Roberta Smith

  • “Matthew Barney: The CREMASTER Cycle”

    Other ambitious young artists might have been content go to the studio, tack up a poster of Harry Houdini, a postcard of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, and the famous image of Richard Serra flinging molten lead like Vulcan in his forge, and sublimate. But not Matthew Barney. For better and worse, Barney had to make a multimedia spectacle of himself, his youthful ambitions, infatuations, and oedipal urges, with various heroes, past and present, in attendance.

    As is well known by now, Barney had to write and direct the five increasingly long, complex, and hermetic films of the CREMASTER cycle,

  • ENDLESS MEANING AT THE HIRSHHORN

    THE HIRSHHORN MUSEUM’S EXHIBITION “Content: A Contemporary Focus, 1974–1984" was perhaps America’s most ambitious entry into the big international-survey sweepstakes which has raged for the past five years. This Washington, D.C. exhibition also turned out to be one that continually expanded and contracted in my head, with every plus met by an equal minus. Sometimes it has seemed daring and innovative, at other times confused, familiar, and just plain mousy—not to be taken too seriously; at still other times it has also seemed dangerously stupid and regressive. Basically it failed, falling

  • Stephen Rosenthal

    The occasion of respected dealers showing work derived from that of their better artists takes one’s breath away. Recently, at Castelli, Alan Charlton’s gray panels linked Robert Morris and Ellsworth Kelly. Now, at the John Weber Gallery, Stephen Rosenthal seems to take Robert Ryman’s dead-pan use of materials to its most absurd and obvious extreme. (Rosenthal and Ryman were featured on the same page of the first issue of Newsletter of the John Weber Gallery, a recent gallery publication, the equivalent of about a dozen press releases, written in the benignly self-satisfied tone of a nonprofit

  • Mel Bochner

    Mel Bochner seems to be trying to prolong his status as precocious young master and to advance rapidly to the position of an old established one at the same time; his recent show took the form of a mini-retrospective, but nonetheless left one, once more, in a state of anticipation. The exhibition consisted of a large selection of previously unshown drawings from the last three years; they ranged from small fast sketches to finished works and, in total, retraced Bochner’s development since 1973. Over the past few years, Bochner has advanced from the stringent conceptuality of his earlier work,

  • Gary Stephan

    Gary Stephan’s third one-man show, which included drawings, sculpture and paintings, was somewhat disappointing. Stephan’s painting has changed, and the four paintings exhibited here, although respectable enough, indicate that it is still in transition. Stephan has abandoned some of his cerebral elegance and is moving toward “real painting.” After working with one or two shapes painted on otherwise bare, shaped canvases, Stephan has returned to the square format and is covering the entire surface again, almost, it seems, as an investigation of the various methods of putting paint on the canvas.

  • Robert Swain

    Robert Swain’s painting is involved, purely and exclusively, with color, with the variety and interaction of color, and with the alternation between color as opaque pigmented surface and as illusionistic light. Swain’s format is relentlessly consistent; for some time now he has divided his canvases into 12-inch squares, each painted flat and precisely with one color. The paintings in this exhibition are either seven or nine squares (i.e. feet) on a side. That’s either 49 or 81 different colors per painting, since no color seems to repeat on a single canvas.

    There’s a poker-faced intellectuality

  • Drawing Now (and Then)

    OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS innumerable museums and art galleries across the country have been swept by an epidemic of drawing and “works on paper” exhibitions, a phenomenon which began to receive in-depth attention from New York museums in 1973. In that year, the now-defunct New York Cultural Center’s “3-D into 2-D,” an exhibition of drawings by 28 contemporary artists loosely described as sculptors, was followed a few months later by the Whitney’s “American Drawings: 1963–1973,” which presented, in overloaded Annual style, two to three drawings by 87 American artists. The current popularity of

  • Joel Shapiro

    The five sculptures in Joel Shapiro’s previous exhibition often functioned as tiny points upon which pivoted enormous volumes of empty space. His recent show contained 18 sculptures. This immediately suggests a change: space is now drawn more closely toward, and into, his sculpture than before. The new pieces encompass interior space in many different ways; it is implied, partially glimpsed or openly displayed. They seem larger in size, and some of them really are, but mainly the scale is clearer, which makes them appear bigger. The piece in his previous exhibition most involved with interior

  • Richard Tuttle

    The architecture of the Whitney Museum and the art of Richard Tuttle make strange bedfellows. This essential fact remains, regardless of what else (good and mostly bad) has been said about his exhibition there. Ten years of Tuttle’s work, presented as “a major examination” (not a retrospective, but major nonetheless), were seen in a series of three installations designed, it was stated, to expose much work, yet allow each piece the large quantity of space it required. There were about 25 pieces on view at a time. About ten of these formed the core of the exhibition and were visible, although in

  • Carl Andre

    Carl Andre’s new work comes out of the cardinal series (the beginnings of which were exhibited at the John Weber gallery in 1972) and out of pieces which appropriate, rather completely, the entire space of a room (as did work shown here early in Andre’s career, and work shown since then in LA, at the old Dwan Gallery and Ace Gallery, an in Europe). The new pieces are called Triodes, a word that Andre derived from the combination of the Greek words tri and hodos (meaning “three” and “path” or “way” respectively). The Triodes are like the Cardinals in tat they project from the base of a wall out

