Peter Plagens

  • “Dan Christensen: Forty Years of Painting”

    Dan Christensen graduated in 1964 from the Kansas City Art Institute and began, well, painting about painting. And he was canny enough to narrow down his subject matter to composition, color, and—mais oui!—the way paint behaves on canvas.

    Dan Christensen was a painter. That is, he was a painter. Like, a P-A-I-N-T-E-R. Christensen graduated in 1964 from the Kansas City Art Institute and began, well, painting about painting. And he was canny enough to narrow down his subject matter to composition, color, and—mais oui!—the way paint behaves on canvas. He was also gutsy enough to try almost any way—from grids of muted color blocks to ropy, aerobatic, candy-color sprays—of combining those elements to arrive at some sort of visual poetry: He scraped, he stained, and his color ranged from tastefully

  • Jim Lutes

    Fittingly described as “protean,” Lutes’s oeuvre will be represented in this midcareer survey, which spans twenty-five years, by only twenty-six paintings.

    Depending on your perspective, fifty-three-year-old Chicago painter Jim Lutes can be many things: the most academically grounded of all slacker painters (he is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago); a Willem de Kooning of the 1940s, but funnier and less anxious; or a Philip Guston of the ’70s, only weirder and less guilt ridden. Some say he’s Imagism, Part Deux. Fittingly described as “protean,” Lutes’s oeuvre will nevertheless be represented in this midcareer survey, which spans twenty-five years, by only twenty-six paintings. Will the spare selection

  • “Time & Place: Los Angeles 1957–1968”

    If you think the decade following the late 1950s in New York was the warp-speediest trip to the future, think again.

    If you think the decade following the late 1950s in New York was the warp-speediest trip to the future, think again. In Gotham, art progressed from Rauschenberg’s Combines to Flavin’s fluorescents to Heizer’s Earthworks. The West Coast, however, saw a shift from admittedly late-in-the-day AbEx works to Robert Irwin’s and James Turrell’s dematerializations-into-pure-light. That’s WHOOSH! to the East Coast’s whoosh. Along the way—as this exhibition featuring twenty-four LA-based artists should demonstrate—came bright, idealistic Minimalism (Larry Bell, John McCracken), smart

  • the MacArthur fellows

    My wife plays a little game whenever I telephone from the office and ask if there have been any calls. “Just the MACARTHUR FOUNDATION,” she deadpans. “I told them you weren’t here, so they moved on down the alphabet to Sylvia Plimack Mangold.” Or Rona Pondick. Or Alexis Rockman. I—like about 500,000 other American artists—entertain an inextinguishable, secret hope that someday I’ll get a tap on the shoulder from the MacArthur folks, collect $350,000, and be able to paint and write as I bloody well please for the subsequent five years.

    But my MacArthur envy has diminished. The cachet of the

  • Anish Kapoor

    When people at an art party, circa 1995, asked if there were anyone working in England you did like (after you had remarked that the whole Young British Art scene reminded you of extras from a Larry Clark movie), you could still answer “Anish Kapoor” without completely embarassing yourself. At the time, Kapoor was well on his way from being an establishment-radical artist (i.e., one whose work had street credibility as well as cachet in the high-end art world) to an outright national institution, an intensely chromatic Henry Moore for the ’90s. His sculptures were gracefully elegant without

  • Transformations: The Art of Joan Brown

    A case of too much too soon—and not enough until too late—is one way of looking at the career of the late Bay Area painter Joan Brown. In her early twenties, she made the cover of this magazine with a figurative AbEx-y picture that looked like loosened-up de Staël. Then she switched: to a flat, funny, sort of Bridget Jones’s Diary version of Northern California “funk”—a regional style so centripedal in force that only William Wiley achieved escape velocity to the national scene. Now we’ll see if a two-institution retrospective can provide the horsepower to finally launch Brown as well.

