reviews

  • Michelangelo Pistoletto

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

    Conditioned by the lapidary mandates of Pop art and Minimalism, American audiences may be slow to adjust entrenched and chauvinistic canons to accommodate the multivalent art of Michelangelo Pistoletto. Anticipating this reluctance, Germano Celant argues in his catalogue essay accompanying this 25-year retrospective that it is precisely Pistoletto’s stylistic “equivocation” that lends his vision its characteristic breadth.

    Anxious to rescue the artist’s early achievement from Pop art’s shadow, Celant suggestively contrasts Pistoletto’s “mirror paintings” from 1962 with Andy Warhol’s soup cans

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  • Donald Judd

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    Donald Judd’s work used to be seen as a polemic on esthetics—its relentless repetition and recombination of spare Minimalist motifs suggesting a debater’s tenacious insistence on a position. The principal criticism of it was the prophecy that its uncompromising rigor would inevitably become a compromised rigidity. The exhibition at the Whitney Museum, far more varied and lively than most visitors would have expected, suggests a different outcome. Though this was a retrospective exhibition, most of the works were from the ’60s, a fact that dated the artist with remarkable precision. But in a

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  • Leon Golub

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    An odd thought: the sphinx as off-road vehicle. Such is its apparent function in Leon Golub’s recent departure from his familiar inquiries into the realms of power and abuse. The sphinx serves, by all appearance, as his temporary transport into the adjacent terrain of the enigmatic, paradoxical, and pataphysical. According to Robert Graves, mythology’s most famous riddler asked, “What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?” The answer, as depicted in three of Golub’s current paintings, is the sphinx itself. The

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  • Leonid Sokov

    Trabia-Macafee Gallery

    In this show of recent paintings and sculptures, Russian émigré artist Leonid Sokov continues to view political and cultural figures as tokens of increasingly indistinguishable ideologies. Whether depicting Stalin, the Gorbachevs, Genghis Kahn, or Marilyn Monroe, Sokov renders his subjects in crude caricatures whose pronounced two-dimensionality is deliberately metaphoric. He attacks other symbols in his three-dimensional work. Upside Down Kremlin, 1988, consists of a column of wood with an outsized emblematic star for a base. (While still in Russia Sokov was a member of Sots Art, a group of

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  • Wolfgang Laib

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    Wolfgang Laib makes refreshingly spare works, at once intimate and quietly intense. They hold their own in the white gallery space, which by reason of the small, compact character of the works comes to seem immense. His Rice House, 1988, and Beeswax House, 1988, are precious gifts from another world of consciousness. Dandelion Pollen, 1988, a radiant yellow square, conveys delicacy yet vividness, transience yet forcefulness; it is the pulverized material of a halo. With this work, Laib gives new life to the Suprematist square, offering an ecstatically sobering experience of the absolute. Indeed,

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  • Richard Tuttle

    Blumhelman Warehouse

    The six works that constitute the series entitled “There’s No Reason a Good Man Is Hard To Find,” 1988, could nominally be regarded as assemblages, but that label hardly seems to do them justice. Made of the most disparate materials—from beautiful gestural drawings to crude remnants of rubberized material—they are hybrid creations, at once theatrical and militantly childlike, figural and abstract, eccentric and heroic. One looks like a ritual site, another like a miniaturized stage set, a third like a backward step in evolution, a sort of platypus in search of a continent. Perhaps the dominant

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  • Joseph Beuys

    Hirschl & Adler Modern

    Now, with Joseph Beuys’ death, a small flurry of exhibitions, at once commemorative and commercial—it’s time to cash in on the giant of Western shamanism—is hitting New York like a shower of meteorites. These exhibitions help to make two things very clear: how much Beuys’ work was an incremental, improvisational, spartan matter, in which subtle small work was piled upon subtle small work to make a universal point about creative possibility; and how self-obsessed Beuys was, though not in a straightforwardly narcissistic way. It is as though, in trying to make sense of this oddity called himself,

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  • Gaetano Pesce

    Max Protetch

    Gaetano Pesce’s buildings and objects exude an unashamed sense of artifice and an unchecked air of exuberance. His work is as visceral as it is cerebral. Pesce’s designs question comfortable assumptions about what a bank building or a chair should look like, and offer delightfully twisted alternatives to conventional solutions. At Steelcase Design Partnership, the focus was on chairs, tables, sofas, and fabrics. (All were originally designed for Italian manufacturer Cassina but never distributed actively.) However, one wall of the gallery was devoted to photographs, many showing the production

