reviews

  • Karl Wirsum

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    A creation myth explaining the origins of Karl Wirsum might become paradigmatic for the whole Chicago Imagist school. The artist himself has noted that he and Bugs Bunny share the same year of birth (1939), as if that coincidental bit of chronology explains his predilection for cartoon characters in an ever-expanding repertory of bizarre hybrids drawn from popular culture and personal invention. Wirsum’s decision to become an artist was made while he was recovering from a skull fracture; he was five years old. After studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago he, along with Jim Nutt,

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  • John Jesurun

    The Performing Garage

    John Jesurun is the latest ambitious artist to take on the challenge of visual theater, and, potentially, one of the most original of the new voices. The requisite “art” background comes from a Yale M.F.A. in sculpture; Jesurun also has television experience (he was assistant to the producer on The Dick Cavett Show), and a strong interest in rock ’n’ roll makes him typical of a young media-scavenging generation. Last year, his first theater work appeared in the form of a continuing live serial. Chang in a Void Moon combined cinema-derived techniques (jump cuts, short scenes, a continued-next-week

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  • Terry Allen

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery

    For nearly 15 years Terry Allen has produced a smorgasbord of artworks: drawings, sculpture, plays, prints, books, videotapes, and music. So this exhibition of quirky constructions came as no surprise. What was new for Allen was the subject matter: the lingering influence of Vietnam. Reportedly inspired by a friend’s tales and postwar experiences—the show was titled “Youth in Asia”—Allen tackled the difficult topic with his usual head-on Texas brio, necessarily laced with generous dollops of deep-seated bitterness. His objects convey the emotional intensity of classic Viet-vet anger, despair,

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  • Francis Bacon

    Marlborough | Midtown

    Francis Bacon’s new paintings demonstrate again his secure mastery of a by-now-familiar vocabulary, and yet, with the artist aged 75, still strike new notes. Bacon’s position seems toweringly high at this moment. Through the ages of abstraction and minimalism he remained one of the very few representational painters about whom even dedicated formalists could feel good. Now the forefront of things has caught up with him, in both his quoting—of Cimabue, Van Gogh, Velázquez, Ingres, and of photographic images—and his kind of exploration of space. The opposition between the illusionistic,

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  • “An Australian Accent”

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

    This show of works by three Australian painters not seen in this country before was right on the issues of the moment; it made one wonder how much intelligent and mature international painting goes relatively unseen here. The post-Modern concern with mediating surface and depth—terms that can be applied to both painted space and the sense of self—is a basic and well-understood ingredient of much of this art. Mike Parr’s large horizontal works on paper address the dilemma directly. Each features on its left side a representational charcoal self-portrait of the artist in a reifying context of deep

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  • Pina Bausch

    brooklyn academy of music

    While Pina Bausch’s work is consistently surprising, it is not altogether unpredictable. The four works seen here in their New York premieres—The Rite of Spring, 1975, Café Müller, 1978, Bluebeard, 1977, and 1980, 1980—all deal with the ancient motif of “Death and the maiden,” or the Persephone myth. In addition, all exhibit a Wagnerian leisure in making their points, and making them again and again, till all meaning the artist has access to has been wrung out of them; meanwhile, the intensity of concentration rises in an almost demonic arc. Still, in other ways the four works are entirely

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  • Jim Nutt

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    Perhaps now, while New York is looking at recent European and American figuration with interest, it will begin to realize that Jim Nutt, who took part in the original “Hairy Who” exhibitions in Chicago in the ’60s, needs to be reevaluated in light of the work he has been steadily turning out since the early ’70s. His depictions of encounters between the sexes are arguably the most inventive around, and unlike many younger “newfiguration” artists, he does not appropriate his images from the media. In probing our contemporary dislocations, our tendency toward confrontation rather than discourse,

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  • Owen Morrel

    Ted Greenwald Gallery

    Imagine a monumental, futuristic steel crossbow mounted above a staircase that seems to have come from either a lighthouse or a ship. There’s no platform at the top of the staircase, so one is left to surmise its purpose. Are we helmsmen standing watch on a surrogate bridge? Or astronomers who no longer know how to use a telescope? The staircase and beams supporting the crossbow rise out of a large boulder, which emphasizes the isolation one feels while climbing up. It makes one more aware of being separated from terra firma.

