Barry Schwabsky

  • TAO AND PHYSICS: THE ART OF CAI GUO QIANG

    THOUGH CAI GUO QIANG EMIGRATED to Japan in 1986 and now lives in New York, his recent exhibition “Flying Dragon in the Heavens,” at Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum, clearly presented him as a contemporary artist from China, his birthplace. This emphasis on his origins was made all the more evident by pairing the show with a remarkable archaeological exhibition, “Men and Gods: New Discoveries from Ancient China,” comprising works on loan from the People’s Republic. In the introduction to the accompanying catalogue, curator Anneli Fuchs reminds us that Cai’s “oeuvre rests on a foundation of religious,

  • Archie Rand

    Archie Rand has always emphasized the fact that his education included both Color Field and realist painting, and that his friendship with Philip Guston taught him something about how the two might be mingled without being synthesized. At the same time, Rand’s vocabulary encompasses both the raucously disruptive nonsense of cartoons and mural painting’s rhetoric of high-minded collective address. In that sense he has less in common with many of the painters who emerged, as he did, in the ’70s than with those of the ’30s—he may be less like alumni of CalArts than those of the WPA, even if his

  • “Fielding”

    In a cultural context in which the model for painting is fundamentally expressionist (the salient references being Asger Jorn and Per Kirkeby)—recent attempts to break free of this model have generally revolved around video and photographic work that often leaves the expressionist paradigm intact (if tacit)—any attempt to articulate an alternative model for and through painting is bound to seem questionable. Although “Fielding” included artists from France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, I was not entirely surprised when a Danish artist referred to the exhibition as “that show

  • Manuel Alvarez Bravo

    In the great portrait Frida Kahlo in Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s Studio, 1930s, the painter’s head, with its penetrating, questioning eyes, is twice rhymed elsewhere: in the mirrored ball next to her arm, which (like the mirror in Velasquez’ Las Meninas) gathers, concentrates, and somehow expands the space in the studio, thereby returning it as a distorted reflection; and in the carving on the floor behind her, staring blind-eyed and open-mouthed at nothing. This seems to say that, like any art, photography can encompass the function of the all-gathering yet alienating mirror, or the unseeing yet

  • Marnie Weber

    Walt Disney meets recovered-memory therapy: the imagineering of trauma would seem to be the subject of “Lost in the Woods,” the first East Coast exhibition by Los Angeles–based artist/musician Marnie Weber. The show included twenty-four photocollages and two video/sculpture installations, and was accompanied by a fourteen-song CD, Cry, for Happy (1996). The disk helps fill in a bit more (not a lot more, mind you) of the underlying narrative, which concerns a girl named Happy who wanders through a forest only fitfully able to distinguish her identity from those of the woods’ various animal

  • Carol Rama

    This show was the first solo American exhibition by Carol Rama, a cult figure in her native Italy since 1945, when her premiere exhibition at age twenty-seven was immediately shut down by police on the grounds of obscenity. While the work from that show disappeared, a number of drawings on view here dated from the ’30s and early to mid ’40s. The chaotic post-Mussolini period was clearly no friendlier than that of dictatorial order to so monstrous a spirit as Rama’s, who speaks in an interview of her profound desire to “incazzare tutti” (piss everyone off). These early works give a pretty good

  • Agnes Martin

    We don’t go to an Agnes Martin exhibition expecting surprise—although good art is always surprising, a source of stimulation rather than the placidity into which memory can sometimes flatten our recollection of work so apparently self—consistent as Martin’s. Eschewing dramatic changes in her approach to painting as much as dramatic conflict within any particular work, Martin depends for her surprises on the degree to which the effects of her paintings can vary within severe limits. On these grounds this was one of her finest exhibitions in some time. The work was even more concentrated and

  • Rochelle Feinstein

    Rochelle Feinstein’s paintings can be complex, contradictory, and full of rowdy visual cacophony. Or they can be simple, obvious, even dumb. In neither case are they easy to ignore. These works undoubtedly eschew whatever remains of the desire for something “purely” visual or optical in “abstract painting”; they clearly assume, and at times proclaim, a semiotic and discursive model for their own activity. But that does not mean—even, perhaps especially when they are at their most obvious—that they accept an ideal of communicative clarity or declamatory certainty. Rather, their effect is to

  • Leon Polk Smith

    “Geometrical abstraction” often tends toward the iconic. It seeks reduction to a contemplative essence that can monopolize the viewer’s attention. Such works—Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings, for instance—rebuff close hanging, all the more so when it comes to similar works by a single artist. So perhaps Leon Polk Smith had a point to make by crowding two not-very-large rooms with no less than sixteen substantial paintings (some of them already seen at his 1995–96 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum) made between 1990 and 1994, for what sadly turned out to be the last solo show of his life. These

  • John Millei

    Should the facile painter be envied or pitied? Perhaps the better question is, Who is to be pitied more, the facile painter who remains imprisoned by his proficiency, luxuriating in its pleasurable trivialities—or the one who feels the constraints his talents impose on his expression, flailing against the bars of style? To his credit, if not his comfort, John Millei clearly belongs among the latter class of artists. There’s something cruel, therefore, in gathering together so much of his production over the last eight years, as this show did. Where a smaller exhibition of a single series might

