reviews

  • Jiři Georg Dokoupil

    Sonnabend Gallery

    While I was looking at Jiři Georg Dokoupil’s new sculptures and paintings, Robert Smithson’s 1966 drawing A Heap of Language came involuntarily to mind, with its pyramid of words, heaped up like objects, a chain of potentially cabalistic incantations but drained of power in their translation to a visual medium, as something to be seen and not heard, transformed into empty ciphers bankrupt of meaning. Dokoupil’s The Five, 1986, has come a long way from Charles Demuth’s I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, 1928, with its allusion to poetry, or the number “5” as Jasper Johns painted it, with all the

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  • Oskar Kokoschka

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    From 1909 to 1911 Oskar Kokoschka produced perhaps the most extraordinary portraits made in this century. In what can only be understood as a tour de force of what the psychiatrist Daniel Stem calls affect attunement, Kokoschka was able to create subtle visual equivalents to the complex moods of his subjects. The portraits have usually been understood as uniformly “decadent” likenesses—few are their equal in articulating ambivalence so deftly—but it is not so simple. Kokoschka was able to differentiate clearly between and translate the particularities of his sitters, and he subtly adjusted his

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  • Deborah Butterfield

    Edward Thorp Gallery

    For millennia the horse has been a standard, idolized fixture, in art as in life. “Horse country” is the place where the rich discover that there is a passion deeper than the passion for money. The horse is sexually symbolic, an expression of wild erotic power, as in D. H. Lawrence’s short story “St. Mawr.” It is often the first, and last, serious love of young girls. Deborah Butterfield has a young girl’s passion for horses, no doubt highly preferable to human beings, who are too complicated. The question is, Why are her horses so broken (and I don’t mean broken in)? The seven sculptures in

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  • Sherrie Levine / Haim Steinbach

    Jay Gorney Modern Art

    This two-person exhibition, although not a collaborative effort, demonstrated parallels in the thought of the participating artists. The works shown were about the use and character of the mass-produced object and, along the way, the artists touched on many issues concerning the expansion of consumer culture.

    Sherrie Levine was represented by spin-offs on her recent “generic” stripe paintings, with the stripes here applied to four prefabricated wooden chair seats. The ones used are the most basic, with a slightly recessed area that curves to fit the buttocks (curves that cast attractive shadows

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  • Justen Ladda

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    Justen Ladda treats art at its lowest, where it merges seamlessly with kitsch. His is a raunchy, rollicking temperament that delights in mining the depths of popular consciousness, and in art, fashion and religion, 1986, he explored the impact of consumerism.

    Ladda’s installation was designed according to two different spatial arrangements, with a mazelike rectilinear corridor giving onto a circular stage. Both walls of the corridor were painted with a Greek fret design, punctuated at regular intervals with clusters of grapes, and the perambulating viewer quickly noted that several grapes at a

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  • Nicola De Maria

    Galerie Maeght Lelong

    Although the Italian artist Nicola De Maria is well known throughout Europe, this was his first solo show in America. One reason De Maria’s work has not been exhibited here before is that he is neither a figurative artist nor a descendant of arte povera. In fact, he doesn’t fit into any of the currently fashionable trends, styles, or stances; he neither trumpets the death of the imagination nor proclaims himself painting’s savior. Given the current crisis in painting, his specialness should be seen as central. That this sense of his work is not likely to happen any time soon is more a comment

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  • Arnold Friedman

    Salander-O’Reilly Galleries

    Arnold Friedman (1874–1946) is a member of the generation that includes Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley. Although his accomplishment is comparable to theirs, he remains largely unknown, for there have been no books and few museum exhibitions about his work. Friedman began to paint at an early age, but he did not have any formal studies in painting until he enrolled in the Art Students League when he was 32. Two years later he traveled to Europe, and after his return to New York he became involved with the Independent Artists group in 1910, as both exhibition organizer and artist, and was a

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  • Dan Witz

    Semaphore Gallery

    The content in traditional academic figure painting is fundamentally determined by the narrative or symbolic references depicted in the work. The reading of such work has so consistently operated within the conformities of traditional iconography, recognizable literary or mythological situations, or common narrative form that the paintings of Dan Witz are puzzling in their seemingly significant insignificance—that is, they possess the unmistakable aura of meaning while their simplicity proclaims a void of innuendo and association. The power of these works comes not from the elusiveness of

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  • Papo Colo

    Exit Art / Rosa Esman Gallery

    This two-gallery exhibition of works by Papo Colo was an ambitious and illuminating retrospective of an artistic career just as ambitious and illuminating. The richness and eclecticism of the work proved that Colds art is interesting enough to merit this double show, which gave an overview of his entire personal and artistic history. Evident in the body of Colds work is an involved and epic “life as art” contrived upon the artist’s invention of himself in the complex and contradictory terms of society. As is often the case when an artist’s persona becomes a mythic creation—and the most captivating

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  • Robert Williams

    Psychedelic Solution

    The recent exhibition of “Messages from a Drunken Broom,” a new series of paintings by Robert Williams, was the first one-person show in New York for this leading force of esthetic terrorism over the past two decades, and it was shamefully overdue. How these works of antiestablishment vulgarity were received was as revealing as it was predictable, with opinion split according to the fundamental values of opposing social groups. Williams is relevant for both his status as a guru of the countercultural underground and as a maverick disregarded by the prevailing power elite. His career as one of

