Barry Schwabsky

  • Jennifer Packer, The Eye Is Not Satisfied with Seeing, 2018, oil on canvas, 18 × 38".

    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, Where, When, How Often and with Whom?, 2017, triptych, oil on linen, overall 7' 5 3⁄8“ × 33' 7⁄8”.

    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

  • View of “Raoul De Keyser: oeuvre,” 2018–19, SMAK, Ghent, Belgium. From left: Oefeningen met eerste linnen doos (Exercises with First Linen Box ), 1967; Linnen doos II (Linen Box II), 1966–67; Gampelaere-omgeving (Gampelaere Surroundings), 1967. Photo: Dirk Pauwels.

    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

  • View of “Gregor Hildebrandt,” 2018. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

    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

  • View of “René Daniëls: Fragments from an Unfinished Novel,” 2018. From left: Painting on the Bullfight, 1985; De slag om de twintigste eeuw (Battle for the Twentieth Century), 1984; Painting on Unknown Languages, 1985. Photo: Hugard & Vanoverschelde Photography.

    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, The Shadow, 2018, oil on linen, 80 × 80".

    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, Armanda, 1959, oil on canvas, 72 × 60".

    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, USA: War of the Worlds, 2004, neon tubing, transformer, found objects, approx. 48 × 48 × 28".

    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, London Hotel, 1989, C-print, 23 1⁄4 × 15".

    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, Forever Now, 2018, oil, acrylic and bleach on canvas, 64 × 47 1⁄8".

    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, Gethsemane, 2018, mixed media on canvas board, 30 × 32 1⁄2 × 3".

    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