reviews

  • Louise Bourgeois

    Robert Miller Gallery

    The directness of Louise Bourgeois’ anger makes you avert your gaze; you turn away with a sickened feeling, sometimes, in Nature Study Velvet Eyes, 1984, for example, to meet another pair of staring eyes, emblematic of Bourgeois’ unflinchingness. But you turn back (unless you have no guts at all) because you know you’re being forced to confront something in an art context that has not been faced before—the absolute horror of sex. The story of the joy of sex has been told endlessly, the danger of sex (from Judith to Sardanapalus) frequently, but never the sheer primal horror of sex. Few artworks

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  • Leon Golub

    New Museum

    A crucial moment in the chronology of Leon Golub’s figure is when, realizing its potential, it teeters before turning against its own kind. The figure’s development parallels a change in public consciousness forced by the escalation of the Cold War—the shift from pre- to postnuclear age. According to the evidence in this retrospective, until the close of the ’50s Golub’s figure is damaged but generally protects itself from its surroundings with heavy dark outlines. It is alone, the ahistorical, existential man. At some point toward the end of the decade the thick skin thins to an osmotic membrane

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  • Martin Puryear

    The New Museum

    Universal beauty and a morally superior nature evidently exist for Martin Puryear, and he finds them good. Despite the labor-intensive craft of his works, they dream of seamlessness, of being grown or hatched. In Dream of Pairing, 1981, pied surfaces shift color from one end of a wooden circle to another so subtly that the change seems a function of protective camouflage or of light rather than of paint; in an untitled piece from 1978, the “found” torsion of a vine is left undisturbed in the same way that certain tribal architecture preserves the buttress roots of trees intact, to support roof

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  • Peter Grass

    M-13

    One of the major trends of 1983, group shows, got even bigger in 1984, spilling out of the galleries and into the nightclubs. It was discovered that most artists have fifty friends to whom they will say “I have an opening” when they have one painting in a show, so one good way to get two thousand thirsty people into a nightclub is to have a rather large group show. I was attending one of these one night at a club called Kamikaze, marveling at how many young artists I don’t know, when one of my companions pointed at some hanging thing and began laughing hard.

    “What is it?”

    “It’s a fake Keith Haring,”

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  • “Times Tower Competition”

    Municipal Art Society

    With no discernible discrimination, empty sites, urban dilemmas, and building campaigns become causes for invitational and open architectural competitions. The competition is perceived as the easy solution to the problem; we are discovering, however, that the answers it provides are often formulated on scant and superficial information. The Times Tower Competition exhibition, cosponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, was entertaining and occasionally amusing, but its absence of rigor and innovation was disturbing. The incentives to mount an exhibition seemed more urgent than the desire

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  • Martin Wong

    Semaphore Gallery

    There’s a lot of talk about Lower East Side art, but Martin Wong makes it. He paints the neighborhood. He captures the dual-edged glamor of the rubble, the love among the ruins.

    This show was titled “Paintings for the Hearing Impaired.” Nearly all the paintings in the show contain sign language of the kind used by the deaf. I never realized that these signs resemble the letters they signify until I saw Wong’s renderings. He draws them as stylized hands emerging from French cuffs, looking like some sort of Assyrian or Phoenician alphabet. Often his sign sentences appear in the night sky over

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  • Susan Laufer

    Germans van Eck Gallery

    A fascinating development in current painting is the rise of what I call the sentient image. Part of the reactive fallout from the reductive attitudes of Minimalism, the sentient image, the form that resonates with feeling and a newly aggressive visuality, is a manifestation of today’s desire for a truly serious and meaningful art. It is very much present in the recent paintings and drawings of Susan Laufer, and accounts in no small way for their strong appeal.

    Working with a technique recalling fresco on Masonite and wood panels, and incorporating relief elements, this New York artist turns the

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  • Leo Rabkin

    Marilyn Pearl

    This show’s selection of recent mixed media boxes and pastel drawings by the veteran American artist Leo Rabkin revealed a keen sensitivity to palpable things and perceptible forms. Rabkin’s vision is firmly rooted in the plainly visible, tangible, and knowable. Still, there is a freewheeling, whimsical edge to his vision, an expressive effervescence which sets off enough imaginative sparks to ignite and sustain interest.

