Robert Storr

  • Leon Golub: Live + Die like a Lion?

    This exhibition features fifty-odd drawings Leon Golub made between 1999 and his death in 2004.

    Leon Golub was at odds with the world and with himself for most of his long career. His contrarian, combative stance gives his work a ferocity that catches people off guard. Famous in the 1950s, when abstraction ruled the roost, for huge antiheroic canvases of gigantic warring figures, Golub reemerged in the neo-expressionist ’80s with stark muralsize tableaux of political violence in the shadows of the American empire. Unable to paint on such a scale during his last years, he drew prolifically instead. This exhibition features fifty-odd drawings he made between 1999 and

  • Elizabeth Murray

    ROBERT STORR

    SOME YEARS BACK, a student who had attended the summer program at Skowhegan in Maine told me about the powerful impression Elizabeth Murray had made on him. One thing he recounted stuck in my mind—that during a studio visit, Murray had said in passing, “For you to be right about what you’re doing, not everybody else has to be wrong.” Or is my memory playing tricks on me? Was it actually a woman who recalled this story for me? The matter of gender is significant when you talk about Murray, who died in August at age sixty-six. She was among a handful of woman painters of her

  • Dak’Art 2006

    JUST OPPOSITE DAKAR, off the coast of Senegal, lies the island of Gorée. A rocky mass with a small harbor at one end and high cliffs at the other, it has no natural springs and precious little vegetation. The sun shines hot. Despite these inhospitable conditions it is covered with colonial buildings of undeniable charm. Some are grand but derelict; many more are small but well kept. The majority, it seems, are the property of absentee owners who make seasonal visits. Artists also number among the inhabitants, notably the late Mustapha Dime, the creator of elegantly raw wood and metal sculptures,

  • Robert Storr

    1 “ACCUMULATED VISION, BARRY LE VA” (INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, PHILADELPHIA) For me, the past year’s most awaited, most revealing, and most beautifully executed exhibition was this miniretrospective organized by Ingrid Schaffner (who deserves her own high ranking on some roster for the string of exhibitions she has curated over the years). Le Va is one of those ground-and-wall-and-glass-breaking characters whose reputation had for too many years hung tenuously on grainy Artforum photos (nostalgically recycled by Matthew Antezzo) and a few verbal generalizations. But the work itself is

  • Al Held

    AL HELD THOUGHT BIG and painted accordingly. Never more so than in the last years of his life, which ended this past summer, at the age of seventy-six. Among the scrappiest and most ambitious members of the second-generation Abstract Expressionists, Held was also the first to move decisively beyond AbEx’s attenuating conventions toward a bold, sharply contoured approach that harnessed the muscular gestures of the New York School to space-expanding graphic imagery. A series of works from the early ’60s thus feature massive, enlarged letter forms, of which The Big A, 1962, and The Big N, 1965,

  • Ron Gorchov

    RON GORCHOV could have been a contender—more times over than any other painter of his generation. If he gets the breaks and goes the distance this time, he will be one of the greatest comeback kids the New York School has ever seen. What are the odds on this happening? It’s almost impossible to say. But based solely on his recent exhibition of paintings made between 1968 and 2005 at Vito Schnabel’s temporary space in New York, I’d say he has an excellent shot. His chances this go-round are improved all the more by the discreet support of fellow artists Saint Clair Cemin and Ray Smith, in whose

  • Willem de Kooning

    Though comprising only fifty-two works, this show surveys de Kooning's entire career, including its final, still-controversial decade. The exhibition's innovation is the inclusion of nine contemporary painters whose work resonates with that of the Dutch Master.

    De Kooning would have turned one hundred last year, but it has been twenty years since his work was seen in depth in Europe. Though comprising only fifty-two works, this show surveys de Kooning's entire career, including its final, still-controversial decade. The exhibition's innovation is the inclusion of nine contemporary painters—among them Brice Marden and David Reed—whose work resonates with that of the Dutch Master. There are risks involved. In the '50s, the most dangerous place to be for a young artist with a subtle wrist was

  • What’s Not to Like?: Mike Kelley

    Andy Warhol: “I think everybody should like everybody.”

    Gene Swenson: “Is that what Pop Art is all about?”

    Andy Warhol: “Yes, it's liking things.”


