Thomas McEvilley

  • Pat Steir

    For her installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Pat Steir had the movable interior walls taken out and the permanent surrounding walls painted with a dilute solution of India ink that was then wiped away. The resulting feathery or windblown-looking gray ground received, from the hands of Steir herself and of several coworkers, about 140 images of human facial features drawn with black Conté crayon and oilstick. These images were adopted from various books ranging in date from the 17th to the 19th centuries, mostly books about how to draw human anatomy. The installation’s title,

  • Jo Baer

    Not the least interesting thing about abstract art for the last ten years or so has been the powerful aura of taboo that has surrounded it, replacing the hypnotic appeal of the sublime that it once radiated. Recently artists have approached it armed with apotropaic utterances denying their complicity in their own action. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the last halcyon days before the taboo, the Minimalist abstract paintings of Jo Baer were among the most hypnotic. They were one of the last convincing expressions of the abstract sublime in the Minimalist mode. The blank white triptychs with

  • William Anastasi

    William Anastasi, like Jo Baer, has also found a way to exorcise the demon of abstraction while backing into its charismatic domain. The four large paintings shown here consist of abstract allover grounds on each of which appear the outlines of several successive letters of a word from the first page of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939). These works are the beginning of a series that Anastasi calls “bababad,” taking the first seven letters of Joyce’s word as his title. Part onomatopoeia and part complex pun, this 100-letter word is understood, in Joyce’s mythology as interpreted by Joseph


    FAITH IN ABSTRACT ART has been in crisis for the last two decades or so, after a period of generations in which its potential and leadership in painting and sculpture ran more or less unquestioned. While a number of serious artists have remained just as committed to abstraction as ever, in general it has seemed that its deep reasons for being have been sucked out of it, leaving only the abstract style. A recent revival of the practice of abstraction, in fact, comes with the same cover story as much contemporary nonabstract art, the notion that this is not the genuine article but a critical


    LAST SUMMER, THE 1986 Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography decided where it stood and published a report saying so. This article began as a response to that report. More and more, the idea of the forbidden image, and of how it relates to art history, to social history, and, inevitably, to social problems, came to the fore.

    The word “pornography” is ancient Greek in origin, meaning, literally, the depiction of the activities of prostitutes. These would mostly have been sexual acts, but more generalized scenes of revelry might also have been included, and since in the ancient world houses

  • Biennale of Sydney

    The sixth Biennale of Sydney, curated, as was the fourth, by Nick Waterlow, brought to Australia works by artists from 21 countries, including Chile, Cuba, India, and Papua New Guinea. About 25 percent of the participating artists were women. Four Australian aboriginal artists were represented, as was an aboriginal performance group whose work is based on tribal rituals. The fairly wide representation of women and ethnic minorities reflected a desire to be socially as well as artistically true to the overall theme of this massive exhibition, which was Post-Modernism, and attempts to foresee what

  • The Common Air

    Our English host was gracious

    We were soon at ease;

    Or almost:

    The servants

    Were watching.

    —Gieve Patel, Evening

    It took me a long time to see that de Kooning was not merely undisciplined.

    —Bikash Bhattacharjee

    THE IDEA OF INDIA IS like an immense dark space in our imagination: we feel it lying hiding in a part of our minds where we store things too big and “other” to absorb—in the unconscious, or in that shadowy area of consciousness in which we relate to concepts like infinity, outer space, the sublime, or the underworld. For thousands of years, Westerners seeking something unknown and unnamable

  • Barbara Kruger

    Barbara Kruger showed 15 new works here. In most of them she continued to combine greatly enlarged found photographs and verbal messages, often feminist in context, designed in a variety of typefaces. Some look pasted together, like ransom notes. “We are your elaborate holes,” is the statement angled across a photograph of a golf ball just passing the cup. “Promise us anything but give us nothing,” is the message over a huge photograph of what may be crumpled foil gift-wrapping. In Roy Toy, 1986, the phrase “Make my day” accompanies the image of a cheetah tearing raw flesh; a small photograph

  • Nancy Spero

    Here, Nancy Spero showed several works from 1985, including Skygoddess, a large work on paper that extended along three walls of the gallery; four smaller mixed media pieces; and one earlier work, Monsters, 1984. All of these were monoprints on rectangular pieces of paper joined into either horizontal or vertical series. Spero has zinc plates made from her drawings of found images, which are largely taken from the early history of art, but also sometimes from the contemporary mass media. She applies acrylic paint to the plates, and presses them by hand onto her papers. The figures are usually


    CONTEMPORARY ART IS NOT traditionally shown in the Museo di Capodimonte. Its splendid, even imperial setting high above the city of Naples, as well as the opulence of its permanent exhibition halls, an environment of gilded sedan chairs and Rococo mirrors that houses a magnificent collection of Trecento and Late Renaissance paintings, is fitting for the last show—the death show, in effect—of Joseph Beuys. (This show, organized by Lucio Amelio, Beuys’ longtime dealer and friend in Naples, is the second contemporary-art exhibition to be held at the museum in recent times, both produced by the

