reviews

  • Kalachakra Sand Mandala

    The Museum of Natural History

    A sublime form of wisdom was offered this past summer to the thousands visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York, who witnessed the first public presentation of a centuries-old Buddhist tradition of mandala-making. Working steadily for six weeks, three Tibetan monks from the Namgyl Monastery created an intricately detailed sand mandala, one grain of sand at a time. The Kalachakra, or “Wheel of Time,” mandala conveys a wisdom, a way of seeing things, that couldn’t be a more appropriate and timely lesson to our culture. Its beauty, order, and meaning convey both esthetic and spiritual

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  • Hiroshi Sugimoto

    Sonnabend Gallery

    Hiroshi Sugimoto’s intensely still photographs of the sea, museum dioramas, and theaters are excruciatingly concrete. For example, the Sea of Japan, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean are viewed at particular spots; paradoxically, their tight framing somehow makes them seem all the more boundless. Similarly, the theaters—most of which are located in small American towns—are precisely rendered, yet anonymous. The dioramas of various creatures, some endangered, are from the Museum of Natural History in New York. In all the photographs, the same delicate chiaroscuro works to create a restrained

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  • Matt Mullican

    Brooklyn Museum

    All the world’s a stage, as the saying goes, and by the same token the stage is a world unto itself, a hermetically sealed fiction that is also reality. Matt Mullican’s method of theatrical installation is an ambitious attempt to offer the kind of comprehensive world picture implicit in the fictions of environmental art, world stage, and cosmological schema. He wants something that is at once a Gesamtkunstwerk and a streamlined mirror of the world—a monadic art on a grand scale, its double meaning resolved through his notion of an international language.

    Inherent in such a grandiose, visionary

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  • Robert Mapplethorpe

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    A certain smart elegance—intense but never forced, aggressive, on the verge of being cloying but rarely falling over into sentiment or pretense—has always been the hallmark of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. No doubt it is this quality, in part the product of an extreme attention to craft (evidenced above all in Mapplethorpe’s frames, themselves exquisite objects, and in some cases even becoming the work itself) that has made him so successful working for magazines selling just this kind of hip elegance. In one of the catalogue essays for this show, Ingrid Sischy describes Mapplethorpe as quintessentially

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  • Andrew Savulich

    Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery

    Like some latter-day Weegee, Andrew Savulich takes the seemingly endless stream of weirdness of the city—horrible or mundane, gruesome or ridiculous—as the subject of his photographs: two men fighting on the street; a dental hygienist teaching a young boy how to brush his teeth; a sidewalk preacher in Times Square at night. This is the stuff of tabloid journalism, events that suggest a view of life as a mixture of the violent and the tedious, of chance and the everyday. Savulich follows the model of Weegee stylistically as well as in his choice of subjects; like an all-seeing, dispassionate eye,

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  • Sandy Skoglund

    Damon Brandt / Lorence Monk Gallery

    Sandy Skoglund has consistently explored the relationship between reality and appearance. In the photograph Radioactive Cats, 1980, she conflated sculpture (green cats), painting (a fake tenement interior was painted gray), stage design (everything in the environment was picked, colored, and placed), and photography (documentary evidence of a staged environment). The work creates a tension between the actual (the photographer’s ability to record and document) and the invented (dozens of lime-green cats prowling through a kitchen in which an old woman opens a refrigerator while an old man sits

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  • Jorge Tacla

    Nohra Haime Gallery

    Jorge Tacla, a young Chilean artist who began exhibiting in New York shortly after he moved here in 1981, is an allegorical painter. In eight of the ten large paintings included in his recent exhibition, Tacla depicted an isolated figure or torso in a spatially abstract ground. The recurring features and highly distinctive poses of the figures suggest the striking spiritual power of pre-Columbian art. By adapting these sources to his purposes, Tacla proposes a countertradtion to figurative painting, one that has certain affinities with Francis Bacon.

