New York

William Wiley

Hansen-Fuller Gallery

William Wiley’s mini-retrospective (ten years) is a curious affair: an enormous amount of varied work (sculpture, paintings stretched and unstretched, big and little drawings, and memorabilia) sending out the message that this stuff, like Rauschenberg’s Combines, is a lot more arty than we suspected. A friend with me said it succinctly: “Certified F-u-n-q-u-e.” As an ensemble, Wiley’s proto-hippy frontier style (part of a bow-and-arrow with tin can, with oar, with . . . etc.) looks mannered, as do the formerly stretched canvases hanging as updated softies.

But the man, or the artist, is in a curious position: an art mag cover star at twenty-one, burdened with a consuming facility, a 15-year career just off the beaten paths of assemblage, funk, new Realism, and inventor of the most contagious drawing method since Larry Rivers (thousands of graduate students turning out billions of Pen-Tel enigmas with long, stilted titles). The last seven years have seen what was once “daring” (balls of tape and astral surveyor’s junk cluttered around pictures) blown out of the tub by the blitz of Process, performance, and video self-exacerbation. Wiley’s folkiness is institutional now, and it wobbles, especially when the commercial gallery installation halfway wants to look officially curated (“Oh, Bill, say, what’s this little drawing lying over here in the corner? Why don’t we dust it off for the retro? It’s indicative of a certain period and develop. . . .”). A mechanically inventive and tasteful artist who’s at his current best in the colored drawings with mercifully shorter captions, Wiley is better seen in smaller, savory doses, say a half-dozen at a time. When he’s crowded, as here, the Richard Brautigan of the art world becomes the George Carlin.

––Peter Plagens