Barry Schwabsky

  • passages July 17, 2019

    Warren Niesluchowski (1946–2019)

    IN EARLY MAY I started to receive emails from friends who were at the professional viewing days for the Venice Biennale. No, they weren’t wondering where I was, why I wasn’t there. They were asking, instead, if I knew anything about the whereabouts of the one person without whom such an event felt incomplete: Did I know if Warren Niesluchowski was coming?

    Warren wouldn’t be making it to Venice this time, I had to tell them. He was in a hospital bed in New York—the latest (and, it would turn out, the last) of the many temporary accommodations he’d had the use of over the past two decades.

    Why so

  • Sangram Majumdar

    Certain artists settle easily and without trepidation into a credible style that allows them to proceed in an unencumbered, linear fashion; Sangram Majumdar is apparently not among them. A decade ago, it made sense for the critic Jennifer Samet to discuss the Kolkata-born New Yorker’s work under the rubric “painterly representation”; at that time his art was rather academic in character, with an affinity for restrained color enlivened by a sensitive touch. Fellow painter Kyle Staver noted—and not without admiration—“a stubborn and humorless aspect” to this approach. By 2013, Majumdar had mostly

  • Bernard Gilardi

    The poet and critic Parker Tyler, in the 1943 issue of View magazine titled “America Fantastica,” observed that the fantastic in art, “while primitive, is also sophisticated, since it makes direct appeal to that anarchy of elements which binds the most rational man to the lunatic.” I believe Tyler would have immediately recognized Bernard Gilardi as an artist of this stripe, and, if labels are useful at all, I find this a more informative way to explain what kind of artist he was than trotting out more conventional rubrics such as outsider, self-taught, or naïve. Born in 1920, Gilardi spent his

  • Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

    “In Lieu of a Louder Love,” Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s exhibition of twenty-six paintings—including two diptychs and a quadriptych—occupied both of Jack Shainman Gallery’s Chelsea spaces. These imaginary portraits conveyed a timelessness, a sense that they might have been made either a hundred years ago or just the other day. Yiadom-Boakye’s work does not elicit mere nostalgia; it evokes a sense of inward reflection, less affected by immediate sensations than by what’s been brooding in the soul. Although the artist relies on imagination rather than observation, she still uses photographs and other

  • Jennifer Packer

    Jennifer Packer’s paintings come, she has said, from “observation, improvisation, and memory.” That sounds a bit like realism, abstraction, and symbolism all at once—or maybe at different times of day? It’s a tall order, but her recent exhibition “Quality of Life” bore that out. Although what she paints—people, flowers—might sound limited, she can do pretty much anything she wants with her medium of choice (and with charcoal), and she allows herself the freedom to range widely in form and feeling, and sees more in her subjects than others might notice.

    A striking example was Jess, 2018, an

  • Cecily Brown

    The massive 2017 triptych that gives this show its title, Where, When, How Often and with Whom, is a complex but inscrutable composition. Its left canvas depicts what appears to be a shipwreck (or at least a vessel tossed on a storm), while the center is occupied by a mass of figures who direct their apparently alarmed attention not at the foundering vessel but outward at the viewer (unless we are to imagine a shift in viewpoint, so that the viewer is at sea with the boat); on the right, a single figure lies sprawled out with another kneeling alongside. The painting brings to mind the refugees

  • Raoul de Keyser

    THE PIANIST CRAIG TABORN described how, observing the venerable Art Ensemble of Chicago as a young man, the group’s five members would warm up, practice, and start playing backstage before the show, so that “by the time the concert began the music had already been happening . . . they were simply bringing it out with them.” Likewise, Raoul De Keyser’s art gives the distinct impression of having been carried from somewhere upriver, of having coalesced long before taking form on canvas—and of lingering in the air even after you’ve stopped looking at it. When De Keyser began to gain a reputation

  • Gregor Hildebrandt

    If unheard melodies are sweet, as John Keats says, there was abundant sweetness in the imposing “total environment” Gregor Hildebrandt realized for his second New York exhibition. The Berlin-based artist has long specialized in outdated recording media—most notably cassette tapes and vinyl records—focusing not on their capacity for storing and conveying sound, but instead employing them as mute materials, elements with which to create paintings and sculptures that have music buried within them. The choice of media would seem restrictive, but by showing the impressive range of formal effects he

  • René Daniëls

    WHAT I REMEMBER from the couple of shows René Daniëls (then not using the diaeresis in his name) did in New York in the mid-1980s is mainly feeling puzzled. The paintings were representational, and—if I recall correctly—mostly without figures. They more than flirted with abstraction, and they were shown at a gallery, Metro Pictures, that seemed to maintain a distinctly antipainting stance. At the time, these camps—the neo-expressionists, the abstractionists, and the Pictures crowd—seemed utterly at odds, and yet this artist shared something with all of them and none. Whose

  • Tala Madani

    In “Corner Projections,” Tala Madani’s recent exhibition of paintings and animation, the blunt, raunchy, and cartoony directness of attack that characterized her previous New York show, in 2010, was not entirely gone from her pictorial tool kit, but the paintings here were much more oblique. Stylistically, she’s dialed down her palette and added elements of illusionism. Most of the new paintings were in shades of gray, sometimes with a few small patches of prismatic color. As well, the artist provided some tricky light effects, which rendered the works a bit too slick at times, yet all the more

