Bill Berkson

  • passages January 21, 2015

    Jane Freilicher (1924–2014)

    BELOW IS a slightly expanded version of the text that was read in my absence by Anne Waldman at the Poetry Project celebration of Jane Freilicher on December 12, 2014. It’s in the form of a letter to Jane and her late husband Joe Hazan’s daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hazan, who is also an accomplished painter. Maxine Groffsky’s literary agency represented Robert Rosenblum, Kirk Varnedoe, and the New York School poets James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, and Harry Mathews. She is an editor emeritus of the Paris Review.

    Dear Lizzie,

    It seems so odd. The past few years of us waving at each other across crowded

  • Frank Lobdell

    Frank Lobdell’s recent pictures suggest narration the way Australian bark paintings do, by spreading and tilting bits of pictorial incident to give a sense of elastic time. The widely stacked swatches of radiant colors mostly trued-up blues, blacks, greens, and thunderous yellows—perform as syntactical compartments that interlock emotionally, whatever their rationale. Their hues are like the perfumes of colors you once thought there were precise names for. Each painting could be the story of a particular day, from sunrise to midnight, and the soul’s mood swings within that span. To each localized

  • Lee Friedlander

    Early on, in the late ’60s, Lee Friedlander’s photography was acclaimed for its skittish alienation effects and headlong artlessness. Looking at his pictures now, you realize how willfully their images have been managed, whether the compositions are helter-skelter or nominally empty. (That willfulness can be overbearing. Friedlander is also notorious for the stupefaction his monstrous puns and one-liners can induce; it’s a chronic case of humor running afoul of its own logic.) Friedlander doesn’t come off as alienated, as if the culture has pushed his sensibility aside; you sense that he has


    Yes, when I address someone, I do not know whom I am addressing; furthermore, I do not care to know, nor do I wish to know. . . . Without dialogue, lyric poetry cannot exist. Yet there is only one thing that pushes us into the addressee’s embrace: the desire to be astonished by our own words, to be captivated by their originality and unexpectedness.

    —Osip Mandelstam, “On the Addressee,” 1913

    It seems to me that it is not the critic’s historic function to have the right opinions but to have interesting ones. He talks but he has nothing to sell. His social value is that of a man standing on a

  • Francesc Torres

    At the center of Francesc Torres’ new installation, Destiny, Entropy, and Junk, 1990, a ten-minute, fuguelike videotape projection was beamed from above onto a nineby-eighteen-foot patch of salt on the main gallery floor. Surrounding the highly reflective, makeshift screen sat seven luxury cars—a Jaguar, a Cadillac, a BMW, a Corvette, and so on—all exhibiting varying degrees of front-end-collision damage. Torres borrowed the sedans from a local AAA garage for the duration of the show (fittingly, the Capp Street building is an ex–body shop). Next to the cars stood shiny steel showroom display

  • Jim Barsness

    Most of Jim Barsness’ mixed-media paintings (all works 1990) show real people striking attitudes that are both familiar and discrepant. We see the artist’s wife and children in the nude, full-length and hieratic rather than intimate. Taken from memory, the poses are idealized beyond anecdote, as if, in the course of their domesticity, these people had collectively assumed a double life that their individual features reflect. Their nudity is functional, a way of making what the artist calls “indelible character.” Looking at them, the discrepancies one recognizes relate to art history (scads of

  • Dan Connally

    At a glance, the six medium-size paintings Dan Connally showed here could be taken as luxuriant, though somewhat private, meditations on the pleasures and pressures of 20th-century style. Some consist of cubistic planar grids, reactivated and jumbled so as to suggest seismic distress. Or, where the grid bursts open in glowing shafts and forward clusters of pigment-as-surface-and-edge, what is recalled is that moment in the ’40s when Abstract Expressionism emitted its earliest hybrids, budding bravely out from under the Euro-Modernist mulch.

    Connally’s pictures project a self-conscious, heterodox

  • Yayoi Kusama

    The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama spent the years 1958–1973 in New York where she gained her first notoriety. During that period her work shared affinities with a nearly encyclopedic range of avant-garde practices. Her large “Net” paintings coincided with reductivist abstraction, her “Accumulations”—beginning around 1962, first with collage, then as environments with stuffed-fabric penises clustered on common household furnishings—anticipated the proliferation of strange erotic objects during the latter half of the decade, and her nudist Happenings from the late ’60s and early ’70s were right in

  • Elmer Bischoff

    Elmer Bischoff’s paintings are those of a virtuoso who indulges his love of performance without egocentricity and therefore without stunts. In this, Bischoff resembles Hans Hofmann although Bischoff ’s work can be subtler, and cumulatively mysterious as Hofmann’s never was. Bischoff trusts his paint to achieve an impassioned surge when worked up into interlocking scrubbings and flickers of color. Like Hofmann at his most orchestrally romantic, he shows innumerable transubstantiating things that color can do when handled in various ways.

    In this show of 17 heretofore unexhibited paintings from


    MIDWAY IN A PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRY into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke identifies power as an essential component of sublimity by a rhetorical double negative: “I know of nothing sublime which is not some modification of power.” Sublimity’s sensory or ideational lift is characterized by a murky flow of negatives. Besides his “nothing . . . which is not,” Burke lists such “general privations” as vacuity, darkness, solitude, silence.1 Negativity is as convenient a source of astonishment and awe as any display of positive excess.

