New York

Wayne Nowack

Stone Gallery

If you can imagine a gangbang which includes the following persons—Rorschach, Cornell, Bauermeister, Ernst, Schwitters, Currier and Ives and Altdorfer—then perhaps you already have an inkling of the festivities tatted up in Wayne Nowack’s boxes. These assemblages of the past two years tend to be small and, since under glass, purportedly precious. But they never get beyond what they are made of—jumbled compositions of side-show detritus, celluloid toys, children’s games, magnifying lenses, steel engravings, Victoriana, religious talismans, magazine illustrations and a vast supply of tacky fragments gathered helter-skelter from an unstinting cornucopia.

In addition to the boxes Nowack has included several small paintings (1963–64) which do little more than corroborate the degree to which Nowack’s sensibility was formulated along conventional Surrealist lines—Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Heinrich Campendonck. Admittedly Nowack is guilty of a kind of blind and primitive heroism. One would have thought that this kind of dainty and manicured home industry had been at last obviated by the triumph of Cornell. Certainly, he, at this moment in American esthetics at least, is about the only artist who can create in a disciplined way within the sphere of the boxed construction. Inevitably, all comparisons from the very outset must be invidious. Not that Nowack aims at the spare poetry of Cornell. Far from it. Nowack is a Second Empire patissier for whom the faculty of knowing when to stop simply does not exist. And this extreme is a position that has been occupied by Ernst’s celebrated Lady of a Hundred Heads for more than forty years.

As might have been anticipated, Nowack further vitiates his claims with sententious literary queries. “What is But What Has Been?” “How Many Golden Apples lie Hidden in the Eye of the Deep Forest Pool?” The truth is that Nowack’s constructions do not interrogate us at all, despite the evidence of their titles, and all the abundant sentimental jetsam of these constructions appear to be so much purple piffle.

Robert Pincus-Witten