reviews

  • Lester Johnson

    Martha Jackson Gallery

    Lester Johnson showed a large number of recent paintings at the Martha Jackson Gallery that bug me. It’s not because they are representational either, since the real tension is not so much between representational and pure painterly values as between fine art and an almost historicizing kind of funkiness. Let me explain. There are obvious similarities with Léger, including crowds of city people with tubular limbs and bowler hats, and even an attitude toward the figure as a manipulable mannequin. Yet there is an embraced clumsiness in the assembly of groups and a deliberate spatial inconsistency

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  • Yvonne Rainer

    Theater for The New City

    While the depersonalization of event into ordered sequence has been part of the formal history of dance since Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer’s recent performance, This is a story of a woman who . . . attempts to reintegrate narrative into dance. Although much of her earlier work,including Part of some Sextets, 1965, and Trio A: The Mind is a Muscle, 1966, explored systematic movement and gymnastic physical activities, her pieces have often involved references to psychological and sexual states, either as spontaneous reaction or stylized expression. Since 1969, culminating in this performance and the

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  • Barry Le Va

    Bykert Gallery downtown

    Barry Le Va’s work 12 to 3: Ends Touch-ends Cut (Zig-zag end over end), seems an interesting case of chaos and coherence, as if a metaphor for putting a construct on the world. The work is materially uncountable inch/half-inch sections cut from a 1 1/4” wooden dowel, all over the rough uneven floor of the new Bykert downtown gallery. It looks like a late ’60s scatter piece. However, the work is obviously the product of a system, and the fact of a system can be inferred from the work. But, grasping what system is determining the placement of dowel sections on the floor is extremely difficult.

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  • John Cage

    Columbia University

    A sixtieth-birthday retrospective concert of the works of John Cage was given by the Performers’ Committee for Twentieth-Century Music at Columbia University on March 7th. Cage’s music has always been pertinent to art, partly because it is the output of an esthetician as much as of a musician, and partly because, like Rauschenberg’s painting, it relates to both Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, that is to visual styles. Cage’s concept of chance, for instance, operates half out of a Zen-like openness to the accidents of execution and half like a quasi-Dadaistic embrace of preexisting actuality,

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  • Claes Oldenburg

    Knoedler

    Claes Oldenburg showed a group of recent prints at Knoedler’s along with some studies for a few of them. There is a way in which Oldenburg’s drawing style benefits greatly from a kind of lax academicism. The looseness of his crayon line and the happy slosh of his wash just don’t mind looking like homemade fashion illustration. Of course in Oldenburg’s orbit there is every reason to like that idea in its own right. It could even be argued that in his projects for monuments, which monstrify familiar objects, Oldenburg belongs to the advertising tradition of giant-size products. There is a specifically

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  • Auguste Herbin

    Denise René Gallery

    The Denise René Gallery showed late oil paintings and gouaches by Auguste Herbin (1882–1960). Herbin, who had been involved enough in the formative milieu of Cubism to be an inhabitant of the Bateau Lavoir, spent most of his career in a Constructivistic style whose main characteristic is the tight, balanced, asymmetrical disposition of uninflected geometric forms suspended in a drumlike surface tension. He was one of the founders of the group Abstraction-Création in 1931. He was interested in Goethe’s color theory and developed a “Plastic Alphabet” of basic hues matched against geometrical

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  • Ralph Albert Blakelock

    Knoedler

    Ralph Albert Blakelock (1849–1919) is almost as interesting as a phenomenon as his painting is rewarding. A dropout from The City College in 1866 (then The Free Academy), he studied painting on his own and did well enough in an assimilated Hudson River mode to exhibit at the National Academy within a year. Instead of heading for Europe Blakelock went out West, a move perhaps more daring in terms of its resistance to critical views than unreasonable in itself. Thomas Moran had left the Hudson Valley for the West, and Henry James qualified his admiration for one of the resultant landscapes with

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  • Ralston Crawford

    Zabriskie Gallery

    Ralston Crawford, who comes out of the Precisionist movement of the 1930s, had a show of paintings, drawings, photographs, and lithographs at the Zabriskie Gallery. The paintings, dating from the last 20 years, included some convincing examples of a type which, through high-contrast patterning, graphic lines, and ripped forms arrayed in vertical rhythms, manages to become an all-American abstraction that modulates between Stuart Davis and ideas suggestive of Clyfford Still if not even more contemporary painting.