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  • Marc Blane

    Paula Allen Gallery

    Early American cities were often arranged around the common—a central green space that was the nucleus of community. For contemporary urban neighborhoods the playground functions almost as a traditional common; although it offers no green space or sense of respite, it does serve as a locus for information, conversation, and released aggression. Marc Blane has an unusual sensitivity to the nature of this space, with its stripped, skeletal, spartan system of organization, as well as its landscape both of personal power and requisite camaraderie. Blane’s work fills a narrow space and small scope;

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  • Lucas Samaras

    The Pace Gallery | 508 W 25th Street

    Writing for the catalogue of a Lucas Samaras retrospective at the Denver Art Museum, Thomas McEvilley remarks that certain words in the critical literature on Samaras recur with singular insistence: menacing, threatening, malign, and malevolent, as well as solipsistic and narcissistic. Aside from making a veiled gibe at the tendentious sameness of the criticism, McEvilley argues that the artist’s protean visual intelligence is nonetheless coiled intransigently around a few big themes. McEvilley rejects the reductive univocal hermeneutics of the prevailing critical vocabulary, but still comes to

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  • Vija Celmins

    McKee Gallery

    In the ’60s Vija Celmins was known for her paintings of everyday settings with eerie, not quite hidden agendas—cars with shadowy drivers slumped over the wheel, bomber airplanes in flight, the blinding headlights of oncoming trucks. Her work didn’t fit neatly into any existing categories, although it had a certain amount in common with the distressed realism of early Gerhard Richter. Like Richter, Celmins devised weirdly faithful facsimiles of disordered, uncontrollable things, knowing full well that to give them a design, borders, and particular colors was an act of riveting hopelessness.

    This

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  • Mark Innerst

    Curt Marcus Gallery

    Mark Innerst’s recent paintings continue his meditations on the traditions of landscape and still life, the history of art and the artifice of history. The ironic nostalgia at the heart of his project appears as a transformative replay of motifs and styles from the history of European and American painting: from the Romantic sublime of Turner, Friedrich, and the Luminists, to the descriptive exactitude of Dutch still life. Some recent works cross over into the 20th century, invoking the Precisionists and Piet Mondrian. Loving yet disabused, Innerst’s meticulous, exquisite technique embalms as

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  • Robert Cumming

    Castelli Graphics

    Since he began exhibiting in the late ’60s, Robert Cumming has worked in a wide range of mediums, including photography, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, painting, and writing. He has used these mediums to probe the gap between the perceiving mind (the original site of language systems) and the phenomenological world (the source of and inspiration behind those systems). Until recently, much of his work could be characterized as a statement that conflated system and object. Now, however, Cumming has developed a chain of analogues that explore a different gap: the space between what we know and

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  • Jonathan Santlofer

    Graham Modern

    Jonathan Santlofer’s sculpted paintings, with their ruptured frames and projecting surfaces, are about breaking out of orderly confines, about opening up. At times, they resemble ruptured Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. The discontinuous compositions are composed of slices and wedges of painted canvas: Missed Kiss, 1988, is folded like a paper fan. Painted images are combined with real objects; in The Last Supper, 1988, a real table leg (itself painted over) projects out from the canvas, contrasting with an image of a table leg painted on one of the work’s surfaces. Stones, 1988, is an almost

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  • Adolf Wölfli

    Grey Art Gallery

    In 1895, Adolf Wölfli, a Swiss farmhand, was sentenced to life in a mental asylum for trying to rape a three-year-old girl. He was 31. Shortly thereafter he began making elaborate narrative drawings in lead and colored pencil. They were executed on large sheets of newsprint and later handstitched together into books. The project occupied him off and on until his death, in 1930. The drawings were hailed by the European intellectual community late in Wölfli’s life, thanks mostly to a groundbreaking monograph by his psychiatrist, Walter Morgenthaler: Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler (A mentally ill

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  • H. C. Westermann

    Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

    This exhibition was the most important survey of H. C. Westermann’s work since the artist’s death in 1981. The sculptures and watercolors demonstrate a freshness and a vigorous capacity for self-renewal that is continually challenging.

    A pivotal figure in the formative period of the Chicago School, Westermann employed his craftsman’s skills and personal history with a matter-of-fact directness. He brought his imaginative intelligence to bear on a number of lowlife subjects and banal images. His immaculately subjective constructions anticipated the vast expansion of cartoon reality and funky

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  • Peter Nagy

    Jay Gorney Modern Art

    In his recent black-and-white gesso paintings, Peter Nagy explores the “grand style” of the Baroque epoch. He transcribes projected images of Xerox composites onto canvas, combining various components from Baroque art and architecture into single images. The images are legible and their original iconographic sources are often identifiable. In God Lie, 1988, for instance, Nagy integrates an oblique view of Bernini’s apse in the Vatican with images of a cherub and a candelabra. He reduces the architectural, gilded, painted, and sculpted details of these elements into a single painting of pronounced

