Thomas McEvilley

  • Double Vision in Space City: “The Houston School” of Barbara Rose and Susie Kalil; William Camfield’s Houston Artists

    ONCE BEFORE WHEN BARBARA ROSE predicted the future of painting, it was a critical scandal; the least important aspect of it is that her prognostication was way off, at least for the first half of the ’80s. The worst problem with her 1979 show, “American Painting: The Eighties,” may have been not only that Rose saw curatorial prediction as an appropriate, responsible art-historical method, but also that her style of curating involved implicating the artists in her thesis, regardless of sense or consequence. For Rose, as she stated in the catalogue of “The Eighties,” the decades of the ’60s and

  • Kenneth Noland

    Kenneth Noland’s last show here, in 1983, featured tall, irregularly shaped canvases whose areas of color were applied with various types of painterly expressiveness. As much as new explorations, the shapes seemed allusions to Noland’s own earlier work in irregular polygonal shapes; they seemed, in other words, both a post-Modern reference to classical Modernist icons and a self-referential formalist evolution. The dilemma posed by these two types of statement is equally present in the new work, which is both more familiar and more beautiful than the last, though misgivings and ambiguities remain

  • Letters: On “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief: ʻ“Primitivism” in 20th Century Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984”

    To the Editor:

    After years of work on an exhibition, a curator derives a certain satisfaction from a review that attempts to engage the basic issues of his show in a fair-minded way and on a high level of discourse. This is true even when the review is largely negative, as in the case of Thomas McEvilley’s article on The Museum of Modern Art’s “Primitivism” [“Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief,” November 1984]. Most analyses of exhibitions and their books fall away and are soon forgotten. McEvilley’s could be one that becomes part of the history of the event it addresses. I hope, therefore, that he will

  • Markus Lüpertz

    These 26 paintings on canvas by Markus Lüpertz constitute a kind of mini-retrospective, including works from 1970, 1976, 1980, 1981, and 1984. Though Lüpertz is inevitably associated with the current German neo-Expressionists, his case is not that simple. His post-Modernist, trans-avantgardist gestures show an art-historical subtlety beyond the stronger and more directly expressionistic work of, say, Georg Baselitz. The series “Alice im Wunderland,” 1981, of which 12 pieces were exhibited here, contains overt references to classical Cubism in the shape and size of the canvases as well as in

  • Iris Rose

    No one tames the Pyramid club like Iris Rose. She is famous here, and rightly. Audiences used to constant playing about sit still and watch and listen intently. As she did in her House of Jahnke, 1983, in Camden Rose has taken for her subject a news story of violent crime within the American family—the story of a woman in Camden, New Jersey, who drowned her four children in the Cooper River. Rose’s texts, at once intelligent, compassionate, and clever, frame such events within a relentless net of ambient conditions which makes them appear almost inevitable. Her people are real, but they are not

  • Larry Kurowski

    This laid-back neighborhood space has had high moments before. Last August saw a free art event here almost every night, and in May a select group, who will not soon forget their karma, saw the completely straight text of the medieval play Everyman performed with all sincerity in the garden. The installation of kinetic sculpture by Larry Kurowski was another high point. Nine large pieces made entirely of 1-by-2-inch pine boards and small, unconcealed rotary motors filled and activated the space extraordinarily.

    The largest piece, called Movement Room, contains eight sets of eight motorized

  • Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief

    SOMETHING, CLEARLY, IS AFOOT. Richard Oldenburg, director of the institution here, describes one of its publications and the exhibition it accompanies, both titled “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern,” as “among the most ambitious ever prepared by The Museum of Modern Art.” “Over the years,” he continues, “this Museum has produced several exhibitions and catalogues which have proved historically important and influential, changing the ways we view the works presented, answering some prior questions and posing new ones.”1 Indeed, this is an important event.

  • Ellsworth Kelly

    For years it seemed that one could always recognize Ellsworth Kelly’s work, but with this show he surprised. As Kelly’s work did of old, these 14 “Works In Wood” explore an ambiguous area between sculpture and painting, but now from the other direction: once the paintings were sculptural, now the sculptures remind us of paintings. Most are upright, of highly sanded and lightly stained planks varying from 6 to 12 feet in height, in fine woods such as teak and mahogany and more mundane woods such as maple and red oak. Each Is gently sculpted by bowing one or both sides slightly in or out. Some

  • Tehching Hsieh, Linda Montano

    From 6 P.M. on July 4, 1983, until 6 P.M. on July 4, 1984, Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano were tied together continuously with an 8-foot rope which passed loosely around their waists and was sealed at each end. Their intention was not to touch each other except accidentally—about 60 brush-bys and one brief hug by Montano occurred during the year. They slept in separate beds a few feet apart. When one showered, the other waited outside the door, but aside from this they were never in separate rooms. Both remained celibate for the duration.The piece, entitled Art/Life One Year Performance, was

