Peter Plagens

  • Alex Katz

    Does a painting by Alex Katz have an inner life? Silly question, you say: Of course it does. Any image by a bona fide modern artist has an inner life, and Katz’s credentials on that score are impeccable. The Brooklyn-born, seventy-four-year-old painter studied at places whose names are virtually synonymous with turpentine and canvas (Cooper Union, Skowhegan). Even the move to the flat, cool manner that became his signature proved his modernist chops: In the late ’50s, when Abstract Expressionism was the house style of serious, progressive American painting, Katz went bravely against the grain,

  • Alfred Jensen, Remote Sensing, Per I & II, 1979.

    Alfred Jensen: Concordance

    Who was Alfred Jensen (1903–81)? A geometric abstractionist, you say?

    Who was Alfred Jensen (1903–81)? A geometric abstractionist, you say? But his trademark grids of tiny, brightly colored triangles and squares are so heavily impastoed that, from ten feet away, the geometry wiggles like a desert horizon. An atelier mystic, à la Mark Tobey or Morris Graves? Hardly: The “esoterica” on which Jensen draws includes math and physics as well as Chinese and Mayan calendrical systems. Perhaps Dia’s season-long dozen-painting exhibition—which includes the never-before-publicly-exhibited Great Pyramid, 1979, a twelve-panel masterpiece considered the artist’s last major

  • Roy Lichtenstein, Tall Mountains, 1996.

    Roy Lichtenstein: Inside/Outside

    We’ve always suspected that Roy Lichtenstein was more than just a Pop artist. Isn’t all that “It’s . . . It’s Not an Engagement Ring, Is It?” banality only a cover for the weird shapes you get with blowups of undifferentiated front teeth, or the strange blue-black color combination in comic-book wavy hair? Now along comes a show that aims to prove it: “Roy Lichtenstein: Inside/Outside” marshals 120 works to demonstrate, in the words of MCA director Bonnie Clearwater, that “Lichtenstein studied how the human mind comprehends space in two and three dimensions . . . [his] methods in fact . . .

  • Art:21

    YOU CAN JUST HEAR 'EM at the story meeting: “Look, what we want to do here is demystify these artists. We gotta make them regular, friendly folks. None of this wrestling with art-historical forebears crap, none of that B.S. theory. And above all, no authoritarian narrator telling the audience what to think.” The silence of no basso profundo voice-over from Robert Hughes on Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, PBS's four-episode look at twenty-one contemporary artists debuting September 21, is almost deafening.

    An opening segment—hosted by Steve Martin doing his patented mock-self

  • the Mori Art Museum

    COME OCTOBER, THE SWEDES take over the Japanese capital with a two-week cultural festival dubbed “Swedish Style in Tokyo.” Over in the Roppongi district, the Mori Arts Center Project Space will honor the event in an area called the “New Tokyo Life Style Roppongi Think Zone” while the nearby G'Martini's bar welcomes “the brave and sleepless.”

    If this doesn't pave the way for David Elliott, nothing will. The British cultural historian and director of the august Moderna Museet in Stockholm takes the reins at Tokyo's Mori Art Museum on November 1. The Richard Gluckman designed facility won't open to

  • Frank Gehry, Vitra Design Museum 1987-89, Weil am Rhein, Germany.

    Frank Gehry, Architect

    Frank Gehry, as we all know, is the guy who designed the absolutely fantabufuckingamazabulous Guggenheim Bilbao. The Gugg Bilbao, as we all know, is the fantabufuckingamazabulous melty building that instantly buried the pomo mall pastiche that buried the oppressive modernist steel-and-glass box. End of story? Not quite. While some feel Gehry’s sci-fi rococo will prove as lasting as ’59 Cadillac tail fins, his fans insist he’s just gotten started—witness the proposal for a new Guggenheim at the tip of Manhattan that’ll make Bilbao look like a Fotomat kiosk. To buttress the case for Gehry’s

  • Clyfford Still, 1948-C, 1948, oil on canvas, 807/8 x 703/4".

    Clyfford Still: Paintings, 1944–1960

    Nobody, but nobody, could cop attitude like Clyfford Still (1904–80): “I held it imperative to evolve an instrument of thought which would aid in cutting through all cultural opiates, past and present, so that a direct, immediate, and truly free vision could be achieved.” The question of whether Still’s abstract painting can shoulder such a megalomaniacal burden is raised by a modest thirty-nine-painting “reintroduction” exhibition organized by Hirshhorn director James Demetrion. That’ll have to do, because Still’s estate is as thorny as he was: It has hundreds of paintings—allegedly bound for

  • Swingin' Red King and Silver Queen, 1960-61.

    H.C. Westermann

    H.C. (“Cliff”) Westermann had everything a real artist needs: a taste of the dark side (as a marine in World War II and Korea), technical skills (carpentry, woodcarving, stone masonry), art-historical grounding (Surrealism), and an engaging, original style—think R. Crumb but less worked. Oh, and he had a great art-party shtick: He’d walk around—on his hands—chomping a cigar. Organized by the MCA’s own Lynne Warren and Michael Rooks, the first major Westermann show since his 1979 Whitney retrospective brings together 131 sculptures from the ’50s until the artist’s death in 1981.

  • EGG the arts show

    WAY BACK in the antediluvian ’70s, they shot parts of The Sting outside my studio in Pasadena, California. Until the novelty wore off, a few of us artists would stand around and watch. I remember overhearing a couple of extras talking. One asked, “And was that movie a good thing for you?” The other answered, “Sure was. I got two full faces and a profile,” Actors are grateful for small favors; they’ll find the one positive sentence in an otherwise excoriating review and rejoice over it. Artists, by contrast, will find the one hedging phrase in an otherwise glowing review and agonize over it.

  • BitStreams

    “Exploring the reverberations of digital technology in contemporary art and culture” is like counting the fish in the Mississippi: pointless unless there’s an insightful a priori focus to the project. Thus “BitStreams” is likely to be of interest as much for indicating the tastes of Lawrence Rinder, the new curator from Berkeley who came to the museum via his participation in the most recent Biennial, as for showing us what “new creative tools” artists are using these days. Rinder is considered a multimedia maven. He’s also been known to write rhymed verse for public consumption. We can’t wait

  • 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