Ed Hill

  • CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

    AMONG SÖREN KIERKEGAARD'S divers prescriptive parables there is one, “The Critical Apparatus,” that might profit our attention on this reflective occasion, or, at the least, allow us an opportunity for critical play.

    Kierkegaard directs his readers to imagine a country in which a “royal command” has been issued “to all the office-bearers and subjects, in short, to the whole population.” What follows is something of a remarkable transformation in which the royal subjects respond by becoming interpreters of the decree-as-text. “The office-bearers become authors,” and proceed to produce a learned

  • MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA

    When light penetrates

    into the dark corners

    of the so complicated

    mechanism of silence, it

    remains motionless before

    the beauty of indifference

    turned stupid in the

    madness of this age.

    —Jindřich Heisler
    , On the Needles of These Days, 1941

    THE 1980S ENDED in Czechoslovakia with thousands of street demonstrators jingling house keys, poignantly announcing the advent of unimaginable political reforms after 41 years of absolute communist rule. Because this heterogeneous nation is so firmly rooted within the ancient history of Central Europe, and Prague in so many ways represents the quintessential

  • DARK WONDER

    There is nothing so mighty or so marvelous that the wonder it evokes does not tend to diminish in time.

    —Lucretius

    THE DESIGNATION OF WONDERS—like that of miracles—is a popularizing and promotional strategy raising its object to some rarefied acme of recognition. Sites of wonders, like those of miracles, attract: the seven wonders of the ancient world (a phrase familiar to all, although few can name them) were powerful creations that drew entrepreneurs, thieves, vandals, historians, and eventually archaeologists to their locations around the rim of the eastern Mediterranean. This tradition has

  • Sharon Kopriva

    Sharon Kopriva’s visceral, frequently macabre paintings and sculptures provoke strong reactions—or, at the least, discomfort. With their grim symbolism, fragile identity, and illusory authenticity, the sculptures in particular press their excessive materiality rather insistently against our perceptual consciousness. Are these sometimes Christian, more often pagan, reliclike forms referring to archaeological artifacts, or are they signaling pure effect?

    Death is the constant factor in Kopriva’s work. It is confronted as a question of the phenomenology and transcendence of the spirit. Kopriva treats

  • James Drake

    Events along the U.S.-Mexican border are part of the daily psychic undertow in the Southwest, even for middle-class Anglos, who have come to believe that the traffic—day laborers, political refugees, drug smugglers, and the anticipated menace of killer bees—crosses overwhelmingly in one direction. James Drake has resolutely stationed his art at the border in a double sense: by working there—in El Paso, Texas for the last 22 years—and by focusing on the pathos of that sovereign boundary as the subject of his recent drawings and sculpture installations.

    In this group of seven works Drake attempts

  • Leon Golub

    An odd thought: the sphinx as off-road vehicle. Such is its apparent function in Leon Golub’s recent departure from his familiar inquiries into the realms of power and abuse. The sphinx serves, by all appearance, as his temporary transport into the adjacent terrain of the enigmatic, paradoxical, and pataphysical. According to Robert Graves, mythology’s most famous riddler asked, “What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?” The answer, as depicted in three of Golub’s current paintings, is the sphinx itself. The

  • K. Packlick

    In the bright and tidy world of K. Packlick, subjectivity has been thoroughly erased—except for the artist’s curious practice of dating each work to commemorate the precise day of its completion. The things that inhabit these smallish, mixed-media collages—women, men, children, birds, flowers, and fruit—are identified reflexively; they are mere cultural furniture, embodying moralizing lessons in the esthetics of social instruction. The image material is derived mostly from popular magazines of the’50s. What appears at first to be nostalgic reference, however, finds skillful, calculated purpose

  • Nic Nicosia

    Since the start of the decade, Nic Nicosia has made the garish artifice or staginess of his constructed photographs overt and central to the viewer’s experience. In these set pieces, suburban melodramas are typically caricatured as comic tableaux—chaotic scenes of upwardly mobile, middle-class life out of control. The culminating series in this buffo mode is “Near Modern Disasters,” 1983; in “The Cast,” 1985, the actors/entertainers/performers become the subjects (as played by “real” people) of his photographs. The latter series takes a further step in the presentation of reality as pure theater

  • Diane Arbus

    Is it true that the only track open for critical assessment of Diane Arbus’ photographs is to trace the history of their reception? Before taking up this question, we should mention that the Arbus exhibition was part of Houston’s month-long, international celebration of photography, “FotoFest ’88,” which in total (83 exhibitions) represented a diversity of current camera practices and a variety of historical perspectives with a slight bias in both categories toward “documentary” traditions. Given the widespread familiarity and surprising popularity of Arbus’ photographs, the heavy critical

  • BORROWED SHOES

    These shoes are hallucinogens.

    —Jacques Derrida

    Extensions of his being, they image the qualities and conditions necessary for his health of mind.

    —Meyer Schapiro

    The peasant woman, on the other hand, simply wears them.

