Buzz Spector

  • Donald Sultan

    Donald Sultan came of age artistically in Chicago in the mid ’70s. He returns here with his first one-person museum exhibition, a traveling show of paintings and charcoal drawings from the last seven years, organized by Lynne Warren, associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Sultan, who is known for his repertory of generic, highly associative images, is a talented artist; but his work cannot support the inflated rhetoric of Warren’s catalogue essay, which inadvertently matches the artist’s frequently overblown graphic and structural flourishes.

    Sultan’s elaborate methods of constructing

  • Bill Cass

    The eloquent rusticity that characterized Bill Cass’ previous work has given way to a peculiarly cosmopolitan attitude in the five paintings and two drawings shown in this recent exhibition, all from 1987. In his earlier work, Cass painted and drew in a kind of faux naïf style on scavenged pieces of plywood, making reference to primitive altarpieces through additions of scuffed and painted molding. His latest works display more sophisticated paint handling and composition, and figures that bear more than a passing resemblance to Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical mannequins. The feeling of Italian

  • “WARHOL / BEUYS / POLKE”

    Russell Bowman, director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, begins his introductory essay on the genesis of this show with the question “Why these three artists?” But the fact of such an exhibition—which is, among other things, the first U.S. museum retrospective for Andy Warhol since his death, and the first-ever Sigmar Polke retrospective in this country—begs the question “Why here?”

    In describing the various connections among these artists Bowman notes that they began their public careers at approximately the same time (1960) and rose to prominence in three successive decades: Warhol in the ’60s,

  • Ania Bien

    “Every photograph is a certificate of presence.” Roland Barthes’ words seem most appropriate in considering Ania Bien's photoinstallation Hotel Polen, 1987. Eighteen photographs, enlarged to human scale, occupied a narrow corridor gallery here, arranged in parallel rows of eight, with a single photograph mounted at each end of the space. Each one features an old brass menu stand, engraved with the hotel's name, against a field of glossy black. In all but the first of these pictures the stand holds an object: an old postcard view of people seated on a terrace, with mountains in the background;

  • Michael Nakoneczny

    Michael Nakoneczny’s paintings are frantic and fractured, crowded with figures and signs inhabiting territories of vaguely cubist planes and disengaged areas of splashily applied color. Many of his acrylic-on-Masonite works feature hinged appurtenances, jutting from the sides or the top, suggesting the structure, if not the spiritual references, of medieval altarpieces.

    Nakoneczny’s people are crudely drawn, simultaneously childlike and menacing. They move through compositional labyrinths furnished with assorted household objects: washboards, toy trains, claw hammers, and various geometric shapes.

  • Michael Ryan

    Michael Ryan’s paintings and drawings of mulberry trees or catalpa branches are less about their titular subjects than about the artist’s obsessive rituals of image-making. Ryan draws trees as if he’d just thought them up, and his arduously calibrated renderings have the feel of architect’s plans—blueprints for an enchanted forest.

    Ryan’s use of trees as a subject approaches fixation. He has been making images of gnarled trunks and twisted limbs for almost seven years, at first in pen and ink on sheets of translucent vellum, and more recently by routing pieces of plywood. The 11 works shown here—a

  • John Colt

    John Colt’s paintings evoke the evanescent splendor of sunlit tidepools, rippling ponds, august gardens—little worlds where desire awakens. His luminous stained canvases usually show a few denizens of such places (minnows, starfish, snail shells, and a grasshopper are among the menagerie found within the 11 works shown here, all 1986), but the lightly drawn images appear mostly to give a nominal sense of place to these gentle explorations of color.

    Born in Madison, Wisconsin, and a member of the art faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for 30 years, Colt has pursued a distinguished

  • Paul Wonner

    Paul Wonner’s precisely articulated pictures have grown, in the artist’s words, “out of . . . interest and pleasure in 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings.” Yet, while many of the things of Dutch genre scenes are present in these works, theirs is a stillness without charm or intimacy, rendered in a hard, bright, resolutely contemporary light.

    To Flora, 1985, is paradigmatic of Wonner’s sensibility. Within a bare interior space, the floor a virtually uninflected neutral gray, the rear wall nearly black, a great many containers of flowers have been placed. They surround an antique wooden table

  • Michiko Itatani

    The contorted figures, skewed perspective, and dramatic scale that have characterized Michiko Itatani’s work of the past few years were seen again in this exhibition of four enormous paintings. What is new—and problematic—here is an expanded palette whose chromatic richness, though engaging in its own terms, vitiates the tension between methods and expression that has long been a conceptual strength of Itatani’s art.

