reviews

  • William Wiley

    Frumkin Gallery

    Like Schneemann’s, William Wiley’s pieces, for all their humor, are muffled in a disappointment with or disbelief in art. This is true of every artist who distrusts form (and all good ones, especially good formalists, do to some extent), but in Wiley one senses that the tastelessness that so outrages his critics (the thing that makes him at once vital and tiresome) is the manifestation of a feeling that nothing matters, rather than of simple iconoclasm. Thus we have the divided intellect fighting it out between ingenuous brilliance and brilliant stupidity, while the weary, shackled body ignores

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  • “Science Fiction”

    John Weber Gallery

    In assembling this exhibition Peter Halley wished to make two entirely distinct but equally general statements under the umbrella of our cultural spleen. He wished, first of all, to simultaneously express and affront “a vision of technology and capitalism developing out of control, of social planning discredited and discarded, a vision that has become a mesmerizing nightmare, not a comforting dream.” He further urged viewers, as they perused the objects, to ponder the range of ideological bummers in recent art history, a period during which “the impetus to remove art from the space of the gallery

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  • Iris Rose, “House of Jahnke”

    Pyramid Cocktail Lounge

    Post-Modern seems to mean “neo”: neo-expressionism, neo-figurativism, neo-surrealism, and so on. One critic proposes that what is really going on is neo-classicism. I look at the proliferating revival of forms like the Ionic frieze and Roman sarcophagus in recent Soho shows, and the increasing allusions to the archaeological site by painters and sculptors alike, and perceive a neoantique strain to it all. Nowadays the question about an artist is: what does he or she quote from the past? Pueblan artifacts? Tantric icons? One’s bag from history is in a sense one’s signature, like the distinctive

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  • Bill Woodrow

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery

    An important feature of recent British art has been the emergence of a group of young object sculptors. Although widely disparate in temperament and production, these artists are aligned, in general, by an attempt to reincorporate the object (and with it, representation), and by an urge to evoke the character of urban culture through cast-off industrial forms. In this, they are distanced both from such nature-oriented practices as that of Richard Long and from the “constructive” tradition epitomized by Anthony Caro. To date, only Tony Cragg has exhibited much in New York; September witnessed a

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  • “Terminal New York”

    Brooklyn Army Terminal

    The Brooklyn Army Terminal, Cass Gilbert’s poured-concrete structure of 1918–19, looks large, solid, and rather unexceptional from the outside, a massive warehouse. But the interior is astonishing. Eight cavernous floors, with relatively low ceilings supported by imposing ranks of squat, Egyptian-like columns, open on a breathtaking enclosed loading dock for rail freight. This so-called atrium space combines the simple grandeur one associates with the monuments of early civilizations with a kind of futurist, science fiction imagery. Empty and slightly dilapidated, the space retains its impact

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  • Edouard Manet

    The Met | Metropolitan Museum of Art

    The incredible thing about Manet’s career is how controversial it remains. From eaves dropping on the crowd here and reading the press afterward, it is clear that large numbers of people are still stuck with the impression that he was a terribly clumsy painter who sort of blundered into a few good paintings. The persistence of such a judgment, a judgment based on an expectation of correctness, tells us quite a bit about how deeply ingrained is Giorgio Vasari’s understanding of the history of art. It also, surprisingly, tells us something about the work, for what is so interesting about that,

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  • Pat Place

    Tin Pan Alley

    Pat Place is best known for her work as a musician—she played guitar with the original Contortions, New York’s infamous funk noir group, and now leads the Bush Tetras, an artful New York dance band—but she has been making paintings, sculptures, and photographs for as long as she has been making music. Place recently had her first solo exhibition, a group of large color photographs, at this bar in the Times Square area. It was an appropriate setting for the work, an artists’ and musicians’ hangout where every once in a while some of the local color drifts in and a few patrons might have thought

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  • Group Material

    Taller Latino Americano Gallery and the IRT subway line

    I’ve always thought that one of the main motives of the graffiti writer is the desire to personalize the urban environment, to rebel against the corporate nature of written language in public space. Few of the words that cover cities refer directly to the people that inhabit them: signs carry the names of corporations, name products, give orders, but rarely say anything about people. Signs do not say “José Torres lives here.” Signs saying “Fred loves Marie” are usually illegal. Signs tell us that the city belongs to the corporation.

    Group Material has taken the graffiti writer’s struggle for a

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  • Carolee Schneemann

    Max Hutchinson Gallery

    The air of frustration about Carolee Schneemann’s recent mixed media objects has to do with their subject matter—the war in Lebanon—but it expresses itself, in a kind of reflexive subtext, as a loss of esthetic faith. Instead of Robert Rauschenberg’s famous “gap” figure of speech, Schneemann would probably see art and life as weaving onward in mutual self-realization, woof and warp; yet this work seems to balk, to be as much about intermittent, relentless, disruptive return, as about flowing on. There’s a hitch.

