John Howell

  • Thomas Lanigan Schmidt

    The faux naïf icons of Thomas Lanigan Schmidt map out a territory in which kitsch jostles with folk craft and fine art references, Italian rococco collides with German baroque, and childlike play is intertwined with an almost obsessive religiosity. It’s these blatant contradictions—and their only-semi-resolved status—that make Schmidt’s work so unsettling, so provocative. Like good cake, his piled-up, heavily encrusted objects are a rich diet, one best ingested in carefully rationed portions. In some ways, Schmidt resembles a genuine naïf; he doesn’t know when to quit. By ignoring conventional

  • Luis Frangella

    Luis Frangella is a classic junk artist. That is, he grafts the essence of classic art themes and techniques onto an anthology of urban debris used as support materials, thereby updating the past and historicizing the present. But Frangella’s art is no mere conceptual exercise; his works are executed with wit, flair, and, that most currently rare quality, a sense of controlled power. Avoiding the Scylla and Charybdis of either academic fussiness or crude overstatement, his sculptural objects and paintings inhabit their space like contemporary icons, totemlike creations whose diffident appearance

  • Bruce Wall

    Bruce Wall’s “Metro Freako” series, 1985, is yet another installment of that East Village crossover style which mixes cartoonish energy with surrealist ideas. After only a couple of years, it’s a mode that’s pretty exhausted due to facile overuse—and it was never that profound a concept to begin with. But Wall’s painting is a particularly lively example which stands out against the glut of countless East Village versions of pop craziness.

    Though “Metro Freako” is a series of some dozen paintings, there’s no progression or narrative, only variations on a single motif: freakish characters frozen

  • Eric Bogosian, Drinking in America

    Right now there’s a proliferation of solo caricaturists—performers who create an entire portrait gallery of characters—but Eric Bogosian is the only one who works “cold”; he uses no props, no costumes and doesn’t mix media. Dressed typically in a white shirt and black jeans, Bogosian works with his flexible, highly developed voice and with nuanced body movement to invent his personas. What’s more, Bogosian presents several characters in each show under a single thematic umbrella. It’s a difficult format—and one that has worked in a hit-or-miss way in his earlier shows. But in Drinking in America

  • Robert Longo

    Robert Longo is the Francis Ford Coppola of the art world. With his extravagant conceptual claims, his bombast and sentiment, his epic scale, and his autobiographical insistence, Longo’s work either puzzles or inspires: there’s no middle ground. Like Coppola, Longo gambles that he can move not just an individual consciousness but an entire zeitgeist. That’s an outsized goal, and it’s finally transcendental in the great-white-whale-seeking tradition.

    Not that these lofty ambitions always translate so clearly. Sometimes Longo’s combine sculptures are so overdetermined, so packed with meaning, that

  • Perry Hoberman

    Hoberman’s multimedia sculptures and performances exist in a twilight zone of wry fantasy and gee-whiz-Mr.-Wizard innocence. While Hoberman directly addresses knotty philosophic concepts of media-mixing, he still allows his brainteasers to generate a bemused delight. This mixture works better in space (the sculptures) than in time (the performances). On stage, the playfulness drains away, leaving only a dry skeleton of bony thought; the inanimate sculptures are actually livelier.

    Like a whiz-kid “techie” with a singular invention, Hoberman wants to astonish the viewer, and with his amazing

  • Alex Katz

    Back in the ’60s, when many artists were emphasizing the tackling of formal ideas as plastic issues, one of the knottier formats was a dialectical setup between painting and sculpture, between the plane and the three-dimensional object, between the bounded authority of the wall and the open freedom of space. The artwork tended to be as reductive and abstract as the problem-solving activity that produced it. From Donald Judd’s boxes to Robert Morris draped felt, the iconography mirrored the philosophizing that motivated its forms.

    In the ’80s, this line of exploration has taken a literal turn in

  • Timothy Woodman

    Timothy Woodman’s painted aluminum wall reliefs offer a more diffuse, less focused figure-scape than Katz’s. His characters are literally “little people,” an anthology of Lilliputian types engaged in a human comedy of activity, from the mundane (sharpening a knife) to the fantastic (wrestling a demon). Sometimes Woodman’s small folk are isolated as single figures; in other works, groups arestrung together in a linked chain of human activity, as in a take-off on Edward Hick’s Peaceable Kingdom which adds musicians and a ballerina to the already crowded scene of the original 19th-century work,

  • “Synesthetics”

    “Synesthetics” was an ’80s version of the ’70s phenomenon variously known as “story” or “narrative” art. Back then, my feelings about this incorporation of words into pictures was as mixed as its media and motives: as a writer and reader, I was thrilled to see actual language infiltrate visual art, but as a farsighted reader who requires glasses to read type, glasses that render images blurry, I often genuflected at the reading wall in a gallery more out of a sense of dutiful respect than out of any real excitement at the actual results. “Synesthetics,” however, exerted an extra pull through

  • Kiely Jenkins

    In the recent past the history of “animal art” has been one of singular, eccentric modes, ranging from Nancy Graves’ anthropological camels through William Wegman’s conceptual vaudeville with his late canine partner, Man Ray, to Hermann Nitsch’s “meat orgy” performances and Susan Rothenberg’s neomythic, cave painting-like horses. Typical of a younger sensibility, Kiely Jenkins opts instead to ring changes on the venerable category of the cartoon animal.

    Jenkins set up part of the gallery as a fake “trophy’’ room complete with false paneling, electric-blue rug, plastic chairs, and a sappy Muzak-y

  • Derby Davis

    There’s something touching in Jenkins’ condescension toward his wasted, urbanite animals, and in the sophisticated fun he pokes at what is dearly loved. Debby Davis’ slaughterhouse sculptures, on the other hand, slug at the gut. Beautifully crafted from Hydrocal, fiberglass, and Polyadam, and realistically painted in oil, Davis’ animals look like casts pulled dripping from new carcasses rather than clever forgeries of animal remains. The gallery was filled with flayed sheep heads, skinned rabbits, pig heads hung on hooks, goat ribcages, deer heads, snakes crawling through plucked chickens, and,

  • Jeff Weiss

    For over two decades Jeff Weiss has been presenting his self-produced playlets on a shoestring budget, often in his Lower East Side tenement basement. Occasionally he ventures into a quasi-theatrical space with an ambitious program. This time out he produced a Nicholas Nickleby of performance-art theater, a work of unprecedented scale—four and a half hours in running time, complexly plotted with some two dozen episodes calling for a dozen major characters and as many minor ones, and featuring an encyclopedic acting style which runs the gamut from camp to sincere melodrama. As producer, director,