    On the simplest levee, Tacla’s figures are

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  • Jennifer Bolande

    Metro Pictures

    Jennifer Bolande’s recent exhibition was her largest and most ambitious so far; it included a disparate selection of sculpture, photography, and works combining both media. Neither cohering visually nor commanding the space in a traditionally assertive way, the works were, in part, unified by the fact that each one helped to construct a discursive space between sculpture and photography. In the case of Milkcrown, 1987–88, Bolande fashioned a cast porcelain after Harold Edgerton’s well-known high-speed image of a milk-drop splash. Edgerton’s image is transformed by Bolande into a sculpted crown,

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  • James Coleman

    Artists Space Exhibitions

    James Coleman, an artist who lives and works in Dublin, Ireland, is often associated with a group of conceptual artists with whom his work has only a simple connection. This group includes Michael Asher (who shared this exhibition space with Coleman), Robert Barry, Dan Graham, Daniel Buren, Dara Birnbaum, and Judith Barry, artists whose work typifies a certain strain in conceptualism wherein the viewer’s expectations are directly challenged by the complex installation of the work. On those grounds, Coleman does fit in, but his work is less attracted to issues of closure and repression than that

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  • Ken Heyman

    Carter Burden Gallery

    Ken Heyman uses a plastic “point and shoot” camera; he holds it below waist-level and shoots pictures without looking through the viewfinder, capturing uncommon vistas of city life. His black-and-white photographs employ a gritty style that is appropriate to defining the anxious urban edge that permeates these scenes. Even his color photographs employ an overall sense of shadowplay that augments their melancholic subtext. Heyman’s work comes across as simultaneously casual and intense, as inventive without looking preconceived.

    “Hipshot” is a panoramic display of slice-of-life episodes that seems

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  • Don Worth

    Witking Gallery

    Don Worth’s photographs unveil secrets of the natural world while ordering visual information in a highly cultivated manner. This show features a wide range of the artist’s color and black-and-white work from the past three decades. Worth seems to go for broke in his color photographs, overwhelming the viewer with intense colors and myriad details. By contrast, his black-and-white works are testimonies to the spiritual serenity evoked by open expanses of nature. Worth manages to achieve two radically different but equally intense pictorial effects.

    The composition of the photographs—in particular,

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  • Nouveaux Réalistes

    Zabriskie Gallery

    The Nouveaux Réalistes were brought together by the French critic, Pierre Restany, in 1960. Like several other European art movements of the twentieth century, the Nouveaux Réalistes existed more on paper than in reality. The artists did sign a manifesto written by Restany that declared their consciousness as a collectivity: the manifesto also declared that the artists were moving into a “new perception of the real.” The artists who signed the manifesto, Jacques Arman, Francois Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Jean Tinguely, Jacques de la Villeglé, and Martial Raysse, and were later joined by Gérard

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  • “Deconstructivist Architecture”

    The media build-up for this Philip Johnson–curated exhibition was long and relentless. However, neither the build-up nor the reported reservations of some of the participating architects, nor a questionable organizing thesis were able to undermine the superior quality work on view. Still, “Deconstructivist Architecture” will probably be remembered as this year’s exhibition that everyone loved to hate. I found its many obvious ironies both amusing and irresistible.

    The conceptual premise of the exhibition was based on the grouping of a loose coalition of architects whose work reveals the inherent

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  • Frank Gehry

    Whitney Museum / Leo Castelli Gallery

    This summer people could see work from Frank Gehry’s diverse and prolific architectural career in two major New York museums. Squeezed into a limiting and dubious classification at MoMA, Gehry’s work was better seen in the Whitney retrospective (which originated at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis); it provided an open landscape for examining the work of this protean innovator of architectural form—and thinking. Gehry’s restless manipulation of space, his delight in banal materials, his strong sense of collage and improvisational receptivity are, of course, remarkable and often remarked on.