    Also on

  • Jo Baer

    If there’s a more thankless occupation than Minimalist painter, we’d like to know about it. Of course, if you hedge the reductivism with some “incomplete” lower edges to your canvases, then mutate back into a curvilinear romantic, you can carve out a rep as a “major” artist. It helps to be a guy. If you’re a woman whose work is severe enough to earn you but a single mention in Irving Sandler’s American Art of the 1960s (as a “conceptual” artist), and then you hie off to Holland to become a mystical “imagist,” chances are you’ll get forgotten. The Stedelijk will try to correct the situation for

  • Peter Plagens

    1. “RECOGNIZING VAN EYCK” (Philadelphia Museum of Art) A painter friend of mine in Chicago who deejays on the side once explained to me the reason he had so many more old rock ’n’ roll records than new ones. “I like the best of the new,” he said, “and the best of the old, and it just so happens that there’s a lot more old.” In art, old really has the edge, but—given the way artists crank out stuff nowadays—it sometimes seems like there are fewer old works than new. So here I’m gonna go with old. Back when men were men and pictures were little and took a long time to make, Jan van Eyck

  • the Whitney Biennale

    REVIEWING THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL of American Art has gotten to be something like playing a round of golf just to get rid of pent-up aggression. Let’s see, which club will we whack the vulnerable little ball with this year? If the play is from the middle of the art-market fairway, as it was in Klaus Kertess’s 1995 show, we could reach for the “Chic Gallery Old Boys’ Network” wood and drive that sucker right through Matthew Marks’s plate glass window. If we’re in the politically correct rough (on the left, of course), as we were in 1993, we could grab the “Politics Make For Ugly Art” iron and enjoy

  • the MoMA/ P.S. 1 merger

    “HEY, THAT’S NICE,” quickly followed by “Uh-oh.” So goes the near-unanimous reaction of the art world to the probable merger of the august, hyper-institutional Museum of Modern Art and the capaciously funky P.S. I Contemporary Arts Center. To recapitulate, P.S. I—the recently renovated former public school in Long Island City, Queens, which has been nurtured and kept integrity-intense for more than twenty years by its founder, Alanna Heiss—signed a letter of intent to nestle itself under the protective umbrella of MoMA, that Manhattan bastion of black-tie vernissages and modernist correctness.

  • “Edward Ruscha: Editions 1958-1999”

    You want all of LA culture wrapped up in one convenient package? Try Ed Ruscha's ennui-ridden books of deadpan photographs, Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966). All right, that's two. It's three if you include the Oklahoma-born, Bob Mitchum-handsome artist himself, whose artistic persona is kind of “Marcel makes a guest appearance on Friends.” And in spite of some very early, very clever paintings, the essence of Ruscha really resides in his work in editions—those supremely witty books and delicious prints. Here, the Walker presents a complete

  • David Salle

    If any artist could use the boost of a major museum retrospective right now, it's David Salle. Stranded in the vast midcareer no-man's-land bounded by a jacked-up commercial gallery career on one side and by doubts about his art-historical gravitas on the other, Salle gets his (second) break as the Stedelijk's Dorine Mignot mounts a fifty-five-painting case for the former wunderkind's staying power. Fitting that the flagship institution of a country where you can fire up a joint in a “coffee shop” should take a chance on a hot potato grown a little cold.


    Simultaneous home-turf retrospectives for California native Sam Francis and west cast adoptee Bas Jan Ader provide the occasion for a pair of Artforum contributing editors to reassess the respective legacies of two central protagonists in the prehistory of LA’s current artistic flowering.

    As “SAM FRANCIS: Paintings 1947–1990” goes on view at LA MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary, PETER PLAGENS asks how Abstract Expressionism’s sunny sybarite will hold up in the long view.

