Roberta Smith

  • Klaus Rinke

    Klaus Rinke is one of those artists whose use of systems often pushes his work toward the very decorativeness which such systems are generally intended to circumvent. This is probably because the systems and ideas which Rinke is involved with form the content of his work; they do not really determine its visual appearance as much as they are illustrated by it. This visual appearance seems familiar, involved with an ordinary kind of drawing which becomes really academic since, unconnected to Rinke’s feelings, it is not connected to his ideas. The large drawings of graphite on paper, bristol board

  • Doug Davis

    Two years ago Doug Davis began an article on video with the statement: “The esthetic possibilities inherent in video have hardly been thought about at all.” Davis wrote about the potential of video like Jack Burnham used to write about other collaborations of art and technology, with lots of predictions about radical innovations soon (but not quite yet) to be upon us. As nearly as I can tell, it’s time to start thinking.

    Davis’ recent exhibition of video pieces dating from 1970 does little more than outline a few of the possibilities, and the most impressive element throughout is the video

  • Elie Nadelman

    Elie Nadelman lived in America exactly half of his sixty-four years. He came here in 1914, five years after the first exhibition of his sculpture in Paris. He had three shows in New York and never exhibited again from 1925 until his death in 1946. Nadelman’s work is perplexing because of the range and visibility of his sources; as an artist he is saturated with the history of sculpture, and his first, continuing commitment is to that of Classical Greece. Pieces in this exhibition suggest, besides Greek, Renaissance and Mannerist art, Victorian china, American folk art and dolls. Nadelman’s

  • Hugo Robus

    The sculpture of Hugo Robus (American, 1885–1964) is not very good and does little more than clarify conclusions about Nadelman, and increase appreciation of him. Both are involved with the idea of modernizing figurative sculpture but the difference is not just great, it is infinite. In Robus’ case “stream lining” is a literary device. Water Carrier, for example, is a female figure with a jar for a head. Robus’ figures are not abbreviated, they are amputated. Other pieces depict serious universal themes and are titled Maternal, Figure in Grief, Despair. They look as if Keene, the creator of

  • John Mclaughlin

    In last month’s issue I reviewed John Mclaughlin’s small exhibition at the Whitney. The 13 paintings in that show dated from 1946 to 1970. Those in his show at Emmerich, his first gallery exhibition in New York (he is seventy-six years old) are recent, from 1973 and 1974. In this work it seems that color and surface, which McLaughlin previously played down with deliberate control, are now being ignored, becoming either mechanical or genuinely neutral. The difference in surface is particularly startling: it is now overt, hard and closed. This deadens rather than subdues color, although it affects

  • Moshe Kupferman

    Moshe Kupferman, an Israeli painter, has had his first one-man exhibition in New York. His abstraction is fairly up-to-date, combining ’50s expressionism and ’60s geometry with a measure of European tachism. His small canvases have two basic formulas: a large dark grid is obliterated by a layer of lavender gray scumblings or this top layer is scratched through with a loose, finer grid configuration to reveal different colors underneath. For the most part the work suggests an amalgam of Twombly, Guston, and Martin, combined in a peculiar layering of space (over, under, behind and through) which

  • Gary Stephan, Nancy Holt and Joe Zucker

    An involvement with the relationship between the shape of and the shape(s) on the canvas, between what Michael Fried called “literal” and “depicted” shape, is evident in much 20th-century painting from Mondrian through Newman and Reinhardt to Kelly, Stella, and Mangold. A recent, developing involvement is seen in the paintings of Gary Stephan. Like Stella and Mangold, Stephan does not always maintain a strict distinction between the two kinds of shapes; they are often combined, resulting in a third category: implied shapes. Stephan has accepted the dictum that external shape must determine

  • “Nine Artists/Coenties Slip,” “Frank O’Hara: Poet Among the Painters”

    Since about 1967, the Whitney Museum has developed a rather good Independent Study Program for graduates and undergraduates in art and art history. This year two groups of the art history students have each organized an exhibition, one at the Museum proper, the other at its Downtown Branch at 55 Water Street, near South Ferry. 

    The downtown exhibition is “Nine Artists/Coenties Slip,” consisting of work by artists who lived in lofts on the two-block slip between 1954 and 1967. The names are more familiar than not: Charles Hinman, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Fred Mitchell, James

  • Lee Krasner

    “Lee Krasner: Large Paintings” is an exhibition of 18 works dating from 1953 to 1973. These range in size from approximately 5’ x 7’ to approximately 7 1/2’ x 17’ with the widths usually between 10’ and 13’.

