• Michael Scott

    Tony Shafrazi Gallery

    Over the past near-century, abstraction has come to constitute a tradition, a virtual contemporary academy. The legacy of vanguard intention supplies a luster to the ongoing endeavor, but by and large, abstract painting proceeds quietly, shorn of its combative urgency. Though a new crop of painters is always coming up the ranks to mine this territory for its still appreciable riches, one of the surprise artistic twists of the ’80s has been the rise of a wave of painting that has roused abstraction from its respectable torpor, precisely by pressuring its status as a historical movement. Some

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  • Frank Dell's The Temptation of Saint Antony

    The Performing Garage

    Ladies and gentleman, Lenny Bruce! Or at least his alter ego, Frank Dell, via director Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group. Add to this a hotel room in Washington, D.C., a sunset in the desert, takes on Gustave Flaubert, Ingmar Bergman, and “trance writer” Geraldine Cummins, and a dash of Peter Sellars—and what you wind up with is part three of the group’s trilogy, “The Road to Immortality,” which cleverly, perversely overwhelms the viewer with its magnificent multidimensional mixed-media multiplicity.

    Any attempt to define the performance in terms of simple structure and meaning would be

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  • Jack Benny!

    La MaMa Galleria

    Those who are unfamiliar with the original Jack Benny television program of the late ’50s and early ’60s may be pardoned for thinking that composer John Moran and the Ridge Theater Company have performed a distorting deconstructivist exercise on a hapless cultural cliché. The Jack Benny Show, however, was itself skewed to an amazing degree. The theme of most segments was the effort by the host, Benny, to “put on a show”—which his regular cast and guest stars often deliberately prevented him from doing. Endless and repetitive interruptions, ad -libs, and digressive chatter about personal problems

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  • Frank Maya

    P. S. 122

    In his show here, Frank Maya told the audience that he started as a rock singer, then began to do what he calls “rants.” He suddenly became known as a performance artist (“I didn’t even know what it was but I said, ‘Fine, give me a grant’”), then as a comedian. While Maya is definitely funny, more often than not his work takes on serious subjects. Child abuse, racial inequities in systems of representation, societal barriers for Jewish performers a few decades ago or for gay performers today—these are loaded topics that Maya negotiates with the sensibility of an amusing philosopher. His manner

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  • Cary Leibowitz / Candyass

    57 STUX + Haller Gallery

    An extraordinarily well-versed (and well-dressed) young man enters from stage right and approaches the lectern with several slides, a carousel, and a pointer. He taps one of his platform heels impatiently as he waits for the houselights to dim and his voice to rise above the impending darkness in order to say, “Consider the term ‘love’ (with a proper stranger?) as a condition which breeds pathological self-knowledge or self-interest. Like fungus or bile, it interweaves, interlocks, whatever, within someone else’s pathology. This is just one more construct unworthy of our holy soul; we are

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  • Jacques Villegle

    Jacques Villeglé’s collages teeter on the border between art and nonart, composition and chaos. The artist makes his work by tearing posters from the Paris streets and neatly mounting and framing the shredded, layered images. Unfortunately, Villeglé’s images lack both the distilled quality of more studied art and the ragged beauty of the posters in their original contexts—plastered to soot-darkened walls, subject to changes in light and weather, competing for attention with the grinding noise of cars and buses and the blinking of traffic lights.

    Mimmo Rotella, and Raymond Hains, members of the

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  • David Ireland

    Germans van Eck

    For some years now, beginning with the dissection and reconstruction of his own San Francisco house, David Ireland has been exploring the potential of mundane objects and environments to tell stories. The often decrepit materials of his sculptures and installations evoke the tragic dimension of the passage of time—decay, dissolution, loss—and our helplessness before such forces. The works shown here continue in this vein. Untitled Tub of Relics. Produced in Action, “Studio” at the Fabric Work Shop, Philadelphia, 1989, is a waist-high box containing various items. Though the objects inside—mounds

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  • Stephen Antonakos

    Kouros Gallery

    Stephen Antonakos revealed here the expressive capabilities of light, the most clear and evincible of elements and one that, during a career now spanning three decades, has served as the artist’s dominant concern. In the group of nine panels featured in this show, he demonstrated anew how light touches on the more mystical realms of mind and spirit. Antonakos has constructed different sized wood panels, each with fronts that have been either painted or covered with gold leaf. Light cast by neon tubes attached to the backs of the pieces appears to create luminous extensions of the actual physical

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  • “Techno-Metaphysics”

    Grace Borenicht Gallery

    It seems a not-so-subtle indictment of the current market-oriented mind-set of the art world how much more attention is paid to Japanese art collectors than to Japanese artists. This situation was temporarily redressed by this show, which offered a fascinating look at the lively state of Japanese contemporary art through the work of five artists. According to curators, Sabu Kohso and William Chambers, the aim was to include artists representing “different styles and generations.” The title of the show signifies what for the curators is one of the most important commonalities underlying the