    Owen Morrel has been influenced by Robert Smithson in his metaphysical

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  • Giorgio de Chirico

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Giorgio de Chirico’s 1972 retrospective at the New York Cultural Center remains one of the most important exhibitions in recent history. Almost none of the work had been seen in America before, and it provoked a largely negative, even hostile response. Much of it repeated themes and images from an earlier phase of de Chirico’s career: that The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1965, is a dilettantish copy of a similarly named painting from 1922 did not help critics toward the artist’s cause. Further discomfort was caused by paintings depicting 15th-century Venice, still lifes of oversized fruit in a

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  • Jannis Kounellis

    Sonnabend Gallery

    These recent works by Jannis Kounellis resounded like a funeral elegy through the high places of contemporary art (the gallery, the city of New York), but also like a lament over the dead ashes of painting. The opening installation, of two black-painted canvases and two assemblages of rough wood, iron, and steel, was explicitly dedicated to New York in an inscription painted on the wall. The canvases suggested a dark horizontal through space, the metropolis in blackout, its proud verticality laid low in a disjointed deconstruction. They seemed to raise subterranean powers and to bar hope. The

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  • “Visions of Liberty”

    New-York Historical Society

    Photography, or at least the mass-produced, mass-distributed halftone, has taken over many of the memorializing functions performed in earlier times by monumental sculpture—not destroying the aura of such public icons, as Walter Benjamin proposed, but replacing it with its own smudgy aura. This complicity between news photos and monuments has led to some curious chimeras that compound the two. The most obvious example is the Iwo Jima memorial in Washington, D.C., showing a group of marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi; this work is based on Joe Rosenthal’s heroically posed news photo, but

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  • Su Friedrich

    Millenium

    Su Friedrich’s The Ties That Bind, 1984, is a scrutiny of both a mother/daughter relationship and the demands of national identity. That the nation delineating this identity is Germany in the ’30s and ’40s ominously multiplies the problematics of nationalism: the ties that bind are not only the supposed benevolences of motherhood, but also the repressive dictates of the Fatherland. Friedrich, the daughter of a German Catholic mother and an American serviceman, traveled to Germany in 1982 to shoot footage of its monumental sites of oppression—Dachau, the Berlin Wall, and so on. She juxtaposes

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  • Richard Long

    Sperone Westwater

    An interesting aspect of Richard Long’s work, at least at this point in history, is how we believe him. When he says that he walked here or there and climbed this or that mountain in so many days, we take him at his word. No one ever questions whether or not he actually walked; how do we know he didn’t cheat, by driving or flying? Was he even there? Someone else could have taken his Lapland snaps. How do we know the granite is from California?

    \It’s possible to see the Long persona, constantly on the move, as a fugitive—if not from justice, then from guilt. Unlike many other performance artists,

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  • Sigmar Polke

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    If, for purposes of discussion, Long may be a con artist, Sigmar Polke is a criminal investigator, relentlessly juxtaposing “eyewitness” accounts. Confronted with a blatant sex bomb, a realtor sees only commerce and offers her and her mate an igloo to house her emphatic curves (Igloo, 1983). The “painting” of skyscrapers behind him demonstrates that he understands a different version of passion. In what might be taken for a companion piece, Untitled, 1983, another middle-aged, balding man prefers the lure of sex to the tame real estate of a painted landscape he attempts to hang. A pun on arousal,

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  • Marisol

    Sidney Janis Gallery

    In Marisol’s sculptures as in Polke’s paintings, things will not stay put, but her rebellion reflects a kind of physical revulsion to restraint rather than an intellectual and spiritual unrest. The protest of her pieces seems almost to be wrenched from them against their will. Unruly by nature more than on principle, they will not tolerate restraint; the most refined sort of drawing inevitably pops into the most rambunctious, obnoxious, full-bodied kitsch. Marisol’s sarcasm, unlike that of Red Grooms, is incomplete, alloyed with longing. Grooms’ rejection is clear and unmistakable; Marisol’s,

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  • “Body Politic”

    Tower Gallery

    Fashion is no stranger to the domain of art, so it’s not surprising that the most serious and salient topics should enter the commercial market. Over the past year we’ve been told that political art is a “hot” subject, a “new” direction—in short, a trendy topic. Through a manifestation of historical amnesia, such consumerism serves to shelve a reputable political past behind the latest intellectual commodity. It also reduces issues to tissue, to wrapping paper for the packaging of products.

