reviews

  • “Subways”

    Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

    Riding the subway in New York is hardly the experience of efficient service and pleasant surroundings that it is in Stockholm, Montreal or San Francisco. Or at least that’s how it seems from the glimpse of those systems in Cooper-Hewitt’s “Subways” show in the 42nd Street subway station. The exhibition makes it painfully clear to countless commuters that pleasant and functional mass transit is possible through good design and exists in other U.S. cities as well as abroad. One can only hope that improvement is already on the way in New York and may even be spurred on by enthusiastic support from

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  • Dan Flavin

    Heiner Friedrich

    Standing in the midst of Dan Flavin’s new installation is like bathing in a magnificent pastel sun. Pink, yellow, blue and green fluorescent rays suffuse throughout the gallery space, imparting an overall glow to the interior. The fluorescent tubes themselves are hidden behind pillars and tucked in corners so that the light source is not immediately obvious. But they are exposed when exploring the space, and looking for the source of the light leads inevitably to a close involvement with the gallery interior. The main impression is that the colored tubes are intended to be hidden; only their

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  • “The Seven Deadly Elements”

    La MaMa Galleria

    Sound upon sound; layers of actions; snatches of dialogue repeated and repeated as conversation; these elements put together as dramatic vignettes transferred the sardonic and macabre images of Max Ernst’s collages from the printed page to the stage. Improvised and analyzed into loosely thematic sketches, Ernst’s “novel” was put into a form Ernst may have never intended—but the results prove that the creative risks involved were well worth taking. Despite production problems and questionable interpretations, the performance successfully captured a surreal atmosphere without compromising the

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  • Ann Wilson

    88 Pine Street

    Good ingredients do not necessarily make good theater, and that is the pitfall of productions like Ann Wilson’s Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Wilson has taken the music, art and writing of the creative world’s “saints” and strung them together into a ponderously serious and plodding presentation. Everyone from Ovid to Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson, Simone Weil and the Bible’s anonymous authors is rightfully admired by Wilson and probably deserving of some form of theatrically produced homage. But a production staged along confusing, ambiguous lines with no discernible structure is not the proper

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  • Peter Plagens

    Nancy Hoffman Gallery

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that the major dynamic contributing to the incomplete discussion of United States art is the consistent machine-gunning of California art, usually by those who are not even native New Yorkers. These fake New Yorkers’ xenophobia produces unilateral condescension toward the human aberrations from the West—branding them as simple, stupid, lazy, mush-headed idiots—finding California’s weather simply too good for the production of suitable art or proper intellectual activity. Everything and every thought is assumed to originate in New York City, although New Haven

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  • Jasper Johns

    Brooke Alexander And Whitney Downtown

    It might seem that there could be little more to be said about Jasper Johns, that we know perhaps a little more than we want to, with the Whitney retrospective and the concomitant exegesis. But not quite everything has been covered, especially a consideration of the general reaction to this inundation of Johns. There were at least two shows devoted entirely to the range of his graphic work, and a show at the downtown Whitney, which covered all the various editions which evolved from the painting Untitled from 1972: the hatchings, the flagstones, and the body parts. This last show was interesting

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  • Frances Barth

    The confusions of the art world right now stem from its recent history, a history which valued the stripped-bare solution, the risk of repetition, the integrity of the void. This state of affairs could be seen as the logical, even natural, outgrowth of a series of moves culminating in Minimalism and Conceptualism. The problem today is to proceed out from that position into something more pictorially complex without becoming reactionary. The appeal of realism and photography is the appeal of conservatism, of reaction. (The repetition of the solutions of Minimalism and Conceptualism are likewise

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  • Sam Gilliam

    Carl Solway Gallery

    The taste for thickly painted paintings is epidemic; I just wish I could discover the responsive audience’s reaction to it. Only other artists seem to catch it, and even among those you might think are immune, their surfaces are becoming clotted with malignant growths of paint. Some are more advanced, more extreme than others: Humphrey, Torreano, Gorchov and Sam Gilliam paint works which appear thicker, uglier, and more degenerative than Olitski’s or Bannard’s. But this “radicalness” just makes it less possible for us to get excited by another painting “move.” Painting “moves” are fabricated

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  • Les Levine

    Anna Canepa Gallery

    I can’t imagine what it is like to be a second-generation lyrical abstractionist field painter just beginning to explore surface texture, but I bet it’s less depressing than being yet another artist engaged in another resurrection of some lame Duchampian gesture, and always for the purpose of explaining it away as just art. I look forward to the next Les Levine mock-art situation with even less hope than I do the next batch of thick paintings. I expect the same product from both: not art, really, but some kind of unconsidered, nebulous “activity”—small deviations from over-processed “ideas”

