitches. And Ulrike Müller’s day-in-the-life audio monologue does something like the same thing as it veers from the prosaic to the erotic and back.
Rosa Barba’s fantasy film about an island that drifts off to sea, despite all efforts to anchor it, seems free of commentary subtexts, but still meets the requirement Ms. Roysdon asks of art: to knock the pins out from under tyrant logic and clear a space where difference can thrive.