    My guess is that certain features of the objective—if not simply “representational”—Precisionist

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  • Kenzo Okada

    Betty Parsons Gallery

    Kenzo Okada showed 15 recent canvases at the Betty Parsons Gallery. Okada’s art is consciously Eastern, but in its planarity and emphasis on design it is distinctly modern, and in its tonal delicacy, rather contemporary. The Orientalism can be as specific as to use joined canvases in a manner resembling the leaves of an Edo screen. The shallow construction of the composition often proceeds by oblique angling, like oriental isometric perspective; but there is an awareness, in modern terms, of the fact that the same setup can produce a unified and consistent system yet can play actively against

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  • Nassos Daphnis

    Leo Castelli

    Nassos Daphnis exhibited paintings, sculptures, and reliefs dating from 1958 to the present at Leo Castelli’s. The works share a consistent if rather simple late Constructivism which, when sufficiently sustained, acquired a certain timeliness in the ’60s for its hard-edge features. It is significant that a work like 22-59, 1959, a vertical canvas with a cluster of irregularly spaced vertical bands, is only indirectly suggestive of Newman—by way of artists who derive more directly from him. On its own, 22-59 so lacks an expressionistic drive that its intrinsic coolness, precision, and firm control

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  • Trisha Brown

    Sonnabend Gallery

    Narrative is inseparable from the perception of time as a dialectical process—it is impossible to perceive isolated events independent of past events and without anticipation of future ones. Apparently, the only non-narrative situation is simultaneity considered as an abstraction, for any observable simultaneity is a fragment in relation to an enveloping temporal context. The formal aspect of narrative as a perceptual necessity, however, must be isolated from the economic and political uses to which it has been subjected, its apogee being the 19th-century novel. The traditional novel (in fiction

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  • Nancy Holt

    Lo Giudice Gallery

    Nancy Holt’s work over the past few years, investigating aspects of perception—light, space, and focus—has grown steadily more complex. Holt’s pieces fall into two general categories: “locators” and “visual sound zones.” The “locators” are short galvanized steel pipes set at angles or perpendicularly on vertical tubes. They focus on particular shapes or visual sites in the way a window frames a space, connecting the originating focal point where one places one’s eye with the circumscribed area in the distance demarcated by the pipe. Several indoor locators were exhibited in a group show at Weber

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  • Alighiero Boetti

    Weber Gallery

    Alighiero Boetti’s show at Weber consisted of 42 sets of 120 stamped and canceled envelopes, mounted and framed under glass, and filling the large front room of the gallery. Within a 43rd frame, by the elevator doors, the same size as the other 42, was the announcement:

    Untitled—Victoria Boogie-Woogie 1972 5040 Envelopes 35280 Stamps All permutations of seven Italian stamps The letters were mailed by the artist from different cities to himself in Turin

    What interests me in Boetti’s work is not so much that it represents “all permutations” of the relative positions of seven stamps in a horizontal

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  • John Salt

    O.K. Harris

    Looking at John Salt’s paintings at O.K. Harris feels a bit like being a character in Godard’s Weekend. The symptom of feeling like a character in a movie is particularly appropriate to Weekend since the characters in that movie also feel like characters in a movie. The common denominator in the two cases is the presence of persistent automobile wreckage. Probably connotations of the degenerate built-in obsolescence of the capitalist system are the meaning metaphors implicit in Salt as well as in Godard. The case was so overstated in Weekend that however nightmarish the endless flow of wreckage,

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  • Bill Beckley

    John Gibson Gallery

    Bill Beckley’s work at the John Gibson Gallery seemed an example of California “joke art,” even before I learned that Beckley operates out of California. What identifies the work as “California” is the apparent connection with John Baldessari. Generally, Beckley’s work has literary affiliations. One piece, Short Stories for Popsicles, Get Them by the Bunch, consisted of a small refrigerator mounted on the wall, with six wrapped and two unwrapped popsicles inside. The short stories (more accurately “story”—each was an instance of the same story) were printed on the wrappers:

    I am sleeping and I

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  • Ed Moses

    Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

    Ed Moses’ four new paintings at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts are different from his resin, canvas, and powdered pigments paintings of the last few years, but they are like the earlier works in certain basic respects. The new works are also paintings that are tacked directly to the wall without supports. They are generally rectangular with rough, erratic edges, and, like the earlier works, consist of sets of colored parallel lines.