    Based on old cigar and antique boxes and decorated with different geometric patterns (a few belonging to the original boxes, some collaged on, but most painted on the outside

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  • Nicholas Africano

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    These recent paintings from Nicholas Africano’s “Petrouchka” and “Evelina” series possess a haunting, otherworldly grace and beauty, like that experienced with Old Master painting but rarely with contemporary art. The remarkable strength of these works depends on their urgency as images. Africano has been known for his narrative interests since the ’70s; in these recent series he has sought to give expression to a deeply humanistic content involving nothing less than the ineffable conditions of existence. The means, however, are emphatically visual and iconic, relying on pictorial qualities to

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  • Billy Apple

    Castelli Gallery | Uptown

    “The psychological dimension has in a sense vanished,” Jean Baudrillard has written, and in general the death of the psychological has been taken for granted in the post-Modern period. Billy Apple’s photographic lithographs—repetitive, passport-style self-portraits—play into the hands of this facile assumption with their own facility. The problem is that their abandonment of “subjective logic” (and the self-trivialization this abandonment implies) is predetermined by their matter-of-fact public style, just as Baudrillard’s assumption is based on a social determinism so dogmatic that it cannot

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  • Nancy Grossman

    Terry Dintenfass Gallery

    Nancy Grossman overplays and overstates the psychological dimension, as if pushing an old mode of making it manifest to its limits in the hope of generating one suitable for the current age. Drawings of naked figures and of totems (and the brilliant sculptural assemblage from which the latter are derived) bristle with potential violence, compete to be “expressive”—to restore a fiction of dramatic expression. Indeed, whether human or inhuman, profane or sacred (the phallocentric totem sculpture from 1984 is entitled Succot, and is clearly chthonic), the works have a nervous, almost oppressive,

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  • Joseph Nechvatal

    Brooke Alexander

    Joseph Nechvatal creates his illusory psychological effects by piling image upon image until a dense visual smog is created. The images are familiar yet obscured—bankrupt—which increases the gloomy, overcast look. This murkiness can be misread as the sign of a vitally rich psychic fabric, but rather than a ripening field of images, it is a graveyard. Nechvatal once wrote an essay entitled “Epic Images and Contemporary History”; it is full of the usual morale-lifting proclamations of manifestos, like the heroic poses body-builders strike to convince themselves they are Herculean, but two of the

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  • Walter Darby Bannard

    Knoedler & Company

    What happens when the literal order of effects is separated from the unconscious and preconscious order of effects, and given primacy? Walter Darby Bannard’s kind of bankrupt, completely inauthentic art is what happens. With the abandonment of the psychological, a too-easy, abstract “individuality” emerges. One plane of glutinous, meretricious color splashes premeditatively over a thinner, slicker plane. This used to be called finessing flatness; it is more aptly called trivializing technique. Technique may be all, but it must be sufficiently complex to communicate the inner dialectic of art.

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  • Gary Stephan

    Marlborough | Midtown

    Gary Stephan began showing work in New York in the late ’60s, about the time a second and third generation of formalist critics were scrutinizing paintings for their own purposes. The “rhetorical posturing” of the Abstract Expressionists had by then been successfully replaced by the critic’s duffel bag of verbal enigmas. Discourse was restricted to the dialectics of surface and support, conception and execution. Terms such as “the framing edge,” “anti-illusionism,” and “the field” were erected as standards to judge paintings with, and those that passed were approved and validated, the closing

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  • Irving Penn

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    Irving Penn’s glacial photographs command respect, but try as I might I can’t bring myself to like them. Perfectly crafted, they’re by the same token bloodless and sour. Penn is indeed a virtuoso of composition and gesture—a quality made that much more impressive by the fact that he pares away all extraneities from his pictures, leaving his subjects unambiguously pinnned on a stark ground. Composition can be raised to the level of a moral principle, as it has been in the work of photographers as diverse as Edward Weston and Garry Winogrand. In Penn’s photos, though, it never becomes more