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  • Alan Turner

    Koury Wingate Gallery

    Alan Turner’s paintings strike a tone of disrupted civility peculiar to English art. Turner may be from the Bronx, but his show made me think initially of the skits of Monty Python, the films of Lindsay Anderson, and the music of the Pet Shop Boys. In each of these cases English society’s famous layer of politesse is lampooned with a self-reflexive cynicism disguised as parody. It’s a cynicism grown very agile through decades of use and misuse by artists in virtually every strata of English entertainment. This agility has allowed for some of the blackest of comedy, as well as some of the quirkiest.

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  • Joe Coleman

    Joe Coleman’s paintings and drawings employ the formal reductiveness of comic book illustration as a means of tapping into sources of irrational fear. What sets Coleman’s work apart from even avant-garde cartooning is the degree to which that sense of dread deforms the superficial charm of his illustrations, revealing the link between his adolescent terminology and a very adult ennui. His work recalls that of S. Clay Wilson, the San Francisco artist whose contributions to the legendary Zap Comix line also successfully blended a lascivious interest in horror with a finely tuned psychosis.

    Coleman

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  • Seton Smith

    Tom Cugliani Gallery

    A preoccupation with architecture’s ideological underpinnings is widely recognized as one of the mainstays of post-Modernism. For artists, this focus often entails bringing certain philosophical and psychoanalytic propositions to bear on otherwise unreflected aspects of architecture’s social embeddedness. Seton Smith has clearly embraced this approach. Her sensitive photography, choice of elegant materials, and feeling for past epochs evoke a tranquil, romantic mood. Yet in their own quiet manner, her various tableaux question the signifying force of our built environment. Smith successfully

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  • Stuart Frost

    Driscoll Babcock Galleries

    Stuart Frost continues to produce one of the more distinctive bodies of work in contemporary American realism. Judging from this retrospective, which spans the years from 1957 to the present, Frost appears to be the kind of artist who is content to follow a course directed by his own expressive needs. Drawing has served as his primary medium since the ’40s. The precise style of rendering that is his trademark owes little to either photorealism or traditional academic realism. For Frost, the world of objective appearance is a starting point, in that he uses its forms as a vehicle to carry us to

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  • Karen Finley

    The Pyramid Club

    Karen Finley’s monologues represent obscenity in its purest form—an attempt to explore feelings for which there are perhaps no words, and certainly no polite ones. Whatever the identity she assumes onstage—as gender, persona, and narrative slip and slide—she’s talking transgression.

    At a late-night show she’d ironically labeled her “Greatest Hits,” Finley performed her most (in)famous acts of the last several years. Each piece involved the creation of a distinct persona—in I’m an Ass Man, 1985, she becomes a man, a rapist, disgusted that his victim is having her period; in The Neighbor’s Cock,

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  • Victoria Marks

    Public Art Fund | Lincoln Center

    The overheated affair between post-Modern dance and theater that has been going on for over a decade shows no signs of cooling off, despite a recent lack of inspired offspring. Victoria Marks is one of the few young choreographers who has thought her way through the pervasive influence of heavily theatricalized dance, both American (Karole Armitage, Twyla Tharp) and European (Pina Bausch, Maguy Marin), to create work that successfully exploits theatrical elements in movement terms without pandering to bastardized forms of glitz and/or heavy-handed theme-mongering. Her accomplishment is perhaps

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  • Dorothea Tanning

    Kent Fine Art

    Dorothea Tanning’s paintings present visual impressions, sensations, and visions that defy strict categorization. Her evocative, mysterious images hearken back to a primordial consciousness that is sometimes translated into recognizable pictorial idioms. This show features some of Tanning’s best work from the years 1961 to 1987, work that is consistently daring and haunting. Her latest pieces are as fresh and lucid as ever, executed with fluid linework and intuitive coloration.

    One essential reason for Tanning’s constancy is her belief in the supremacy of imagination over logic. By exploring her

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