Christopher Knight

  • Christopher Knight

    QUEER AND DEAR

    Any number of satisfying and significant shows scanned global art history, up to and including artists whose mature work began to develop in the ’50s (such as Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly). But most memorable 1996 museum exhibitions kept their distance from work by younger artists, about which we lately seem rather reticent. Maybe that’s why the knockout midcareer survey of LARI PITTMAN’s brash, queer, in-your-face paintings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art seemed doubly vivifying: flat-out artistic confidence is in otherwise short supply these days. Since 1985 Pittman

  • One for All

    I DON’T LIKE NOT liking Jasper Johns’ later paintings. It just seems ungenerous. The paintings from the first 20 years of his career have given me so much pleasure, so much excitement, so much consolation, that feeling a deep connection to his art slowly unravel for the second 20 years is like losing a cherished intimacy. My anxious anticipation for the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective of Johns’ work since 1954 is born of a hope that I might get some idea of just what happened—either to the paintings, to me, or to both of us.

    Between 1955, when he completed his famous Flag, and 1968, when

  • Christopher Knight

    PALM SPRINGS ETERNAL

    It’s tempting to clap for “HIDDEN TREASURES REVEALED,” the display of booty looted during World War II and long sequestered at St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum. The show forced complex questions concerning the civil conduct of post–cold war international life, while also resurrecting from the ashes Degas’ drop-dead 1875 painting, Place de la Concorde, a thrilling urban image of imminent emptiness and loss. Still, resist temptation. Leave behind yet another legendary palace and textbook icon, and embrace instead the nearly forgotten paintings of AGNES PELTON, from “Agnes

  • “Italian Re-Evolution: Design in Italian Society in the Eighties”

    Museums have generally chosen one of two methodologies for survey exhibitions of contemporary design. In one, the purely esthetic qualities of functional artifacts such as teacups, record players, and chairs are isolated by placing the objects on pedestals or in vitrines as if they were sculptures; alternatively, the design process itself unfolds in displays often including experimental prototypes and tracking initial concept through final execution.

    “Italian Re-Evolution: Design in Italian Society in the Eighties” ostensibly proposes a new methodology. Organized by museum director Sebastian J.

  • Alexis Smith

    Alexis Smith’s appropriations of texts come from popular literature ranging from Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology to Raymond Chandler novels and pulp romances. They are illustrated by images appropriated from popular art—movie stills, plastic trinkets, wallpaper, jewelry, tarot cards, coins, magazine ads, Chinese firecrackers, and so on. Through the accretions of time, repetition, and haphazard consensus, cultural truths solidify into cliches; Smith’s collages attempt to liquefy, then vaporize these edifices without letting go of the truths calcified within.

    Her problem in the past has been to

  • David Amico

    David Amico appears to be as intent upon avoiding a singular style in his work as he is upon establishing a singular sensibility. His commandeering of a multiplicity of styles from painting to painting—or even within a single painting—functions to support an unabashedly romantic attitude of mind which is capable of revealing itself in any number of ways. While only rarely quoting directly (and then, more often than not, only from popular culture, bastion of image replication), Amico chooses styles that draw on a lengthy romantic lineage, from Caspar David Friedrich to Paul Gauguin, from “Modern

  • “Photoflexion”

    Art has traditionally functioned as a respectable arena for erotic delectation. Among the earliest erotic stereo-graphs produced in the 19th century were pictures of classical nude statuary; while the long exposure time needed for these daguerreotypes may to some extent have encouraged the use of statuary as model, it is also reasonable to suggest that the newly invented camera’s ability to appropriate aspects of the flesh-and-blood world inhibited to a degree the use of flesh-and-blood models as erotic subject matter. Nude statuary, unlike naked skin, was protected by the “morally and esthetically

  • Peter Alexander

    Peter Alexander’s recent paintings on black velvet are virtuosic in the extreme. Lush, subaqueous fields stuck with tinsel, rhinestones, taffeta, and corduroy, they are almost painfully beautiful.

    Alexander began making paintings on black velvet about six years ago (take that, Julian Schnabel), but those hard-edge glittering sunsets walked a thin line between the metaphysical idealism of his earlier cast-resin wedges and the vernacular trashiness of their own materials and subject matter. The high-tech transcendentalism of the wedges, their yearning sense of unattainable perfection, was clearly

  • Tony Delap

    Tony DeLap, like Robert Mangold, is a seductive but unsung colorist. The color of the irregularly shaped canvases in DeLap’s current exhibition defies any attempt to describe or convey a sense of it: pale yet rich silvery eggplant, thundercloud gray with silvery olive drab overtones, and so on. Although the surface color is uniform, monochromatic it is not.

    The elusive yet palpable presence of DeLap’s color informs the physical structure of his paintings. The three large works in this show are variations on a basic format; in each a square canvas is abutted to one interior edge cut from a tondo.

  • Italo Scanga

    Fear is a primal force. It has been registered in the cave drawings of Altamira, the oldest extant images and symbols rendered by humankind, and in their concomitant magical functions, the oldest known form of religion. Pretty heady stuff.