    The new works are made of Japanese tissue paper and acrylic, with the paper playing an active role in the formation of the works. The works are formed by sets of parallel

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  • Isaac Witkin

    Robert Elkon Gallery

    Isaac Witkin showed six new steel sculptures in a space rented downtown by the Robert Elkon Gallery. The problem for Witkin, and formalist sculpture generally, is finding a way to get away from Anthony Caro’s dominating influence. Witkin seems to have taken a clue from Frank Stella’s newer work by trying to solve the problem in terms of increasing complication. Papageno uses forms which are literally out of Stella’s recent work. The work is a conglomeration of sharp triangular and rhomboid planes, with interior similar shapes cut out. These planes even have a 3” or 4” perpendicular lip like that

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  • Joel Shapiro

    The Clocktower

    An exhibition of sculpture by Joel Shapiro initiated the use of a new space donated by the City of New York to the Institute for Art and Urban Resources. This organization, directed by Alanna Heiss, was responsible for three exhibitions last spring in the warehouse at 10 Bleecker Street and the large group show under the Brooklyn Bridge two years ago. The space this time is the clocktower atop a 13-story municipal building at 108 Leonard Street in downtown Manhattan; it will serve for the exhibition of work by contemporary artists for at least a year. The Clocktower is reached via elevator,

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  • Carl Andre

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    In his recent “Projects” exhibition in The Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden, Carl Andre was also confronted with a very charged, assertive space, in this case one filled with other people’s sculpture. The results involve small size, large scale, and assertion through focus and implication rather than actual ground covered. Andre’s work is more explicitly horizontal than Shapiro’s and consequently involves some of the concerns discussed above, a similarity increased by the opportunity to view the work from the third floor galleries of the museum.

    Each of Andre’s nine sculptures, called

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  • Will Insley

    Fischbach Gallery uptown

    A more general, relatively unrealized concern with the horizontal was apparent in Will Insley’s exhibition of drawings, photomontages, notes, and models for Onecity at Fischbach uptown. Onecity, Insley’s city of the future, will exist somewhere in the central United States, will be 400 miles square and will house the nation’s entire population (400 million). The show is interesting in several ways, not the least of which involves confronting the idea of how things can or will continue to exist, given current political, environmental, and technological trends. Insley’s city is complicated and

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  • David Novros

    Rosa Esman Gallery

    Another artist involved with the intuitive, arbitrary alteration of a relatively rigid format is the painter David Novros, whose fresco studies (oil on paper) were recently shown at Rosa Esman Gallery, shortly before an exhibition of his paintings at the Bykert Gallery. In both media, Novros works with rectangular shapes perpendicular to each other and the edge of the support. Several of the small fresco studies revealed a new scale and simplicity further verified in the Bykert show. At Bykert, one of the best paintings was a large work (7’ x 17’) of four vertical panels, the two outside being

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  • Steven Gwon

    Rosa Esman Gallery

    The first one-man exhibition of work by Steven Gwon followed Novros’ at Rosa Esman Gallery. Gwon fills square sheets of graph paper with various patterns, usually arbitrarily predetermined and involving linear counting. In some cases the grids are filled with actual numbers, which pro-cede consecutively and are not repeated, even from drawing to drawing. A couple of drawings in this show are made of five-digit numbers. In one they form a square spiral into the center of the paper, changing direction with each new line so that the numbers are consecutive as a line and also always pointing “up”

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  • Robert Reed

    Whitney Museum and Washburn Gallery

    Robert Reed exhibited paintings from his Plum Nellie Series in his concurrent exhibitions at the Whitney Museum and Washburn Gallery. The series is so named because its main color emphasis is a deep purple, variously combined with bright green or turquoise. These colors are applied in neat visible splatters and swipes of a wide brush and intersected by sharp-edged white rectangles. The combination is a crisp, seamless version of Hans Hofmann, a variation facilitated by an awareness as well of hard-edge and lyrical abstraction. For the most part, Reed works on large rectangles. Occasionally two

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  • Bill McGee

    Barnett Newman

    Bill McGee’s paintings, on the other hand, do not involve an amalgam of sources, as do Reed’s. They result singularly from the achievements of Barnett Newman. McGee’s paintings are mostly one color with two narrow vertical stripes right at the canvas edges, a few inches in, or which trisect the canvas into equal thirds. McGee stains his painting in strong dark colors, deep reds, purples, blues, and greens which are slightly mottled. The surface is somewhat Baroque and counters the exactness established by the lines. In the largest work, four equal areas of different blues are separated by thin,

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  • David Budd and William Jensen

