reviews

  • “Kandinsky In Munich 1896–1914”

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    “Kandinsky in Munich 1896–1914” Large museum exhibitions, particularly retrospectives of any kind, have a habit of confounding the organizers’ intentions. We are told to believe one thing, bludgeoned with evidence and explanatory text, but very often something else presents itself and, in demanding attention, destroys the official thesis. Among shows held in recent years one can think of Andy Warhol’s portraits at the Whitney Museum, the Mark Rothko and Arshile Gorky exhibitions at the Guggenheim, and, most spectacularly, the Pablo Picasso show at the Museum of Modern Art. The latter backfired

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  • Andy Warhol

    Leo Castelli Gallery

    There once was a time when Andy Warhol was producing what was undoubtedly some of the most important art in New York. But that was quite a while ago. In recent years his shows have been increasingly disappointing and this latest is the most disappointing yet. It is beginning to look as though Warhol has hit the bottom. There is an awful desperation in his search for new images, and in his reuse of old ones. The “Myths” should have been a good series, but in the end it looked lazy; it looked as though gaps were being filled in. The “Reversals” had that same quality—little more than a footnote to

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  • Joseph Nechvatal

    The Kitchen

    Joseph Nechvatal is a man obsessed. But unlike most obsessives who turn to art, it is not so much the procedure of art-making that haunts him (though there is some evidence that it does) but rather a subject matter—and that subject is nuclear holocaust. He just cannot stop worrying about what will happen if the leaders of this country continue on their path of military growth and confrontation.

    It is a big worry, and Nechvatal has big ambitions for the art he makes from it. So far he has not been able to realize those ambitions, though he has apparently tried his hand at a large-scale mural in

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  • Eve Sonneman

    Castelli Graphics

    In her recent photographs Eve Sonneman has abandoned her trademark format. While the earlier works were arranged in sequential pairs, each image showing a different but near-identical view, these are large (20-by-24-inch) single Cibachrome prints. Their subjects are somewhat equivocal situations mingling mundane and marvelous, beautiful and bizarre. In one, fleshy bathers occupy the foreground beach while a distant roller coaster has been set aflame (the photograph was shot at Coney Island). In another, black-skinned dancers with shimmering costumes in strident hues parade through a city street

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  • “Copy Cat Show”

    Franklin Furnace

    In 1938 the lawyer Chester Carlson developed xerography as a quick, efficient means to make carbon copies of patent specifications. In 1959 Xerox unveiled the machine which soon became an office fixture. And by the early ’60s artists had turned to the medium as a cheap, easy, and challenging way to manipulate the stuff o’ the world. The rest is history: copy art was born. But the artists also inherited the medium’s paradoxes, as a mass-reproduction technique used for single or small-edition works. And while the machine promised much, it generally delivered little, offering standard formats,

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  • Theodora Skipitares

    Inroads

    There are moments of such emotional and esthetic persuasiveness in Theodora Skipitares’ most recent performance that,even though it was presented as a work in progress, it warrants discussion. For Skipitares to work with puppets is not new; her use of motorized puppets in their own detailed environments, however, is a recent development. The puppets are suggestively lifelike but only selectively animate: in one, for example, only the arm and head have mobility; the entire body of another is immobile, but that body is programmed to perform a convulsive jerk. The former is also capable of vomiting,

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  • Abby Robinson

    A.I.R. Gallery

    When I met Abby Robinson, after having seen her work in a group show called “Sights Unseen,” I felt that I already knew her on a personal level. Behind the face that each of us shows to the world we all have a more candid, less flattering vision of ourselves. This is the vision we get when we accidentally catch sight of ourselves in a mirror at a moment that we don’t expect to. It is an image in which our lumpish flesh suddenly represents to us how we really feel, who we really are. Most of us keep this image buried under layers of self-defense. Maybe we can feel it there, the way the princess

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  • Charles Traub

    Hudson River Museum

    When Charles Traub is out on the street, he sometimes goes up to strangers and asks to take their pictures. If they agree, he snaps a portrait “before a self-conscious mask can be prepared for the camera,” according to a statement that accompanied the show. The results are disconcerting, and not just because Traub has caught these people somewhat off-guard. He has in fact put them in a very peculiar position by taking their pictures while standing extremely close—so close that his own shadow occasionally falls on his subject, even at midday. These color portraits have been made with a wide-angle

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  • Johnny Alterman and Jeff Gates

    Photograph Gallery/Robert Samuel Gallery

    The art of the fin de siècle is marked by a tendency for the artist to withdraw from the world. Romanticism was degenerating into narcissism; the artist became a self-regarding esthete, a sensibility too fine for the vulgar age in which he or she lived. Since few people like to live in utter solitude, though, male artists whether heterosexual or homosexual usually tried to take with them in their retreat a companion, a lover, a soul mate to help while away the hours. Having rejected or shut themselves off from all other subject matter, artists concentrated on these companions as their only