    During the ’70s, Itatani’s interests in process and site-specific works were developed through installations of painted canvas panels combined with wall drawing and painting. In

  • Ulrich Rückriem

    Ulrich Rückriem’s eight pieces in blue granite that were shown here, all done in 1986 and left untitled, embody a hard poetry of material and sculptural means. These great blocks of stone, taken from a quarry near Vire, Normandy, were chosen by the artist with this capacious concrete-floored gallery in mind. Four works jut from the walls; four more stand in open space. All possess a splendid clarity of form and execution.

    Rückriem settled upon his limited formal vocabulary nearly 20 years ago. Since then he has pursued his artistic program with a rigor and restraint commensurate with the nearly

  • Art Kleinman

    The traffic in irony is heavy today, and the gridlock of “simulationism” threatens to block the way of those artists pursuing strategies of abstraction that are neither ironic nor parodic. Art Kleinman’s complex and colorfully geometric works recall, to a certain degree, the technocratic surrogate abstractions of Ashley Bickerton, Jack Goldstein, or Peter Halley. Yet Kleinman’s interest in the appearance of projective and recessive space, as developed through the schematic interlocking of variously colored modules, distances him from the critique of representation that informs the works of

  • Ellen Phelan

    “Always in a picture,” Camille Corot tells us, “there is a speck of vivid light.” Ellen Phelan’s recent work, which adopts the compositions of selected Corot paintings, invokes this idea in a series of meditations on the relation of painted light to the reflectivity of the object.

    Phelan joins loose and liquid gestures to a muted palette of grays, blues, and browns. The resulting veils of color are hazily atmospheric and suggest landscapes. But Phelan has never been simply a painter: she has pierced each of the seven works on linen here with one or two geometric cuts. These squares, rectangles,

  • “The Departure of the Argonaut”

    Composer, novelist, playwright, and painter, Alberto Savinio was a career dilettante traveling the byways of Modernism. Born Andrea de Chirico in 1891 (the younger brother of Giorgio de Chirico), he was among the founders of the Metaphysical school of painting. He wrote his first opera, Carmela, at the age of 17, and four years later appeared in Apollinaire’s revue Les Soirées de Paris. Hermaphrodito, his compendium of stories, poems, and theater pieces, was published in 1918. Savinio continued to write, paint, and design for the stage until his death in 1952.

    “The Departure of the Argonaut”

  • Paul LaMantia

    The roisterous theatrics of Paul LaMantia’s paintings and drawings have linked him with Chicago’s imagists for nearly 20 years. His obsessively elaborated compositions assault viewers with bewildering arrays of frenzied sexual gymnastics in highly patterned, claustrophobic spaces rendered in sulphurous yellows, neon blues, and ominous reds. Sharing something of Peter Saul’s amiable perversity and Richard Lindner’s menacing elegance, LaMantia’s pictures are rougher and more textural than either.

    This show of recent works is full of luscious textures and a surprisingly subdued palette. The cloistered

  • Anita David

    Good taste—what “good” is it, anyway?—abounds in Anita David’s recent series of paintings. The seven monochrome works that comprised this installation function as emblems of esthetic seriousness, 48-by-48-inch squares of plush gray, made using an inventory of painterly effects. The names that emblazon their surfaces are also filled with associations of a particularly tasteful sort: “Gucci,” “Bloomingdale’s,” “Comme des Garçons,” and so on, an impressive roster of trendsetting stores whose nominative presence sabotages the dignity of these painted fields.

    The humor of this conceptual exercise is

  • UNDER MIDWESTERN EYES

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    The American Midwest is as much a state of mind as a place, and certainly its boundaries symbolic or geographic change

    depending on who's doing the surveying. The region is commonly viewed as the home of “traditional” values, of huddled

    clutters of small towns, of the silent farmer plowing silent fields, of provincial conformity It has long provided us

    with an assortment of local images and personalities isolated against the lands immense, indifferent backdrop.

    The symbiotic relationship of geography and values has occupied many Midwestern artists in the past, and recently, too,

    certain

  • UNDER MIDWESTERN EYES

    THE AMERICAN MIDWEST IS as much a state of mind as a place, and certainly its boundaries—symbolic or geographic—change depending on who’s doing the surveying. The region is commonly viewed as the home of “traditional” values, of huddled clutters of small towns, of the silent farmer plowing silent fields, of provincial conformity It has long provided us with an assortment of local images and personalities isolated against the land’s immense, indifferent backdrop.

    The symbiotic relationship of geography and values has occupied many Midwestern artists in the past, and recently, too, certain artists