    Alot of people still wonder whether or not Sam Francis was a bona fide Abstract Expressionist. Of course he was. His paintings are abstract, aren’t they? And they’re “expressionist”—at least in the evident sense that he applied paint in a loose, vigorous manner and left a lot of the details to chance. But if expressionism also implies some special access to raw emotion, particularly of the angsty, heart-of-darkness

  • the critics lineup

    SOON IT’LL BE SPRINGTIME WHEN, as everybody knows, the hickory meets the horsehide. But it’s also the time when on the playing fields of Chelsea and SoHo and in a few elegant old white cubes up on Fifty-seventh Street—the hermeneutics meet the horseshit. Yep, it’s the second half of the art season. Last fall, two blockbuster moves changed the critics’ lineup, and the effects are just starting to be felt around the league. Here’s our (somewhat belated) scouting report.


    (from The Village Voice to The New Yorker): 56 years old, 6’ 0", 165 lbs., living white male.



    THE THIRTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD performer/artist Claude Wampler boasts a résumé that reads like something out of one of those David Lodge novels about trendy, internationally peripatetic intellectuals: domestic studies in theater, dance, and opera; immersion in butoh in Tokyo; shows at places with such edgy-cutesy names as SlimFit and Fourth World A.W.O.W. Not surprisingly, Wampler is the kind of artist critics go on about glowingly without ever managing to put their fingers on what exactly she does. Kim Levin wrote in The Village Voice that Wampler’s work is “about primal relationships.” (Right. And

  • Sam Francis

    If your idea of a great painter is one who shoots for the stars at the expense of frequently falling flat on his face, then Sam Francis is the artist for you. When Francis was on—in big paintings such as The Whiteness of the Whale, 1958, and Blue Balls, 1961—the man was on. But when he was off. . . Let’s just hope that curator William Agee’s 100-plus-work retrospective, which the artist helped plan before his death in 1994, is able to sort major from minor from meaningless. Francis’s reputation might depend on it. Mar. 7–June 6; travel venues to be announced.

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    THEY DON’T MAKE ’EM LIKE KASPER KÖNIG anymore, and maybe for Daniel Birnbaum that’s a good thing. Asked about the choice of Birnbaum to succeed him as director of the Städelschule art academy in Frankfurt, König blithely remarks that he’d preferred some guy from Glasgow who went elsewhere, but that Birnbaum was perfectly fine. So much for the obligatory PR pribble (“the decision was absolutely unanimous, from the chairman of the board right down to the custodian’s assistant”). On the other hand, when it comes to effacingness (self- or otherwise), Birnbaum, thirty-seven, is no slouch either. “

  • Madelein Grynsztejn

    GIVE MADELEINE GRYNSZTEJN some credit for diplomatic consistency: She doesn't miss a beat when the subject of negative reviews of her 1999 Carnegie International comes up. “I would turn,” she says in response to my line of questioning, “to reviews by Steve Litt [Cleveland Plain Dealer], Katy Siegel [Artforum], and Graham Shearing [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review].” She adds: “A lot of the pieces were newly commissioned and allowed the artists to make leaps within their own work. This was the first time that Janet Cardiff could use video as well as audio, and the first time that Sarah Sze worked with

  • Open Ends

    Last time we checked, George Lucas was at work on Episode XIV of the fifth cycle in the forty-second Star Wars übertrilogy. He'd better hurry. Come September, credits roll on the first section of the third cycle of MoMA's year-and-a-half thematic rehanging of its collection: Curators Paola Antonelli and Joshua Siegel costar with leading man Kirk Varnedoe (cast against type in this contemporary episode). You won't find out whether Han Solo ever hooked up with Princess Leia, but you will learn about tensions between “private autonomies and a global culture” and “challenges to familiar notions of

  • Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900–2000

    How's this for an exhibition idea: “Touched by Human Hands: All the Art Ever Made by Anyone Anywhere, 30,000 B.C. to Just Last Tuesday”? OK, so I'm exaggerating: “Made in California,” organized by LACMA's Stephanie Barron and a team of curators, only surveys a century of painting, sculpture, photography, commercial art, couture, and—mais oui—video. Oh, and throw in a bit of cultural detritus (tourist brochures, labor pamphlets) to boot. Sound overwhelming? Don't worry. As you leave “Section Five” (the '80s and '90s), you'll be treated to “a transition space free of visual images”—where