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  • Nancy Barton

    American Fine Arts

    “I took up photography and its attraction was not that of creativity or expression, but the potential for recrimination.” This is one of the autobiographical statements Nancy Barton has silkscreened onto a marble-patterned Formica panel. Barton has managed to be recriminating at a time when most artists, male and female alike, seem to be more than content with the status quo. The installation is called, terrifyingly enough, “Swan Song,” and it consists of panels covered with quotations from the artist, her mother, and the writings of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Catherine Clement, all

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  • Will Mentor

    Laurie Rubin Gallery

    Will Mentor’s work has splintered off in so many directions that it is difficult to see what binds his output together, besides the artist’s facility with paint and composition. His recent show is composed of representatives from the various styles he has been working in: geometric abstraction, atmospheric painting, and a sort of surreal cubism. Though Mentor swings with technical bravado through this museum of styles, his work provokes little more than routine visual interest. Mentor invests much more in his impeccably glazed surfaces than in the development of an individual sensibility or an

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  • Nabil Nahas

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    In this series of untitled acrylic paintings from 1988, Nabil Nahas moves away from the opulent, congested surfaces he has favored in the past. Nahas took tactility and materiality to an extreme in his thickly encrusted gold canvases. Now the decadent decorativeness of those pieces has given way to a more controlled, discreet, but no less dramatic approach to painting. These large canvases are primarily atmospheric. Moments of expressivity are reduced to bursts of red paint that Nahas places strategically over brooding dark backgrounds. While the older pieces were dazzling in their abundance of

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  • Doree Albritton

    Ceres Gallery

    “Out of the Woods,” an installation of recent works by Doree Albritton, focuses on the interaction between wall pieces and freestanding sculptures. All the forms clearly refer to nature; no two shapes are exactly alike. The title of the installation might allude to going deep into a mysterious world in order to bring back discoveries. Despite the emphasis on nature here, the entire room actually functioned like a theatrical setting, one in which all the elements seemed ready to spring to life. Albritton creates strange hybrid objects made of rich, sensuous materials; they populated the room,

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  • Doriana Chiarini

    Salvatore Ala

    Just when one might be tempted finally to join up with the cynics and agree that Yes, there is nothing even remotely of interest left to say regarding the relationship between art and design, along comes a show such as this. Featuring recent sculptures by Doriana Chiarini, it confirms my faith in the powers of the imagination, transcending the mundane and mostly tendentious efforts that seem to have prevailed lately in this admittedly complex arena. With refreshing directness, Chiarini strips away the veneer of didacticism covering both notions of art-as-commodity and design-as-sign. She does

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  • Michael Torlen

    Luise Ross Gallery

    These landscapes were inspired by the yearly summer visits Michael Torlen makes to the Mount Desert Island area along the Maine coastline. In seeking to capture the special charms of this region, he joins the ranks of illustrious American artists who also “did” Maine, among them Winslow Homer, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley. Torlen, however, follows a fiercely independent course. The style he employs in this group of oils, watercolors, and monoprints is far more realistic than that used in his “Revelations” and “Genesis” series of 1984–85. While those landscapes were conceived almost entirely

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  • LAPD Inspects America

    El Museo del Barrio

    Beyond the big orange sign where the word “NOT” had been inserted between the words “MEN“ and “WORKING,” a few traffic safety cones dotted the stage. Indeed, the audience would witness a few wrecks and some de- (not re-) constructions during this performance. LAPD Inspects America shattered boundaries with the grace of a runaway garbage truck, making it difficult, first of all, to know even when the show had begun. A prerecorded voice described the act we were about to see as “a delicate balance between a volatile street lifestyle and the actors’ tender hearts,” while a couple of those actors

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  • Opera at the Academy, La Vie Parisienne

    New York Academy of Art

    In an exercise that seems analogous to the revival of interest in pompier painting and “sentimental” novelists, Opera at the Academy restaged the 1866 operetta La Vie Parisienne, one of Offenbach’s 90-odd opéras comiques. Of course, La Vie Parisienne, like all theater, no longer exists in its original form; the 123-year-old score is a performance guide, not the show itself. This difference proved crucial, for while Opera at the Academy’s version was faithful to its source in important ways, director Christopher Alden and company were free to interpret their source material to a degree not possible

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  • Ellen Fisher

    P. S. 122

    In her new performance work, Dreams within Dreams: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, Ellen Fisher shows the influence both of Robert Wilson and of her frequent collaborator, Meredith Monk. Nonetheless, she succeeds in establishing a theatrical sensibility of her own. As the title of the piece would suggest, the atmosphere here is that of a dream. A TV monitor made to look like an oval Victorian portrait of a woman hangs on one of the walls and is just perceptibly moving. Two women, dressed identically in white linen nightgowns, enter the stage and proceed silently to mirror each other’s movement

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