Thomas McEvilley

  • James Lee Byars

    JAMES LEE BYARS DIED in the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo late on the night of May 22 or early in the morning of May 23, 1997. Cancer had planted flags of occupation in his body for several years, and finally claimed it all. Toward the end he said ruefully, “My bones stick to the chair.” Yet in the days and hours before his death, he was engrossed in the lingering issues, problems, and satisfactions of his life—working on a new will, speaking on the phone with friends on other continents and vigorously pursuing his artwork up till, literally, the final minutes.

    Late on May 21 a turn for the

  • Les Levine

    This survey of recent works by Les Levine covered the artist’s major projects since 1989, mostly the “media campaigns” (as he has called them) that he has waged with billboards. Send Receive, for example, consisted of 2.50 billboards erected in Vienna in 1994, each with the same image of a man and a woman kissing (this work won the Gustav Klimt prize for outdoor advertising in the same year). In Mask Change, See Face (a similarly sized 1995 installation in Bursa, Turkey), the billboards were in pairs, one showing an extreme closeup of the lower part of a man’s face, the other a frontal view of

  • “Boliw: Shrine Figures of the Bamana, Mali”

    The Boliw are the most sacred of the magical objects in the Bamana culture of Mali. Utilized in each village by a secret society of elders, these spooky little bovinelike fetishes are said to embody forces, hold court, pass judgment, and extract punishment. They are regarded as tyrants, and on them all social force depends. Villages steal one another’s Boliw to sap their strength, for a village without Boliw is, as a Bamana saying goes, a village in chaos.

    Haunting, seemingly “other,” the Boliw are composed of a remarkable set of materials: around a central core, layers are built up of bits of

  • Jene Highstein

    Jene Highstein exhibited eight large sculptures in this show, most made on site in the gallery and destined to be destroyed after the exhibition, as they were too large to be moved in or out of even this commodious space. While not a retrospective per se, the exhibition did include 1996 versions of pieces originally executed in 1972, 1974, and 1975 along with more recent work (as well as drawings based loosely on both the older and newer sculpture).

    Halves—two half-cylinders of Cor-Ten steel, 85 inches tall by 42 inches wide, facing each other—was first built in 1972 and initially exhibited, at

  • James Lee Byars

    James Lee Byars’ extensive oeuvre has tended to revolve around related sets of dualities: materiality and immateriality, the eternal and the instantaneous, heaviness and lightness. In his delicate and atmospheric performance pieces, he has often avoided any hint of weight (in his paradigmatic conceptualization of a performance piece, The Perfect Theatre, an audience at an Italian villa would see, on a distant wall, a man in a pink suit appear and seemingly disappear in an instant). More recently, by contrast, he has made works in heavy materials—marble, limestone, brass—that can depress the

  • Luis Camnitzer

    Luis Camnitzer’s work has often seemed a bit understated. His often tiny objects are graceful, yet seem to promise great moment without necessarily bringing it off convincingly. “The Book of Walls,” a linked series of 11 works, while attractive enough in its muted violence, suffers from such thinness. The work deals with the political struggles in Latin America and, in particular, amnesty laws passed to protect South American military and police officials from prosecution in countries like Uruguay, where the artist was raised.

    The individual works, with titles like El Muro de las Intimaciones (

  • Simon Shemov

    Simon Shemov is a Macedonian artist—not a Greek Macedonian, but, in official U.N. terms, a citizen of the former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia. This is an imperiled part of the world, with Serbs to the north, Albanians to the west, Bulgarians to the east, and Greeks to the south, all countries with designs on Macedonia’s borders. By the same token, Macedonia is at a crossroads: in order to get from one part of the Balkans to another you’re likely to have to pass through Skopje. Shemov’s work seems to reflect the instability of his native land and its hybrid culture in his mixing of conspicuously

  • “inSITE94”

    "InSITE94”—an exhibition of over 100 artists at over 37 venues—basically cashed in on the fence that runs across the Northern edge of Tijuana and divides it from the U.S. as if it were the new p.c. hot spot—California’s own Berlin Wall. (One of the artists actually added a graffito to the fence establishing that connection.) The heart of the show was a series of symbolic works on the border itself that purported to comment on, or somehow collaborate with, the border crossing. There were unexplained breaks in the wall through which, from the Mexican side where young men wait for nightfall to

  • Lena Cronqvist

    Extremely well-known within Scandinavia, Lena Cronqvist remains virtually unknown elsewhere. The massive retrospective of over 100 paintings and numerous drawings selected from work done between 1964 and 1994 accorded to her this fall testifies to the esteem in which she is held in her own country.

    The character of Cronqvist’s work derives in part from a period of mental illness during which she received a series of shock treatments. Grotesque, childish, shocking, often stunningly beautiful, the pictures seem to belong neither to the mainstream nor to what has come to be called “outsider art.”

  • OPENINGS: PETER SCHOOLWERTH

    “MY WORK FUNCTIONS IN THE spaces between things,” says Pieter Schoolwerth, “between genders, between man and monster, between species, between alphabets.” In recent years many thinkers and artists have focused on the idea of the indefiniteness of recognized entities and the existence of unacknowledged categories between them, but, unlike most visual artists, Schoolwerth enters this realm of the indefinite or the in-between primarily through language—and not through poetic or metaphoric language, but through bizarrely rigorous manipulations of the alphabet.