  • Jared Bark

    In five evenings at the Idea Warehouse, Jared Bark alternated a performance piece from last year, Lights: On/Off, with a new piece titled The Neutron Readings. This was appropriate, since the two are closely related and the first provides a gauge to the growth, the improvement and the problems of the second. All of Bark’s work, including his photo-booth pieces and his paintings made by firing a BB gun at sheets of glass, involve a number of similar elements: performance, often humorous, if not downright vaudevillian; the misuse of a technique and consequently an amateurish or crude kind of

  • Frances Barth

    Frances Barth’s paintings from her last exhibition inflated a rather personal geometry beyond a credible scale: various shapes, usually two separate triangles, occupied a large field of color, tending to look like objects in space. The shapes, the paint handling and particularly Barth’s somber slightly discordant colors were all emotionally convincing, but a little out of hand. Underneath their obvious seriousness was an edge of indulgence, something that kept the paintings disconnected and imprecise. In the six new paintings here, Barth has a new kind of control, and in two paintings in

  • Elie Nadelman

    The Whitney has mounted a large exemplary retrospective exhibition of the sculpture and drawings of Elie Nadelman. It is the first comprehensive museum attention his work has received since the 1948 retrospective organized by Lincoln Kirstein for the Museum of Modern Art two years after Nadelman’s death. And that exhibition, like this one, also amounted to something of a rediscovery, since Nadelman neither sold nor exhibited work during the last 16 years of his life. Nadelman is frequently described as a charming, debonair man of impeccable taste and intelligence; he seems to have enjoyed artistic

  • Helene Aylon

    Helene Aylon designates her recent work as Paintings that Change in Time. All paintings, like everything else, change in time, but Aylon is speeding up one process (of universal material deterioration) as she slows and extends another, the process of completion by which a work of art is made. Aylon works oil, dyes and paint into the back of large sheets of treated paper, until the materials start to penetrate the front surface. The sheets are then sealed in plexiglass and hung on the wall, where the process of seepage and cracking continues, ad infinitum. Her paintings never complete themselves,

  • August Sander

    August Sander’s subject was the German people of his time, and he immodestly called his project “People of the Twentieth Century.” Between the years 1910 and 1938 Sander (1876–1964) methodically recorded singly, in pairs and in groups, Germans of every class and occupation, from peasants and laborers on up through the petite bourgeoisie of German towns to rich industrialists, military officers and the intelligentsia of professors, musicians and artists. He was not interested in the individual, but in the gathering of types to yield archetypes. Many of these images, strictly grouped, became more

  • “Projects In Nature”

    Nancy Rosen and Edward Fry have organized “Projects in Nature. . .” which is “. . . .Eleven Environmental Works Executed at Merriewold West.” Merriewold West is the Far Hills, New Jersey, farm and weekend retreat of Mary Lea and Victor D’Arc, who also financed this undertaking. Rosen and Fry considered the work of artists they knew and of artists who responded to ads placed in art magazines last winter. They finally invited six artists from New York City and five from elsewhere to participate. This exhibition was planned as an alternative to the usual “playground” effect of large objects scattered

  • Ellsworth Kelly

    The relationship of Ellsworth Kelly’s sculpture to his painting has always been problematic. While his sculpture seemed like the logical outcome of Kelly’s particular kind of painting, it also seemed superfluous. His painted shapes, flat and taut, always looked ready to spring right off the canvas and become sculpture. But the sculpture, having “sprung,” suffered a loss of tension; it failed to achieve in actuality what the paintings achieved by implication. The paintings expanded confidently into real space; the sculpture, already there, appeared homeless and heavy.

    In Kelly’s recent exhibitions

  • Jerry Buchanan

    For his first New York exhibition, Jerry Buchanan showed paintings from the last five years. Pleasantly enough, the most recent work is more interesting. Buchanan’s earlier work is self-consciously eclectic; pictorial conventions and styles are subsumed within a technique so facile it is ultimately cloying. Buchanan plays around with various contradictions between the image and the frame. Each is, variously, pictorial space, flat surface, decorative surface, carpentry, craft, you name it. Thus Buchanan paints Basement, a small landscape in the style of Cézanne, and paints the wide frame around

  • Jannis Kounellis

    For three consecutive Saturdays Jannis Kounellis, a Greek artist living in Italy, sat astride a black horse in a corner of Sonnabend Gallery. Wearing street clothes, Kounellis covered his face with a plaster mask, a classical face. (The horse wore a saddle but no bridle.) A small lamp was one a nearby wall. The entire gallery was painted intense, egg-yolk yellow. Kounellis is the art historian’s dream: a contemporary artist with iconography. His work sets up all kinds of reverberations between the past and the present (gallery) situation. Experiencing the work can almost become a trivia quiz:

  • Jo Baer

    In her catalogue essay to the Jo Baer exhibition Barbara Haskell presents Baer as a “radical painter” dealing with “issues of Minimalist theory.” The 25 paintings in this exhibition, which spans from 1962 to 1975, suggest that if Baer is anything she is eccentric and not in a very profound way. In all of Baer’s work sensuous, nonintellectual experience is frustrated or denied. Her art can seem at times blatantly didactic, at other times arbitrarily and meaninglessly decorative. These aspects undercut rather than elaborate each other. Baer spells out “pictorial” characteristics so simplistically