    —“What Is Pop Art?” Art News, November 1963

    Go to the source. As far as Pop is concerned, that would be Warhol. Not because he was the first of his kind—Roy Lichtenstein edged him to cartoons and Claes Oldenburg to the dark side of the ’60s—but because his detachment set the rhetorical tone for the movement that imploded high culture and inverted mass culture with the same wicked equanimity. Liking things omnivorously and with a seemingly indiscriminate

  • Irving Sandler

    FIRST, FULL DISCLOSURE: I make a handful of brief appearances in this book, having known its author well for twenty years and having worked closely with him on several projects. This neither qualifies me nor disqualifies me to judge the writer or his account in any special way. Hundreds of people inside the New York art world and out could make the same claim. Many of them are mentioned in passing and some are discussed at length in these pages. Not all are famous, though numbers of them were famous but have since slipped into obscurity. That’s the way it goes, and Sandler is nothing if not

  • Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings

    Arshile Gorky has generally been regarded as among the first Abstract Expressionists, and hence a paradigm-breaking innovator, but his art was deeply rooted in a devotion to the old masters (Cézanne, Picasso, and Miró) that bordered on impersonation and an emphasis on well-rehearsed displays of technical virtuosity.

    Arshile Gorky has generally been regarded as among the first Abstract Expressionists, and hence a paradigm-breaking innovator, but his art was deeply rooted in a devotion to the old masters (Cézanne, Picasso, and Miró) that bordered on impersonation and an emphasis on well-rehearsed displays of technical virtuosity. Gorky was unrivaled in his patently erotic longing for aesthetic release—and greatness. This 140-work exhibition, curated by the Whitney’s Janie C. Lee and Gorky scholar Melvin P. Lader, makes for good critical sport for those reconsidering the myth of AbEx from the vantage of Gorky’s

  • WARTS AND ALL: THE ART OF ALEXANDER ROSS

    THERE IS A PLACE ON THE CONTINUUM OF VISUAL EXPERIENCE WHERE THE DISTINCTION between natural and geometric form dissolves. Actually there are several such places, and the zones in which difference blurs overlap, such that one can speak of a multidimensional matrix at the core of which the macrocosmic and microcosmic, the organic and the geological, the living and the dead are confounded.

    This metamorphic space has long been the preoccupation of science and the playground of science fiction. Thanks to saturation advertising, “matrix” is now a universal buzzword for the digital template in which

  • THICK AND THIN: A ROUNDTABLE

    As the 1970s gave way to the ’80s, the slogan “return to painting” was as often heard in the discussion around contemporary art as the counter-mantra, the “death of painting.” In the last issue of Artforum, a group comprising mostly critics and art historians opened our two-part examination of painting in the ’80s and beyond with a look back at the death-of-painting debate that raged at the beginning of the decade. For this month’s pendant discussion introduced by ROBERT STORR, we assembled a second panel, largely made up of painters and curators—and asked them to tell us where painting has

  • SLOW BURN: CARROLL DUNHAM

    On the occasion of the first major survey of the work of CARROLL DUNHAM, which runs through February 2, 2003, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, ROBERT STORR looks back on the career of this idiosyncratic artist who has spent over two decades “exploring Surrealism’s more id-enriched recesses.”

    I FIRST SAW A WORK BY CARROLL DUNHAM NEARLY TWENTY YEARS AGO on a wall in Dorothea Rockburne’s studio. I was there to rehearse the execution of one of her wall drawings, Neighborhood, for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1984 show “A Century of Modern Drawing.” The Dunham in question was a smallish

  • OBSCURED VISIONS: “EYE INFECTION”

    LATTER-DAY DEFENDERS OF THE ONE TRUE PATH OF MODERNISM may think that they were blindsided, but few real challenges come at you straight on. The one offered by the artists in “Eye Infection,” the five-artist show at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, that closed in January, comes from behind and beside, but we always knew it was there. The long-term threat posed to the conventional wisdom about what makes for a decisive critical art has been rudely explicit in the work of Robert Crumb, Jim Nutt, Peter Saul, and H.C. Westermann since the ’60s and in that of Mike Kelley since the late ’70s. For much of that time these artists may have seemed too far in the distance to worry about, but since the early ’90s they have been creeping up on the motorcade of mainstream painting and sculpture. Now this unruly crew has lurched into the passing lane.
     
