Barry Schwabsky

  • Norman Bluhm

    One of the most curious things about the “second generation” Abstract Expressionists is the need so many of them felt to renounce the very tradition from which they emerged. One could imagine the mature work of Al Held or Alfred Leslie having been made by artists who had never seen or heard of Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. There are exceptions to be sure—Joan Mitchell upheld the tradition, and so has Norman Bluhm. Indeed, though Bluhm’s most recent paintings are as impossible to extrapolate from his works of the ’50s as Held’s or Leslie’s, Bluhm, unlike those artists, has renounced

  • Richard Diebenkorn

    The beauty of Richard Diebenkorn’s small paintings of the late ’50s and early ’60s is inseparable from their aura of resignation. Strangely, something about them recalls the late work of Malevich, of Tatlin, of Rodchenko and Stepanova—work Diebenkom could hardly have known—in which, after the wreckage of their utopian Modernisms, those artists returned to what seems a shockingly traditional form of painting. One might call Diebenkorn’s work, like theirs, painting without ambition, or in any case with no ambition in any sphere other than the most intimate one, a sphere in which art could be,

  • Sue Williams

    The abrasive, quasi-agitprop style usually associated with Sue Williams’ work seems to have been left behind in her latest paintings. This development will doubtless disappoint some supporters, just as it will likely mollify some detractors. All of which only goes to prove that Williams’ work has a strange propensity for making a good part of its viewership lose its critical faculties altogether; they either flee in horror or slavishly applaud without ever looking the monster in the face.

    In fact, Williams has never been content to follow a straight line; not only has she experimented with

  • Luigi Ontani

    As if to make up for his seven-year absence from the New York scene, Luigi Ontani mounted a cram course in his special brand of artistic indulgence: an overwhelming array of more than 60 mostly recent works (though the show included some pieces dating back to the ’70s), ranging from hand-colored photographs to paintings, masks, and ceramic sculptures. The show could be considered a miniretrospective, yet for all its variety, it was so concentrated as to banish any thought of approaching the work in terms of chronological development. As Rome is the Eternal City, this is the Eternal Ontani.

    An

  • Howard Buchwald

    Howard Buchwald’s abstract paintings are didactic in the best sense: they present themselves as advanced lessons in the art of seeing. Since his last New York gallery exhibition five years ago, he has abandoned his idiosyncratic method of constructing elaborate supports shot through with holes at various angles to reveal the wall behind the painting. In this regard, the formal postulates of the recent paintings are less stringent than in Buchwald’s work of the ’80s.

    As before, Buchwald’s method is a crisp distillation of gestural abstraction—of Pollock’s allover composition in particular. But

  • Matthew Abbott

    It’s like when you’re drunk at a party and the person you came with seems to have wandered off, and someone’s talking to you, someone you don’t recognize, but the music is really loud, and lights from an unidentifiable source keep flashing, so even though you’re trying really hard to hear what this guy is saying, nothing quite adds up, though it keeps sounding like it should.

    This kind of woozy confusion emanates from Matthew Abbott’s paintings. He combines complex abstract patterns—often with strong color contrasts or “tacky” metallic tones, sometimes over more or less irrelevant swirling textures

  • Jack Whitten

    Given that Jack Whitten was nearly invisible to New York’s mainstream commercial gallery scene between 1978 and 1992, the show of his work from the early to mid ’70s (at Daniel Newburg) could only begin to fill in the development of this important abstract painter, but it did something that may be more important: it showed how prophetic Whitten was, brilliantly resolving the dilemmas to which younger abstractionists would return in the ’80s and ’90s with, presumably, little awareness of Whitten’s pioneering efforts. Whitten’s work of the ’70s seems to be about finding the intersection of

  • Marlene Dumas

    Marlene Dumas’ work shows clear stylistic affinities with the ’80s neo-Expressionists—Francesco Clemente in particular—and some of her subject matter, like that of The Peeping Tom, 1994, echoes Eric Fischl’s, but her paintings are fueled neither by the idea of painting as self-indulgent masturbation (à la Clemente) nor as prurient voyeurism (as with Fischl). Rather, they evince an unashamed passion for contact, a commitment to the reality principle. This commitment distinguishes itself, however, from that of various forms of lately fashionable “content-driven” art. Such work disrespects

  • Elaine Reichek

    Elaine Reichek’s “A Postcolonial Kinder-hood” was the first show in the series “Cultural Conversations” developed by the Jewish Museum to “address issues of Jewish identity.” This installation suggested, however, that the museum’s project is bound to short-circuit itself, if, as Reichek posits, contemporary Jewish identity has been reduced to anxiety over its own absence. Ever since the “emancipation” of European Jewry in the 19th century, the problem has been how to postulate an irreducible difference that, one immediately hastens to add, makes no fundamental difference at all. While the

  • IRREPLACEABLE HUE

    BY THE MID ’70S, Color Field painting was self-evidently passé. In his classic essays on the “white cube,” Brian O’Doherty hardly needed argue his assertion that the art Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried championed as the crescendoed triumph of Modernism had become a kind of latter-day salon painting. Calling for big walls and big collectors, it looked “like the ultimate in capitalist art.” Well, it’s been so long since Color Field had that kind of reputation that it’s now hard to believe it ever did. Today, it’s Minimalism that seems to have surer access to elite patronage and to the attendant

