Donald Kuspit

  • Kimber Smith

    “Cosmically we find that matter organizes around centers, which are often marked by a dominant mass,” the gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim once said, but “we cannot be grateful enough for living in a world that, for practical purposes, can be laid out along a grid of verticals and horizontals . . . the Cartesian grid.” In two early works by the abstract painter Kimber Smith (1922–1981) at Cheim & Read—Untitled, 1965, a modestly sized gouache on paper, and Kup’s White Diamond, 1970, a large acrylic on canvas—the center is utterly conspicuous. In the former, it is a pale, luminous void edged

  • Joanna Pousette-Dart

    “Strong experience of nature . . . is the necessary basis for all conception of art,” Paul Cézanne wrote in 1904. And in 1949 Clement Greenberg surmised that “Western painting has continued somehow to be naturalistic despite all appearances to the contrary.” The critic also went on to say that abstraction began “when Braque and Picasso stopped trying to imitate the normal appearance of a wineglass and tried instead to approximate, by analogy, the way nature opposed verticals in general to horizontals in general.” Similarly, Joanna Pousette-Dart’s paintings in her exhibition at Lisson Gallery

  • Erró

    Comprised of thirty-four modestly sized collages and a pair of huge, panoramic paintings, Galerie Perrotin’s exhibition of works by the octogenarian Icelandic artist Erró was like a grand expedition across sixty-one years of his imaginative brilliance. Using his manic enthusiasm and inventive wit, he bombarded us with images from all quarters of high and low culture, often combining them to unusual effect. Léger Scape, 1984, an unexpected amalgamation of Fernand Léger’s Cubistic machine aesthetic with Joan Miró’s Surrealistic naturalism, was a refreshingly new creature, a Frankenstein monster

  • Keith Sonnier

    Red, yellow, and blue neon tubes were illuminated. Wires hung loosely and were expressively slack. A flat black plane, rectangular or square, was often thrown into the mix. Everything was finessed into the gallery’s smooth, white walls like a bas relief. The works’ finitude and self-containment were exacting, perfect: Such is the formula for Keith Sonnier’s technological constructions, which were arranged like altarpieces within Kasmin’s West Twenty-Seventh Street space in Manhattan’s Chelsea. The compositions have a peculiarly sacramental character, all the more so because their radiant colors

  • Man Ray

    An eye-opening survey of Man Ray at Di Donna—comprising thirty-two paintings and thirty-four works on paper—possessed what André Breton once called the “extreme degree of immediate absurdity,” a quintessential aspect of Surrealism. Man Ray, one of the movement’s undisputed masters, is well known for his photograms and solarized images, as well as for his fashion and portrait photography. He also produced various avant-garde films and conceptually driven pieces, such as the readymade Indestructible Object (or Object to Be Destroyed), 1923, an image of an eye snipped from a photo and attached to

  • Hyman Bloom

    Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning thought that Hyman Bloom (1913–2009) was “the first Abstract Expressionist artist in America.” In 1950, Bloom was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, alongside those two artists and Arshile Gorky. In Artnews that same year, Elaine de Kooning noted that Bloom’s paintings were almost totally abstract and declared that “the whole impact [of his art] is carried in the boiling action of the pigment.” Such freneticism, an immersion in nature at its most elemental and intense—or, perhaps more accurately, an impassioned identification with

  • Pierre Soulages

    In an homage to Pierre Soulages’s indomitable spirit, this mini survey at Lévy Gorvy featured twenty of the French artist’s oils made between 1954 and 2019. He is still amazingly productive and still obsessed with the color black, even at the grand old age of ninety-nine. At this stage of the human life cycle, the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson has said, the only choice a person has is to either stagnate or to keep pushing along, full steam ahead. Soulages has clearly chosen the latter. He has never stopped being generative, despite the fact that his trademark hue is “a totally dead silence . . .

  • Kurt Schwitters

    Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) is renowned for his Merz collages and constructions, titled after an advertisement for Commerzbank he once cut up, dispensing with the German institution’s com and bank, and leaving only the nonsensical merz, which has an odd resonance with schmutz, or dirt. This is fitting, of course, for an artist who was a master of appropriating cultural schmutz—including, in his own words, “tram tickets, bits of driftwood, buttons, and old junk”—for his work.

    At Nahmad Contemporary, twenty-two of Schwitters’s collages, made between 1920 and 1947, were on display. Among them, Ohne

  • Leon Polk Smith

    This exhibition of fifteen small, intimate, and oddly fugitive works on paper—prints, drawings, and collages—by the late Leon Polk Smith (1906–1996) gave the viewer a glimpse into the sundry phases of thinking and making that marked the long career of this twentieth-century painter. Smith tackled a range of movements that focused on abstraction, from De Stijl to hard-edge painting and even Minimalism. But such labels tell us little about his singular success in giving precise aesthetic purpose to geometrical form and vivid hues.