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  • Hanne Darboven

    Leo Castelli Gallery

    Ansichten”: points of view. Not a singular subjectivity, not one I/eye or one viewing position, but several. Yet if Hanne Darboven’s title initially suggests the possibility of a plurality of readers and of readings, our experience of the work itself soon confronts us with singularity: on the one hand, Darboven herself, the art’s point of emission, the “narrator” who obsessively marks the passage of one year across 52 panels or “pages” of the piece; and on the other hand, ourselves, each of us the single point of reception, the “reader” who retraces this passage in another, condensed, time as

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  • Bruce McLean

    Art Palace

    It is difficult in the case of Bruce McLean to separate “artist” from “work,” since the latter is so much involved with performance and gesture—not the “expressionistic” gesture (although McLean is currently making use of this), but geste in the Brechtian sense. McLean has always cast himself in the role of an iconoclastic brigand-part terrorist, part court jester with a touch of the dandy; at least since his work with “Nice Style: The First Pose Band,” 1971–75, this ebullient, quick-witted persona has never ceased to fire sallies wherever it finds the art world in flagrante delicto. Nor, it

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  • “A Decade of New Art”

    Artists Space Exhibitions

    The coincidence of this space’s commemoration of its ten years of existence and its move into new premises with the Museum of Modern Art’s reopening show, “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” illustrated why so-called “alternative” spaces came into being in the first place, and how little the decisions and attitudes of the major art institutions have changed since then. MoMA’s decision to restrict its selection to painting and sculpture was a sign that, however revamped the space, institutional thinking remains fixated on a traditional definition of art. It resists validation

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  • Richard Pare

    Sander Gallery

    The production of Richard Pare, the British-born photographer, is multiple. Not only a taker of pictures, he is also their collector and commentator; Pare is a curator of photography for the Seagram Collection and for the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the author of two important books on the field—The Courthouse, A Photographic Document (1978), and Photography and Architecture. (1839–1939) (1982). Hence when, as in his recent exhibition, Pare approaches the topic of Egypt, focusing on its deserts, monuments, lush oases, and capital city, Cairo, it is with neither an untutored eye nor a

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  • Imants Tillers

    Bess Cutler Gallery

    The notion that esthetics follow geography has always lodged uneasily in the critical mind, but it finds its latest expression in recent Australian art. As the proverbial “Down Under,” Australia suffers from its physical isolation; it is discussed—and vocally discusses itself—in terms of its distance, and thus detachment, from Western culture. However, by a near reversal, this situation is being altered, as much Australian art, and many Australian artists, are now appearing in America and Europe.

    Central among them is Imants Tillers, whose paintings are textbook illustrations of Walter Benjamin’s

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  • The Wooster Group

    The Performing Garage

    For over a year the Wooster Group has been presenting in-progress versions of a performance work called L.S.D. The four-part opus shown here, subtitled “( . . . Just the High Points . . .),” in fact represents the completed piece. Both its conceptual framework and its dramatic techniques will be familiar to any viewer of the Group’s previous work, but it develops their singular style and their sociopolitical thrust to new and giddy heights, creating an astonishing, thoughtful, and very moving performance.

    The work’s material is spun from two primary sources—Arthur Miller’s witchcraft-and-McCarthyism

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  • Lynne Augeri

    303 Park South

    Lynne Augeri’s photographic self-portraits express a singular take on post-Modern female role-playing by pumping up the overtly sexual end of the esthetic-erotic continuum. Augeri has apparently compared her darkroom manipulation of her images to “African skin-decorating rituals,” but these over-sized works allude more obviously to the early photographic studies of female nudes posed like classical sculptures. Just as those pictures blurred the distinction between the artistic and the pornographic, so Augeri’s self-portraits occupy an ambiguous zone between “positive” sexual bravado and “perverse”

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