The hot city summer is just around the corner, the Knicks are mercurial as ever, and labor union art handlers are still out of work. New Yorkers have reason to complain. An apt occasion to gripe about the Scrooge McDucks of the art world came and went: the first New York edition of Frieze. The fair also provided galleries with the salacious opportunity to show just how garish they can really be. However, with all of the social and political opposition to opulent displays of the ultra-wealthy, it should come as no surprise that many galleries did not take that route this May. But changes in the art world are bound to occur at moments like this: call it historical inevitability. Whatever the causal factors may be, several galleries in NYC have mounted eloquent and penetrating exhibitions, and the shows represented here are laden with the spirit of a protest, each one more singular and exciting than the next.

Heavily hyped for her first outing at a new gallery is Dana Schutz’s "Piano in the Rain" at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Schutz’s pictorial fictions are replete with her familiar brand of alterity, though in this sequence the figures seem more comprehensive than previous efforts. For instance, Building the Boat while Sailing (2012), the largest and perhaps most accomplished work in the show is a fictionalized version of Géricault’s sensationalized The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819). In Schutz’s painting, however, the viewer is given a quizzical narrative that, as her title suggests, has a cast of characters enjoyably constructing the ship they are on with ease, avoiding the cannibalism that takes place in the original—not that Schutz’s conclusion to the scene is any better than Géricault’s. Hers rather simply hits on the moral of working together to make things better (instead of devouring one another at an art fair, for instance). Schutz’s new paintings are gratifying, strictly speaking, because it is easy to imagine yourself in the scenes she sets. They unfold like Aesop’s fables with the characters playing each moralistic situation to its consequence, giving viewers the chance to recognize and mirror the lessons learned.

For Tauba Auerbach’s first solo at Paula Cooper Gallery, she’s showing some of her most acclaimed works, the "Fold" paintings. Deceivingly simple, they are created by folding the canvas and spraying the wrinkles with an industrial sprayer; then they are re-stretched to show delusive shadows on the now-flat surface. Works like these are what Auerbach excels at. She assembles a series of works that are stunning to look at and then moves on to a new series before they get a whiff of staleness. The new works in this show called "Float" are woven canvases (which kind of resemble shoelaces woven into patterns). She seems to constantly strive for bodies of work built on scruples of abstraction, save for her letter and alphabet works, that is. Moreover, her engagement with seriality opens the door to a fecund path of work that will keep her admirers satisfied. Also on display are blocks of onyx that have been sculpted so as to resemble open books. Pleasingly, they strive to exist as objects of pleasure by virtue of their disconnectedness from the familiar.

Over at Elizabeth Dee, Philippe Decrauzat mounts his second solo show of works informed by minimalist tropes. Decrauzat, a Swiss artist, has a style of working that recalls Americans like Bridget Riley and Robert Morris as well as Europeans like Martin Barré (the French painter of minimal geometric shapes and lines who showed at Andrew Kreps Gallery last year). But his style is so laden with anachronisms that it is hard to determine where historical veracity ends and Decrauzat begins, though his work is decidedly nowhere near obsolescence. Vertical wavy optical illusion paintings and large austere X’s (among other symbols) are just a few of the metonyms in 20th century art that Decrauzat trods upon. In the rear room of the gallery, as is customary to so many Elizabeth Dee exhibitions, is a video projection. Even his video is referential to early modes of specific styles of film—namely, the structural films of Paul Sharits or Tony Conrad. By no means is Decrauzat’s oeuvre a complete success (and we have yet to see if it will be a resilient one), but it is still interesting and engaging enough for its historical reverence.

Real historical reverence is the overriding tone at Gavin Brown's enterprise where several large video works by Sturtevant are on view in her exhibition called "Rock & Rap /c Simulacra." When one enters the gallery, they are greeted by a large looping video with a bright red curtain covering and uncovering the words "Elastic Tango" with a heavy bass-and-drum beat playing repetitively. Further on are two large projections, one with footage alternating between televangelist shows, TV commercials, reworkings of Paul McCarthy’s iconic Painter (1995), an image of René Descartes, among other things. The other is saturated with slow moving shots of flowers and nature from stock footage (including iStockvideo and BBC Motion Gallery), while the beat drones on overhead. But perhaps the most engaging work in the show is an upside-down pyramid of flat-screen monitors showing a rapid flux of standard television fare, ranging from clips of stuffed animals talking at the monitor to the American flag floating in the wind, to Betty Boop and a pair of glammed-up sneakers. The clips are a dizzying combination of involuntary channel surfing and Proustian memory exorcises—the images drudge up shameful memories of being a channel-changing lump in front of the television as a child or, for that matter, an adult. (It happens.)

"A picture is a fact," says Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—and that’s what should be the title of Lisa Oppenheim’s new show at Harris Lieberman, which is actually, disappointingly, titled "Equivalents." An exhibit of new photographs based on variations of a single image or theme—lace, smoke, or the moon—Oppenheim’s most exciting works (indeed most of the works in this show) are pervasive smoke-filled images, with long titles like Man holding large camera photographing a cataclysmic event, possibly a volcano erupting. 1908/2012 (Version IV) (2012), based on found images dating between 1876 to 2011 that show several instances of the same black-and-white picture. The image is recognizable as billowing smoke, with each version far darker or lighter than the next one, makes it look as if she’s recorded the stages of a severe fire. Oppenheim’s abstraction in photography feels original; and her works do not overlap with each other—each one is a fact that offers a different conclusion.

One of the more efficacious exhibitions that opened this past week is Hans Schabus’s "Let’s Call It Heimat" at Simon Preston Gallery. The main work is a wall-sized projection called Atelier, wherein the gun battle from the 1969 Western film The Wild Bunch is reenacted with the gun-toters strangely missing. It is like a survey on perceptions: must the viewer actually see the battle, or is the quick-cut camera work enough? The footage that Schabus uses is totally underwhelming with his banal shots of chairs, walls, roofs, etc., and one wonders if it is the sound that is the real catalyst for emotional reaction. Indeed, Schabus’s show is typical of the shows this month: lots to offer by way of serious contemplation of the standards we accept. There’s change in the air: the presence of humor in some of the shows (like Sturtevant’s or Schabus’s deadpan swipe [though I felt it was deadly serious]), seems indicative of a new truth, crouching patiently around the corner. New York feels a little cool from the varied contentions, but many of the works are congruent with the ardor of worthy concerns without being didactic or aggressive. There are no absolute signs of change yet, but the seeds have been planted and summer, in any case, is just around the corner.