  • Andrea Belag

    Broad horizontal stripes, alternately light and dark and predominantly in blue, earth tones, and white, dominate most of Andrea Belag’s recent paintings. The colors seem to have been imprinted in thin, variable layers on the canvas rather than painted on directly. Though, admittedly, the surfaces of Belag’s paintings may recall faded jeans, in strictly artistic terms they bring to mind the sobriety and reflective self-effacement associated with a tradition that stretches from the late work of Cézanne to the early work of Brice Marden—work in which the space of naturalistic perception is crossed

  • Jill Baroff

    The urge to purify, to distill a gesture or an idea until it reaches its most concentrated form is the impetus behind Jill Baroff’s recent work. Only a few years ago, Baroff was showing quietly resolute abstract paintings that effectively synthesized a restrained gesturalism with an equally circumspect affinity for biomorphic reference. She has since radicalized her sense of the practice of painting to the point where she dispenses with nearly every convention associated with the term. These recent paintings are situated at the precise intersection of painting, drawing, sculpture, and even

  • Robert Rahway Zakanitch

    Robert Rahway Zakanitch’s “Big Bungalow Suite,” 1990–93, consists of five paintings on unstretched canvas—only the first four of them exhibited here—each of which is 11 feet high and 30 feet long. Executed in an exuberant painterly style, complete with drips and splatters, they nevertheless convey a sense of restraint and formality, one enforced, perhaps, by the artist’s method of laying down his repetitive patterns of imagery with stencils before working them up with the brush. Flowery, wallpaperlike motifs become equivalent to allover fields into which a number of smaller, oddly shaped images

  • Paul Ramirez Jonas

    Under the title “Heavier than Air,” Paul Ramirez Jonas presented two installations dealing with the history of flight and invention. For the earlier (though ongoing) work, Men on the Moon: Tranquility, 1992, the artist reconstructed Thomas Alva Edison’s first phonograph, 1879, using it to record, onto 398 green wax cylinders (each containing about a minute of sound), the initial six and one-half hours of the first manned mission to the moon in 1969. (He intends to record the remaining 17 hours of the mission by this method as well.) The cylinders were displayed on shelves along one wall, with

  • Jeff Perrone

    Billed as “First Paintings,” Jeff Perrone’s new works actually combine the glazed ceramic tiles for which he is already known with canvases painted in gouache or with colored sand (the kind that’s sold in pet stores for decorating aquariums). The paintings consist of anywhere from four to twelve segments (only one consists of a single canvas) arrayed in variously dynamic or totemic configurations. Rife with color, pattern, and imagery, they give an immediate feeling of energy and exhilaration that’s hard not to like. There is a wonderful sense of velocity to it all, the feeling that someone’s

  • Cary Smith

    Cary Smith makes the kind of abstract painting—distilled, self-assured, historically conscientious without being mannered—that gives credence to Jürgen Habermas’ assertion that modernity, or in this case Modernism, remains “an unfinished project.” In composition, Smith’s paintings recall the ’50s (John McLaughlin, for instance) and in technique echo the ’60s (Brice Marden). Yet, they relate to the politics of meaning in a manner that reflects demands specific to the present—a time in which there is little concession to esthetic gratification—in part by resisting them. In an

  • Moira Dryer

    These first two posthumous shows reveal that Moira Dryer was an artist who combined pragmatic experimentalism with a deep concentration of feeling. Dryer promised to be a central painter of her generation thanks to her completely persuasive (because deeply intuitive) synthesis of two apparently incompatible strains of post–Abstract Expressionism: on the one hand, the literalism of Robert Ryman’s “investment” of the entirety of the painting-object (edges, hardware, and so on, along with the painted surface), and on the other, the allusive, quasi-literary nature of Ross Bleckner’s historicism. To

  • Ross Neher

    Translating broad sweeps of atmospheric space and light into densely corporeal surfaces, Ross Neher’s abstract paintings, for all their maestoso formality and distance, touch on powerful and disturbing paradoxes of contemporary painting and its critical reception. Neher’s is a thoughtfully historicizing approach. A reading of his theoretical essays confirms what the paintings themselves intimate: that they are the fruit of a principled conservatism in esthetic matters. They attempt to graft the compositional elaboration of high European painting back onto aspects of American abstraction—the

  • Randolfo Rocha

    It’s been five years since Randolfo Rocha’s last one-person show, and those who remember his overtly representational, politically topical paintings of the ’80s might imagine this to be the work of a completely different artist. Gone are the proliferating, disjunctive imagery, the references to Latin American political repression (Rocha was born and educated in Brazil), the clashing colors, the esthetic of excess. Instead, here we encounter rigorously flat, hard-edged, rectilinear, but irregular geometries in severest black and white. These crisp, physically assertive paintings have nothing

  • Konrad Klapheck

    Although Konrad Klapheck is of the same generation as, for instance, Gerhard Richter (his fellow professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy), Klapheck’s work gives the impression of belonging to quite another time, perhaps that of Rene Magritte. Like many of the Surrealists, Klapheck finds his images in objects that are quite ordinary but obsolete or seldom used, and like Magritte in particular he renders them in a style that is as prosaic, old-fashioned, and quasi-anonymous as the objects themselves. This style is cool and fastidious, but never slick (as it invariably appears in reproduction).