reviews

  • Archie Rand

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    This exhibition confirmed a suspicion I’ve had since the late ’70s: Archie Rand is one of the most ambitious and, more importantly, the most accomplished artists of his generation. Born in 1949, he produced his first mature paintings when he was 19. As a series, these “Letter Paintings” are perhaps the greatest, still relatively unknown body of work done during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Incorporating with obsessive thoroughness the names of both famous and forgotten bebop musicians, doo-wop groups, and r ’n’ b bands, the “Letter Paintings” are not only an extension of linear Abstract

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  • Win Knowlton

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    This exhibition revived the Museum of Modern Art’s “Projects” series, which ran from 1971 to 1982. Its point is to introduce the public to the work of relatively unknown, younger artists. With the exceptions of its video and “New Directors/New Films” programs, “Projects” is the museum’s only program that attempts to be responsive to emerging artists. Otherwise, it seems that the Museum is more interested in upholding a formalist view of Modern art, reinforced by its choice, on rare occasions, of which contemporary artists will be given retrospectives. (Richard Serra sí! Robert Arneson no!) The

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  • Roger Welch

    Ted Greenwald Gallery

    During the mid ’70s, Roger Welch constructed scale models of Polish villages and towns. The sources for these constructions were largely elderly people who had survived World War II and the Holocaust, or who had left Poland before these destructive events took place. Out of the dialogue between the artist and an individual a specific village was reconstructed. In their own way, Welch’s models are as powerful and heartrending as the photographs of Roman Vishniac. Furthermore, they redefined all notions of what constitutes a collaborative work. Another group of work—one that has never been

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  • “Surrealism 1936”

    Zabriskie Gallery

    “The surrealist assumes that one can change the world” (C. W E. Bigsby). This show recreated the Surrealism of exactly fifty years ago, 1936, a year of triumph for the movement exemplified by three major shows in Paris, London, and New York, and a year after the group’s critical denouncement of Communism, the means, they had believed, by which the world could be changed. The concept of dialectical materialism rested in the Surrealist object, which dominated Surrealist practice in that year. Such objects comprised the most compelling part of this exhibit, which also included photographs, collages,

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  • Bill Jensen

    Washburn Gallery

    In what sense is Bill Jensen’s work a “throwback”? Instead of praising Jensen’s paintings, advocates of the work of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe, of which Jensen’s work has been termed a revival, would conspire to bury it. True, Jensen has burrowed down under the site of their art, content never to break through to open, revitalizing air. Note Ancestors, 1984–85, wherein a disrupted mystical hexagram blooms under a mound covered with crosses, fully flowered and with no ambition to see the sun or stars. Thematically, too, Jensen’s vision of the earth,

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  • Alison Wilding

    Salvatore Ala

    Whenever sculpture has an effect of completion without any intimation of death, it puts us in a false position: our role is to admire an object that is so well mannered (after all, it has done all the work for us) that we cannot take issue with it. Disagreements are outside the work’s code of behavior and only make us look bad. This is not exactly dictatorial; such a piece is very often only reticent in style. But it so refuses passion and ideas that dialogue is irrelevant, as it is with certain people, ever so nice, who simply know what's healthy and sane and what's not, and who prefer not to

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  • Barbara Kruger

    Annina Nosei Gallery

    Barbara Kruger showed 15 new works here. In most of them she continued to combine greatly enlarged found photographs and verbal messages, often feminist in context, designed in a variety of typefaces. Some look pasted together, like ransom notes. “We are your elaborate holes,” is the statement angled across a photograph of a golf ball just passing the cup. “Promise us anything but give us nothing,” is the message over a huge photograph of what may be crumpled foil gift-wrapping. In Roy Toy, 1986, the phrase “Make my day” accompanies the image of a cheetah tearing raw flesh; a small photograph

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  • Nancy Spero

    Josh Baer Gallery

    Here, Nancy Spero showed several works from 1985, including Skygoddess, a large work on paper that extended along three walls of the gallery; four smaller mixed media pieces; and one earlier work, Monsters, 1984. All of these were monoprints on rectangular pieces of paper joined into either horizontal or vertical series. Spero has zinc plates made from her drawings of found images, which are largely taken from the early history of art, but also sometimes from the contemporary mass media. She applies acrylic paint to the plates, and presses them by hand onto her papers. The figures are usually

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  • Yvonne Rainer, The Man Who Envied Women

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    “I’ve never seduced a virgin or intruded upon a valid marriage,” declares a man who admits to the gentility of his social relations. “You can ask me about the peculiarities of my shit, just don’t ask me how much money I have in the bank,” confides a man whose discretion extends only to his finances. “It’s possible to have the whole story of Oedipus playing in your head and still behave properly at the dinner table,” suggests a man with more than a soupçon of analytic grace.

