William Wilson

  • Biology 101 invades Art History 407. The canary graduates, with flying colors.

    PITY THE SEA SLUG APLYSIA, famous in biological circles for its predictability, manipulability, and naiveté. Poke an Aplysia in the side and it’ll withdraw its gill (whether in terror or in pique, it’s impossible to say); poke it every twenty seconds or so for several minutes and the animal, on to the game, stops cringing. Now pat it just once on its little head or its little flipper—a new stimulus—and you’ll find the gill-withdrawal reflex is back in full force. Biologists call this phenomenon habituation. As sensory experiences go, habituation is fairly complex, believed to involve not only

  • the return of an endangered species—the artist's model.

    IN 1907, IN THE New York Herald, a woman named Charlotte Eaton wrote, “I was hopelessly lonely and forlorn—yea, worse. I was hungry, unable to get anything to do because of inexperience, and at the end of my tether. So one day—it came to me like a flash! An artists' model! Why not? I knew myself in possession of a strong and shapely physique, and that gave me courage” Has a familiar ring, wouldn't you say? Probably just how Veruschka felt. Ditto those guys body-snatched by Bruce Weber, one by one, from lifeguard stands and water polo teams all across the country.

    From the beginning, the model

  • Courrèges in a snit. Sprouse in a spot. St. Laurent in an art book.

    “THE MANNEQUIN LOOKS LIKE a filling station attendant in a room at the Ritz. . . . She is a peach, an apple. . . . She is a modern girl who has journeyed through ancient Sparta!” The year is 1965, the place is Paris, the speaker is Violette Leduc, leftist intellectual and best-selling author now on assignment for Vogue, and the subject is a fashion show. Not just any fashion show, though: this one belongs to André Courrèges, the man who—and it’s 20 years ago, remember—is determined to revolutionize haute couture, to usher it into the space age, to blur forever the distinction between socialite

  • Richard Avedon, Sam Shepard, Joan Didion, and the pull of the American West.

    “THERE'S NO SUCH THING as the West anymore! It’s a dead issue!” says Austin, the successful, the socialized of two feuding (and screenwriting) brothers in Sam Shepard’s play True West. What Austin means is that the old romantic myths have been exhausted, that while it’s still possible to “camp out on the desert” and “talk to cactus” the experience won’t lead to much in the way of adventure or of new frontiers.

    Apparently nobody told Richard Avedon. For five consecutive summers he trekked through 17 Western states, Kansas to California, Montana to Texas, “going to truck stops, stockyards, walking

  • Store Days

    Store Days By Claes Oldenburg. Something Else Press, Illus., Color, 152 Pages, 1967.

    The writings of Claes Oldenburg printed in Store Days consist of fragments, notes, philosophical observations, and scripts, dating from the Store of 1961 and the Ray Gun Theater of 1962. As he sketches his ideas, Oldenburg does not outline a coherent theory so much as he suggests an attitude toward theory. He thinks abstractly: “I operate, idea-wise, far above the ground,” but he counters the abstractions with an earthy factualness: “I have a compulsion . . . to relate myself to what is on the ground” (62). An

  • Vasa

    A promising first sortie into striped box-making. The majority of pieces are rectangular solids. Their major virtue is an impeccable glassy surface. No one in the spray-booth set, has to my knowledge, refined their finish to this pitch. Vasa has, in most cases, used colors that reflect our technological society. They look okay but his departures into subtler, more refined hues strike one as being more comfortably his own.

    Much of the work fails to dramatize dimensional character. Vasa has been a painter up to now and he has understandably conceived his work like one accustomed to composing in

  • Bruce Beasley

    Vanguard esthetics have already marked Beasley’s sculpture with time––but such observations dodge the issue of quality. Most individual pieces offer considerable satisfaction. They are like fragments of a mechanical wreckage imprinted with qualities of movement, impact and fusion by heat. These violent suggestions are tempered by a graceful linearity which leads one to such chimerical descriptions as: “powerfully refined” or “tasteful candor.” The work is ultimately easy and ingratiating. An over-all view of the cast pieces and jointed reliefs (also cast) suggests that the artist, rather than

  • Hardy Hansen

    About fifty small drawings, paintings and lithographs represent the University of Southern California teacher. He uses an incredibly fine and closely-woven warp of lines to create atmospheric fog. The emergent subjects are sometimes pure structure, more often emblematic heads in heraldic devil or skull shapes.

    Titles like “Aging Don Juan” or “Holy One” signal Hansen’s affinity for Paul Klee. His mild religious satire is amusing but sometimes detracts from the work’s abstract polish. He has learned admirable pictorial subtlety—perhaps from his teacher Josef Albers—but when it is translated into

  • Edward Ruscha

    This artist has abandoned pictures of letters that turn into numbers for paintings of giant birds that turn into pencils. Without searching for meanings one can respond enthusiastically to the humor of the pictures. But if they are funny it is not because they are entertainment. Their implied depths are often grim, tantalizing and suggestive. Birds, which have been turning up often as subject matter in recent months, are potent if ambiguous symbols. For Morris Graves they have been religious, others have seen them standing for a free, untrammeled masculine ego. Birds are odd. They combine delicacy

  • “William Blake And His Circle”

    William Blake (1757–1827) lived in modest obscurity, mostly in London, making illustrated editions of his own poetry. Although his influence wasn’t marked until mid-nineteenth century he did inspire admiration among contemporary artists. It is to him, his generation and those slightly older that the present exhibition is devoted.