    Tibor de Nagy and Fischbach Gallery uptown

    David Budd and William Jensen seem explicitly involved with the formation of physical surface in their respective one-man painting exhibitions at Tibor de Nagy and Fischbach uptown. Their common failing is that they still use this physical approach to achieve a very usual kind of imagery. Budd applies heavy Mars and Ivory black oil paint in small regular strokes. Groups of little round hills and horizon lines are delineated by shifts from one black to the other and by changes in the direction and patterning of the strokes. For the most part, the show consisted of two series of four canvases

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  • Nancy Spero

    A.I.R. Gallery

    Nancy Spero’s work involves, like that of Reed and McGee, the achievements of another artist, although in this case they are literary. Spero works in collage on long strips of paper, combining small strange figures with quotes from the writing of the French poet Artaud. Artaud’s writing is perverse and painful, revealing the tortured, creative intelligence of a man who blasphemed bourgeoise society and suffered its injustices (he was incarcerated in France for several years). Spero’s figures are equally contorted combinations of human and animal parts which suggest—as in her serpents with human

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  • Claes Oldenburg, Sig Rennels, Richard Serra, Robert Morris, Alan Shields, Al Loving, Frank Viner, Nina Yankowitz, Rosemary Mayers, Jacki Ferrara, Francoise Grossen, Brenda Miller and Pat Oleszco

    New York Cultural Center

    From the evidence of “Soft as Art” one of the things artists shouldn’t do today is to make art with anything soft. But if the show with one or two exceptions is an intellectual and often an experiential disaster—for other than the lay public—it’s interesting to take some of the issues it generates seriously because of their repercussions for contemporary art. I want to take it seriously if only to contradict the myopic kind of art criticism which dismisses the show for all the wrong reasons. To pick out Oldenburg, Morris, and Serra as examples and to measure the rest of the work against them as

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  • David Diao

    Cunningham Ward

    The question of frameworks also applies to looking at David Diao’s painting at Cunningham Ward. Diao’s gesture of just showing a single large painting allows one to step back and ask a few questions about some of its assumptions. As unsympathetic as I am to the whole idea of masterworks I am sympathetic to any challenge to the tyranny of series. Diao by showing the one untitled painting which dominates a whole wall of the gallery seems to be saying the “thing-in-itself” is enough. My question: Is it?

    David Diao has for a number of years taken certain assumptions for painting as given. They are

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  • Jorge Stever

    O.K. Harris

    If process and scale concerns in painting as any raison d’être are becoming problematic, the trompe-l’oeil concerns of Jorge Stever’s paintings at O.K. Harris have always been problematic. Eidetic imagery aside, the issue in his paintings is the posing of trompe-l’oeil interests as an extension of the concerns of Jasper Johns. Just by making references to what one thinks are one’s sources in no way absolves one from comparison with them. Writing Jasper Johns across one of his paintings doesn’t clear it away as an issue or as a reference. Stever’s gesture is a camp appeal to authority. If there

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  • Larry Rosan

    André Emmerich Gallery downtown

    The notion of serial work and all its problems also affects Larry Rosan’s show of paintings. Each of Rosan’s paintings superficially resembles a giant high contrast photograph of assorted spore marks in the snow. Small blobs, lines, and assorted shapes of black stain—each with a faint gray halo—are scattered across the seven man-sized, unprimed, raw canvases in the show. And although I don’t really want to talk about Rosan’s paintings in Greenbergian terms I see no other way. Rosan’s paintings seem to be a subtle compendium of what were modernist painting issues some years ago: 1) immediacy of

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  • Dale Henry

    John Weber Gallery

    Dale Henry’s show, although in no sense a complete success, demonstrates the viability of painting as a thinking activity. As a refreshing contrast to either trompe-l’oeil or modernist painting Henry’s work denies those kind of quick associations. One has to adjust one’s viewing speed to come to terms with his work at all.

    Henry’s The Plan of the Uffizi poses these questions because of the viewer options it allows: What is the relation between private systems as generative of artworks and the efficacy of the visual model itself? Is the system merely a theoretical prop, a kind of game-playing by

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  • John Duff

    John Bernard Myers Gallery

    John Duff’s fiberglass wall sculptures share a sense of reticence with Henry’s painting. He doesn’t make his intentions very clear, but the objects themselves are rather beautiful and mysterious things. His work shares with some of Johns’ sculpmetal pieces a private language quality. Each of the man-size casts is different in color and shape, sometimes dramatically, ranging from virtually flat slabs just two or three inches off the wall, to half-cylindrical forms bulging perhaps two feet into the room. The shapes also vary from what looked like eight-foot cake slices to three-inch square double

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