Fine art has for decades now tended to be circumspect in its concerns — as witness recent offhand conceptual sculptures about how our consumerist cornucopia crushes our delicate souls. But pulp art's descendants use their entertainment to get away with contemplating torture, war, biotech, and civil rights in television like 24 and Battlestar Galactica, the Harry Potter books, and movies like The Road, 28 Days Later, Cloverfield, and Children of Men.

Consider New Worlds, Paul Stahr's 1932 painting of a man standing atop a Manhattan skyscraper as some force (an earthquake?) shatters and topples the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and the city floods. It's the nebulous terrors of the 1930s — economic collapse, threats of war — made specific and concrete. Update the clothing and Stahr's painting could be a poster for the 2004 climate-change thriller The Day After Tomorrow, in which New York is smashed by sudden flooding and freezing. Or it could just as well be a post 9/11 anxiety dream.

Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal 

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