• Philip Guston

    David McKee Gallery

    A tidbit of journalistic wisdom from the ’20s: “The difference between a conservative and a radical is that the conservative has got his.” Since the conservative has everything, he is interested in preserving the status quo. Would that it were so easy today to distinguish conservative tenacity from radical action—in either the political arena or on the art scene. Just as the strident antiwar activist of the ’60s finds her militarist dander ruffled by the current events in Iran and Pakistan, a painting that would’ve seemed retardataire in 1969 seems peculiarly appropriate to the 1979 mood. Notions

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  • Ed Kerns

    Rosa Esman Gallery

    Ed Kerns’ work over the past few years has been characterized by a brutal, perhaps primitive approach to the canvas. Again, in his latest paintings, he gashes and sutures the canvas plane, at once destroying and reclaiming its surface. That fine line separating pain and penance in Judeo-Christianity has for Kerns always been the esthetic struggle between the additive and the subtractive, the perpetual seesawing between ritualistically inflicting paint and form upon a canvas and absolving it.

    In the new work, having already mastered the manipulation of his layered and “darned” surfaces as well as

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  • Don Gummer

    Castle Clinton and Sperone Westwater Fischer

    Don Gummer combines a Cubist vocabulary of interpenetrating planes and geometric shapes with a Constructivist use of painted wood and replacement of opaque volume by space. At his best, as in the site sculpture Surrounded by Divisions exhibited last summer at Castle Clinton, Gummer creates out of rigid lines and spatial geometry what Yeats called “intellectual music.” Rectangles, circles and hexagons function in a musical counterpoint with planes and shadows. The work had a subtly charged pace, a rhythm of rectilinear intervals that also relates the artist to Mondrian.

    Constructed of bluestone

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  • Irving Petlin

    Odyssia Gallery

    Irving Petlin sets up rich structures with metaphorical properties that link him to such European symbolists as Klimt and Redon. Although a figurative artist, Petlin achieves the mystery Redon described as the “effect of the abstract line acting directly on the human spirit.” The dominant image is of an arid yet germinatng landscape. These disturbing settings seem to function as a metaphor for man’s journey; figures and figure groups are archetypal—family, child, survivor. Petlin’s work is allegorical, but the emotional drama is conveyed less by the symbolic narrative than by the paintings’

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  • Lydia Dona

    Bertha Urdang Gallery

    Lydia Dona paints on cardboard panels that form either horizontal or vertical sequences: sequences, not series, for the panels or frames are not all the same. Size varies as does technique; and displacement, not repetition, is the crux of the work. At least that is the format of two of the four works, Local Direction and French/German Color Proportion, 1; the other two are compositional (and compromise somewhat the merits of the first two).

    Dona’s work recalls Jennifer Bartlett’s; both seem intuitive but are largely systemic. And yet Dona’s work is at once more simple and less obvious than

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  • Richards Ruben

    Erickson Gallery

    Diagonals are not new to Richards Ruben’s work: he has painted such bands on a grand scale for several years at least. Now, though, there is only one diagonal, and the scale of the work is much smaller. Also the diagonal is now a “cut.” As a line it is subtractive, not compositional or descriptive of any motif. In effect, it subtracts the surface from itself in order to make it the “image” of the work. It also cuts through the surface to expose the many surfaces and many colors that make it up. (The colors, often garish, often earthy, seem also to be added directly to the cut) As the surfaces

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  • Max Neuhaus

    The Clocktower

    There is no doubt that the many alternative spaces that opened in the ’70s were crucial to redefining given forms of painting and sculpture. Unlike museums and galleries, these spaces are not neutral; they insinuate themselves into the work. As a result, they have abetted art that is indexical in nature as well as art based on performance.

    The tower of the Clocktower is not as insistent as many such spaces: nevertheless, it does inflect work shown there. In Five Russians (A Tuned Room) Max Neuhaus has made it the very medium of the work. There are four high windows in the tower. In the one to

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  • “Animals Living in Cities”

    Fashion Moda

    The attitude toward animals held by the group at Fashion Moda—an authentic alternative space that rejects its description as such—is different from Gianakos’ fetishizing and the Enquirer’s we’re-all-God’s-creatures perspective. “Animals Living in Cities,” a show organized by Christy Rupp for this South Bronx storefront, took as its subject pets and pests, took as its contributors sociologists, zoologists, locals, and visual artists. Fashion Moda has an inclusive view of art, dangerously close to an “everything is everything” permissiveness, but no “space” in Manhattan so acutely characterizes

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  • Steven Gianakos

    Droll/Kolbert Gallery

    With Steven Gianakos, ideas of conservative and radical are not applicable. He aims for the catharsis of humor, a smutty subversiveness; but, regrettably, his recent exhibition showed he only has one weapon in his arsenal: penguins placed in human situations. In a series of ink-on-museum-board cartoons, Gianakos’ penguins are stars of blue movies, celebrities at a Penguin Premiere, proud owners at Dog Show, and health enthusiasts at The Gym. Gianakos’ penguins aren’t the cute animals wearing tuxes, but rather dimestore, molded-plastic models, their limbs frozen onto a pedestal. They’re oddball

