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For Art Lovers, a Chelsea Morning

These pictures imply a nation that's been Hollywoodized from top to bottom. Set in the landscape of our Manifest Destiny, Le's photos suggest a world where the imagined and the real might sometimes be confused. They make me wonder if American self-image might sometimes trump realpolitik.

At Murray Guy gallery through Oct. 16. Call 212-463-7372 or visit www.murrayguy.com.

The new paintings of New Yorker Will Cotton, on show at Mary Boone, are either the dumbest works now on the scene or as smart as anyone could wish.

For some time now, Cotton's trademark photo-realistic pictures have shown landscapes made entirely of sweets -- cotton-candy clouds, almond-bark riverbanks, penny-candy forests -- which he builds as dioramas, then photographs and finally renders in paint on massive canvases. In his latest body of work, Cotton has taken these sugary settings and inserted a luscious naked woman into the middle of each one.

Cotton's new pictures are so immediately offensive to anyone who thinks women are more than just toothsome morsels -- so gross in their political obtuseness -- that there has to be more to them than meets the eye. I can't believe that even the crassest billionaire collector could see a naked black woman lounging in a pool of vanilla ice cream as the normal stuff of art, no matter how deliciously she's painted.

I prefer to read Cotton's latest work as a kind of allegory for painting's current predicament. Many of the canvases typically on view in Chelsea are nothing more than saccharine confections, so Cotton has decided to go with the flow and produce the ultimate in high-calorie, nutrient-free art. By pushing through and well beyond the bounds of good taste, Cotton has simply extended the logic of Chelsea's more tasteful canvases and shown the empty premises they're built on.

Unfortunately, my reading also risks letting Cotton and his collectors have their cheesecake and eat it, too.

At Mary Boone Gallery through Oct. 23. Call 212-752-2929 or visit www.maryboonegallery.com.

Wolfgang Staehle is the German-born Internet artist, long based in New York, whose video installation famously captured live footage of the World Trade Center as it burned and then collapsed.

During his latest show at Postmasters gallery, Staehle will be presenting more peaceable live action -- or so we have to hope.

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