reviews

  • Therese Oulton

    Hirschl & Adler Modern

    Thérèse Oulton’s paintings never quite relinquish representation. Several works shown here, all from 1988, suggest landscapes, while others feature figurative and nonfigurative passages within the same image. But whatever the references of the images, the essential vehicle of meaning in Oulton’s work remains the syntax of paint. The whipped, lathery surfaces of her pictures suggest the thickly applied paint of such other English painters as Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach; in Oulton’s work, though, the swirls of color are built up, not from gobs of paint heaped on heavily, but from distinct,

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  • Larry Johnson

    303 Gallery

    Larry Johnson has been photographing texts appropriated from mass media sources, such as People magazine and star bios, for several years now. These works bear comparison to the work of Richard Prince, in that both manifest obvious relations to theoretical issues surrounding photography and appropriation. At this point, however, appropriation is a given rather than a critical issue in Johnson’s photographs. The compromise, or loss, of originality occurs not in his work but in the texts themselves, from the moment they are first published. Johnson takes these cliched and entirely codified voices

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  • George McNeil

    M. Knoeder & Company

    George McNeil belongs to the brilliant generation of American artists born in the first decade of this century—a generation that includes Willem de Kooning, Alfred Jensen, Alice Neel, Fairfield Porter, and Myron Stout. This group had to survive devastating hardships such as two world wars and a depression before coming into its own in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Perhaps because of such obstacles, it is a generation that took its time developing. McNeil is no exception. He attended lectures at the Art Students League in the ‘20s, studied with Hans Hoffman in the early ‘30s, participated in the

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  • John Coplans

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    By turning his attention from his body to his hands in his “Hands: Self Portraits” series, 1986–88, John Coplans shifts the emphasis of his photographs away from the documentary and toward the symbolic. In an earlier series, “A Body of Work,” 1984–87, Coplans relied on the theatrical meanings of poses, but it was the physical facts of his body that made those photographs so striking—the wrinkled, hairy skin, worked by time like a palimpsest; the sagging torso, comically contrasted with the heroic poses Coplans would strike. In narrowing his focus to his hands, he has given up the autobiographical

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  • Julie Wachtel

    Diane Brown Gallery

    For several years Julie Wachtel has been juxtaposing images, which are based on kitschy greeting-card illustrations, with silk-screened reproductions of photographs. Although she has switched from making simple one- and two-panel pieces to making pieces involving suites of four and six panels, she’s never stopped fiddling around with the ways in which caricature can reflect and distort emotional states.

    Her appropriated and gaudily dressed little men, women, and children, some wearing alcoholic halos of bubbles, others with goofily startled, horny, or befuddled expressions, have a needling,

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  • Wallace & Donohue

    John Weber Gallery

    Through their collaborative efforts, Wallace & Donohue continue to exploit Modernist icons and idioms. The monochrome field as an armature in which to incorporate various objects has become their signature style. In each piece a monochrome tableau floats about two feet in front of the wall. The surface is nothing more than a stage prop, an artificial veneer. In fact, Wallace & Donohue emphatically reveal the elaborate framework of wooden braces and cantilevering planes that support these facades. Like privileged visitors allowed to peer behind the artificial building facades of a Hollywood movie

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  • Michael Sorkin

    Michael Sorkin’s Model City, 1989, is a project about urban form and growth, both prescriptive and spontaneous. But it is also about interior space, about the articulation and violation of the space in which the viewer encounters art. The project works both as a conceptual model, a tactile manifestation of inquiry, and as an object in space. While the urban research and propositions are competent and promising, the project’s most startling and original quality is its aggressive occupation of space. Ironically, the installation succeeds more as architecture than as speculation about architecture.

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  • Frederick Kiesler

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    The small selection of drawings at Jason McCoy and the large retrospective at the Whitney helped substantiate Frederick Kiesler’s uncategorical philosophy of design, the restrained eclecticism and sense of invention that informed and shaped his work. That Kiesler was versatile but not consistently accomplished makes his status difficult to determine. Neither exhibition was an exercise in hagiography; both depicted the artist’s bright innovations and disquieting failures.