    Actually there are two exhibitions. One of independent drawings, etchings and woodcuts, another of Blake’s books. Blake’s ideas and meanings are obscure and allegorical. They have been widely discussed and disputed by scholars, for Blake valued ambiguity. Easy

  • James Gill

    This artist was brought to notoriety by his painting of Marilyn Monroe. It seemed, with its smile frozen into a scream, prophetic of her absurd death. Gill has had an unusual sensitivity to the problems of the private individual as a public figure, painting ghostly television images or wiggy-type girls in cars in the flickering, horroresque syntax of Francis Bacon.

    Gill may be seen as sustaining the problems of his actors—too much public exposure too soon. His earlier works were done in rubbed crayon and despite their virtues of imagery and anecdote they were flatly lacking in material knowledge.

  • “Myth and Man in Primitive Art”

    Examples of African and Oceanic art drawn from museums and private collections combine in an exhibition of significant quality. The small gallery encompasses an initially bewildering variety of masks, figures, suspension hooks, drums, gaming boards, cosmetic dishes and spoons.

    Eventually one begins to piece out distinctive varieties of styles. There is the smooth black polish of the Baule, whose bearded princes and kings have the posture and dignity of ancient Egypt. This handsome Ivory Coast people, we are told, are the only African tribe to have made objects for pure esthetic enjoyment.

    A mask

  • “Plane and Real”

    This is a mounting of ingenious and theatrical experiments by UCLA professors Gordon Nunes and Jan Stussy. The impression of rhetorical academicism that is created by the mannikin figures which dominate the exhibition is extremely unfortunate for there are good works in the show, but they are the smaller two-dimensional objects.

    Dozens of dummys’ heads are painted, sliced, decorated, punctured and broken. Full mannikin figures are covered with stretched canvas to produce sculptural effects. The only feeling we derive from them is a strained mannerism. Nunes and Stussy have both previously

  • Jack Zajac

    For some reason contemporary sculptors have had remarkable success in maintaining their individuality. While in painting it is difficult to think of an important artist without immediately associating him with a movement, style or progeny, our leading sculptors—Giacometti, Moore and Lipchitz, for example, leave enormous spaces about themselves.

    If Jack Zajac does not quite yet belong in the same room with them, it is equally true that none of them deserve to share quarters with the others. They demand to be taken singly if for no other reason that they have subverted contemporary historicism.

  • Donald Lewallen

    This debut one-man showing was more than usually marked by characteristics exposing the artist in a state of search. The search, in this case, is less bent on finding ways and means than in plumbing for a coherent view of the self.

    Lewallen has means in hand. There is no question that he can draw, compose and color. The mechanism is complete, the question is where to drive it. The exhibition steered various directions. One group of work mounted cut-up dolls on boards along with other bits of flotsam. The whole, painted grey, made odd effects of atmosphere and soft powdery drawing, creating

  • Hector Gonzalez and Wilbur Haynie

    Gonzalez’s pictures look like Indian tapestries produced under the influence of Adolph Gottlieb. Mainly monochromes crammed with pictographic symbols stained into the canvas fabric, they are both sophisticated and tasteful as decor. As to their meaning—one does eventually read through their fabric-design surface to persistent either or symbols. Whether these denote I-Thou, He-She, or Yin-Yang, is problematical. At any rate such compulsive tendencies as prompt us to search all art for meaning leave us, in this case, vaguely embarrassed—as if we had foolishly expected a lovely Vogue model to

  • Harry Lachman

    This art has the same quality of surprise as one might sustain upon seeing Adolph Menjou walking today in Place Vendome. It manages to put the viewer, rather than the painter out of time. Lachman is a survival of Impressionism. They say he was convinced of it in his youth and has stuck to his plein-air easel at Someplace-sur-Seine despite all shocks of art-bombs going off in Paris. Remarkable tenacity for a man to remain so dedicated to Impressionism while its rascally inventors went off at odd angles. Lachman continues to record an endless full blown summer afternoon in specks of color. These

  • Larry Rivers

    Larry Rivers concocts brilliance. Half-a-dozen unforgettable paintings stud his thirteen-year career. But nothing he has painted equals the guile with which he has painted it. Rivers’ artful dodges signal the triumph of craftiness over craft.

    Nervous, shifting, ambitious paintings evoke shades of artists whose drive surmounted severe limitations—Courbet, Manet, Gauguin. Rivers’ early variation on Courbet’s Funeral at Ornans scarcely resembles it but it does indicate the spiritual bond between the two revolutionaries. Today Courbet’s revolt seems simple. He struck a firm about-face posture as a

  • Jess Collins, Judy Gerowitz, Irving Petlin, Robert Indiana, George Herms, Lowell Nesbitt, Lynn Foulkes, and Lloyd Hamrol

    This group show introduced a couple of new people to the gallery’s regular stable. With few exceptions it proves how much more satisfying contemporary artists are when seen individually. It sets one to wondering if the bad old days of the masterpiece and the tour-de-force are altogether gone.

    Robert Indiana comes as close as anyone to giving a work that is all his work compounded. An enormous yellow and black format in form of a fat “X” strikes us as more fruitful than all his recent number pictures added up. Each segment of the work contains a circle divided horizontally. In the top half of each

  • Joan Miro

    A brief but significantly fine selection of gouaches and drawings by the Spanish Surrealist defy commentary both because of the extensive writings on him and the assertive mastery of most of the works.

    The sheets touch major periods between 1934–1960. Characteristic wise-child forms and ominous humor are already reflected in Sandpaper Collage (1934) which shows vestigial interest in Analytic Cubism, while Graphism-Poeme (1953) manifests a wildness that may represent an exchange of influence between him and the art brut of Jean Dubuffet.

    Four small pen drawings look like those master scribbles