Donald Kuspit

  • Erwin Olaf

    At once staged and manicured, Erwin Olaf’s photographs put us in a suspenseful space. The key to this exhibition—and, more specifically, to nine of the twenty-two works on view—was a video clip in the multimedia installation Waiting, 2014, which shows a young woman, her clothes stylishly simple, her expression demure and revealing her to be lost in self-absorption, sitting at a table in a chic restaurant. The chair opposite her is empty; she’s waiting for someone—presumably a male companion as handsome as she is beautiful—to join her. We, the spectators, face her, but she’s

  • Jiří Georg Dokoupil

    It’s hard to believe that the abstract Plukasibo, 2014 (which was on view in this show), and the cartoonish Der Leser (The Reader), 1981 (which was not), were made by the same painter—the Czech-born German artist Jiří Georg Dokoupil. One of the six artists in the Mülheimer Freiheit group and a leader of the aggressive Junge Wilde, Dokoupil made his reputation as a figurative painter, rendering the human form sometimes as a quasi-surrealist comic monster, sometimes in the manner of realist kitsch. Generally, his paintings were designed to provoke, their targets ranging from the art world (

  • Peter Blume

    The most surprising works in this exhibition of Peter Blume’s art were the drawings, which were made with an exquisitely fine-tuned hand, an ingeniously variable touch—sometimes delicate, sometimes firm. Intense and self-dramatizing, these pieces seem to incubate a grand gesture even as they evince a keen command of nuanced observation. Blume is conventionally thought of as a social realist, but it is clear from such drawings as Untitled (Town and Woods), 1937, and Allegheny Range, 1938, that he was also a descriptive realist.

    The pencil-on-paper work Man with Camera, ca. 1938, shows just

  • Keunmin Lee

    The paintings and drawings in Korean-born artist Keunmin Lee’s first solo show in the United States are all titled Refining Hallucinations—that is, they depict raw hallucinations, artistically refined. According to the clinical definition, a hallucination is “an apparent perception of an external object when no such object is present.” It can be purely visual or experienced as touch. In this exhibition, Lee suggests both these sensations at once: The works are aggressively visual and dramatically haptic. The show’s centerpiece was an immense canvas that occupied nearly an entire wall,

  • Marcel Storr

    Marcel Storr (1911–1976) was a self-taught, so-called outsider artist who lived and worked in Paris, initially at Les Halles food market, later as a street sweeper in the Bois de Boulogne. Abandoned by his mother at the age of two, he became a ward of the state. He was sickly and never sent to school, grew deaf either from beatings or illness, and was unable to write anything but his own name. But with the exquisite, meticulously executed drawings of cathedrals and “Megalopolises” in the exhibition—thirteen of Storr’s sixty-three surviving works are on display—it is clear his name will

  • Caio Reisewitz

    The works in this survey of Caio Reisewitz’s photography, organized by Christopher Phillips, could be grouped into three categories: those that focused on the Brazil-based artist’s native country, on what he calls its “places of power”; those that focused on that nation’s rain forests, which have their own peculiar power; and those that focused on China, where he attends to people more than to places. In Brazil, Reisewitz sets up a contrast between old and venerable places of power, as in Ataide, 2008, which portrays the Saint Francis of Assisi church in the city of Ouro Preto, and new, sleekly

  • Garry Winogrand

    This incisive exhibition at Pace/MacGill—which opened simultaneously alongside the installation of a major traveling retrospective of Garry Winogrand’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York—focuses on six of the Bronx-born photographer’s core subjects: Texas, Central Park, zoos, women, public relations, and the streets of New York. Together, the photographs exemplify Winogrand’s keen yet skeptical eye as he dealt with American culture at the height of its pre–Vietnam War prosperity and self-confidence.

    On the basis of these thirty-six works, one could class Winogrand as an

  • Sze Tsung Leong

    In landscape photography, the horizon line—that inevitable meeting place of earth and sky—is inexorable. Consider early panoramic daguerreotypes by figures such as Friedrich von Martens and William Southgate Porter, the former of the Seine in Paris, 1845, the latter of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Water Works, 1848. But while the horizon line may always appear in such images, it is rare to find cases in which it is a work’s explicit focus, the photo’s raison d’être. This is in no small part what makes Sze Tsung Leong’s images so striking. The twenty-nine color works that were on display

  • passages June 13, 2014

    Douglas Davis (1933–2014)

    DOUGLAS DAVIS believed in the power of communication. If we would only talk to each other, we could not possibly misunderstand each other: If we could collaboratively communicate—the intriguing possibility offered by his famous work The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, “written” in 1994—we would cure all ills. Davis was an indefatigable optimist, globalist, and idealist, a true believer in the power of the media to unite us, to forge enduring links between seemingly unlinkable individuals—even those with little in common beyond the fact that they could all instantly communicate by way of

  • Connie Fox

    The shore of Gardiners Bay on the east end of Long Island is, nominally, the theme of “Sammy’s Beach,” 2007–, a series of acrylic paintings by Connie Fox. Thirteen such works were on view in this exhibition, accompanied by five charcoal drawings from the series “Weeds,” 2010. The two groups comprise gestural abstractions distinguished by compulsiveness and distress, and all are marked by an interplay—invariably dramatic, often violent—of black and white.

