Thomas Crow

  • Billy Apple (1935–2021)

    THOUGH HE WAS much else besides, Billy Apple had a convincing claim to have been the consummate artist of Pop, the one who pursued its implications so thoroughly as to have achieved escape velocity from the category altogether. His career stands as a corrective to recent attempts to internationalize Pop by multiplying local scenes across the globe. Like his peers Öyvind Fahlström, Richard Smith, Mario Schifano, and Hélio Oiticica, Apple defied parochialism by moving from his place of origin to and from London or New York, those magnets of maximum stimulus and information. At twenty-four, still

  • Students observing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937, Warburg Hall, Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1941. Photo: Exhibition Records (HC 6), folder 2038. Harvard Art Museums Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 


    ONE OF THE FEW TIMES that the discipline of art history has lately surfaced into general consciousness arrived when then President Obama used it as a convenient straw man in his touting of vocational training. “I promise you,” he reassured an audience in 2014, “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art-history degree.” Not many days after, he had the grace to offer a handwritten apology to a professor who had stoutly objected to this facile scapegoating. That gesture in turn prompted what was surely the only time that Senator

  • KAWS, Untitled (Captain Morgan), 1995, spray paint on billboard. Installation view, Jersey City, New Jersey.


    THERE IS A TRADITIONAL BELIEF in Japanese households that deceased parents, siblings, and children linger close at hand, remaining nearby as members of the family and a comfort to the living. Newer, more eclectic sects hold that even departed pets stay with their owners as reassuring companions. The artist Brian Donnelly, known by his teenage graffiti handle KAWS, created his signature character and virtual alter ego, Companion, in the late 1990s at the invitation of Tokyo toymaker Bounty Hunter. There being the obvious antecedent of Takashi Murakami transforming the

  • John Baldessari, Pure Beauty, 1966–68, acrylic on canvas, 45 3⁄8 × 45 3⁄8". © Estate of John Baldessari.


    JOHN BALDESSARI was renowned as a teacher. His example restored to that title the honor it merits in the annals of art. Even after his era-defining tenure at the California Institute of the Arts, he never ceased to offer lessons both to his viewers and to himself. 

    He stood out from his celebrated contemporaries for having achieved his deserved stature after many years in provincial obscurity, supporting a young family on the teaching jobs that came to hand near his San Diego home: high school, community college, and adult extension classes, and one summer stint at a rural camp working with


    Andy Warhol’s works, persona, and entourage never lose their currency. Every new cohort discovers the style and sensibility of the Factory as if they had been minted yesterday. That phenomenon makes the major retrospective at the Whitney this fall as much a ritualized return as a recapitulation of the receding past. But history will be present in abundance, a wealth of new knowledge and ideas having accumulated since the last such exercise. Whitney deputy director and senior curator Donna De Salvo’s own landmark exhibition of

  • Drossos Skyllas, Wisconsin Ice Cave, 1950, oil on canvas, 24 × 30". From “Outliers and American Vanguard Art.”

    “Outliers and American Vanguard Art”

    “OUTLIERS AND AMERICAN VANGUARD ART” has long been in preparation by Lynne Cooke, former deputy director and chief curator of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, who assumed the post of senior curator for special projects in modern art at the NGA during the run-up to the show. Her research has been far-reaching, and the exhibition aims to resolve some of the ambiguities that have bedeviled a category that still bears no agreed-upon name.

    Cooke’s title settles for “outliers,” but the exhibition’s advance publicity runs the lexical gamut from “folk” to “self-taught” to “outsider”

  • Bruce Nauman, Sex and Death by Murder and Suicide, 1985, neon tubing mounted on aluminum, 78 × 78 3/8 × 12 5/8". © Bruce Nauman/ProLitteris, Zurich.

    “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts”

    Twenty-five years have passed since the last Nauman retrospective traversed the Western world like a rock icon on a months-long tour. This time around, the two organizing hosts—the Schaulager in Basel and the Museum of Modern Art in New York—will give a new generation the chance to see more than a half century of overwhelmingly influential work in nearly every conceivable medium. Former MoMA associate director Kathy Halbreich, who co-organized the 1993–95 caravan, leads the curatorial team in the

  • View of “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971,” 2016–17. Foreground: Sol LeWitt, Serial Project, 1 (ABCD), 1966. Background: Mel Bochner, Language Is Not Transparent, 1970. Photo: Rob Shelley.