    Who is this man who appropriates and dispenses wisdom with the aplomb of an encyclopedia salesman, who collapses upon the

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  • Eric Fischl

    Whitney Museum of American Art / Mary Boone Gallery

    The photosleaze painterliness of Eric Fischl’s canvases, full of grandiose passages and minutiae in precarious equilibrium, seemed impermeable under the glare of the museum lights. The scenes revealed themselves as less vulgarly Freudian—less full of suburban psychology—and more art-historically resonant, and thus in a more deconstructive mode than originally perceived. Fischl’s paintings of affluent society’s suffering are not simply topped off with gratuitous allusions to American realism but theoretically toy with the conventions of realism: physiognomic reading of physiological detail, and

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  • R.B Kitaj

    Marlborough Gallery | New York

    This exhibition contained some of the best paintings that R. B. Kitaj has made. An easy mastery of a variety of kinds of touch was explicit, often within one work. This is perhaps most obvious in The Garden and Rock Garden (The Nation), both 1981, but it is also evident in the figural works. They go beyond the portrait drawings in their fantasy and their iconographic complexity.

    Indeed, what is really crucial about these works is the iconographic issues they raise. They remind us that pictorial representation is important not simply in itself but for the way it undermines any “natural,” sensuous

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  • Robert Birmelin

    Sherry French Gallery

    What I like about Robert Birmelin’s pictures is their perspective and scale. Both are ironically precise and explode the picturesque. For example, in Dominance and Submission (with Yellow Bus), 1985, our eyes follow the orthogonal projection of an arm to an upright green signpost, only to be brought up short by a yellow bus after leaping across an indeterminate space. An infinite vista is projected as we move down the street; but again we are stopped, this time by the excruciating complexity and clutter of detail.

    Birrnelin’s paintings are brilliant in the way they confront us with a variety of

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  • Laurie Anderson

    Beacon Theater

    The latest of Laurie Anderson’s talking electronic-blues performances showed subtle changes in her trademark formula of musical monologues accompanied by elaborate mixed media visual imagery and quirky props. She has continued to refine a small vocabulary of rich ideas that seems to be capable of infinite development. On the surface, these shifts of emphasis don’t appear to be major new statements. In this concert, however, the sum total of Anderson’s alterations—those that have slowly accumulated over her more-than-a-decade-long performing career as well as those apparent since her last New

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  • Squat Theatre, Dreamland Burns

    The Kitchen

    In one of the first scenes of the 45-minute film that opens Dreamland Burns, 1985, two men riding in a truck banter about sex and death, and are then revealed to be minor characters and mere lugs, furniture movers who are relocating a young woman from her suburban home to a Manhattan apartment. It’s a comic-mythic Squat Theatre twist, familiar from their previous multimedia performance works, all of which are about an “America” that is part symbol, part cartoon, and part primal urge. Overall, it’s more a dreamlike state of mind than a realistic portrait of an actual place. The America of this

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  • “Icarus: The Vision of Angels”

    Ronald Feldman Fine Arts / 49th Parallel

    Man’s will to fly, to exceed the bonds of the earth, is a persistent dream. “Icarus: The Vision of Angels,” co-curated by France Morin and Ronald Feldman and mounted at their respective galleries, was an attempt to capture some of that fancy for flight held by artists and scientists. The curators’ task was perhaps as ambitious a project in its way as the many early aerodynamic efforts it documented. Their choices were excellent; however, when an exhibition’s topic is as broad as that of man in flight, one cannot help but twitch a bit in the curatorial back seat. In this spirit I must express

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  • Deborah Kass

    Baskerville + Watson

    From the first tentative glance to the last lingering look they invite, Deborah Kass’ most recent paintings never cease to amaze. For those who have become accustomed to the artist’s landscapes, these works may come as a bit of a surprise. As a group, they do signal a shift away from nature and the recognizable world and back toward the more conceptual concerns of an even earlier body of work. In each of her paintings from 1980–81, a particular scene of rocks and water, inspired by Kass’ keen admiration for Paul Cézanne and her own observations of nature, is simultaneously fragmented and its

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  • Barry Le Va

    Sonnabend Gallery

    A show like this couldn’t have happened at a better time. To an art world still hung up on fleeting trends and “isms,” it demonstrated the importance of two elements, too often ignored and swept under the critical rug, that nevertheless can withstand the test of time: creative commitment and integrity. Each element was present in abundance in this succinct though revealing survey of Barry Le Va’s drawings.

    This display, which included work from the late ’60s to 1985, was revealing of Le Va’s distinctively analytical approach toward drawing. This approach is inextricably tied to the needs of his

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  • “Modern Redux: Critical Alternatives for Architecture in the Next Decade”

    Grey Art Gallery and Study Center

    “Modern Redux” was perplexing. Its inception was greeted with considerable interest and enthusiasm in the architecture community, but its realization was, finally, a disappointment. The premise of this exhibition was a condemnation of Postmodern architecture—not as envisioned by Robert Venturi in 1966, in his Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, but as enacted by mediocre practitioners in the past twenty years—and a presentation of evidence for the reemergence of a Modern idiom in contemporary architectural theory and practice. The curator, Douglas Davis, had an inciting idea, but it

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  • Dorothea Rockburne

    Xavier Fourcade

    The custom of terming the altered focus of an artist’s recent output a “new body” (of work) serves as an exceptionally apposite description for the latest developments in Dorothea Rockburne’s shaped canvases. The intensified radiance of these outwardly geometric compositions, their robust swaths of overlaid hues and their layered angles, catalyze a newly expressionistic physicality within her highly cerebral oeuvre that could easily bedazzle one into focusing on their formal novelty. They assimilate the emotional immediacy of the recent artistic zeitgeist yet provide a timely bridge to the

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