reviews

  • Victor Burgin

    John Weber Gallery

    Photographs borrowed from advertising, movies, or political propaganda that have become part of our collective consciousness are, nevertheless, subject to the porousness and inexactitude of the individual memory. Scenes from Hollywood movies overlap with childhood memories, which in turn are confused with adult reflections and psychological interpretations of early experiences. One never sees an image solely within a given context; it always combines with memories of other images and experiences.

    Victor Burgin exploits this fact in a new body of work that alludes to the 1958 musical South Pacific

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  • Sigmar Polke

    Michael Werner | New York

    When Holly Solomon presented Sigmar Polke’s first one-person show in America in 1982, his career had already spanned two decades. Subsequent exhibitions here have failed to catch up or to keep pace with his chameleon fluctuations in style and iconography, or to illuminate the various conceptual strategies he employs. The current retrospective of paintings, watercolors, and drawings, originating in San Francisco and slated for a yearlong tour, attempts to right this situation; unfortunately, it tells only half the story. Paradoxically, we are back to introductions with this exhibition at the

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  • Alan Belcher

    Josh Baer Gallery

    Alan Belcher’s exhibition of photo-laminated animal pelts entitled “Schmozone,” will probably go down as the most obscene show of the season. Like the sick jokes that circulated following the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster or the Wendy’s commercial spoofing a Soviet fashion show that aired during the first U.S./USSR summit (the evening wear category featured a KGB matron in military garb, flashlight in hand, hitting the runway under the glare of searchlights), Belcher’s black humor preys on our collective woes. The only difference is that Belcher cracks his demented jokes in galleries and then

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  • Loring McAlpin

    Wessel + O'Connor Fine Art

    In his show of sculptural assemblages, entitled “Purple Men,” Loring McAlpin assays a critical examination of the constructions of masculine identity and desire. The persistent current throughout this excursus is homosexuality, as it is affirmed, sublimated, and denied. In the interstices of a dominant white male cultural matrix, McAlpin seeks to retrieve the threads of a gay subjectivity as it is created both in collusion with, and in revolt against that culture.

    McAlpin seems particularly hung up on the admittedly grotesque spectacle of male bonding as it is enacted in sports and leisure. Many

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  • “From Receiver to Remote Control: The TV Set”

    New Museum

    “From Receiver to Remote Control: The TV Set” addresses itself to a ubiquitous piece of domestic technology in the hopes of unraveling the messy tangle of psychological and social effects it has had on the (American) home and family. Surprisingly, the emphasis is not on the message, the medium, or their supposed conflation, but rather on the physical container itself. Through the box, in its various mutating forms, we are asked to divine the shifting currents of modern life.

    This exhibition has a lot of show and not much tell. Curator Matthew Geller states in his introduction to the show’s

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  • Peter Saul

    Frumkin/Adams

    What I like about Peter Saul’s political paintings is not their politics but their fusion of esthetics and erotics. Not that I’m adverse to the anti-Vietnam and generally antifascist, antiauthoritarian sentiments expressed in these works from 1965–71, although his politics do seem somewhat knee-jerk and unnuanced. But it is their expressive bravado—their sheer physical opulence and sardonic intensity—that gives them extraordinary carrying power, and keeps them from becoming moralistic and farcically punitive, like so much politically oriented art. Saul’s comic esthetic—the Aristophanic wit of

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  • Wallace Berman

    Louver Gallery

    Wallace Berman upsets familiar codes of meaning even while miring himself in them. Long before it became fashionable, he used sensationalist mass-media imagery—all-American, vulgar visuals devoted to sex, violence, and whatever else could be regarded as simultaneously forbidden yet commonplace—as an expressive vehicle. Moreover, he didn’t isolate and slick them up, treating them with touristic detachment and converting them into art à la Pop. Rather, he flung them at us in all their mesmerizing, indiscriminate abundance—one senses that for him their variety was more exciting than any

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  • Gretchen Faust

    Pat Hearn Gallery

    Gretchen Faust wants her work to encourage what she has described as “the active reinterpretation of the function of mythology in terms of anarchical ontology.” It’s quite a mouthful, and whatever precisely Faust has in mind here, one thing is certain: despite good intentions, there is little that is anarchic about this show. When Faust gave away numbered shovels last year, the action constituted a catchy gesture of potlatch, and she did manage to upset certain routes of exchange. As a rule, however, Faust’s high-toned discourse vainly attempts to compensate for her project’s lack of visual and

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  • Rodney Graham

    Christine Burgin Gallery

    On display here were five enormous photographs of ancient oaks from the English countryside, marvelous old trees shot in black and white and printed in color so that barely perceptible hues appeared; however, each was hung upside down, and the effect was dizzying and disorienting because, while enough of the horizon is subtended by the photos so that one cannot help but feel oneself in the scene, still no amount of effort towards dissolving their gestalt would allow one to decompose them into abstract patterns, or even to right them again.