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  • “Retrospective of Storefront”

    Storefront for Art and Architecture

    Following a six-month period of reorganization, Storefront for Art and Architecture held its second “inaugural” exhibition, a group show assembled under the direction of Kyong Park featuring selections of work from exhibitions and projects that this experimental gallery has sponsored since opening in 1982. There is always the risk that such a roundup can be merely self-congratulatory, but this retrospective was unusual and forward-thinking. The exhibition was a serious critical appraisal of contemporary culture through the lens of the organization’s activities, presented through documentation,

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  • Alfredo Jaar

    Spring Street and Avenue of the Americas subway station

    Last December, Alfredo Jaar leased all of the advertising space in a downtown New York subway station for the entire month. On both northbound and southbound platforms Jaar installed photographic posters and graphic information created by the artist. There were no explanations or descriptive texts to accompany the installation; the public was left to depend on its own analytic resources. Rushes was the third part of a four-installation project based on a trip the artist took to Serra Pelada, Brazil, near the mouth of the Amazon River, in the summer of 1985. Two of the installations were mounted

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  • Ralph Helmick

    57 STUX + Haller Gallery

    Ralph Helmick initially explored heroic male figures pierced by laserlike striations, and his work was interpreted as classicism set to an MTV beat. But this New York debut, which expanded Helmick’s recent forays into the realm of the ardent female figure, made explicit his dual homage to carnal love and the grand traditions of figurative sculpture.

    Several Boston shows, two years’ inclusion in the prestigious Institute of Contemporary Art’s “Boston Now” exhibition, plus the celebrated Arthur Fiedler Memorial (a massive bust of the beloved maestro installed on the Charles River in summer 1984)

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  • Francisco Toledo

    Mary-Anne Martin/Fine Art

    The art of the Mexican artist Francisco Toledo has rarely been seen in New York in recent years. Fortunately, the situation has been righted by this survey of watercolors painted by Toledo during the last twenty years, with selections heavily weighted toward the 1960s, the decade in which Toledo first emerged with such impact on the Mexican and international art scene.

    Few artists can approach the high level of fantasy attained by Toledo throughout this group of watercolors, some of which—including Horses Dancing, ca. 1965-68, Head with Red Background, ca. 1965–68, Flying Tiles, ca. 1965, Woman

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  • Luis Marsans

    Claude Bernard Gallery

    Recent work by the noted Spanish realist Luis Marsans was presented in his first one-person exhibition held in the United States. In it, Marsans revealed himself to be an artist of a temperament eminently well suited to capturing the emblematic essence of reality. Missing from these small-format paintings and drawings is even the slightest hint of calculation or self-consciousness, those being the common failings of many another artist of similar ambition. Instead, there is a sensibility of pure creative imagination.

    Imagination, for an artist like Marsans who is able to find inspiration in the

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  • Karen Finley

    The Kitchen

    A performance artist who honed her act on the club circuit, Karen Finley is the latest late-night skit-maker to move to prime-time alternative performance spaces. Her performance trademark has been ranting monologues, in form not unlike John Giomo’s breath-defined chanting poetry, and in content similar to the “obscene,” taboo-attacking jeremiads of singer-poet Lydia Lunch and writer Kathy Acker. In front of jam-packed, drunkenly rowdy, on-the-prowl audiences, Finley’s run-on tirades about rape, incest, suicide, and, especially, oral and anal sex, combined with her gross physical gestures (

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  • Robert Wilson and David Byrne, the Knee Plays

    Alice Tully Hall

    The Knee Plays, a collaborative mixed media opera, almost effortlessly achieved the kind of successful melding of theatrical elements that most other such performances strain for. Its 13 scenes were originally planned as individual entr’actes between scene changes within the five long sections (each virtually an entire piece in itself) of the CIVIL warS, Robert Wilson’s global performance opera. Like all of Wilson’s architecturally interwoven visual stagework, the design motifs in each “knee play” were supposed to introduce the scene that each vignette preceded (the term comes from vaudeville,

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  • Doug Prince

    Witkin Gallery

    In the series of black-and-white photographs shown here Doug Prince has printed close-ups of various plants and flowers, or occasionally classical busts, over Italian scenes (landscapes, architectural details, interiors). From such a bare description this might seem simply a shrewd exercise in mixing and matching images from two categories of the conventionally pretty, in hopes of breathing a little artiness into stale genre subjects while retaining the reassuring appeal of the components of the scenes. Something more interesting actually results, however, for the pictures violate their own

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  • Frank Gohlke

    Daniel Wolf

    Working now in color, Frank Gohlke continues to pursue the classic Modernist style of photography, based on the medium’s descriptive abilities, for which he is best known. Here he showed mostly landscapes, taken in rural Mississippi and Tennessee as well as in the Auvergne and Burgundy regions of France. One of the great strengths of this particular branch of photographic Modernist style, which involves the use of clear lighting, simple compositions, and great detail, and which is perhaps best exemplified by Walker Evans’ work, is its ability to encompass a vast range of seemingly mundane aspects

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