Pigment prints of the sleepers and dreamers of Varanasi, India, line the walls of Pace/MacGill Gallery for the exhibit “Fazal Sheikh: Ether” (opening September 7). If a person dies on the Ganges River, his or her soul is believed to dissolve into the five elements (earth, air, water, fire, ether), freeing it from the eternal cycle of reincarnation. This is why Hindus pilgrimage to Varanasi, the sacred city also known as Banaras. Sheikh’s elusive images, soft in both color and calm, illuminate Varanasi’s nighttime peace—infants in maternity wards, a sleeper under a purple blanket (pictured above), the dead in the cremation ghats near the Ganges—as the lifecycles of its inhabitants pause. September 7 through October 20; 32 E. 57th St., #9; 212-759-7999; pacemacgill.com.
The stuff of those dreams—the abstract bending of nature—is on view downtown at Bruce Silverstein Gallery, where “Seven Americans” revisits Alfred Stieglitz’s landmark 1924 show at his Gallery 291 in New York. The original show sought to define a vision of what American art was, or could be, and exhibited the penetrating, abstract works of five painters and two photographers: Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, Paul Strand and Stieglitz himself, who exhibited his photographs of clouds (Songs of the Sky). The most dreamlike images here, surprisingly, are the photographs: Strand’s eloquent still lifes of driftwood (pictured here) and Stieglitz’s brooding skies. The paintings—refracted, perceptual landscapes by Marin, for instance, and O’Keeffe’s dramatic leaf paintings—ground the photos. “Seven Americans” calls up the ghost of Stieglitz’s original show, but the entire effect ultimately constitutes an apparition of the American landscape. September 6 through October 20; 535 W. 24th St.; 212-627-3930; brucesilverstein.com.