reviews

  • “Biennial”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    We may not have exactly the same old Whitney Biennial to kick around anymore, but unfortunately we still have most of the same old complaints. As always there is too much work to be digested, even though the 1973 total of 222 artists has been reduced to a mere 147 this time. The amount is nonetheless difficult to see or respond to, much less remember. It took me four visits and two dismembered catalogues spread out page by page on my floor to begin to make any sense of it. Large numbers are a typical Biennial defense, one which diffuses any impact which a show of this nature might have, and

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  • “34th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting”

    Corcoran Gallery of Art

    While the Whitney fails in both intention and execution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art's “34th Biennial of Contemporary American Painting” with fairly justifiable and workable plans is still a disappointment. It does everything you wish the Whitney would do, but badly and with flair.

    The size and installation are manageable. Fifty artists in seven spacious galleries and the two-story atrium gives almost everyone enough spate. And 50 works seems like the limit; it is a number you can think about. In addition there is a fairly sensible selection process (if such a thing is possible): 25 artists have

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  • Ralph Humphrey

    At first, RALPH HUMPHREY's recent paintings look as if they grew that way; it is hard to know how they are made. They have a slightly moldy look to them and may be actually past growth, heading for decay. Humphrey's surfaces are dark, mysterious and bumpy, they look neither man-made or machine-made. Far from pristine, they still don't seem to result from any regular painting activity, from any normal kind of touch. Just by being so clumsy and bulky, his paintings achieve a neutrality; they are not aligned with anything else, they are totally independent. Humphrey uses thick matte paint, additional

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  • Ron Gorchov

    Fischbach Gallery

    If clumsiness is primarily a by-product of Humphrey’s articulate use of too much paint, it is the modus operandi of Ron Gorchov. Gorchov had his first New York show since 1966 this spring. Unlike Humphrey, he is explicitly involved with physical gesture, with a personalized mark and style of drawing which extends itself into a painted surface. Yet gesture occurs within a very restricted format, and it is this format which accounts for much of the clumsiness. Gorchov paints on an awkwardly shaped canvas, generally rectangular, but which curves out on the horizontal and in on the vertical. (This

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  • Dan Christensen, Larry Zox

    Andre Emmerich Gallery, Uptown

    I think that Dan Christensen’s recent paintings are better than the ones from the past two shows, although it is the kind of painting that I find difficult to remember from year to year. Several of his recent shows have been primarily white; this one is not. These paintings are rich and dark, though still with a monochrome layer over more colorful mixtures. The results are reminiscent of old Oriental screens; they seem ancient, as if the imagery or brocade had decayed to abstraction. I sometimes feel that I am looking at the paintings from the wrong side, that the front of the painting, clear

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  • Sylvia Stone

    Andre Emmerich Gallery, Downtown

    Sylvia Stone's previously made simple arrangements of lightly tinted plexiglass: half-circles, triangles, rectangles, all usually upright and intersecting. Things have gotten a lot more complicated; Stone's arrangements involve many more elements, arranged more casually, often stacked on top of each other. Stone has also increased the kinds of materials she is working with: mirrors, light and dark smoked, clear, green-tinted and amber plexiglass. These look like the last word, maybe Bloomingdale's, in Process art; like large unassembled jewelry boxes. They seem at first more casual in arrangement

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  • Natalie Bieser

    Nancy Hoffmann Gallery

    After Stone, Natalie Bieser is admirably frugal in her choice of materials: thin balsa sticks, thread and tiny beads. Bieser has eliminated color from her new pieces; the wood is darkened with graphite, the thread is black; the beads black or silver black. But she continues to deal with the effects of gravity on her relatively weightless materials, arranging them so wood and thread combine to form various closed and open outlines, with the beads accumulating at the lower points on the loops of thread.

    These pieces usually consist of two sticks and two pieces of thread with beads. One piece of

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  • Jake Berthot

    O.K. Harris Works of Art

    Jake Berthot's painting has always hovered in the vicinity of Marden, Johns, and Motherwell. This is not bad company and Berthot seemed to indicate that he would eventually develop, by doing many paintings which almost made it, some of which were really good. His work seemed credibly different from Marden's—its was funkier and more flamboyant and he was interested in a more exact, robust color. His heavier surfaces sometimes seemed lifeless, as if they didn't have his complete attention. Now Berthot seems to have applied this quality to all aspects of his work.

