Kenneth Baker

  • Philip Morsberger

    Philip Morsberger’s work often passes pretty much unnoticed, except by other painters. It is open to misreading as the work of a younger artist under the influence of Philip Guston. His pictures do resemble Guston’s late work in their collisions of high craft and wonky imagery. But Morsberger, who is in his 50s, has decades of painting behind him. He moved to California a couple of years ago from England, where—though he is American—he was Ruskin Master of Drawing at Oxford.

    Morsberger peoples his paintings with cartoonish figures that share the canvas space but mostly appear as unaware of each

  • Rick Arnitz

    A lot of what Frank Stella called “suburban abstraction” crops up on the West Coast because abstract art has even less of a history here than elsewhere. But once in a while, you encounter indigenous abstract work that can hold its own in any context. The recent work of Oakland painter Rick Arnitz, which turned up at an out-of-the-way cooperative gallery, is a case in point.

    Arnitz’s painting appears to be backed by no program or theory. In fact, until recently, his work was goofy with images depicting what looked like landscapes filled with boulders or possibly licorice gumdrops. His interest in

  • Mineko Grimmer

    Mineko Grimmer’s two works in this exhibition made use of natural elements, such as ice, stone, water, wood, and bamboo, substances that have extraordinary esthetic and metaphorical weight in Asian art traditions. Both works were also time-based. The lesser work was Music Boxes, 1988, which consisted of a pair of wood structures shaped something like square baskets with handles across their tops. Each box enclosed a metal trough of water surmounted by an open latticework of bamboo sticks. Beneath the bamboo in one box were three taut metal wires that acted as sounding strings. In place of the

  • William Tucker

    Santa Barbara is not a place where you expect to see important new sculpture, but that is what William Tucker’s recent show of big bronzes offered. With the first group of bronzes he showed in New York in 1984, Tucker emerged completely from the shadow of his mentor, Anthony Caro–and of every other sculptor who had been a formative influence–and revealed himself to be an artist of real maturity and inventive power.

    Amid the current vogue for conceptual sculpture, it is a relief to encounter work as viscerally convincing as Tucker’s. His bronzes are a world (or maybe just a generation) away from


    SINCE SEEING HIS RECENT RETROSPECTIVE at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago I’ve been inclined to think of Jannis Kounellis as chief successor to the late Joseph Beuys in the line of “alchemic” artists. Many people have been making reference to alchemy lately; last summer’s Venice Biennale, for example, included not only Sigmar Polke’s alchemic work in the West German Pavilion, but a large section on art and alchemy organized by Arturo Schwarz, who must be considered a forerunner to the current wave of interest, since he began decoding alchemic allusions in Marcel Duchamp’s work twenty


    I CAME AWAY FROM Richard Serra’s show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art hoping he would do himself the favor of steering clear of the place during normal viewing hours. In a statement quoted in the museum’s press release the artist says, “My sculptures are not objects for the viewer to stop and stare at . . . I am interested in creating a behavioral space in which the viewer interacts with the sculpture in its context.” (My italics.) I didn’t like to imagine Serra seeing what I had seen: people giving his 11 intelligently distinct pieces the once-over with a mien of skeptical, uneasy boredom,

  • David Gilhooly

    David Gilhooly has made dramatic changes in his work in the past year and a half. Gilhooly made his name as a ceramics artist, but he was no mere fashioner of pots and ashtrays. He produced everything from trompe l’oeil replicas of confections and vegetables to massive tableaux of figures from classical and his own personal mythology, in which frogs serve as surrogates for humans and deities. The Canadian critic Gary Michael Dault has aptly characterized Gilhooly’s frog cosmologies as Menippean satires, referring to the literary form invented in the third century BC by the Cynic Menippus. Menippus

  • Flashes of Understatement

    IN 1952, FOLLOWING HIS FRIEND David Park’s sudden reversion from abstraction to imagery, Elmer Bischoff began painting figures and landscapes in a manner adapted from Abstract Expressionism. Bischoff’s subsequent work in this vein, along with Park’s and Richard Diebenkorn’s, earned the three of them their almost legendary status as founders of socalled Bay Area Figuration, the West Coast’s first important indigenous contribution to modern American art. It is a pleasant surprise to discover, in the modest retrospective of Bischoff’s work now traveling1, how timely, how contemporary, his best

  • Doug Anderson

    As a newspaper critic in Boston, I watched Doug Anderson’s painting develop for almost a decade. I was pleased to see that his New York debut was the strong showing I always expected he would make.

    Anxious to impress my admiration for his work upon people who had never seen it, I used to find myself saying things like, “Anderson is going to be the next David Salle,” knowing that was not what I really expected or wished to see happen. I see Salle as a conceptual artist—a sort of critical neo-Dadaist, to revive an old term—who paints only in order to drain the activity of painting of whatever

  • Bill Woodrow

    British artist Bill Woodrow is well-known for making sculpture from things found near where he plans to exhibit it. Last summer, the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art invited Woodrow to spend some time in the San Diego area and make the work that would comprise his first museum show in the United States. (Even the show’s antic title, “Natural Produce: An Armed Response,” was patched together from vernacular speech that caught his ear.) Woodrow was particularly struck by Southern California’s bizarre commingling of paradisiacal climate, sybaritic living, and security consciousness, as he


    I HAVE NEVER shared the prevailing view of Georgia O’Keeffe’s achievement as an artist. The big claims made for her oils strike me as thoughtlessly exaggerated. Appreciation of these works has become confused with approbation of the example O’Keeffe has set for other women artists and with awe at the prices her paintings command. She happens to have filled credibly, though reluctantly, the need of both critics and art market for a modern American woman artist to make it into the ranks of the “major.” Her achievement has been inflated accordingly.

