reviews

  • Oskar Kokochka

    Marlborough | Chelsea

    There are plenty of contemporary sources for the sentimental esthetic of Oskar Kokoschka. I look at him now mostly as a curiosity, or as a source of clues toward a reading of the new wave of expressionist painters gaining favor in Europe and America. Kokoschka has always found champions among those critics who love to croon magic words like “evocative,” “expressive,” “emotionality,” and “experiential,” but the sad truth is that, despite intentions, he never was much of a painter. His early work is little more than an emaciated pastiche of Art Nouveau, while his later years were given over to a

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  • Ed Fausty, Brian Rose

    Henry Street Settlement

    The warm weather always seems to bring out the street photographers, not only on the street, but in the galleries. There are many good ones in shows this year. They range from a couple of kids just starting with that oldest of photographic instruments, the plate camera, to a couple of old-timers who began 50 years ago with what was then the newest gadget, the hand camera.

    The two young photographers, Ed Fausty and Brian Rose, work as a team. They are good, really good. The marvelous thing about their work is that they wield their four-by-five-inch camera, with color-sheet film, as facilely as if

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  • Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf

    Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

    To the Anselm Kiefer school of Teutonic mythomania may not be added the lush paintings of Rainer Fetting or the frenzied works of Helmut Middendorf. For these young German painters, the romance of twentieth-century European art history is far more exciting than that of German legend. Perhaps the only pursuit more thrilling than this for each is the act of painting itself.

    Fetting’s interest in naked young men in showers and bathrooms only superficially recalls David Hockney. His men just happen to be in bathrooms; their surroundings and states of nakedness aren’t nearly as sexy as the colors and

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  • Thomas Lawson

    Various locations

    As a critic for this magazine, Thomas Lawson displays little patience with pretentious or sentimental imagery that rides behind the shield of the “new.” It is something of a relief to see that his paintings are the products of the same tenacious mind; his imagery alone—battered women, murdered men, brutalized children—safeguards against any accusations that the artist suffers from even a fleeting moment of romantic weakness. It is hard to walk away from his work without recalling not just the specific paintings, but the specific kinds of everyday atrocities to which they so grimly attest.

    The

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  • Tod Papageorge

    Daniel Wolf

    Tod Papageorge has a way with words. In the introduction to the catalogue for the Evans and Frank show, which Papageorge put together as an homage, there are moments of real eloquence. They come when he addresses himself directly to the photographs. He takes a surprisingly persuasive view of Frank’s The Americans, for instance, as a kind of group portraiture in which “heads are drawn with the sculptural brevity of those found on worn coins.” A phrase like that makes clear the truth of what Papageorge says in his first paragraph: this exhibition was “born of love and respect.” Only someone who

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  • Humphrey Spender

    Prakapas Gallery

    Humphrey Spender is another photographer new to America. This is his first show here, even though he did his work as a photographer between 40 and 50 years ago. Spender, brother of poet Stephen Spender, was a British photojournalist who signed on in 1937 as “official” photographer for the Mass Observation project. This was a sociological study of everyday life in England begun by a group of artists and intellectuals. Under its aegis, Spender became a one-man Farm Security Administration in the “black” town of Bolton in the industrial north. This was the region of George Orwell’s The Road to

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  • Robert Doisneau

    Witkin Gallery

    In Paris, since the time of the Haussmann renovations, the swells have lived in the central city and the working class has lived in the suburbs. Robert Doisneau began documenting working-class life in one of those suburbs a little before Spender went to Bolton. The resulting series of pictures show Doisneau to be the equal of Brassai. The suburbs where Doisneau photographed were the ones in which he had grown up and still lived, so the pictures sometimes strike me as running, like those in one’s family album, a bit on the nostalgic side. But really, it was just in the nature of Doisneau’s

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  • Charles Marville

    French Institute Alliance Française (fi:af)

    A hundred and twenty-five years ago, when the Haussmann renovations were under way, one person who was not sorry to see the working class evicted from Paris was Charles Marville. As Maria Morris Hambourg points out in her catalogue introduction, Marville’s motives for undertaking a documentation of the Old Paris that Haussmann was pulling down have long been confused with Eugène Atget’s motives for a similar project four decades later. Marville was not enamored of the old quarters as Atget was, nor do his photographs bathe his subjects in the peerless light of romanticism that Atget was so deft

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  • General Idea

    49th Parallel

    Will 1984 be the year of Orwell’s Big Brother or of the Miss General Idea Pageant—or are they somehow in cahoots? General Idea is a group of three Canadian artists—AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal. General Idea, we are told, is for them the artist; Miss General Idea is their art and muse; a “Pavilion” (reconstructed from show to show) is their museum; a magazine they publish, called FILE, is their mass media; and the Pageant, which can mediate nearly any information, is their format. There have been several such projects; the Pageant itself is scheduled for 1984. So much for the artist

