Klaus Kertess

  • Neo Rauch

    In fourteen large works on paper currently exhibited at the Albertina, Neo Rauch continues to render the somnambulistic figures enthralled by enigmatic rituals that have occupied his paintings since the mid- 1990s. Buffeted by the artist’s signature abrupt changes in scale, as well as spatiotemporal and psychological disjunction, Rauch’s narrative tableaux are now more complex in color, narrative, and composition; his paintings’ dystopic beauty has become more alarming.

    Rauch has regularly alternated between working on paper and canvas. Paper resists the brush less than canvas, limits overpainting

  • Mark Rothko

    Organized to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the nearby Rothko chapel, “Mark Rothko: The Chapel Commission” provided, more than its title might suggest, a compelling if not fully comprehensive overview of the second half of Rothko’s mature career—the last decade of his life, when he was obsessed with illuminating darkness. Thirty-two paintings, as well as seven graphite-on-paper studies for the chapel, were included; among the paintings were two large unfinished studies that had never been shown, and three pairs of alternate canvases, not previously exhibited together.

    In the late ’


    ROBERT RYMAN’S FIRST SOLO exhibition, in 1967, immediately drove me into perplexity with its apparently willing carelessness. I was confronted with a series of 48-by-48-inch sheets of thin, cold-rolled steel, all nearly identically painted with a wide, white-paint-loaded brush that had left overlapping, horizontal tracks of loose and fugitive strokes, sometimes moving from edge to edge, sometimes just trailing off across the support. Having recently opened a gallery that had been instantly identified with the term “Minimalism,” I was inured to the tired quip “I guess the show’s not up yet.” Now,

  • Klaus Kertess


    If I don’t say so, who will? For me, the best exhibition of 1995 was the WHITNEY BIENNIAL, because it was the one I learned the most from. Besides, any show that makes as many new enemies for the curator as this one did for me must be important.

    So what did I learn? Much I learned by osmosis, from being in so many studios; that knowledge can’t be verbalized and was, of course, the best part. I learned firsthand that the Biennial is a wonderful impossibility. I learned that today’s critical vocabulary must be enriched and simplified before it can actually touch art. I learned that


    The Whitney Biennial, it often seems, can do no right. The 1993 version of the show—the first of director David Ross’ tenure, and the first entrusted to a single curator—fared badly in the press even by Biennial standards, but the efforts of years past had also routinely drawn fire; group-authored, they were often seen as committee-compromised blueprints of the art-world pecking order. Curator Elisabeth Sussman’s forthright focus on politically motivated work was credited in some quarters as a wholesome corrective to this tendency, but it inevitably ruffled establishment feathers. Shortcomings



    Make It New

    Bruce Nauman retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Bad news from the studio, but real news nevertheless. Twenty-five years of pieces, each of which seems to have arisen out of a condition of sudden panic—out of the terror of not knowing, of having forgotten, willfully, day after day, what art is and what an artist might do—of having forgotten, even, what an artist is. A fountain? A source of mystic truths? A cruel instructor? A tortured clown? We get one brutal, last-ditch guess after another, and the whole practice of “artmaking” is reinvented, again


    AT THIS WRITING four vertical paintings, one tondo, and one large horizontal painting by Carroll Dunham are in varying stages of restless completion. The vertical paintings are the ones that pose the “real dilemma.”1 Dunham has always forged a shifting symbiosis of formal discipline and intuitive permissiveness; becoming ever more pronounced, the latter has now propelled something “more figurative” to the fore in his work. With the intimation of a figure comes the possibility of a literary, even narrative reading that would be alien to an artist so totally committed to a purely visual, nonverbal


    Stephen Mueller’s art has taken a turn toward Buddha. His vividly hued elliptical and circular shapes hover and buzz in shimmering mists; their manner, while less regimented, recalls the multiples of Buddha’s beatific chubbiness that float so frontally on the flat and floreate ground of many Tibetan tanka paintings. Like those of Tibetan painters, Mueller’s animated apparitions of the last two years are at once stunningly present and utterly elusive—by turns cosmic, comic, mystic, and erotic. The question seems to be, Can you use any bliss today?

    Mueller’s ongoing interest in Buddhist and


    SINCE THE LATE ’60S Michael Heizer has pushed Modernism toward the ancient builders of megaliths and carvers of the earth’s surface—simultaneously backward and forward. Drawing and forming with the tools of industrial engineering and building technology, he has blended the tenets of Quetzalcoatl with those of Marcel Duchamp, the history of art with the history of earth. Although he is hardly lacking in ambition, the mammoth size of most of his works has to do less with personal ego than with an intentionality that has made the surface of the earth the subject and the object of an acute sculptural


    ELIE NADELMAN'S LAST SERIES OF monumental miniatures (ca. 1935–46) initially seem a jarring finale to a career so frequently devoted to forming highly finished, harmonic icons of blemish-free, female grace. They become, however, a logical synthesis of the numerous ideas and influences that preoccupied one of the most versatile, complex, and problematical visions of 20th-century art.

