reviews

  • “The Last Decade”

    Tony Shafrazi Gallery

    What counts in a group exhibition, especially one in which each artist is represented by a single piece, is not so much the particular works—it will always be the case that some objects will seem more representative of an artist’s oeuvre than others—but the overarching idea that brings them all together. From the perspective of art history, “The Last Decade: American Artists of the 80’s” presents a crude cross section of the immediate past at the moment when it is about to pass into history, to lose contemporary significance and enter that tackiest and suavest of limbos where it retains living

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  • Saint Clair Cemin

    Massimo Audiello / Sperone Westwater

    Saint Clair Cemin’s sculptures are like sphinxes or Delphic oracles; they speak only in riddles. Indeed, they are deliberately obscure, as though baiting us to guess their meaning. Part of a post-Modernist trend that might be called the “new obscurantism,” these works combine familiar materials and styles to unnamable, but peculiarly predictable expressive effect. Many of the pieces (all works 1990) are tongue-in-cheek reprises of totems with titles such as Psychology Today, Atlas, and Untitled (With Braces); all are paradoxical manipulations of familiar Modernist codes. Some seem ripe with

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  • Thomas Struth

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    The two categories of social portraiture Thomas Struth presents—family and museum portraits—both constitute brilliant studies of the tension between false, compliant self, and true, bodily self, between conventional and individuated self that exists in every person. In contrast to the families in the portraits, the subjects in the museum pictures are not posed; they seem to be caught off guard. If the family portraits are academically inclined psychosocial studies, in the tradition of Degas’ almost clinical examination of the Bellelli Family, the museum scenes are reminiscent of the same artist’s

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  • Frank Stella

    Gagosian Gallery (21)

    Having seen Frank Stella’s black and metallic paintings reproduced a thousand times, we rarely encounter the authentic works. When we do, we notice every crooked line, broken seam, and tarnished inch of surface. Each imperfection, raised brushstroke, and uneven passage of paint burns into retinal permanence. What photographic reproductions never reveal, we commit to memory. Photographs obscure both their handmade quality and the fact that the paintings have changed over time. Once presumably seamless, now the hard edges are cracked, nicked, and eroded. The fresh bloom of metallic pigments has

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  • Ken Lum

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    Ken Lum’s five large diptychs clone boisterous sign painting and on-location photographs of dubious folk heroes; each begs the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” A local businessman ready to make a deal, a quartet of wannabe Jon Bon Jovis, a chainsaw-toting, cigarette-smoking redneck couple, prosperous Oriental real estate agents taking time for a quick snapshot, proud racially mixed parents and their darling daughter greeting a fuzzy pink pig promoting pizza—Lum draws us into these everyday fictions gone strange and slaps on captions that augment the slice-of-contemporary-life vignettes.

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  • Joseph Kosuth

    Brooklyn Museum

    Invited to exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, Joseph Kosuth chose to root through the museum’s remarkable collection, acting as a kind of curator-cum-archaelogist. The result is a salon-style installation in the museum’s lobby of works that have, at some point and for one reason or another, been found offensive, juxtaposed with text silk-screened directly on the walls, which explains why and to whom they were objectionable. The whole installation is called The Play of the Unmentionable, a twist on the title of Kosuth’s previous curatorial investigation, The Play of the Unsayable: Wittgenstein and

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  • Nan Goldin

    Pace/MacGill Gallery

    Four years ago Nan Goldin published The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, the record of a slide-show that documented the mostly unhappy practices of her friends and herself with a series of sickly colored vérité-style images. The themes were the pursuit of pleasure, drugs, and sex, and the kind of tears, violence and garish disarray that accompanied this lifestyle; the most memorable image from the book is a startlingly direct picture of Goldin with her face puffed and bruised from a beating by her lover.

    Today many or most of Goldin’s friends are dead, and though she has spent time in a detox program,

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  • Candyass

    57 STUX + Haller Gallery

    “i like to pretend i,m someone else as much as possible so i wont get too depressed. well i cant do alot of things, lots of things indeed and i;m not as smart as i would like to be and not as politically aware/politicaly correct as i would like to be and this is nerveous making if i let it so i like to try and kill time and avoid the serious issues i was tought to well sort of avoid by making art. . . .”—so reads the notarized artist’s statement for Cary Leibowitz’s (a/k/a CANDYASS) recent show of pennants, felt banners, door mats, plates, wallpaper, plaques, and cardboard boxes emblazoned with

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  • David Robilliard

    Hirschl & Adler Modern

    David Robilliard’s drawings and paintings have the casually accomplished grace of thumbnail sketches. Characterized by spontaneous, childlike linear drawing, Robilliard’s style shares affinities with Andy Warhol’s pre-Pop manner. There’s also a confluence of concerns reflected in the preponderance of pretty boys and intimate fetishes (one of Robilliard’s drawings bears the text: “A Little Boy with a Toy A Little Girl with a Curl”). Like Warhol’s work Robilliard’s is precious but seldom cloying.

