PRINT December 1996

Jeff Weinstein


Many artists showed engaging, inventive, even beautiful work this year. And much of it was in a consolidating mode, moving both individual oeuvres and the “artanschauung” slowly along. In an environment as sober as this, the best must stick out like a sore thumb, and this year it hitched a ride to somewhere far from the art world: “VISIONS OF SPACE & UFOS IN ART” at American Primitive Gallery. What do the paintings, drawings, and sculptures of these, almost twenty, contemporary artists have in common? First, a representational impulse: they depict flying saucers, alien encounters, scenes from outer space. The best of the artists, Romanian-born lonel Talpazon, manipulates thick paint in ways most would envy; employs muddy and bloody pigments to make the results speak equally of analytical curiosity and abductee fear; and evinces a singular expressionistic style that avoids making his artist self his art. In other words, his work, like most of the work in this show, is steeped in belief far outside magazine covers and gallery walls.


And what must the curator of an omnibus group show believe? Surely in interpretive critique, in a show’s ability to plant at least one fertilizing proposal in numerous receptive eyes. When big shows fail, they do so for depressingly conventional reasons: too wide a selection, too many mediocre or atypical works, an entropic randomness that no catalogue essay can explain. Yet so rarely do surveys fail for all these reasons (and more!) that when one does, it must be given 1996’s big thumbs-down. Need I name the effort? Of course, it’s the one with the tepid late Malevich, unconvincing Richard Longs, and buried Eva Hesses; the one with the inexplicable, sometimes deadening juxtapositions; the one with the uncontextualized inclusions (Frankenthaler) and exclusions (LeWitt); the one with the truly revolting, command-performance Frank Stella. No curatorial belief other than “fill the space” was visible in “ABSTRACTION IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: TOTAL RISK, FREEDOM, DISCIPLINE,” curated on this planet by Mark-Rosenthal at the Guggenheim Museum.

Jeff Weinstein is a writer and critic who contributes regularly to Artforum.