    Take War Mop, 1983, an image/machine of vaudevillian inevitability. Slowly one end

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  • Cham Hendon

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    Cham Hendon, the “Bad Painter” of lapidary surfaces, has moved from the land of American banalities to a more lyrically fictive realm. For several years he has synthesized portraits of the modern French masters and renditions of their work, but these earlier depictions were treated as cultural pinups, images likely to turn up, shrunken and color processed, in the empty hotel rooms and municipal offices for which his paintings were best known. Monet, for one, remains a stock presence in a couple of Hendon’s new works, but he is no longer simply a paragon for provincials as he walks guests through

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  • Louise Dahl-Wolfe

    Grey Art Gallery

    Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s first published photograph was bought by Vanity Fair in 1933 and is titled Mrs. Ramsey. Dominated by a vegetable, the photogenic if inedible turban gourd, yet evidently concerned with the actuality of Mrs. Ramsey, an Appalachian woman wizened beyond gender, its effect is that of “still life with hardship.” Dahl-Wolfe, who chose the pictures in this exhibition and provided blueprints for their display, may like it for this very reason. Her encomium to young photographers runs along the lines of “study painting, learn to design,” as she once did, and this picture must strike

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  • Johanna Went

    Pyramid Cocktail Lounge

    Johanna Went hit New York City touted as a “rock ’n’ roll performance artist” from the Los Angeles club and performance scene, a New Wave witch/goddess whose gross, weird, and cathartic rituals have mesmerized Californian crossover audiences for the last four years. But her appearance at this, the current hot spot of bizarre spectacle, was completely undone by a raucous, good-naturedly perverse, knowledgeable crowd which quickly unmasked Went’s “frenzies” as the superficial displays they are. Every “provocation,” every gesture toward “transcendent disgust,” every “outrage” was countered and

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  • Jean-Luc Vilmouth

    Barbara Toll Fine Arts

    If Woodrow brashly frames his objects against a postindustrial context, the French sculptor Vilmouth, who has lived in London since 1975, displays a humanist’s nostalgia. A somewhat silly sentimentality characterizes these works, all constructed (like Woodrow’s) from forms found in the New York streets. The freestanding sculptures are largely ensembles of large, curvilinear objects made of papier mâché dyed grass green and cerulean blue. In one, a fabricated broom is supported by cinderblocks, while another sculpture sports a domelike shape. In a third, pots, pans, and wrenches are entombed in

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  • Frank Lloyd Wright “Drawings 1893–1959”

    Max Protetch Gallery

    Frank Lloyd Wright’s unparalleled career spanned well over half a century. The longevity of his creative production inspires amazement, but it is his persistent evolution of ideas, the diversity of his built and proposed projects, his transcendence of style, and his synthesis of contrasting esthetic objectives into an organic unity that make him an unmistakable and lasting influence. His creative work encapsulates a history of contemporary architecture as esthetic resistance and resolution recapitulated, and presages the limitations of Modernism and post-Modernism.

    Wright’s organic architecture

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  • “The Photographer/Far from the Truth”

    Brooklyn Academy of Music

    The central conceit of this elaborate production is a provocative one: that both sides of the very contemporary opposition between melodrama and Modernism were embodied in the life of 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge—the one through a famous scandal in which he shot his wife’s lover, the other in his photographic work, the famous motion studies of humans and animals. The idea for a work on Muybridge was conceived by Rob Malasch for the Holland Festival in 1982. The score, by Philip Glass, and Malasch’s three-part structure—play, slide show, dance—were both carried over to this new

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  • “Burroughs,” directed by Howard Brookner

    New York Film Festival

    For the most part Burroughs, Howard Brookner’s documentary about writer William S. Burroughs, doesn’t stray far from time-tested techniques of documentaries. True, there’s the darkly hilarious sequence in which Burroughs, dressed up as Dr. Benway, his character from Naked Lunch, performs an operation with a plumber’s helper, assisted by Jackie Curtis as a nurse. (The operation is unsuccessful—the patient spurts blood everywhere.) But otherwise, as in most other documentaries on cultural figures, we follow Burroughs through a wide range of activities, both public and private—readings, dinners

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  • “Saints”

    Harm Bouckaert Gallery

    The decline of the saints as subject matter for painting has hardly been precipitous. It would seem that sainthood itself has been eroded by the forgetfulness of folk memory as well as by Vatican debunking—Saint Christopher is now in the same league with Santa Claus. And the admission of new members to the saint population has slowed to a trickle. Well, the “Saints” show is not going to stir up a sudden revival of religious painting, but it did show that sainthood is still an excellent source of subject matter for art.