  • Futura 2000

    Here, Futura 2000 showed 12 paintings that were all very similar in type. In each, brightly colored circles cover the ground in an allover pattern of almost equal density everywhere. According to the gallery handout, these circles were to represent gears, planets, time, and musical notation, or an “X ray [of] the mainspring of the cosmos.” Such cosmic intentions went well enough with the sublime Abstract Expressionist “allover” styles of thirty years ago, but Futura 2000’s post-Abstract Expressionist doodlings are too lightweight, too plainly decorative and predictable, to convincingly convey

  • Jannis Kounellis

    In this gallery on Mount Lycavettos, one of the few galleries for contemporary art in Greece, Jannis Kounellis installed a massive L-shaped stone wall, 9 by 60 by 18 feet, that reached from floor to ceiling and incorporated into its shorter limb the upright beam of a large wooden crucifix. The stones, rough and irregular in shape, were quarried in the neighborhood of Marathon, near Athens. About one third of them had been partially dipped in black paint, then randomly incorporated in the building process so that in some cases the black part of the stone showed and in others it did not. On the

  • Ann McCoy

    Ann McCoy’s artworks seem to be finished products, self-sufficient in their objecthood; yet they would more accurately be described as traces of a process that is itself the real work. Her images are generally found or borrowed—from Egyptian tomb paintings, Greco-Roman mystery religions, alchemical texts and illustrations, and so on-but not in the usual Post-Modem sense of quotation or appropriation. They present themselves to the artist’s attention through an ancient process that theologians have called incubation: a controlled use of sleeping to obtain dream images of special relevance to

  • “Contemporary Indian Art”

    This exhibition, curated by Thomas W. Sokolowski, presented a small selection from the Chester and Davida Herwitz Family Collection, which, although there are still regrettable omissions in it (such as the absence of works by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and Paramjit Singh), is the world’s premier collection of contemporary Indian art.

    The works exhibited ranged over what is becoming a canonical view of the history of contemporary art in India. The older generation was represented by the vernacular scrolls of jamini Roy, the quasi-tantric abstractions of Syed Haider Raza, and the photographed billboards

  • Spuren, Skulpturen und Monumente ihrer präzisen Reise

    Museum exhibitions have traditionally been based on some concept of sameness: works are gathered together either because they were made by the same artist or by artists from the same school, period, or country, or because they manifest the same theme, style, politics, or some other selective slice of sameness from the world of differences roundabout. The more venturesome shows often arouse a suspicion that the criterion of choice has created an impression of orderly sameness where another might have pointed as emphatically to difference. Yet curators, who are generally more involved in promoting

  • Will it last: does it matter?

    THE QUESTION WILL IT LAST? is being asked about art a lot lately. After a period when it was not heard so much, it has been revived as a consequence of the resurgence of the medium for which claims of eternal value have traditionally been made—the painting on canvas.

    A painting on canvas is said to have a life expectancy of only about 500 years. This is a fact we don’t think about much: in attributing an eternal or quasi-eternal validity to a painting we are obviously not saying something concrete about the future of the work as a physical object but something about our feelings toward it at the

  • ASK · NOT · WHAT

    “THAT’S NOT MY FACE,” the man would say, standing in front of the mirror and feeling his cheeks with his hands.1 The era was the early ’60s, and the speaker was not Frankenstein’s monster but the president of the United States, John F Kennedy. Several years earlier he had been treated for Addison’s disease with injections of steroids, which had caused his thin face to round out and gain the handsome fullness that made it so impressive. Truly, it was not his face; it was a face that had been molded not only by pharmaceuticals but by the chemical baths in which beholder and beheld are swirled

  • Giulio Paolini

    From framing a can of paint in 1961 to framing his signature in 1973, Giulio Paolini has encompassed most of the basic moves of Conceptual art and arte povera. But his special concern has always been the validity of the image, which has often taken the form of conceptual installations incorporating fragments of plaster casts of classical sculptures with overt references to the Renaissance and the idea of perspective. In general the subject of his work is Platonism, the idea complex involving an ideal mind-realized order that is mathematically precise and at the same time absolutely beautiful

  • “The Amasis Painter and His World”

    This is a case in which the critic must talk more about the historic significance of the exhibition than about the work exhibited.

    In ancient and primitive cultures artists did not sign their works, and the profession of painter or sculptor or whatever was usually an inherited one and socially indistinguishable from crafts like harness-making or blacksmithing. An artist was taught the canon of his tradition, and the idea of personal innovation was antithetical. In other words, art did not involve the element of self-expression that for us has been its sine qua non.

    In Greece in the 6th century BC

  • Alberto Giacometti

    This was a major show of works by an artist who, although dead 20 years, is very relevant today in context of the return of figuration and calculated angst. In Alberto Giacometti’s classic paintings of his wife Annette and his brother Diego, the figures are sharply attenuated. They melt into their backgrounds, hidden in swirling lines that do not quite coalesce into faces or postures, their identities uncertain; yet their presence as living realities in the artist’s mind—and in the viewer’s—is nevertheless undeniable. The work expresses a kind of elementary existential questioning of human