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  • Michael Mooney

    The Proposition

    There are ten landscape paintings in this exhibition, each a small oil on panel in a large white frame. These rural scenes are rendered in deep greens and yellows, with paint so thick that it is raised in wide grooves by the brushstrokes. A number of different locales are represented: the almost miniature Tahiti (all works, 1989) shows what looks like a pineapple tree in an expanse of yellow and green grass. Warrensburg and Joe Indian pond road both look to be from upstate New York (the artist has spent a good deal of time in Albany) and have the tone of Americana. Fields near the flats, perhaps

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  • Tyler Turkle

    Greenberg Wilson Gallery

    Tyler Turkle has been working with colored acrylic for a few years now, pouring and then arranging it into various shapes which, when dry, can be peeled from their original surface and stuck like huge decals onto virtually anything flat enough to take them. A few of these were plastered around the gallery here, their two-color schemes abstracted from the cover design of the New Criterion. Nothing is left of the original design but a pair of large puddles of plastic on the floor, both called The Last Criterion, 1989.

    But the main attraction here was a series of five large color photographs, each

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  • Roger Brown

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    There are no surprises in Roger Brown’s latest show. All ten of the paintings here are marked by Brown’s signature Imagist cartoon style, a hybrid of faux naif and funk that has changed very little over the past twenty years. The new work is a continuation of the artist’s previous concerns: urban and rural America, current events and natural disasters, as well as his long-familiar political and art-historical polemics. In this show as in the past, Brown clearly stakes out his position as an outsider to contemporary society and as an opponent to what he sees as its ills.

    He is at his best in such

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  • David Smith

    P. P. O. W.

    David Smith works with a deliberately limited set of semiotic codes about the Vietnam War, which varies slightly with each piece. Among these codes are numbers in rows, silhouettes of military aircraft, insignias, and photographs bordered with dates. The artist “saw combat” as a marine in Vietnam. But for Smith seeing and recollection are not unambiguous referential acts. In a text accompanying the exhibition, he describes his use of “invention” to “regain memory,” constructing images on the basis of logical, military codes. The various elements are arranged according to both computer-generated

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  • Ulrich Ruckriem

    Brooke Alexander

    Ulrich Rückriem’s austere, abstract sculptures have seldom been shown or written about in the United States. His recent exhibition coincides with a renewed interest in contemporary abstract art that makes use of Minimalist and post-Minimalist precedents. Rückriem began his career as a stonemason and worked on the restoration of Cologne Cathedral. In 1962, he began working as a sculptor and made mostly figurative work. In the late ’60s, after seeing the work of Carl Andre, Richard Serra, and others, he reevaluated his approach to sculpture, and developed a conceptual program that enabled him to

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  • David Robbins

    American Fine Arts

    Theorists of art during the Italian Renaissance, the historical crux that still preconditions the study of art in the West, consistently propounded the Horatian ideal of ut pictura poesis—“pictures like poetry”—as a model for serious painting. The theoretical and historical import of this concept lay in its capacity to legitimize images by their relation to previous significant texts. While the pictorial tradition of the Italian Renaissance has withered in the era of Modernism, the Horatian ideal persists in various covert, often repressed, ways. Formalist and minimalist theories explicitly

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  • Boyd Webb

    In recent years Boyd Webb’s photographic setups have focused on encounters between culture and nature, often carried out with violence: violins being ground up between gigantic molars, or a man struggling to extract himself from a turbulent sea. Now Webb has left out the human figure altogether, and given his large, cheery color prints an almost environmentalist twist. In Eyeless, 1989, a small flock of deflated rubber geese are arranged in a circle above the camera and framed against a bright yellow sky; the neck of one goose droops through a squarish hole cut into the clear plastic sheet the

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  • Hannah Wilke

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    Hannah Wilke makes feminism look easy, and why shouldn’t she? After all, she’s been committed to sketching out a language of female eroticism on the drawing board of representation for years now. The strongest work in this show was the “Seura Chaya” series, 1978–89, which juxtaposes photographs of Wilke’s mother, ill from cancer and bald from chemotherapy, with drawings of the artist’s bird, Chaya. (Wilke got the bird after her mother’s death.) This work is testimony to the courage of both mother and daughter. Wilke has written that by obsessively photographing her mother, she had hoped to give