    Italo Scanga’s recent sculptures, on the other hand, are images of mundane fears. And though their primacy may be more transient, less elemental, they are no less real or affecting: fear of old age, fear of thunder, fear of drinking and of war, even fear of buying a house. These works are constructed of materials as simple as the fears they portray—rough-hewn

  • John Okulick

    John Okulick continues to work in a space between painting and sculpture. While his shallow boxes of finely-crafted wood are three-dimensional objects, they are meant to be visually read against the two-dimensional surface of the wall on which they are hung. The actual, physical presence of these boxes is extended into a purely visual space through complex spatial manipulation. For instance, Elevator is subdivided into two rectangular bins, each of which is further subdivided by diagonal planks. The “far” end of the right plank abuts the same side of the box as that which appears to be the “

  • Jay McCafferty

    It is difficult to look at Jay McCafferty’s solar burn collages without conjuring up metaphors of the artist as Promethean figure. With a magnifying lens as net, McCafferty captures the sun’s rays and focuses them onto grid points on the ink-washed surfaces of layered vellum paper. The paper burns, creating erratic shapes which ultimately penetrate and expose other layers. In many of the works, charred bits of painted paper have been collaged to the top layer, yielding incredibly fragile, visually seductive surfaces. The natural “destruction” of the burned paper is pulled together by the applied

  • Daniel Douke

    Much more mysterious than McCafferty’s solar-burn collages are Daniel Douke’s trompe l’oeil paintings of cardboard boxes. Only a telltale seam here, a suspiciously reflective patch there, ultimately reveal that the cardboard boxes protruding from the wall are in fact three-dimensional paintings. That revelation is slow in coming, however, so beautifully rendered is the deceit.

    In his fusion of painting, sculpture and photography, Douke is engaged in pursuits shared by a number of artists working today: Sylvia Mangold’s masking-tape paintings, Jud Nelson’s marble “Wonder Bread” sculptures, Michael

  • Vija Celmins

    Vija Celmins’ fifteen year retrospective is characterized by an almost obsessively meditative point of view in intimate renderings of an airless, utterly silent world.

    The early ’70s graphite drawings of the surface of the Pacific Ocean for which she is most known find their antecedents in all-gray oil paintings of awkward goose-neck lamps and TV sets and in freeway views executed in the mid-1960s. Occasional detours appear—like the six-foot Comb sculpture plucked whole from Magritte’s 1952 painting, Personal Values, and deposited in the gallery—but even these rather empty exercises contain seeds

  • Jay Phillips

    It seems like it’s always the simple words that take up several column inches in the dictionary, so numerous are the shadings of their meaning. “Field” is one such word, with, according to my Webster’s, 38 lines of type explaining 19 variations on the theme. Quite a useful word and, to get to the matter at hand, quite appropriate in many of its senses to discussing JAY PHILLIPS’ paintings.

    Bright, neon enamels, sometimes embedded with light-catching glitter flecks, are poured, brushed and sprayed onto small fields of aluminum. The metal is gently curved so as to be freestanding, or it is cut,

  • Robert Janz

    For the past 15 years Robert Janz has been producing what he calls “nomadic” art. Compact, portable, adaptable, transient, recyclable, his work involves open-ended propositions. Different sets of stick sculptures can be arranged and rearranged in an infinite number of variations within preordained conceptual limits. Some are keyed to specific sites (any arrangement in a doorway, any arrangement in a glade), while those in this exhibition specify the method of arrangement (all sticks in contact with each other, all sticks at right angles). All incorporate a sense of play, almost like matchstick

  • Manuel Felguerez

    Constructivism, like its International-Style architectural cousin, can easily degenerate into an inert sterility. The utopian dream of sparkling clarity in spatial organization for the creation of liberating environments has emerged, as often as not, as restrictive containment, spit and polish for the eye and brain.

    Manuel Felguerez’ sculpture is firmly lodged in the constructivist tradition. Much of the work on view is the result of a collaboration in 1976 at Harvard University with Mayer Sasson, an electrical engineer. They developed a mathematical model from eight basic shapes in the artist’s

  • Don Sorenson

    Don Sorenson structures his paintings with webs of zig-zag lines set diagonally in opposition to the vertical or horizontal canvas format. This surface “drawing” has remained fairly constant for the past several years with the major variation occurring in the under-painting. This time out, the underpainting consists of broad strokes of color in gradations from warm to cool, intense to muted, light to dark, creating a shallow, indeterminate space. The overlay of lightning bolts, themselves ordered by a complex color system, results in highly vertiginous paintings.

    Practically everything about

  • Nicholas Africano

    If Seurat’s dictum that painting is “the art of hollowing out a surface” were true, then Nicholas Africano’s work wouldn’t qualify. Africano paints figures in literal bas-relief, awkward, lumpish characters built up of painted wax on a monochromatic field. The High Wire, a group of four new paintings that are almost identical in composition, presents a figure in mid-stride, balancing precariously on a thin tightrope as he journeys across the gray-blue canvas.

    Africano was at one time a writer of short, nondiscursive prose that attempted to create direct, immediate images with words. Slowly, he

  • Guy De Cointet

    Guy De Cointet weaves abstraction and language together in deliberately theatrical performances that can only be described as elegant. American abstract art in the early 20th century was, in the critical view championed by Willard Huntington Wright, adamant in its rejection of the “extraneous” element of literature in art. De Cointet’s Tell Me is, in his words, “a performance about language and abstraction, and how they are perceived by the mind and the senses.” Monologue, dialogue, sign language, song, and, if you’ll excuse the expression, body language are played off abstract forms, objects,