reviews

  • Arshile Gorky

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    Poor Arshile Gorky. To judge from those early self-portraits he really had an attitude about himself. But it was an attitude plagued by a crippling lack of definition, for he was extremely slow to develop any deep sense of who or what he was. As a result his work always seems rather touching, even sad. He continually strove to express his deepest, most essential self, but since he had no real idea of that self, he could only work by mimicking others. Even toward the end, when he did develop his own style, it remained a derivative one, and he never found the courage to step out from behind the

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  • “American Landscapes”

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    “American Landscapes,” a show that John Szarkowski chose himself out of his own collection, goes over familiar terrain. The first exhibition Szarkowski did as director of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department was a landscape show, and innumerable restrospectives and surveys have followed in the nearly two decades since. To go back and say something original now about territory that’s been so thoroughly covered seems difficult. Yet Szarkowski succeeds precisely because he knows both the subject and his museum’s collection well. While we also know before going to the show who the

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  • “The Photography Of Space Exploration”

    Grey Art Gallery

    Historian Gail Buckland recently published an interesting book called First Photographs, in which she collected the medium’s first known images of a variety of subjects. It is perhaps by virtue of the same kind of priority that early photographs of the West dominate “American Landscapes.” Everything in “The Photography of Space Exploration” has this fascination, too; but I found myself wondering whether the pictures in it would ever acquire for us the beauty that early photography of the West has. I doubt it. On the one hand, the moon and the planets have always stimulated the imagination. On

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  • Chuck Close

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Although Chuck Close must be more intimately acquainted with the construction of the human face than any other artist of his generation, he is a portraitist decidedly uninterested in human character. His early gigantic, scrupulously modeled heads make Andy Warhol’s portraits look almost analytical, so deliberately stylized and objectified are they. As Martin Friedman, director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, tactfully says in one of the show’s catalogue essays, the most direct cause for this superficiality is that Close works not from life, but from uninteresting, bland photographs of

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  • Twin Art

    White Columns

    I’ve never much cared for poodles and I harbor an active dislike for the topiary excess occasioned by the breed. Any grooming process that transforms dogs into animated shrubbery smacks of an esthetic malaise not unrelated to Nero’s penchant for turning Christians into flambeaux to illuminate his garden parties. As a symbol of terminal frivolity and surrogate preening, the poodle is unrivaled.

    As a desirable domestic accoutrement, the poodle reached the zenith of its American popularity during the isolationist ’50s. Replacing the sinuous Deco hounds of the ’30s and the sturdy little terriers of

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  • Vito Acconci

    Max Protetch Gallery

    We tend to think of the house as a private space somehow apart from society, whereas, in fact, it is the social form par excellence. Vito Acconci’s Collision House and Peeling House are also social houses, but of a special sort—they are shelters that expose us to our own social forms, devices that turn our actions into signs.

    Collision House consists of several parts: a hut with, inside it, a black flag that reads “NGGR FLG NO 1,” and painted sky and clouds; a shelter identified as “BMB SHLR NO 2”, and a bicycle with connecting wires and pulleys, surrounded by a vision-obscuring wedge. With the

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  • Dan Flavin

    Leo Castelli Gallery

    Reviewing work by Dan Flavin has always been difficult, for the work is deliberately unyielding to the language of interpretation. It can be described in one of two ways; factually, as a list of lighting fixtures and an indication of their placement, or more poetically, as an evocation of the effect of a particular installation. Either description soon gets boring. Which is the point, for Flavin is interested in challenging traditional notions of art and its appreciation. His colored lights produce an exaggerated sense of wonder, a literalization of the aura of art that borders on the comic.

