reviews

  • Frank Lobdell

    Oscarsson Hood Gallery

    This show directs attention to a paramount issue in art that has received too little critical attention lately. I am talking about spiritual content, which is, admittedly, one of the most elusive aspects of the visual experience to express, either in pictures or words. On both counts, Wassily Kandinsky stands high: over seventy years ago, in his breakthrough pictures of the Munich period and the influential related essay, “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” (1912), he demonstrated the esthetic breadth and significance of this issue with visionary fervor and insightful genius.

    Among the contemporary

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  • “Scrubbers,” Directed By Mai Zetterling

    The Film Forum

    “It ain’t fun to rot in prison and have shit thrown on your head,” bemoans a young woman as she is led back to her cell. Such pungent musings are the stuff of Scrubbers, a film by Mai Zetterling, which abruptly displaces some of the hackneyed clichés of the women’s-prison genre. It introduces clarity and wit into this sadly predictable arena of semi-circuitous T and A, which is usually marked by a glowering absence of presence (or vice versa).

    The film ostensibly concerns Annetta (Chrissie Cotterill) and Carol (Amanda York), two young women who have escaped from a minimum-security jail only to

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  • Alex Katz

    Robert Miller Gallery

    To one who’s never been a fan of Alex Katz’s work, this survey of some sixty small paintings, spanning thirty years, came as the proverbial pleasure, hinting at unexpected delights and at an unknown talent for the moving nuance. These oil sketches—mainly small preparatory studies for finished paintings—indicate the “private” side under Katz’s noted “public” image; they have an intimacy, an immediacy, and indeed a variety lacking in his large-scale billboard-style works.

    This documentation of the personal aspect of Katz’s endeavor began with work from the early ’50s and continued through the

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  • Charles Clough

    Pam Adler Gallery

    Increasingly, the use of hybrid media by contemporary artists must be read as a critical gesture, implying comment on the epistemological limitations or inadequacies of specific means to our time. This appears to be the case in Charles Clough’s works, which are mediumistic mongrels, amalgams of photographs and paint. Each of his recent small images consists of an art reproduction or photograph that has been swathed with brilliant strokes of swirled and scumbled paint. The colors and textures of enamel play contrapuntally with the underlying images so as to shift or mimic the focus in a harmonic

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  • Steven Campbell

    Barbara Toll Gallery and John Weber Gallery

    “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,/Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!” goes Robert Burns’ “Address to a Haggis,” and the burr in the rhythm and roll of these words has, without map or lexicon, found its way into the big, stumpy, juicy, and very funny paintings of Steven Campbell. Maps, however, have played a large part in Campbell’s farcical vision of his fellow Scots and, more generally, their fellow British islanders of the lumpen classes, ever planning out expeditions into Nature with befuddlement and far too much equipment. In The Man Who Climbs Maps, 1983, a youngish camper stands near

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  • Deborah Kass

    Baskerville + Watson

    Deborah Kass’ first solo exhibition in New York was a strong one. Landscape has been her subject for as long as she has been painting, or over 10 years, and her very methodical progress, like the salmon’s, has followed an upstream trajectory, against the current and ever closer to her source. To simplify things, let us say that it is Marsden Hartley who turns out to be standing there.

    This was not always evident. In 1973, for instance, Kass made a painting, The Death of Ophelia, After Delacroix, whose literary theme, art-historical reference, and lyrical, almost neoclassical feeling suggest work

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  • “Artists Call”—Performance

    Danspace, Franklin Furnace, P.S. 122, and Taller Latinoamericano

    As part of the “Artists Call against U.S. Intervention in Central America” program, a nationwide political-action series of exhibitions, panels, video, film, and such, four New York spaces (Danspace, Franklin Furnace, P.S. 122, and Taller Latinoamericano) sponsored eight evenings of performance works as benefits. At the two programs I attended the audiences were unexpectedly large and enthusiastic, and an obvious feeling that these were unusual events ran through both the performances and the audience’s reactions. According to the sponsors, this was also true of the other evenings.

