Robert Pincus-Witten

  • Robert Pincus-Witten on photography and criticism

    WE ARTFORUM CRITICS of the Philip Leider generation are now in our seventies, pushing eighty; a retrospective contribution to a future sixtieth-anniversary issue amounts to actuarial improbability. Even those of us who quarreled and ultimately broke with that original milieu still think of Artforum as basic to the understanding of contemporary art, though perhaps with less conviction than before, granting the diminishment of criticism, caused, no doubt, by the rise of postmodern relativism and, moreover, of an omnipervasive digital media—in short, the whole decremental slide into a mediocre

  • Robert Overby

    Though lacking the letters patent conferred upon the original Ferus Gallery crowd, Robert Overby—who began as a notable graphic designer—has entered the West Coast canon, if rather circuitously. Overby’s late paintings, which date to the last fifteen years of a short life (he died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1993 at the age of 58), are hardly the most original of his works, but they fill in a critical chapter with regard to his growing posthumous rank.

    In “Painting from the ’80s”—an exhibition staged by Fredericks & Freiser and Andrew Kreps—Overby’s sense of composition (“layout”

  • Jonathan Lasker

    Beleaguered in the last decades of the twentieth century, painting nonetheless was granted provisional life, even by an intellectual elite determined to undermine its centuries-honored prestige. This eleventh-hour reprieve was achieved by attributing to painting’s few tolerated exemplars a significant trope—the monochrome, say, or the grid, or the simulacrum, or a methodology that paralleled photographic practice (other than that of verisimilitude, to be sure). Jonathan Lasker survived these decades of Inquisition by fetishizing an unexpected element, that of “midcentury moderne” (let’s

  • Anne Truitt

    The overriding aesthetic of the early 1960s was marked by Clement Greenberg’s procrustean sense of historical inevitability. Anne Truitt first met the demanding critic in 1959; over the years, she encountered Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and the gallerist André Emmerich, who began to show her work in 1963. A New England blue blood who died at the age of eighty-three in 2004, Truitt is best known for her fusion of strong, boxy forms with a cultivated sense of color—Donald Judd meets Brice Marden, as it were. Yet the various associations made with Truitt’s work were anathema to the

  • Donald Baechler

    Like Buster Keaton, Donald Baechler nimbly treads an elegant path between the banana peel of the obvious and that of the obscure; one slip and his work falls into comedic bathos. But, by the merest breadth, Baechler is always saved despite an often cloying imagery of cartoony faces, toys, and children’s-book illustrations. And, then, after what could easily be an awkward face-off between the artist’s self-reflexive subject the viewer’s awareness of its purely pretextual role, the work alights without fail on the side of refinement and tact.

    Baechler first attracted attention in the early 1980s

  • Francis Picabia

    In 1983, Michael Werner and Mary Boone mounted the first survey of Francis Picabia’s post-Dada work to be seen in New York. The essayist for that occasion was the late Robert Rosenblum, who pointed out that while Picabia had a determinant place alongside Marcel Duchamp in the development of Dada and the picaresque adventures of the Mechanomorphs, his career had more or less petered out around 1924. Thirty years ago, such was the received truth of modern art history. Not only did the bracing shower of Picabia’s midcareer “Transparencies” speak to the artist’s own flight from a curdling Dadaism,

  • Neo Rauch

    Neo Rauch was born in 1960 in Leipzig, once a major artistic center despite the inhibiting strictures—propagandistic and utilitarian—imposed by the USSR on the art of the Eastern Zone. Yet these past two decades have seen Rauch rise from local star to international idol, owing to his virtuoso, ironic reworking of socialist realist tropes—a mode of considerable stylistic fascination especially following the fall of the Wall in 1989. When now seen, whether in the US or in Germany, Rauch’s paintings possess an incongruous punch quite different from that of works by East German artists

  • “David Hockney Ra: A Bigger Picture”

    Barely out of the Royal College of Art some half a century ago, David Hockney quickly earned an uncontested place in the annals of Pop art with his angelic ingriste graphic gift.

    Barely out of the Royal College of Art some half a century ago, David Hockney quickly earned an uncontested place in the annals of Pop art with his angelic ingriste graphic gift. Derived from close attention to Picasso, this early body of work largely focused on eroticized portraiture. Over the years, however, Hockney has pursued other genres, in particular landscape—a direction about which there is far less unanimity—and in doing so, turned away from Picasso, favoring instead the palette of Matisse, not to say van Gogh. Now a survey of

  • “Black Mountain College and Its Legacy”

    Despite the close confines of a Chelsea gallery, this survey of 120 works by thirty-five painters, sculptors, poets, photographers, potters, and weavers vividly conveyed the achievements of the Black Mountain crowd—work seemingly stronger today, when most of the school’s storied participants are gone. Founded in North Carolina in 1933, Black Mountain College was a manifestation of the period’s romanticization of the avant-garde; the school shut down in 1957 for want of bucks. Fascism’s glory years had forced many of Germany’s leading artists and intellectuals into exile, among them the

  • Robert Filliou

    A notable Fluxus figure, the polymath Robert Filliou died in 1987; this presentation, Filliou’s first overview in New York in more than a decade, is culled from his estate. My soft spot for Fluxus admitted, I nevertheless propose that much of his work fails to stir at this late date. Take, as but a single example, Man Carrying His Own Sun on a String, 1973. On the interior lid of a shallow, corrugated cardboard box—a preferred format of the artist—the artist’s arrestingly homely bespectacled face peers out from a photograph; on the box’s bottom, which here is positioned to the left of

  • Jasper Johns

    Despite my effervescing anticipation, Jasper Johns’s “New Sculpture and Works on Paper” inspired but a cool response. This owed, no doubt, to the academicism that has crept into Johns’s work over several decades now—that is, if we think of academicism as the preservation of the model, the paradigm case, rather than its overthrow. But let me quickly add that even the most conservative of Johns’s works still overshadows the larger field of players.

