Barry Schwabsky

  • “André Thomkins: Eternal Network”

    The Swiss painter, draftsman, and object maker André Thomkins (1930–1985) was one of the more protean artists of the postwar era. The characteristics of his art, he said, were “metamorphosis, erasing time, banality, wit, precision.” Close in spirit to his friends in the Fluxus movement, with their ironic, playful attitudes, he also possessed a genuinely Romantic feeling for nature and its infinite transformations. Yet those who smile at his witty palindromes in various languages—STRATEGY: GET ARTS, for instance—may miss the point of his

  • Joan Snyder

    An artist’s work can change a lot over the course of his or her career, but the best artists always remain themselves. I hadn’t realized just how much this is true of Joan Snyder until I saw this selection of thirty-three works, “Symphony: Early Works on Paper, Recent Paintings.” The continuity between past and present is most evident when one compares Snyder’s new paintings to her early drawings—much more so than when the comparison is made with her early paintings. That’s not to say her early paintings are irrelevant to her present concerns, but there is a difference. As the very title

  • Luc Tuymans

    Has it ever been summer in Luc Tuymans’s paintings? I doubt it. So by titling his most recent exhibition “The Summer Is Over,” was Tuymans just promising more of what we’ve learned to expect from him? Not quite. Although the saturnine sensibility and “diagnostic gaze” that his work has consistently evoked over the past two decades have hardly lightened, there is a difference. A typical strategy of his has been to paint things that at first glance appear innocuous (although his tersely tremulous, mordantly taciturn touch in and of itself may make you want to look at them suspiciously) while

  • Tom Fairs

    If you’re looking for someone who maintained the supposedly old-fashioned ideal—a cynic would call it the myth—of the pure artist who is focused solely on the work itself, without a thought of fame, fashion, or money, you could do worse than to check out Tom Fairs. When Fairs died in 2007, he was essentially unknown. A lifelong Londoner born in 1925, he studied stained-glass design and then became a teacher of drawing and theater design. Only after his retirement in 1987, apparently, did he begin to focus on painting. His ideal was Pierre Bonnard. He never had a one-person show,

  • Roland Flexner

    Automatism meets science fiction meets the sublime landscape in the one hundred works on paper (all Untitled, 2012) that, along with a single large painting in metal leaf on canvas dating from 1984, made up Roland Flexner’s recent show. Most of the drawings were presented as groups of nine or ten, but they were best taken in either as an overwhelming mass or one by one—that is, as so many manifestations of processes insistently repeated, or as singular expressions of the ever-changing play between intention and chance. Flexner once told the critic Faye Hirsch that his project is twofold:

  • Mary Weatherford

    Mary Weatherford moved from New York back to her native Southern California in 1999. Ever since, her abstract paintings have drawn their inspiration from the landscape of her home state, focusing on motifs such as a coastal rock at Malibu or a cave at Pismo Beach, as well as on less geographically specific details such as tangles of vine or the remnants of sea life that wash up on the shore. Weatherford is not afraid to wear these inspirations on her sleeve, even at the risk of seeming naive: Over the years, she’s repeatedly affixed seashells and starfish to her fields of exuberant color. If

  • Guillaume Bresson

    I probably shouldn’t like Guillaume Bresson’s work; it’s really not my thing. And what kind of thing is that, that’s not mine? Well, it’s something like what certain Italian critics of the 1980s promoted under labels like ipermanierismo, anacronismo, or pittura colta: a way of painting that depends on using stylistic codes taken from the art of the Renaissance, Mannerism, and above all the Baroque and somehow updating them. Not that it’s absolutely impossible to make good painting today while channeling styles of past centuries—I loved John Currin’s neo-Cranach phase, and would still go

  • Simryn Gill

    My Own Private Angkor, 2007–2009, is a document that looks like a dream. Simryn Gill’s suite of ninety black-and-white photographs, which has previously been exhibited at the 2011 Istanbul Biennial, was taken near Port Dickson, Malaysia, a seaside town that in recent decades has been developed as a beach resort. Gill, who will represent Australia in next year’s Venice Biennale, made these images in a housing complex that was constructed there in the 1980s but then abandoned and never occupied. At some point, the houses were ransacked for metals to be sold as scrap; among other things, the vandals

  • Bettina Pousttchi

    First of all, it is probably worth getting one’s prepositions right. Bettina Pousttchi showed her new work at the Schirn Kunsthalle, but not so much in it; more precisely, her exhibition took place primarily on it: With her new installation, Framework, 2012, she gave the Schirn a new facade. In doing so, she was following up on a work from 2009, Echo, which was installed on the exterior of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin for six months. That piece was inspired by the exterior of the recently demolished Palast der Republik, which had been the seat of the East German parliament as well as a cultural

  • Richard Avedon

    This extraordinary exhibition, “Richard Avedon: Murals & Portraits,” brought together four vast group portraits made between 1969 and 1971, ranging from eight to over ten feet tall and from twenty to more than thirty feet long, in addition to a multitude of smaller portraits made between 1960 and 1976 as well as contact sheets and documentary materials. These were housed within a specially designed interior architecture by David Adjaye that functioned as a perfect machine for viewing, with walls creating sight lines that focused attention either on one of the four “murals” (Andy Warhol and