    —Martin Heidegger

    DURING THE SECOND HALF of 1886, while working in Paris, Vincent van Gogh borrowed a couple of shoes (or several pairs?) for the express purpose of painting them. From whom they were borrowed is unknown, although it has commonly been assumed that he borrowed them from his own peripatetic feet, giving them, as it were, secondary employment in art. We imagine the

  • Joel Sternfeld

    “American Prospects,” the title of Joel Sternfeld’s retrospective, invites three readings of work that represents nine years of itinerant photographic practice. Prospects are first of all views, usually commanding views that extend from a particular outlook to the horizon. Sternfeld’s handsome color photographs are typically of this sort. He most often positions his large-format (8-by-10-inch) view camera at sites that survey certain segments of contemporary American landscape, those that tend to lie along the margins of our postindustrial, urban culture where signs of a different sort of prospect

  • Robert Levers

    In Austin, which is the privileged seat of power in Texas, Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas campus is the principal monument to spectacle. Legendary scene of many historic struggles in Southwestern football, this beloved colossus seems to have become the preferred site and subject of Robert Levers’ art ever since he painted The Destruction of Memorial Stadium, 1983, in which he imagined the effects of a catastrophic explosion. To his credit, Levers has concentrated his attention away from the game and its players, choosing instead to exploit with unrestrained imagination the satiric

  • Patrick Clancy

    Patrick Clancy sets rigorous tasks for his audience. Both his wall-size photoscroll 365/360 (The City and the Plowed Field) and the 60-minute performance 365/360 (The Crossroads) possess considerable intellectual density and thus present a challenging degree of viewing difficulty. This factor is relative, of course, to the standard of the “conditioned glance,” i.e., the few seconds that a viewer devotes to each work in a gallery environment, or the general inclination toward passive reception in theater/performance situations.

    Somewhat resembling the format of a photographer’s contact sheet, the

  • Lynn Randolph

    To fathom the meaning of most artworks, a viewer must negotiate the perils of interpreting the works by relying on the assumed intentions of the artist, a process that often involves inherent contradictions, potential deceptions, or false premises. Such pitfalls are likely in the case of Lynn Randolph’s paintings because the insistent, even beguiling presence of her spectrally realistic images seems entirely dependent on an unfailing belief in the power of representation to bear symbolic meaning. This utter faith in representation—a faith that has been questioned often in this century—empowers

  • Forrest Bess

    Forrest Bess has long been more of a legend in the Houston art community than an artistic presence or influence. There hasn’t been a major show of his work during the last 24 years, while tales of his eccentric life and thought continually circulate. The exhibition organized by Terrell James corrected this situation, in part, by bringing to view 25 of Bess’ paintings done between 1934 and 1970.

    Bess died in 1977 in Bay City, Texas, where he was born in 1911 and spent much of his adult life fishing and selling bait to survive. His art career, however, was by no means merely regional. He began

  • Melissa Miller

    When it comes to a good animal act, humans generally seem to be easy prey. Poodles leaping through hoops, grinning chimps tying trash bags, or rearing stallions kicking their hooves against the jagged profile of the Rockies all trigger responses which seem innate. But our responses in situations where animals are given center stage are guided less by biological memory than by sign systems which have a long history. A mythology of the “secret” language of animals has been assimilated and significantly transformed in the course of a long odyssey from nature to culture. Images of animals serve as

  • John Halaka

    What does it mean when an artist inserts himself into the political envelope of Jacques-Louis David’s emblematic painting Death of Marat, 1793, in such a way that we, in turn, are enticed to stand in his place “contemplating revolution?” This latter phrase is the double-edged title of the key work in the series “Prelude to a Pacifist Revolution,” 1985–86, John Halaka’s latest group of encaustic paintings. In Contemplating Revolution, 1986, Halaka excises the body of Marat from the David painting and literally incises it as an ambiguous glyptic image in the middle ground of a horizontal rectangle.

  • Isamu Noguchi

    A long and winding road leads fromIsamu Noguchi’s first formal design for an environmental work, an urban playground entitled Play Mountain, 1933, to the recently completed Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, which he created for the Museum of Fine Arts’ sculpture collection. That ambitious project of 53 years ago exists only as an austere plaster model. Never constructed, it initiated a string of unrealized large-scale outdoor projects Noguchi conceived during the ’30s and ’40s.

    By the early ’50s, however, the pattern of rejection of his proposals had begun to shift toward favorable

  • Bernard Faucon

    With few significant exceptions, Bernard Faucon’s Fresson-process color photographs are reconstructions of an adolescent world in which allegory asserts itself as a natural state of being. These carefully realized moments of imagination seem to contain the secret syntax and memory of all other moments. Photographs have always served as endorsements for the truth of the past; among other problems with this sanguine notion is the fact that the terms of evidence operative in childhood differ, perhaps unresolvably, from those of the adult world. And, when art engages the distinct domain of childhood,

  • Gael Stack

    Much of the substance in Gael Stack’s recent paintings derives from what is spoken or written in the course of ordinary interpersonal experience. Within an entirely visual context, she operates in the manner of a writer—a transcriber of stratified messages. The messages are of the sort received from others (like folded notes passed in school ) as well as those seized from the flux of everyday events. The oral or auditory plane is not the work’s exclusive level of content, but it does offer a surprisingly useful entry into the dense scrawl of words, numbers, hatchings, and cryptic figures that