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  • Jennifer Bartlett

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    No painter more warrants the post-minimalist accolade “eclectic” than Jennifer Bartlett. Her matter-of-fact grids (1-foot-square steel plates arranged mosaically, with silkscreened grids over each plate) were dolled up with enamel color, and reached everybody’s threshold level with Rhapsody, almost 1,000 square feet of these enameled plates upon which were painted a glossary of 20th-century styles. In Rhapsody, it seemed that Bartlett kept starting from square one. In her new “Swimmers” series, however, she proves that she’s on the square—committed to working out the problems of a post-Impressionist

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  • Stefan Hirsch

    Rosa Esman Gallery

    In the first painting, Self Portrait, a prim, dour man in a brown jacket stares out warily through round glasses. Behind him hangs an overcoat. This painting, like all of Stefan Hirsch’s, concerns the elimination and correction of detail. The jacket’s diagonal lapel is “missing”; it has disappeared to give the lapel shape and body underneath it a subtle ambiguity. The hanging coat’s similar lapel edge looks as if it had been painted “correctly,” in the proper perspective, and then adjusted little by little until it formed a deliberate horizontal line. As the eye moves back and forth between

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  • John McLaughlin

    André Emmerich Gallery

    Very difficult, the small John McLaughlin retrospective. So gentle are the earlier paintings, small and vulnerable, so muted, refined and retiring the later ones—they threaten to self-efface at any moment. The bodiless paint, the textureless surfaces, the neutral formats, the old-time thin stretchers—the object is very shy. If you find yourself in the right mood, they disappear. McLaughlin wanted this to happen; his attempt was to induce states of transcendental contemplation, of turning back into yourself, going beyond “mere” appearance, getting in touch with “interior sensibilities” “emanating

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  • Ron Gorchov

    Hamilton Gallery

    I have run into Ron Gorchov’s work frequently in group shows, in ones or twos, and I’ve never liked it very much. This show surprised me. I was not made impatient by the large quantity of “shields,” and they actually seemed better in multiple variation. Extensive gallery-going experience leads almost everyone to believe that repetition, series and sets are conducive to deadly boredom. But this show made me feel better about the future of Gorchov’s brand of art—basically an abstract, expressionist signature painting. All you need is one person who does it well.

    The paintings are instantly recognizable

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  • Willem de Kooning

    Xavier Fourcade Gallery

    Critics have shown their prodigious capacity for invention when it has come to rationalizing their dislike of Willem de Kooning’s art. There is the “self-indulgent” argument, forwarded by Hilton Kramer (who hasn’t liked the work since the ’40s). This view considers de Kooning’s expressive obviousness an orgy of “pictorial self-dramatization and unbridled pictorial display,” which sounds good to me, but is meant to sound very bad. Then there is the “too late, too blind” school of formalist criticism which sloughed de Kooning off for just never really understanding the real problems of modern

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  • Robert Kushner

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    Robert Kushner may be called a “decorative artist” but that doesn’t mean he makes one kind of art or that decoration is his sole concern. Several paintings in the show are, oddly enough, saved from “abstractness” by their identification as decorations. Peach Gate has curtain tassels attached to it and the “painting” is a parted curtain hung from the ceiling at the show’s entrance. If the addition of things like tassels was perfectly OK for Rauschenberg it was because, after all, his combines were still emphatically paintings. Kushner turns this inside out, going from decoration to painting to

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  • Farrell Brickhouse

    Max Protetch

    One threat to current painting is that as a result of consciousness-raisers such as Barbara Rose a sheer smallness of conception may triumph. Farrell Brickhouse has chosen an unfortunate time to make his appearance; his problem is not that his idea of what painting can do is flawed, but simply that he would prefer to be Dufy than Picasso. Forced to reach for unfashionable terms such as “panache,” “brio,” "insouciance”—all foreign, you notice—critics run the risk of forgetting to discuss what he is trying to do, and of mistaking his range and approach. Brickhouse himself doesn’t help; his homage

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  • Marco Bagnoli

    Salvatore Ala Gallery

    Marco Bagnoli’s Anti-Hertz consisted of a large canvas screen suspended diagonally between two pillars of a darkened room. An old-fashioned theatrical lamp threw a long, white light across the gallery floor. It touched the base of the canvas and illuminated a circular cake of red paint beyond it. The chimney of the machine caused a circular light on the ceiling and, on the gallery window in another part of the room a slide projector cast the image of a wooded landscape with a church. Imagine the whirring of the machines in the darkness; the changes in quality of the long light and the tinge it

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  • Alice Aycock

    John Weber Gallery

    Within a waist-high wooden fence three paths lead to a tilted circular enclosure, lashed to a central axis by a lever. As the willing participant crawls toward it through heavy, guillolinelike metal gates the drum rotates until a narrow opening is exposed. Inside he stands on a narrow wooden platform while the walls on either side trundle noisily past. After one revolution another gap is revealed. Trapped and frustrated, the victim finally arrives at the center. As he awaits his captor’s behest he may wonder who is operating this torture-device-cum-party-game. In literal terms, it is one of the

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  • Conrad Atkinson and Victor Burgin

    Ronald Feldman Gallery and John Weber Gallery

    I have always found the mixture of art and social purpose to be like a "lady’s drink”—the marriage of the sweet and the bitter, an appealing, tasteful presentation of that which if consumed undiluted and without the little paper-umbrella swizzle stick, would disturb and shake you. It was with this bias that I went to see the work of Conrad Atkinson and Victor Burgin, both of which defy categorization; they can be seen as political protest, sociology, anthropology and/or art.

    An interesting counterpoint is set up between Atkinson and Burgin, each with his individual approach to that juncture

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