Donald Kuspit

  • Marlene Dumas

    There is an air of mournful intimacy to Marlene Dumas’s paintings, a sort of muted pathos. The thinly painted figures in this recent exhibition, “Against the Wall,” have a miragelike appearance appropriate to the emotional desert in which they exist. Many of the images are derived from photographs documenting the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dumas’s handling serves to subjectify the photographically objectified figures, to make the prosaic images quasi-poetic, or at least to aestheticize them. In this regard, the presence of a photograph at the emotional and almost literal center

  • George Condo

    This exhibition of George Condo’s work consisted of only three paintings—all masterly, all large, all 2010. Part of a series titled “Drawing Paintings,” 2009–, they depict standing figures—some “interlocking,” some “spatial,” as the titles of two of the pieces tell us, and some in Washington Square Park, per the title of the third. The canvases are noteworthy not only for their mix of acrylic, charcoal, and oil pastel, almost indistinguishably integrated, but for their fusion of styles, resulting in what might be called an expressionistic surrealism or, per- haps more pointedly, an expressionistically

  • William Eggleston

    William Eggleston’s color photographs were the first ever to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1976. This breakthrough was shocking to some at the time, but the content of his photographs has generally been more interesting, not to say more provocative, than their use of color. In fact, Eggleston’s deployment of color rarely seems innate to the image, suggesting it functions instead as a sort of distracting camouflage for the real subjects of his work.

    Of the twenty-four new images on view here—all made in the “21st Century,” as this exhibition was titled—there were some

  • Philip Guston

    Many of the small oil panels that Philip Guston produced between 1969 and 1973—of which this show featured almost fifty—depict scenes from the artist’s life, and are thus infused with an uncanny sense of the biographical. The cigar in the 1973 work of that title must be his, for instance; and so must the shoe depicted on one untitled and undated canvas. The paintbrushes in an untitled 1972 work are certainly his own, suggesting that the paintings pictured in other works—one hangs on the wall by a nail; another is centered, in effect a painting within a painting; and a third is on an easel—are

  • Alan Gussow

    In 1953, a twenty-two-year-old Alan Gussow arrived at the American Academy in Rome, thanks to a Prix de Rome fellowship he had received while a student of painting at the Cooper Union—as, at the time, the youngest American to date. He had impressed Stuart Davis and others with his work, especially with Untitled, 1953, an abstract painting he called, simply, “The Big Yellow Thing.” Already the following year, however, he wrote: “I am shaking off a dependence on popular abstract idioms. . . . I have begun a great deal of drawing from life and landscape, making a strong and valid response to the

  • Sally Mann

    The male nude that is the subject of the thirty-three photographs in Sally Mann’s “Proud Flesh” series, 2004–2009, on view in Gagosian’s recent exhibition, is about as far from the ideal of ancient sculpture as it is possible to get. There are a few torsos, but their arms and legs are invariably cut off by the edge of the picture. Disturbingly, it’s not clear that the missing limbs are implied. Like certain of Max Ernst’s and René Magritte’s limbless torsos, they are all skin, as if they were depictions of T. S. Eliot’s “hollow men.” In other words, Mann focuses on what psychoanalysts call part

  • George Grosz

    George Grosz’s time of greatness was during the Weimar Republic, when he, together with Otto Dix and Kurt Günther, produced what art historian Franz Roh describes as “a new kind of painting: art engagé.” The densely packed, often chaotic and grotesque paintings Grosz made around this time sprawl over the canvas, unlike the graphic works he produced for political journals, which are brilliantly pithy. At once vicious cartoons and pointed journalism, his drawings and lithographs are more clearly addressed to the German public than the grand paintings are. Indeed, if Grosz was, on the one hand, a

  • Francis Bacon

    With photographs of and information about his two long-term lovers and various statements about his abusive parents supplementing the “twisted” relationship of the perversely intertwined figures in many of his triptychs and his use of “universal” Christian iconography, above all the crucifixion, this exhibition offered a good deal of evidence to support the idea of Francis Bacon as a homosexual, sadomasochist “outlaw,” someone obsessed with violence and suffering, his own and humanity’s in general.

    Bacon was certainly one of the great artist-explorers of the psyche’s murky depths, yet to

  • Larry Rivers

    Larry Rivers has always been hard for art historians to place—being, on the one hand, a “painterly realist,” as Jonathan Fineberg calls him, and, on the other, a proto-Pop artist, for instance in his use of commercial imagery in the “French Money” and “Camel Cigarette” series (both begun in 1959). But this exhibition of twenty-eight choice works from the 1950s and ’60s presented Rivers instead as a “poet painter”—a reading of him most tellingly conveyed in the exuberant bouquet in Flower Poem, 1953.

