Critics’ Picks

Max Greis, Forbidden City, 2015, collage and acrylic on panel, 32 x 48".

New York

Max Greis

Pavel Zoubok Gallery
531 West 26th Street
April 23–May 23

In Sanskrit, samsara denotes the endlessly repeating cycle of birth, life, and death, the quality that is, according to Buddhist philosophy, determined by individuals’ actions. Max Greis illustrates this concept in an impressive exhibition of eighteen mixed-media artworks. He packs myriad scenes and tiny details into apocalyptic panoramas that evoke history, war, conquest, development, and environmental devastation.

While from a distance the compositions appear as moody landscapes that evoke Constable or Turner, close viewing reveals the influence of Bosch and Breugel. Where the Buffalo Roamed, 2015, depicts a surreal palimpsest of North America’s occupants: Native Americans and herds of bison, teepees and Conestoga wagons, give way to soldiers, cars, and military barracks. Terraced fields and industrial installations give rise to piles of garbage and the leisurely bourgeoisie. Nearby is the Oklahoma Land Office, a launching rocket, and a satellite dish, deftly evoking a century and a half of exploration and expansion. Above it all fly small planes, fighter jets, and birds of prey. Heaven, hell, animals, humans, titans, and hungry ghosts—the six realms of existence described in Buddhism—are all here.

In several works, Greis projects video footage onto the panels, perfectly matched to the landscapes in scale and perspective, adding yet more layers of time and history. And on a shelf, a row of dioramas set into vintage books extends the exhibition’s themes, with book titles providing ironic commentary: The Future as History, Outside In, Strange Animals I Have Known, Carved in Sand, Only in America, Beyond the Summit.