David Rimanelli


    Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays, by Camille Paglia. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

    So far we have seen two acts of the razzle-dazzle Camille Paglia show. The first act—the exposition, as it were—was Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, a tumescent tome that ranges swaggeringly over the whole of the Western cultural patrimony, resembling in its ambitions such old-fashioned surveys as Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis and E. R. Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, but hyped-up and amphetamized for the MTV generation. Dirty, too—Paglia’s willful

  • Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover: A Romance

    The Volcano Lover: A Romance, by Susan Sontag. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992.

    SUSAN SONTAG’S NOVEL The Volcano Lover: A Romance is the story of Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for forty-odd years; his low-born but high-spirited (some would say bumptious) wife, Emma; and her famous boyfriend, Admiral Lord Nelson. It is also the story of Naples, one of the great cities of the 18th century, and latterly a tale of the Neapolitan Revolution. Sontag is obviously fond of this period, and she does a pretty good job of weaving the historical particulars


    Tina Barney is a kind of Nan Goldin for the Fisher’s Island set, documenting the lives of the genetic originals for Ralph Lauren’s simulacral fantasies. Whereas Lauren hawks an unreal, manicured WASP utopia, Barney’s photographs deliver the prosaic banalities of the real thing. Her work delineates a style of life that belies the implicit anyone-can-have-this commercial come-on of Polo advertising. Yet, like Lauren, Barney is sticking up for the finer things in life. As she put it in a recent interview, “I’m documenting . . . a way of life that I don’t think might ever happen again in America,

  • Hans-Peter Feldmann

    Hans-Peter Feldmann remains virtually unknown in the United States, but he is something of a cult figure in German art circles. Between the late ’60s and late ’70s, he produced a diverse body of work—photographs, books, and found objects—that in some respects anticipated much of the “pictures” and commodity-critique art that dominated New York art in the ’80s. Feldmann broadly indulged consumer kitsch, advertising, and reproductions without originals in a manner not unlike Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Haim Steinbach. The crucial difference is that Feldmann always eschewed high-gloss finish.

  • Sean Landers

    In his current exhibition, Sean Landers dispenses with the idle abstractions that percolate in much art devoted to the artist’s life and psychology—identity, ego, self, etc.—and gets down to brass tacks. Chucking “Chris Hamson,” the fictionalized alter ego he introduced in a previous show, Landers now apparently feels he can speak for himself in an installation that indulges the nether extremes of confessional art. He owns up to lolling about in bed all day, jerking off, being broke, working shitty jobs, hustling the art world, and feeling sorry for himself. The intimacy implied by the artist’s

  • Alexis Rockman

    Alexis Rockman continues to make cheerfully perverse paintings, indulging a taste for purulence and decoration, concupiscence and deformity. What might otherwise be regarded as no more than willful teenage-boy gross-outs become instead strenuously estheticized confections. Scenes of interspecies buggery and pukey rot glow with saturated colors and shimmer with old-masterish varnishes. Rock-man’s precise depictions of kinky sex and icky death might excite the admiration of Frederic Church or Martin Johnson Heade, and his two best paintings—Omission: The Fossil Record and Allosaurus (both

  • Pruitt • Early

    Pruitt • Early’s Red Black Green Red White Blue Project could be the “nigger drawings” of the ’90s. Two white artists, whose previous works drew on the stereotyped iconography of teenage white trash, now turn their attention toward American black culture with dispiriting results. The artists have covered the floor and walls of the gallery with gold foil, a stylistic gesture that the handy press release informs us “comment[s] on the status emblems in black youth culture and the historical links to the African gold trade as symbolic of the reemergence of a denied history.” These gift-wrapped walls

  • Annie Liebovitz

    There is something wanly funny about entering a gallery full of Annie Liebovitz photographs—photographs I’ve already seen in Vanity Fair or in American Express ads—that oddly reaffirms that usually irrelevant distinction between art and photography. Throughout the ’80s, much high-profile “art” photography seemed transfixed by commerce; leavened with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, however, it at least pretended that this relationship was in some way specular or critical. Liebovitz’s photographs are simply commerce; as Ingrid Sischy has recently written in the introduction to the monograph Photographs:

  • Adam Rolston

    Adam Rolston’s installation Trojans, 1991, is not about The Iliad; it’s about condoms, or rather the boxes that they are shipped in. The show consisted quite simply of 1,000 cardboard containers printed by the artist with a vinyl and rubber stamp. The stamp was also presented on the wall—a sole “painting” in a sculpture show, as it were. The gallery became a theatrical venue, suggesting a warehouse with packages stacked and strewn throughout the space. The lighting was a bit dim, and the ambiance a little mysterious.

    As you may have guessed, Rolston’s installation depends rather heavily on some

  • Sarah Seager

    The noncolor white sustains some too obvious metaphorical resonances. Purity, innocence, origination, virginity: such a symbolic register can degenerate very quickly into weak parody. White is the color worn by dead people who go to heaven. Furthermore, to base one’s artistic project on an exploration of the valences of the color white involves a pretty heavy gloss on the history of Modernism, with maybe just a pinch of Kasimir Malevich and a whole lot of Robert Ryman.

