Carter Ratcliff

  • Rosenquist’s Rouge

    ROY LICHTENSTEIN IS A Pop artist. Andy Warhol is a Pop artist. But James Rosenquist is not a Pop artist: he made no use of Jasper Johns’ “Flags.” The “Flags” offer lessons in how to contain Jackson Pollock’s fields of energy, how to turn their troubled sprawl into an affect-less spread of stylishness. That is what Warhol learned from Johns. I would say that Rosenquist learned directly from Pollock, but you don’t learn from Pollock. You confront him, which Rosenquist did and still does.

    Confronting Pollock is a thankless task. Certainly no one has sufficiently praised the herculean finesse with

  • DAVID BYRNE AND THE MODERN SELF: “HOW DO I MAKE THIS WORK?”

    STOP MAKING SENSE (1984), compiled from footage of four 1983 Talking Heads concerts, is a good movie, but it counts more as a major contribution to our current stock of troubled figures—or figurative troubles. According to the credits, Stop Making Sense was “conceived for the stage” by David Byrne, lead singer of the Heads. Byrne had pictorial intentions to his design, which director Jonathan Demme respected. Instead of a plot, the movie chronicles the elegant gestures and twitches, manic and grand, of Byrne’s ongoing struggle to find a fit between his 3D body and the 2D screen. Toward the end

  • ROBERT MORRIS, A SAINT JEROME FOR OUR TIMES

    ROBERT MORRIS IS AN artist of Vanitas, emptiness, a theme with myriad emblems of the vanity of earthly pleasures: an hourglass, a snuffed candle, a sword useless against the approach of death, jewelry valueless in the grave, a tipped-over cup, a skull. Vanitas inspired profusion in Baroque still life; it drives Morris to jam his recent works with images of skulls and bones, hearts and brains and other offal, fists, cocks, firestorms, stick figures, death masks, speeding comets, floating skeletons, a globe of the world. This plenitude makes Morris’ allegory of emptiness difficult to see. He was

  • ANDY WARHOL: INFLATION ARTIST

    IT IS 1962. ANDY WARHOL'S Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and Troy Donahue paintings, his Marlons and Elvises, are exhausting those themes. Now Marilyn Monroe is dead and Warhol has a new subject. A Factory denizen remembers: “When I first knew Andy they were working on the Marilyn Monroes. [Gerard] Malanga and Billy Name did most of the work. Cutting things. Placing the screens. Andy would walk along the rows and ask, 'What color do you think would be nice?'” (Isabel Eberstadt, quoted in Jean Stein, Edie: An American Biography, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

    Three years later a murder takes

  • STAMPEDE TO THE FIGURE

    THESE REMARKS FOLLOW from my sense that painting’s recent “return to the figure” is an important episode in the history of the medium, so important that it overwhelms vision: we talk as if we’ve witnessed the return of the figure. But the figure never went away. The lineage of figure painters extends unbroken from antiquity to the present. So the hordes of human forms in the work of young painters do not signal the sudden reappearance of a venerable subject; rather, these artist’s return to the figure is like a first pilgrimage to a sacred site, a place one knows because it is part of one’s

  • “THERE IS MORE OF TRADITIONAL BEAUTY IN MODERNIST ART THAN WE CARE TO ADMIT.”

    THERE IS MORE OF TRADITIONAL beauty in Modernist art than we care to admit. We have a heavy stake in the belief that a new medium, a new surface, a new style, changes the premises of vision; further, that an innovative eye can manipulate coming events, line them up in accordance with Modernist programs. In fact, stylistic change often conceals the persistence of ways of seeing. Enchanted by a new look for art, we lose sight of our reliance on old habits. Caught up in promises about the future that free up obligations to the present, we ignore our need for the perspective offered by the past—the

  • DAVID BOWIE’S SURVIVAL

    The Rolling Stones turn amplification into amplitude. Filling up a track, they never leave it feeling crowded. The ear always knows (even when the listener doesn't care) that instrumentally the Stones are a small band—two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer. That’s it, usually, yet the results sound complete. When the band adds a sax or a harmonica, its job is to second Mick Jagger’s voice, not to plug holes left by the lead guitar and the rhythm section. There are no such holes to be plugged—which is not to say that the texture of a Rolling Stones cut is continuously dense. Sometimes

  • DALI’S DREADFUL RELEVANCE

    This is the second of two essays on Dali and modern culture. The first, “Swallowing Dali,” appeared in Artforum, September, 1982.

    IN MARCH 1939, SALVADOR DALI filled two of the windows of Bonwit Teller’s, in New York, with what we’d now call environmental pieces—Day (Narcissus) and Night (Sleep). Day featured a Victorian-era mannequin Dali had scrounged up in a second-hand shop. It was buxom, dilapidated, and démodé––just the thing, Dali seems to have thought, for hinting at the maggot heap of nostalgia that crawls beneath narcissism’s skin. Bonwit’s customers disliked the creature. Some went so

  • SWALLOWING DALI

    YES, ONE SAYS, flipping through the pages of Harper’s Bazaar Italia for December 1981, Salvador Dalí is incorrigible, a virtuoso offender. The cover of the magazine is a Dalí original, especially commissioned for this issue. Facing the feature on Dalí is a Richard Avedon shot for Gianni Versace of Milan and New York. Avedon has closed in tight on a couple sprawled out across the floor. The two stare solemnly outward and upward. She, in black leather and lace, raises herself up on her elbows. He, a kid of about 14, nestles under her sheltering torso. Flipped over on his back puppylike, he is, as

  • Nine Sculptors

    The Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts in Roslyn, New York, was formerly the Frick mansion, a large Georgian-revival building from the 1890s. It stands on 175 acres of grounds, which include formal gardens, picturesque meadows and untended woods. This last spring and summer the museum put on its second exhibition of outdoor sculpture. Nine sculptors were given a free hand in choosing the sites for their work. This meant, in effect, that a variety of contemporary artists were given a chance to play their sophistications off against that of late-19th-century architectural and landscape traditions.

  • David Novros

    David Novros’ monochrome canvases of 10 years ago offered rather idiosyncratic variants on the literalness, coolness and seriality of Minimalism. Their L-shapes were played off against the shapes of the walls where they were hung. Novros’ next move was to bring internal shapes into play; some of these were painted, some were created by the abutment of canvas panels. These shapes were geometric with a strong architectural flavor. The painting, whether rectangular or not, mediated actual and imaginary architecture. The architectonics of post-Cubist geometrical painting were recalled. As a minimalist,

  • Robert Morris

    Robert Morris’ latest New York exhibition spreads over two galleries and takes two directions. At Castelli, space is enclosed. At Sonnabend, sight lines are drawn. In one sight-line piece, four copper rods, each nine feet long, are suspended from the ceiling; their arrow-shaped tips reach almost to the floor, When the viewer stands so that three of the four rods are lined up, the fourth is revealed to be off-set. Between the group of three and the single rod, one sees a painted black line extending vertically along the far wall. As a pattern of three lines––copper, black paint, copper—is revealed,