Barry Schwabsky

  • “Walls Are Talking”

    The literary critic I. A. Richards once expounded on the nature of poetry with the resounding conclusion, “Poetry is the house we live in.” T. S. Eliot piped up from the audience, “I should rather have called it the wallpaper.” That wallpaper has its poetry, in any case, was already clear enough to modernist painters like Matisse, Vuillard, and Bonnard, for whom its rhythmic patterns had at once a formal raison d’être, functioning as an approximation of what Clement Greenberg would later call the “all-over picture,” “tightly covered, evenly and heavily textured,” which “tended—but only tended—to

  • Eva Hesse

    Marcel Duchamp marked a historical rupture when he spoke of wanting to make works that are not “of art”; on the other hand, artists have always produced (or can I say “by-produced”?) art that does not quite amount to works. Painters used to call such things sketches, and rigorously distinguished them from finished works. For example, the ravishing plein air oil sketches that Corot produced in Italy in the 1830s, now so highly valued in part because they seem to point the way to Impressionism and beyond, would never have been exhibited or openly sold in the artist’s lifetime, even if they circulated

  • Alain Séchas

    Had I walked into the wrong gallery? Or the right gallery, but in the wrong month? Or somehow misread the gallery guide? I’d been expecting to see an exhibition of Alain Séchas, but this did not look like the work of an artist who has been plausibly called—by critic Jeff Rian—a “grandchild of Freud and Disney, child of modernism and Pop art, a first-generation TV baby, artistic cousin of Mike Kelley and Charles Ray, and one of France’s best artists.” Where, for instance, were the cartoony sculptures, often of cutely anthropomorphic felines—the artist’s name being a homonym for ses chats, “his

  • Elinor Carucci

    Elinor Carucci gives a formal slant to diaristic photography. Her subject is herself and her family; the focus is narrow; there is little sense of what might be on the other side of the wall, outside the frame. Yet the images are not claustrophobic. Nor are they ever raw or chaotic. Instead, they are almost classically composed. In an interview, the New York–based Israeli photographer has said that at the beginning of her career, she “was worried about staged work. I was trying to make everything like a snapshot, very spontaneous, because I wanted it to be true, to be honest. I then realized

  • “Dance of Colors”

    The drawings of Vaslav Nijinsky were first exhibited in 1932, thanks to his wife, née Romola de Pulszky, and while they have regularly aroused the interest of those who remain fascinated by his revolutionary achievements as a dancer and choreographer or simply as an exemplary and tragic figure of modernist culture, they have hardly been seen as significant instances of modernist art. Even as knowledgeable an observer as Marsden Hartley saw them mainly as “psychopathic charts.” Recently, however, with “La danza de los colores: E torno a Nijinsky y la abstracción” (Dance of Colors: Around Nijinsky

  • Jane and Louise Wilson

    While the CAM exhibition focuses mainly on work produced in the past three years, “Suspending Time” will nonetheless be the largest survey of the sisters’ output to date.

    The Wilsons possess an uncanny ability to elicit the historical and psychological reverberations of architectural space through their eerie, seductive, and hauntingly atmospheric film and video installations of sites such as the abandoned East German secret-police headquarters of Stasi City, 1997, and the ruined New Zealand hospitals of Erewhon, 2004— places that are decrepit, out of time. While the CAM exhibition focuses mainly on work produced in the past three years, “Suspending Time” will nonetheless be the largest survey of the sisters’ output to date, comprising

  • Sharon Horvath

    I’m always happy for an excuse to go back to my Wallace Stevens. So when I noticed that Sharon Horvath titled her recent show “Parts of a World” after the poet’s wartime collection, the book immediately opened. And why not? Horvath is, in fact, a literary painter, though not in the sense of being an illustrator. While there is often a hint of the glorious preciousness of medieval manuscript illumination or the dreamlike intensity of Maurice Sendak in her style, there is no text that guides the making of the paintings. And yet there is a kind of ensuing text, one that coalesces in the mind of

  • Stu Mead

    Stu Mead’s paintings touch the art world at a tangent. Not that he’s exactly an outsider, having received a formal art education. But the Berlin-based American has a bigger reputation in “underground” culture than on the established art scene. Maybe that’s because his paintings are unabashedly (one could even say sincerely) about their subject matter rather than about art. That the subject matter Mead is drawn to is entirely disreputable—girls, often conspicuously underage, as objects of desire—is a separate issue. From Francis Picabia through David Salle to John Currin, pornographic imagery

  • “Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.”

    Named after the legendary magazine published through most of the 1960s by the late Ian Hamilton Finlay, “Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.” was a game attempt to trace, in the confines of the ICA’s four petite spaces (and one passageway), five decades of the interplay between poetry and what is still unfortunately often called “visual art.” What emerged was a loose and necessarily spotty history of fifty years of text in art, minus Conceptualism: Instead, the show took concrete poetry as its starting point.

    The exhibition was articulated in four distinct parts. The first room was devoted to Finlay, the

  • Alice Channer

    On a window ledge at the Approach sat a pair of drinking glasses, one a bit larger than the other, touching each other. They might have been left by a couple of patrons of the downstairs pub who’d wandered upstairs to the gallery, except they looked quite clean and dry. A glance at the gallery checklist showed nothing made of glasses, but I thought I’d better ask: Yes, despite lacking a title, date, and list of materials—which I thought every artwork had to have these days—this was Alice Channer’s work, if not, perhaps, a work.

