Max Kozloff

  • The Box in the Wilderness

    . . . here we bring our camp. When “Old Shady” sings us a song at night, we are pleased to find that this hollow in the rock is filled with sweet sounds. It was doubtless made for an academy of music by its storm-born architect; so we name it music temple.

    THUS, IN 1875, WROTE John Wesley Powell, recalling an experience as head of the United States Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region. But the photos made to document expeditions like his can tell us nothing of the liquid sounds men heard, the high-keyed colors they saw, or the extremes of temperature under which they

  • Painting and Anti-Painting: A Family Quarrel

    SUPPOSE AN ARTIST REMARKS to a critic: “You people distribute your attention badly; you overlook too many things, catch on to them too late or not at all.” This voices a familiar complaint, but the even testier one I have in mind works the opposite tack. It dresses us down for having “forgotten” what concerned us deeply once and what we held in high repute. It might have been an individual or a style from which the critics first waltzed or drifted away. But for at least five years the “negligence” has been more extreme than that, since a whole mode, painting, has been dropped gradually from

  • The Authoritarian Personality in Modern Art

    TALK BY MODERN ARTISTS IN this century usually puts itself forth in two recognized modes. We are familiar with the backgrounding statement, or the “how it was done” fill-in. Studio lore and specifics about process or ambiance reach a ready public appetite. But when they speak, artists just as eagerly confide what it feels like to be an artist and offer homilies about the justification of art in the world. For practical purposes, the one mode might be said to be descriptive, neutral, informing—it deals with operations. The other is sententious and speculative, out to frame assumptions. In any

  • The Lord Nelson of Painting

    Give me some mud off a city crossing, some ochre out of a gravef pit, a little whitening, and some coal dust, and I wiff paint you a luminous picture.


    TURNER WAS SAID TO HAVE once used stale beer in his paint vehicle. A hostile witness at a varnishing day in 1834 (but there were sympathizers there too), noticed that the artist was “rolling and spreading a lump of half-transparent stuff over his picture.” No one had courage enough to ask him what it was. Studio lore aside, his contemporaries lavished, when they wanted, some vivid insults on the substance of his paintings. What had been

  • Dennis Oppenheim

    In the past, occasionally, and now with his current show, Dennis Oppenheim has resorted to a circular ordering of events. The pattern, for example, of “annual rings, taken from the cross-section of a tree trunk, was blown up to about 150 feet in size, then shoveled and chopped out of ice on the U.S. Canadian border” (David Bourdon, Village Voice, January 20, 1975). More recently, Oppenheim obtained the corpse of a recently executed German Shepherd from the ASP-CA, and draped it over the keyboard of a portable electric organ which trailed, I think, a kind of dark grease as the artist dragged it

  • Mary Grigoriadis

    Mary Grigoriadis’s paintings may smack of origins as diverse as Byzantine, Navajo, and folk Sicilian. “Poly-ethnic,” one might call her icons, so definite in form but scrambled in reference. Titles such as Giotto’s Oranges, Etruscan Amber, and Rain Dance insinuate meanings supported by color, or less surely by design, but not by both at once. If you’re cued by New York art ideologies, you may well find her pictures unsettling, and not only because they’re so rabidly votive in presence. Grigoriadis has seen fit to “sit” her symmetrical and frontal imagery on the unprimed, linen surface in high,

  • John Willenbecher

    A cenotaph is a “sepulchral monument erected in memory of a deceased person who is buried elsewhere” (Random House Dictionary). Etienne-Louis Boullee, a rather successful 18th-century architect, imagined such works on a megalomaniac scale, as conceived in large, pedagogical ink and wash drawings. Their forbidding structural simplicity is zoned by unbroken, transparent shadows that merge with the star-powdered heavens. John Willenbecher would have many of his arched plaster constructions, painted over with gray acrylic, and bottom shelved in wood—would have them be called cenotaphs for Boullée.

  • Al Souza

    Al Souza comes across as a comparative anatomist of the differences between the photographed motif and the actual motif. That is to say, he investigates the unexpectedly shocking contradictions of reality that photographic form exhibits. And he does this by recourse to the simpleminded scheme of building compartmented boxes juxtaposing, for instance, color photographs of miniature roses with the roses themselves. One may, if one wishes, test the accuracy of the color printing process at firsthand. But this perfectly legitimate activity is deceiving: time has changed the color, and enfeebled the

  • Photography: The Coming to Age of Color

    CAN ANYONE REMEMBER THE first time he or she walked into a movie theater and did not expect to see a black-and-white film? That event might date from as early as the Cinerama ’50s, or it could have occurred as recently as the last decade, depending on one’s frequency of attendance in those dark palaces. But, as a happening, it most likely passed unnoticed. Multigray films, like radio and monophonic recording, were outgrown very gradually when the economic and technical investments necessary to supplant them found their market over a period of time. More important than that—psychologically—the

  • Traversing the Field... “Eight Contemporary Artists” at MOMA

    IT IS NOW 1974, 20 years after Jasper Johns commenced his first flag paintings. By art-world standards, two decades impress as a very long time. But when I consider the work assembled noncommittally under the title “Eight Contemporary Artists,” at The Museum of Modern Art (its largest exhibition of new art since 1 9 70), an epoch dissolves from memory. I am cast back to the message Johns transmitted then, as if little had intervened. The offerings in the current show, executed by a roster of international artists mostly in their thirties, and the old American flags invoke each other, conjoin in