    As an oil painter, O’Keeffe has always thought

  • Peter Lodato

    I’ve had high hopes for the work of Los Angeles artist Peter Lodato since I first saw it a few years back in the 1981 Whitney Biennial. I remember a number of people remarking on the elegant two-paneled wall piece he showed. It was surprising not only as almost the only work of its kind in that Biennial’s goulash of overworked, undereducated figuration, but because, although cool and severe, it looked like the start of something new, rather than a holdover from Minimalism.

    Lodato’s small show at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art clarified somewhat the priorities of his art for me, but it


    SEVERAL NORMALLY STEELY-EYED CRITICS, including Mark Stevens and Robert Hughes, have been beguiled by the work of British artist Howard Hodgkin for reasons that are not plain to see in reproductions of his work. I visited his show “Howard Hodgkin: Forty Paintings 1973–84,” at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., hoping to discern the reasons firsthand.1

    The exhibition, which began its tour last summer as the British component of the Venice Biennale, is an overview of 11 years’ work which shows Hodgkin to be an artist of estimable confidence and consistency. The disappointing surprise it


    WHY WAS THE GREAT Max Beckmann retrospective not seen in any New York museum.1 A simple, unsupported conjecture became irresistible to me as I studied the exhibition in its no-nonsense installation at the Saint Louis Art Museum: that Beckmann’s art is just too violently sincere and too fully realized not to have embarrassed those New York curators, dealers, and critics who have indiscriminately presented and oversold so much neo-Expressionist “Bad” painting recently. Beckmann’s best pictures, which shame pastiche and easy irony, blow the quotation marks right off the “Bad” in “‘Bad’ painting.”

  • John Scott

    This show was my first chance to see an installation work by John Scott outside Toronto, where he lives. Scott made his name in Canada with big, smudgy drawings of advanced military machines and futuristic cars doing their stuff while seeming to emanate darkness. In the drawings’ margins, he would often scrawl bits of forbidding nomenclature and technical data. These images strike an anxious response in anyone who reads newspapers, but they are particularly compelling to Canadians, who tend to view the growth of American military “deterrence” as dangerously undeterred. Recently Scott has returned

  • Simon Edmondson

    Simon Edmondson’s paintings are educated work. They are loaded with respectful allusions to artists he evidently admires, from Frank Auerbach (Asleep in the Daytime II, 1984) and Oskar Kokoschka (Alternatives, 1983–84) to Philip Guston and Christopher LeBrun, who seem to haunt everything he makes. Edmondson plainly understands painting as a process of assimilation, for there is a colleaguely feeling about all his adaptations of technique and image-handling from other artists. If his influences do not yet seem fully digested, it should not be surprising. He is a young artist—29 years old—who

  • Amikam Toren

    Amikam Toren’s one-week solo show in East London was the best exhibition of contemporary art I saw in England, the least precious, the least “professional,” and the most compelling. Toren’s installation here involved two kinds of elements, processed on the premises: boxes on the wall and chairs on the floor. The boxes were laconic musings on mediation—each was the advertising-coated cardboard carton of a different-model color TV. Toren had sealed off the “front” end of each box by stretching canvas across it, stapling the canvas to its sides. On each canvas he made an image of the interior of


    “THE MYSTIC NORTH” was a sweeping survey of Symbolist landscape painting in Northern Europe and North America, organized by Roald Nasgaard of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where it was first shown this spring before its only other stop, at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The show’s title came from statements by J.E.H. MacDonald, one of the Group of Seven artists who determined, shortly before World War I, to found a mode of painting that would be rooted in Canadian experience. Inspired by a show of modern Scandinavian art that he and Lawren Harris saw in Buffalo in 1913, MacDonald and his


    CRITICS TODAY STEER CLEAR OF “beauty” and “beautiful” as if they were tainted words. Perhaps for critical purposes they have been damaged, though I think they suffer as much from neglect as from corruption. Circulated incessantly through the media, words such as “beautiful,” “real,” “value,” “love,” and “energy” have their nuances worn away and take on a quaver of authoritative meaninglessness. Nuanced areas of experience to which these words apply are accordingly cast into a darkness of ineffability. But to provide occasions for shedding light on elusive perceptions and feelings, to show that


    VIJA CELMINS’ DRAWINGS INVOLVE many traversals. The first is always her own transverse buildup of an image on a page. She tends to work from one corner of a sheet to the one diagonally opposite, and favors graphite because she is “interested in having the image collect.”1 People often remark upon the impersonal qualities of her work, but she believes that “the art is in the making, not in the object,” and that her touch gives meaning to what she makes. Her choice of subjects is guided partly by a desire to unite mark, image, and surface, as they are united in her recent “views” of outer space.