  • Norman Tuck

    Norman Tuck showed four kinetic sculptures of considerable range and wit. In the smallest, Magnetic Attractions, 1984, a paper clip maintained in mid air at the end of a red thread by the pull of a magnet, the movement is surreptitious; one sees the activity of the magnetic field with uncanny clarity, sensing its pull, the extent of its muscle, and the transforming nature of its embrace. The simplicity of the piece relates it to Minimalism as the mental deduction involved relates it to conceptual work. At an opposite extreme of force and feeling is Chain Reaction, 1984, in which the viewer works

  • Francis Bacon

    Francis Bacon’s new paintings demonstrate again his secure mastery of a by-now-familiar vocabulary, and yet, with the artist aged 75, still strike new notes. Bacon’s position seems toweringly high at this moment. Through the ages of abstraction and minimalism he remained one of the very few representational painters about whom even dedicated formalists could feel good. Now the forefront of things has caught up with him, in both his quoting—of Cimabue, Van Gogh, Velázquez, Ingres, and of photographic images—and his kind of exploration of space. The opposition between the illusionistic,

  • “An Australian Accent”

    This show of works by three Australian painters not seen in this country before was right on the issues of the moment; it made one wonder how much intelligent and mature international painting goes relatively unseen here. The post-Modern concern with mediating surface and depth—terms that can be applied to both painted space and the sense of self—is a basic and well-understood ingredient of much of this art. Mike Parr’s large horizontal works on paper address the dilemma directly. Each features on its left side a representational charcoal self-portrait of the artist in a reifying context of deep

  • Pina Bausch

    While Pina Bausch’s work is consistently surprising, it is not altogether unpredictable. The four works seen here in their New York premieres—The Rite of Spring, 1975, Café Müller, 1978, Bluebeard, 1977, and 1980, 1980—all deal with the ancient motif of “Death and the maiden,” or the Persephone myth. In addition, all exhibit a Wagnerian leisure in making their points, and making them again and again, till all meaning the artist has access to has been wrung out of them; meanwhile, the intensity of concentration rises in an almost demonic arc. Still, in other ways the four works are entirely

  • “Mail Art Then and Now”

    In the primeval days of mail art, when, in about 1962, Ray Johnson was founding the New York Correspondence School and Ed Higgins was beginning the tradition that would lead, by about 1966, to the Fluxpost, mail art was conceived as having to do with Dada. It was the enemy of the gallery system; it decried all canons of taste and all attempts by would-be critics to establish themselves as arbiters of taste. Such independence was based on the unique stage on which mail art was seen as taking place: opening the mail was the exhibition, and the mail, of course, rejects nothing that is dropped in

  • “ON THE MANNER OF ADDRESSING CLOUDS”

    It was when I said,

    “There is no such thing as the truth,”

    That the grapes seemed fatter.

    The fox ran out of his hole.


    —Wallace Stevens1

    “The Plot against the Giant,” or, “The Good Man Has No Shape”

    TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED years ago the form-content relationship was a heated philosophical question. Plato thought that content didn’t matter at all: form, he said, really exists by itself, triumphant in its isolation, crystalline as a dawn light that will never be stained by the heat of a morning. Aristotle, after twenty years in Plato’s school, still had a nagging suspicion that the doctrine of

  • Robert Irwin

    Two pieces erected last year by Robert Irwin will probably come to be regarded as among his best work. The piece in Seattle, Nine Spaces, Nine Trees, is located on a small, previously empty plaza on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Cherry Street; it interferes, though mildly, with access from the street to one of the main entrances of the nearby Public Safety Building. Irwin subdivided the approximately square plaza into nine smaller squares, each 22 by 22 feet, and placed at the center of each a square concrete planter which also provides seating. In each planter is a flowering purple plum

  • Peter Schuyff

    Peter Schuyff’s carefully worked neo-Surrealist paintings are immediately attractive in traditional Modernist ways; they almost look naive—pre-Bomb—in their apparently sincere acceptance of esthetic canon. This 25-year-old Dutch-born painter, now working in New York, has produced large and small canvases and works on paper on canvas that are deeply involved in the activity of quoting but at the same time have their own integrity. Indefinite, loosely worked grounds in one or two colors are floatingly inhabited by bone- and shell-like biomorphic abstract shapes which immediately recall many images

  • Stelarc

    In 1970 Stelarc began a series of performance pieces based on the themes of levitation and the obsolescence of the physical body. These involved suspending himself by ropes and harnesses from wooden frameworks and helium balloons. Dissatisfied with these works because his body was supported by external structures, he found his true métier in 1976, when he began the series called “Stretched Skin Suspensions.” He has performed these pieces about twenty times, mostly in Japan, where he lives, and where his work attracts little attention and thus little intervention. A “Stretched Skin Suspension”

  • Eleanor Antin, “'El Desdichado' (The Unlucky One)”

    For this performance Eleanor Antin installed elaborate sets, fit for a theatrical production, and, with the help of hooded “puppeteers” moving two-dimensional cut-out cardboard figures, played a role she has been presenting since 1972—a dispossessed medieval king wandering more like Don Quixote than like Gérard de Nerval’s Desdichado of the title. Various picaresque adventures unfolded, including the witnessing of hangings, stories of rape, seduction by a princess, and finally the Quest (as de rigueur in medieval allegories as the chase in action films). Only Antin spoke, though for many