Late-Night Gallerygoing in Midtown

Tonight, 65 galleries clustered around 57th Street (plus the Rizzoli bookstore) will keep their doors open after their usual closing times, inviting in the public until 8 as part of the area's first-ever "Gallery Night," which has been organized by the Nohra Haime Gallery. There is a lot to see. Here is ARTINFO’s plan of attack.

“Jackie Matisse – Heads and Tails: Homage to Merce”
Zone: Contemporary Art, 41 West 57th St., 2nd Floor
In the late ’50s, Marcel Duchamp was a midtown resident, secretly plotting his tant donnés (1946-66) in an apartment at 327 East 58th. Just a few blocks away to the west, Zone: Contemporary Art is showing a complete stage set by his stepdaughter, Jackie Matisse, which she designed for the dance company of the late choreographer Merce Cunningham. The colorful banners and elegant kites that hang from the ceiling and glide through the space look like artisanal versions of Calder mobiles or miniature, more stable Tinguely machines. Matisse (granddaughter of Henri) is steeped in history but not confined by it. She’s offering art but also participation: painted fans that visitors can use to set her delicate sculptures in motion.

“Brassaï – Paris in the '30s: Early Prints
Edwynn Houk Gallery, 745 Fifth Ave., 4th Floor
Just around the corner and across Fifth Avenue, the Edwynn Houk Gallery is showing photographs of Paris in the ’30s by the Transylvanian master Brassaï, who took up the art in the first year of that decade only to illustrate his journalism work. He learned quickly, earning the admiration of the Surrealists for the deadpan romance he found in the city’s seedy nightlife. Brassaï’s camera meets a smirking prostitute at Chez Suzy, catches couples laughing between cigarettes in bistro mirrors, and wanders the Tuileries at night. André Breton reportedly wanted to claim him as one of the Surrealists, but this show proves that his interests were too multifarious for easy co-optation.

Fernando Botero: Madamoiselle Riviere #2”
Susan Aberbach Fine Art, 41 East 57th St., 14th Floor
Back on 57th Street and a few more steps to the east, Susan Aberbach is showing a large portrait by Fernando Botero — another artist who resists ready classification — from the late 1970s. Back then, some whispered that the drug lords of Colombia, the artist’s home country, were collectors of his portraits of balloon women, which commanded impressive prices despite the derision of high-minded New York critics. His topsy-turvy, curvilinear world may have been too lighthearted — too fun — for them. Botero recently responded to those concerns with a series of baffling Abu Ghraib paintings that suggest a forced attempt to convey gravitas. He’s at his best here, brazenly hunting for sublimity in unrepentant kitsch.

Sol LeWitt: Forms Derived From a Cube”; "Sol LeWitt";“Classical & Tribal Art: Important New Acquisitions”
PaceWildenstein, Pace Prints, Pace Primitive, 32 East 57th St., 2nd, 3rd, and 7th Floors
On the south side of the street, 32 East 57th is a solid first stop, home to four outposts of the mighty Pace empire. On the 2nd floor, PaceWildenstein, the jewel in the Glimcher crown, has classic wall drawings by Sol LeWitt. Viewers who need more of the Minimalist master’s work can venture up one floor to Pace Prints, which has his geometric works on paper (and in frames), all ready to be taken home. A final elevator ride to the 7th floor reveals the evening’s most unusual offering: recently acquired “tribal” and ancient art set alongside some of the modernist work it inspired at Pace Primitive.

“Tim Davis: The New Antiquity”
Greenberg Van Doren Gallery
, 730 Fifth Ave., 7th Floor
Back on Fifth Avenue, Tim Davis is also looking for peculiar juxtapositions between the ancient and the modern world, photographing Rome, the eastern U.S., and China with an amused fascination. Khaki-clad executives golf next to a Roman aqueduct in one photo, and a crumbling sphinx statue guards a towering, concrete apartment building in another. His images of prostitutes outside Beijing’s Ring Road would have pleased Brassaï. Everyday life in disparate locations has never looked so uncannily familiar.

“Simon Ungers: Light Works”
Gering & López, 730 Fifth Ave., 6th Floor
After so much history and figuration — so much of the world — Gering & López provides a comparatively somber, silent exhibition a floor below: large columns of light designed by Simon Ungers before his death in 2006. They’re soothing, ennobled memorials to the artist and architect, an elegiac tribute rendered from his own preparatory sketches.

“Jeff Wall”
Marian Goodman, 24 West 57th St., 4th Floor
Ungers became more intrigued by light as his career progressed, but Jeff Wall seems to be losing that interest. His new photographs at Marian Goodman hang without his traditional light boxes, sitting in simple frames that fit his increasingly spare subject matter. Police comb a house for evidence in Search of Premises (2008), while Knife Throw (2008) shows a shirtless, tattooed man performing just the action of the title. One knife floats in the air, just about to cut into the wall’s pink paint. Wall carefully constructs every detail of his scenes but leaves only faint traces of troubling narratives.

“Abstract Expressionism, Part II: Sculpture”
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery 24 West 57th St., 7th Floor
A few floors up, Michael Rosenfeld provides a soothing coda to the evening with a show devoted to sculpture by the Abstract Expressionists who once dominated the neighborhood. (Peggy Guggenheim sold Pollocks for a few hundred dollars just across the street at her Art of This Century gallery in the 1940s.) Rosenfeld defines Ab-Ex loosely (a questionable denomination for sculpture, anyway) and thus sneaks in the show’s finest gems from surprising names like Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, and Louise Nevelson. A small John Chamberlain dated 1965 is another questionable, though glorious, inclusion. It looks like a juicy orange frozen in mid-explosion.

Leaving 57th Street
The hardest part of the evening may be deciding how to leave 57th Street. Those still hungry for art can wander north to the southeast corner of Central Park, where collector Adam Lindemann has kindly placed a massive, candy-colored Franz West sculpture that he owns, or rush south to catch the New Museums show of Emory Douglass Black Panther propaganda before it closes Oct. 18. A special bonus: Admission on Thursday nights is free.

Alternatively, those looking for a delicious dessert to end the evening’s stroll can head east. Turkish café chain Güllüoglu — which dates back to the 1850s — has opened only its second American shop at 52nd and Second and offers over a dozen varieties of baklava and potent Turkish coffee. The west, though, harbors perhaps the most attractive, indulgent nightcap: Thomas Kellers Bouchon Bakery on the Time Warner Center’s third floor. Grab a glass jar of foie gras with a toasted baguette or a bag of macarons and glance out into the ground-floor lobby for a final pleasure: two towering, Botero statues, standing naked in all of their silent, bulbous glory.