Donald Kuspit

  • Antoni Tapies

    Antoni Tapies offers us an extraordinarily beautiful, highly stylized Expressionism—just what Expressionism shouldn’t be. In these works Tapies is a Paganini of touch; with sure virtuoso mastery he fiddles away, simultaneously finicky and full of flourishes, and “authentically Spanish” in his dramatic contrasts. Yet there is an air of rodomontade to the whole thing, and of brilliant pointlessness, the pointlessness of purity. In German Expressionism and American Abstract Expressionism the thick text of strokes never quite became a mere compendium of all the possibilities of touch that existed.

  • Maria Simonds-Gooding

    This is another art of “right relationships,” as the press release points out. But right relationships are troublesome these days. They seal the work into its own narcissism, give it a false—coy—innocence, and permit us to file it away under the heading “well-made but has nothing to say” (and so finally worthless). What saves Maria Simonds-Gooding’s pictures from this fate worse than death—from being merely well-meant, like Tapies’—is their power of reference. Their pictorial delicacy corresponds to the bleakness of the landscape of the Blasket Islands off the coast of the Dingle peninsula of

  • “Agitated Figures: The New Emotionalism”

    We thought it was Neo-Expressionism, which at least gave some it intellectual cachet and historical resonance, but now we’re told it’s just plain old everyday emotionalism, maybe a little mannered, but like what hysterical women and jaded men have. And Richard Flood, the catalogue writer, tells us it involves the use of the figure as an “emotional signifier,” a gesture (which nicely links it with Abstract Expressionism, so as to leave nothing to chance or perversity—which would put the movement, whatever it might finally end up being called in the textbooks, outside history, where nothing exists

  • The Night Mind

    THE IDEA OF NATIONALISM, ambiguously defined though it may be, is periodically revived in most areas of human enterprise; it appears probably least of all, though, in science, where it would most obviously be absurd. Then why should it not also seem absurd for radical art? And why, in art’s current situation, does it seem less absurd than ever? Never mind that there is an intermingling of national traits and that it is hard to isolate a national trait without reducing one’s sense of the nation. Nationalism, like religion, is a crowdpleaser. A nationalist revival is not unlike a religious one;

  • Thomas Lawson

    Thomas Lawson is the theorist of the “Real Life” movement, which means to analyze the “ideological myths” that constitute the “fiction” of “real life.” More than that, it means to sabotage them; its art is a self-consciously “perverse provocation” which intends to expose the style of contemporary “realistic” representation as “the near-transparent tool of a repressive ideology.” (Unless rhetorical, quoted material is from “Too Good to be True,” by Thomas Lawson, Real Life magazine, Autumn 1981.) This style is the media-derived instrument of social belief. Thus those sentenced to “real life” are

  • Eric Fischl

    For me, Eric Fischl realizes the goal of the Real Life movement more successfully than Lawson. Fischl exposes the media fiction of eroticism by confronting it with its own implicit possibility of perversion. In comparison, Lawson’s exposé of the social fiction of personal tragedy is tentative. One might say that Fischl’s “casting” and sense of social texture, as reflected in his “lurid” handling as well as in his scenes, are more pointed than Lawson’s. Lawson does not really grasp the sordidness of the American type; he doesn’t have Fischl’s flair for the sleazy and vicious, but rather a once

  • On Karawa

    After Lawson and Fischl, On Karawa looks dated, naively objective. His work also uses old strategies combining chance and seriality, as well as a Minimalist sense of environmental placement. Dates seemingly chosen at random—March 20, 1981, April 3, 1981, and May 26, 1981, in one series (three dates constitute a series)—are painted on canvas and arranged at regular intervals on the walls of an otherwise empty room, whose space is thus thrown into compelling relief. The pieces themselves—their color seems lovelier, more silken than usual for Karawa—become hypnotic despite being matter-of-fact (

  • “Statements: Leading Contemporary Artists from France”

    The whole exhibition was self-congratulatory and bureaucratic; it was a first-class example of administered culture. There was no way of separating its bureaucratic form from its artistic content, which was not only “distorted” by its management, but determined by it. But then what would “undistorted” art be, since every content is mediated by some social structure, organized by some legitimating institution? The point in this exhibition of French art, however, was that most of the art readily lends itself to its institutionalization as culture, its exhibition in government-appointed, “official”

  • “Critical Perspectives”

    This exhibition had a lot of élan. The question is what existed beyond the exciting novelty of it all, beyond the aura of “hot flow” Edit deAk wrote of in her curatorial essay. Eight critics wrote such essays, making claims for the works they chose: do the works live up to the claims? We have Linda Burn-ham’s California art of “self-indulgence,” Ronny Cohen’s “Energism,” Edit deAk’s charisma room, John Howell’s artists who use “visual art forms [to] reflect and expand upon their individual performance activities,” Thomas Lawson’s muffled melodramas, Joseph Masheck’s neo-formalism, Peter Plagens’

  • “New Drawing In America”

    This was another kind of group show, the first half of an exhibition of drawings by 174 artists (one work each). To me it posed a problem: the lack of profile of drawing today. Drawing has acquired a multitude of uses and lost definition as a medium. This is perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the so-called expansionist esthetic and the multimedia approach, with their implicit synthesis of all in all; but they seem increasingly a matter of diminishing returns. The sense of vision that their variety of combinations initially evoked seems lost. Somewhere between the alternative, purist approach,

  • Hans Namuth

    This was a meretricious show; it was about the selling of artists. It was even meretricious stylistically, with the forwardness of the color in these photographic portraits and the posturing of the artists who are their subjects. Why write about it, then, why not let it pass unnoticed into oblivion? Because it is a symptom of that adulation of the artist as a “phenomenon” that Clement Greenberg long ago condemned in the treatment of Picasso, but which is still prevalent. It is a symptom of art’s condition as entertainment, and very much a part of that social order of events in which popular


    It is not difficult to observe that ecstatic phenomena proliferate in proportion to the technicization of society. They play an important role in modern society, but not the role usually assigned them. They function not as causes but as effects.

    —Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society

    JEFF WALL'S WRITING ABOUT HIS imagery is obsessed with technique. For example, in the catalogue for the 1979 exhibition of his work in the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (Canada), he develops at length what amounts to an ideology of fluorescent lighting. What begins as an empirical description of a method of


    The feeling of happiness produced by indulgence of a wild, untamed craving is incomparably more intense than is the satisfying of a curbed desire.

    —Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents

    The Grandfather Principle

    THIS SO-CALLED “NEW” EXPRESSIONISM currently being heralded by old media trumpets is a false Expressionism. Hilton Kramer has written in the New York Times (July 12, 1981) that “it signals a shift in the life of the culture—in the whole complex of ideas, emotions and dispositions that at any given moment governs our outlook on art and experience,” and that like “every genuine

  • Francis Bacon: The Authority of Flesh


    And the way I try to bring appearance about makes one question all the time what appearance is at all. The longer you work, the more the mystery deepens of what appearance is, or how can what is called appearance be made in another medium. And it needs a sort of moment of magic to coagulate color and form so that it gets the equivalent of appearance, the appearance that you see at any moment, because so-called appearance is only riveted for one moment as that appearance. In a second you may blink your eyes or turn your head slightly, and you look again and

  • Malevich’s Quest for Unconditioned Creativity, Part I

    I. PRINCIPAL PHASES (1910–20)

    These are: (1) colorism; (2) depiction of the eternal peasant; (3) estheticism; (4) simple Suprematism; (5) constructive Suprematism; (6) monumental Suprematism; and (7) depiction of the cross form. Simple Suprematism might also be called axiomatic Suprematism, in the sense that in it Malevich first presents the terms of his Suprematist statement, or more precisely, argument, viz., the geometrical figure and neutral field, presented in a conflict which initially takes the tame, dialectical form of juxtaposition. The Suprematist conflict between figure and field