Donald Kuspit

  • Kimber Smith, Kup’s White Diamond, 1970, acrylic on canvas, 94 × 65 1⁄4".

    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

  • View of “Joanna Pousette-Dart,” 2020. From left: 2 Part Variation #3 (After Pierrot), 2015; 3 Part Variation #6, 2013; 3 Part Variation #12, 2017.

    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, Good Morning America (detail), 1992, alkyd paint on canvas, 9' 10 1⁄8“ × 14' 9 1⁄8”.

    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, Ba-O-Ba Nice II, 1977/2018, neon, glass, paint, wire, transformer, 6' 11 1⁄2“ × 14' 8” × 11". From the series “Ba-O-Ba,” 1969–.

    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, Macbeth, 1948, oil on canvas, 29 7⁄8 × 24 1⁄8". From the series “Shakespearean Equation,” 1948–54.

    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, Torso and Limbs, 1952, oil on canvas, 34 1⁄4 × 52".

    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, Peinture 130 x 102 cm, 27 août 1986 (Painting 130 x 102 cm, August 27, 1986), oil on canvas, 51 1⁄8 × 40 1⁄8".

    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, Ohne Titel (Standrad mit Holz) (Untitled [Standard with Wood]), 1947, mixed media, 10 × 6 3⁄4".

    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, Untitled, 1953, pencil and collage on paper, 18 × 12 3⁄4".

    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

  • View of “James Nares,” 2019. Photo: Christopher Stach.

    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, Demolition of YMCA Building No. 2, 1970, charcoal on paper, 23 1⁄4 × 33 1⁄8".

    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, Untitled (detail), 2018, twenty-four drawings in ink on paper or plastic, each 11 1⁄2 × 8 1⁄2".

    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