    Robilliard combines his sparse imagery with tersely poetic texts, almost all of which allude to a desire

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  • Larry Clark

    Luhring Augustine | Chelsea

    The more mainstream culture tries to eliminate the heart of darkness—the particular brand of bleakness, emptiness, and senseless violence—at the core of the American experience, the more tenaciously it takes hold of us. Larry Clark has frequently lived on the edge, and his entire body of work bears powerful testimony to the fact that the path of rigor and passion often takes the artist through violence and addiction so that he or she may reach a kind of lucidity and a state of compassion.

    This show provides a welcome overview of Clark’s work, but the presentation of the pieces was confusing and

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  • Pat Steir

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Pat Steir’s waterfall paintings dance masterfully on the line between figuration and abstraction. Steir has been obsessed with water as figure or trope for some time now, but these new waterfall paintings represent a great leap forward from the series she showed last year. The master is the one who does without doing, and Steir has certainly found a way of putting paint on canvas by adhering to this Taoist discipline. It takes control, however, to really let go, and Steir has given in to the medium so that she can reach the point of feeling the similarity between paint and the water she depicts.

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  • Anish Kapoor

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    There’s a strange elegance to Anish Kapoor’s drawings: they’re at once troublingly obscure and masterfully finished. Kapoor is known primarily as a sculptor, and this show, which marks the first major exhibition of his drawings (a show of his works on paper also opened during the same month at the Tate Gallery in London), prompts one to ask what place they have in his larger oeuvre, and how impressive they would seem had the sculpture not preceded them. Less exploratory than one might expect, and very much works in their own right, the drawings elaborate themes introduced in Kapoor’s previous

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  • Ferran García Sevilla

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    Though Ferran García Sevilla is one of Spain’s brightest artistic lights, and his paintings are well known throughout Europe, his work remains relatively obscure in America. This circumstance has less to do with Sevilla’s project than with New York’s well-documented hostility to painting during the latter half of the ’80s. We are not as curious or catholic as we pretend to be, and work which doesn’t fit prescribed agendas tends to be swiftly marginalized.

    Sevilla began his career in the ’70s as a Conceptual artist who employed photography to examine the conventions of artistic authorship, and

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  • Nancy Dwyer

    Josh Baer

    Nancy Dwyer has always treated words as physical objects, realizing them in sculptural form or strewing clunky three-dimensional characters across the blank backgrounds of monumental canvases. Borrowing texts from television and advertising, she attempts to reinvest these hollow slogans with meaning. Words are positioned in ways that invite multiple mix-’n’-match readings. In Matter, 1990, the words “you,” “me,” “leave,” and “be,” printed on spheres resembling atoms in a scientific diagram, form several significant permutations: “You leave me,” “You leave me be,” “Leave me,” “Be me,” etc.

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  • Andrew Masullo

    Fiction/Nonfiction

    Andrew Masullo combs junk shops, flea markets, garbage heaps, and attics in search of resonant objects and images. In the past, Masullo’s compulsive output (his previous New York show included 220 works selected from some 450 produced over the preceding year) ranged from mosaiclike text pieces made up of individually cut-out and assembled letters, to eviscerated books restuffed with cubes of fur and fabric.

    The works shown here consist largely of original (primarily abstract) and found paintings on wood or canvas. A taut string of collage-paintings ringing the room includes an old watercolor

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  • Man Ray

    International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

    Man Ray’s particular brand of surrealism lends itself so naturally to the presentation of fashion that it is virtually impossible to separate the work exhibited in “Man Ray/Bazaar Years: A Fashion Retrospective,” from his larger artistic achievement. In the black and white photographs from the ’20s to the early ’40s included in this exhibition, the boundaries between his avant-garde surrealism and the fashion photographs is almost imperceptible.

