reviews

  • Sigmar Polke

    Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

    Sigmar Polke’s work has surfaced here somewhat too belatedly for us to get a clear view of his conceptual strategies unimpeded by the work of his imitators, the recently arrived late Francis Picabias, and the homogenization that the gallery has effected on all these artists. Polke himself seems to have participated in trans-Atlantic Ping-Pong for the past twenty years, and the work remains based in a loose collage of image and materials that we associate with both the sociopolitical strategies of Dada and with the stylistic maneuvers of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Nevertheless, we are

    Read more
  • Deans Keppel

    The Kitchen

    In both substance and structure Deans Keppel’s “Phoenix: Portrait of the Keppel Family” is reminiscent of the almost embarrassingly revealing documentary An American Family, the 1973 PBS series that made the Loud family as familiar as the Carringtons or the Bunkers, though far less reassuring. Her remarkable hour-long tape, shot between 1979 and 1983, examines her own family from the distancing perspective of documentary production. In interviews and candid footage, mostly taken around the family’s Richmond, Va., home, she examines each of the other members of the family, and their interactions.

    Read more
  • James Friedman

    Bertha Urdang Gallery

    By going to the sites of various Nazi concentration camps—Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, and others—and photographing them as they appear today, James Friedman opens issues of memory and narrative, as well as of the real horrors of the Holocaust. These pictures show not so much the banality of evil, in Hannah Arendt’s phrase, as the banality of ’’the past”—the set of stories, necessarily semifictional and self-justifying, that we as a culture construct from historical events, no matter how horrendous, to explain how we got where we are today. Predictably, these sites have been turned into

    Read more
  • Frank Lloyd Wright

    Max Protetch

    Frank Lloyd Wright was such a prolific architect that it is possible to attend exhibitions of his work year after year and still see unfamiliar projects, previously unexhibited drawings, and fresh ideas. As in any encounter with brilliance, his work becomes richer with repeated visits. Wright’s successes, and his failures, sustain belief in the possibilities of architecture as art, for even his misguided productions were in some way inspired.

    In what one hopes will be an annual event, this gallery showed a selection of drawings diverse in content, medium, and execution. Wright was masterful both

    Read more
  • “City of Frankfurt: New Building in a Historic Context”

    Goethe House

    Contemporary cities are all artifice, yet they seem to operate on unalterable organic premises. it is difficult to envision any significant, lasting intervention that would creatively change an urban center’s character. Citites rumble along, and the various elements of the whole are not perceptible until they are missed. But this sense of being unable tot affect the nature of the metropolis is not a sentence or a destiny. Passionate, broad-visioned individuals can reroute the mutant giantism spawned by hermetic interests. This exhibition provided an example of such a process, showing how the

    Read more
  • Elaine Reichek

    A.I.R. Gallery

    Elaine Reichek’s recent work analytically dissects architecture, reconstructs it in decidedly nonarchitectural, nonstructural materials, and then inverts it. Through a process of aggressive interpretation, Reichek discovers architectural elements that ’are accessible emotionally and tactilely, and attempts to get at the basis for the speechlessness one often experiences in the face of architecture. She objectifies shelter; architecture is presented as an artifact that issues from a cultural formula.

    Reichek begins her work with research and selection. For this exhibition she chose representatives

    Read more
  • “Action/Precision: The New Direction in New York, 1955–1960” and “Action/Precision”

    Grey Art Gallery and Washburn Gallery

    As more time separates us from the turbulent upheaval of the late ’50s and the swift ascension of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol, it becomes increasingly clear that a strong set of prejudices helped pave the way for what was then the new generation. The most obvious illustration is the term "Second Generation Abstract Expressionists,” which the young critics of the period, such as Barbara Rose, Robert Rosenblum, and William Rubin, employed pejoratively against an older group of painters. Eager to become an integral part of the history they felt was being made,

    Read more
  • Philip Allen

    Rosa Esman Gallery

    Philip Allen’s show was the strongest, most convincing first solo exhibition I’ve seen since moving to New York more than a decade ago. This judgment includes all the artists whose careers have been launched under the banners of Pattern and Decoration, New Image, graffiti, and neo-Expressionist painting. Instead of following such trends, scrambling after the crumbs they have left behind, or trying to carve out a previously overlooked niche, Allen has painstakingly evolved his paintings out of the realization that American abstract art of the ’40s maintains a graceful balance between formal

    Read more
  • Giuseppe Penone

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    The problem of art today is not to find new form and new content, new style and new meaning, but strong, old affect. This has become the new desideratum, given the progressive elimination of feeling that has been going on in art since the ’60s. The restriction of affect that has been evident in both representational and nonrepresentational work is the result of an obsessive-compulsive attempt—initiated by a few “superior” artists and quickly become chic in the clubby, get-on-the-bandwagon atmosphere of the art world—to implant a conceptual imperative in art’s brain. This restriction may have

