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

  • Robert Goodnough

    The bunches of angular pastel chips flocking their way through Robert Goodnough’s painting are clearly remnants of some sort. They imply a once-solid surface of color, excised to a few remaining shards. In Goodnough’s earlier work those shards were mostly gray and resembled the flagstones artily laid out en route to the barbecue grill in suburban backyards. At the same time their shapes and lightness and grouping suggested birds rising together. Now the pieces have brightened up a bit and lost a certain amount of kinship with the ground. The further result is an almost Oriental lightness in the

  • Philip Guston

    Philip Guston’s latest work—a disparate group of eleven paintings and four drawings—omits the Klansman-like figures prominent in most of his painting since 1970. The leading figure now is a bristly, bean-shaped head with ear and enormous, pupil-less eye. The image suggests a thinking eye, the essential stripped-down painter’s eye. One other recurrent image is more familiar: the cartoonlike shoes with prominent nails in their soles have appeared in Guston’s paintings since his Artists Project days.

    The images are constantly on the edge of dislocation from the thick, lushly handled ground. Guston

  • Jan Groover

    First sight of Jan Groover’s groupings of color photographs of trucks and cars on thoroughfares suggests that they are about time. Multiple images invoke the multiple moments of their making, which, in turn, imply a narrative structure. The narrative could be simply a direction to the arrangement of such moments, a history of perceptions, or a statement about the variety, fleeting nature, and odd recurrence of moments. But this is not the case at all with Groover’s pictures. A first impression has to be modified: these pictures deal with space in dealing with time.

    They use sequence as a tool

  • John McWilliams

    John McWilliams’s large view-camera photographs show out-of-the-way landscapes in the rural South. The land is dark and ruined, but singularly beautiful nonetheless. It is Eden after the fall, Georgia post-Sherman. Ivy covers the pilings of burned-out bridges. An unused silo has become only a shape, as abandoned in the woods as was Bishop Berkeley’s tree, falling unheard in the heart of the forest. The focus of each picture, however, is a human intrusion of some sort, either of the past or to be created as a future presence. There are old houses and outbuildings and there are signs of swamps

  • John R. Gossage

    Like anyone who ever took a new camera out into the yard to test it on the neighborhood squirrels, the family dog, the roses in the garden, John Gossage takes “conventional pictures.” But not quite. Gossage adds a smidgen of difference. He parodies the amateur picture and adds touches of flaunted skill and hidden conceit. The squirrel here seems almost to have gotten away, the picture almost missed; but gaze again and that squirrel seems to be peering out over the edge of the frame in mockery. Then you realize how close up he is seen, how cleverly his movement has been caught, despite the

  • “Ruckus Manhattan”

    Buildings bend and swoop in Ruckus Manhattan, streets buckle and tilt, à la Dr. Caligari. The product of a combine called Ruckus Construction Co. and Creative Time, Inc., under the guidance of Red Grooms, this large model of Lower Manhattan is explicitly fantastic. Little is held constant here; scale is out of control, and the forms and faces of the buildings are shaped to a set of personal visions. The place delights children—there are crowds of them even in the cold rain—and I. M. Pei’s elegant, white-girdered building at 88 Pine Street is a pleasant setting for a work whose levity about form

  • “Shinjuku: The Phenomenal City”

    Land in Shinjuku, a busy transportation center in Tokyo, may be the most expensive in the world, costing up to $200 a square foot. Shinjuku is one of the places where they invented the professional subway packer—a uniformed employee who throws his weight into making sure that every car is filled to capacity. In the large entertainment and shopping districts that surround the rail center one may see a giant gorilla clutching a plastic hamburger, a huge, science-fictiony crab in front of a seafood restaurant, and plastic leaves and blossoms that are changed to match the seasons.

    These bits of

  • Ralph Gibson

    I first became familiar with Ralph Gibson’s work through his latest book of photographs, Days at Sea. The book is published by Gibson’s own house, Lustrum Press, and it exhibits the full self-indulgence of the artist who is also his own publisher. The cover of Days at Sea shows a picture of a woman sliding a large white feather between her naked buttocks, and the pictures inside indulge in the same kind of cheap sexuality, along with a number of tired Surrealist gags. A few pictures, however, are striking exceptions to this pattern, and they are the type Gibson showed at Leo Castelli.

    Castelli’s