  • “NEO RAUCH: AUS DEM BODEN/ FROM THE FLOOR”

    Curated by Brett Littman and Jeff Fleming with Amber Harper

    Speaking about his studio, Neo Rauch has commented that “it is necessary to enter this place in a state of psychological and physical ventilation.” One might adopt the same mindset when approaching his paintings, entangled as they can be in the dank and heavy meshes of inexpressible histories. One aerated mode of entry might be through his drawings, here granted their first extensive American exhibition, in collaboration with the Des Moines Art Center. The 179 items on view, dating from 1994 to 2017, should give a clear idea of what

  • Ralph Humphrey

    By the time Ralph Humphrey (then in his fifties) came to my attention in the late 1980s, he was already known as a painter’s painter, and this reputation only increased after his death in 1990. He remains for a certain cohort “someone to aspire to, and someone I want to continue the conversation with,” as painter and critic Stephen Westfall explained in 2012.

    I never fell in with this sentiment. Yes, Humphrey’s odd color choices could linger with the viewer like a musky perfume, but beyond that I could never get the hang of his work. Its heavily built-up relief surfaces, which for Westfall are

  • Keith Sonnier

    It comes as a surprise that “Keith Sonnier: Until Today,” a selection of thirty-nine works made between 1967 and this year, really is “the first comprehensive museum survey to consider the arc of this iconic artist’s achievement,” as curator Jeffrey Grove writes in the catalogue. After all, Sonnier has been a renowned figure for five decades; by thirty he’d exhibited at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also participated in legendary shows such as Lucy Lippard’s “Eccentric Abstraction” at New York’s Fischbach Gallery in

  • Tim Maul

    Similar in age to the younger members of the Pictures generation, Tim Maul practices a form of photography that reflects something of the group’s aesthetic of suspicion, along with an adherence to a legacy of “art” (Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol) rather than “photography” (Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson). And yet I can’t help thinking that, just as Russian literature came, according to Dostoevsky, out of Gogol’s overcoat, Maul’s sense of photography fell from William Eggleston’s red ceiling.

    Maul finds his subjects in places more than in things, and in things more than in people, as the title

  • Grit Richter

    The work of Hamburg-based Grit Richter encompasses painting, sculpture, and installation (she is also a veteran of her city’s underground electronic-music scene), but her recent exhibition “The Space Between Us” put the emphasis firmly on painting. In fact, one of the works was titled Forever Now, 2018, name checking the controversial 2014–15 state-of-the-art-of-painting survey at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In this ensemble, the painting seemed to reinterpret the MOMA exhibition’s cyberpunk-derived theme of “atemporality” as, I think, a kind of classic space opera. Whereas Laura Hoptman,

  • Robert Bittenbender

    Looking at Robert Bittenbender’s assemblages and works on paper, you’d almost think that there is still some kind of bohemia in New York, that somewhere out there a few artists are trying to live their lives in the interstices of the market economy, breathing life into its detritus, taking Apollinaire’s famous advice to “paint with whatever material

    you please, with pipes, postage stamps, postcards or playing cards, candelabra, pieces of oil cloth, collars, painted paper, newspapers.” Bittenbender’s exhibition “Cosmo Freak” included six pieces, all dated 2018: two wall-hung, three-dimensional

  • “ROCHELLE FEINSTEIN: IMAGE OF AN IMAGE”

    Part of a slow-moving wave of late-blooming, venturously eclectic New York painters who are widely esteemed by fellow practitioners but who, despite increasing international renown, have still not quite found the public they deserve—Chris Martin and Dona Nelson also come to mind—Rochelle Feinstein is probably the most politically feisty of the lot. She uses abstract painting to question just about everything, and then uses just about anything to question abstract painting. Following on the heels of a three-venue German/Swiss retrospective in 2015–16, this exhibition,

  • Zoe Pettijohn Schade

    The seven densely layered paintings on paper that made up Zoe Pettijohn Schade’s exhibition “Shifting Sets” produced a distinctly disorienting effect, especially since the works themselves, all sixty by forty inches, were hung close together in Kai Matsumiya’s small storefront space. There was something dizzying about their shifting patterns, and about the way so many of the multitudinous images out of which those patterns are formed seemed to want to jump out and fix themselves in the viewer’s gaze as individually significant; they kept the viewer’s eye and mind off-balance. In some ways,

  • Bice Lazzari

    Those who appreciate the art of Nasreen Mohamedi or Agnes Martin—artists whose pursuit of simplicity led them to probe the endless vibrations of space rather than the construction of form—might want to start looking into the work of Bice Lazzari, yet another of the seemingly endless number of underrecognized women modernists whose work is ripe for reconsideration. Born in Venice in 1900 and trained as a figurative painter, she began working abstractly in the late 1920s, first as a practitioner of the applied arts—fabric designs, decorative panels, and the like—but her abstract

  • Mimi Lauter

    Seeing Mimi Lauter’s work for the first time brought home to me how rare it is to see contemporary painting whose substance is rich and full-bodied but possibly inchoate, rather than style, topicality, or an arm’s-length commentary on art history. Lauter’s work is clearly imbued with historical self-consciousness—the press release rightly cites “Redon, Vuillard, Bonnard, as well as other members of the Nabis and Post-Impressionists” among the Los Angeles–based artist’s precursors, to which list I would add Blaue Reiter–period Kandinsky and maybe a few more recent explorers of the cusp