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  • Vito Acconci

    The Clocktower

    A promotional catalogue recently published by Jane Crawford on art performances and projects includes gemlike paragraphs written by the artists about their own work. Vito Acconci describes his plans as “. . . installations designed to fit a specific physical space that, then is tied into an over all geographical/historical/political space that, in turn, becomes the occasion for revealing myself and my (cultural) origins as an instigator.” Despite my general distrust of intent as a valid measure of any sort of product, Acconci’s recent Clocktower installation Cry, Baby! is so faithful a manifestation

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  • Peter Beard

    International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

    The glamor and riches of Peter Beard’s social milieu help to generate the deservedly lavish attention paid to him and his work. It was launched long ago innocently enough as a lifestyle and photo romance in the white Africana tradition, but crossed paths with the most wretched samples of ecological disasters that the modern era and population density have inflicted on Africa. Considering the serious and exclamatory nature of his subject matter, “lavish” seems altogether the wrong kind of attention to pay his work.

    “The Last of the Game” falls prey to overzealous designing. From the elephant

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  • Cynthia Carlson

    C.U.N.Y. Graduate Center Mall

    Cynthia Carlson’s works don’t always steal the show. But because of their hazardous boldness and other reasons—not solid run-of-the-mill ones—I consider her eccentric art more than fascinating. I am challenged by the pragmatic miracle of her productions, which seem to exclude any form of art phobia. Her work, which surely comes from, and expresses a love for, art, also integrates without paranoia a wide array of other visual material.

    Carlson started as a painter, working in a mixture of patterning and painterliness. Her simultaneous use of fluid and bulky paint created vital surfaces, sumptuous

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  • Alice Aycock

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    Alice Aycock’s recent exhibition consisted of drawings and photographs that give an overview of her major pieces, and one new one built of plywood. This elliptical, truncated cylinder incorporates many of her previous themes, and works to explain, compactly and simply, what Aycock is up to.

    The difficulty some viewers have had with this artist’s work stems, in part, from its straddling media. While on one hand we would tend to call her constructions sculpture, one cannot enclose and encompass an Aycock piece in one’s field of vision, package it mentally and take it home. One may of course stand

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  • Christopher Knowles

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    Christopher Knowles’ new exhibition consists of typed paper pieces, which are a sort of exaggerated concrete poetry. I say exaggerated because of all the 20th-century poetry that has incorporated pictures and conscious mechanisms of design, I know of none that dissolves into visual effect as completely as Knowles’ does. In fact, Knowles’ work is probably more visual than literary, though it does include pages that are nothing but typed narratives. Narratives . . . Knowles’ writing, as those who are familiar with his work for Robert Wilson will be aware, is neither grammatical, nor properly

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  • Robert Wilson

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    Robert Wilson’s current show has been outclassed by that of his protégé, Knowles. Wilson’s exhibition is a collection of images—mostly photographs, a few drawings, some writing, a single portrait (Rudolf Hess) stenciled on the wall—from a number of his performances. Included are penguins, chairs, the backdrop for Wilson’s patio piece, bits of set design, and passages from a forthcoming piece (Death, Destruction and Detroit) that are blown up and mounted on cards.

    The show is almost incomprehensible without a close familiarity with these references (which even when seen in Wilson’s performances

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  • Christopher Wilmarth

    Grey Art Gallery, N.Y.U. and Studio For The First Amendment

    Christopher Wilmarth makes heavy wall and floor sculptures out of dark, roughly pocked steel and delicately scraped glass plates. His thick, rectangular masses of metal are bent at oblique angles, and from certain vantages only their vague outlines are visible through the bluish windows attached to them. These are elegant, seductive, somber pieces that take themselves very seriously and that, according to Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (whose collaborative essay on Wilmarth accompanies his Grey Gallery show) are steeped in references to the work of such masters as Matisse and Brancusi.

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  • Richard Prince, Michelle Stuart, and William Wiley

    Katharine Markel Gallery

    Richard Prince, Michelle Stuart and William Wiley employ the book-as-form to very different ends. Wiley uses his leather-encased volume merely as a vehicle for a series of prints. These are interspersed with passages of quasi-poetic autobiographical writing (resonances of Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder) and with selections from the I Ching. The theme of this production, called Suite of Daze, is a period Wiley spent in Chicago designing and executing his prints, and consulting the I Ching daily for clues to how they should look. Consequently, the combinations of straight and broken lines that key

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