    Kiesler’s design training and esthetic foundation were formed by Russian Constructivism and De Stijl—by the crisp lines, flowing

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  • Agnes Martin

    Pace | 32 East 57th Street

    If there is such a thing as intellectual beauty, then these magisterial gray paintings do more than exemplify it, they embody it. The works are nominally minimalist, in that they eschew excess. They achieve their effect of subdued grandeur with very little—black pencil lines and bands of gray and white paint, varied in spacing and thickness and laid out on a resolutely flat, figure-size canvas. The works intimate heroic scale rather than bloat to wall size. Their guiding principle is parallelism: however subtly different in surface and size, all the elements of the paintings remain parallel to

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  • Barbara Kruger

    Barbara Kruger has always insisted on the presence of the body in her work, not merely as a representational element but as a critical wedge in the edifice of power. Refusing the putatively transcendental subjects and objects of traditional art and their often hidebound histories, she cuts directly to the ravages of sexual politics and patriarchal authority. Nameless linguistic shifters—the persistent “you’s” and “we’s” of her most characteristic work—nonetheless point directly to arenas of historical and material conflict. The accusatory we is feminine; the accused you, masculine.

    In her most

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  • Jane Irish

    Sharpe Gallery

    The decorative excesses of the Rococo set the stage for painter Jane Irish’s depictions of modern buildings. Cotton candy vegetation surrounds housing complexes, shopping centers, and office buildings. The frames of some of these paintings also include still-life elements, as in Penn Centre, 1988, or a painterly mist, as in New World Convenience, 1989. The buildings Irish depicts do actually exist, but they are in no way landmarks. They are, rather, bland descendants of the form-follows-function legacy, tombstones to utopia. Irish surrounds these structures with a marsh of foliage, not only to

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  • Larry Rivers

    Marlborough Gallery | New York

    This was a delicious show, upbeat and consistent. Larry Rivers exhibited 35 new paintings from the past two years, most of them foamboard wall reliefs done by mounting cut-out chunks of images previously painted on paper or canvas, cutting the mounts to match the contours, and then reassembling the pieces. The raised areas stick out as much as six inches. They can appear even thicker, but so smooth is the flow of detail, you sometimes forget that they project at all.

    The latter effect is a reverse illusion: you see a flat surface hopping with dramatic, shallow spatial shifts of the kind that most

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  • Keith Sonnier

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery; Leo Castelli Gallery

    This doubleheader was a genuine tour de force: at Barbara Gladstone, Keith Sonnier showed his earliest sculptures, which date back to the mid ’60s, and at Leo Castelli, new works. The differences in material and methods are startling. The early works are invariably of soft material (satin, cheesecloth, latex, rubber, flocking) used in a seemingly casual, innocent way, while the later works, of steel and fluorescent light, have a militant high-tech look. The times have indeed changed, but the principle is the same: constructivism in search of a wider expressive resonance. The “feminine sensibility”

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  • Helmut Middendorf

    Annina Nosei Gallery

    Helmut Middendorrs paintings are incorrigibly, erotically black. The artist exhibits a black humor that is at once resigned to and rebellious against the world—the morbid black of a jaundiced view of things. But Middendorf’s black is also a tonic, energizing his comic strip figures so that they seem beside themselves with dangerous life. For example, in Interieur (Interior, 1988), the stark black of a tree visible through a window conveys the intense lust of the male figures for the body of the naked female model. In other words, the black is not only a general atmosphere, but a particular

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  • Irving Petlin

    Kent Fine Art

    This small retrospective survey focused on Irving Petlin’s work in the relatively neglected medium of pastel. Besides Lucas Samaras and, more recently, Jane Dickson, Petlin is one of the few contemporary artists to have made pastels an essential part of his ongoing project. Clearly, he believes drawing is still a viable practice, and he makes no concessions to the host of unspoken proscriptions regarding drawing, painting, the use of metaphor, and relevant subject matter. In nearly all of his pastels, Petlin depicts one or more figures in a landscape. But the figure is more a motif than a subject.

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  • Dennis Oppenheim

    John Gibson Gallery; Willoughby Sharp Gallery

    Dennis Oppenheim’s work of the last 20 years has been played out through the nexus of Conceptualism, Earthworks, and Body art, as if willfully evading any demarcation of territory. His career since the late ’60s has been a series of about-faces, disavowals, repetitions, and abrupt forays into unknown regions. As Stuart Morgan observed almost a decade ago, “His art does not exhaust themes, explore materials or engage in formal experimentation for its own sake . . . there is change in his career, but no `development’; at any moment he may double back to something he abandoned ten years before.”

