Bill Berkson

  • Michael Gregory

    The first paintings Michael Gregory showed five years ago were large, squarish oils on canvas showing haystacks, bushes, and fallen trees set forward in open fields. Mysteriously engulfed by flames or left smoldering in the aftermath of some intensely localized apocalypse, the natural objects in them seemed to sputter in a dialect of irritably debased pastorale at the outer limits of contemporary experience. In his new pictures (all of them from 1988), Gregory has pulled back for more general, though no less cryptic, views of the same allegorical “elsewhere” terrain. Now he paints long, horizontal

  • Larry Rivers

    This was a delicious show, upbeat and consistent. Larry Rivers exhibited 35 new paintings from the past two years, most of them foamboard wall reliefs done by mounting cut-out chunks of images previously painted on paper or canvas, cutting the mounts to match the contours, and then reassembling the pieces. The raised areas stick out as much as six inches. They can appear even thicker, but so smooth is the flow of detail, you sometimes forget that they project at all.

    The latter effect is a reverse illusion: you see a flat surface hopping with dramatic, shallow spatial shifts of the kind that most

  • Don Van Vliet

    In his previous guise as the musician Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet always invoked the powers of ceremonial delirium. His interventions along the byways of three-chord rock ’n’ roll floated funky, insistent, atonal guitar clusters around sublunar garglings in a strange amalgam of Howling Wolf and Tex Ritter. (With titles like “Woe Is a Me Bop” and “Lick My Decals Off Baby,” the songs are raucous nonsense of a high order.) It doesn’t necessarily follow that the same person who made that music would make Van Vliet’s paintings, but the congruent urge to extrapolate magic from mess is there.


  • Harry Fritzius

    Harry Fritzius has been typecast as a shamelessly wayward Romantic fabulist, laying his heart bare in the wrong epoch. But he is really as timely as any other post-History history painter. In pursuit of a grand manner, he has run up against a sublime as knowingly degraded as Ross Bleckner’s and as erratically self-propelled as Julian Schnabel’s. Like theirs, Fritzius’ big statements are based on an attitude of will in place of belief. His low is a kind of mock frenzy set thrashing among great, hoary themes; his high is a poignancy as calibrated as despair. The show here featured anywhere from

  • Michael Tracy

    For “Santuarios,” his installation here, Michael Tracy made the exhibition space over as a chapel. He had the main gallery’s high walls painted dark gray and deployed along them, and on bases throughout the room, a large selection of the exquisitely traumatized ritual objects he’s been making during the last ten years. Thick, stumpy cruciform assemblages, crepuscular shrines and paintings, and iridescent bas-relief panels drew illumination from the skylight overhead, bristling in spectral heaps of semipermeable catastrophe, a chthonic mulch.

    These lurid memento mori contrasted with the cool,

  • Richard Hickam, Paul Klein

    A few years ago, Jasper Johns was quoted as saying, “Art is either a complaint or appeasement.” By dint of their specific, ripe, and sometimes raucous colors, Richard Hickam’s paintings appease with an old-fashioned effusiveness which is mostly a matter of handling. The subjects—most of them human figures in boxy abstract spaces—tend to be still or in positions of flatly arrested motion or thought. Hickam’s characters exist privately. Many of them, like the imaginary moments they occupy, are made up as the painting goes along. By contrast, the nude or seminude male figures in Paul Klein’s large,

  • Hung Liu

    Hung Liu is a Chinese artist who now lives in Texas. She received formal training first in her native country during the Mao regime and recently in the conceptualist-oriented graduate program at the University of California, San Diego. “Chineseness,” in one form or another, but especially in its migrant forms, is the basic theme of the two installations she did at separate sites here. The more general themes are movement and difference—especially the difference, say, between being Chinese in China and in America, or between immigrants’ anticipations of wealth and the fake gold leaf on Chinese-American

  • David Park

    David Park had a way of making the human figures in his late pictures seem timeless in their solidity and placement yet fleeting in character; the more relaxed Park was with his paint, the sturdier they became. They might be the stand-up, schematic remnants of a golden age; they might be trees. Such figures were represented in this show of works on paper (1934–1960) by seven undated ink-wash drawings and a dozen gouaches from the series of gouaches Park did in 1960, within the last four months of his life. They exemplify Park at his most declarative and vibrant. The rest of the selection comprised

  • Wayne Theibaud

    Although both David Park and Wayne Thiebaud would be termed figurative painters, the differences between them are more immediately apparent than their similarities. Thiebaud came into prominence a year or so after Park died. His position just outside the general Bay Area Figurative scheme is as peculiar as Park’s was within it; neither of them ever fit the penumbral psychologizing mold, as it developed, to the extent, say, that Elmer Bischoff preeminently did. Park was, and Thiebaud is, a painter of discrete images located in spaces charged by scrutiny, as well as by the manner of depiction.

  • Roger Hankins

    Roger Hankins has hit upon a painterly conceptualism that, far from being remorseful or snide about its parameters, pounces with glee at the sight of them. In 1984, while visiting New York from California, Hankins wandered into a discount art store and, fascinated by a stock display of cheap, handpainted still-life pictures, managed to acquire a set of them at bulk rate. Since then, he has continued to stockpile examples of the same, more-or-less-anonymous items, using them as the material grounds for his own paintings. Seventy years earlier, in the dim light of a train compartment en route from


    JOAN MITCHELL TOLD INTERVIEWER Yves Michaud in 1986, “I imagine a sort of scaffolding made of painting stretchers around a lot of colored chaos as an identity.”1 The terms of Mitchell’s self-image are characteristic in that they point through the self to the work. Instead of a throwaway professional despair (or cosmic acedia at mid career), her “scaffolding” reflects the weathered pragmatism of an improviser who has seen into the heart of her method.

