Donald Kuspit

  • 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

  • Erwin Blumenfeld

    Vogue Paris, Eiffel Tower, May 1939 is Erwin Blumenfeld’s most famous fashion photograph. After moving to New York in 1941 to escape the Nazis, the German-born photographer contributed extensively, and for decades, to an international array of Condé Nast publications including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The model in the aforementioned image, dressed in a glorious white gown billowing like the wings of an angel or a dove, evokes the famous Hellenistic sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace, which resides on a staircase in the Louvre in Paris. Blumenfeld’s female figure reflects a singular historical

  • Michael Goldberg

    This exhibition brought together paintings that Michael Goldberg made in the 1950s, at the beginning his career (he was born in 1924) and in the 2000s, near the end of his life (he died in 2007). The juxtaposition of his earliest and latest works indicate that the artist never really veered off course; he remained consistently concerned with the “physicality” of paint, which he liked to “push . . . around hard.” The “apparently haphazard composition, the hostile, indifferent surfaces” of his paintings, give the “impression . . . of being fragments of a vast, continuing process beyond [his]

  • Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud

    This exhibition contained twenty-four paintings—nine by Richard Diebenkorn and fifteen by Wayne Thiebaud (the two were lifelong friends)—all ostensibly engaging particular places in California. Berkeley appeared in four of Diebenkorn’s works (Berkeley #21, 1954; Berkeley #39 and Berkeley #44, both 1955; and Driveway, 1956), as did Ocean Park, an area of Santa Monica (Ocean Park #40, 1971). But, as Thiebaud’s nameless places, among them Urban Freeways, 1979, and Fields and Furrows, 2002, made clear, these images could be almost anywhere that there are big cities and rural areas. The

  • André Cepeda

    Portuguese photographer André Cepeda offered us two groups—and kinds—of photographs, nearly all untitled (but numbered) and all, in their different ways, more or less detached musings on aspects of his native country (his hometown, Porto, and São Paulo in Brazil, once a part of Portugal’s colonial empire). The color photographs of the latter, made in 2012, have a conventional clarity and obviousness; the former, mostly colorless photographs made in 2015, are more mysterious. The former feel self-conscious; the latter seem to spring directly from the unconscious. The muted light in 

  • Arthur Szyk

    When thinking of the most prominent American artists of the 1940s, the names Edward Hopper, Ben Shahn, and Jackson Pollock come to mind, but not Arthur Szyk, who was perhaps the most significant of them in his response to the events and problems of that decade. While both Shahn and Szyk were Jewish activist artists, Shahn did not address the rise of fascist dictators—especially Hitler, whom Shahn rarely portrayed or caricatured, as Syzk brilliantly did in such works as in Antichrist, 1942—nor did he tackle anti-Semitism, which Szyk took on in To Be Shot as Dangerous Enemies of the

  • Tom Hammick

    In a series of seventeen exquisitely crafted, visionary woodcuts (all works 2017), Tom Hammick took us on a “Lunar Voyage”—that is, on an artistic adventure to the moon. As French scholars Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant wrote in their 1969 Dictionary of Symbols, the moon is “a cosmic symbol throughout every age, from time immemorial to the present, and common to every culture,” as well as an emblem of “dreams and the Unconscious as properties of darkness.” Darkness abounds in Hammick’s dreamscapes, most prominently in Blackout, with its sweeping night sky and solitary figure, whose

  • Gigi Scaria

    The array of media in this exhibition was rather startling: two videos and a photograph, all rather large (each took up a wall of its own); sculptures of bronze and plastic, or bronze alone, most small, often serially arranged; and works on paper, variously sized, sometimes watercolors, sometimes subtly mixing watercolor and automotive paint. All but two were made this year, and all were meticulously crafted; the works on paper in particular have a nuanced clarity. Many of these works pictured outlandish, bizarrely constructed buildings: monstrous towers of geometrical babel, as in Ladders of

  • Julie Speidel

    Seen out of context—within the gallery’s whitewashed walls rather than on the lush green grounds of Vashon Island, Washington, where they were made—Julie Speidel’s twelve sculptures became exquisitely intricate abstractions and, with that, lost something of their larger meaning and purpose, if not their aesthetic magic. They were meant to be seats or resting places, according to the local Chamber of Commerce website, on “the little piece of paradise”—a sort of hortus conclusus—that is Vashon Island. The three boulder-like geometric objects in Otemma Glacier, 2016, were the

  • Lynn McCarty

    Curator Mark Rosenthal’s magisterial essay “Abstraction in the Twentieth Century”—a text written to accompany an exhibition he organized for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1996—notes the “forbidding appearance” of abstract art. Abstraction, he writes, is peculiarly inaccessible, even intimidating—often “self-contained, and too often hermetic. ” Lynn McCarty’s work serves as a powerful riposte to this statement. Splendidly colorful and intricately formed, her paintings—twenty-one examples of which were on display in this excellent show—are sensuously