In “Duck Soup,” Groucho Marx sang: “If any form of pleasure is exhibited,/ Report to me and it will be prohibited.”
The quote is written on a wall by the entrance of 303 Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea district and sets the mood for “Marxism,” a summer exhibition inspired by the Marx Brothers.
The show, curated by Jacob and Jens Hoffmann, combines posters, photographs, film and radio with works by Marcel Duchamp and four contemporary artists.
Harpo’s fright wig sits on a pedestal under glass, looking surprisingly diminutive. Another vitrine displays the prankster’s trumpet and knives.
In one corner, a makeshift, five-seat movie theater screens five Marx Brothers films all day long. In another, a 2010 installation by Rodney Graham pairs a film projector with an oversize cartridge that fills up with tape as the 16mm footage of a sink it shows on the wall fills up with foam.
In keeping with the Marx Brothers’ mischievous spirit, the curators hung Duchamp’s famous 1919 photo collage featuring the mustached Mona Lisa postcard upside-down -- a gesture Harpo would have undoubtedly appreciated.
The Marx Brothers paraphernalia isn’t for sale; prices for contemporary works range from $35,000 to $500,000. “Marxism” runs through Aug. 3 at 547 W. 21st St. Information: +1-212-255-1121; http://www.303gallery.com.
Walk across the street to Haunch of Venison where Walter Robinson, an artist and until recently editor-in-chief of Artnet online magazine, organized a group show called “Claxons.”
“I picked three of my friends who I thought needed some attention,” Robinson said in a telephone interview; he also has works in the show. “You’ve got to make some noise to make things happen.”
All three artists have written for Artnet, which was closed last month after 16 years.
Robert Goldman’s abstract paintings bring to mind star constellations, fireworks -- or white powder scattered over sleek surfaces.
Robinson’s four figurative paintings seduce whether their subject is a hamburger or a barely clad sex kitten. In “Dallas BBQ,” the burger looks sizzling, its cheese melted just so and tomatoes deliriously red.
The floral and geometric patterns of Elisabeth Kley’s fabulously colorful ceramic pots are echoed in her large watercolors and ink drawings hanging on the walls.
John Drury works with material as fragile as glass and as sturdy as steel. The two come together in his 1995 piece “Bucket o’Taters (for Gramps)” which includes an old steel pail filled with 44 blown-glass potatoes.
Prices range from $950 to $18,000. “Claxons” runs through Aug. 17 at 550 W. 21st St. Information: +1-212-259-0000; http://haunchofvenison.com.
A block north, at Yancey Richardson Gallery, I lingered in front of Zanele Muholi’s photograph of a black person in a revealing red bathing suit.
Its reclining pose, come-hither look and perfect hairdo made me think it was a woman. The overly muscular physique and flat chest suggested otherwise.
Ambiguity is a common thread in “Tete-a-Tete,” a group show curated by artist Mickalene Thomas. The 11 artists are black; the prevailing medium is photography. Most explore and shatter the perceptions and stereotypes surrounding the black body.
Clifford Owens, sporting nothing but a Mohawk haircut, is stretched out on a bed of rumpled white sheets, like a male odalisque.
Xaviera Simmons’s 2008 “Untitled (Pink)” depicts a scene in the woods: A black woman in a pink dress charges a mound of dirt with a wooden spear -- like a bare-chested warrior princess.
Prices range from $2,800 to $21,000. The show runs through Aug. 24 at 535 W. 22nd St. Information: +1-646-230-9610; http://www.yanceyrichardson.com.
Muse highlights include Richard Vines on dining and James Pressley on business books.