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  • Jack Risley, David Nyzio

    This show opened the year with a seductive, ominous vision of biotechnology and the future. Jack Risley and David Nyzio create very different objects, but both construct visual artifacts in which biology’s destiny is technology. Risley’s soft sculptures, made of leather, aluminum, rubber, and fiberglass, are like new limbs waiting for bodies that have not yet been created. They protrude from the wall, as if reaching out to touch the viewer. Some rubber and leather parts slide around the hard armatures like prophylactics. But these sculptures are more than fetishes, they are prostheses: fragments

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  • Peter Huttinger

    Feature Inc.

    Peter Huttinger’s work operates as a kind of corrosive. The artist not only explores the idea of physical decay in a fresh and personal manner, but he pursues an aggressively antiintellectual agenda, one that effectively disarms and transfigures the painting without denying its classic expressive potential. It’s common these days to find paint being used to simulate the flatness of various forms of reproduction. But by mixing pigment and beeswax in his newest work, Huttinger makes gritty metaphors for corporeal experience.

    Huttinger has spoken of his interest in pitting two things against each

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  • Ronni Bogaev

    Sherry French Gallery

    In this series of works inspired by a recent trip to Scotland, Ronni Bogaev reveals a keen ability to capture life’s more vital and alluring aspects. With photos and sketches of actual places serving as a starting point, Bogaev builds her compositions around selected motifs. She will frequently include a detail derived from her daily surroundings, a home and studio in southern Florida. In leaving herself free to alter reality, as it were, she creates a world in which fact and fiction, illusion and appearance, function as integrated elements in a synthetic but seamless universe. Each painting is

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  • Herbert List

    Charles Cowles Gallery

    This extensive exhibition spans the career of West German photographer Herbert List. It includes work from the ’20s through the mid ’70s, and ably represents the photographer’s diverse output. List’s photographic world is charged with a multitude of psychological meanings. While his portraits of well-known figures such as Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau are his most widely recognized works, this show presents us with glimpses into his rarely seen homoerotic photography.

    List is a master of efficient composition. Even his most abstracted images maintain a strict sense of order. Muted gray tones

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  • Ricardo Estanislao Zulueta

    Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art

    The black and white photographs of Ricardo Estanislao Zulueta are bizarre staged rituals of human survival. His series called “Basement Therapy,” 1988, consists of identical-sized images, each one featuring two figures in a claustrophobic, nightmarish space. The figures are anonymous (though sometimes labeled with numbers or signs) and are often dressed as twins, so that they seem to share their identities. Drawing on a variety of sources including Surrealism, science fiction, and Dada, Zulueta produces stark, striking images that oscillate between morbidity and absurdity, and that forcefully

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  • Sam Samore

    American Fine Arts

    In Sam Samore’s recent work, the artist differentiates his photographs by decade only. (All of the photographs in this exhibition were entitled Photograph, 1980’s.) Samore further blurs questions of time frame and authorship by having a private detective, or a surveillance photographer,actually take pictures for him. The graininess of the images indicates the surreptitious manner in which they were taken. Each photograph concentrates our attention on a single person. These subjects are caught unaware; they know neither Samore nor the photographer. The people have been spied upon, and the viewer

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  • Bill Reiss

    Dome Gallery

    Bill Reis’ paintings are variations using a limited number of elements. They have the deliberate character of formal studies. Reis combines groups of rectilinear canvases with carved wooden elements that often serve as partial borders or frames. The typically monochromatic surfaces are painted deep shades of purple, black, turquoise, green, and rust, with the hues mutating into one another. Reis concentrates as much on texture as on color, from the dry-brush layerings of paint to the waxy, scratched surfaces. His techniques at times result in striking transformations of media; in Facade (all

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  • Torture Chorus, Breakfast With The Moors Murderers

    Franklin Furnace

    Los Angeles’ principle contribution to performance has been a kind of homemade Dada cabaret. It’s characteristics include a deliberately naive presentation, scabrous and childish subject matter, a mocking humor, and a blurring of the boundaries between performance and outrageous behavior—a desire to shock at any cost. Located in an ill-defined gray zone between offbeat comedy, new vaudeville, punk rock, and a let’s-put-on-a-show theater, this hybrid form has not traveled well, so much does it depend on the ambient context of Southern California anomie and rage, of one-time, undefined clubs and

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