reviews

  • Ruth Thorne-Thomsen

    Marcus Pfeifer

    In the photographs in her “Expedition” series, 1976–84, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen alluded to the great archaeological photographs of the 19th century, such as those made by Maxime Du Camp of the monuments of Egypt. In many of them, Thorne-Thomsen showed large brooding stone heads, like the fragmented remains of some sphinx, sitting in the middle of the desert surrounded by tiny figures. Taken with pinhole cameras and presented as small sepia-toned black-and-white prints, they have a somewhat fuzzy, dreamlike quality that heightens the feeling that they come from a more innocent period of picturemaking.

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  • Evergon

    Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street

    In the six large-format Polaroid photo-works shown here (each consisting of one to six 20-by-24- or 40-by-80-inch sheets), Evergon borrows themes and styles from paintings of the 16th to 18th centuries. Some are based on specific works, as in Re-enactment—Goya’s Flight of the Witches #3, 1986, which shows the prostrate body of a man borne aloft by several men in green cellophane skirts and funny hats, while a donkey and a frightened attendant look on. In others Evergon uses costumes, props, lighting, and composition to give his works a generalized pseudo-antique feel. The Three Fates, 1987—in

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  • Hamish Fulton

    John Weber Gallery

    Hamish Fulton and his occasional traveling companion Richard Long have been, like Braque and Picasso, so roped together that, to a casual glance, it is sometimes difficult to see where one’s photographic work ends and the other’s begins. Both artists tend to walk in the remote corners of the world; but Long uses the walk to document the elemental or sculptural gesture, beating out his own paths and making material “cuts” in the landscape, while Fulton treads quietly, little more than a silent witness to the nature that becomes annotated in his captions. “Day 11,” he begins, in support of one

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  • Dermot Seymour

    Paula Allen Gallery

    Of the bitter conflicts in the world, none seems more touched by insanity—and for a multiplicity of reasons—than that of Northern Ireland. There, aided by their cynical government, the protagonists are engaged in a protracted struggle over ancient mythologies, while the world is in jeopardy from the insidious effects of pollution. This appears to be the subject of Dermot Seymour’s painted landscapes, in which invasion, surveillance, and disaster take place under the baleful stares of domesticated, wild, and exotic animals. It is not an easy subject to deal with in this medium, and Seymour’s work

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  • Siah Armajani

    Max Protech Gallery

    Siah Armajani began his “Elements” series in 1986, after completing a 12-year project, “Dictionary for Building.” Elements are the constituent parts of a product or process—the ingredients that go into its formation or the components to which it is reduced when analyzed. Armajani’s new research and constructions appear to flourish in the implied freedom of their generic, open-ended title. Freed of specificity, they are filled with ambiguous potential. Here, Armajani has expanded his quiet dialogue with the conditions of architecture into a more complex exploration of its grammar and syntax. Far

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  • Ettore Sottsass

    Blum Helman Gallery

    Ettore Sottsass is 70 years old this year. Normally, this kind of biographical data is of only secondary importance. But there is prejudice against age in our culture, along with a widespread misapprehension that creative force is compressed into a brief, early period in what is often a very long life. When a remarkable individual such as Sottsass comes along, he stimulates in us a sense of guilt for our biases as well as a genuine desire to reform. As demonstrated by this exhibition, Sottsass is still filled with vigor and vitality. Unfortunately, he is also susceptible to the same seductive

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  • Ana Mendieta

    New Museum

    In earth and wood sculptures, rock carvings, drawings, photographs, and performances, Ana Mendieta focused on the condition of being a woman. Woman’s body is conceived as vital flesh throughout her work, whether she created images out of ancient rock or used her own body as the medium. Woman is both life-giver and life-symbolizer, but Mendieta’s brilliance lies in the way her work brings out the inseparability of life and death. For the earth is the place of burial as well as the source of sustenance, and Mendieta’s silhouetting of her body in the earth and her creation of body images from

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  • Edward Ruscha

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Edward Ruscha’s latest works have a wonderfully artificial memorableness to them. Like the best of a certain kind of photograph, they make the banal seem significant, evoking just enough to suggest something emotionally profound and vaguely sublime. But they’re not photographs; they’re black-and-white paintings of simple, stark, slightly out-of-focus scenes, with the graininess and melodramatic contrast of early Hollywood films. The effect is simultaneously ironic and expressive. The irony is sometimes conveyed in the title, such as Nothing Landscape, where the “nothing” is the space between

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  • James Nares

    Fawbush Gallery

    Why do the drawings of an ex-filmmaker who only marginally made his mark in the late ’70s underground cinema in New York now command our interest? There is an originality and authenticity to James Nares’ work that comes not from a combative assertion of some new revolutionary esthetic but from a sensitively tuned subversion of expectations. The forces that stir the cultural stew in the arts today tend to be far subtler than the dramatic upheavals of an avant-garde. This generalization, though fragile, may account for the peculiar potency of Nares’ modest, unimposing oil drawings on paper, a