    The paintings reveal Krasner’s involvement with the painting of Picasso, Miró, Matisse, and Pollock. I found the exhibition confusing in terms of historical and individual chronology. First because the paintings all seemed dated—they look as if they should have been done earlier than they were. Second, because there is no real sense of direction or development; Krasner has used various kinds

  • George Ault

    Downstairs from Krasner, an exhibition of Nocturnes by the American George Ault reflected a greater degree of artistic as well as institutional attention. The points made by this exhibition are so clear and interesting that they almost overwhelmed the rather modest work, except that the clarity emanated directly from the work itself, work unaccompanied by an impressive catalogue, by previous information or expectations (at least on my part), or by artistic reputation. It was the kind of exhibition in which paintings of less intrinsic value were interesting for the contrast they supplied, for

  • Alex Katz

    I find Alex Katz’ painting casually appealing; the more I look at it the more seriously I am interested by it. Like Ault, Katz is primarily involved with the way light flattens and changes shapes. Katz is also involved, much more than Ault, with the way trying to paint those changes alters them even further. His precision, as real as Ault’s, seems based on awkwardness verging on the most primitive. Roger Fry wrote that Cézanne “happened to lack the comparatively common gift of illustration.” Katz is not to be compared with Cézanne but I think he does, at first, seem to lack the “gift,” and then

  • Christian Boltanski

    Christian Boltanski is French. This, his first New York solo exhibition, dealt with his life, his previous art and exhibitions, with the lives of others, and also with the lack of distinction between any of these things, if only for the reason that they all, by virtue of being exhibited together at this time, became Boltanski’s most recent work. The contents of a number of vitrines reflect this kind of mixture. A random sampling includes: a book in which the adult Boltanski reconstructs scenes from his childhood; pieces of clay which represent 11 attempts to reconstruct a compass he used as a

  • Mario Merz

    For several years Mario Merz has used the Fibonacci mathematical progression in his art. The work is fairly opaque without a general understanding of the progression, which involves adding a certain unit to its predecessor in order to derive its successor. Since nothing precedes the first unit, it is added to zero and the second unit is therefore equal to the first; the third is the sum of the first two, the fourth the sum of the second and third, and so on. Merz begins with 1 and so the progressions goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. This is as far as he takes it for this exhibition. (For the

  • Power Boothe

    Like much contemporary painting, Power Boothe’s work involves a precise, systematic method resulting in a total accumulation which is more or less evocative and mysterious. This aspect relates his to the painting of Robert Irwin, Ad Reinhardt, Agnes Martin, and Brice Marden. Boothe’s use of the grid increases his relation to the last two. Another common aspect involves a definite sense of time, a slowness with which the paintings reveal themselves to the viewer. In Boothe’s case what finally emerges is not only the visual complexity of the work, but also the changes which take place square by

  • Leon Polk Smith

    Leon Polk Smith’s recent exhibition of some 24 paintings spanned more than a quarter-century. The work has been consistently abstract and geometric, although it has run a gamut of styles. It is difficult for me to know how accurately this exhibition represents Smith’s achievement, but taken at face value it seems very uneven. Some of the earliest work is best, particularly Black-White Repeat which dates from 1953, but is similar to Red-Black from 1946-47. Together they establish Smith’s interest in combining shapes so they are equally and ambiguously positive and negative. However, others from

  • Jules Olitski

    According to Hilton Kramer, Jules Olitski, the sculptor, “belongs to the new wave of sculptors who concentrate their attention on low-lying forms that hug the floor beneath our feet.” The idea of announcing anything like a “new wave” is bad enough; when it concerns an idea which has appeared in a lot of strong and disparate work for the past ten years, it is ludicrous. The artists responsible are very visible; most visible are Andre, Judd, Morris, Serra, and a number of others. I like Kramer’s writing and respect him in many ways, but his N.Y. Times review of Olitski’s recent sculpture reflects

  • Jack Sonenberg

    Jack Sonenberg’s work consists of innumerable canvas-covered elements painted black which lean against each other and the wall. They are often tall L-or H-shaped beams; others have less legible notches, projections, and holes. They are arranged randomly and chaotically and are consequently difficult to distinguish and suggestive of some vague function. That these elements are made of painted canvas is not immediately discernible, but is partially responsible for a peculiar elegance and weightlessness which the work has. The three pieces, each occupying an entire wall of Fischbach’s totally white

  • “Extraordinary Realities”

    Sometimes it occurs to me that the Whitney Museum, despite its good intentions, is giving American art a bad name. This sensation was particularly strong while viewing one of its current exhibitions, “Extraordinary Realities,” organized by Robert Doty. Edward Gorey wrote a preface to the catalogue which traces the development of what he calls the “attitude of irrationality” and “defiance of logic and high art” through Dada and Surrealism, Chicago’s Hairy Who, and California Funk to the artists in this exhibition. The last are involved with “a restructuring of the existing world.” According to

  • “Pioneers Of American Abstraction”

    “Pioneers of American Abstraction” is not historically representative; only a few of the nine painters included seem to have pioneered anything which could be called both abstract and American. There are also several major exclusions. The exhibition consists of 150-odd paintings, watercolors, and collages by Oscar Bluemner, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Joseph Stella, Charles Sheeler, and Max Weber. Despite the fact that the premise posited in its title is not borne out, this exhibition does provide a number of interesting if not unfamiliar insights.

  • J.B. Cobb, Martha Edelheit, Ree Morton, Mcarthur Binion, Jonathan Borofsky, Mary Obering

    Artists Space, organized by the Committee on the Visual Arts and funded by the New York State Council on the Arts, is a new alternative to the commercial gallery situation which opened in SoHo this fall. Three artists per month exhibit in its large, divided space, the third floor of 155 Wooster Street. The process by which these artists are selected is the distinguishing characteristic. The Committee invites individual, known artists to each select one artist to exhibit. The only stipulation is that the selected artist cannot have any gallery affiliation, which means that the space functions