    At 62, Mitchell continues to advance a naturalistic mode of improvisational abstract painting at its most limber extensions. She synthesizes effects

  • Yvonne Jacquette

    Yvonne Jacquette is the kind of realist who, as Constable said of Ruysdael, communicates an understanding of what she paints. Painting everyday life as seen from above, she follows realism’s way of intensifying the seemingly casual visual perception so that its deeper necessity stands revealed. Her understanding admits the tangled nature of her subject: a separate view on the world every time, within reach of melancholy but spared the more topical forms of fuss. She has made the luxurious airborne overview her specialty without dramatizing its alien’s-eye peculiarity. Architecture, streets,

  • Deborah Oropallo

    Deborah Oropallo’s paintings might be classified as a new, piquant kind of Magic Realism. They don’t resemble the old, mid-century, mooning kind; less private, more assertive, and precisely melancholic, they live up to the term better, and more literally. The gem of this show was a small painting called Lemon Vanish, 1988. In it a lemon and a black top hat (props gleaned directly from Manet’s bag of tricks) occupy the center of a compact field, fixed by burnished swaths of light ocher and deep, icey green. A pair of perforated ellipses diagrammed on the hat’s crown testifies that the lemon is

  • Doug Hall

    The sculptural installations, mixed-media paintings and drawings, and other wall pieces and videotape screenings that Doug Hall arranged for this gallery show had an air of waiting out their own apocalypse—an apocalypse of excess allusion and piled-on metaphor, of dysfunctional meanings at hypercritical mass. Meaning in art is equated (in the critical sector at least) with power. Hall’s longstanding fascination with images of power, whether raw or contrived, demagogic or meteorological, has led his art to the verge of an irradiated stasis where delays or sudden outages of meaning are the norm.

  • Robert Ryman

    Robert Ryman spreads white paint across his mostly squarish supports as if to make a hyperbole of essential surface. His new “Charter Series,” designed as a “meditative room” for Gerald S. Elliott’s apartment in the Hancock Tower in Chicago, interprets the plain monochrome surface and its few, carefully adjusted enclosures like a social dancer showing you the mystifying thrusts in a rudimentary box step. Each painting is a fabricated fact, a virtuoso performance of refined contrasts, a meticulously blank facade in which nuance of tone and assembly is everything.

    Ryman’s five paintings aren’t

  • General Idea

    The prospect that General Idea’s AIDS poster, 1987, modeled on Robert Indiana’s mid-’60s LOVE image, might achieve a cultural visibility like that of its predecessor is discomforting but maybe inevitable. LOVE started out as a painting (1966) and proliferated as prints, sculpture, trinkets, and eventually an 8-cent stamp. Despite a four-square hardiness and glints of Op-ish rapture, it always exuded a locked-in anerotic somnolence. A commentary on either image’s verbal component would be negligible, although AIDS, unlike “love,” doesn’t shift much in its connotations. General Idea’s metonymic

  • Viola Frey

    Since the early ’80s, Viola Frey has been prodding the outer surfaces of her ceramic sculptures to get the physical form together with a patchy, transfiguring impetus. In going for this extra vitality, she’s moved away from a prior refinement. Now thick, drawling paint and pitted overglazes coat the figurative contours, mimicking enlarged effects of light and shade, and suggesting internal anatomy, too. Sometimes the modeled forms are so swamped as to seem complicated supports for high-keyed painting; at best, however, the paint helps the eye follow each volume around from any angle so the

  • Andrew Noren, The Lighted Field

    For all of its intoxicated virtuosity, or maybe because of it, Andrew Noren’s The Lighted Field, 1987, strikes the eye as a latter-day “early” film. Its surface energies are sparked from a retrenchment in cinematic self-consciousness; it has the novelty of a quasi-primal proposition about film’s transforming capabilities and reflexiveness. Since transformation is Noren’s theme, to watch him fire up those capabilities and mobilize them is to be transfixed by a magic-lantern display of recorded light and shadow outstripping solid matter in a rapture of shared deliquescence.

    The Lighted Field is a

  • Christopher Brown

    Christopher Brown is a young virtuoso painter from the Midwest who in recent years has been identified locally as one of the hopes of San Francisco Bay Area painting. His paintings are full of contradiction. As a virtuoso, theatrically sure of his paint, he puts everything in the right place, and in his new pictures' reconnoiterings of Chinese cultural themes he has included more of “everything” than before. A line drawing of a take-out carton may stand for Brown's initial subjective procedure, as the assorted Mao icons and tags of ancient Chinese philosophy, art, and architecture may show his

  • Sam Tchakalian

    In the mid ’60s, when he was in his 30s, Sam Tchakalian hit upon the economically inflected abstract idiom that has served him ever since. It’s true that the basic look of his latest paintings is practically indistinguishable from the look of those of ten, or even twenty years ago, but a stabilized design—in Tchakalian’s case, of reduplicative troweled-on, canvas-wide bands of solid and/or blended color—needn’t imply any dearth in the ideas-and-passion department. Tchakalian has his design motif down pat the better to intuit and locate his passion; at least, that, rather than a sameness, is what