reviews

  • Susan Rothenberg

    Willard Gallery

    Susan Rothenberg has always been the most “formalist” of the painters lately and arbitrarily grouped as “New Image”; as of now, she is also one of the most advanced down the seemingly inexorable road to a new flat-out Expressionism. This makes for an interesting tension, to say the least. I’d like to call the very powerful impact of her current work “visceral,” but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. The paintings hit higher than the viscera. Their effect is both frenetic and icy, a frozen violence very much of the head—without being heady, because they are so firmly composed and cannily painted.

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  • Katherine Porter

    David McKee Gallery

    Boston-based Katherine Porter was one of the innumerable grid-worrying painters of the early ’70s; she has lately broken out with a great blast of eccentric energy, perhaps emboldened by the recent vogue of skewed, quirky abstraction, certainly adding her own note to it. Her paintings have a theatrical quality and the rough gaiety of big dogs. They are also manically sophisticated, as if a lifetime’s education were being regurgitated all at once. Recent Philip Guston has clearly been a decisive influence, and one could describe some of her paintings in terms that would fit some of his: inept-cartoony

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  • Robert Mapplethorpe

    Robert Mapplethorpe was on my review list about three years ago, showing at a crummy alternative space in SoHo. His medium of expression was photography, but all I could see were the frames. I remember one with a Chinese red lacquer frame that continued on and on at regular intervals off the righthand side, the frame repeated as spaced bars painted to simulate the rainbow. The penises and buttocks didn’t seem to the point somehow (once you’ve seen one . . .). I’m not being coy; I’m dead serious. My honest response to Mapplethorpe’s calculated attempt to show the unshowable so that, coerced by

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  • Joel Shapiro

    Unless I am missing something, Joel Shapiro’s new little wood reliefs, like his recent largish charcoal drawings, rather leave in their dust the view that his main achievement is the inflecting of Minimalism with “memory,” thereby signaling “shift” in “modernist sensibility” to take in “the stuff of psychology.” (The terms are Rosalind Krauss’s.) Besides invoking an awfully limited notion of “the stuff of psychology”what isn’t psychological? when you come to think of it—this view has depended heavily on Shapiro’s use of recognizable images, almost entirely absent from this show. (There were six

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  • Jean Dubeffet

    Perhaps due as much to the peculiar new climate of American painting as to the style of his current work, Jean Dubuffet suddenly looks more up-to-date than he has in 20 years. Not that he has gotten easy to take. There’s still that damned facility and feckless proliferation of plasmic imagery, that squiggly line he’s been spinning out since the 1940s that, if unkinked, would probably stretch to Jupiter by now. His unflagging robustness, high spirits, panache, etc., can still make one want to go lie down somewhere, and the floor of his black and white prints and drawings at the two-story Pace

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  • Arakawa

    Extremity of tone is one way to classify art that’s being made today: the aim often is toward high seriousness or low laughs. The moderate position in art, like the moderate in the political realm, suffers from suspicion of its compromise. Galleries felt moody this month. The atmosphere triggered grins or grimaces. Inscrutability was not an emotional property of any art on view.

    Arakawa—represented by exhibitions uptown and downtown—certainly enjoys the reputation of poet-didact of the art world. Early work could be seen in relation to more recent production, his Neo-Plasticism Nouveau of the

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  • Linda Francis and Melissa Meyer

    Hal Bromm Gallery and Soho Center for Visual Arts

    Arakawa’s emotional palette moves readily from the light of his machinery to the dark of the Fahlstrom obituary. Linda Francis and Melissa Meyer, two painters with work on view, are each dead serious with an intense focus.

    Francis’ paintings are a case study of the classic’s encounter with the romantic. The classical element: a grid; the romantic: relaxed lines à la Duchamp’s standard stoppages which contrast the order of the grid with the personality of the gesture.

    Her paintings are monochrome: the three on view are teal green, red, and iris blue. Charcoal drawings—studies for the paintings—are

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  • Mario Merz

    Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery

    Mario Merz’s humor is utterly unmuzzled. Try as hard as you can, it’s impossible to maintain a straight face at his exhibition. I’m a pretty cheap laugh, but Merz’s expansive pranks have an infectious silliness that could ruffle the soberest feathers. Take, for example, his gestural rendering of vegetables on an unstretched length of raw canvas: he attached actual raw vegetables to it; radishes, horseradishes, cabbages, celery, cauliflower and escarole seemingly grew out of Merz’ painted depictions of them. Raw vegetables for raw canvas: the collision of macrobiotics with trompe l’oeil.