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  • Bryan Hunt

    Blum Helman Gallery

    Bryan Hunt’s sculpture wavers between the natural, the architectural, and the figural. It may simultaneously evoke a waterfall arrested in bronze and a body stripped of flesh. “Fresh” and “rotten” mix as if they were forms. The work is about such paradoxes. The oppositions are the expected ones—volume and void. stasis and motion—but the real interest is the play of natural and cultural. In the drawings especially, these forms inflect this opposition: the waterfall (nature), the arch (architecture), and the quarry (a place “between” nature and culture, where natural material is extracted for

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  • Salomé and Luciano Castelli

    Annina Nosei Gallery

    The quarrel with expressionist art is at base a political one: art that places supreme value on individual enterprise is, ultimately, reactionary. While the expressionist stance is confrontational, it is as often based on an effete snobbism as on real understanding of or sympathy with the oppressed classes. And, moreover, whether of the right or the left, it can too easily be characterized as merely rebellious—as safely contained, easily explained, and therefore in complicity with the standards that it seeks to overthrow, be they moral, political, or esthetic. It is art that sets out to eradicate

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  • Eric Bogosian

    American Theatre Laboratory

    Eric Bogosian’s performance work participates in this genre. In both his solo performances and his plays he isolates and re-presents media clichés, especially those that come to us from television, using theatrical conventions as a framing device. The New World was presented as a play, but it was really a grouping of some fifteen scenes of what could instantly be recognized as “American life,” structured by means of association rather than by a narrative. The evening was introduced by a host, eerily reminiscent of Rod Serling, who creepily insinuated an easy familiarity as he offered his viewers

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  • Thornton Willis

    Oscarsson Hood Gallery

    In true modernist spirit, Thornton Willis is content to return to basics. With a panache that is astonishing, he brings the practice of abstract painting right up-to-date by reminding us of the original meaning of cliché: a template used by printers for often-used formulations. Taking a device he has been using for quite a few years to give direction to the paint on his canvases—a wedge shape—he has developed a series of works on paper from which lithographs have been made. The conceit is superb, a witty reconciliation of the reproducibility of prints with the singularity of painting—although

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  • Russ Warren

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    The protagonist of Russ Warren’s new paintings is a potato-faced poppet who is sometimes bald and sometimes sports a little patch of hair atop his pink head. Wandering in asexual, “New Image” nudity through a landscape that simultaneously manages to evoke Braque and Louisa Chase, he gets caught up in a series of allegorical encounters. Imagine a Balthus coloring book based on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and you have it.

    Pushed out from the ground by shadows which, regardless of the landscape’s undulations, break in severe right angles, this character floats in and out of tableaux with titles

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  • William Schwedler

    The Clocktower

    William Schwedler’s recent paintings are done on plywood, molded into large S-shapes, or, at their simplest, into convex and concave arcs. Hung horizontally, their streamlined curves hug the wall as a good set of tires hugs the road. Indeed, there is much about the work that evokes classic automobile-ad copy: phrases such as “aerodynamic styling” feel absolutely right applied to Schwedler’s visual concerns, which manage, like the cars the copy describes, to look brand new while remaining comfortably traditional.

    Schwedler’s paintings are unquestionably abstract. They are also undeniably metropolitan;

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  • Laurie Anderson

    One Ten Records

    My one complaint about Laurie Anderson’s new record, O Superman/ Walk the Dog, is its length: at only 15 minutes, it’s way too short. I’m ready for a double album. O Superman and Walk the Dog are two selections from her projected, four-part concert cycle, United States. As the cycle has yet to be completed, the double album will have to wait; but, in the meantime, Anderson’s current release is a lot more than teaser excerpts. Each piece is a compelling, self-contained musical narrative.

    O Superman begins as a domestic mantra sweetly invoking “Mom and Dad.” Then, answering-machine voices are

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  • Francesc Torres

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Francesc Torres’ multimedia installation, The Head of the Dragon, grew out of the artist’s interest in neurologist Paul MacLean’s model of the triune brain. MacLean, according to Torres, sees the brain as something like an archaeological site, composed of three different layers of evolutionary development—the cerebral cortex, the limbic system, and the R-Complex (the deepest and most primitive layer, which dominates the brains of our evolutionary forebears, the reptiles and lizards). Though all three layers operate simultaneously in the human brain, in this installation Torres chose to focus on

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  • Susan Hall

    Hamilton Gallery

    Susan Hall walks boldly on the magical side of realism. Her recent works offer prime-time viewing in the pictorial “Twilight Zone,” where the familiar is fantastic, where seeing is not necessarily knowing. In this group of recent drawings and paintings Hall is returning to (but not limited by) subjects that have interested her since the early ’70s—women, travel, etc. In both mediums the aim is the same—to make a rich, emotional, psychologically loaded art and to suggest deliciously mysterious experience. Her means is a tension-filled relationship between form and content articulated with a

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