reviews

  • Janis Provisor

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    The main inspiration for Janis Provisor’s recent paintings and works on paper is her fascination with the rocky terrain of Colorado, where she recently settled. In several examples massive structures reminiscent of monumental calcified cliffs appear, while other shapes bring to mind boulders and flora typical of the Southwest. Working in large scale, in oil and metal leaf, Provisor sounds an intriguing iconic note in these landscapes; big enough physically to seem to invite entry, they nevertheless signal viewers to keep their distance. For while the rich, densely textured surfaces serve as a

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  • Richard Stankiewicz

    Zabriskie Gallery

    Richard Stankiewicz brought the force of his imagination to bear on reality and during a distinguished thirty-year career created an original body of work which continues to impress. As revealed by this retrospective of reliefs from 1953 to 1981, the artist, who died in 1983, at the age of 60, left a considerable mark on contemporary sculpture.

    Stankiewicz took an inherently pictorial and boldly improvisational approach to relief. The frame, that primordial symbol of painting, was a running motif in his art in this mode, turning up in different guises through various periods of the work. In an

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  • Jan Müller

    Oil & Steel Gallery

    I had never heard of Jan Müller before I saw this show. His paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim, but apparently they are rarely shown. Müller died in 1958at the age of 35. I couldn’t tell that the 27 paintings here were nearly 30 years old; I was told. They look radiantly new and perfectly alive. All of them date from the last four or five years of Müller’s life, the period in which he produced his best work while living with an experimental plastic heart valve which ticked loudly, like a time bomb.

    Müller was returning from abstraction.

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  • Daryl Trivieri

    Semaphore East

    In her song “Earth Girls Are Easy” Julie Brown sings of her alien lover: “Total grossarama . . . slick as a slug . . . with a shake and bake complexion and eyes like a bug . . . way beyond weird, I wanted out of there quick . . . he was a cross between Flipper and Alan Thicke.” And that’s very much what the main character of Daryl Trivieri’s paintings looks like. Its body is shaped something like a large dill pickle and it is somewhat reminiscent of the monstrous baby in the David Lynch film Eraserhead. It’s a character designed to tread the line between horrid and cute. It’s a sort of amphibious

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  • Louise Lawler

    Metro Pictures

    Louise Lawler’s work is deliberately decentered. Look to the periphery to understand the heart of the matter “Now that we have your attention what are we going to say”—the subtitle for the piece shown here, Slides by Night, 1985, reiterates Lawler’s conviction that importance and meaning are conferred through presentation. With so much energy devoted to publicity and other attention focusing devices, what’s left over for the object of such fuss? The title also introduces a touch of self-mockery, since the slides—viewable only after dark, from outside the closed gallery, through its window—while

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  • Agnes Martin

    The Pace Gallery | 508 W 25th Street

    Here’s a description of two of Agnes Martin’s recent paintings. One: a canvas 6 feet by 6 feet is covered with approximately 56 horizontal pencil lines, apparently evenly spaced, with a slightly uneven margin to either side; under the lines is a dry-brush application of gesso horizontally applied to match the weave of the bare canvas, whose natural oatmeal color appears wherever the paint doesn‘t. Two: a canvas 6 feet by 6 feet is covered with 17 sets of double lines approximately one-half inch apart; there‘s an uneven margin, a dry-brush application of gesso, and a barely present wash, horizontally

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  • “The Nicaragua Media Project”

    New Museum

    The military aggression waged against Nicaragua by U.S.-sponsored “contras” (so-called “freedom fighters”) is equaled in perfidy only by the nonmilitary actions—economic, propagandistic—of the Reagan administration, and all are designed in toto to bring about the eventual overthrow of the Sandinista government. Essential to the narrative that supports these political tactics is an unrestrained exploitation of media materials and forms which gives voice and shape to a xenophobically consituted representation of the Sandinistas as Marxist “other.” (Anti-socialism never sleeps.) A recognition of

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  • Gene Davis

    Charles Cowles Gallery

    Why do I keep feeling these works, not just seeing them? And I don’t need the titles to help me. From Mr. Kelly’s Drum and Black Diamond, both 1963, through Firecracker, 1968, and Milk Shake, 1970, to the extraordinary Color Needles, 1984 (in which 51 long, sticklike canvases are arranged in series), I realized that Gene Davis’ stripe paintings are saturated with “feeling”—that famous nonobjective feeling. Why does authentic nonobjectivity—especially in the very confident form Davis gives it—have such subjective impact? And why does the “feeling” itself seem to signify something nonsubjective,

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  • Walt Kuhn

    Salander-O'Reilly Galleries

    In 1913 Walt Kuhn and Arthur B. Davies were primarily responsible for the character of the Armory Show. As the wonderful works here indicate, Kuhn never quite recovered from the experience; if one compares these persistently small prints and sculptural whittlings, primitivist in style and theme, with his paintings, one realizes that he thereafter became a split personality—half Modernist (the more suppressed side) and half a social realist of deviant individuality. The prints have a peculiarly immediate effect due to their metallic paper. They show female nudes as symbols of abundance, especially

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  • “The Success of Failure”

    Diane Brown Gallery

    There was a sanctimonious air to this exhibition, as though the artists, despite their willingness to expose their wounds, couldn’t help but turn them into blessings. When is a failed work of art a success? Perhaps when it seems to test the artist’s integrity, to touch a nerve of taboo or unknown meaning, or when it inadvertently exposes the impossibility of perfection in our dismal modern age. But none of the artists here make public what would remain private in order to mortify the flesh of their already achieved success. It’s all much more simple: failure becomes success—and what about success