    Looking back at Man Ray’s prolific career, it seems less than surprising that the son of a tailor, who experimented with the materials of his father’s

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  • Robin Winters

    Brooke Alexander

    The human head provided the central figure in each of a series of independent installations and groupings of sculptures that comprised Robin Winters’ recent exhibition. Manufactured from such diverse media as bronze, glass, and ceramic, these works all either reference the head directly, or, as in the case of Pile of Crowns, 1989, suggest adornments for the head. As a sculptural base, the head serves as a conceptual foundation upon which Winters presents an array of “ideas” manifest in the form of various found or sculpted objects.

    In Stop Look Listen, 1990, a tiny figure sprouts from the pate

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  • Deborah Kass

    Simon Watson

    Deborah Kass’ paintings appropriate subject matter from other 20th-century artists, pop culture, and literature. Although diverse, none of the sources are particularly novel. Some of the paintings, in which thinly stained backgrounds in decorator colors are overlaid with the black outline of an exposed and willingly-available-for-abuse female nude, harken disconcertingly back to David Salle. Other works incorporating white drips on empty expanses of black quote Jackson Pollock’s transcendental abstraction directly. Still others are derived from cartoons, naively painted kitschy landscapes, and

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  • Cliffton Peacock

    Germans Van Eck

    From a distance Cliffton Peacock’s colors—typically grayed-out purples and blues—seem dull and leaden, but on closer examination they take on the character of bruised flesh. Peacock works up flat overall backgrounds, applying these colors in thick, broad strokes, and then floats emblematic figures in front of them or depicts them emerging from the shadowy depths. In one painting (all works untitled 1990), a ghostly head, its features blurred into a blank mask, is positioned in the center of a flat off-grey background like the image on some primordial Shroud of Turin. In the most elaborately

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  • Kenneth Snelson

    Zabriskie Gallery

    Using a motor-driven, rotating Hulcherama camera, Kenneth Snelson photographs scenes that lend themselves to the sort of spatial manipulation characteristic of the panorama process: small places in Paris where several streets converge, the intersections of canals and alleyways in Venice, and so forth. These images offer a surfeit of information, providing a tantalizing sense that the camera is showing everything that can be shown about a given scene. The frame, which usually delimits the photographed world, is pushed so far at the edges of the image as to lose its defining power. The sense of

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  • Kathleen McCarthy

    Gracie Mansion

    In two separate installations, Kathleen McCarthy used the form of the human hand to demonstrate both the dexterity and the limitations of anatomy, as well as the persistence and inadequacy of conventional symbols. In both situations, the familiar form triggered a range of funny impressions and disturbing speculations.

    On four walls of the main gallery, McCarthy wrapped a series of 26 larger-than-life-sized wooden hands colored with red phosphorous around the room. Each hand formed a letter in sign language, and they were arranged in alphabetical order. Entitled Muted Exhortations (both works

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  • Pieter Laurens Mol

    Louver Gallery

    Pieter Laurens Mol’s first solo show in New York is a miniretrospective of sorts, presenting a cross section of this Dutch sculptor’s rich, mixed-media constructions from the mid ’70s to the present. His sculptures partake of both a Beuysian alchemy in their unusual material transformations and a Duchampian ambiguity in the unresolved paradoxes they inevitably harbor. Yet Mol’s project may be seen as a countercurrent to that of the simulationist/commodity sculptors who claim Duchamp as their precursor. While the commodity fetishists reject the possibility of an ongoing art-historical dialogue,

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  • Mark Schwartz

    Jayne H. Baum Gallery

    The canvases Mark Schwartz exhibited here hover captivatingly between abstraction and landscape; for him issues of pure painting and the varied phenomena of nature are equally worthy of investigation. Working in a broad, gestural manner, Schwartz imbues the thick and tactile surfaces of his canvases with a primal energy in keeping with the elemental imagery he favors.

    One painting (all works untitled, 1990) clearly reflects these dual concerns. At first glance the work appears to be about the interrelationship of surface, form, and space, yet the more closely the white edges of the semicircle

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  • Holly Hughes

    Performance Space 122

    Thanks to some heavy breathing in the halls of congress, Holly Hughes’ World Without End, 1989, a very intimate production, which was never intended for a mass audience, has captured the imagination of the mainstream media. Since World Without End premiered at P.S. 122 last season, it has gone full circle around the country (Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington D.C.); indeed, no one could invent a better trailblazer for their work than the lurid, tale-telling media that finds evil in the things artists say, rather than in the things congressmen do.

    Who would expect a work to hold up to such overwhelmingly

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