Donald Kuspit

  • “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

  • Larry Zox

    It’s hard to categorize Larry Zox’s painting, though many have tried. In 1965, his work appeared in the exhibition “Shape and Structure,” organized by Frank Stella and Henry Geldzahler, which positioned the artist’s work amid hard-edge Color Field painting and Minimalism. A year later, Lawrence Alloway included Zox’s art in the show “Systemic Painting,” implying the work is best understood as an example of repetition and systemization, then supposedly the new “in” thing. This exhibition at Berry Campbell, however, demonstrated that Zox’s work betrays these categories. The eighteen pieces displayed

  • Kevin Francis Gray

    The Irish artist Kevin Francis Gray is a master carver of marble in the grand tradition of Michelangelo, Antonio Canova, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, and Rodin, among other great masters of that material—and what a welcome wonder to encounter such durable, “classically” inspired sculptures. This is especially true given the abiding proclivities of contemporary practice toward the provisional—the unfinished and the ephemeral. It is also a pleasure to see an artist so fully committed to the art of the past: Time moves faster today than it used to, the modern world being more future oriented,

  • Christopher Le Brun

    In this exhibition, Christopher Le Brun, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, offers twelve new compositions, all painted in the past two years—some, such as Vocative, Score, and Symphony, all 2016, alluding explicitly to music, and others, such as Strand (thus the light rains, thus pours), 2016, and Goldengrove, 2015–16, to nature. (The show was presented in conjunction with an exhibition at the Gallery at Windsor, Vero Beach, Florida.) The title of White, Blue, White, 2016, simply names the colors—often richly tonal, sensitively nuanced, and atmospheric—that

  • Pipo Nguyen-duy

    The show is a kind of wonderland: Fifty cyanotypes, all made in 1998, all untitled, and all portraying flowers, seeds, soil, and water from Monet’s garden at Giverny, France, neatly line the walls of the narrow gallery. They are the creations of Pipo Nguyen-duy, a political refugee from Vietnam and now a professor of photography at Oberlin College in Ohio. One can’t help but admire the sheer beauty of the ghostly images, each hovering in space like a mirage, each coolly composed and self-sufficient, each alive with immediacy and formal verve. The specimens sparkle like stars in a cyan sky.

  • Sid Grossman

    This exhibition of forty photographs by the left-leaning, Depression-era photographer Sid Grossman—a cofounder of the influential Photo League cooperative and school—felt oddly timely. Grossman, who died in 1955 at the age of forty-two, was a pioneer of street photography in the United States, creating all-too-human images that focused on ostensibly anonymous individuals—the nameless folks we might encounter in the course of everyday life. In Grossman’s hands, each of these people is a hauntingly specific presence, each unique, each radiant with character. Consider, for example,

  • Helen Lundeberg

    Helen Lundeberg (1908–1999) is an important if underrecognized figure in California art. Perhaps best known for her enigmatic “post-Surrealist” figurative paintings of the 1930s, she made a transition to hard-edge geometric abstraction in the ’50s; the latter works, marked by their austere and ingenious eccentricity, were the focus of this revealing show at Cristin Tierney Gallery.

    Abstract without purely being so, pieces such as Seascape, 1962; By the Sea II, 1962; and Water Map, 1963, clearly allude to the sea. It must be a serenely unruffled sea, for its surface is flat and unmoving (suggesting,

  • Andy Piedilato

    There’s something all too calculated, hyperarticulate, and luminously cold about Brooklyn-based artist Andy Piedilato’s paintings. The seven canvases that were on view in this exhibition were inspired by a friend’s new hobby: boatbuilding. But rather than honor this activity with something inspiring or warm—images of boats triumphantly setting out to sea, for example—Piedilato took a darker route, painting quasi-abstract scenes of seafaring disaster.

    Scroll Waves, 2011, was the earliest painting in the exhibition; Endurance and Pinched Red Sail, both 2016, the most recent; Sea Snail,

  • Victor Vasarely

    Victor Vasarely (1906–1997) has been accorded the historical distinction of being labeled the first Op artist, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, the usual ideas about Vasarely—that he was a Systemic artist, to use Lawrence Alloway’s term, or a kind of graphic artist or designer (in 1928 and 1929 he studied both disciplines at a Bauhaus outpost in Budapest), or a serial artist specializing in what he called plastique cinétique—ignore the emotional depth and power of his works, and with that undermine their significance. Vasarely was a technical virtuoso, but his work is