    Each painting is a modest vertical

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  • Robert Barry

    Gian Enzo Sperone Gallery

    Ironically this review of Robert Barry's slide piece relies on description. The attempt to represent, to categorize a work which itself reflects on that process of structuring information. For Magnificent—Trees revolves around the use of language, whether through words or pictures. Language serving to define a reality, to clarify and encode it; language extending one's perception, expanding it through thinking, evoking a conception of nature; and yet language remaining imprecise, tangent to experience. But to begin with the setting for these speculations. A darkened room. Seated enclosed within

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  • Vito Acconci

    Sonnabend Gallery

    Leveling is the title of Vito Acconci's piece. Leveling with the viewer, being honest, telling it straight. Equalizing viewer and artist, putting them on common ground. But also aiming, directing. Different levels of meaning, intention, interpretation, as all of these definitions apply. The theme an exposition in public of private space. A dramatization of self to which one might refer Erving Goffman's concept of presentation through roles. For although Acconci is not physically present in his piece, he is still the performer. A tape of his voice resonates from the various speakers in the gallery,

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  • Marisol

    Sidney Janis Gallery

    In a sense Marisol resembles Acconci in her exposure of private secrets in public. But her revelation-exploration of self centers around a more traditional notion of personal fantasy rooted in the Surrealist world of dream imagery and symbolic content. She is less the performer, more the shaman. Her ceramic masks, for example, are less those of persona, more archetypal emblems, ceremonial faces for a mysterious female rite. Ear Earrings. Flesh-colored clay baked into the oval of a gazing visage. The earlobes hanging like jewelry from the sides. And stringing, weighted below, a necklace, two

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  • Carolee Thea

    14 Sculptors

    It is the viewer who is the performer in Carolee Thea's work. A maze bounded in hardware cloth and barbed wire extends from floor to ceiling in the center of the gallery. Black curtains block the street world outside. And an amplified metronome steadily beats the measure of time. In the back Thea sits, knitting. An allusion to Ariadne guiding Theseus out of the labyrinth with her ball of thread. Less symbolically, the observer, watching the viewer proceed on the stage. Perhaps a reference to the impassive spectator detachedly noting the fall of a guillotine. But to return to the maze. A

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  • Judy Rifka

    Artists Space

    What is striking about Judy Rifka's paintings is their appearance as collages. Collages of paint. The surfaces are plywood, assertively there. Attached (to, on)—layers of paint building into a tangible thickness. The pigment doubling, crisscrossing on top of itself into an envelope of color. A material shape appended, as if glued, on the surface. In the series of matte black paintings, for example, two separate pieces seem to overlap, one superimposed on the other, their edges intersecting to outline a single form. Yet throughout the black is the same color. It is the drawing of the paint, the

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  • Alighiero Boetti

    John Weber Gallery

    Alighiero Boetti's work leaves me puzzled. Is he deliberately mocking the notion of art as a solution to a problem? Is his use of a series taken through various permutations an indictment of the repetition of art production, varying the terms without changing the theme? Or, is he questioning judgments of quality, of one answer being more valid than another? His drawings are all on graph paper—as if to emphasize their grounding in mathematical truth. One group involves the filling in of a set number of consecutive squares, the set number of times, each pattern being different. Seven sevens, nine

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  • Laurace James

    A.I.R. Gallery

    Similar questions arise with Laurace James's sculpture. Her constructions are made of wood, some surfaces painted, others left raw. Each is accompanied by a set of instructions explaining how the viewer can manipulate the piece. Moving the hinged joints, reattaching hooks to eyes, arriving at an alternative conclusion. The implication: that one result is no better than the other. But also that making a sculpture is simply arranging the material according to certain rules of structuring. For James has not really eliminated the choice of the artist. She sets the framework, limiting the scope of

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  • Peter Plagens

    Nancy Hoffman Gallery

    A lot of the articles Peter Plagens has written for this magazine wind up with affirmations of painting, huzzahs thrown in the face of other art-making modes. After a spell in the New York “pressure cooker,” for example, he’s back home in California slogging pigment. “Confronted with that—the painting on the wall—how can you possibly care about anything else?” Indeed. Well, there’s all that picaresque art criticism, powered by his angst as a painter, which he surely must care to write. And his book, Sunshine Muse, that launches itself well enough as an anecdotal history, but settles sadly into

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  • Llyn Foulkes

    Willard Gallery

    It seems that California painter Llyn Folks planned his show here to coincide with the Max Ernst retrospective. Not only are the Surrealist’s decalcomania paintings and figure in a landscape collages Foulkes’s main models, but the antique photographs and wooden frames he uses in his paintings evoke the ’20s when Ernst made his works. Foulkes has quite successfully flattened his oeuvre through this insistent nostalgia. If his paintings wish they’d been there and then, it’s hard for them to be here and now. I guess the show’s a kind of hommage à but this isn’t Paris.

