Peter Plagens

  • European Painting in LA: A Grab Bag of Well-worn Issues

    I concluded that, as in America, most of the talented figures in their twenties and thirties are seemingly attracted to extra-painting media, especially video/photography/performance. Given the limitations of exhibition space, it was decided to focus on work that less resembles U.S. art. (Maurice Tuchman, European Painting in the Seventies: New Work by Sixteen Artists)

    ELSEWHERE IN THIS CATALOGUE and in the mysteriously euphoric press coverage (Los Angeles Times, Time magazine), there befalls the notion that the show is somehow defending painting per se, as well as being a sampling of the European

  • Dan Graham and Mowry Baden

    Dan Graham has a considerable standing among video artists, but, from two works (Yesterday/Today and Present Continuous Pasts), at Otis Art Institute, it’s hard to see why. Could be it’s my inability to sympathize with the laboratory rat syndrome, wherein the spectator/participant is (condenscendingly) beckoned into a behaviorist cubicle, proffered another hoary ol’ time-space conundrum, and asked (by implication) to cogitate some more on the nature of consciousness. To be sure, the artist is shielded from self-exposure by appropriate, grant-application language:

    Where the mirror psychologically

  • “Introductions 75”

    The San Francisco Art Dealers Association is about as together as you can get without building a Drop City geodesic dome from old Oldsmobiles and starting a tomato patch together. None of that New York subterranean, velvet-knife internecine guerilla warfare, and none of that L A sitting languidly around the pool in the dog-days smog pissing and moaning about howcum somebody else doesn’t do something. Those guys band together like Conestoga wagons around the ol’ press release machine, and run a cooperative rain dance against the doldrums of July, called “Introductions 75” (a title only slightly

  • “Clay Works In Progress”

    If I’d just blown in from out of town, I couldn’t think of a more foreboding set of exhibition conditions: the show is curated by the director’s spouse; it’s another noncommittal groupy begging the issue of who’s a good artist in favor of another tepid “theme”; it’s accompanied by more vapid argot like “due to the numerous potentialities [sic] inherent in the creative process and the experimental nature of the works in this show, some of the pieces were resolved in terms other than those proposed in the original concept of the exhibition” (translation: we had to make some changes); and it deals

  • None Dare Call It Boho

    Pollock—my God, get out a ruler!

    —Tom Wolfe

    SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE reading Tom Wolfe tell about somewhere along the line reading The New York Times and the whole “painted word” conspiracy tumbling to him, something tumbled to me, having read about one of the Yahoos—Phyllis Schlafly, John Stormer, Gary Allen— telling about somewhere along the line having the Conspiracy tumble to him.

    . . . these people have over the years acquired a strong vested emotional interest in their own errors. Their intellects and egos are totally committed to the accidental theory. Most people are highly reluctant to

  • Just Another Rectangle Painter

    The art world will simply not accept

    another rectangle painter.


    —a New York artist

    HE'D LAY DOWN THE FIRST GRID with masking tape, hit the surface with stainy acrylic, lay down more tape, paint into that, lay down more tape, more paint, and so on. When at last he peeled an almost solid sheet of masking tape from the canvas, there it was: a 36-part grid with nuances of edge, layer, and bleed. But it occurred to Joel Bass that just four parts—the elemental grid—could function as well as three dozen; so he narrowed it down and, in 1969–70, arrived at his “trademark” colored grid. Bass had been a

  • The Groupie and The Commissar: Revolutionary Posters and Capitalist Billboards

    THE GAP IS UNBRIDGEABLE.

    I am a Moscow sanitation worker in the winter of 1926, counting (as I walk along a bleak city street cut with wind and ice) my meager newfound blessings within the working class’s pallid gray lot (as yet not substantially uplifted by the Revolution). But at least I am promised things by new Plans, which is hope, something I have not had before. Tucking my chin in from the cold, I turn the corner . . . and face a bank of posters pasted on the wooden wall shielding some new municipal construction. Rodchenko’s bold diamond boasting the Battleship Potemkin’s massive gun

  • Pasadena, Like a Real Museum

    I DON’T FEEL RIGHT TRYING to use my Artforum press card, and the old honorary membership probably isn’t good anymore . . . well, what the hell, it’s a buck to visit the Met, isn’t it? (Yeah, but there’s something about handing over 12 bits to Norton Simon . . .)

    CHRIST! Lookit those floors, like glass! There must be $10,000 worth of urethane here. Sure looks expensive—official, deep brown and gold. Like a real museum, at last. (Omigod. What if I like the place? What if Simon’s corporate-raider know-how actually transforms the ol’ Pasadena? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing for all us bleeding hearts?

  • Wilde About Harry

    Allen Ruppersberg’s show at the Pasadena Art Museum is the worst exhibition I’ve seen since assuming this (L.A.) Letter.

    —Peter Plagens, Artforum, December, 1970

    Criticism is properly the rod of divination: a hazel-switch for the discovery of buried treasure, not a birch-twig for the castigation of offenders.

    —Arthur Symonds, An Introduction To The Study Of Browning

    Allen Ruppersberg’s videotape, A Lecture on Houdini (for Terry Allen), 1972, is the best 40 minutes in five-odd hours inside the world’s smallest Twin-Vue walk-in east of the Hudson, the video chamber of the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.