    The conjunction

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  • Eleanor Antin, “'El Desdichado' (The Unlucky One)”

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    For this performance Eleanor Antin installed elaborate sets, fit for a theatrical production, and, with the help of hooded “puppeteers” moving two-dimensional cut-out cardboard figures, played a role she has been presenting since 1972—a dispossessed medieval king wandering more like Don Quixote than like Gérard de Nerval’s Desdichado of the title. Various picaresque adventures unfolded, including the witnessing of hangings, stories of rape, seduction by a princess, and finally the Quest (as de rigueur in medieval allegories as the chase in action films). Only Antin spoke, though for many

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  • Phyllis Galembo

    Oggi Domani

    In her color photographs since the late ’70s Phyllis Galembo has pursued a campy theatricality, dressing people in absurd costumes (some suggesting Carmen Miranda’s fruit bowls) and posing them among artfully crude sets in splashy colors. An argument could be made that these pictures are linked formally to two apparently disparate genres in photography, setups and hand-decorated prints, but Galembo’s tableaux belie such connections through their utter wackiness. Beneath their exuberance, though, most of her pictures have a dark undercurrent of anxiety, a sense of straining after hilarity.

    Several

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  • Nancy Burson

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    Because of its relentless detail, photography is a medium for depicting specimens, not types. When photographs are photomechanically reproduced and distributed through the mass media, they can easily become instances of implicit types, simply by virtue of the fact that they exist in the same form in vast quantities. But they actually deal only with specific moments and limited sections of the visible world. (Because of this, photographs tend not to be used for tasks such as botanical and medical illustration, where typical cases must be shown.)

    Despite this, various attempts have been made

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  • Tseng Kwong Chi

    Semaphore Gallery

    Dressed in a severe Mao suit (complete with photo ID clipped to the flap of a breast pocket), with his hair closely cropped and dark glasses hiding his eyes, Tseng Kwong Chi transforms himself into the essential representative of the faceless hordes of Asia—or at least of the China of a decade or so ago. In this guise he photographs himself in situations where the presence of such an icon is either expected (at the United Nations, say) or absurd—he also poses with New York street people, and with Mickey Mouse at Disney World. In the poster-sized black and white photos here, all from 1983, he

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  • “Artists Call” —Video

    The Kitchen

    The Artists Call program was important both for its educational value and as a public acceptance by the art community of a political responsibility it’s often accused of avoiding. I didn’t see all the video activities held during it—there were panels and performances on cable as well as special screenings at the Museo del Barrio, Millennium Film Workshop, and Downtown Community Television. The highlight for me, though, was the series of documentaries about Central America by such U.S. independents as Karen Ranucci and Jon Alpert, Thomas Halsall, DeeDee Halleck, and many more, shown at the Kitchen.

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  • Tony Smith

    Hunter College

    Despite their eminence within the Minimalist community, Tony Smith’s sculptures never seem quite at home in it. Always a bit quirky and sometimes too boldly grand in a brotherhood of no-nonsense, solid citizenry, Smith’s large sculptures are the big black sheep of Minimalism. Several of the 24 drawings that comprised this show (many of them never before exhibited) help clarify Smith’s iconoclasm.

    In the drawings for such large-scale works as Hubris, 1970, Smith’s architectural training comes to the fore; these are plans, elevations, and isometric views as few sculptors care, or are able, to make

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  • Richard Stankiewicz

    Zabriskie Gallery

    By the time of his death last year, Richard Stankiewicz’s sculpture had long secured a place in postwar American art. By age he was between the first generation of New York School sculptors, as personified by David Smith, and the second, as personified by John Chamberlain, Donald Judd, et al. But Stankiewicz’s esthetic put him somewhere to the side of the main developments in sculpture of the past 35 years. Although he was among the best of the period’s welder assemblagists, he only sometimes overcame the distractingly literal connotations of his chosen medium. More often than not, he seemed

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  • A.R. Penck

    Mary Boone Gallery and Martina Hamilton Gallery

    The Boone exhibition is an overview of A. R. Penck’s development from 1963 to 1983; the Hamilton exhibition is of 15 prints, in various mediums, executed in Israel in 1983. What the exhibitions make clear is Penck’s consistency of purpose. From the beginning of his career he has been determined to reconcile what historically seem irreconcilable in Modern art: abstraction and the image of man. It would seem that abstraction, the Modern art par excellence, would be the self-evident method to disclose modern man. But in practice abstraction has tended toward estheticism—“pure art”—and the Modern

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  • “Climbing”

    Hal Bromm Gallery

    Call it rumpus room art. Presiding was Martin Wong’s Lower East Side “street of life,” its grave clarity like a blistering consciousness full of cosmic portents. But of course it’s all ingratiating melodrama. Standing forlornly was one of the aberrant children, Jonathan Ellis’ The Gene Pool Taps Back, 1983. Then there was Keith Haring’s baby Crib, 1981, a kind of “crib” to Haring’s consciousness, brilliantly “retarded” in a way in its endless harping on one note, and certainly an emotional home to far-from-retarded children. The gallery seemed full of wittily arrested developments, of clever

