John Ash

  • OPENINGS: Y. Z. KAMI

    THE LATEST INSTALLATION by Iranian-born artist Y. Z. Kami centers on a wall of portraits—18 faces of anonymous young men with melancholy eyes and full, unsmiling lips, all painted in light earth-tones on linen. On seeing a photograph of this ensemble, a friend asked if these were memorials for people who had died of AIDS. They are not. As far as I’m aware the majority of Kami’s subjects are alive and well (though some of them are in jail). But the question is not entirely off the mark. My first thought on seeing this wall of paintings (which bears some distant relation to a Byzantine

  • Mac James

    On entering Mac James’ crowded show the first thing I noticed—it would have been very hard to miss—was a bizarre and hilarious New York nocturne in which the Empire State Building and the moon that gives this painting its name (“Luna”) are dwarfed by an enormous, leaping white shark that looks eminently capable of devouring the entire city in one gulp. This mother of all predators also bears a distinct resemblance to a wildly out-of-control blimp. Given that over the last year I have seen plenty of paintings I felt like laughing at, but few that made me feel like laughing with the artist, this

  • Martin Puryear

    When writing on Martin Puryear critics routinely refer to the two years he spent in Sierra Leone as the source of the “primitivist” strain they discern in his work. This may be well-intentioned but it is also racist. Puryear is black, but this does not necessarily give him a privileged access to the primal or the primordial. Nor is there anything primitive about the highly evolved art of West Africa. Furthermore, immediately after his sojourn in Sierra Leone he moved to Stockholm, where he studied the techniques of the world’s most sophisticated woodworkers—techniques of lamination and joinery

  • ARSHILE GORKY: HOW MY MOTHER’S EMBROIDERED APRON UNFOLDS IN MY LIFE, 1944

    ARSHILE GORKY’S MOTHER, Lady Shushanik der Marderosian, belonged to a distinguished Armenian family that could trace its origins back to the fifth century A.D. She was born in 1880 in Vosdan, a town just to the south of Lake Van in what is now eastern Turkey, in a valley of rushing streams and poplar groves. Just to the east of Vosdan stood the ancestral monastery (or vank) of the der Marderosians. At the time of Gorky’s birth, in 1904, nearly 40 of his maternal ancestors lay buried at the vank, under elaborately carved tombstones. In later life he referred to his mother as “the last breath of

  • Jane Freilicher

    There are painters who search constantly for new and surprising subject matter. There are others, like Jane Freilicher, who are content to paint what is close at hand—the view from a studio window, a vase of flowers, a can of paintbrushes, or a glass of cranberry juice. For years Freilicher has been composing subtle and graceful variations on the same few themes, with the result that (for example) the ConEdison tower and the cedars that border her garden in Watermill have assumed the character of dramatis personae in a novel or a memoir one never tires of reading. Paradoxically, the great

  • Focus: R. B. Kitaj

    There are two paintings in the R. B. Kitaj retrospective that, with hindsight, look uncannily prophetic. One is called Whistler vs. Ruskin (Novella in Terre Verte, Yellow and Red), 1992, and portrays the expatriate American artist and his critical adversary as boxers, after George Bellows. Whistler has knocked a blue-haired Ruskin out of the ring. The other painting is called Against Slander, 1990–91, and concerning it Kitaj remarks, “At the very moment Cézanne was showing in the first Impressionist exhibition, the Hafetz Hayim, across Europe, published . . . his first book (translated as Hold

  • Ron Baron

    Ron Baron describes himself as “a cultured archaeologist.” He might also be described as an obsessive recycler: in his work the most redundant objects acquire new meaning and purpose. In In Memory (all works 1994), for example, he assembles 15 fish tanks and fills them with footballs, tennis balls, sporting trophies, yearbooks, curios (including a model of the Eiffel Tower), and empty aspirin bottles. The result resembles a compact museum of private life or a volume of short stories (Baron’s “Book of Guys”) chronicling the trials and tribulations of the great white American male in the ’90s.

    Of

  • Daniel Rothbart

    Sculptor Daniel Rothbart is the author of a short book in which he traces the influence of Jewish metaphysics on the work of (among others) Barnett Newman, Morris Louis, Mark Rothko, and Sol LeWitt. This gives an indication of the seriousness of his concerns and the originality of his outlook. His work is untimely in the best sense, infused with nostalgia for an age (part historical, part mythical) when utilitarian objects were not just finely made but had a sacred aura.

    Rothbart’s first New York show consisted of 14 gold-patinated bronze sculptures that resembled seed pods, shells, chalices,

  • CLAIR VOYANT: SAINT CLAIR CEMIN

    SAINT CLAIR CEMIN strides about the vast spaces of his studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, pointing out mysterious dust-shrouded objects of his own devising while firing off aphorisms and observations like a Roman candle: “Minimalism said, ‘look how pure we are’; today’s art says ‘We’re pure because we know we’re dirty.’“ Or, declaring that the language of the critic is not and should never be the language of the artist, he will ask, “Would a hippopotamus consult the National Geographic magazine to find out when it should mate?” In between inveighing against “the infantile Cartesianism of separating

  • Petah Coyne

    Petah Coyne’s extraordinary wax sculptures mark a departure from her earlier work, but I am not convinced (as some have been) that she has abandoned the dark for the light and embarked on a career as an optimist. True, the new works are bridal-white rather than black, and they are almost giddily festive, but they retain a strong element of the macabre. It is a change of degree only—a shift from ominous baroque to rococo inflected with Gothic revival.

    Since all the pieces are suspended from the ceiling (as we have come to expect from Coyne) and thickly encrusted with extinguished candles, they

  • Peter Hristoff

    In an era of fashionable murk the incandescent tones of Peter Hristoff’s latest paintings are like a defiant shout of joy or anger. I suspect that they may also be a protest against esthetic conformity, something for which this passionate and fastidious painter has never had much time. His gaze is fixed on things beyond the confines of the New York scene, and for that matter, beyond the Western tradition. To a Western observer, for example, the coiling, serpentine forms in Untitled (Red Landscape) [all works 1993] and several other paintings might seem to resemble intestines, but they may also

  • Stephanie Rose

    Stephanie Rose’s “Still Pictures,” 1993, are, first of all, a reminder that in terms of technique she is simply one of the best painters around. Luckily Rose’s technical facility is at the service of a flamboyant imagination and a disciplined intelligence constantly bombarded by conflicting ideas. These very excited and exciting paintings create luscious harmonies out of unlikely dissonances, paintings in which the abstract is fused with the symbolic and allegorical: Jean Cocteau and Mark Rothko, Odilon Redon and Willem de Kooning.

    Although diversely inventive, the paintings are all of a piece: