Roberta Smith

  • “Biennial”

    We may not have exactly the same old Whitney Biennial to kick around anymore, but unfortunately we still have most of the same old complaints. As always there is too much work to be digested, even though the 1973 total of 222 artists has been reduced to a mere 147 this time. The amount is nonetheless difficult to see or respond to, much less remember. It took me four visits and two dismembered catalogues spread out page by page on my floor to begin to make any sense of it. Large numbers are a typical Biennial defense, one which diffuses any impact which a show of this nature might have, and

  • “34th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting”

    While the Whitney fails in both intention and execution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art's “34th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting” with fairly justifiable and workable plans is still a disappointment. It does everything you wish the Whitney would do, but badly and with flair.

    The size and installation are manageable. Fifty artists in seven spacious galleries and the two-story atrium gives almost everyone enough spate. And 50 works seems like the limit; it is a number you can think about. In addition there is a fairly sensible selection process (if such a thing is possible): 25 artists have

  • Peter Campus

    Peter Campus’s was one of the best exhibitions this year and revealed a significant development of his work. Campus creates live video situations which, activated by the viewer’s presence, project his image on a wall or screen. Previous work has involved a double image, one the reverse of the other. Previous work has also involved two kinds of mirroring: first, it tolerated being dealt with hedonistically as a “live mirror”; second (and also because), it simply mirrored and so implied continuity with, the space directly in front of the wall or screen. This year Campus has tightened up his work.

  • Carl Andre

    Carl Andre’s poetry is more engrossing than it first appears, but it can’t finally compete with his sculpture. My prejudice is general, however; I simply like sculpture better than poetry. Andre’s poetry is not concrete in the term’s literary sense. That is to say, its visual appearance, while important, does not reinforce its linguistic meaning. However, it is on the wall and it is looked at as much as read. I don’t mind looking at it on the wall—in some ways it is more fun than reading it from a book; you have to stand up, but you don’t have to turn pages. Visually, the poems look like drawings

  • Matta

    Thirty-five paintings, twenty-five drawings and several sculpture provided the opportunity to evaluate Matta’s work in what seems to be a Surrealist year. Matta started painting around 1938, the youngest, possibly last Surrealist and, as William Rubin suggests in his Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage, the only one whose sources are entirely within the Surrealist tradition. The work in this exhibition extends from 1939 until 1970 and from good to awful. The first several paintings reveal a painter of extraordinary abilities. Matta has a precision and clear color combined with an exploitation

  • Arshile Gorky

    If Matta’s work ultimately seems emotionally uncommitted and also self-sufficient from other art, one of Arshile Gorky’s main strengths is his passionate respect for the painters who preceded him, his ability to use and transform their inventions and to sometimes make us see them anew. An exhibition of about of Gorky’s drawings from 1930 to 1946 indicated the full range of his graphic style and its development. Throughout the first decade Gorky was deeply involved with imagery derived from the work of Picasso, Miró and Matta. During the last five years of his life (1942–47), he seems more and

  • Ivan Biro

    Ivan Biro works with a hat form which he casts in latex or enlarges in fiberglass. These forms are the focus of various wall reliefs and sculptures. Six of them, half-round, protrude across the top of a square of gray latex; two are recessed into the center of a relief of wooden slats, all black. Nine fill the squares of a wooden grid on the wall. And nine larger versions, in three rows of three, each on its own three-stepped pediment, define a grid on the floor, again all black. The hat form is peculiar; it looks like an abbreviated Greek capital, a mushroom, and its dipping edges also make it

  • Barbara Coleman

    Like Prentice and Bressler, Barbara Coleman is doing very little with her chosen materials and here again, the results are pale and innocuous; it is not so much what she does as what she fails to do that is objectionable. Working with acrylic polymer on 4’ x 3 1/2’ canvases, Coleman achieves an effect much like white plaster. The methods of application vary from canvas to canvas and the results range accordingly from something like stucco, to large round blobs, horizontal pours and drifts. The references, in turn, range from walls to topographical studies. It is a routine attempt to resolve the

  • David Prentice

    In his recent work, David Prentice continues his interest in subtle gradations of pale color. He exhibited a series of collages made from the mechanical drawings for the Slush-Molder, an intricate machine which fabricates ladies’ rubber boots and which requires, it seems, hundreds of different plans in quadruplicate (only five machines have ever been built). These fine, large drawings on translucent tinted paper have been damaged by fire, which makes their edges dark and jagged and alters the color. Prentice sometimes burns the paper further and arranges it in layers emphasizing the repetition

  • Martin Bressler

    Martin Bressler’s work has not developed as much as it has simply gotten harder to see. In his most recent exhibition, Bressler is incising and drawing fine lines, singly, parallel and in grids on paper and also on large sheets of foamcore assembled into three ten-foot-square drawings. In one of these large drawings, incised diagonals from one side intersect with diagonals from the other, forming, bottom center, a triangular section of grid. This configuration is only intermittently visible, depending on distance and the angle of light. One series of small drawings are studies for the three big

  • Kate Resek

    Kate Resek works with one or two colors of crushed chalk on raw canvas which is usually divided by a pencil grid. An acrylic medium both fixes and blurs the chalk, creating varying densities of feathery marks of blue, or black. The paintings are graphic, large drawings with an ethereal detail which reminds me in particular of Bruegel’s landscape drawings. The intimate scale extended over a relatively large area creates the sensation of looking from an immense distance; I keep expecting some kind of image to materialize through the clouds. The juxtaposition of structured and random marks is a

  • Robert Rauschenberg

    Robert Rauschenberg is entering his third decade of artistic prominence. He continues the practice which first achieved that prominence, appropriating the images and objects of life directly into art. The work remains a seductive accumulation of familiar materials, objects, and images from magazine, newspapers, postcards and occasionally other art. In this most recent exhibition, held in the spaces of both Castelli downtown and Sonnabend, Rauschenberg combines cloth and objects into wall pieces, extending the possibilities of a few works seen last year in a Castelli show shared with Cy Twombly.

  • Joe Zucker

    Joe Zucker’s new work places an increased emphasis on the relationship between surface and image. He works with cotton dipped in paint, pulled and squashed onto the canvas. The six paintings in this exhibition depict machines which in one way or another agitate air and therefore, by implication, the surface of the painting. The movement of air, elusive in real space, becomes the most visible activity in these paintings. Things are stirred up by airplanes, helicopters, windmills, tornadoes and ferris. wheels. Zucker’s “strokes” of paint vary more than before and describe more precisely. Thus the

  • Bruce Boice

    Bruce Boice is one of several artists attempting to make paintings with an evident logical foundation. James Dearing and Gary Stephan are close in age and intention. Boice’s paintings exist as a set of propositions and steps as well as a visual experience. And this visuality results from, just as it obscures, the basic, underlying logic.

    Boice paints in series; each painting in this exhibition is one of about three arrangements of the same components. And each painting is in itself a series of three: literally a combination of three separate canvases and, not so literally, of three conditions.

  • Frank Bowling

    Frank Bowling’s paintings have been generally improving over the past few years, but the paintings in this exhibition are not as good as several which he exhibited at the Center for Inter-American Relations last year. Both the improvement and the lesser interest of this recent show are relative. Working out of Olitski and Noland, as Bowling is, strikes me as a fairly unadventurous endeavor. But at times Bowling’s work is more interesting than theirs, or, maybe just easier to take, since it is unaccompanied by an inflated reputation. Bowling tapes, stains, retapes and stains again. The tapes are

  • Arlene Slavin

    Arlene Slavin still uses a small diamond grid, formed by intersecting. diagonals, but now it merely forms an underlying structure to plot much larger shapes and areas. This broadens the scale of Slavin’s work considerably. The grid is nonetheless responsible for the general layout, resulting in a series of diamond shapes of varying sizes and proportion. Diamonds with sets of greatly unequal sides read like large rectangles in extreme and rigid perspective, floating in space, which intersect with the picture plane. This tilts pictorial space inward, creating the illusion of an aerial plan of some

  • Peter Saari and Gordon David Wine

    Peter Saari makes paintings which look like bits and pieces of ancient Rome. They simulate fragments of wall paintings, grave steles and shrines, the corner of a room from Pompeii, an end wall of an Etruscan tomb and spearheads of decayed copper and iron. These items are all paint on canvas, with plaster, gravel or dust where needed. The results are appropriately decayed, with pale, flaking surfaces. The geometric designs, images, colors and architectural details are equally convincing; Saari has obviously researched his topic thoroughly and some of the pieces are complete with museum registration

  • Roy Lichtenstein

    Roy Lichtenstein’s recent exhibition contained one of his best paintings in recent years, and three others which in combination could not equal the first. Lichtenstein has developed toward greater thematic and formal complexity. His earlier work usually focused on a single object, event or kind of representation: a golf ball or a brushstroke; a Picasso still life or a Greek temple; a blown-up advertisement or frame or two from a comic strip; a mirror or a Mondrian. All were subjected to Lichtenstein’s own sardonic method of representation involving Benday dots, flat primaries, thick black outlines

  • Hanne Darboven

    Hanne Darboven, to paraphrase the title of Lucy Lippard’s article on her work, is still “deep in numbers.” In the combined spaces of Castelli (downtown) and Sonnabend Galleries she exhibited 24 songs on each floor, each group with its own index. The indexes took up about one wall each, the 24 songs most of the remaining space. The index only lays the process out, the songs fill it in. 24 Songs: Form B, the piece at Sonnabend, is based on 19, the curve of 100. Each index deals with three pairs of number which are 19 units apart; the seventh song for example deals with 8/26, 17/35, and 26/44, the

  • Larry Poons

    Larry Poons is squirting paint on the vertical now; a few years back it was on the diagonal in great sweeping arcs. The vertical squirts usually end in a splash at the top or the bottom of the canvas and this increases the suggestions of waterfalls or related events. There is something essentially narrative about Poons’s undertaking. Each painting is an unvaried continuum within which a departure from the norm, some noticeable incident becomes the focal point or climax. At first, it all looks very accidental and then it all looks very arranged and it is not too involving either way. Nonetheless,