    If Merz

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  • William Wegman

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    If there were a custom of naming sandwiches after artists, the William Wegman would certainly be a ham on wry. Wegman, like many artists who argue that Conceptual art is a good idea, is the consummate deadpan presence with a classic deadly dilemma: the need to produce a commodity while enjoying the reputation of eminence blonde of the anti-commodity art mart. The ham part of Wegman gleefully mass-produced drawings and doctored photographs; the wry part sees this act with tilted humor. As in his videotapes, Wegman’s wit is alternately dependent on visual jokes and the caption which shows the

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  • Bruce Boice

    In the early ’70s Bruce Boice did paintings in three panels; each panel was framed by strips of wood and/or unpainted bands on the border of the canvas and was governed by a unit of measure that seemed to be the depth of the canvas (from the wall). Robert Pincus-Witten read these paintings as equations or transformations, in which the panel framed with wood represented painting as a “picture” (because the frame concealed the stretcher ) and the unframed panel represented painting as an “object.” The panel in between mediated the two, acting as the “operation” of the equation.

    Whether the painting

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  • Ron Davis

    Blum/Helman Gallery

    The paintings of Ron Davis are flagrant. If you don’t like flagrancy for flagrancy’s sake, you are left with two options: cast a cold eye on them (and leave it at that) or argue them into line with the work of Stella and others (that is, the canon). The first option is not in very good faith; it is the way of prudes. The second option is in such good faith as to be bad faith; it is the way of sophists. I’m somewhere in-between: embarrassed for liking them, wondering why I do.

    Up until 1973 or so, Davis made irregularly shaped paintings with polyester resin and fiberglass. As most critics had it,

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  • Gerard Marx

    Bertha Urdang Gallery

    Gerard Marx calls his works “photo-constructs.” Formerly, these consisted of a beam or plank set on a photo-sensitive sheet of linen or masonite; this was then exposed to produce a white image, which of course bore a one-to-one relation to the wood. To complete the work, the sheet was tacked on the wall with the wood placed next to it. The technique of the new constructs is the same, save for one important thing: the image is no longer made by contact with the wood. A piece of cardboard, related in form to the piece of wood, now lays out the image. The work is still about opposition—positive

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  • Ed Moses

    Sidney Janis Gallery

    The titles of the first three paintings in Ed Moses’ show are R-1, Y-1, B-1. What additional information do you need? Obviously, one is going to be red, one yellow, one blue—three square canvases, each all one primary color. I think the paint is car enamel, but the paintings look like refrigerator doors, not car doors. The paint is rather like Poptarts icing—slick, smooth, chemical, stopping at the edge, flat and in-penetrable. You couldn’t will any depth into them. There is a layeredness in Marden’s work that gives an ambiguous shallowness. There are crosses in Reinhardt. There is an absolute

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  • Alan Cote

    Betty Cunningham Gallery

    Carrie Rickey, a writer whose opinions I often overlook (even when I agree with her) in order to savor her well-turned phrases, is a stylist in search of a subject. I went to Alan Cote’s show knowing what Rickey had written about him. What was interesting to read became so much stylish fluff when confronted with the paintings themselves. The twist: this perfectly fit Cote’s paintings, in an ironic, perhaps unconscious way. Rickey unknowingly reflected her subject’s basic appeal, through her style. Her title: “Fashion/Style/Custom.” Her case: Cote is not fashionable, after explaining in many

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  • Hollis Sigler

    Gladstone/Villani Gallery

    Frames—the ambiguous area between art and the world, separating the two and binding them together. As an artist you either accept the frame as manifest destiny, territorial imperative, a container, or you play with it. But you cannot eliminate it, for it just returns in another disguise. The frame is the tenacious constant.

    In Hollis Sigler’s They Always Get You Where You Live, a cat walks “across” one of the frames. Frames in Sigler’s drawings are prefaces for serious play. They aren’t just there; they’re elaborated and broadened, nearly part of the image, being made of the same pictorial and

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  • Joan Brown

    Allan Frumkin Gallery

    Joan Brown’s two travel paintings have this scary effect. They were inspired by a trip to South America, but they could be voyages to anywhere unknown. Traveling dislocates, sending the body out into a void, surrounding it with a space that closes off the view, focusing on the body as a center. One painting has a ship in the center; the other, an airplane. Out from these small images, tight coils, short, accumulated trails of paint, are whipped into tornadoes, establishing a foreign territory, a body hurtling through space at the speed of flight—or, more dreadfully, the mind made anxious by the

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  • Adolf Gottlieb

    André Emmerich Gallery

    Two paintings in the Adolf Gottlieb exhibition made the whole thing worthwhile. The other works were accomplished but uninteresting pictographs with cartoony pointing fingers, squishy hands, fishy phallic eyes, and portentous, ambiguous symbols. They probably looked better when they were first exhibited, when they might have seemed at least startlingly grotesque. Gottlieb uses the grid not as a formal device, but as a weird pictorial row of shelves to place images on. The grid as a formal structure did not have the kind of power then that artists now claim for it. Gottlieb thankfully fills the

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