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NEW YORK — When aesthetic electricity strikes, you feel it in your body. When it strikes twice, it becomes a mental problem too: You are forced to make sense of the coincidence.

This is exactly what happened to me when I recently scoured the galleries in Chelsea, Manhattan’s art district.

Strike No. 1 came at the Dia Art Foundation’s Chelsea venue, where I encountered – for the second time in several months – Delcy Morelos’ “El abrazo,” or “The Embrace.” “The Embrace” is heavy, both in reality and in the imagination, as any good hugger should know. Made of earth and clay, it fills a huge, hangar-like space. But oddly, at least in the imagination, it is also light.

Strike No. 2 came down the street at Matthew Marks’ gallery, where the celebrated sculptor Charles Ray is showing, among two other works, “Everyone Takes Off Their Pants at Least Once a Day,” a 9-foot-tall sculpture of a woman undressing. Made of handmade paper, the sculpture feels incredibly, tremulously light – as fleeting and disembodied as blinking harbor lights. But it is also large – larger than life. And the woman’s pose – she is shown leaning forward – makes us very aware of body weight. (When do we feel heavier than when we take off our pants, first with one cumbersome leg, then the other?)

Then, in quick succession, on 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, I saw a work that is heavy in fact but light in the imagination, and another that is light in fact but heavy in the spirit. What am I to make of both?

El abrazo is a massive, ziggurat-like structure. Its walls float about a foot above the ground, rising at a slight angle to a large skylight. They are made of earth, clay and coir (fibers from the outer shell of the coconut) mixed with spices like cinnamon and cloves, giving the whole a rich, cakey scent. Pale straw protrudes from its crumbly surfaces like the individual bristles of a huge old Swede on vacation in Spain.

Morelos is from Tierralta, Colombia. She is in her late 50s and her two installations in New York (the other in an adjacent room is called “Cielo terrenal,” or “Earthly Sky”) mark her U.S. debut. She is also the subject of a solo exhibition at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis.

You can’t see El abrazo all at once. You only grasp its shape once you’ve walked around it. On one side, Morelos has let the walls recede at an acute angle, creating a narrowing corridor that you can walk into until the walls seem to enclose you and touch you – to embrace you. Elsewhere, it’s as if these outer earthen walls are pushing the rectilinear shell of the building outward.

Many will be reminded by this work of Walter De Maria’s “The New York Earth Room,” a 250-cubic-meter earth dump that has been on permanent display in a Wooster Street apartment in Manhattan since 1977 under the direction of the Dia Art Foundation. Perhaps it also reminds them of Richard Serra’s huge walk-in steel sculptures or James Turrell’s light-using architectural environments.

It is noteworthy that one is allowed – and even encouraged – to touch “El abrazo” in order to return the installation’s embrace. Leaning into its gentle incline and applying pressure with one’s hands, one can feel its fragile texture and sharp edges, the pieces that cling to one another and those that split, calve and crumble.

The size of the thing makes it seem massive and implacable, but the smell of the spices and the delicacy of the straw both enhance the effect of something that, despite its tonnage, is fragile and almost ephemeral. Watching “El abrazo” in Manhattan, overwhelmed by a riot of right angles and the massive weight of towering architecture with deep foundations, Morelos’ earthy, biological intervention feels like the antidote you didn’t know you needed. To me, it feels like a masterpiece.

The same goes for Ray’s “Everyone Takes Off Their Pants at Least Once a Day.” Viewed from across the nearly empty gallery, the woman’s sculpture looks as if it were carved from marble. (In the same gallery, closer to the entrance, two apparent corpses on heavy slabs are actually carved from marble: the work, also by Ray, is called “Two Dead Guys.”) So it’s a surprise to see that it’s actually made from handmade paper.

The paper looks seductively soft and textured up close, but you’re fully aware that if you leaned against her she’d collapse immediately (which of course happens a lot when your legs get caught in your jeans!).

The woman’s face is eyeless and indistinct, like the smooth sculptures of Medardo Rosso or the unfinished-looking figures that Rodin had his studio assistants carve in marble from clay models. (Ray also uses contract manufacturers.)

Her pose recalls Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1783 “La Frileuse,” a sculpture of a woman wrapped in a shawl, naked from the waist down, and bent against the cold – an allegory of winter. Ray’s woman also recalls Degas’ more modern, naughty, off-kilter visions of women getting out of the bath, drying themselves off, or tying ballet shoes.

I’ve struggled with Ray’s smooth, conceptually overloaded sculptures before. But this work is truly genius. It occupies the space like a ghostly puzzle. It’s not just an impossible thing that has become reality. It’s more like a thing that was on its way to becoming reality, but still existed in the mind rather than the flesh, and then abruptly became reality before it was quite ready. If you look (and it’s really hard to look away!), there’s a silent slip between two modes – palpably real and merely imagined – with the result that several walls separating parts of your brain simply give way.

“El abrazo” (“The Embrace”) by Delcy Morelos Until July 20 at Dia Chelsea, 537 W. 22nd St., New York. www.diaart.org.

“Everyone takes off their trousers at least once a day” by Charles Ray Until June 29 at the Matthew Marks Gallery, 522 W. 22nd St., New York. matthewmarks.com.

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