  • Fred Sandback

    Fred Sandback’s exhibition at Dia is titled “Sculpture,” which seems neither definitive nor inaccurate, just less misleading in its specificity than “Painting” or “Drawing,” both of which might as easily have been considered, since the work involves line, plane, and color but not volume. Yet the artist is apparently attached to the sense that what he does is sculpture, and he sometimes uses the term “construction” as well. The reason is presumably that, as ethereal as his materials are—until recently they have been confined to taut strands of acrylic yarn—they are quite literally and materially

  • Glenn Ligon

    The title of Glenn Ligon’s recently exhibited selection of drawings since 1988, “The Evidence of Things Not Seen,” came to him from the New Testament by way of James Baldwin. Its resonances are thus multifarious, but my surmise is that the most vivid among them is the suggestion of a juridical proceeding on the one hand and a diffidence toward (if not thoroughgoing renunciation of) the “visual” on the other.

    Forbidding as that sounds, Ligon’s works on paper are more engaging than I’ve found his paintings to be. The latter are handsome, to be sure, with an aching intensity that belies their cool,

  • Larry Poons

    Once among the stars of “postpainterly abstraction,” Larry Poons has been going his own unpredictable way, pictorially speaking, for some time now. Not that he cultivates the signifiers of solitary genius; his new paintings suggest a studio, like the one in Courbet’s “real allegory,” so packed with the figures of his imagination that he can barely stop to notice his isolation. Which is fine for him, but it does make it rather difficult for us to follow along. Perhaps that’s why his last show here, in 1995—extraordinary paintings that in retrospect seem like a culmination of Poons’ last twenty-five

  • Giovanni Anselmo

    New York convention has it that an artist of any ambition does not exhibit without having an impressive number of works on hand, or else a spectacular, room-filling installation. All the more so, as in Giovanni Anselmo’s case, if it’s been seven years since the last show and viewers may need to be reminded of the artist’s stature. Yet what Anselmo presented was nothing more than five tall slabs of dark granite, fixed to the wall with iron braces that looked rather like columns or pilasters.

    It was the title, L’Aura della pittura (The aura of painting), that served to indicate that what counted

  • Blake Rayne

    Entering Blake Rayne’s recent show, you squeezed past a large Styrofoam “cube/crate” that partially blocked off the main exhibition space yet did not, in itself, command any particular notice. Each of the four walls displayed a single painting, mounted on an intermediate plywood support rather than directly on the wall. Less noticeably, the lower portion of the gallery’s imposing central column was painted with a high-gloss white acrylic, and a small diagram was painted onto the wall near the entrance to the office. The four paintings represented interior spaces that are empty or nearly empty,

  • Jim Dine

    Although the title of Jim Dine’s recent show, “Some Greeks, Some Romans,” refers straightforwardly enough to the classical sculptures that are the objects of study in this suite of 150 works on paper, the subtitle, “A Drawing,” implies a stronger claim to significance than the literally more correct plural would have. Dine invites us to see everything here as an entity, and not merely as a collection—an invitation easy enough to accept, since these fiercely worked, sometimes richly chromatic sheets contain so little of the sketchy or the simply notational and seem pervaded by a single effort of

  • Ghada Amer

    An Egyptian-born artist living in Paris, Ghada Amer reminds us forcefully what it means to say that art transcends its subject: this transcendence is a refinement, a distillation taken to such a degree as to become indistinguishable from excess. At one level, Amer’s work can be described easily enough, and in the process of describing it one has the impression of grasping the categories through which her work can be classified and interpreted. She takes stretched canvas (or, in one instance, a blue cotton tablecloth) and “paints” on it by embroidering colored threads, using images taken from

  • Kcho

    In the three sculptures on view in his first New York solo show, the young Cuban artist Kcho used, or cited, the boat as both a basic structure and an overarching metaphor. The two larger and more recent pieces, La Columna Infinita I (Endless column) and La Columna Infinita II, both 1996, were formed of slender slats of blond wood, held together with numerous C-clamps, and creating skeletal images of piled-up boats. Monuments to their own antimonumentality, these works certainly reminded at least those viewers who knew that Kcho resides in Cuba less of their ostensible Brancusian model than of

  • Bettina Rheims

    Eschewing any pretense to critique—in contrast to those photographers who’ve attempted to bracket out fashion’s starstruck vision to pursue subtexts revealed in the grainy, often black-and-white imagery of the stealthy, oblique shot—Bettina Rheims embraces the convergence between fashion/celebrity photography and art. In most fashion photographs, we are meant to see past an unnamed model’s personal identity to the characteristics she is supposed to embody in projecting an image suitable to a particular fashion line. On the other hand, fashion models are increasingly becoming celebrities, who

  • Kim Whanki

    Although the Korean painter Kim Whanki (1913–1974) spent significant portions of his career in Paris as well as in Seoul, this recent exhibition, entitled “Oeuvres inedites 1963–1973,” corresponded to a period when he lived and worked in New York. The show primarily consisted of works on paper, but it also included a dozen canvases dated circa 1968. As Yves Michaud points out in his catalogue essay, during these years Whanki was able to synthesize Western—or more specifically, American—abstract painting with the Asian sensibility in which his esthetic was rooted.

    While Whanki’s earlier work