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