    My quasi detachment from these reliefs—they are much more reliefs than sculpture—is heightened by the memory of the blinding enthusiasm

  • Kenneth Noland

    Once upon a time we accepted the dialectical “begats” of modernism on simple faith: how Abstract Expressionism emerged from the academic regionalism (both urban and Midwestern) of the 1930s; how the gestural Abstract Expressionism of the ’40s was replaced by the Color Fields and stains of the ’50s and ’60s; how, quickly enough, these developments led to a figurative Pop art, which, in turn, forced Minimalism and Conceptualism into bloom. By our present moment, we have come full cycle, churning out new representationalisms as if those fifty years of American abstraction had never happened. This

  • “The Steins Collect”

    This bulging blockbuster (with more than two hundred works by some forty artists, plus documentation of all types) is devoted to the collections and personalities of the Stein siblings.

    This bulging blockbuster (with more than two hundred works by some forty artists, plus documentation of all types) is devoted to the collections and personalities of the Stein siblings—Michael, the eldest brother; his wife, Sarah; his younger brother, Leo, and still younger sister, Gertrude. Textbook masterpieces abound, such as the 1905 portrait of Mme Matisse, Woman with a Hat, and plenty of Picassos, from MoMA’s Rose Period Boy Leading a Horse, 1905–1906, to the Met’s implacable Iberian portrait of Gertrude. “The

  • “Malevich and the American Legacy”

    This dazzling exhibition contrasted six Kasimir Malevich paintings with the work of twenty-five putative American legatees. Malevich carried the day, while the “legacy” side of things—distinguished efforts to be sure—struck me as a roster of usual suspects. Had we—you and I—been asked to come up with the names of the pertinent American artists working in the train of an imagined Malevich, doubtless there would have been many overlaps on the wish list. Donald Judd, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Agnes Martin all seem right, though one

  • León Ferrari

    Despite the signal 2009 exhibition “Tangled Alphabets: León Ferrari and Mira Schendel,” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the work of the Argentine artist León Ferrari is, in all likelihood, unfamiliar to much of the North American public; in fact, that show’s catalogue forms the basic English reference to Ferrari’s striking output, which is still in vital production though Ferrari is, at this reviewing, a veteran prodigy at ninety years of age.

    When he was young, to judge from the MoMA catalogue, Ferrari was an enchanting idealist—also an accomplished ceramist and draughtsman, but not

  • Judit Reigl

    A handful of paintings in New York museums is scant guarantee that the name Judit Reigl will ring a bell here in the United States; her status is likely different in France, where her long career began in 1950 following a harrowing escape from her native Hungary in the wake of its absorption into the Soviet Bloc.

    Having reached France, Reigl was drawn to the ossified circle of André Breton, briefly taking on and as quickly throwing off an illustrative mode recalling that of Victor Brauner and Max Walter Svanberg (rather dim Surrealist luminaries for whom Breton was then tub-thumping), but remaining

  • Anselm Kiefer

    In “Next Year in Jerusalem,” Anselm Kiefer’s recent show at Gagosian, the artist presented twenty-five steel-framed vitrines of varying dimensions. The cases were filled with all manner of detritus: mounds of rubble, capsized warships, fleets of U-boats, burned-out airplane hulls, Kabbalistic arcana, dangling wedding gowns and shroudlike garments, dried sunflowers, burned books, ashen rolls of film, bramble, tree stump and root, plaster, clay, lead, smashed glass—in short, they represented Kiefer’s Wotan-like self-immolation within an arcane symbolism toward which he has ever been drawn.

  • PRESERVATION SOCIETY: TWO VIEWS ON “CHAOS AND CLASSICISM”

    ROBERT PINCUS-WITTEN

    APOLLONIAN DECORUM, totalitarian repression, elite chic: All these indexes and many more were coded in the newly minted or rediscovered classicisms inherent to European art in the decades following World War I. Some of the more pernicious strains became allied with triumphalist Fascism, a combination that reached its apex at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. That signal celebration of a putatively rationalist beneficence masked a racially pathological Europe nursing old grudges and on the sill of being reduced to ash, yet again. Chaos.

    With its vast display of some 150 works by

  • Charlotte Park

    It is no secret that the Abstract Expressionists objectified and marginalized women. But as those decades recede ever further back (and the mighty male figures only grow more firmly ensconced in the canon), the AbEx pantheon has expanded to include major female painters such as Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner. And, at this shifting frontier, newer figures (not new, of course, to the history of Abstract Expressionism but to canonic admiration) now command attention—painters of enormous merit who, perforce, were ground down by the era’s insistent denigration of women or whose admirable achievements

  • Dieter Roth and Björn Roth

    For an exhibition coinciding with what would have been the eightieth birthday of Dieter Roth, the Swiss artist who died in 1998 at the age of sixty-eight, Hauser & Wirth surveys some twenty works that Dieter Roth, father, and Björn Roth, son, called Tischmatten (Table Mats). These are the cardboard sheets the artist laid over his work tables and upon which a multitude of actions took place: collaging, painting, drawing, pasting, cutting, spraying, gluing, affixing, list making, game playing, address noting, daubing, and doodling. In short, the mats carry the residuum of simply working as an