Nancy Marmer

  • Michael Asher

    Lovers in Renaissance poetry conventionally exchange hearts. In the modern world, nations exchange students, tourists exchange money, and artists, on occasion, switch studios. Art dealers in the same city, however, are not likely to trade either their gallery spaces or their clientele. Thus, Michael Asher’s latest work, an exhibition consisting tout court of an exchange he engineered between the Claire Copley and the Morgan Thomas galleries, starts out with an artifice-proclaiming premise, even though all that follows is almost as casual as everyday potluck life in Los Angeles. Asher’s piece

  • Elyn Zimmerman

    A relative newcomer to the exigent form, Elyn Zimmerman constructs perceptual installations with a dry, pedagogic flavor. In her current room-size work, it is evident that she has learned some tricks of the trade from those installation-makers who traffic in illusory optical effects, altering the viewer’s experience of a space by cheating his eye. But unlike her predecessors, Zimmerman is a skeptic; she prefers anatomizing the mechanism of spatial illusions to indulging in their metaphysics. By contrast, many recent successful West Coast works in the perceptual genre—I think of Robert Irwin’s

  • Karl Benjamin

    One of the original “Abstract Classicists” for whom Jules Langsner invented the term “hard-edge” in the 1950s, Karl Benjamin has within the past two years begun showing again locally after a long absence from the LA gallery scene. Benjamin is a productive and changeable artist, regularly turning out about 50 paintings a year in a wide variety of more and less convincing hard-edge styles. Unlike last season’s diffuse arrangements of modular rectangles on a grid, the new paintings leave no room to loiter. They are as taut as a tightly strung lute.

    Immaculate execution and serial conception characterize

  • Waiting for Gloire

    FOR THOSE WHO, LIKE THE French, thrive on contradictions, the new Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou—42 x 166 x 60 meters of glass and concrete embraced by a brilliant exterior network of late-Léger colored tubes—is a plump subject for dissection and the ideal occasion for a flood of glittering paradoxes. Flayed and challenged in the press, attacked by left, right, and center, burdened by the onerous ambitions of an unresigned cultural establishment still chafing at the post-World War II ascendancy of New York, and afflicted by the weak credibility that clings to government-run

  • Alexis Smith: The Narrative Act

    ALEXIS SMITH RANSACKS PUBLISHED TEXTS as boldly as Jonson is said (by Dryden) to have invaded the Ancients. The spare and elegant wall pieces that Smith has been constructing since 1973 combine her literary loot with a piquant range of found images and objects. The blend is fresh—neither illustration nor adaptation, but a personal hybrid indifferent to the boundaries between art and literature, and brazen enough to combine the two.

    Smith’s story-collages grow out of the conceptualist ambience; they retain a lean conceptualist look and the conceptualist’s self-conscious, sometimes ironic mood.

  • Ron Davis: Beyond Flatness

    THE IMAGE OF RON DAVIS that emerges from the dense tangle of ’60s criticism of his work is that of a wily theoretician of modernism. In the commentary of Michael Fried and Barbara Rose, for example, Davis is made to seem an unequivocal, single-minded formalist obsessed above all not with the sensuous colors or the illusionist geometric shapes he was actually creating, but with cleverly using those forms in order to affirm the artifice of “surface.” Last year, in this magazine, Davis’ work of the ’60s was strongly attacked as “implicitly conservative,” while his newer paintings, a group of which

  • L.A. 1976: The Dark Underside

    NO ONE MAY BE quite ready to scuttle the great myth the arts have lived by in contemporary culture—our conviction that (in R.P. Blackmur’s words) “creation is discovery” and our assumption that an inexhaustible treasury of new forms constantly remains to be revealed by heuristic processes of the mind. Yet there were indications this past spring in Los Angeles, just when renewal should have seemed most possible, that there is some weakening of the faith. Whether by coincidence or as a result of ineluctable forces at work, two related group exhibitions of recent Southern Californian art were

  • Richard Serra

    Richard Serra, who once was credited with having gotten Andre “up off the floor,” may now be decorated for hoisting him as high as the ceiling. In an important new installation entitled Delineator, Serra invigorates the slightly tired issues of ground sculpture by adding to them the fillip of ceiling esthetics. Coincidentally, he takes ’70s sculpture one more step along the usurper’s path, encroaching still another inch on what Focillon called the “fundamental privilege” of architecture—its prerogative, that is, to dominate a real space “not only as a mass, but as a mold.” Furthermore, Delineator

  • Karen Carson

    All jostle and rip, Karen Carson’s new collages seem lashed into shape by an inarticulate ferocity. Unlike her earlier fetishistic drawings of tortured beds, the current large-scale works are abstract. Yet they exhibit the same aggressive instinct for demolition that characterizes the drawings, and they are based on the same fierce premises: that form has vitality only when it is fragmented, assaulted, and flayed; that distraction of the eye of the beholder is a desirable goal; and that an artist’s job of work is in the end a binder’s craft, a gathering up and a welding together of the agitated

  • Ann McCoy

    At first glance, Ann McCoy’s gossamer visions of underwater scenery suggest the artist as a maker of metaphors, a sea-dreamer musing on pearls and eyes and finny droves of the whale-road, rather than a scientist of the deep, some Beebe in a bathysphere. McCoy has described her drawings as “outer landscapes . . . seen through the eyes of an inner part of one’s being.” Along with Jungians and some Surrealists, she perceives affinities between the ocean depths, the nocturnal world of dreams, and the dark abyss of the human unconscious. Her titles—e.g. Le Pays des Rêves, Dream Reef, Nuit de Feu/The

  • Clyfford Still

    Though his work shares indisputably in the glory that attaches to first-generation Abstract Expressionism, Clyfford Still himself has preferred to hug the provincial periphery, a Blakean moralist for whom the marketplace is, it seems, soiled by the old-fashioned stench of human corruption: “. . . the public domain,” he once wrote in a piece for this magazine, “is, and has always been, not a well to drink from, but a cesspool of insidious and poisonous matter.”