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  • Meyer Vaisman

    Castelli Gallery | Uptown

    In exhibitions, architecture often triumphs, or at least so imposes its presence on artists’ projects as to force esthetic acquiescence to its terms. This was the case in Meyer Vaisman’s show, which involved a concerted (and extremely successful) adjustment to the size and scale of the gallery space here. Behind this change in locution, however, Vaisman’s thematic concerns remained constant: the new works’ canvas backgrounds and superimposed forms are all fabricated in his characteristic mariner, using silkscreened blow-ups of the canvas weave. These constructions present images of blankness—of

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  • Tony Cragg

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    The work in Tony Cragg’s recent exhibition marks a significant shift away from the imagistic assembled sculpture for which he is known. Although some of the new pieces are collections of objects, his arrangements of myriad minute fragments have been replaced for the most part by large unitary forms, or by works in which two or three objects are joined in tight compositions. Cragg’s most typical material, plastic, has given way here to more traditional media—clay, metal, glass, and wood—presented in a more traditional relationship to the supporting floor. However, these differences are somewhat

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  • Luigi Ontani

    Jack Tilton Gallery

    Luigi Ontani first gained attention in Italy in the ’70s for photographs of himself posed in period costumes. By using the camera to explore the themes of identity and fantasy, he transformed the photograph into a container of fiction. Ontani’s investigation of fantasy, roles, states of innocent desire, and the manifestations of the masculine/feminine identity can be seen as a decisive influence on Francesco Clemente’s development. Although less known in America than Clemente, Ontani’s conceptual work of the ’70s and his evocative, fantasy-charged paintings and watercolors of the ’80s suggest

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  • Porfirio DiDonna

    112 Greene Street

    Porfirio DiDonna died in 1986 at the age of 44. He began his career in the ’60s, when the major issues were the fabrication of a literal surface, the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, and conflicting notions regarding objecthood, iconicity, and spirituality, and proceeded to develop his approach to painting during the heyday of Minimalism and the reign of formalist dogma. The exhibition consisted of work from the first and last periods of his career: moderate-size oil paintings done in the mid ’60s, while he was a graduate student in fine arts at Pratt Institute, New York, and large-scale vertical

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  • Alexander Rodchenko

    American Institute of Architects

    Alexander Rodchenko was a leading figure of the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde, and one of Modernism’s most vigorous proponents and visionary talents. His work shown here, including drawings that have never been seen in this country before, were obtained through the efforts of Alessandra Latour, curator of this gallery, with the cooperation of Rodchenko’s daughter Vavara Rodchenko, his grandson Alexander Lavrentjev, and the State A. B. Shchusev Architectural Museum in Moscow.

    The subject of the earliest drawing in the show, Carnival, 1914, is one that Rodchenko returned to later in his

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  • Vicki Teague-Cooper

    Siegeltuch Gallery

    In her recent solo show, her first in New York, Vicki Teague-Cooper demonstrates a clear-cut talent for symbolic expression. The artist, who is formerly from Texas, can stir the soul with her haunting vision. Taking a traditional pictorial format, that of the figure in landscape, she has reinvested it with emblematic meaning in the group of new oil paintings and recent charcoal-and-pastel drawings that were shown here.

    Each work represents a singular confrontation with the unknown. In the painting Threshold, 1987, a naked figure of androgynous appearance is at the edge of a huge gaping hole in

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  • “The Arts at Black Mountain College”

    Grey Art Gallery

    Black Mountain College has been a quasi-mythical footnote to the histories of some remarkable artists since its closing in 1957 after only 24 years of existence. Like an avant-garde version of a top-flight prep school, its name figures in the lives and careers of, among others, artists Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Josef Albers, and Robert Rauschenberg, dancer Merce Cunningham, musician John Cage, poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, and that unclassifiable esthetician Buckminster Fuller. Its complete roster of teachers and alumni reads like a Who’s Who of the cultural ’40s and ’50s in

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  • Merián Soto and Pepón Osorio, Wish You Were Here

    Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris

    Wish You Were Here, a rambling performance spectacle about Puerto Rican popular culture by Merián Soto and Pepón Osorio, inhabited the lobby of the Philip Morris midtown headquarters the way the displaced Caribbean culture occupies New York City: like colorful scraps of confetti blowing around the edges of a glass-and-steel civilization. It was presented as an evening of “video, dance, music, and performance set in a Puerto Rican social club,” with a decor by set designer and sculptor Osorio consisting of balloon-festooned cabaret tables, cartoonish palm trees and cabanas made of patterned

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