reviews

  • Holt Quentel

    57 STUX + Haller Gallery

    As proliferating “neo” movements attest, ours is an era of reaction. Post-Modernism revels in recycling, each “new” style an unabashed pastiche of the past. Yet Western culture has hardly renounced its claim on (or addiction to) originality. Snared in contradiction, the ’80s artist confronts the dilemma of creating work of heroic invention in an era of nothing new under the sun.

    This was the first solo exhibition—and the first Boston show—for Holt Quentel, a young Chicago artist who deftly treads this precipitous line with work that is equally reverential and desecrating toward the past. Quentel’s

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  • Peter Saul

    Allan Frumkin Gallery

    Peter Saul, who is in his early 50s, belongs to the generation that includes Dan Flavin and Lawrence Poons. Like them, he began exhibiting in the early ’60s. During that turbulent decade, he gave his socially conscious paintings such titles as Mickey Mouse vs. the Japs, 1962, Homage to Thomas Hart Benton, 1966, I Torture Commie Virgins, 1967, and Government of California, 1969. Influenced by Max Beckmann’s late work, Picasso’s elongated, biomorphic forms of the ’30s, and (long before it was fashionable) cartoonists of the ’40s, Saul’s paintings can be characterized as demotic, provocative,

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  • Frank Stella

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    Frank Stella began what has been called his “second career” when he started making relief paintings in 1970, the year the Museum of Modern Art gave him his first retrospective. In the current exhibition, which begins where that show left off, we see every stage in the evolution of this virtuoso body of work, from the comparatively sober “Polish Village” paintings (1970–73) and “Diderot” series (1974) to his most recent (and most elaborate) constructions. Throughout this period Stella has demonstrated startling gusto and persistence, with each series seeming to trump the previous one in projective

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  • Sherri Levine

    Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

    Sherrie Levine’s art is more significant for what it stands for than for what it is in itself. And what it stands for has become almost a cottage industry in the art world. These days, artist after artist reruns important past art, as if to attain instantly the meaning and energy that reference, erasure, revision, montage, and quotation can indeed accrue. Here Levine, after apparently abandoning direct quotation, has turned to serializing the quotable. This takes the form of the repetition of such elementary, universal, “minimal” patterns—presumably traditionally Modernist—as stripes and the “

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  • Jay Miller

    Richard Green Gallery

    It’s a relief to know that, in 1966–67, when Pop art and Minimalism were in their heyday, these intimate pictures of biblical scenes were being made. Historical circumstances have changed our perception of these paintings by Jay Milder, almost 50 of which were shown here: their expressionism no longer seems as outlandish and retardataire as it must have in the year of their making. Moreover, their expressionism is not so much aggressive and violent as exuberant, giving off a rather benevolent aura.

    With innocence and wit, Milder renders various biblical scenes in a kind of Hasidic dance of gestures

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  • Dan Grahm

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    Dan Graham’s Pergola/Conservatory, 1987, is a complex extension of his glass “pavilion” sculptures. Designed for an outdoor location, it is an open-ended walkway 20 feet long, with a curved vaulted ceiling. The double armature, wood inside and metal outside, supports a surface of two-way mirror glass and functions as a trellis for exterior vines. Graham’s pergola is a hybrid, incorporating elements of the rustic arbor and gazebo as well as urban structures such as the bus shelter and the corporate atrium, which Graham, collaborating with Robin Hurst, discussed in the six-panel piece Private “

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  • Irving Petlin

    Kent Fine Art

    It’s quite apparent to me that there is a deep rift in American art that remains largely unacknowledged. On one side are the artists who have chosen to assimilate into the mainstream, while the other side consists of those who refuse to accept the dominant esthetic attitudes and underlying restrictions. Irving Petlin’s refusal to assimilate into the mainstream amounts to a moral decision. He is, after all, a Jew who remembers that all attempts at assimilation have either been doomed or demanded a denial of Jewish culture and history.

    Since he first began exhibiting in the mid ’50s, Petlin has

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  • David True

    Blum Helman Gallery

    David True first gained widespread attention in the late ’70s, when his paintings were included in the Whitney Museum’s “New Image Painting” exhibition (1978), along with work by Nicholas Africano, Jennifer Bartlett, Denise Green, Michael Hurson, Neil Jenney, Lois Lane, Robert Moskowitz, Susan Rothenberg, and Joe Zucker. While the others either placed an emblematic image within an abstract field or incorporated nontraditional materials such as Rhoplex and cotton balls into their compositions, True used oil paint to explore the relationship between image and a layered space. Since then, his

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  • Paul McMahon

    White Columns

    I just loved Paul McMahon’s latest show. Sure, there are many ways, more articulate and refined, of expressing admiration, all of them more dignified and appropriate for an art review. But there is a directness, simplicity, vulnerability, and benevolence so profound in McMahon’s art that earns it such inanely effusive praise. His charm and openness has completely seduced me out of my cumbersome jaded critical armor. Naked here, before this craftily disarming jester, I will make no pretense to hide the strong positive bias with which I entered the show. A dedicated fan of McMahon’s peculiar sense

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  • Joshua Stern

    Greathouse / Craig Cornelius Gallery

    The visual and verbal rhetoric of the advertising logo has been investigated extensively in recent art. Practitioners of this genre (Gretchen Bender, Nancy Dwyer, et al.) have studied the prominence of the logo in our mediated environment, in which words efface themselves into dumb objects and, conversely, images acquire a concise eloquence. However, such an inquiry has generally been pursued through electronic media and other technologically oriented approaches common to advertising. Joshua Stern offers another perspective on this discourse.