    Contemporary discourse, however, has an important and expansive focus in the political investment of the

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  • Anthony Gormley

    Salvtore Ala

    Not far away, Anthony Gormley showed a series of sculpted bodies which shunned the political for metaphysical allures, secreting a pervasive and eternalizing calm. Gormley’s spare, eerie figures seem primed by primordial forces, their smooth bodies, scored by quadrant lines, marking the axial coordinates of space. Here they crouched, squatted, or sat rolled into a knee-to-elbow ball; one strode his environment like a Giacometti, while another lay stretched out on the floor. Because they are molded forms (composites cast from Gormley’s body parts), these lead-plaster-and-fiberglass figures seem

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  • Christopher Lucas

    Jack Tilton Gallery

    Recently I saw a documentary on PBS about a wonderful tribe in the Amazon which is holding its own against the Brazilians. The tribe knows what’s out there, they know they don’t want it, they are not optimistic about their survival, but they are still here. They hold off death through progress by practicing their rituals, playing their magic flutes, and constructing images of the gods and feeding them.

    The narrator of the documentary said that the gods were angered if their images weren’t fed, and I began wondering about all the unfed gods—their feeders dead, their images fallen into the hands

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  • Jean-Michel Basquiat

    Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

    I’ve generally been a fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the few painters able to extend the graffiti issue of language from subway to gallery wall. Basquiat’s lexicon of diagrams, animals, anatomical parts, and “Sarno” crowns (to note only its most obvious elements) always seemed unusually broad in its conjunctive capacity; in its various manifestations, fused to a range of abstract pictorial marks, it seemed able to encompass much of the verve and jostling rhythm of the street. However, judging from Basquiat’s latest one-man show, that language has become slightly strained.

    My comment requires

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  • Melissa Miller

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    Melissa Miller deals with camp by transcendentally ignoring its territorial claims and invoking the eminent domain of the true believer. Her paintings often use colors from the campy side of the neo-expressionist spectrum, and her subject matter is often close to that of Paint-By-Number favorites, but her intensity and daring make these similarities purely incidental. Her paintings are beyond campiness of any degree (unconscious, conscious, self-conscious, conscious-unconscious). She dares to be decorative, but not at the expense of her mystical energy and the ferocity of her decorum.

    Miller’s

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  • Bruce Weber

    Robert Miller Gallery

    You don’t see many good bodies in art anymore, many healthy, powerful, heroic bodies. Good bodies are sort of taboo. Arnold Schwarzenegger is okay the way he is, but made out of marble he’d be a Nazi.

    Let’s face it, the Nazis sort of queered fit and handsome for art. Expressionism, the stuff they trashed, gave shapes to the lyric “everything is beautiful in its own way.” “In its own way” is the catch phrase there. If something is beautiful not in its own way, then one way it can be beautiful is in a classical way, and that’s no longer thought beautiful.

    Bruce Weber doesn’t care about this stuff.

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  • Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

    John Weber Gallery

    The question about Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s new abstract paintings is not whether they’re good or bad, but whether or not it is valid to make them today. This question has nothing to do with the fact that they look outdated, if elegant; it is not a response to the current whirlpool of artistic opinion that favors alternately figural “expression” and semiotic “wit.” Rather, the issue is whether the language of these pieces still works to give us the illusion of revealing secret yet inevitable meanings, “metaphysical” truths available only by implication or innuendo. Behind art’s self-justifying

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  • Steven Holl

    Facade Gallery

    There is room for whimsy and idiosyncracy in architecture, but no building can be absolutely capricious. There must be reasons for things appearing the way they do beyond the obvious fancies of the architect. Buildings and spaces have common stories to tell, cultural and formal legacies to be perpetuated and elaborated; it is these impulses and essences that inform great buildings, fuse different times and cultures, and transcend style.

    Steven Holl’s buildings are idiosyncratic, but they are also eloquent episodes in a search that gathers momentum and clarity with each project and idea. Quiet

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  • Rod Rhodes

    Monique Knowlton Gallery

    It is rare that architecture as subject matter moves and incites. This is not because people are so unflappable; most contemporary architecture is an endurance test for architect and public, and it is difficult to find inspiration in drudgery. At a time when so many buildings fail us all, Rod Rhodes’ mysterious and disturbing constructions remind us of the imaginative, inventive, erotic, and agitating potential of architectural spaces. Although he chooses to work in condensed scale, the metaphorical content of his work is undiminished. His pieces state very succinctly that architecture has

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