    Nowadays, to assert the sublime,

  • Inez Storer

    Inez Storer exhibited sumptuous mixed-media installments here, all from 1989, in what might be called her “Voyage of Self and Marriage” cycle. The paintings show male and female figures pitched against elemental vistas, predominantly, air and sea. The figures, with their sharply planed contours, have the individual, hieratic fixity of footprints; the elements—bright, busy air, darkly tossing sea—are all a matter of flux, so that each scene unwinds with a natural-looking, tousled continuity. The overall approach is personal and operatic, with images that have washed up plush from the artist’s

  • Group Material, Aids Timeline

    In AIDS Timeline, 1989, the artists’ collective Group Material helped to clarify what Paula A. Treichler has called elsewhere “an epidemiology of signification.” Here were itemized samplings from the convergent swirls of nomenclature, image management, political ur-texts, and sheer numbers that continue to make a mess of people’s perceptions of the AIDS crisis. About AIDS there can be no dispassionate informants. An artistic attitude, such as Group Material made operative in its installation, can take up accretions of topical data and straighten them out—handily, pointedly, albeit provisionally.

  • Henry Wessel

    Everything in a photograph by Henry Wessel sits tonally clear and smooth across the sheet so that whatever seems to be the main subject––a sunbather, a suburban house or solitary tree––stands as just the pretext for seeing all else that is simply, and absurdly, there. By dint of being centered in the frame, the subject, like the unitary camera eye, ushers in a set of transforming binocular aftershocks. Wessel’s black and white images are head-on but his comic conceptions reveal themselves obliquely; he lets both his and our attention wander enough to discover the multiplicity in any range of


    THE LARGE OIL PAINTINGS that Martha Diamond showed in New York two seasons ago took some extra scrutinizing before their visibility, and even their sensational impacts, could register. Disoriented viewers tended to shrug them off precipitously. Taken as exercises in a postreductive, painterly abstract style, Diamond’s blithely charged surfaces seemed too glib, too erratic, diverse, or, worse, hastily slapped down; as emotive imagist glyphs, too nonchalant, rarefied, and obscure. “Nothing much at first,” “not much going on,” went the adumbrations in two local critics’ lead sentences before those

  • “The Museum of Jurassic Technology”

    The Museum of Jurassic Technology was founded two years ago by David Wilson, an artist who designs miniature special effects models for movies and TV. Normally housed on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, the collection comprises a bevy of eccentric artifacts—some redolent of the ultramundane but most of them chortling at the high end of speciousness. The museum is a belated tribute to the batty logic of 19th-century empiricism, whose will to certainty was paralleled by a taste for the grossly unfounded. An introductory slide lecture encourages immediate identification with “the incongruity of

  • “10 + 10”

    The round numbers in the title of this traveling anthology exhibition refer to equal sets of Soviet and American painters, all of whom are under 40, commingled in the show’s ranks. The Soviets—Yurii Albert, Vladimir Mironenko, Yurii Petruk, Leonid Purygin, Andrei Roiter, Sergei Shutov, Alexei Sundukov, Vadim Zakharov, Anatolii Zhuravlev, and Konstantin Zvezdochetov—are all males living in Moscow. The American artists are David Bates, Ross Bleckner, Christopher Brown, April Gornik, Peter Halley, Annette Lemieux, Rebecca Purdum, David Salle, Donald Sultan, and Mark Tansey, all but two of whom live

  • Catherine Wagner

    Catherine Wagner is a particularist whose black and white photographs discriminate, as she says, “more than the eye is used to seeing.” This small show comprised prints chosen from the three main series she has completed over the past decade: “George Moscone Site,” 1979–82, “The Louisiana World Exposition,” 1984–85, and “American Classroom,” 1982–87. As the titles suggest, her subjects have tended to be the purposeful spaces of public architecture and schools. The subjects have a reflexive pitch, as if Wagner’s eye and her camera had set out to rediscover their own intentions through confronting

  • Poe Dismuke

    Fool-the-eye is the pictorial equivalent of sophisticated doggerel in verse; both play on memory’s expectations, embarrassing the mind in its connective gullibility, its rote ha bits of belief. In the observer’s mind, the intrusion on visual reality seems like child’s play, no matter how painstakingly it has been accomplished by grown-up skill. Accordingly, once the trick is revealed, the observer either dismisses it as a paradox unworthy of an adult’s attention, or submits to childlike wonder, transfixed.

    Poe Dismuke’s latest figment-ridden assemblages occasion both wonder and the reminiscence

  • William Tucker

    William Tucker’s recent sculptures are stark, heavy, freestanding cast-bronze chunks, each with a mutable image. As you move around them, tracking successive profile views, their roughly modeled masses slip from one directional emphasis to another, from flexing, truncated anatomical hints to broadly sloping topographic sensations, and back again. Such perceptual episodes modify and hide one another. Meanwhile, the monolithic shape that is their integer stays unperturbed, though constantly elusive, and the big abstract scale is consistent throughout. Then there is the sculptures’ gravitational

  • Masami Teraoka

    Masami Teraoka is known for making funny, dextrous paintings on themes of bicultural imbalance. Done mostly with watercolors in a style evoking ukiyo-e woodblock prints, his burlesques work like certain New Yorker cartoons or the visual puzzles with captions that read, “What’s wrong with this picture?” One might leave them at that, except for their ever more complicated esthetic, narrative, and moral fascinations, which recall the equally puzzling, oriental side of Pieter Brueghel. Even as quick hits, they’re not trivial.

    Ukiyo-e prints are small and square, their colors having been applied with