    Read more
  • Volker Tannert

    Sonnabend Gallery

    Mountains, like forests, exist deep in German memory, romantic symbols of inner nature as well as ardently experienced reality. Joseph von Eichendorff’s Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing (1826) includes a little poem whose last lines read: “I mount in the silence apart/To the highest mountain-top, singing:/Bless you, Deutschland, with all my heart!” The mountain is a political entity, inseparable from the nation; both stand apart, special manifestations of nature, destined in their greatness and permanence. But the mountain is also nature at its most demonstrative, implicitly the residue of a violent

    Read more
  • Martin Johnson

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    Martin Johnson saturates us in language to the point of vertigo. Every currently “in” style and type of image, every kind of surface and rhythm of paint, a seemingly inexhaustible mixing of high-art and kitsch modes of representation, are all brilliantly manipulated in fast-paced, punning works. Many of them have interchangeable parts, and seem like only gratuitously different hands in a game of solitaire. These paintings are polysemous manipulations obsessed with the plasticity of language and meaning—in Johnson’s words, a “visual jazz . . . stretching and testing the limits of meaningfulness.”

    Read more
  • Ted Rosenthal

    Salvatore Ala Gallery

    There are quite a lot of graffiti artists around, many of whom never wrote graffiti, but there aren’t many graffiti sculptors; Ted Rosenthal may be the only one. (Actually there must be two—someone lashed some very nice garbage-bag men to a Cyclone fence down my street once.) The Dominican social club across the street from where I live was bombed once, but the only time I’ve ever seen the bomb squad around here was when they removed a bombish-looking Rosenthal sculpture from the wall next to the large billboard at Broadway and Houston Street. Rosenthal also mounted some large pink Sleet penises

    Read more
  • Frank Stella

    Knoedler Gallery

    I’m having a drink with Peter Bömmels, a painter from Cologne, and he says, “Keith Haring is not a painter. He’s a designer.”

    I say, “Well, I don’t know. You could say the same thing about Roy Lichtenstein then.”

    “Yes,” says Bömmels, off and running to a position where Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol are the only stars in the sky.

    Maybe it’s only painters who really care if someone is a painter or a designer. If Haring and Lichtenstein are designers, it doesn’t necessarily make them lesser artists to me.

    In the ’60s and early ’70s you couldn’t have given me Frank Stella wallpaper. Not because I

    Read more
  • “Synesthetics”

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

    “Synesthetics” was an ’80s version of the ’70s phenomenon variously known as “story” or “narrative” art. Back then, my feelings about this incorporation of words into pictures was as mixed as its media and motives: as a writer and reader, I was thrilled to see actual language infiltrate visual art, but as a farsighted reader who requires glasses to read type, glasses that render images blurry, I often genuflected at the reading wall in a gallery more out of a sense of dutiful respect than out of any real excitement at the actual results. “Synesthetics,” however, exerted an extra pull through

    Read more
  • Kiely Jenkins

    Fun Gallery

    In the recent past the history of “animal art” has been one of singular, eccentric modes, ranging from Nancy Graves’ anthropological camels through William Wegman’s conceptual vaudeville with his late canine partner, Man Ray, to Hermann Nitsch’s “meat orgy” performances and Susan Rothenberg’s neomythic, cave painting-like horses. Typical of a younger sensibility, Kiely Jenkins opts instead to ring changes on the venerable category of the cartoon animal.

    Jenkins set up part of the gallery as a fake “trophy’’ room complete with false paneling, electric-blue rug, plastic chairs, and a sappy Muzak-y

    Read more
  • Derby Davis

    Piezo Electric

    There’s something touching in Jenkins’ condescension toward his wasted, urbanite animals, and in the sophisticated fun he pokes at what is dearly loved. Debby Davis’ slaughterhouse sculptures, on the other hand, slug at the gut. Beautifully crafted from Hydrocal, fiberglass, and Polyadam, and realistically painted in oil, Davis’ animals look like casts pulled dripping from new carcasses rather than clever forgeries of animal remains. The gallery was filled with flayed sheep heads, skinned rabbits, pig heads hung on hooks, goat ribcages, deer heads, snakes crawling through plucked chickens, and,

    Read more
  • Jeff Weiss

    The Performing Garage

    For over two decades Jeff Weiss has been presenting his self-produced playlets on a shoestring budget, often in his Lower East Side tenement basement. Occasionally he ventures into a quasi-theatrical space with an ambitious program. This time out he produced a Nicholas Nickleby of performance-art theater, a work of unprecedented scale—four and a half hours in running time, complexly plotted with some two dozen episodes calling for a dozen major characters and as many minor ones, and featuring an encyclopedic acting style which runs the gamut from camp to sincere melodrama. As producer, director,