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  • Carolee Schneemann

    Max Hutchinson Gallery

    In the back room here, in an exhibition without announcement or opening, five works by Carolee Schneemann were shown, works ranging in date from 1960 to 1983 and constituting a kind of mini retrospective. These pieces have all been seen in New York before, but perhaps without enough perspective on their position in art history. Schneemann’s niche in the history books is assured on the basis of Meat Joy alone, a classic performance work from 1962. And her film Fuses, 1965–68, with its explicit sexual imagery presented with profound respect and sensitivity, is both a beautiful lyric and a devastating

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  • Pat Steir

    Brooklyn Museum

    Pat Steir’s The Brueghel Series (A Vanitas of Style), 1982–84, is a complex piece of painting related to the mode of combining images that Sergei Eisenstein called “intellectual montage.” Its image complex begins with a quotation of a 16th-century Netherlandish painting, Jan Brueghel’s Flowers in a Blue Vase, 1599. The piece is often reproduced—Steir copied her version of it from a museum poster—and its selection as the found work to be altered or quoted has some slight resonance with Duchamp’s use of a museum postcard of the Mona Lisa. Though not widely known as such, Duchamp is in fact a

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  • Arnold Mesches

    Civilian Warfare

    Arnold Mesches, 61, from California, pulled a fast one on the Lower East Side art scene by coming up with a painting gimmick as good or better than most in that hook-obsessed milieu, then actually painting dynamically enough through his concept to make it come off in a powerful if preachy way. His biggest and most successful conceit is a simple one: a double exposure, with an Old Master limned murkily as a background and a contemporary image foregrounded in blaring colors. In a California context—a comparison show of Mesches’ in Los Angeles was reviewed in Artforum in March—this double vision

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  • Time and Space Limited

    West 19th Street Studio

    Linda Mussmann’s Time & Space limited theater represents a decade-long attempt to continue the early Modernist credo in experimental performance art. Beginning in the early ’70s with the Modern classics (Henrik Ibsen, Bertolt Brecht, Jean Genet), Mussmann moved on to stagings of the nondramatic works of Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein. The shadow of the latter hangs over Mussmann’s latest phase, one in which her own fragmentary, elusive texts and the brooding musical accompaniment of Semih Firincioglu make up the principal material.

    Avoidance & Peculiar—written, directed,

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  • “Difference: On Representation and Sexuality”

    The New Museum/The Public Theater

    The films included in the “Difference: On Representation and Sexuality” exhibition are clearly not the same as those produced by corporate Hollywood. There are no stories of adorable boy hoodlums overtaking entire high schools, no renegade cops undermining police bureaucracies by virtue of their sheer wit and cuteness, and no square-jawed private eyes navigating through a miasma of calculating jiggle. Rather than showing sexuality in an immutable, natural state, the films suggest a socially constructed sexuality, a perpetual shifting of positions, voices, and bodies only biologically fixed to

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  • Susan Smith

    John Gibson Gallery

    Susan Smith works with colors both bold and muted, with found building fragments both crude and refined but always warmly textured, and with canvas. From these elements she assembles rectangular constructions which vitalize the tension between sculpture and painting, and among object, observation, and illusion. From a distance her work appears an exercise in pictorial illusion; a closer look reveals the compositions’ concern with space and with the recontextualizing of objects in the framework of art.

    The strength of Smith’s work is its mercurial character. Her constructions are at once sure

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  • Donna Byars

    A.I.R. Gallery

    In this exhibition Donna Byars confirmed the fact that intensely personal visions and dreams can generate constructions that bridge the division between the unique and the universal. Her work fluently argues that private iconographies are typically inspired by collective mythologies rather than by idiosyncrasies. Byars investigates a major issue that all artists face: how can personal impulse (and, in Byars’ case, dreams) become accessible, public language? This transmutation mystically but unquestionably occurs in her work. The consequences are mysterious and provocative, and persistently urge

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  • Susana Torre, Allan Wexler

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    While this exhibition did not have the breadth necessary to describe architecture at mid decade, it was a significant show which led to more understanding of the field than newspapers and architectural publications usually convey. Many artist architects work quietly, teaching prospective designers, building small projects (or not building at all), and investigating new and old questions. From these individual and collective energies interesting work is emerging, and an imaginative future is being invented. Susana Torre and Allan Wexler have both amassed bodies of such work.

    The inspiration for

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  • Chuck Close

    Pace/McGill

    Chuck Close’s new photographs are in a real sense incomparable. The closest parallel to these mammoth Polaroid nudes—two of them nearly 7 feet by 22 feet—might be highway billboards. But no billboard has the incredibly fine grain of these two- and four-panel pieces, made with a camera that produces unique prints of up to 40 inches by 80 inches.

    As with his work in other media, in this installation Close seemed intent on making the pictures hard to see. One of the walls in the gallery had been moved in half a dozen feet so that the two largest works in the show, full-lenqth male and female reclining

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  • Paper Tiger Television

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    The Paper Tiger Television collective has achieved the considerable feat of opening up, and sustaining for the past four years, a serious political debate about the workings of the print media in this country. The format of this weekly public-access cable program, produced in New York largely by a crew of young volunteers and distributed to public access channels in other cities as well, is brilliant in its simplicity. Each half-hour show centers around a detailed critique, by an articulate and knowledgeable commentator, of one particular magazine or newspaper—Time, Seventeen, Rolling Stone,

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