Barry Schwabsky

  • Stanley Whitney

    I’d been waiting for a show of Stanley Whitney’s drawings for a long time. Catching sight of them periodically in his studio, or in the back room of a gallery, I’d always been amazed. Whitney is, as should now be apparent, among the supreme colorists of contemporary painting, but what’s amazed me in his drawings has been his mysterious ability to communicate the variable weights and densities of color, as he does in his paintings—without actually using color at all, instead relying on pure line to express, as if through metaphor, chromatic differentiae.

    Conjuring color through its absence

  • Kyungah Ham

    This was Kyungah Ham’s first one-person show outside South Korea—yet to call it a solo venture felt odd, not just because some of the exhibited pieces were the work of many hands, but also because Ham herself seemingly operates as two artists simultaneously. The first is a producer of strikingly lush, colorful, and imposing “paintings” made not with paint but with embroidery on canvas. The works of this artist are lavishly sensual, often very pleasurable to look at, possibly a little too slickly produced, and occasionally—as in a series that imitates Morris Louis’s 1960–61 “Unfurled”

  • Vicky Wright

    Vicky Wright’s exhibition “Night Shift” was articulated in two distinct parts. The gallery’s compact ground-floor space was devoted to an installation of wall-mounted figurative paper sculptures along with some drawings, titled five parts MACHINE, one of DESIRE (perpetuates a self-replicating monadic structure) (all works 2017), whose composition served in part to draw the viewer toward the stairwell leading to the more extensive basement level, which housed seven paintings. The ground-floor installation featured a pair of abstracted, comically elongated figures, apparently male, constructed

  • Sam Contis

    If you happened to be a guy who scored well on your SATs and had a slight yen for paths less taken, then you probably wondered for at least a minute: What would it be like to go to Deep Springs College? Deep Springs, as you might know even if you don’t fit that demographic, is the country’s smallest college, and possibly its most geographically isolated; its seven or eight faculty members offer thirty or fewer male students a rigorous two-year education from which most go on to complete their BAs at one of the Ivies. And it’s all free, but each student is required to work twenty hours a week on

  • John Graham

    Born in Kiev in 1886, a descendant of minor Polish nobility, Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowski trained as a lawyer in his hometown, served in the Russian army, and in 1918 was briefly imprisoned as a counterrevolutionary; upon arriving in New York in 1920, he found work as a riding instructor. What led this thirty-six-year-old who’d never picked up a brush to enroll in the Art Students League in 1922? Who knows. But it turned the anti-Bolshevik émigré into one of the revolutionaries of American art. As John Graham, he was part of the triumvirate (along with Arshile Gorky and Stuart Davis) whom Willem

  • “Sputterances”

    “A poem should not mean but be,” a poet formerly famous once wrote: The line is a perfect example of one that does the opposite of what it says, since the dictum’s force lies in its all-too-seductively self-evident meaning. Language only begins to reveal its being when meaning trips itself up, when communicative urgency interferes with its own expression. The Dutch artist René Daniëls must have had something like this in mind when he coined the delightful portmanteau sputterance—the term denoting, apparently, an enunciation whose very resistance to completion or closure constitutes its

  • Thomas Trosch

    Exemplifying truth in labeling, “Thomas Trosch: Paintings New and Old” presented a dozen paintings made between 2010 and 2017, along with two from 1993 and three dated 1996. Then and now, it’s been hard to know how to receive this work, which is almost ridiculously ambitious yet so eccentrically campy that some might dismiss it as vapid (or, worse, “idiotic,” as Benjamin Weissman worried in these pages in 1993). Perhaps as a result, Trosch has been shamefully neglected by the critics—myself included. His sheer incalcitrant originality has probably done his career as much harm as it’s done

  • Ernest Mancoba

    The first North American solo exhibition of Ernest Mancoba included four small paintings ranging in date from 1958 to 1985 (one is undated) and some twenty works on paper (many of them likewise undated, but the others are mostly from the early 1990s), giving art lovers on this side of the Atlantic at least a nodding acquaintance with an oeuvre I suspect we are going to get to know much better in coming years: The artist’s work is included in this year’s Documenta 14. Mancoba, who was born in Johannesburg in 1904, began training as a wood-carver in 1925; his academically styled 1929 Bantu Madonna

  • Marisa Merz

    “Marisa Merz has always been careful to do very little,” writes Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in the catalogue to the artist’s first American retrospective, curated by Connie Butler, chief curator of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (where the show travels, June 4–August 20), and Ian Alteveer, associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. But the show, titled “The Sky Is a Great Space,” proves that doing very little for a long time is a good way to accomplish a great deal.

