Charles Hagen

  • Irving Penn

    Irving Penn’s glacial photographs command respect, but try as I might I can’t bring myself to like them. Perfectly crafted, they’re by the same token bloodless and sour. Penn is indeed a virtuoso of composition and gesture—a quality made that much more impressive by the fact that he pares away all extraneities from his pictures, leaving his subjects unambiguously pinnned on a stark ground. Composition can be raised to the level of a moral principle, as it has been in the work of photographers as diverse as Edward Weston and Garry Winogrand. In Penn’s photos, though, it never becomes more

  • Wendy MacNeil

    Wendy MacNeil’s portraits have an eerie verisimilitude, of the sort associated (paradoxically) with funerary art—death masks, say, or the encaustic portraits painted on Roman-Egyptian mummy cases. Both the illusionism and the ritualistic quality of her photographs are heightened by her technique: she prints her pictures, mostly frontal headshots, in platinum and palladium (with the delicate chiaroscuro these metals give), on skinlike veils of vellum.

    This striking combination of subject and process accentuates the intimacy of many of MacNeil’s portraits, especially those in “Ronald,” an ongoing

  • Dara Birnbaum

    With The Damnation of Faust: Evocation, Dara Birnbaum has moved to a consciously narrative work. In retrospect the narrative implications of such earlier installations as Kojak/Wang, 1980, and P.M. Magazine, 1982 (the latter shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art recently), are more apparent—Kojak did seem to be shooting at the woman sitting in front of the computer, and the little girl in P.M. Magazine was certainly the heroine of the piece. But those installations, with their process flashiness, repetitive editing, and intensely rhythmic synthosound tracks, seemed more importantly to be

  • Mary Lucier

    A big question in any video installation is what to do with the TV sets. At this point in the development of TV technology the equipment that generates the illusion can’t be physically separated from the image itself.

    In Ohio at Giverny, her video installation in last year’s Whitney Biennial, Mary Lucier hid the work’s seven monitors behind a white wall—a simple solution that made the piece look like a series of pictures hung along the gallery, the “series of portholes” that exhibitions of perspective-based paintings were dismissed as by some Modernist critics. In Winter Garden, installed in a

  • William Wegman

    William Wegman without his weimaraner Man Ray is like Dean Martin without Jerry Lewis, or Edgar Bergen without Charlie McCarthy. Wegman wrote the scripts for the skits the two put on, but much of their success derived from the dog’s personality. He was the perfect naif, hilarious and touching because emotionally transparent, incapable of dissembling, endlessly patient no matter what folderol Wegman put him through: an alter ego any self-deprecating artist would willingly accept.

    No doubt Ray’s spirit will hover around Wegman’s work for a good while longer. But in the 20-by-24-inch Polaroids shown

  • James Casebere

    James Casebere’s photographs seem to aspire to the condition of language—or at least to its generality. Stripped of detail and reduced to simple white forms, the objects he carves out of wood and arranges in his setups are carefully unspecific. They aren’t even themselves; instead they allude to recognizable generic forms—flower pots, detergent bottles, teddy bears. His constructions, several of which were shown at Sonnabend, are doll-sized, like architectural models for the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but in themselves they’re fairly uninteresting. It’s only when he photographs them, choosing emotionally

  • Mark Klett

    The great landscape photographs made by Timothy O’Sullivan, A. J. Russell, and others on the expeditions that explored the American West after the Civil War revealed a desolate, awesomely beautiful land. The West depicted in these densely detailed images was a place of breathtaking panoramas, of huge, grotesquely misshapen boulders, of implausibly dramatic geological formations; it was a land that seemed to certify the Romantic idea of nature as a repository of transcendental forces locked in chthonic struggle. In a sense these photographs could be taken as proof of the very assumptions that

  • Phyllis Galembo

    In her color photographs since the late ’70s Phyllis Galembo has pursued a campy theatricality, dressing people in absurd costumes (some suggesting Carmen Miranda’s fruit bowls) and posing them among artfully crude sets in splashy colors. An argument could be made that these pictures are linked formally to two apparently disparate genres in photography, setups and hand-decorated prints, but Galembo’s tableaux belie such connections through their utter wackiness. Beneath their exuberance, though, most of her pictures have a dark undercurrent of anxiety, a sense of straining after hilarity.

    Several

  • Nancy Burson

    Because of its relentless detail, photography is a medium for depicting specimens, not types. When photographs are photomechanically reproduced and distributed through the mass media, they can easily become instances of implicit types, simply by virtue of the fact that they exist in the same form in vast quantities. But they actually deal only with specific moments and limited sections of the visible world. (Because of this, photographs tend not to be used for tasks such as botanical and medical illustration, where typical cases must be shown.)

    Despite this, various attempts have been made

  • Tseng Kwong Chi

    Dressed in a severe Mao suit (complete with photo ID clipped to the flap of a breast pocket), with his hair closely cropped and dark glasses hiding his eyes, Tseng Kwong Chi transforms himself into the essential representative of the faceless hordes of Asia—or at least of the China of a decade or so ago. In this guise he photographs himself in situations where the presence of such an icon is either expected (at the United Nations, say) or absurd—he also poses with New York street people, and with Mickey Mouse at Disney World. In the poster-sized black and white photos here, all from 1983, he

  • “Artists Call” —Video

    The Artists Call program was important both for its educational value and as a public acceptance by the art community of a political responsibility it’s often accused of avoiding. I didn’t see all the video activities held during it—there were panels and performances on cable as well as special screenings at the Museo del Barrio, Millennium Film Workshop, and Downtown Community Television. The highlight for me, though, was the series of documentaries about Central America by such U.S. independents as Karen Ranucci and Jon Alpert, Thomas Halsall, DeeDee Halleck, and many more, shown at the Kitchen.

  • Aaron Siskind

    Aaron Siskind is now 80, but, as this show demonstrated, he continues to work with undiminished force: two-thirds of the 100 photographs here have been made since 1980. The rest included examples of various themes he’s worked on over the years, ranging from his social-reformist documentary work of the ’30s, through his radical discovery in the early ’40s that the formal allusiveness of objects could be startingly intensified by using the photographic frame to isolate them from their surroundings, to the work of the ’50s and ’60s in which he explored the implications of that discovery. Siskind