John Howell

  • Arnold Mesches

    Arnold Mesches, 61, from California, pulled a fast one on the Lower East Side art scene by coming up with a painting gimmick as good or better than most in that hook-obsessed milieu, then actually painting dynamically enough through his concept to make it come off in a powerful if preachy way. His biggest and most successful conceit is a simple one: a double exposure, with an Old Master limned murkily as a background and a contemporary image foregrounded in blaring colors. In a California context—a comparison show of Mesches’ in Los Angeles was reviewed in Artforum in March—this double vision

  • Time and Space Limited

    Linda Mussmann’s Time & Space limited theater represents a decade-long attempt to continue the early Modernist credo in experimental performance art. Beginning in the early ’70s with the Modern classics (Henrik Ibsen, Bertolt Brecht, Jean Genet), Mussmann moved on to stagings of the nondramatic works of Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein. The shadow of the latter hangs over Mussmann’s latest phase, one in which her own fragmentary, elusive texts and the brooding musical accompaniment of Semih Firincioglu make up the principal material.

    Avoidance & Peculiar—written, directed,

  • What a Legend Becomes

    THE LAST FIVE FEW YEARS have seen a growing trend toward major revivals of classic experimental ’60s and ’70s performances for large, enthusiastic ’80s audiences who now seem “ready” for these works. By far the most talked about such event has been the recently remounted Einstein on the Beach, the operatic epic by director-designer Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, a “revival” that included re-creation to such a degree that it raises important questions concerning the intrinsic qualities that previously separated the performance genre from theater and opera. The contrasts between the new

  • FORUM: WHAT A LEGEND BECOMES

    THE LAST FIVE FEW YEARS have seen a growing trend toward major revivals of classic experimental ’60s and ’70s performances for large, enthusiastic ’80s audiences who now seem “ready” for these works. By far the most talked about such event has been the recently remounted Einstein on the Beach, the operatic epic by director-designer Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, a “revival” that included re-creation to such a degree that it raises important questions concerning the intrinsic qualities that previously separated the performance genre from theater and opera. The contrasts between the new

  • Spalding Gray

    For nearly ten years Spalding Gray has been performing autobiographical monologues as an adjunct to his activity with the Wooster Group, the seminal experimental theater troupe. Unlike the work of that ensemble, which is multilayered, emotionally distanced, and relentlessly deconstructive, these solos are informal, vernacular, and, in form, an admiring direct quote of a basic storytelling mode. Wearing L. L. Bean-ish street clothes Gray appears as “Spalding Gray,” seats himself at a nondescript table, and reels off a picaresque monologue which has been rehearsed into a script. Within this

  • Krzysztof Wodiczko

    Krzysztof Wodiczko has been a widely traveled art provocateur since leaving Poland in 1977. In the last five years he has staged “public projections”—outdoor slide shows in which images are projected on monuments and buildings—in cities in West Germany, Australia, the U.S., and Canada. Wodiczko comes off as a curious hybrid-equal parts earnest expatriate intellectual, ’60s guerrilla artist, architectural theorist, semiotician, and public gadfly. His work falls roughly into a show-and-tell teaching mode related to the civic didacticism of Joseph Beuys and the showbizzy media manipulations of

  • Les Levine

    As a self-described “media artist” Les Levine operates in a gray area of his own whimsical design, shuttling his deliberately simple concepts back and forth between the modern media’s polar extremes—advertising and fine art, unique objects and magazine covers. billboards and videotapes. In this show alone, large-format Polaroid portraits, plasticine constructions, and giant watercolor scenes alternated as vehicles for Levine’s particular brand of Zen-like attitudinizing. Lurking behind this restless media-mongering is a latent sense of impatience with art: Levine is more attracted to ideas than

  • Sankai Juku

    Sankai Juku is a Japanese performance group representing the third generation of a Japanese dance/theater genre called Butoh, an art distinguished more by an attitude than by any technique or form. Emerging from the social turmoil that swept Japanese culture in the ’60s, Butoh was a reaction against the mores of the time, which were formal and rigid both in the traditional Japanese performing arts and in the society at large. Butoh was brutal, assaultive, and sensational; its images and tone projected disaster and despair, a state of mind familiar to the postwar, postnuclear generation. And

  • The Wooster Group

    For over a year the Wooster Group has been presenting in-progress versions of a performance work called L.S.D. The four-part opus shown here, subtitled “( . . . Just the High Points . . .),” in fact represents the completed piece. Both its conceptual framework and its dramatic techniques will be familiar to any viewer of the Group’s previous work, but it develops their singular style and their sociopolitical thrust to new and giddy heights, creating an astonishing, thoughtful, and very moving performance.

    The work’s material is spun from two primary sources—Arthur Miller’s witchcraft-and-McCarthyism

  • Lynne Augeri

    Lynne Augeri’s photographic self-portraits express a singular take on post-Modern female role-playing by pumping up the overtly sexual end of the esthetic-erotic continuum. Augeri has apparently compared her darkroom manipulation of her images to “African skin-decorating rituals,” but these over-sized works allude more obviously to the early photographic studies of female nudes posed like classical sculptures. Just as those pictures blurred the distinction between the artistic and the pornographic, so Augeri’s self-portraits occupy an ambiguous zone between “positive” sexual bravado and “perverse”

  • Peter Gordon, Ned Sublette

    In the latest of Creative Time, Inc.’s annual series of outdoor performances on the Battery Park Landfill in lower Manhattan, two composer-musicians rang new changes on some venerable avant-garde music-performance motifs, As if the natural setting of the “Art on the Beach” program weren’t distraction enough for an audience (acres of open sand between the World Trade Center towers and the Hudson River, with a view of New York Harbor, lying below a jet flight path). Peter Gordon and Ned Sublette also had to contend with the striking sculptural works created by artists and architects in collaboration

  • “Endgame”

    This modest but provocative exhibition, subtitled “Strategies of Postmodernist Performance,” brought together typical works by three artists (Robert Morris, Laurie Anderson, and Robert Longo) of three generations (the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s) as evidence for a three-part argument about post-Modern sensibility. Curator Maurice Berger’s trinitarian thesis claims first that the “ strategies” displayed deny “the mythologies of artistic expression and temperament”; second, that they use theater to introduce time into artmaking; and third, that they focus on endgames—death, doom, disaster. Following up