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  • Paul Caponigro and Edward Weston

    Various Venues

    The stature that Edward Weston and Paul Caponigro have is indicated not only by their gallery shows, but by the inclusion of each in “American Landscapes.” Nevertheless, the achievement of each seems to me limited. Their photographs overrefine Romanticism until it becomes a self-contradiction. The exquisiteness of the imagery contravenes nature. The pictures are at once both breathtaking and impersonal. They are like some highly wrought icon from the Old Russia. They are not so much works of art as objects of virtu. The artisan quality of Weston’s photography is underscored by the fact that most

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  • “Alternatives in Retrospect”

    New Museum

    “The narratives of the world are numberless,” says Roland Barthes. They subsume “a prodigious variety of genres . . . as though any material were fit to receive man’s stories.” Take the New Museum’s Alternatives in Retrospect, a survey of seven alternative spaces in New York during 1969 and the early ’70s: Gain Ground, Apple, 98 Greene Street, 112 Greene Street Workshop, 10 Bleecker Street, Idea Warehouse, and 3 Mercer. Whether video, process, site-specific, or documentary, most of the works here talk a lot, with even the most perceptual pieces, such as Nancy Holt’s and Cecile Abish’s, radiating

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  • “The Anti-WW3 Internationalist Art Show”

    Parsons The New School for Design

    The alternative art of the early ’70s may have been profoundly alienated, but, as the title of Acconci’s Leeway suggests, the freedom to be detached, eccentric (“out of the center”), was never questioned. The “Anti-WW3 Internationalist Art Show,” a display of 2000 works (mainly posters, some poems) from 45 countries, argues not only that the option to be marginal is now less available, but also that it is dangerous, for two reasons: idiosyncrasy will not be tolerated by those in power, and is not useful to those out of power. This show opines that when war is imminent, the proper mood is

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  • Robert Ashley

    Music Word Fire And I Would Do It Again (Coo-Coo): The Lessons is a 30-minute TV program by Robert Ashley that was broadcast on WNET-TV Channel 13’s “Video/Film Review” on June 28, 1981, and stereo simulcast on WNYC 93.9 FM. Designed and edited by John Sanborn (video director in collaboration with Ashley)—Kit Fitzgerald, and Carlota Schoolman, with music production by Peter Gordon, The Lessons is part of Ashley’s Perfect Lives (Private Parts), an opera for television commissioned and produced by the Kitchen.

    The program consists of four seven-minute segments, all of them variations on the theme

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  • Paul Zelevansky

    Paul Zelevansky’s The Case for the Burial of Ancestors: Book 1 is the first of three books that will chronicle the history of a fictional people called the Hegemonians (who resemble the Hebrews of the Old Testament). This is not their first appearance in Zelevansky’s work; over the past few years he has recorded their culture in performances, installation works, artifacts, and in an earlier volume entitled The Book of Takes. The Case books are his attempt to pare his mythic civilization down to its essentials—to contain it within “a portable case . . . which travels easily,” and which will allow

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  • “Monumental Show”

    Gowanus Memorial Artyard

    The Gowanus Monumental Show received mixed recognition as this spring’s artist-organized “event,” and was claimed by some as the heir apparent to the Times Square Show of last summer. The latter was full of urban pop art, whose esthetic, generally speaking, derived from the more secretive, ultimately private side of city life—the scrawled threats and obscene, absurd endearments of bathroom graffiti, or the individual’s isolated and isolating encounters with violence, fear, and poverty on city streets. In the far more ambitious Monumental Show the work was more public, less aggressive (size

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  • “Color Photography: 5 New Views”

    Marlborough | Midtown

    Within the last two decades color photography has become commonplace without losing any of its specialty. Color techniques now provide sharper, richer, truer to life images than ever before. The media have made color photography a prime player in the information game, using it to bring home—often in sublimated form (think of print advertising)—their message. Of course, what’s at the source of the appeal of color photography is its ability to show and tell more about people, places, and events—the way we were and it was, so to speak—than black-and-white photography is able to do.

    All of the five

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  • “Love Is Blind”

    Castelli Graphics

    Love, 20th-century style, was surveyed in this large, splashy, something-for-eveyone group photography show. Arranged salonlike in vertical rows, the display was a provocative collagist juxtaposition of every imaginable love attitude and love coupling. Pieces numbered about 90 in all, and included works by photographers, portrait-machine shots, movie stills, and even a magazine cover. Both color and black-and-white prints were on view.

    Approaches toward love varied, from the documentary—E.J. Bellocq’s Storyville portraits—through the slice-of-life intimacy of Diane Arbus and the bravura theatricality

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