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  • John Willenbecher

    Hamilton Gallery

    John Willenbecher’s deep concern with archetypal formal and thematic issues results in some of the most exciting iconic art in New York this season. Works shown here from the “Laureate” series of recent mixed-media paintings illustrate his methods and intentions. The artist brings together two of the simple geometric shapes that have long interested him and which appear throughout his work from the 70’s, the arch and the circle. Each painting boasts a painted arch-shaped wooden frame encasing a Masonite support, painted to simulate marble. A circle in the form of a gold-leaf laurel wreath rests,

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  • Cynthia Gallagher

    Grace Borgenicht Gallery

    This exhibition of five works from 1981 revealed a concentrated, constructively specific pictorial energy which expresses a thoroughly contemporary personal vision in active dialogue with the important Modernist tradition of “painterly” painting. It was an exhilarating display.

    Greased Hip is typical of the approach and the methods. Like the other works here, it employs the risk-laden additive and subtractive process that Cynthia Gallagher introduced in 1980; she starts with a rectangular sheet of paper which she cuts into and adds to as she paints it. The result is a painting whose basic elements

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  • Hanne Tierney

    Rosa Esman Gallery

    Marionettes, probably the most tradition-bound of the performance arts, were updated in this engaging display by Hanne Tierney. The gallery space was totally commandeered by the various-shaped puppets, which were supported by a fully visible system of strings and pulleys. These 3-D characters included not only organic, all-of-a-piece clothed figures, but also assemblages of things—a Venetian blind, ties on hangers, a pair of pants. Visitors were invited to interact with them, to make them move; and Tierney put on two performances in which the highly expressionistic marionettes played specific

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  • “One From The Heart”

    One from the Heart, a title laced with ironies (half of them unintentional), is Francis Coppola’s overwrought valentine to Joe Average and the Missus. A dollop of glum Capra-corn served with the gooey hues and would-be fizz of an early ’50s M-G-M production number, the film is an Amarcord–like studio confection, reportedly directed from afar via video hookup. Coppola’s primary command, as a photographer of my acquaintance remarked, was likely “Lights! Camera! Lights!”—a not altogether inappropriate strategy for a movie meant to evoke downtown Las Vegas on the Fourth of July.

    Las Vegas—a

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  • “Pennies From Heaven”

    The supposedly poignant failure of American show biz utopias is the even more relentless theme of Herbert Ross’ critically overrated Pennies from Heaven. Less dialectical than schematic (and shticky where One from the Heart was merely sticky), Pennies from Heaven hyperbolizes the logic of the musical genre. The plot is grim Theodore Dreiser material, while the numbers are id unbridled. In Pennies from Heaven the characters not only speak in pop platitudes but think in them as well—lip-synching the lyrics (and fantasizing the production numbers) of various ’20s and ’30s chestnuts at regular

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  • “Critical Perspectives”

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

    This exhibition had a lot of élan. The question is what existed beyond the exciting novelty of it all, beyond the aura of “hot flow” Edit deAk wrote of in her curatorial essay. Eight critics wrote such essays, making claims for the works they chose: do the works live up to the claims? We have Linda Burn-ham’s California art of “self-indulgence,” Ronny Cohen’s “Energism,” Edit deAk’s charisma room, John Howell’s artists who use “visual art forms [to] reflect and expand upon their individual performance activities,” Thomas Lawson’s muffled melodramas, Joseph Masheck’s neo-formalism, Peter Plagens’

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  • “New Drawing In America”

    The Drawing Center

    This was another kind of group show, the first half of an exhibition of drawings by 174 artists (one work each). To me it posed a problem: the lack of profile of drawing today. Drawing has acquired a multitude of uses and lost definition as a medium. This is perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the so-called expansionist esthetic and the multimedia approach, with their implicit synthesis of all in all; but they seem increasingly a matter of diminishing returns. The sense of vision that their variety of combinations initially evoked seems lost. Somewhere between the alternative, purist approach,

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  • Hans Namuth

    Leo Castelli

    This was a meretricious show; it was about the selling of artists. It was even meretricious stylistically, with the forwardness of the color in these photographic portraits and the posturing of the artists who are their subjects. Why write about it, then, why not let it pass unnoticed into oblivion? Because it is a symptom of that adulation of the artist as a “phenomenon” that Clement Greenberg long ago condemned in the treatment of Picasso, but which is still prevalent. It is a symptom of art’s condition as entertainment, and very much a part of that social order of events in which popular

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