    The 1929 stock market crash brought an end not only to the breathless glamour Nadleman had helped to ritualize and had occasionally satirized but also to his own baronial bohemian lifestyle. The loss of his wife's


    IF RICHARD TUTTLE HAS GIVEN more body in his new work to the allusions and associations formerly held in check by the strictures of formal procedure, it is not for the purpose of forming a unity of configuration or image. These clusters of materials and forms of varying degrees of specificity do not aspire to homogenization; they colonize one another in exquisite symbiosis, loosely strung together by string and wire. Tuttle’s disjunctiveness evades art-didactic intent. The openness of his configurations permits no resolution; the chorus of shadows muffles the voices of physicality and returns


    A KNOT, A NIPPLE, an eye—what are these gnarls embedded in the glandular ooze flowing out of and down a plane of wood in one of Carroll Dunham’s recent paintings? They certainly started out as knots of pine; but here, as only part of the thin veneer that covers the sheet of plywood underneath, the knots become representations of themselves and together with the grain transform in a self-hallucination which initially suggests a multiple organ transplant performed by a surgeon with a degree in Surrealism.

    The word “Surrealism” has yet to be fully rehabilitated in spite of the recent flood of


    The murder novel has also a depressing way of minding its own business, solving its own problems and answering its own questions.

    —Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

    Like most mystery novels, Barry Le Va’s sculpture presents a superimposition of two interdependent sequences of time—an action performed in the past, and an investigation of that action gradually unfolding in the present to explain the past; a real event (a “crime,” a configuration in space) for which the motivation is not initially self-evident, and an analysis of that event, deducing and discovering its missing links. Le


    CERTAIN WORDS EXEMPLIFY THEIR OWN meanings—“undernourished” is not a slender word, but “thin” and “slim” are; “polysyllabic” is just that. Gary Stephan, Stephen Mueller, and Bill Jensen make images that contain what they refer to. They seek a unity of paint and image: the irregular surfaces and organic forms employed by all three painters encourage external associations, but first of all, they form icons of painted-ness. “Viscous,” “diaphanous,” “efflorescent,” “biomorphic,” and “vaporous” are applicable to the works of all three—these adjectives refer as readily to material states of paint and

  • Developing an Image: Gerald Incandela’s Recent Photographs

    IN THEIR QUEST FOR a separate identity, photographers quite quickly questioned the word “painterly”—“straight” was increasingly strived for. Recently the word “altered” has been enlisted to describe the works of an increasing number of photographers who have visibly employed the hand to transform the vision through the camera. “Painterly” is more suited to the work of Gerald Incandela—although he cannot be accused of painting envy. Incandela has subverted photography with its own tools and brought new focus to the dialogue between the eye of the artist, the eye of the camera and the eye of the

  • Facing Paint: Michael Tetherow’s Recent Work

    NO MOUTH IS VISIBLE on the monolithic visage that streams down the plane of each of Michael Tetherow’s most recent paintings. A mouth would interrupt the flow of paint and vision. All is eye. Muteness encourages vision and the visionary. These paintings intend to be visionary; each presents a portrait of the artist’s unconscious as a painting. All is eye as I.

    Tetherow has now moved emphatically from painting as object to painting as image—from paint that refers only to itself to paint thick with memory and meaning. The change was fraught with reluctance. Like many of his peers, Tetherow felt

  • Gandhi in Choral Perspective

    OPERA IS A THEATRICAL UNION of two systems of organizing sound, music and language—one primarily abstract, one primarily referential. Language makes music more referential (music ritualizes language, language verbalizes music). Philip Glass has composed an opera titled Satyagraha; it is about language—language moving from the edge of abstraction to the edge of action. In collaboration with Constance De Jong as librettist and Robert Israel as costume and set designer, Glass has sailed his music through sense and sight into a theatrical unity of clear and buoyant beauty.

    This is Glass’ first fully

  • Figuring It Out

    In the Beginning

    IT STARTS WITH MANET. Everything always starts with Manet—or so it seems. His Dead Christ with Angels, 1864, portrays Christ about to be entombed . . . for the last time. Two angels, as remarkable for the blandness of their grief as for the birdlike naturalism of their wings, just barely prevent Christ’s body from sliding into the viewer’s space. His face is veiled by shadow; the light is focused on his drape-encircled crotch. Christ is sliding out of the picture into the plane—deadpan and demythified. Christ with a small c; art with a capital A.

    The figure of man, traditionally

  • Malcolm Morley: Talking About Seeing


    IF THERE IS A METAPHYSIC behind Malcolm Morley’s painting technique, it is eroticism—the eroticism of seeing. Although still best known for the cool precision of his travel-poster- and photograph-derived paintings done between 1965 and 1969, his most recent work displays an unabashed painterliness and directness that express a wish, like Monet’s, to have been born blind and then suddenly to receive sight. Hiking through art history and autobiography, stopping wherever he is surprised—Van Gogh, Delacroix, a dream about his analyst, the Tampa, Florida, Zoo—Morley is relentless in his quest