reviews

  • Ilya Kabakov

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    In “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges constructs the evocative metaphor of a library with endless rooms as a means of representing the way humanity structures society. The Soviet artist, Ilya Kabakov, also uses the matrix of adjacent rooms to invoke a metaphor of the world in his first solo exhibition in the United States, “Ten Characters.” The show consisted of ten, specially constructed rooms flanking a central hallway. The rooms took the form of a communal apartment, common to most Soviet metropolises, in which several families live simultaneously and share a common anteroom, corridor,

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  • Jonathan Borofsky

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    Jonathan Borofsky’s wonderfully ambiguous, unusually spare installation contained none of the clutter of several previous installations, in which spectators were invited to participate—they became part of one show by playing ping-pong—in a space crowded with objects. But the muted melodrama of other shows remained. The viewer was again brought face to face with a giant robotic figure. It was more robust and rounded than previous flat figures, and though it did not “chatter,” it remained ominous. Large, blue, and male, with blank eyeballs, the giant’s left hand rested on its hip. Its right hand

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  • Christopher Le Brun

    Sperone Westwater

    Christopher Le Brun continues his pursuit of the elusive, almost as an end in itself. The sense of mystery that pervades his work is the residue of—and perhaps an attempt to revive—that sense of “tragic insight” which Friedrich Nietzsche regarded as “the most beautiful luxury of our culture.” In his paintings, Le Brun combines an iconography of isolation with a muted sensual surface, less important for its assertive painterly quality than for its seductive atmospheric one; it bears some resemblance to Monet’s elusive continuum of surface. There is a sense of restrained fullness in this surface,

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  • Barnett Newman

    Pace/MacGill Gallery

    I think it is time to stop taking Barnett Newman at his word. He’s a fine and important painter, but not for the reasons he gives. To believe that carefully placing a zip in a field of atmospheric color is an act of heroism, or the esthetic equivalent of terrifying primordial awareness, is an absurdly ambitious idea. While Newman’s understanding of his works is an overinterpretation, the formalist understanding of them is an underinterpretation. I would suggest that the truth of Newman’s achievement lies somewhere between his own grandiose claims and the formalist emphasis on pedestrian

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  • Forrest Bess

    Hirschl & Adler Modern

    It’s easy to see why abstract painters of the ’40s and ’50s were drawn to the work of Forrest Bess (1911–77). Even now artists enthuse over Bess’ fluent command of a rich array of simple but powerful abstract imagery, presented in blocky, saturated color on tiny canvases. This exhibition—reportedly the largest exhibition ever of Bess’ work—gave ample evidence of his quirky, distinctive style. The twin white rectangles centered against a black background of Untitled (No. 12A), 1957, for example, have a mute eloquence that seems to anticipate the solidity of Minimalism, but the pinks and purples

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  • June Leaf

    Edward Thorp Gallery

    In 1978, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted a retrospective of June Leaf’s art, which included works in various mediums (painting, gouache on paper, assemblages, and sculpture) that she had made since her teens. Now almost 60, Leaf seems to have been either overlooked or marginalized by the forces who author “official history.” In many ways, and for many of the same reasons, her position in the art world parallels that of Nancy Spero and, until recently, of Louise Bourgeois. Not only have all three made their womanhood an integral part of their art, but they have also chosen to

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  • Yvonne Jacquette

    Brooke Alexander

    Yvonne Jacquette is the kind of realist who, as Constable said of Ruysdael, communicates an understanding of what she paints. Painting everyday life as seen from above, she follows realism’s way of intensifying the seemingly casual visual perception so that its deeper necessity stands revealed. Her understanding admits the tangled nature of her subject: a separate view on the world every time, within reach of melancholy but spared the more topical forms of fuss. She has made the luxurious airborne overview her specialty without dramatizing its alien’s-eye peculiarity. Architecture, streets,

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  • David Ireland

    Damon Brandt

    There has been a surge of interest recently in the art world over arte povera. The movement, which emerged in Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s, has never been so appreciated as it is now. Greater recognition has also been given to a number of American artists whose work since the late ’70s has offered a more local manifestation of the same esthetic. The new fascination with this esthetic has resulted in the rediscovery of a number of exceptional artists, many of whom are conceptually oriented and have lived and worked in the San Francisco area since the mid ’70s. David Ireland is one such

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  • Giancarlo Neri “Nove Lune”

    Giancarlo Neri, an Italian artist who has lived in New York for the last nine years, created an outdoor installation of a group of nine recent paintings inspired by meditations on the subject of the moon. The installation invited a fascinating array of thoughts and speculations concerning the role of the artist’s studio in the creative process. Neri’s studio, a back room of a small, walk-up apartment, located on one of the densely packed streets of Greenwich Village, turned out to be an active and integral element in his work, from conception through execution, and, finally, to installation.

