reviews

  • Jenny Holzer

    Dia Center for the Arts

    At one point, quite unexpectedly, all the LED signs of Jenny Holzer’s installation go dark and the silence becomes palpable, as the darkness grows thick around the viewer. The signs are vertical and the lettering flows upward and explodes like electronic fireworks until the sudden shutdown. This is a work about death and dead time, time made dead by the pause that inevitably occurs in media signals. Holzer no longer works in the mode of comment and critique of the media: she has thoroughly absorbed her chosen media’s forms, its structure, its messages, its spatial deployment. She has managed to

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  • Robert Morris

    Grey Art Gallery

    This exhibition of Robert Morris’ felt works—the earliest dating to the late ’60s, the most recent to 1983—constitutes a truly major exhibition. Felt has come to be regarded as Morris’ signature material, for it recurs somewhat regularly in his oeuvre. In general, Morris’ work has been over-intellectualized and underemotionalized. The catalogue essays accompanying the exhibition do little to change the situation, although curator Pepe Karmel acknowledges that the works’ “seductive curves. . . . evoke the presence and motion of the human body.” He describes the work House of the Vetti, 1983, as

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  • Francis Picabia

    Kent Fine Art

    A line runs from Francis Picabia through Sigmar Polke to David Salle, indicating decline of significance and dilution of effect. The effect common to the work of all three is one of homeless sexuality—lurid, implicitly perverse, but peculiarly improbable, empty, and mystical in impact. In Polke, the sexuality exists as loosely erotic atmosphere, sustaining whatever happens to be adrift in it; in Salle, as the flotsam and jetsam of tired, conventional signifiers. With Picabia, we have it in full, unfashionable force: the bodily miasma itself, disrupting our inert line of vision, which expects

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  • Giulio Turcato

    Sperone Westwater

    Giulio Turcato is one of the few postwar Italian artists (along with Carla Accardi and Emilio Vedova) to reconnect painting to its roots in prewar European abstraction. He has done so by developing a non-programmatic, improvisatory approach to composition, color, and materials. This open-ended attitude and receptivity has enabled him to build upon the work and thinking of André Masson and Wassily Kandinsky. One of the keys to Turcato’s accomplishment is his ability to employ mundane materials in a precise, yet imaginative manner. He has used both sand and a highly-refined crystalline powder to

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  • Sue Williams

    Loughelton Gallery

    Deals are made, hearts are broken, but Sue Williams will have none of that. The great appeal of her work lies in its utter refusal to perpetuate any sense of business as usual. This stance, arrived at through adamant hyperbole and acerbic humor, enables the artist to target certain patriarchal power relations in their most banal and perverse forms. Take Better Luck Next Time, 1989, a cluster of grisaille vignettes which snowballs into a seething fatalism. Smack dab in the middle of the picture stands a generic, suburban home with the words “BETTER LUCK NEXT” running up the sidewalk and the word

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  • Jessica Diamond

    American Fine Arts

    For the last few years, Jessica Diamond has made a number of ink-on-rice-paper drawings, many of them consisting largely of texts derived from or inspired by the dank morass of the mass media—commercials and sitcoms, vapid jingles and feel-good homilies. In this, her first solo show, Diamond continues to stretch the formal and thematic concerns of her earlier work, both by painting large-scale messages on the gallery wall and by literally remaking the slight, delicate, seemingly ephemeral rice paper drawings as discrete, diminutive objects she calls “commemorative gold pieces.” These creditcard-sized

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  • Christopher Williams

    Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

    Christopher Williams’ installation Angola to Vietnam, 1989, appears at first to be nothing more than a group of 27 black and white photographs depicting botanical themes. Each image, representing a distinct genus and species of flora, consists of a magnified and centrally focused cluster of leaves and branches.This format, stylized by Karl Blossfeldt’s scientific botanical photography, emphasizes objectivity. Although the plants appear to be seen in their natural state, close inspection reveals that some are tethered by wire attachments, while others show seams and broken joints repaired with

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  • Dennis Adams

    Christine Burgin Gallery

    Dennis Adams’ installation here was another development in a series of public projects and proposals based on the French-Algerian War. Entitled Holy War, 1989, the work speaks to the inherent contradiction of a spiritually-inspired military conflict. The French-Algerian War was remarkable for its brutality—for France’s relentless aggression in the face of the Algerians’ determined progress toward independence. As in so many of his public works, Adams aims to incite active recollection; he challenges the viewer to remember even those historical passages that seem too horrific to remain in the

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  • “Dark Rooms”

    Artists Space Exhibitions

    “Dark Rooms,” a group of installations by Stephen Barry, Luis Nicolau, Julia Scher, H. Shearer, Jana Sterbak, and Patricia Thornley, provided an occasion for reconsidering the range, potential, and lasting vitality of the art installation. While none of these pieces projected the frenetic urgency or eruptive energy of early installation art, all demonstrated a seriousness, sophistication, calculation, and self-consciousness about the production of ephemeral events. Several of the projects challenged the conventions and operations of the exhibition space, and most required a significant commitment

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  • 1989 Biennial

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Though I’m reluctant to join the mob of Whitney bashers, it’s been hard to remain judicious about this year’s Biennial. Like many others, I was puzzled by the organizers’ exclusion of art that resists a conventional—indeed, conservative—conception of contemporary visual culture. I was offended, for instance, that AIDS and the varied cultural responses to it were consigned to a single, metaphorical mention in the catalogue introduction: “ . . . the horrific toll of AIDS on the arts community is but a harbinger of potentially larger disasters, including the ozone deterioration that threatens the