    In this instance, credit for signaling them the right-of-way goes to guest curator Christiaan Braun. Braun has mounted an argumentatively eccentric but quintessentially American exhibition at the most staunchly modernist of European institutions, though it should be noted that the Stedelijk is home not only to one of the great collections of “pure” abstraction à la Barnett Newman but also to that inspired carbuncle on the face of the formalist tradition, Ed Kienholz’s The Beanery.
     
    The Ed Ruscha drawing that provided the show’s title wasn’t included in the exhibition, but the phrase epitomizes the sensibility of the five artists who were, and that of the broader tendency they represent: Think Ed Paschke, Paul McCarthy, Tony Oursler, Raymond Pettibon, Jim Shaw, and Jeff Koons. What they share is a fascination with the more unsightly aspects of contemporary life; a robust contempt for rules of the road laid down by magistrates of both the establishment and the avant-garde; a knack for the grotesque that capitalizes on the collision between refined facture and aggressively vulgar imagery (Kelley, the least fastidious maker among them, is the exception here); and a wayward way with words that has fooled much of the public into thinking that what these artists do is just a gag while giving art-world mandarins an excuse for dismissing them as retrograde anti-intellectuals and therefore beneath serious consideration.
     
    There are signs that such condescension is yielding to cautious recognition, and the improbable presence of “Eye Infection” at the Stedelijk is but one of them. Still, much of what these artists do is too unacceptable to garner a full institutional embrace. Even though Donald Judd and Bruce Nauman paid him homage, Westermann remains too “old-fashioned” in his choice of materials and techniques, as well as too perverse in what is nevertheless a formally powerful approach to sculpture, to be appreciated by much of current opinion; the same generally holds true for Nutt. Saul and Crumb are too unapologetic in the offense their work may give, to women and African Americans in particular, to be offered center stage, although, like artists from Robert Colescott to Kara Walker, they have used humor to lance the boil of repressed racial and sexual attitudes which was festering long before any of them appeared on the scene. And while some critics have attempted to co-opt Mike Kelley for fashionable categories such as the “abject” or “l’informe,” the reality is that he is anti everything that would blunt his own resistance to normative aesthetics and draw him into the academic fold. Indeed, while all the artists in “Eye Infection” use language—or their own idiosyncratic lingo—polemically, Kelley is unique in having developed a fully articulated position from which to counter prevailing art-world dogmas of taste, ideology, and class. That is to say, Kelley is almost alone in having demonstrated the full theoretical possibilities of talking back. The following remarks are based on his conversations with Braun and Stedelijk curator Jelle Bouwhuis about his work and that of his four artistic precursors.
     
    Robert Storr

    ARTFORUM: You published an article in these pages in 1989 in which you seem to take the history of the caricature as an introduction to the (then) recent American art. How does the work of artists like H.C. Westermann, Peter Saul, R. Crumb, and Jim Nutt relate to this history and to your work?

    Mike Kelley: In that article I was primarily addressing “postmodern” trends in the art world at that time. My premise was that many artworks at that moment, despite the fact that they, on the surface, made reference to modernist tropes, were exaggerations or parodies of those traditions and, as such, should

  • CALL TO ORDER: GERHARD RICHTER AT MoMA

    The well-mannered monstre sacré of postwar German art learned his profession in the East. Gerhard Richter slipped through the iron curtain to blaze a trail beyond and against the painting of Western modernism, testing the medium’s limits yet remaining one of its most loyal adherents. Immensely reclusive and at the same time enormously ambitious, ferociously productive but refusing to display the scars that are the all-too-common medals of creative excess, Richter does not seem to fit the conventional art-historical and cultural narratives—though he is as popular and successful as an artist could hope to be.
     
    Indeed, in 2002, it seems almost too easy to dismiss Richter as a “classic” of sorts, an “old master” to be eulogized for a lifetime’s achievement. Largely detached from the contemporary-art scene, he seems to proceed in a self-enclosed manner within various frames of reference that he himself has established for his life, his practice, and his thinking over four decades. As one of the most renowned artists in Germany, he has acquired an almost untouchable status. When he was recently awarded the prestigious Staatspreis Nordrhein-Westfalen, German politician Wolfgang Clement’s words typified the “official” appreciation of Richter’s work: an “outstanding painterly oeuvre, in which historical reflection, visual persuasiveness, and seemingly contradictory modes of representation are brought to a great synthesis.”
     