    As Yves-Alain Bois has noted, Ryman’s “deconstruction” is not simply the work of negation, it is rather, a process “endlessly

  • Sam Francis

    Sam Francis is one of those famous but not so famous artists of the ’50s and ’60s; he might merit one or two passing slides in a lecture course on postwar American art, but he’s hardly a likely subject for an essay question on the final exam. Comfortable neither in the Abstract Expressionist nor in the postpainterly camps, Francis’ work doesn’t offer much to get worked up over; there are no ideologies to contest or defend, save that which would affirm the value of unadulterated painterly free play. Otiose and complacent, his painterly distensions relax on the wall. The effect is kind of nice,

  • William Wilson

    One effect of our shopworn and frayed post-Modernity has been to inculcate a cavalier attitude toward the art of the past, ostensibly for the purpose of depriving it of oppressive and authoritarian power. The monuments of the past are commonly subjected to relentless and almost mechanical rituals of demystification. And yet this demystifying approach oddly confirms the provisional success of Modernism’s passionately wished-for break from the ruins of the past. Indeed, it is as if the Modernists actually pulled it off, as our memory sometimes seems to extend no further back than, maybe, to Manet.

  • Robert Mapplethorpe

    The efflorescence of “gay art” in recent seasons has taken a number of forms: political agitprop, neo-Conceptualist critique, and, often, straightforward representation. Not surprisingly, this last category probably has the greatest appeal for a specialized and yet general audience: gay men and lesbians who are largely unfamiliar with the tangled determinations that inform contemporary art, but who know a cute butt when they see one. It might be argued that positioning such explicit representations within precincts not traditionally overly hospitable to them is a political achievement in itself,

  • George Condo

    George Condo’s reputation first flowered in the weedy bowers of the East Village of the early ’80s. Though in the current esthetic climate, interested parties might just as soon forget the roots of his sensibility, as in those 19th-century French novels that chronicle the rise of demimondaines to duchesses, his humble origins can be suppressed but never entirely effaced.

    Condo’s practice—favoring pastiche and quotation—was fueled, on the one hand, by a penchant for outlandish cartoons and caricatures that flourished in the East Village, and on the other, by the cooler but concurrent taste for


    STRATEGIES ASSOCIATED WITH the various movements of Conceptual art that flourished in the late ’60s and early ’70s have been enjoying a renascent vogue. Although this “neo-Conceptual” trend frequently mimes the gestures of the vintage movement, the intransigence that suffused Conceptualism’s attitude toward the art object and its institutional supports today seems almost wiped out. As with the neo-Expressionism of a decade ago, the “neo” is the badge of a process of reifying dehistoricization: the recuperation of Conceptualism as mere style. It is against this desultory background of unreflective

  • David Salle

    The queasiness that David Salle’s most successful paintings supposedly induce has often been cited as proof of their seriousness, even of a kind of backdoor sincerity. Thomas Lawson had some encouraging things to say about Salle’s obscene or wanna-be obscene pile-ups of incommensurable images in “Last Exit: Painting,” “Meaning is intimated but tantalizingly withheld. It appears to be on the surface, but as soon as it is approached it disappears, provoking the viewer into a deeper examination of prejudices bound inextricably with the conventional representations that express them.” Salle, in

  • Jasper Johns

    The standard line on Jasper Johns’ work of the last decade is that it is more personal—at last the artist reveals himself. As Johns admits, the seeming elision of subjectivity that informed his great early works finally became too hard an act to keep up. In an interview from 1978 he explained, “In my early work I tried to hide my personality, my psychological state, my emotions. This was partly due to my feelings about myself and partly due to my feelings about painting at the time. I sort of stuck to my guns for a while but eventually it seemed like a losing battle. Finally one must simply drop

  • Frank Stella

    Frank Stella is a virtual art-historical institution—the last great dinosaur to be consigned a permanent place in the Museum of Modern Art. Supporters as well as detractors treat him as if he were already dead, and the relative lack of development in Stella’s art since the “Polish Village” and “Brazilian” painted relief series of the early to mid ’70s, which initiated his “second career,” confirms the impression of stagnation and closure.

    On the evidence of these huge and seriously unpretty new works, Stella may have embarked on career two-and-a-half. Supported by massive steel buttresses, these

  • “Six German Photographers”

    In the ’60s, Bernd and Hilla Becher pioneered a style of documentary photography that, in its informational bent and reliance on serial methodology, was easily identified with other movements in Conceptual art flourishing on both sides of the Atlantic. Their photographs of industrial architecture, presented in grid format, played ceaselessly on the modulations of sameness and difference, prototype and variation. Aside from creating a very substantial photographic corpus, the Bechers have continued to play a prominent role in the (formerly West) German art scene as pedagogues at the Düsseldorf

  • Jon Kessler

    Jon Kessler’s theatrical son-et-lumière contraptions do not advance theses; they are not, even in today’s loose parlance, “conceptual.” Though many of his works include elements that allude to technology, TV, sci-fi, and kitsch, it would be a serious mistake to locate their earnest gee-whiz tone within the media and commodity discourses that dominated art practice in the ’80s. To suggest that, because Kessler relies on mechanical apparatuses in his works, they are hence “about” technology, the myth of progress, or the postindustrial era would be fatuous—rather like saying that because Bernini