    Schoolwerth’s work has various

  • Luis Cruz Azaceta

    Born in Cuba in 1942, Luis Cruz Azaceta emigrated to the U.S. in 1960, where he enrolled at New York’s School for the Visual Arts and developed a hard-edged approach to abstraction that he would abandon a decade later. After a trip to Europe, he shifted to a looser, more expressionistic figuration that characterizes the 22 brightly colored and dynamic paintings included in this exhibition. Drawn from the last 15 years of his oeuvre, some of the pictures can be read as allegories of life in New York City, indicated iconically by the presence of the Empire State Building, though it is clear that

  • “Western Artists/African Art”

    The “white cube” exhibition style eliminated context and focused attention on the objects, which were then supposed to enter the viewer’s field of pure sensibility completely free of associations. Recently, how­ever, the belief in such a sensibility, or in the possibility of experience without associations, has waned. Artworks, like every­ thing else, seem embedded in webs of mediation, a condition that many recent exhibitions have attempted to address.

    Curated by Daniel Shapiro, “Western Artists/African Art” presented 46 objects, mostly examples of traditional African art, from the collections

  • “Exhibited”

    Technically, the Center for Curatorial Studies has been open for two years, but it has only begun to hit its stride. The first show here (curated by Vasif Kortun, director of the museum) was, appropriately, a reflection on curatorial practices. A self­ consciously post-Modern exhibition in several ways, it emphasized differences in installation styles, while inviting the viewer to look at artworks in terms of their relationship to context.

    Six rooms embodied six distinct installation styles, the works all drawn from the Center’s Rivendell collection (works rang­ing from the

  • Alice Neel

    Without being doctrinaire, Alice Neel always acted on the principle, insisted upon by some feminist theoreticians, that a woman artist should emphasize the personal. This emphasis in her work derives not so much from an autobiographical subtext as from the work’s persistent emphasis on specific subjects: it is grounded in the concrete, and imbued with the authenticity of things seen in her daily life.

    The works in this show, “The Years in Spanish Harlem 1938–1961,” are from a period that followed a suicidal depression in Neel’s life, and, perhaps because of this they demonstrate an uncanny sense

  • “Rolywholover, A Circus”

    When he died two years ago, John Cage was heavily engaged in working out “Rolywholyover, A Circus” in conjunction with Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporay Art curator Julie Lazar. It would be easy to look on it as his final legacy, or final broad gesture anyway. Cage’s revolutionary spirit is reflected in the show’s main title, taken from Finnegans Wake, with its implication of a revaluation of all values; the subtitle “A Circus” holds out the promise of high jinks in a usually solemn place.

    This traveling exhibition, opening at the Guggenheim in New York this month, is divided into three areas.

  • Georg Baselitz

    Georg Baselitz’s painting has acquired a new, drawing-based style in which the physicality of the painted line is emphasized by simply squeezing the paint from the tube and leaving it in unbrushed, toothpastelike squiggles. Hoch Habsburg (High Habsburg, 1992) shows a dark, near-black ground—a loose allover array activated by mostly white, curvilinear lines. Gundel, 1992, redeploys the familiar Baselitz motif of a crudely gridded, very loosely painted ground with only the suggestion of a human head. The figure, which began so firmly in Baselitz’s work, was then subjected to various subversive

  • Joe Overstreet

    Joe Overstreet has been a Modernist painter for 35 years. In the late ’50s and early ’60s he made Color Field paintings which, despite their skill and focus, did not gain wide recognition. At the time, in the white community, it was not regarded as appropriate for African-American artists to practice abstraction, which was seen as the special sign of white civilization and its supposed superiority. This dismissal is ironic, given that a major thread of African-American art has been the continuing practice of abstract painting by artists such as Overstreet, Sam Gilliam, and Frank Bowling, who

  • Nicola De Maria

    Among the familiar approaches to abstract art—the decorative, the metaphysical, and the Minimalist—the decorative has long been regarded as the least substantial. It is also the least theorized. The metaphysical abstractionist is viewed as conveying information from or intimations about other ontological realms. The Minimalist is doing the exact opposite, attempting to show materiality in all possible directness without any metaphysical overlay. But what does the decorative abstractionist do? Make wallpaper or wrapping paper designs? When Barnett Newman’s first solo show was received as “

  • Donna Moylan

    For several years Donna Moylan’s work has expanded its investigations of the image in several directions at once. The eleven new paintings shown here, all from 1993, seem to focus on one of these directions in order to push it to its very limit. Moylan’s other threads—such as the painting Substance, 1989—are valuable and one hopes they reemerge some day, but at the moment it is a pleasure to watch her perfect her layering of multiple levels of imagery among which there are subtly shifting relationships. This is perhaps her central mode, one which novelist Alberto Moravia, in a rare foray into

  • “Dream Singers, Story Tellers”

    Organized by Allison Weld of the New Jersey State Museum and Sadao Serikawa of the Fukui Fine Arts Museum in Japan, this exhibition had already been seen in three Japanese museums before it opened in Trenton. “Dream Singers, Story Tellers: An African-American Presence” eschewed inherited hard-and-fast categories in favor of seven somewhat vaguer headings, such as “The Suggested Image” and “The Constructed Image.” From Norman Lewis to Joe Overstreet, the Harlem Renaissance–derived tradition of African-American abstract painting (which has historically had a primarily black audience) is intermingled