  • Billy Al Bengston’s New Paintings

    FROM FERUS GALLERY’S HAYDAY in the late ’50s, two threads have wound their ways through contemporary art in Southern California. One, the Irwin-esque appetite for reduction (through phenomenology to the brink of mysticism), is swathed in righteousness while the other, the manufacture of exotically good-looking art objects, wallows in structuralist disrepute. Every time Ron Davis, Dewain Valentine, Peter Alexander, Ken Price, or Ed Moses—not to mention the younger stratum of Guy and Laddie Dill, Charles Arnoldi, Ann McCoy, or Jim de France—shows, the work must overcome an initial condescension

  • Indecent Exposure

    IT’S CLEAR BY NOW that pre-Liberation artists struggled under intolerably repressive psycho-socio conditions. Aged mothers swooned at abandoned stockbrokers’ careers, and ubiquitous narrow lapels hogtied the timid intimate organs of American daubers. Celebrations of visceral joy were sadly confined to canvas or torch while the most intense semiotic yearnings lingered unfulfilled. Today a new dawn is breaking. Freedom-swelled media winds sweep the fetters from esthetic libidos while dialectical fires put the burn to the musty cloak of Restraint. Vincents everywhere straddle, narrow, leap, forge,

  • Steve Kaltenbach, Stephen Davis and Howard Fried

    As misfortune would have it, the beautiful, succinct show of three disparate Bay Area artists (Steve Kaltenbach, Stephen Davis, Howard Fried) at U.C. Berkeley’s campus museum is also Brenda Richardson’s last curatorial will and testament. I mention this not as social note, but because the geographic spread and regional/mainstream paranoia of Northern California’s artists require a jaundiced eye and loving mind in the same museological head. Somebody has to tread lightly among semitough Marden disciples, video troupers, and inland imagist art-farmers and pull it all together once in a while

  • David Gilhooly

    David Gilhooly’s show at The Candy Store in Folsom, California (as in Johnny Cash, et al), is noteworthy not so much for the work—predictably low-priced, charming, Wizard of Id-type exercises in art lampoon, sexual wit, and cuddly beasties, all rendered in the ceramic tchotzkies turned out by Bay Area artists, in the same numbers apparently, as SoHo produces charcoal grid variants—as it is for its housing. The Candy Store, run by a happy Bertha Cool doppelganger named Adeliza McHugh, is the epitome of a your-own-thing regional gallery. The little red frame house sits high above the quiet road

  • Tom Wudl

    Over the last several years Tom Wudl has slipped from gold-leafed grids to punch-holes; to punch-holes with little goodies, to punch-holes with colorful conglomerates of triangles and circles, to these, his latest, a synthesis of them all. Through it all Wudl is praised as one of the best-looking painters in the area and damned (lightly) as chicly decorative; I agree with that, save to say this exhibition proves him even a better “natural” painter than heretofore estimated and not so much a decorator as previously supposed. To be sure, he treads the stepping-stones-to-success of a whole stratum

  • “Nine Senior Southern California Painters”

    Sure, the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (LAICA) has a few strikes against it: a) a regional self-help project thrust into the breach where the patronage is historically thin and everybody knows how those things turn out, b) another attempt at art-world democracy and everybody knows how those things turn out (“Say, how ’bout a show of 63 ‘new’ L.A. artists?”), and c) its name (why not just “Mel’s Nonprofit Gallery and Magazine?”). But it’s working, against the odds, not the least of which is endemic misunderstanding. Example: Alan Moore, in his avuncular survey, “New Voices,”in last

  • Charles Garabedian

    Social Notes from All Over: the man with the plaid shirt and one-loop earring stepped out from the gallery to the sidewalk where we were enjoying our paper cups of bourbon and bananas. He pulled a Lucky from his lips and ground it under his boots; then, alluding with a tip of his head to what was back inside, he said to no one in particular, “Toughest god-damned artist in L.A.” Trouble is, not many people knew it and these two simultaneous shows of Charles Garabedian—a mini-retrospective (1962–73) and an overdue commercial exposure—won’t convince everybody. I work at the college, and they all

  • Eric Orr

    The ideal way to furnish an esthetic experience would be, in me ’umble opinion, to put the subject quietly out with a benign injection, cart the limp corpus off to the gallery, bring him/her instantly around (but miraculously without trauma), permit the subject whatever time (alone) needed to soak it all in, repeat the hypodermic, return the body to a soft leather chair at the club, and allow him/her a pleasant ascent into a consciousness flavored only with esthetic memories. Unfortunately, we require and art grudgingly accepts a real world continuum, so we both trundle a lot of baggage into an

  • Michael Asher

    Although there’s no contest going on, in 1971 Robert Irwin put up as an exhibition a short wall across Pace Gallery, and in 1972 at Documenta Michael Asher painted three flat surfaces of a room white and the other three black, thereby doing away with physical stuff as the space modifier. Earlier this year Irwin constructed an architectural hole, Portal, at Mizuno Gallery, and now Asher has simply removed an interior wall from the Claire Copley Gallery. Well, not quite so simple. He also repainted the gallery with an extrasoft sprayed white, removed an extraneous light track near the front window,

  • John White

    John White’s artistic personality is split in that his performances and sculpture are heady, probing, and, in the words of the philosopher, “create the taste by which they are to be enjoyed,” while his drawings are quite good looking, even beautiful, in the conventional modernist sense. It’s not that White wants to have it both ways—a performer with objects for sale, or an experimenter who still displays competence at art-school motor skills. It’s only that he possesses a sensitivity about the psychological harmonies and conflicts that informs what might otherwise be rather dry records of his

  • Scott Grieger

    Art strategy question: you deciphered the brand-name game of ’60s superstar art and made your initial splash parodying it with “combinations,” “impersonations,” and (sniping at hippie “sensitivity”) dog-turd zodiacs, and now you’re pushing thirty and it’s time to dump the clever-kid image and establish yourself as a serious, nongadfly artist—what do you do? Well, you can’t take up an acceptable modernist mode (reductive painting, videotape, photo-Realism, Euell Gibbons process, conceptual data) lest it imply either favoritism or simple oversight in the earlier lampoons and you get it in the neck