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  • Antero Kare

    American-Scandinavian Foundation Gallery

    Since the reemergence of expressionist-type figuration, pure abstract painting has been trying hard to prove it has a superior power of connotation. (The recent exhibitions by James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns seemed to have a similar intention, under the same duress.) The point is to prove that while the new figuration makes us conscious of something, even of the unconscious, abstract painting makes us conscious of consciousness itself. Thus Antero Kare’s assertion that an abstract painting is “a stopping place in the process of becoming,” that its “silence

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  • Ross Bleckner

    Mary Boone Gallery

    For all their air of spiritual brooding, these paintings seem rather weak-willed after what I’ve been looking at lately. The Nazi black—properly brazen in Troy Brauntuch’s work—fades into a dusky white; many of the works are deliberately mired in between, caught in a quicksand of refined tonality. The work as a whole is subtle and timid, suggesting a castrated James McNeill Whistler-like sensibility. Bleckner uses a kind of stippling technique to freshly articulate surface/depth tension, an effect enhanced by the trend toward monochromicity in his paintings. The same technique is used to articulate

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  • Komar and Melamid

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    Most of Komar and Melamid’s “Business As Usual” show was painting executed in their finest Academy Drag. The style is basically five hundred years old, which is what most people like. It really looks like Art. It is most definitely Drag. That’s for the element of surprise.

    There is drag and there is Drag. Low drag is where the transvestite attempts to fool himself into thinking he is a woman. Middle drag is where the transvestite hopes to fool straight men into thinking he is a woman. High Drag is where the transvestite hopes to fool straight men into thinking he’s a woman only to subsequently

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  • Christof Kohlhofer

    Protetch Mcneil

    When I saw this show, on January 11th, I realized that all the works were dated 1984. I began wondering if that meant they were all made in 1984. Fast work when you consider it wasn’t the opening day and there must have been some hanging time involved. A few days later I was reading TV Guide and it said “a 1984 TV movie.” Now I knew that movie hadn’t been made in 1984. Movies are dated by their releases. But I always thought paintings were dated by when they were made. It bothered me that all these works might have been done in a few days, but it bothered me more that that bothered me. Why should

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  • Sherrie Levine

    Baskerville + Watson

    Our experience of most artworks is through reproductions—transparencies, photographs, magazine or book illustrations—and to an extent we unconsciously accept them as equivalent to the original. But what is the “truth” of an image? What constitutes the difference in psychological investment between an original artwork and that of its reproduced image—and what precisely does the latter reproduce? While Sherrie Levine’s is not the only work which invites us to consider these issues through the annexation of preexisting images, it is among the most austere, beginning with her presentation of

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  • Gretchen Bender

    Nature Mode Gallery

    If Levine’s work reflects on the melancholy residues of the past, Gretchen Bender’s suggests a detached and dispassionate glance which bears no allegiance to cultural memory. The images she annexes include those of contemporary artists which form the cultural currency of the immediate present; they are so of-the-moment as to incorporate, in the small Untitled, 1983, the poster that accompanied Keith Haring’s show concurrent with her own.

    In this installation there was no painstaking craft, no framing or fetishization of the object. The images were produced by photomechanical or electronic

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  • “Wild Style,” Written, Produced, And Directed By Charlie Ahearn

    As a tourist attraction the South Bronx has little going for it. Visitors to this poorly served, largely Hispanic and black community are likely to be sociologists or vote-seeking politicians with an entourage of bodyguards and TV cameras. In Wild Style, however, the media (in the shape of a rather self-conscious Patti Astor) comes to the South Bronx to report on some youthful phenomena, news of which is making waves in a WASP art world always on the lookout for new sensations. Wild Style is a celebration of the vitality that generated graffiti art, rap, and break dancing within an ethnic

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  • “The End of the World”

    New Museum

    The conjunction of a renewed awareness of the threat posed by nuclear weapons and the coming of age of a rather dated sci-fi novel makes 1984 likely to be a year in which a lot of vague art will be presented in a lot of vague exhibitions. All this activity will be presented as somehow terribly meaningful to our present situation, and it will all attempt to live with that situation by diminishing the seriousness of the several very real threats that face us by reducing these threats to the elements of a camp joke. Armageddon is the hot topic among curators and artists anxious to prove that they

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