    After seeing this retrospective, one will find Merz’s accomplishment as hard to define as it ever was, and that

  • Edward Clark

    This show of ten canvases and three works on paper ranging in date from the 1960s through 2012 demonstrated, at minimum, an unusual consistency across decades—a consistency of idea and feeling as well as of quality. One might almost speak of a career without development. With nearly any other artist, such a phrase would carry an implicit reproach: a charge of complacency or monotonousness. In Edward Clark’s case, it’s quite the opposite: One senses that he has never ceased casting a critical eye—what Ernest Hemingway famously called the bullshit detector—on his own work. And far

  • Philip Guston

    Who would have imagined that it would one day be possible to feel a sort of wistful nostalgia for the Nixon era? Yet that is the pass we have come to, facing an administration that might make his seem almost innocent by comparison. That’s why “Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975”—which was curated by Sally Radic of the Guston Foundation, and Musa Mayer, Guston’s daughter, and followed by a little more than six months Hauser & Wirth’s equally extraordinary and very different exhibition of abstract works, “Philip Guston: Painter, 1957–1967”—was probably the

  • Ena Swansea

    A visitor once asked me how long it takes a new arrival to become a New Yorker. My considered response: You are a New Yorker when you start to miss the “real” New York, the one you knew when the city was still fresh to you and hadn’t yet been replaced by . . . whatever it is that the next wave of arrivals brought with them. By that standard, I might have to call myself an inhabitant of the city that Ena Swansea evokes in her most recent paintings. It’s recognizably New York, but not as I see it when I walk its streets these days. Swansea’s New York is wrapped up in a decayed Romanticism that’s

  • Richard Hawkins

    Having seen a number of Richard Hawkins’s exhibitions over the years, I’ve learned at least one thing: not to expect the next one to look like the last. His most recent show made me realize something more: His works may not even look like what they really are. When I first walked into the gallery—before picking up the press release bearing the show’s title, “Norogachi: Ceramics After Artaud”—the works on view looked like paintings. And that’s not exactly wrong. The twenty-four small works that were on view are paintings, if that means, in the famous definition given by Maurice Denis,

  • film December 26, 2016

    Poetic License

    “THAT A MAN IN HIMSELF IS A CITY” is the high theme of William Carlos Williams’s modern epic Paterson (1946–58). Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, identically titled, is also about a man who is identified, at least by name, with his city, though the tone of the film is considerably lower-key than that of Williams’s poem. Jarmusch’s Paterson—we never learn the rest of his name—is a bus driver (played by Adam Driver—is there some Oulipian doubling going on here?) who lives with his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and their dog, Marvin, in a cottagey little house on a scruffy street. But Paterson has

  • Elizabeth McIntosh

    It’s been fourteen years since Elizabeth McIntosh has had a one-person show in New York. Her work has changed since then, not surprisingly, and twice over. The Canadian painter’s work of the early 2000s was strictly abstract—in fact, as I remember, it was strict altogether: rather tight and orderly. A break from the studio following the birth of her daughter shortly after that 2002 show was followed by the first shift: Her paintings started looking looser, faster, more playful. This tendency has only intensified as time has gone on. Her use of flatness, pattern, and geometry remained

  • Stanisław Fijałkowski

    Until now little known outside Poland, Stanisław Fijałkowski can claim, to say the least, a most distinctive artistic lineage: He was a student of Władysław Strzemiński, who in turn had studied with the modern master Kazimir Malevich. But Fijałkowski is also heir to all the upheaval that his part of the world has suffered over the past century. He was born in 1922 in Poland’s southeast, “a region that was soaked with blood in World War II,” as Anda Rottenberg and Ory Dessau write in the gallery press release; the area is now part of Ukraine. During the war he found himself in a forced-labor camp

  • A. R. Penck

    With some sixty years of artmaking behind him and impressive honors to show for it, A. R. Penck nonetheless remains a somewhat misunderstood figure. Self-taught, and a relatively late émigré from what was then still the German Democratic Republic in 1980—contemporaries such as Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter had moved west as early as 1957 and 1961, respectively (in Richter’s case just before the Berlin Wall went up that year)—Penck emerged at a tangent to the Western neo-avant-gardes even as he remained untouched by the traditional representational criteria taught by the East German

  • Bracha L. Ettinger

    “Painting is not about representation,” according to Bracha L. Ettinger, but that doesn’t mean it’s about abstraction either. Her work registers the ambivalence of the image, photographic in origin—its way of insisting on its own presence while seemingly putting itself under erasure through a destabilizing instability of focus or refusal of clarity. The resulting sense of vagueness or veiling might recall Gerhard Richter’s famous blur, though Ettinger’s defocusing produces an effect that’s different than the one conjured by the German master, who once said, “I blur things so that they do

  • Peter Barrickman

    There are painters who take inspiration from what they know about painting, and others who thrive on what they don’t know. But in some of the most interesting cases, know-how and naïveté become strangely tangled in a felicitous inconsistency: The artist does not appear to be steadily pursuing a consistent and intelligible project but striking out, almost haphazardly, in different directions, succeeding as if by so many lucky hits. And yet somehow everything seems to add up. Of course, anyone who repeatedly pulls off such a feat is not relying on luck but on a wily artfulness.

    These days when I

  • Philip Hanson

    For “It is too difficult a Grace,” his first New York solo show since 1997, Philip Hanson exhibited a dozen paintings made between 2014 and the present, along one with one dated 2010. In these works, the Chicago-based painter takes as his subject matter words—to be specific, lines from the poetry of Blake, Dickinson, and (in the earlier painting) Gerard Manley Hopkins. Those are, needless to say, formidable names to conjure with. Is it really wise to insert oneself into such exalted company?

    To a great extent, these engaging works manage to assuage such qualms—mainly by determinedly