    Of course, this isn’t the whole story, for Richter is seen not just as the great synthesizer but, more to the point, the great skeptic, critical of the means and traditions of his art and the modernist and postmodernist ideologies sustaining it. This far-reaching criticality is made accessible (and acceptable?) through works of sheer aesthetic splendor in the artist’s abstractions and in his trademark blurry, photo-figurative paintings, but the accessibility is deceiving. The always double-edged (or rather soft-edged) nature of Richter’s methods of beautification was made abundantly clear to a larger public with his notorious “October 18, 1977” cycle from 1988. This determined take on the traditions of history painting after the frequently proclaimed “end of painting” became the focus of heated debate on matters of terrorism, commemoration, mourning, and the issues related to representing victim-perpetrators like the Red Army Faction terrorists in the solemn way Richter chose for these images.
     
    In early October 2001, just a day after the bombing of Afghanistan had begun and a month after the attacks of September 11, I met Robert Storr for a late-night appointment in his office at the Museum of Modern Art. The empty building, with its surprisingly modest office spaces, provided a perfect ascetic ambience for an intense conversation with the curator, who has been the driving force behind the acquisition of the “October 18, 1977” series for the Modern and who at the time of the interview was busy preparing his Richter retrospective, which opens at the museum next month. Two hours later, after we had discussed a wide range of topics, it became clear that the question of whether Richter’s art could offer an adequate aesthetic response to the events of September 11 (and after) would be avoided, scrupulously, by both parties.
     
    Tom Holert

    TOM HOLERT: Gerhard Richter’s work poses the difficult curatorial task of presenting the work of an artist whose output is overwhelming in quantity and elusive in the way he proposes a kind of taxonomy. He seems to suggest an order hidden in the maze of genres, techniques, and themes. How do you cope with this?

    ROBERT STORR: Richter is a fastidious keeper of his own records. He spends a lot of time going back over what he has done, giving it shape, giving it order. He’s been preparing his own catalogue raisonné, whereas most artists’ catalogues raisonnés are compiled by scholars after the artist

  • Reading 9-11-01

    IN THE DAYS immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, titles that promised answers in the face of the disaster threatened to keep retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch's straight-talking memoir out of the top slot on best-seller lists. Studies of the Taliban movement, Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, and the ill-fated twin towers themselves predictably climbed the charts, but according to the New York Times, king of the hill was Nostradamus: At the online bookshop Amazon.com, three editions of the prophesies of the sixteenth-century mystic, into whose

  • Robert Storr

    WITH THE GRANDILOQUENT GHOST OF JOSEPH BEUYS AT HIS ELBOW, Harald Szeemann promised that his valedictory Venice Biennale would open our collective eyes to a “Plateau of Humankind.” In actuality we got a plateau of art. Of course art abhors plateaus—and platitudes. It is all about ups and downs—and about sharp distinctions. Yet the overriding impression left by this strenuous millennial edition was one of art-professional averageness ad infinitum.

    Perhaps having sensed this in advance, Szeemann punctuated his part of the exhibition—the aesthetic mixed grill of the Italian pavilion

  • The Grove Book of Art Writing

    THE REDCOATS ARE COMING! The redcoats are coming! For several seasons now, the alarm has sounded in New York City and parts west of the Hudson as galleries and museums have fielded the up-and-coming Brit Pack artists in various solo and group extravaganzas, each one intended to retake America by storm. None has, of course, especially not the overproduced, too-eager-to-please- by-offending efforts of Messrs. Chapman (Dinos and Jake) and Hirst (Damien), but you can’t fault them for trying. It’s just that after the ’80s boom and the ’90s wobbles, we’re not in the mood to be overwhelmed and, in our

  • The best books of 2000

    Linda Nochlin

    Molly Nesbit’s Their Common Sense (Black Dog Press) isn’t exactly an art book—it’s not exactly a book even, in the usual sense. But in the unusual sense, Nesbit’s tome is a marvelous document, swinging briskly between the teaching of mechanical drawing in French schools and the arcanery of Duchamp & Co. It begins in very big print with Antonin Proust’s proposal that all French schoolchildren learn to draw and ends with a memorable still from Pabst’s Joyless Streets. In between? Children’s drawings (not the cute, creative ones, but disciplined, drafting lesson productions), some