Phil Patton

  • Walter Benjamin’s “Short History of Photography ”

    WALTER BENJAMIN’S ESSAY “KLEINE GESCHICHTE der Photographie,” was published in the September 18 and 25 and October 2, 1931, issues of the periodical Literarische Welt. It precedes by almost five years his better-known essay translated as “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” This study—translated here for the first time in the United States—is an extraordinary document in the history of photographic criticism, a remarkably prescient description of the limits and potentials of the medium.

    Walter Benjamin is best known for his Marxist-based literary criticism. He was among the

  • Saul Steinberg

    Saul Steinberg seemed to be cleaning out the attic with his double show, and the result was something like a retrospective. There are sketches dating from as early as 1943, done in Kunming and influenced by Peter Arno. There is evidence of all the roads considered but not taken by Steinberg: the particular tilted space of his drawings of the late ’40s, which seems dated now, the more cartoonlike treatment of the human figure in those same years, and the fingerprint “passport photos” of 1952, among others. Through it all runs a growing assurance that what he is about is something more than

  • Joan Mitchell

    Joan Mitchell’s new paintings suggested plants. All along, Mitchell’s work has often seemed to refer to Monet’s waterlilies—in its grouping of large canvases into three- and foursomes, in its complicated green and blue surfaces, in its control of individual sections of canvas by the deployment of the right planes and accents of color. This is more true than ever for the new work. Some of the titles refer to plants outright: Straw and Weeds. The profusion of greens—emerald; forest, bottle, grass—and the luxuriant variety of Mitchell’s brushstrokes contribute to the effect of leaves and stems, of

  • Eve Sonneman

    The first Eve Sonneman photographic sequence I ever saw was an intriguing construct involving boats on what appeared to be the Central Park Lake. It was full of the mood of a lazy afternoon row—and of some mystery encompassing two moments, two positions in space, joined in the middle by the artist’s intervention. In each view there was a fragment of a person in the photographer’s boat, and where the edges of the pictures met an almost complete figure was created.

    That was several years ago, and Sonneman seemed like an artist to watch. But her latest work, 30 pairs of color prints all involving

  • Cy Twombly

    Cy Twombly’s new works were billed as watercolors, but no one familiar with his work would expect them to-restrain themselves to that category. He uses watercolors, all right, usually brown and green, but they are often straight from the tube, smeared and occasionally washed over. But there are also pencilled passages from Spenser. The structure of the paintings themselves continues Twombly’s Scotch-taping of paper segment atop paper segment. The process is too orderly and systematized to be called collage: sheets of watercolor paper are located in a carefully chosen fraction of larger sheets.

  • Bruce Boice

    Since his last show a couple of years ago Bruce Boice has turned to diagonals and some new colors. His new paintings recall some of Frank Stella’s work of the late ’60s, when he too found new uses for diagonals, found some similar colors, and seemed to reach a certain plateau in the strength of his art. Boice uses a design unit based on the sensed depth (from the wall) of the stretcher, as Stella was one of the first to do. Boice leaves that strip bare, bounding areas of paint. The rough cream or grey-green canvas shows through, demonstrating that the paint is applied on top of something. Boice

  • Robert Stackhouse

    In the basement of Sculpture Now, Robert Stackhouse constructed a piece called Running Animals and hung a number of painted sketches for similar sculptures. The piece consisted of two long tilted “walls” made of two by fours loosely sheathed in rough slats. Placed a couple of feet apart, they formed a long narrow passageway which could be walked through. Inside, at a couple of places, deers’ antlers were placed like relics above head level. They could easily go unnoticed.

    The drawings on the wall, proposals for pieces to be built in the woods, indicated several versions of the basic idea, including

  • Larry Zox

    Larry Zox’s new paintings develop out of what used to be called the “mainstream” of American abstract painting—out of Noland, Frankenthaler, Olitski, Louis, Motherwell. But more and more this mainstream—the product of historical criticism—seems to fit Matthew Arnold’s description of all history as “that great Mississippi of falsehoods.” The mainstream, moreover, has spread out into tributaries. And theories that claim to have “gotten to the bottom” of the nature of painting have, in fact, only flattened it out.

    Zox’s painting could be a model of that process. Once he resisted flaccidity with

  • MoMA Hails the Cab

    IF THE PEOPLE AT THE Museum of Modern Art were really serious about “The Taxi Project: Realistic Solutions for Today,” they would have put a nice shiny new Checker in the corner to compare with the five nice shiny new models they commissioned. Instead they have in the corner London’s Austin taxi, famed for its roominess and elegant but discreet styling. Such a standard may account for why the new taxis are so luxurious. It may also account for the fact that they are so impractical.

    The Austin was extensively tested in New York in the ’60s, and found to fall victim to the potholes of New York’s

  • Bill Brandt

    Bill Brandt’s photography is as dramatically prosy as George Orwell’s prose is dramatically photographic. The artistic testimony of both men accuses a dark century for England and her people, a time of soot, storms, wars, blackouts, and shadowed recreations. Brandt could have been playing Evans to Orwell’s Agee on The Road to Wigan Pier when he pictured coal miners and coal gatherers, some returned black-faced to the surface where the sun pastes itself as blindingly on their bodies as it must in their eyes. As for Orwell, social contrasts for Brandt are as extreme as the stark contrast of the

  • Tony Smith

    If on first study Tony Smith’s sculpture threatens to seem too scientific, too thorough in its exploitation of a restricted vocabulary of forms, a closer consideration finds it breaking down into unconnected interests. The forms would seem to require a sharp, crystalline edge in execution, but often the bronze has been polished soft at the corners, almost to the extent of suggesting an intervening plane. One is hard pressed to decide whether this is done by design or simply tolerated in the conviction that the form will suggest itself beyond the contingencies of workmanship.

    The large, networklike

  • Robert Rauschenberg

    Without the wall label you might never have guessed: there are many other artists to whom you might have attributed these pieces of silky fabric entangled with sanded bamboo poles, leaned against walls and carefully draped into pockets. You certainly would have taken a while to guess that these are the latest very uncharacteristic productions of Robert Rauschenberg. At the same time it is difficult to get over a sense of the artist dressing too young, stylistically, although any younger artist who executed pieces like these would never have been in a position to do so except for Rauschenberg’s