    As a viewer, you’ve got to be willing to sweat such details if you

  • Robert Holyhead

    For this exhibition Robert Holyhead showed ten small to medium-size abstract paintings, each titled Untitled and dated 2009. All but one of the paintings feature white and a single other color, although this additional color is present both as a highly saturated hue and as a paler, washier one—in other words, they use white, a color, and that color mixed with white through its having been applied to the white ground and then wiped away. (In the one exception, the second-largest of the paintings on view, about which more later, the colored parts of the painting appear as an uneven mix of two

  • Richard Hell

    “I DO NOT REPUDIATE any of my paintings,” Henri Matisse once wrote, “but there is not one of them that I would not redo differently, if I had it to redo.” Once a painting is out of the artist’s hands, of course, the opportunity to rework it rarely presents itself—though Pierre Bonnard is said to have carried a little paint box with him during museum visits in case he felt the need to revise one of his canvases on the spot. Prose writers and poets, on the other hand, more readily revisit their earlier efforts (not always happily, as the onslaughts of Marianne Moore and W. H. Auden against

  • Karla Black

    Featuring several new site-specific installations, Karla Black’s most comprehensive exhibition to date is reason enough to visit the city of dreaming spires.

    Karla Black’s approach is distinctly unfashionable: The Glasgow-based sculptor forthrightly asserts her predilection for “abstract not figurative art,” “material experience over language,” and “formal aesthetics rather than narrative, autobiographical detail.” So how did her fragile, floor-based or hanging conglomerates of paper, powder, cellophane, and toothpaste come to be so widely admired so quickly? (Her 2009 schedule also includes solo shows at the Migros Museum, Zurich; Inverleith House, Edinburgh; and the Kunstverein Hamburg.) Maybe it’s that this nonfigurative

  • Sherman Sam

    Sherman Sam’s paintings are small—none of the eight exhibited in his most recent exhibition, “Let’s stay together,” reach sixteen inches in either direction—but you can easily get lost in them. They are labyrinths in hyperspace, taking unexpected twists and turns that make it difficult to see one’s way out. Hyperspace is, in its most venerable definition, a space of more than three dimensions, and in this case the fourth dimension is color. This is not to say that Sam, a painter born in Singapore and based in London, is what one would normally call a colorist. In the perennial differend between

  • Francesco Clemente

    An exhibition such as this one, focusing on Clemente’s relationship to Italy and to his hometown of Naples in particular, should be peculiarly revealing: Is he an Italian artist, or, rather, a nomad nostalgic for Italy?

    Of the painters heralded at the dawn of the ’80s by critic Achille Bonito Oliva as the new “Italian trans-avant-garde,” only Francesco Clemente retains his stature, and even he seems poorly understood. Famously cosmopolitan, Clemente has long been a resident of New York and even longer been fascinated by India, yet he is one of those artists who remains obsessed with origins, both metaphysical and personal. So an exhibition such as this one, focusing on Clemente’s relationship to Italy and to his hometown of Naples in particular, should be peculiarly revealing: Is he an

  • Richard Foreman and John Zorn

    I first became aware of the work of Richard Foreman and his Ontological-Hysteric Theater thanks to a review of Rhoda in Potatoland in 1975. My recollection is misty but I think it was an assertion to the effect that Foreman was to Heidegger as Brecht to Marx that caught my fancy—not that I’d read Heidegger or even Marx then, but the names meant something to me. My first direct contact was with Book of Splendors, Part Two, two years later—though in the meantime I had seen the production of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera that Foreman directed for the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1976. By

  • André Thomkins

    André Thomkins must have been one of those on whom nothing is lost. The origin of the technique he used to make his “Lackskins,” which he began in the mid-1950s, can be ascribed to chance or to observation as you please: While painting a crib for his child, he noticed that the enamel he’d washed off his brush formed a thin, cohesive skin on top of the water; he liked the look of it, and realized that if he could slide a sheet of paper under the floating paint and then lift it, he’d be able to skim off and preserve the colorful shape.

    Thomkins, a Swiss artist who lived much of his life in Germany,

  • Tom Wesselmann

    Not enough attention is paid to Tom Wesselmann. This is probably due in part to the prevailing tendency to judge artists mainly by the work through which they first became widely known: Wesselmann’s series “Great American Nudes,” 1961–73, includes some fine paintings, but the works are not among the strongest or most radical examples of early Pop, and their sexual politics seems dated and naive—not as crass as Mel Ramos’s paintings, certainly, but also lacking the acute eye for male anxiety that gives some of John Wesley’s their impact and resonance.

    Furthermore, the technique Wesselmann began

  • Merlin James/Serge Charchoune

    Over the past two decades, Merlin James has quietly established himself as one of the more interesting painters around, as well as one of the best critics of painting. His work might be taken for that of a nostalgic academic or a postmodern pluralist, but the very fact that these two distinct, if not opposed, identities present themselves suggests that settling on either one would be a misprision of his project. It’s true that his paintings dredge up styles from the past, and lots of them at that, but he neither invokes them as eternal verities nor toys with them with insouciant lightness.

  • Georg Baselitz

    It was Ed Ruscha who declared, “I don’t want no retrospective,” but it is German artist Georg Baselitz who arguably doesn’t need one: His ongoing “Remix” project of recent years, in which he revisits his own past imagery, makes every show of his a retrospective of sorts.

    It was Ed Ruscha who declared, “I don’t want no retrospective,” but it is German artist Georg Baselitz who arguably doesn’t need one: His ongoing “Remix” project of recent years, in which he revisits his own past imagery, makes every show of his a retrospective of sorts. Even so, and not long after his substantial 2007 exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, another long view of Baselitz’s work is welcome, if only as another opportunity to remind those who would rather forget him—along with the ’80s neo-expressionism he influenced—that he’s an amazing