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  • 1989 Biennial (Film & Video)

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Despite the limitations inherent in trying to select from two years of work, the film and video section of the Whitney Biennial represented an impressive range of work that pointed to an even greater range of possibilities. In the face of the thin sliver of choices sanctioned by the dominant market forces of film and television, a tropical forest of rare and beautiful work continues to hang on elsewhere and by other means. Mainstream film has generally been forced to abandon two of its greatest resources: the use of black and white stock, with its potential for dramatic conflict, and a conscious

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  • Donald Moffett

    Wessel + O'Connor Fine Art

    Gran Fury, an art collective of AIDS activists, has been one of the strongest presences in the art world of late, despite the fact that its propagandistic works are pointedly not intended for commercial galleries. Rather, Gran Fury’s métier is the exterior walls of buildings, the t-shirt—places normally reserved for advertising—and, very occasionally, the alternative, nonprofit space friendly to leftist and/or gay art. The collective’s numbers include several artists who also work individually, among them Donald Moffett. His photography-based work is a fascinating and subtle permutation of Gran

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  • Fidel Marquez

    56, Bleecker Gallery

    Fidel Marquez is an exotic, even weirdly Gauginesque artist, but his large canvases and small drawings are more like tropical takes on the personal than vice versa. His paintings may be abstract but it doesn’t take long to dig up the source of his imagery: namely, that jungle seen in X-rays of the human body and through biologists’ microscopes. Marquez isolates and enlarges biological shapes, giving them the festive coloration and sprawl of a botanical wonderland. Sometimes he adds a layer of beads to accentuate the party atmosphere, but more often the additions are mock-sloppy—drips, gunks,

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  • Christian Marclay

    Tom Cugliani Gallery

    Christian Marclay structures his works around sly conceptual conceits, the only common denominator being that they all have something to do with sound. He uses various found objects and materials, most often records: an earlier sculpture installation at the Clocktower featured 850 records arrayed in a grid across the floor. Among the works in this show is 5 Cubes, 1989, in which Marclay forms melted and mashed record albums into cubes, recalling the transformation of car parts by John Chamberlain. A number of collages (all untitled 1988 and ’89) are made from old record covers, each based on

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  • Avri Ohana

    Frank Bustamante Gallery

    In these landscapes Avri Ohana evokes subtle atmospheres of shimmering light, using gestures that have a sketchy energy. The Morocco-born, Israel-raised Ohana began as a figurative painter before turning to the semiabstract geometrical groupings seen here. He begins by applying wild sprays of acrylic paint onto canvas or paper. In Napa Valley (all works 1988), one square of the patchwork composition contains splattered, unblended paint, as if the artist intended to leave a visible trace of the process. Tiberia Kineret features an explosion of color hovering over a skyline of triangles and

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  • Gary Panter

    Gracie Mansion Gallery

    Writing about Gary Panter’s art seemed a whole lot easier a few years ago than it is today. Certainly, part of this new, increased difficulty can be attributed to some changes in esthetic discourse within the art world itself; notably, that the distinction between “high” and “low” culture has become like a swampy muddle of co-optation, resistance, and retrenchment. Now, those two camps lob their artillery about without direction or definite cause at an invisible and equally fatigued ideological enemy. While the battle zone of recognized validity has become murkier, Panter’s own position has

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  • Fred Gwyne

    Barbara Braathen Gallery

    Those who passed over Fred Gwynne’s first solo exhibition in the belief that it was going to be just another vanity show/media event were regrettably mistaken in doing so. Gwynne is, after all, most immediately recognizable as the character of Herman Munster, the bumbling monster-daddy of the mid-’60s sitcom The Munsters. His role was so hammy, inane, and unforgettable that it stigmatized Gwynne as an unemployably overexposed and typecast figure, but it probably helped generate his subtly barbed and reality-mocking position as the demeaned fool, excluded from and laughed at by the domain of “

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  • Susan Hambleton

    Trabia-MacAfee Gallery

    In this display of recent paintings and related charcoals, Susan Hambleton gives striking expression to the poetic notion of nature as the sum and measure of all things in the universe. Inspired by a summer’s stay at MacDowell, the well-known artists’ and writers’ colony located in New Hampshire, these landscapes show keen sensitivity to what might be called the indivisible character of nature. Hambleton reveals how all-enveloping landscape can be. Each composition is one that fills our thoughts and feelings as it steals our eyes. In Thinking of You, 1988–89, a painting of a chair set in a wide

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  • Joe Sweeney

    Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery

    Joe Sweeney has become known in contemporary realist art circles for his stunning depictions of the landscapes of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. He has a sharp eye for the beauty of nature, which he finds in quiet and tranquil scenes showing nature existing in deepest harmony with man. The world for him is a vital and inherently physical place; it is one in which the elements, the forces of nature, seem to manifest themselves in benevolent,and in many instances, highly cultivated forms. As shown in this group of recent landscapes, Sweeney’s vision is one that is capable of elevating

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  • Dr. Charcot's Hysteria Shows

    Ohio Theatre

    Freud called Jean-Martin Charcot, the late 19th-century director of Salpêtrière, the Parisian asylum, an “artist, a man who sees.” What Freud and other doctors saw were Charcot’s présentations des malades, “hysteria shows” in which the doctor staged demonstrations of his experiments with hypnosis, seeking to analyze, control, and correct hysterical behavior. To 20th-century sensibilities, his methods come off as equal parts snake-oil charades and progressive medical practice. Charcot was among the first to insist that hysteria was a genuine affliction, and he used art as an important diagnostic

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