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  • Barbara Kasten

    Barbara Kasten’s elaborate photographic interpretations of prominent buildings require a daunting amount of research and preparation. Her strategy is first to select a building and identify one of its public areas. She studies, observes, draws, and begins to envision a particular photographic occurrence in that space. Aided by props such as mirrors and gels, she uses photography to expose an alternative, non-iconic dimension of the building that is ostensibly her subject. While the residuals of the process—the photographs—are frequently fascinating, I was far more intrigued by the artist’s

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  • Aldo Rossi

    Aldo Rossi’s open-air Toronto Lighthouse Theater, 1989, was represented here by a model and some drawings. The model of the project is small, yet it skillfully captures the essence of Rossi’s work, its naive, brooding, and authoritarian qualities. This modest structure displays the architect’s formal language in a compressed situation. In plan, the theater is an elongated horseshoe. The rounded end forms the seating for the amphitheater; at the central point of the outer edge is a lighthouse tower for lighting and other production needs. The open end of the horseshoe is filled with a raised

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  • Petah Coyne

    Brooklyn Museum / Jack Shainman Gallery

    In these two concurrent exhibitions, Petah Coyne’s powerful, instinctual work coalesces into a potent whole. The materials and formal syntax used for the large sculptures are similar, but Coyne uncovers rich nuances within each object’s precise parameters. Her installation at the Brooklyn Museum of three suspended hulks (all works, 1989) was momentarily startling and visually stunning. Within the vastness of this beaux-arts lobby, Coyne had arranged the dangling elements to establish an assertive dialogue with a difficult public space. The works read at the same time as a planned ensemble and

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  • Jaschi Klein

    Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery

    At first glance, Jaschi Klein’s photographs (all Untitled, 1986–87) seem more than a little bathetic. The figures pose in somewhat stilted dramas, which take place mostly in natural settings—other scenes are overtly theatrical, having been staged in an outdoor theater—that suggest a staged, forced expressivity, somewhere between intellectual soap opera and neo-Wagnerian case presentation in a psychiatric ward. The landscapes run to the wastelandish, making the figures—particularly those that are nude or semi-nude—look all the more vital by contrast. But then one begins to realize that these are

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  • Mario Merz

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    The first thing that strikes me about this exhibition is that it is one of the best uses of the Guggenheim space that has ever been made by an artist. Over and over again the works reflect the museum’s spiral, which at its base implies a macrocosmic infinity and at its apex a microcosmic one, its movement linking the two. Merz frequently employs a similar spiral in, among other places, the microcosmic, two-dimensional igloos. The key difference is that in Frank Lloyd Wright’s structure, the romantic sublime still lives, existing in all its difficult, idiosyncratic glory; in Merz, it has become

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  • Inge Mahn

    Diane Brown Gallery

    Inge Mahn’s sculptures consistently evoke references to common functional objects and architectural furnishings. In an exhibition at P.S.1 in 1981, Mahn constructed a wall of lockers, a row of chairs, and a coffinlike bed that was shrouded in an American flag. More recently, she has produced installations in which columns, banisters, or steps are interjected into an otherwise open exhibition arena. In her exhibition here, Mahn continued to play with simple, reductivist forms, producing a witty distance between her sculptures and the original objects that inspired them. In the front gallery, Mahn

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  • Ronald Jones

    In 1985 Ronald Jones organized an exhibition for the Nexus Contemporary Art Center in Atlanta, where he lived at the time. Entitled “Public Art: A Blunt Instrument,” the show introduced Southerners to contemporary art that responded to the knotty historical predicament outlined in Jean Baudrillard’s essays on the “simulacrum,” which Jones quoted on several occasions in his catalogue text. Baudrillard’s Simulations was first published in English two years earlier, and was therefore only beginning to acquire the rank of cult classic in an art world ravenous for a “paradigm shift” or, failing that,

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  • Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz

    Louver Gallery

    The Kienholzes’ open-ended, all-inclusive attitude toward assemblage conveys a number of unchic sentiments. Although the recent works are generally less severe than their predecessors, the existential angst of beatnik days lingers on. If the scale is occasionally heroic, the feeling is mawkish, that of mucking around with the cast-off odds and ends of a culture gone to seed. To let oneself be maudlin and still to give a damn demands a rare kind of courage. Compare the Kienholzes’ technique to what’s become the norm in sculpture: it’s impossible to imagine them searching out just the right element,

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  • Andreas Gursky

    303 Gallery

    Like Jaschi Klein, Andreas Gursky shows us the figure in space, but the effect is radically different. First, the balance between figure and space is sharply altered, the figure being a relatively minute speck within a vast, almost indeterminate space. Second, the space is not turned into a stage, that is, a support for the figures, a place to show them off to expressive advantage; rather, it exists as an absolute. It is transparent, even lucid in quality; it is not enlisted in the service of mood. Third, it is still noticeably an everyday space, rather than Klein’s enigmatic one, which seems

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