    Read more
  • “The Third Dimension: Sculpture of the New York School”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    This was one of those artist-influencing shows that will probably result in an adaptive, Lamarckian revival of Abstract Expressionist sculpture. At the same time, its delicious aroma of rightness derived in part from a highly developed olfactory capacity to sniff what’s in the air: as organizer Lisa Phillips implied by including in the catalogue photographs of works by Mel Kendrick, Nancy Graves, and Bryan Hunt, some return to an abstract but antiminimal sculpture has already begun. Until this show, however, when one looked around for what hadn’t been curatorially anchored into place this chunk

    Read more
  • Rachel bas-Cohain

    A.I.R. Gallery

    “Let us inquire, to what end is nature?” Not only might Rachel bas-Cohain (1937–1982) have put Ralph Waldo Emerson’s question to herself, but she must have shared Emerson’s conception of the fluid character of nature, of energy, their binding unity the confluence of forces. Hence her continuance of the kinetic tradition, particularly that part of the tradition less concerned with the machine than with the phenomena it generates. Liliane Lijn’s Liquid Reflections, 1966–67, in which drops of moisture trapped under a clear turntable move in apparently inexplicable ways, is not so different from

    Read more
  • Mark Rappaport

    Collective for Living Cinema

    During the ’70s Mark Rappaport directed a number of films that can be seen as comedic homages to misinformation, missions impossible, and mistaken identities. Though varying in narrative specificity and construction, these films seem to coalesce into a continuous stream of visual and verbal gambits which seem intent not on telling us something but on telling us everything and nothing. Eluding characterological particulars and conventional closure, they stick together pieces of stories and act like thesauri of circumstances—crazy quilts of mismatched paragraphs strewn amid the lives of their

    Read more
  • Man Ray

    Zabriskie Gallery

    The objects assembled here, some originals and some replicas, ranged in date from 1928 to 1973. Most of them are from the ’50s on, and interestingly present Man Ray not simply as a classical Modernist but as a somewhat contemporary artist. A protosemiotician of art, Ray, along with Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte, devised the critical modes of art objecthood, creating objects that avoid categories through a multileveled visual and verbal punning which splits apart realms of signification that are commonsensically understood as together, and conjoins those commonly apart. The catalogue reprints

    Read more
  • Mel Kendrick

    John Weber Gallery

    Mel Kendrick’s new sculptures remind one so inevitably of early Picasso and Brancusi and of the African art that influenced those artists that they could almost be called quotational. The works are living-room size—smaller than a human torso, and mounted at a convenient viewing level on wooden and metal stoollike stands. They are carved out of wood with a power saw and compiled by accretion of pieces with a classical Modernist vocabulary of curves, serrations, holes, and angles. On the one hand they suggest something of timeless esthetic feeling, while they also resemble certain quasi-conceptual

    Read more
  • Harvey Tulcensky

    Bette Stoler Gallery

    This may sound paradoxical, but the best thing to have happened to contemporary abstraction is neo-Expressionism. All the attention given the much-heralded return of the figure and of psychological subjects in nee-Expressionism has encouraged, I think, the open and inclusive attitude in much abstract art these days. This attitude is certainly present in the recent paintings of Harvey Tulcensky.

    Working in a bold graphic style, Tulcensky limits himself in each painting to a single, or at most a few, geometric motifs—ovals, lozenges, or arcs, for example. By repeating and varying the configuration

    Read more
  • Silvia Kolbowski

    Nature Morte

    Silvia Kolbowski’s show seemed important for pushing the artist’s focus into a broader referential frame. All of her work deals with the construction of sexuality, and, in particular, with the imposition implicit in the feminine position; her rearrangements of photographic images generally drawn from mass media magazines treat the means employed, and masculine interests served, in the process of feminine subjection. This exhibition extended the reach of those themes into the spheres of business and fashion.

    My comment requires a stipulation, for the show, composed of three different modes of

    Read more
  • Vito Acconci

    Carpenter + Hochman

    Over the past few years Vito Acconci has become increasingly involved in public projects, a fact responsible, in part, for the infrequency of his gallery shows. I sense that his recent exhibition of sculptures should be interpreted in this light; most of the exhibited works are publicly impractical, yet evade the normal compass of collectors. Instead, they appear to be intended as heuristic exercises, testing boundaries between art and architecture, sculpture and furniture, and esthetic and social issues.

    A rich mix, that, but not without precedent: all of the works deal with Acconci’s interest

    Read more