    In his portraits, Foulkes paints

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  • Andrew Ginzel

    Artists Space

    Andrew Ginzel (selected for Artists Space by Red Grooms) also alludes to the broad tradition of Dada collage. He uses images of men in bowler hats, gravu red machine parts, and schematic heads like phrenologist's diagrams in his constructions. These elements are held in suspension by bits of string, and mounted so that they stick up from chunks of wooden logs. These little heraldic arrangements look like models for pageant decor.

    I don't like the idea that you should be careful to make historical allusions if you're not going to title your sculpture. Ginzel's vocabulary of images is wider when

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  • Michael Howard

    Michael Walls Gallery

    Four big paintings in Michael Howard's show are modeled on illustrations for hunting tales in magazines. These scenes of confrontation between armed hunters with dogs and wild bears gave Howard the format for painterly demonstrations. The colors on these large two-panel canvases—mainly brown, black, blue, green and red—form a palette as simple as a woodsman's plaid. Howard doesn't reproduce his magazine models. He brushes his pigment on freely, brusquely indicating the figures of man and beast and making the areas between them into partly independent spiky shapes. Maybe Howard doesn't care what

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  • Loren Madsen

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    First I'll carp about the letter from Loren Madsen to The Museum of Modern Art management tacked on the wall for the Californian's “Projects” series show. This document might make us privy to the sculptor's thinking about the major piece here, a big leaning wall of bricks restrained from collapse by hundreds of tiny steel wires. Instead, the detailed exposition of how the thing should be installed ends up insisting on its nature as a feat of engineering. The museum translated Madsen's written cautions about people touching the wires into ropes and stanchions, so that the piece is cloistered in

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  • Alan Sonfist

    Stefanotty Gallery

    “I became a tiger waiting” Alan Sonfist writes in the text hung up with two series of color photos in a gallery antechamber labeled “The Animal Room.” Naked in the grass, Sonfist snads at the approaching photographer. Unlike the usual photographer/subject relationship, the art here resides with the subject, the man playing tiger, just as heroism might be said to reside not with the hunter but with the animal who gets killed. A couple of philosopher’s anecdotes I first heard paraphrased around art-world dinner tables might enlarge aspects of these photos. One is Wittgenstein’s: if the lion could

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  • Rockne Krebs

    James Yu Gallery

    The piece that impressed me most (aside from a sedate light bulb projection from Ted Victoria’s often exhibited series) was Washington D.C. artist Rockne Krebs’s installation with argon laser and mirrors. The twinkling blue green beam high overhead near the ceiling spans two rooms in the gallery. Directed from a hidden projector, the beam jumps a corner in the back room, first hitting and diffusing around a rectangular mirror, the shape of which is then reflected onto an adjacent triangular mirror. This triangle is finally cast onto an apple painted on the wall near the source of the beam. Why

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  • Scott Billingsley

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Scott Billingsly’s piece Induction also needs to be plugged in. After a long walk to the Whitney downtown workroom and gallery in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, I was standing in front of this plasterboard box the size of a shower stall. I waited for a wire coming out of it to be hooked up to a corroded old transformer in a corner of the room. This clicked on. Noiseless; no hum. A coil inside, I was told, had been magnetized. I climbed up the ladder on one side of the box. This was thin, like the ladders running up water storage tanks are thin in proportion to the tank. Descending inside

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  • “California Realists”

    Los Angeles doesn't keep its junk, it throws it into trash compactors and makes land fills or ocean sewage. The man-made things are new, shiny plastic and clean, not at all unlike the “new” Texas. San Franciscans look down upon all this, but get a kick out of the automobiles, tackiness, and technology. It's this perverse love/hate which turns “California Realists” (John Berggruen Gallery) into such a popular show. It's another example of the misguided idea of an idea for an exhibition. Please read “Los Angeles” for “California,” so we laugh at the excesses and still relate to the pleasure. Unlike

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