    Two of the other paintings in the show are rather notorious: The seated nude depicted in Augusta

  • Leon Kossoff

    Leon Kossoff’s painterliness invites us to scan the image for subconscious meaning—to play on Anton Ehrenzweig’s idea of the way we approach what he calls “gestalt-free painting”—and the meaning we find involves what Freud called “primary process thinking,” and traces of what D. W. Winnicott, elaborating and deepening Freud’s idea, called “primary creativity,” by which he meant the spontaneity innate to us all yet often stifled or channeled into trivial pursuits by society. As shown in “Leon Kossoff: From the Early Years 1957–1967,” a miniretrospective of choice works, there’s nothing trivial

  • William Anastasi

    It’s too simple to think of William Anastasi as a Conceptualist or a Minimalist, as is usually done. Think of him rather as the Buster Keaton of “post-art” (to use Kaprow’s term); that is, a deadpan master of the indifferent, not exactly ironic à la Duchamp, not exactly interested in the merely interesting. Instead, Anastasi presents himself as the tongue-in-cheek witness to the banality that avant-garde art has become by reason of its built-in obsolescence—an entropic necessity if it is to “advance,” to produce, in other words, ever newer products to satisfy the needs of capitalism, eventually

  • Vincent Desiderio

    Vincent Desiderio is a painter—militantly so. Many of the paintings in this exhibition are ambitiously large (Sleep, 2008, is a mural, and When I Last Saw Paris, 2007, a triptych) and two, Sumo and Quixote, are still in progress, perhaps exhibited to draw attention to the artist’s painterly process. In fact, Desiderio began his career as a sort of reluctant expressionist, fascinated with “fugitive” gestures, each temporally suggestive—the grandly bloody splotch pictured on the right panel of When I Last Saw Paris reads as a memento mori of this fascination. But he quickly abandoned “straightforward”

  • Elizabeth Neel

    Elizabeth Neel is an accomplished painter, though it’s not clear what, specifically, her accomplishment is. Her paintings are fourth-, fifth-, sixth- (I’ve lost count) generation samples of Abstract Expressionist painting. She is struggling hard to renew the meaningfulness of passionate gesture, but her gestures, while passionate, do not themselves seem to have much meaning. If, as Harold Rosenberg wrote, “the test of [the] seriousness [of action painting] is the degree to which the act on the canvas is an extension of the artist’s effort to make over his [or her] experience,” then Neel doesn’t

  • Bram Bogart

    Bram Bogart offers platters of painterliness, one might say, served up raw yet uncannily refined, even in such turbulent works as Geen twijfel (No Doubt), 2005. But it’s not that simple, even if one regards Bogart’s strikingly material paint, often alive with primary color—as it is in the passionately red Een kleur (One Color), 2005, and Rode Rouge (Red Red), 2008—as the bizarre conclusion of what began with the intense brushwork of his countryman Vincent van Gogh. Intensity has become intimidation in Bogart’s paintings: Van Gogh’s painterliness looks restrained compared to Bogart’s, which

  • Philip Guston

    The supposedly big change in Philip Guston’s art occurred in the late 1960s, when he switched from his refined, “tender-minded” version of “action painting” to a cartoonlike imagery of hooded figures, familiar objects (fruit, shoes, body parts), and social settings. He eschewed gestural expression in favor of quasi-surreal scenes—absurd juxtapositions, of a cyclopean head and an empty liquor bottle, for example, or, more morbidly, of legs and feet with hobnailed shoes, their soles facing us, in a barren room—and clumsily executed illustration. As the artist put it, according to a wall text at

  • Robert Baribeau

    What do Robert Baribeau’s paintings show us that we haven’t seen before? They’re full of the painterly Sturm und Drang, the excitement about paint—narcissistic absorption in its fluid pleasures and seductive touch, self-dramatization through dramatizing the medium—that we’ve come to expect from a convincing Abstract Expressionist painting. But aren’t bold brushwork, flamboyant color, and rushing drips—a certain reveling in the medium—old aesthetic and expressive news? Painting may not be dead, even if theorists eager to control the course of art history regularly proclaim its demise, but it

  • Hans Hofmann

    Hans Hofmann’s paintings on paper have a freshness, an energy, a presence that belies their age. They’re sixty years old, but they have a timeless immediacy. “Time flows like water does back in the ocean back into Eternity,” he wrote in the poem on paper that hung as an introduction to the paintings, which themselves flow like the water of eternal life—water with a strong, relentless current, a deep expressive undertow, a painterly Heraclitean water that is never the same but nonetheless flows with sure-footed fastness over the paper.

    Clement Greenberg, critiquing the artist’s exclusion from the

  • Lucas Samaras

    Self-proclaimed “urban hermit” Lucas Samaras is well known for his innumerable self-portraits. Some of these are photographs, most are paintings, but perhaps the most famous is his series “Photo Transformations,” 1973–76, which was made by manipulating the emulsion of Polaroid photographs as they self-developed. The strategy evokes the “desire to interfere” that Salvador Dalí proposed as a key element of Surrealism. It also extends Max Ernst’s frottage technique into new, hallucinatory territory. Further, it is an example of what André Breton called “paranoiac-critical activity,” a “spontaneous

  • Jorge Tacla

    Jorge Tacla paints a political wasteland: The pathos in his series “Rubble” is rooted in a sense of political betrayal. Tacla, who is Chilean, bore witness to the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s social democratic government, Allende’s subsequent murder, and his replacement by General Augusto Pinochet, whose military dictatorship was supported by the United States. For Tacla, the events were a repeat of the Spanish Civil War—the catastrophic return of barbarism in the name of fascist dogma. The oppressive regime left Chile in ruins, morally and physically. The situation finally proved too much

  • Lucian Freud

    Among Lucian Freud’s earliest works, from the 1940s, are etchings that, while intimate, feel charged with a rough emotional urgency. The atmosphere recurs in etchings from the 1980s and later, as well as in his oils from the ’60s onward. As an emerging painter, Freud was heavily influenced by Francis Bacon’s disruptive (and as some theorists would have it, scatological) smear and, just as crucially, by Bacon’s sense of the innate perversity of being human. Like Bacon, Freud succeeds in turning his models’ bodies into a kind of painterly residue, recognizably human but still grossly material.

    In