    For Still the art world is an “arrogant farce,” and his own adversarial strategy has been to withhold quantities of his major paintings

  • Jim DeFrance

    Shimmer is the temptress of Jim DeFrance’s new work, and a dazzling surface unsettles his high constructivist intentions. Pale fields of opalescence with a glacial pink here and a pistachio glimmer there, DeFrance’s outsize flaps of stiffened (but unstretched) burlap get their icy gleam from light plus gloss—that is, from ordinary gallery illumination bouncing off the slick exterior of several layers of rolled-on, pastel-flavored acrylic. The color of these works can be as chilly as an arctic morning, as evasive as Bigfoot. Up close the slippery paint surface is undone—transformed into a flux

  • “Autobiographical Fantasies”

    The subject is ancient. St. Augustine, it is said, invented a literary container for it. More than 200 years have passed since Rousseau proclaimed, “Myself alone! . . . If I am not better, at least I am different.” The “self”—perennially fascinating to its owner, occasionally interesting to an “other,” conspicuous problem of the Romantics and frequent obsession of the Moderns—is recently being widely broadcast as an appropriate subject for mid-70s art. LAICA responds to the call with “Autobiographical Fantasies,” a spirited group exhibition, but one uncomfortably saddled with definitional

  • Laddie John Dill

    I suspect that the esthetic emotions elicited by Laddie John Dill’s rugged new abstract paintings have something in common with the feelings aroused in the bosom of the educated 18th-century traveller face to face with a “sublime” natural vista such as a raging storm, a bottomless gorge, or a majestic mountain range. Not that one requires a Longinian taste for the awesome in nature to appreciate Dill’s recent work; it suffices to be sensible to epic aspirations in painting—the scale, for example, of Clyfford Still, or the craggy forms of Motherwell, or the incontinently energetic surfaces of

  • Robert Irwin

    If Dill’s work is a challenge thrown in the teeth of prevailing taste, Robert Irwin’s most recent installation can be seen, oxymoronically, as the bodiless incarnation of that taste. Eschewing the beleaguered object, he chooses instead to control a corner of the environment, and thereby to invite the viewer’s perception of disembodied space and light. Mizuno’s relatively small exhibition space, a spare, high-ceilinged room with parquet flooring and, most notably, two very long, very narrow skylights, is Irwin’s prim stage; his ascetic materials are a roll of three-quarter-inch width black tape,

  • “The Sky Show”

    In former times, an emblem for the seraphic mood of Irwin’s room might well have been a horizonless depiction of calm sky. But the heavens are no longer an unequivocal symbol for the spiritual state: “upper air” also means sinister outer space, and heaven, these days, is mostly in, down, or out. Nevertheless, the sky has never forfeited its position as the locus of a brilliant variety of ephemeral events; for those who charmingly refuse to discern any fault in the pathetic fallacy, it is still the scene for discovering symbolic expression of human states of mind: and, if the sky is no longer a

  • Alexis Smith

    For those familiar with Alexis Smith’s recent narrative-collage pieces (her Madame Butterfly, one of the better inclusions of the “Visual/Verbal” show at UC Santa Barbara, had previously been exhibited in last year’s Whitney Biennial), her environment title—Rapido—aroused pleasant expectations of a richly allusive experience replete with savory references, no doubt, to some or many of those romantic, tragic, or, at the very least, mysterious train rides of fiction and film: perhaps to that fast-moving Warsaw train hurtling toward St. Petersburg one prerevolutionary November morning with Prince

  • Matisse and the Strategy of Decoration

    AMONG THE MORE HUMANE JOBS of work for the critic is the restoration of artistic reputations temporarily swept away in those frequent flurries that create the ins and outs of fashion, as opposed to the history of art. One supposes that Picasso, for example, who has in recent years been quietly kicked upstairs to the thankless position of “our excellent and indispensable” modernist, will require some such reassessment at a more propitious time in the coming years. For Matisse, however, there is at the moment no such burning need. The present show, a giant retrospective (345 items) at the new UCLA

  • A Memorial Exhibition: David Smith at the LA County Museum

    TEN-FOOT SCULPTOR AMONG INCHLINGS, David Smith was a votary of size. “I’m going to make them so big that they can’t even be moved,” he said. And not only size. The story of his 1962 experience in Voltri, Italy, where, in one month at an abandoned iron works, he constructed twenty-six large sculptures for the Spoleto Festival (“I never made so much, so good, so easy in such condensed time as in my 30 day Italian phase”) reads like an episode in a tall tale. In an epoch when sculptors have been unlikely candidates for laurels and the art itself ranked as underdeveloped nation, his work was all

  • Mark Di Suvero

    Brilliantly heroic sculpture for a non-heroic age, Nova Albion, constructed this past year on the beach at Point Reyes, California, has enough Whitmanian amplitude and Bunyanesque audacity to make that cross country sweep. With great “muscle and pluck,” Di Suvero flings huge pallid logs, splintered beams, gnarled telephone poles, and yellow metal girders upward into an architect’s vision of space. Like some giant crane from a new world dock or the scaffolding of a sinister Piranesi prison, this Brobdingnagian 18 1/2 feet high and 28 feet long construction juts up through a forced opening in the