  • Moyra Davey

    Toronto-born photographer—or, to use a term more common north of the forty-fifth parallel, Photoconceptualist—Moyra Davey has been quietly at work in New York for more than twenty years, garnering a strong fan base among fellow artists, more recently coming to broader attention. Her recent show in New York, irresistibly titled “Spleen. Indolence. Torpor. Ill-humour.,” was essentially a meditation on the presence and absence of the human figure before the camera, articulated in three parts: the approximately hour-long HD video Les Goddesses, 2011 (which was also screened in April as

  • “Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1964–1977”

    For a time, the consensus on Conceptual art was that it had to do with “dematerialization” or “idea”; after a while, though, it began to seem better to read the specificity of Conceptualism through its emphasis on language. But in recent years, there has been a shift away from seeing language as Conceptualism’s distinguishing attribute to what might seem a somewhat surprising element: photography. In the past, there was a tendency to strategically ignore photography’s role as a medium, since Conceptualists often treated the camera as a simple artless recording device, leaving “fine art” photography

  • Rosa Loy

    About a decade ago, a German painter of my acquaintance explained the difference, as he saw it, between himself and the then newly fashionable painters from the former East Germany. “Their work is based

    on what they know about painting,” he told me. “Our work is based on what we don’t know.” His quietly dismissive comment was clear enough: The Easterners—mainly the painters of the so-called New Leipzig School—were too enamored of tradition, insufficiently exploratory. Among those often cited as members of the Leipzig School is Rosa Loy; whether or not my friend’s strictures hold against

  • “Happenings: New York, 1958–1963”

    The organizer of this exhibition, Mildred L. Glimcher, does not define “Happenings.” That is, she does not attempt to distinguish them from, say, poets’ theater, Fluxus events, or other types of experimental performance of the time or after. That decision is probably wise. But it’s interesting to remark that she took 1963 as the project’s terminal date, because by the fall of that year, “numerous artists, musicians, and even critics”—even!—“began to create performances that became part of global exhibitions, demonstrations and festivals; the originating moment had come to an end.”

  • Paul Bloodgood

    Modernism shares with Romanticism a fascination with the fragment, with things that are broken yet by that very fact seem to offer the possibility of recombining to create something new. Collage is only the most obvious manifestation of this outlook, and its history is now a century long. So “Objects in Pieces,” the title of the most recent exhibition by Paul Bloodgood—a veteran, by now, of the New York art scene, but a seriously underknown one—might sound a bit generic. As a gallery press release explains, however, it takes on a more determinate meaning in relation to Bloodgood’s

  • Katharina Grosse

    Was this a very big show or a very small one? Normally a painter might exhibit ten or a dozen works giving a sense of what she’s been up to recently, or, offered a big survey at a public space, perhaps forty or even a hundred canvases demonstrating the development of her practice over multiple decades or a whole career. In Katharina Grosse’s “One Floor Up More Highly,” which occupied MASS MOCA’s Building 5 from December 2010 to January 2012, the German artist showed only two works: a single untitled painting on canvas (dated 2010) and a vast, three-dimensional site-specific “painting” (after

  • June Leaf

    It’s usual, and not without good reason, to praise a contemporary artist’s work, or even that of a historical figure, for its currency—for the way it seems to put its viewer in touch with the now. But while I mean to praise the “Recent Works” June Leaf has just exhibited, I can’t do so on those grounds. Although all but one of the paintings, sculptures, and things-in-between in the exhibition were made in the last two years, they feel distinctly untimely, like scattered finds from an archaeological dig into the strata of a human psyche, where past, present, and eternity mingle playfully

  • David Antin’s Radical Coherency

    Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005_, by David Antin. University of Chicago Press, 2011. 384 pages. $25.

    DAVID ANTIN IS most often ID’d as a poet, though usually with some qualification: “Poet-cum–performance artist” gives a better idea of what he does, but “poet-cum–performance artist–cum–stand-up philosopher” is better still. In other words, he’s sui generis, the man who reinvented oral composition for the postmodern world, and in a manner that would probably make Milman Parry turn in his grave. Although Antin is now seldom referred to as a critic, he took a

  • Alfredo Jaar

    What would Pier Paolo Pasolini say today about the Italy he denounced so passionately all his life and that now, after so many years under the thumb of Silvio Berlusconi, leaves even less space for any alternative to what he called the “stereotyped and false” construct of an “official Italy”? “That acculturation and homologation that fascism didn’t manage at all to bring about,” Pasolini said, “is now perfectly achieved by . . . the power of the consumer society . . . emptying out the diverse ways of being human.” Alfredo Jaar’s Le ceneri di Pasolini (The Ashes of Pasolini), 2009—its title

  • Enrico Castellani

    Enrico Castellani is nothing if not consistent. He has followed seemingly without deviation the path he broached in 1959 with his first Superficie nera (Black Surface). He has unswervingly striven to lend an undifferentiated, uninflected monochromatic (or achromatic) canvas something of the spatial richness and luminosity of traditional painting purely through the physical manipulation of the canvas itself—typically inserting nails beneath its surface, so that it protrudes and draws back in complex patterns at times reminiscent of those in the Op paintings of his British contemporary Bridget