    The five large vertical paintings shown at Greathouse

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  • Mark Dagley

    Tony Shafrazi Gallery

    My path to Mark Dagley’s exhibition was paved with posters, pasted on the sides of buildings, featuring three photographs of the artist juxtaposed with two of his paintings. At the top of the poster was an image of him “pointing” toward one work, and below it one of him “pushing” against another, while a substantial head shot at the lower right showed the bespectacled Dagley gazing at the viewer. Looking at this, I wondered what was being advertised, the art or the artist? Several visits to the gallery revealed the paintings to be the latest installment in throwaway chic.

    Dagley’s paintings nod

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  • Joe Smith

    Wolff Gallery

    Joe Smith’s use of evocative common materials in his small sculptural arrangements—panes of glass, broken bottles, gravel, sheet concrete, rough-hewn blocks of wood—recalls both Robert Smithson’s cross-sections of industrial environments and the material investigations of arte povera. But Smith’s work lacks both the sociological/archaeological dimension of Smithson’s work and the environmental, almost ritualistic quality of, say, Gilberto Zorio’s installations. Instead, his small setups have the quality of didactic models, as if they were demonstrations of the associational syntax of the particular

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  • John Gossage

    Castelli Gallery | Uptown

    As centers of social power, cities inevitably take on metaphorical power as well. In recent decades no city has acquired a more complicated symbolic value than Berlin. In part this stems from its central position in both history and global politics, and in part it comes from its special status within the German Federal Republic and the support given to art there. Whatever the causes, a recent spate of artworks and exhibitions in which Berlin has been taken more as a metaphor than a city testifies to its power as image.

    In the 11 massive photographs shown here, made in both East and West Berlin

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  • Vladimir Zakrzewski

    Vanderwoude Tananbaum Gallery

    Of all the major styles of art from the early 20th-century, the one that seems to have aged the best and lost the least pictorial punch is Constructivism. Constructivism remains a vital tradition that can still inspire abstract art of the highest quality, as shown by this exhibition featuring the recent work of Vladimir Zakrzewski.

    Zakrzewski, originally from Poland, has lived in the United States since 1981. His work displays authentic powers of invention, while it expresses the same love of pure form that flowered in his native country in the 1920s and ’30s as an offshoot of Russian Constructivism.

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  • Bruce Cohen

    Ruth Siegel

    It is possible to divide the world of contemporary art into those who like realism and those who don’t. For those who don’t, realism is commonly regarded as reactionary, and realists and their supporters as the archconservatives of the art world. Realists are interested in the cultivating of technique for the sake above all else of continuing Old Master conventions of representation, the only exceptions being the Photorealists. The latter, on the basis of their elevation of the photographic esthetic—and their concomitant slap in the face to traditional realist taste—have been accepted by certain

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  • Ann Messner

    Times Square Traffic Triangle

    J. G. Ballard’s novel Concrete Island (1973) is about an architect whose car veers off a highway and tumbles down to a concrete patch beneath the crisscrossing overpasses. The entire book chronicles the architect’s attempt to escape or to be discovered amidst the chaos, congestion, and high-speed traffic of the modern highway system.

    Ann Messner’s concrete island is on ground level and not situated beyond the motorists’ or pedestrians’ sight lines, but the space shares the surreal quality of Ballard’s imagined locus of technologically induced estrangement. Part of Times Square, one of New York’s

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  • “Postmodern Visions: Contemporary Architecture 1960–1985”

    IBM Gallery of Science and Art

    This traveling show, organized by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt and the Williams College Museum of Art, consists of more than 200 remarkable drawings, photographs, and models by more than 35 architects—remarkable for their quality, variety, and abundance. Unfortunately, they are presented in an exhibition that is equally remarkable for its lack of clarity, due to the absence of an original organizing idea (and the confidence of curator Heinrich Klotz that he’s provided one). Many of the drawings and models are dazzling individual statements, but the exhibition is a case of the

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  • Kit Fitzgerald and Peter Gordon, Spectaccalo

    La MaMa Galleria

    Like its ersatz title, a made-up word that resonates with implications of baroque futurism, Spectaccalo was a singular hybrid that reveled in its boundary-stretching serendipity. A laid-back audio-visual performance in which live video projections controlled by Kit Fitzgerald provided the visual counterpoint to music composed by Peter Gordon and played by the saxophonist with an ensemble, Spectaccalo stated its self-chosen contradictions by flanking a huge, state-of-the-art video-projection screen with “natural” decor: birdhouses, an aquarium, and a circular tower of vines. A performance

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  • Maguy Marin, Babel Babel

    Brooklyn Academy of Music

    The conceptual underpinnings of Babel Babel, a 1982 dance-theater performance work staged by the French choreographer Maguy Marin, are stupefyingly banal: that humanity once existed in innocence, has been corrupted by civilization, and now must fight its way back to paradise. It’s hard to believe that this simplistic premise was put forth by a contemporary French artist (how were the layers of esthetic fog that smother so much French performance completely bypassed?) and even harder to understand that Marin made it so incredibly believable on stage. Her intuitive, faux naif theater may traffic

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