  • The Territory of Photographs

    TWO TEXANS REPORTED AN ENCOUNTER, one lonely night last year, with strange creatures they took to be the likes of Martians. Obviously shaken, they weren’t able to accredit their experience because they could give only an eyewitness account of it. In a court of law, dealing with human actions, such eyewitness testimony may well convince, beyond, as they say, a reasonable doubt. But with an unidentifiable event, 2000 Texans would have been no more credible than two––unless someone had a camera. That instrument has aptly been called “the mirror with a memory.” Seeing is believing, but even the

  • Meatyard

    OF LATE, A LONG PERSISTENT INWARD VISION in photographic art has been gaining attention among those who assume the camera works best as a spontaneous witness of the social surfaces around us. If one were to hazard a mere formula to distinguish the two outlooks today, it would have to do with their disparate shading of photographic facts that in themselves resist any narrative alignment. One tendency, the dominant, is to let the material be itself, and yet to operate with a special, selective congruence to it that must allow for a current of open-ended meanings. André Kertész, Robert Frank, and

  • New Japanese Photography

    IN 1968, ROBERT JAY LIFTON wrote an article for Partisan Review called “Protean Man,” an excursus tracing certain cultural patterns of what Erik Erikson termed “identity diffusion” in modern life. The breakneck pace of “self-process” and accelerated shifts of ideological perspectives, often in pronounced contrast to each other, characterize what Lifton declared was a new protean personality. “I would stress,” he wrote,

    two historical developments as having special importance for creating protean man. The first is the world-wide sense of what I have called historical (or psychohistorical) dislocation,

  • Lucas Samaras

    By poking, caressing, scratching, scraping, modeling, and who knows what other means of molesting the photoemulsion of Polaroid SX-70 color prints, still wet underneath their protective seal, and faint in their first few developing minutes outside the camera, Lucas Samaras so violates the integrity of the photographic record that, even if he had not gangrened his chroma with the shrieking cerises and emeralds of filtered lights, the things observed through the lens seem to shrivel or wraggle, animistically, as if cursed with some metabolic disaster first urged on by genetic misalliance.

  • Audrey Flack

    Audrey Flack is perhaps an exception to the style—surely not in her pictorial handling—but in her apparent will to use its obtuseness as a vehicle for a personal, conceivably even an autobiographical statement. True enough, her still-life objects would seem to have moist lips, and she is unequaled in giving a spitting image of frosting. But a rope of costume pearls coils, like a signature, through many of her ambitious still lifes, even one devoted to model airplane kits. And if she is beguiled by brand names like Chanel or Revlon, the articles which they label are implied as being on her vanity

  • Robert Morris

    At first glance, from the ground floor of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Robert Morris’ Labyrinth looks like one of his earlier Minimal pieces: a fiberglass or plywood ring (here, masonite), painted his usual very light gray. But it is 8 feet high and 30 feet in diameter—therefore more barrenly intimidating, a sort of unearthly gas tank in a museum. I enter aslant, through its straight, narrower than me, bisecting passageway. About 2 yards ahead, the left wall curves convexly out of view to the right. So begins the first gambit of the labyrinth. I think of words starting with “m”: misgiving,

  • Wolf Kahn

    “Things to ignore” Wolf Kahn once wrote, “The fads of the moment.” This landscape painter for more than 20 years apparently refers to ephemeral artistic conceits and ideologies of the city, without interest in distinguishing these from more lasting ideas, or basic accomplishments, equally irrelevant to his interests. In Kahn’s work, whether oil or pastel, an atavistic mind holds on, cultivating its episodes of private observation, the quaint, quietist individual reflexes and moods drawn in through the artist’s lone eyes before nature, and later rendered complete in the studio. There are hundreds

  • Vija Celmins

    WHEN ONE LOOKS AT AN artist’s portrayal of the sea, one is put in mind of what is called a marine, that category of subject matter dealing with an expanse of water so animated by light, space, texture, tone, and movement as to transmit a salty atmosphere of its own. Since the historical rise of landscape, various artists have been sensitized to the dramaturgy of the aquatic—the possibilities, not only of an unstable, but a shifting and translucent horizon—as the setting of a particular mode. To depict a liquid body, whether inviting to contemplate and travel upon or not, is to treat of sensations

  • Malevich as a Counterrevolutionary (East and West)

    WITH SEVERAL ARTISTIC IDEAS released by the October Revolution—art as a festival of proletarian culture, the artist as an engineer of a future society, the energizing of all media as weapons of consciousness in a class struggle—Kazimir Malevich, who enjoys high status in the archaeology of abstract painting, had no sympathy. Having seen them born at firsthand, he was touched, of course, by many such impulses. He did go so far as to produce a half-hearted poster in the service of the revolution. A Suprematist pitcher and cup were designed under his supervision. And there exist photographs of his

  • Wittgenstein’s Vienna

    Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), 314 pages, 17 black-and-white illustrations.

    “Mahler’s Vienna” would be a quite thinkable title for a book. “Freud’s Vienna” makes an even more plausible one. Both would deal with famous, heroic, struggling innovators, effecting culture through the gradual conversion of their professions and audiences. And in the controversies they generated, what worshipful opportunities there are for piquant biographical, social, and intellectual reportage. But how is one to greet Wittgenstein’s Vienna, published earlier