Having thoroughly scoured Miami three months ago and the Armory a year before that, I decided to forego the Big Top this time around, and focused instead on a couple of mini-fairs (Volta, The Independent) and on the galleries in Chelsea. This was not exactly a "smaller is better" expedition; it was an effort to come to terms with New York galleries' efforts to put on some of their best exhibitions at a moment during the year when all the hype seems to be about a what is essentially a trade fair.


INSTALL SHOT COURTESY MITCHELL INNES & NASH


At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, I discovered that I really do like the work of renowned Los Angeles sculptor Martin Kersels. Until this current exhibition (closes Saturday), his first New York solo in a decade, which comprises of more or less portable objects, I'd always been more puzzled than engaged by Kersels' often sprawling installations, unable to discern what distinguished his work from that of better-known, slightly older peers like Chris Burden and Paul McCarthy. In this aptly titled "Stacks, Charms and Flotsam," however, wit and subtlety prevail over what at first seem to be simple combinations of found objects and suburban detritus, but are transformed into elegant chandeliers and delicate drawings through some subtle alchemy.

Over at Magnan Metz, local maritime hero Duke Riley—he's the one who staged the naval battle at Queens Museum a couple of years ago between boats representing different New York museums—continues his investigation of hidden and/or contested bodies of water in Two Riparian Tales of Undoing (through April 9), which transports forgotten urban legends into the middle of Chelsea. A pair of projects that explore, respectively, the Kingsbury Run, a prehistoric underground stream now buried beneath the streets of Cleveland, and Petty's Island, a tiny island in the Delaware River that passed from private ownership to the hands of oil conglomerate CITGO, the exhibition is an all-encompassing hybrid of sculpture, video, hobo art, trespassing and vandalism, all grounded by Riley's deft folkloric drawings made on canary paper.

Critical consensus seems to be that Francesco Vezzoli—he of the trailer for an impossible remake of Caligula starring Courtney Love—has fallen on his face with the current body of work, Sacrilegio, at Gagosian (closes Saturday). I beg to differ. Since organizing Vezzoli's first New York solo exhibition at the New Museum in 2002 [the gallery's press release inaccurately claims this as his first], I have been enamored of how successfully his art manages to push the art world's buttons. The decadent display sees the cherished faces of movie stars and supermodels patched over those of traditional renderings of the Virgin Mary. Each is then emblazoned with custom jewelry and goofy metallic needlepoint, entombed in a biomorphic frame, and hung in its own mini-grotto. The composite delivers a hefty blow to our fervent belief that we as art professionals are serious trailblazers of culture. In Vezzoli's over-the-top send-up, we are merely the latest in an endless history of rubber-neckers, our infatuation with fame separating us from the world of supermarket tabloids by a pose of studied indifference that's only slightly more credible than lip gloss.


FRANCESCO VEZZOLI, CRYING PORTRAIT OF WILHEMINA AS A RENAISSANCE MADONNA WITH HOLY CHILD (AFTER LEONARDO),2010. COURTESY GAGOSIAN GALLERY.