    The “Sammy’s Beach” works are large, and typically have a strong central area, usually marked by an emphatic shape or shapes. Diamonds

  • Seymour Lipton

    At the 1958 Venice Biennale, the American pavilion featured installations by exemplary Abstract Expressionists of the time, including two sculptors: David Smith and Seymour Lipton. A comparison of the artists’ oeuvres is instructive. Both Smith and Lipton made vaguely figurative works, but whereas those by Smith tended to be thin and attenuated, Lipton’s had a bulky if oddly hollow presence; whereas Smith’s surfaces were textured, Lipton’s seemed weirdly agitated; and whereas Smith handled his metal gently, Lipton brutally hammered it, as though to shred its skin. Lipton, who died in 1986, didn’t

  • Joel Shapiro

    Dispersed throughout a vast space, the ten beams of Joel Shapiro’s installation Untitled, 2012–14, took over the large back room of Paula Cooper Gallery. These lengths of wood, each painted a different color, hung in midair, suspended from the ceiling and anchored to the floor with industrial cord. They are mismatched—some are flat planes, some are more boxlike—such that the work, taken as a whole, seemed unstable and incoherent, if not discombobulated and absurd. The sculpture was certainly at odds with gallery’s stately grandeur and order, especially the harmonious, serial regularity

  • Thomas Bangsted

    At times, Thomas Bangsted’s hypnotic, hypercalculated pictures of boats nearly resemble paintings. The water’s smooth variance in tone looks handmade; its ripples are often intensely gestural. Indeed, the images suggest deadpan hallucinations, as though the boats are toys in a twilight zone.

    In three of the seven images in this show, Bangsted portrays deserted ghost ships, historical relics of the two world wars. These depictions have been digitally altered—Bangsted has added the hard-edge, geometric patterning of dazzle camouflage. The boats are no longer rulers of the sea but vessels

  • Jack Beal

    “Imitation is natural to man from childhood,” Aristotle wrote in Poetics, which is why it is “natural for all to delight in works of imitation.” This remains true even for objects that are “painful to see,” such as “the forms . . . of the lowest animals and of dead bodies.” There are no dead bodies in Jack Beal’s imitations—unless one counts the memento-mori skull in Self-Portrait with Anatomy No. 3, 1986–87—but there is an animal, if not the lowest, in Still Life with Cat, 1999. Indeed, the subjects of most of Beal’s paintings are conventionally delightful, such as the flowers in

  • Eric Aho

    In 1963, art historian Max J. Friedländer argued that “in a world from which the gods have vanished, the miracle and enigma of landscape remains.” Are Eric Aho’s landscapes—such oil paintings as Trail (Third Approach to the Mountain), Hemlock Ravine, and The Straw Field (all works cited, 2013)—enigmatic and miraculous? Yes, to the extent that they constitute an attempt “to get closer to nature” while “avoid[ing] the banality of the objective” (as Friedländer put it, writing about Monet). Aho’s forests, mountains, ravines, and straw fields recall Impressionist and Post-Impressionist

  • Gene Davis

    Made between 1961 and 1985, the eight enormous acrylic-on-canvas paintings by Gene Davis in this show—all composed of vertical bands and stripes—testify to the artist’s devotion to color. “To understand what my painting is all about,” Davis once said, “look at my painting in terms of individual colors . . . select[ing] a specific color such as yellow or a lime green, and take the time to see how it operates across the painting.” When one looks at Yellow Jacket, 1969, one notices yellow used in a variety of ways: On the right, narrow vertical lines of yellows are tightly interspersed

  • Oscar de Las Flores

    In 1989, historian John McClelland described Edward Gibbon’s cool disdain for mobs. Gibbon, wrote McClelland, felt crowds should be regarded with “enlightened patrician contempt.” Oscar de Las Flores does not precisely share this scorn—on the evidence of the ink-on-paper drawings that were on view here, he views crowds with something more like enraged disgust.

    Violent mobs fill de Las Flores’s drawings, as if combating horror vacui. Gloriae Americanae (American Glory), 2012, for example, is a mess of ravaged and raving figures. It, like all of de Las Flores’s drawings (most of those shown

  • Judith Schaechter

    Judith Schaechter’s The Battle of Carnival and Lent, 2011–12, was first installed at the historical Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia together with sixteen related works of stained glass. These glass pieces remained colorful and exciting here, yet a significant component of the works’ original meaning—a commentary on the nature of imprisonment in the early modern era—was lamentably lost in the gallery context.

    I’ve visited the Eastern State Penitentiary several times; it’s a rather gloomy Gothic fortress, intimidating from the outside, oppressive on the inside. In its heyday—it

  • Howard Hodgkin

    The fifteen prints in Howard Hodgkin’s “Views”—as this exhibition was titled—invite comparison with the work of Matisse, an influence the artist has acknowledged. (The ten lithographs, two screenprints, and three etchings with aquatint traveled from the gallery’s London location, where the show debuted this past March.) In Lotus, 1980, and other works, Hodgkin uses an interior frame, suggestively a window frame, as Matisse did in The Open Window, 1905, and View of Notre Dame, 1914. Yet Matisse depicted readily recognizable objects, figures, and scenes; Hodgkin, by contrast, produces

  • Walter Robinson

    Among the fifty-six “Indulgences” displayed in Walter Robinson’s recent show were paintings of sandwiches, french fries, cookies, pinups, beer, and whiskey, along with those of daily medication, painkillers, and nasal spray. (One painting was from 1997, the rest from between 2009 and 2013.) All are presumably consumed by Robinson, suggesting that the paintings have an implicit “confessional” character. Together, they give the impression of having been created by a studious monk contemplating his sins, painting them in an act of aborted contrition. Many of the works are peculiarly “self-indulgent”