    Take Little Dogies at Night, 1942, which features an eccentric grid

  • James Nares

    James Nares’s eight ingenious and materially intriguing paintings at Kasmin Gallery—made from twenty-two-karat gold leaf applied to a ground of black Evolon, a microfilament textile—created a richly existential space with the most elemental of contrasts: light and dark, symbolizing life and death. The surfaces of his abstractions—stippled or covered with striations that vaguely resemble the hides of cheetahs, tigers, and other exotic cats—are resolutely flat, in the grand modernist tradition. Yet they are profoundly expressive, rich with personal and social meaning, as evidenced by the pictures’

  • Leon Kossoff

    Leon Kossoff’s London—where he was born in 1926 and still lives—is depressing, unwholesome, grim; indeed, a kind of hell. Cimmerian charcoal drawings, such as City Rooftops, 1957, and Railway Bridge Mornington Crescent, 1952, made the place feel as though it was suffocating under toxic ash. More pointedly, it was a metropolis haunted by death, as Demolition of YMCA Building No. 2, 1970, suggested. The work reminded one of the buildings destroyed by German bombers in World War II during the blitz, while King’s Cross Building Site Early Days, 2003, made one think of the city’s hesitant renewal

  • Jasper Johns

    Jasper Johns’s “Recent Paintings & Works on Paper” at Matthew Marks Gallery, featuring thirty-eight pieces made between 2012 and 2018, was simultaneously a tour de force and a last hurrah—an understated meditation on Johns’s vast artistic legacy that also seemed to reckon with the artist’s own mortality. (Johns is, after all, almost ninety years old.) Amid the shadows and subtle anxieties expressed in this show was Untitled, 2018, a suite of twenty-four small ink drawings hung in a well-lit backroom/sepulcher, each of which depicted a grinning skeleton. The bony figure looks like a bit of a

  • Hans Hofmann

    In 1903, Hans Hofmann (1880–1966) moved from Munich to Paris, where he saw the influential Paul Cézanne retrospective at the Salon d’Automne in 1907, worked with Henri Matisse, and became friends with Georges Braque, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and Pablo Picasso, eventually fusing Fauvism and Cubism to new effect, and later adding Wassily Kandinsky to the influential mix. Though he was present at the birth of abstract painting in the early twentieth century, he was not one of its midwives, but rather a synthesizer of their ideas, opening what is generally regarded as the first school of modern

  • Gerald Slota

    If one didn’t know that the ten digital C-prints in this exhibition were dedicated to Gerald Slota’s dead father, one would have thought they were merely surreal. The eccentric, collage-like compositions featured timeworn items from his late parent’s home (crusty wallpaper, shabby kitchen tiles, a misshapen pegboard) in sensational colors (electric yellows, lurid greens, lambent blues). The pieces were strangely abstract—the pegboard, for instance, became a Color Field painting, the bit of wire dangling from it an expressive gesture. The images had a certain naive and clumsy charm, a quality we

  • Ilya Bolotowsky

    In 1936, the painter Ilya Bolotowsky (1907–1981) cofounded American Abstract Artists, an organization instrumental to the advancement of European abstraction at a time when the form was “met with strong critical resistance” (according to the AAA) in the face of the then-dominant regionalism of artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. The Washburn Gallery’s presentation of Bolotowsky’s work, a selection of eight paintings created between 1935 and 1980, showed us an artist who was a staunch believer in the experimentalism and ideals of modernism, as well as a master of both the geometric

  • Jim Dine

    Pop art provocateur Jim Dine is renowned for humorous works such as The Technicolor Heart (The Big One), 2004—an outdoor sculpture of the titular organ rendered in a queasy blue and embedded with sundry things (including hammers, hatchets, and hands) in a rainbow of colors—and Walking to Bora˚s, 2008, a Brobdingnagian outdoor statue of Pinocchio, located in Sweden. But in 2010, the artist suddenly changed course and began making abstractions. The “Black Paintings” series, 2015, which were on view at Richard Gray Gallery, came out of this shift. As Dine has declared, the images are

  • Rackstraw Downes

    “If something is real to you,” as the realist painter Rackstraw Downes writes—suggesting that things aren’t real until they are personally real—then the question is not, “What is this phenomenon I’m perceiving?,” as he says, but, “Why is this phenomenon real to me?” Or, how is something important enough to catch the eye and engage the mind? What is the motive, conscious or unconscious, that led Downes to paint what he painted here? We can understand why he chose to depict his studio, a sort of self-protecting inner sanctum eloquently realized in a trio of paintings: Skylit Loftspace,

  • “Vile Bodies”

    The bodies in this group exhibition may have been vile—they certainly weren’t classically ideal—but they were absolutely distinctive. “Vile Bodies,” which extended to the gallery’s London branch, was full of various stylistic persuasions. Take, for instance, the linear clarity of Lucio Fontana’s drawing Nudo (Nude), ca. 1956–59; the bawdiness of Joseph Beuys’s sketch Josephine, 1954; or the expressionistic zeal of Don Van Vliet’s gouache on paper Untitled (Woman), 1986. Yet its major through line, as the title of the exhibition made clear, was a roiling contempt for the human form.

  • Oliver Lee Jackson

    An eclectic mix of paintings and sculptures by Oliver Lee Jackson was exhibited at Burning in Water. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, know that the octogenarian artist has a rich past: Among other things, he founded in 1971 the African Continuum arts organization, a body dedicated to the support and advancement of black thinking and culture, and from 1968 to 1972 he collaborated with Saint Louis’s cross-disciplinary Black Artists Group (or BAG), befriending and working with the avant-garde jazz musician Julius Hemphill. Jackson’s show was a modest sampling from a lifetime of production by an

  • Ed Moses

    Ed Moses’s miniretrospective at Albertz Benda, which featured a dozen of the artist’s canvases, was also a memorial to his stunning achievements. The earliest, Peeleb, was made in 1998; the most recent, Krak-BLK, 2014, was created only four years before his death this year, at the age of ninety-one. The paintings testified to his versatility and endlessly exploratory creativity. He was an action painter, as he acknowledged—but there were few action painters who were as “open to change,” to quote his friend Frank Gehry. Moses called himself the Mutator, implying that his art was in a constant