    Twenty-nine artists depicted more or less as many saints. There was also a

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  • Morris Graves

    Whitney Museum of American Art, Willard Gallery

    Morris Graves is one of those artists who thinks he’s a seer, a visionary. He doesn’t just perceive, he has profound insight. This contention of eternal purpose is one of the more traditional justifications of art; the question is, what are the means used to convince us that the art does indeed offer what it claims to?

    Graves’ means are quasi-oriental, although not unheard of in the West: the use of a symbolic flower or animal (generally a bird) as subject matter, and its sensitive rendering on a fragile medium (most often paper). Above all, the effect of intimacy is crucial, leading to the sense

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  • Christopher Le Brun

    Is Christopher Le Brun the new Morris Graves, the horse his self-symbol, the objective correlative transcendentalizing his unconscious? Certainly both strike the same Symbolist note: the attempt to make a work of art with which one can once again cathect, to which one is willing to commit one’s all. But in Graves’ work the cathexis is predetermined by the conventional symbols he uses, while Le Brun’s desire for cathexis determines his choice of symbol and, most important, his need for the convention of the symbol at all. Also, for Graves the symbol begins in nature; for Le Brun it begins in

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  • “Bronze: Sculpture in the Landscape”

    Wave Hill

    Again the eternal—in nature, in the material of art; theoretically, the two came together in this important exhibition, which summarized a decade-long critique of the Modern tradition that allows the use of common, corruptible material in sculpture. Apart from the wood in Louise Bourgeois’ juggernaut—and it is the heavy-duty, “industrialized” wood of the giant spools on which cable is wound—every sculpture here was self-immortalized in bronze, that traditionally ennobling metal. There was no work that did not benefit from the transformation, no work not made more decisive by the decision to go

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  • “Surrealism and Photography”

    Prakapas Gallery

    The authentically Surrealist photographs here, manipulating content to create an effect of contradiction with underlying connection, were few. True Surrealist photography does not depend on gimmicks or novelty, but rather on the fact that straight self-disclosure of content through appearance, when systematically and persistently carried through, leads to the loss of the sense of the content as “real.” The brilliance of authentic Surrealist photographs lies in their demonstration that photography, as a way of pushing to the limit of appearances, does just the opposite of what it is expected to

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  • Andrew Spence

    Barbara Toll Fine Arts

    For their sense of wholeness and resolution, Andrew Spence’s paintings are indebted to the work of the late John McLaughlin; Spence’s receptiveness to naturalist influences, both architectural and organic, recalls Ellsworth Kelly. All three artists, Spence most literally of all, understand abstraction to be abstracted from something else, to constitute some kind of parallel, plastic essence to reality.

    Only one of the eight canvases here, most from 1983, builds from the eccentric biomorphism of last year’s paintings. Though as a group I found the latter overly quirky, hence almost illegible,

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  • “Other Views”

    Semaphore Gallery

    The intellectual distance between the questions “what to paint” and “how to paint it” is not great, and neither is the intervening terrain of much interest, but it was precisely here—a part-conceptual, part-stylistic netherworld—that most of the younger artists in this group of heterogeneous landscape painters chose to locate their work. Predictably, the results were something other than fully engaging, although more of interest than yet another “psychotic-figure” show might have been. The lingering influence of conceptual art is a little-acknowledged, widely evidenced reality in today’s painting,

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  • Jon Kessler

    White Columns

    In the six months or so since I last saw several of Jon Kessler’s automated wall reliefs in a show at Artists Space, he appears to have gained even more confidence in the wacky sci-fi possibilities of his work. The pieces that initially caught my eye are Rube Goldberg, Swiss–cuckoo clock affairs: small motors move a variety of figures and odd detritus about behind pieces of translucent Plexiglas, the ensembles lighted from their backs to make a kind of shadowbox narrative. But with those contraptions the animated drama cast on the Plexiglas is matched, sometimes overcome, by the furiously

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  • “The Golden Eighties,” directed by Chantal Akerman; “Heart Like a Wheel,” directed by Jonathan Kaplan

    New York Film Festival

    With a number of exceptions, this year’s New York Film Festival was comprised of a cinema entertaining that great theme of themes: man’s terrible struggle with his terrible freedom. The “great” European directors Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Alain Tanner, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Andrzej Wajda portray the gargantuan responsibility of it all: the painful quandaries of history, the infinity of the spiritual, the charms of esthetic formality, the romantic immortalisms of sexual otherness. Carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, these are “great” and ambitious men, artists who mediate

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