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  • James DeWoody

    Mary Ryan Gallery

    James DeWoody first showed a talent for bringing out the dynamic aspects of form and color in the abstract paintings and sculptures he did between 1972 and 1982. Over the last five years, the lively zigzag patterns and faceted shapes he has favored have started to take on decidedly associative connotations, bringing to mind certain architectural references, such as the tower. DeWoody's vision has tended to develop in a decidedly representational direction, though the key to discerning the symbolic content of his work lies in apprehending its special concrete qualities, insinuated as they are in

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  • Michael Byron

    Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

    “Charming” is not a word I usually associate with art that I like or respect. But “charming” is the best word I can think of to describe Michael Byron’s recent exhibition, entitled “The Faust Cycle.” The five works in this show, paintings incorporating sculptural elements, comprise tableaux based on the legend of Faust. Byron claims to have been inspired by Goethe’s properly serious Faust, but he seems to have been influenced to a greater extent by the cheesy 1967 film version of the story starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He renders the Faust legend as a cross between a sitcom and

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  • Andy Warhol

    Vrej Baghoomian Gallery; Robert Miller Gallery

    The current glut of media attention for Andy Warhol and his work would probably turn off most viewers if it were directed toward any other artist. But Warhol’s art can be viewed in small doses or in large quantities and still prove inexhaustibly interesting. The simultaneity of these shows—drawings at the Robert Miller Gallery, work in various media at the Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, paintings at Gagosian Gallery, as well as film screenings at the Whitney Museum—forms a wide-ranging survey demonstrating Warhol’s versatility.

    The most illuminating exhibition is the collection of paintings, drawings,

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  • Peter Nadin

    Jay Gorney Modern Art

    Over the last several years, Peter Nadin has gradually developed a large repertoire of diverse imagery and techniques. His new paintings pack all of it and then some into every canvas, including crude still-life drawings, simple houses, lollipop trees, a schematic self-portrait, a snapshot of a longtime friend, a drawing of a human skull, land- and skyscapes, hand-and footprints, and short poems. Loaded, chromatic brushstrokes and solid blocks of color punctuate this imagistic mélange. Each pictorial element stems from a specific technical procedure, first arrived at through trial and error.

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  • Polly Apfelbaum

    Loughelton Gallery

    There is a reverberating stillness in the work of Polly Apfelbaum, but it is not a resolute calm; it is a stillness that bristles with contained tension. Her work evokes pleasure at the same time as it disturbs the viewer. Its spartan presence is misleading, for it is not primarily an investigation of pure form, or a search for essences; rather, Apfelbaum’s work is concerned with the invasive, conditional circumstances of postmodern thought.

    This exhibition, entitled “The Somnambulist,” addressed the ambivalent condition of the sleepwalker: the dual state of sleep and wakeful activity, of

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  • “A New Brooklyn Museum: The Master Plan Competition”

    Brooklyn Museum

    Like many art institutions, the Brooklyn Museum recently began to find its facilities too small for the changed conditions of museology, and sponsored a limited architectural competition to accommodate its expansion. The program and enormous challenge for all of the entrants was to “complete” the museum, a McKim, Mead & White-designed structure selected in an 1893 competition. (Less than 25 percent of the original scheme was realized, and numerous additions to it resulted in a misshapen hybrid.) This would remedy the chronic lack of storage, exhibition, and educational space, resolve a bewildering

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  • Moira Dryer

    John Good Gallery

    Because of a certain duality of intent, Moira Dryer’s work has always exhibited conceptual fluctuations. She is too intent on playing with format to be a “painter’s painter,” but at the same time she is intimately connected to the emotive and esthetic concerns of Modernist abstraction. Her practice alternates between a timely critique of the medium and a will to render a pictorial space devoid of reference. Several of her paintings encompass this duality in the most thorough manifestation of her own sensibility to date.

    Several of the paintings in this show—such as Fingerprint #2647, Portrait of

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  • Steve DiBenedetto

    Cable Gallery

    The Op image’s greatest potential conquest of the mind is its ability to induce a headache. The essential banality of pure optical patterning prefigured its short life within high art and relegated it primarily to psychedelic paraphernalia, such as black-light posters. Maturing generations of American youth who invested in these icons of adolescent decadence tended to lose interest in them when their black lights burned out. But Steve DiBenedetto is still a fan.

    DiBenedetto works with this degraded form of imagery, creating hallucinogenic paintings out of vibrating stripes and swirling moiré

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  • Aimee Rankin

    Postmasters

    In 1942, one could view Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery by turning a wheel and looking through a peephole. That same year, Duchamp rendered this “pervert’s-eye-view” by collaging a circular detail of a Paul Delvaux painting into an exhibition catalogue; the detail features a woman’s breasts reflected in a mirror. By the time he revealed his Etant Donnés, the peep show piece par excellence, Duchamp had committed yet another artistic atrocity: the privatization of visual experience in a public space. The viewer’s unshared peep into one of Aimee

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  • Sankofa Film/Video Collective and Black Audio Film Collective

    The Collective for Living Cinema

    The Workshop Declaration emerged in Britain in 1981, giving support to nonprofit media production units. These workshops function as community focal points for education and training and help produce media projects which could not be made through commercial channels. Sankofa Film/Video Collective and Black Audio Film Collective are two of the workshops which emerged through this moment of racially sensitive cultural policy.

    In The Passion of Remembrance, 1986, directed by Isaac Julian and Maureen Blackwood, Sankofa looks for the place of sexuality amidst the prioritizing of Black identity and

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  • Daniel Larrieu and Astrakan, Waterproof

    The LeRoy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University

    Waterproof is a dance-theater performance that resembles an abstract water ballet — a denatured entertainment—with a strong conceptual bent. Originally staged in Paris in 1985, the work is performed in a swimming pool by eight swimmer-dancers in black tank suits and identical goggles. Its 12 sections are organized around movement and/or perceptual conceits that generally carry an explicitly opaque metaphorical charge: “The Walk—traversing the aquatic space like a compact rain of autumn; solitude” reads a typical program note. The actual movement consists of a sort of floating/pedaling by

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