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:

  • Jane Kaplowitz

    Jane Kaplowitz would agree with Jean Cocteau that “style is the soul.” She is a connoisseur of Pop, of camp, and of “appropriation.” As if to establish her post-Modern credentials beyond a doubt, she has made an ironic play with motifs from Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Josef Albers, and others, but the irony of these earlier paintings can seem a little forced and, as a consequence, they fail to make the transition to the pure visual wit we can now see she was always aiming at. The new paintings are airy, evanescent, and lyrical in a strictly Firbankian manner. In them she celebrates the heroes

  • Tina Barney

    It would be nice to write a review of Tina Barney’s splendid new photographs without mentioning the dread words WASP, New England, or (worst of all) Ralph Lauren, but for most reviewers her work, with its focus on the lives of well-fed, conservatively clothed white people, raises the issue of class, and class is something Americans prefer not to think about. Barney clearly does think about it to the extent that she is aware that an individual’s fate is determined by income, education, and nurture, but she is entirely undoctrinaire. With a kind of anxious fidelity she records the lives of the

  • Rochelle Feinstein

    Rochelle Feinstein has been described as a “savvy” painter, and it is easy to see what people mean. Flag, 1992, for instance, is a witty, feminist riposte to Jasper Johns. The flag in question is not the flag of imperial America, but a faded, checkered dish towel attached to the lower right-hand corner of the painting, which is otherwise filled with a wavering, strangely wistful orange grid that extends and comments on the humble design of the towel. There is nothing doctrinaire about this good-humored and down-to-earth gesture.

    Apart from Johns, Feinstein’s main points of reference lie within

  • Mike Berg

    How refreshing, in this year of the politically correct, to come across a painter who is completely unashamed of the decorative aspect of his art, a painter, furthermore, who does not so much as nod in the direction of social and political concerns. Although it might seem traditional, such a stance is not always easy to maintain. It requires cunning, indirection, and virtuosity.

    At various times in the course of his career, Mike Berg has favored flooded baroque interiors, Biedermeier furniture floating in midair and gold Cyrillic lettering. Floral motifs have a long history with him, and, in his

  • Lee Krasner

    Lee Krasner’s “Umber Paintings,” 1959–62, are somber and sometimes violently gestural. Since they were painted not long after her husband’s death, they have been viewed, almost exclusively, in terms of “tragedy,” “catastrophe,” and “mourning.” It has even been suggested that their restricted coloring is related to the brownish coat of Jackson Pollock’s dog. I do not think this is a helpful way to look at art. There is nothing elegiac about the “Umber Paintings.” Most of them were painted more than three years after Pollock’s death, and in the interval she produced a number of works so brilliant

  • LITTLE R. G. IN A PROSPECT OF FLOWERS

    ROBERT GREENE'S PAINTINGS ARE so unapologetically dedicated to pleasure that it is easy to underestimate them. But art doesn’t have to look important in order to be serious. There is nothing wrong, as Claude Debussy once remarked, with a little charm. It is worth a long second look at Greene’s beach scenes out of Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini and his langorous, visionary fêtes galantes.

    The beach scenes, with their tidy rows of pastel cabanas, bathing machines, and backdrops of vague, palatial structures, look like nostalgic evocations of pre-1914 Europe, until one notices certain