Donald Kuspit

  • Arthur Szyk, We’re running short of Jews!, 1943, ink and graphite on paper, 8 1/4 x 5 7/8".

    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, Sky Atlas, 2017, reduction woodcut, 80 3/4 x 47 3/4".

    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, Trial, 2017, bronze, plastic, 56 x 36 x 5".

    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, Otemma Glacier, 2016, stainless steel, overall 3' 8“ x 10' 3 1/2” x 4' 1".

    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, Changing Perception, 2017, oil on aluminum, 30 x 32".

    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, Cordova Diamond Drill, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 66 × 48".

    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, Seated Nude, 2017, Carrara marble, 43 3/8 × 48 1/8 × 59 1/2".

    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, Goldengrove, 2015–16, oil on canvas, 8' 10 1/4“ × 11' 2”.

    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, Untitled F40, 1998, cyanotype, 15 × 11 1/2".

    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, Union Square, NYC, ca. 1938, gelatin silver print, 7 3/4 × 13 1/4".

    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, Water Map, 1963, acrylic on canvas, 60 × 60".

    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, Scroll Waves, 2011, alkyd and acrylic on canvas, 108 × 120".

    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,