    “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971”

    IN THE PRESENT-DAY REALM OF ART, confusion proliferates between public and private, between profit and nonprofit. Commercial galleries mount loan shows that would distinguish any museum, while museums mortgage themselves in the service of privately amassed collections, and collectors rebrand their possessions as museum holdings. Entangled interests make for endless ethical quandaries. But the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has mounted an indispensable exhibition that celebrates a collector and commercial gallery, yet revives disinterested probity as an example for our current moment.

  • Robert Rauschenberg

    When this Tate retrospective opens, it will have been nearly two decades since the last such effort: the sprawling megashow mounted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1997. Ushered in by Walter Hopps’s extraordinary exhibition focused on Rauschenberg’s earliest career, at the institution’s downtown branch, the 1990s effected an enduring place for the artist among the greats of the later twentieth century. Subsequent projects, such as the Metropolitan’s exhaustive presentation of the Combines, have ramified the artist’s interpretative exhibition

  • View of “Frank Stella: A Retrospective,” 2015–16. From left: The Grand Armada (IRS-6, 1X), 1989; K.81 combo (K.37 and K.43) large size, 2009; Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), 1970. Photo: Chandra Glick. © Frank Stella/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Frank Stella

    A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION presupposes an identifiable individual as the author of its contents. The philosopher Mark Johnston, however, cautions that we may place too much weight on this commonsense apperception where the issue of selfhood in any profound sense is concerned: “We do not find much evidence that in tracking objects and persons through time we are actually deploying knowledge of sufficient conditions for cross-time identity.” What permits us to assume on the basis of intermittent exposure to any physical person, he asks, that there is in fact a continuing self that coherently links

  • Keith Arnatt, Invisible Hole Revealed by the Shadow of the Artist, 1968, gelatin silver print, 24 × 29 3/4". From “Conceptual Art in Britain: 1964–1979.” © Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York, NY/DACS, London.

    “Conceptual Art In Britain: 1964–1979”

    There was a time during the 1970s when a number of American artists sought to align themselves with the distinctly British variant of Conceptual art. These were the days of Art & Language in New York, a congregation that ballooned to several dozen members before dissolving in some acrimony—after which British Conceptualism dropped into something of a memory hole, even in the home country. “Conceptual Art in Britain” will provide an opportunity to relive this moment with hundreds of archival documents and seventy-odd works by

  • Jeff Koons, Inflatable Flowers (Short Pink, Tall Purple), 1979, vinyl, mirror, acrylic, 16 × 25 × 18". From the series “Inflatables,” 1978–79.


    WHAT COULD BE MORE ICONIC than Michael and Bubbles, or Cicciolina’s white garter, or that raptor-like stainless-steel bunny and that engorged balloon dog? In reality, everything and nothing: The creator of these entities never simply adopts the generic symbols of our time but produces ciphers and substances that seem perpetually new and forever foreign, despite the hyperbolic fame they may acquire. Perhaps the most influential—and controversial—artist of our time, JEFF KOONS makes things that stay strange.
    On the occasion of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s major survey of his work, the first that Koons has enjoyed in his adopted hometown, Artforum asked art historian and critic THOMAS CROW to assess the exhibition’s synoptic view, while six artists, each from a generation after Koons’s, reflect on his outsize impact—an effect that is strikingly polemical and everywhere felt but difficult to pin down.

    IN ITS FINAL MONTHS on Madison Avenue, the Whitney Museum of American Art has signed off with two exhibitions of distinctly contrasting character. For the last Biennial in the Marcel Breuer edifice, the museum dispersed and outsourced its organization to three curators, each of whom mounted a crowded show on one of three floors. Reviewing the exhibition in these pages, Helen Molesworth found that this multiplication of personnel seemed to reduce rather than augment the curatorial acumen in evidence: Where, she wondered, have all the sight lines gone?

    No such doubts attend the succeeding show,