    Rodney Graham’s conceit made for a particularly visceral

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  • John Miller

    Metro Pictures

    The infant’s first creative act is defecation, and according to Freud the child’s pleasure in producing such a gift is considerable. But socialization, so the story goes, forces the child to transfer the joy of that making into other, more socially productive activities, among them the creation of artworks, an occupation in which the subliminal pleasures of original fecality remains relatively immediate. For some years now John Miller has been making works that attempt to recapture, or perhaps simply point out, just this hidden association.

    The centerpiece of his recent show was a series of wall-

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  • Stephen Mueller

    Annina Nosei Gallery

    Until recently, Stephen Mueller was an insouciant painter who combined various pictorial syntaxes—staining, geometry, and gesture—to evoke those elusive states between reflection and action, chaos and definition, which Willem de Kooning called the “slippery glimpse.” Using saccharine colors such as pink, mauve, and purple, Mueller filled the bounded stillness of his compositions with a painterly hurly-burly, making abstract works that were simultaneously seductive and off-putting, brash and funny. Mueller never felt that painting had to confront the end of history or the medium’s own

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  • Gordon Matta-Clark

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    In 1974 Gordon Matta-Clark took a saw to a house in Englewood, New Jersey. By the time he was done, the house, which belonged to dealer friends Holly and Horace Solomon, had been neatly split down the center, with one half bevelled to incline slightly from the vertical, and the four corner eaves extracted.

    Splitting: Four Corners, 1974, as represented here by the artist’s photographs and photo-collages as well as by the corners themselves (which look surprisingly unimposing—their walls are thinner than one would expect, and their internal hodgepodge of two-by-fours and wiring rather crude), was

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  • Hirsch Perlman

    Feature

    Hirsch Perlman’s previous work addressed the relationship between language and image within the history of architecture, specifically with regard to the way in which our perceptions of the International Style have been determined by documentary images. As our knowledge and understanding of this architecture is almost exclusively based on reproductions, questions concerning variations in meaning through slight differences in presentation assume enormous significance.

    In his recent installation, Perlman asks “another question . . . within the same frame of reference” about the “similar nature for

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  • Matta

    Acquavella Galleries

    As an heir to the automatic writing/drawing techniques developed by the Surrealists, Matta expresses the precepts of his oeuvre most succinctly on paper. His first works of art were drawings made in 1937, and it is in this body of work that one witnesses the germination of his surrealist experimentation. The intimate format coupled with the control provided by a hand-held stylus make drawing the perfect vehicle for the automatic gesture. Automatism unifies form and meaning and was considered the ne plus ultra of authentic expression. In 1941, André Breton described it as “the essential discovery

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  • Wifredo Lam

    Galerie Lelong & Co.

    This exhibition covered four decades in the career of Cuban-born Surrealist Wifredo Lam, and throughout the show the spiritual primitivism that animated much of 20th-century Modernism was strongly in evidence.

    Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Lam, who had been working in Spain, sought safety in Paris. There he became a protégé of Picasso, who introduced him to the avant-garde artists and writers then dominating the intellectual life of that city. Before he returned to Havana in 1941, Lam met André Breton and joined the Surrealists, yet Picasso seems to have remained the

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  • Joan Brady

    Tatistcheff & Company, Inc.

    This show marked Joan Brady’s debut as an oil painter. For more than two decades, she has been known as an extremely talented watercolorist, working in a relaxed realist vein that admits detail, without becoming tight or overly meticulous. Brady has developed a distinctive watercolor style that brings out essential shapes and masses through a tonal application of color. In the oil canvases, which she initiated after her previous solo show in 1987, Brady has in some respects adhered to the basics of her approach in watercolor, yet she also seems to have engaged the special physical character of

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  • Polly Apfelbaum

    Amy Lipton Gallery

    Polly Apfelbaum’s sleight of hand arrangements are composed neither of ubiquitous cultural artifacts nor of ordinary treasures found in streets and cities. Apfelbaum selects her objects for specific associative and emotional qualities, and the tender, disturbing installations she composes give the tradition of the found object a new feminist twist. This work continues the examination of the mutable meaning of things but marshalls specific associations to predetermined ends.

    Targetlike forms in three of Apfelbaum’s installations, each entitled Wallflowers, 1990, appear to retreat and press against

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  • Hani Rashid, Liseanne Couture

    Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University

    The estheticization of architecture is an uneasy condition because it neither resides comfortably, nor functions agitationally within the art world. At the same time, it has lost its purpose with respect to the Modernist project; it rarely even begins to engage the ambitious social and political objectives characteristic of early Modernist practice. Architectural production is really in a fin-de-siècle condition—tentative with respect to both closure and new possibilities, alternately neurotic and hopeful. But the energetic work of Liseanne Couture and Hani Rashid provides a reason for

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  • Osami Tanaka

    Bess Cutler Gallery

    Osami Tanaka has filled several rooms with elegant but dysfunctional furniture, a total of ten beds and one uncomfortable-looking couch arranged so as to thwart any possibility of a domestic atmosphere. Their shapes are recognizable, yet hardly seductive due to their uninviting materials and economy of form. Until now, Tanaka has employed materials as diverse as steel and paraffin, in abstract, minimalist sculptures that were almost exclusively about formal relationships. This is the artist’s first foray into the quasi representational, and his continuing Minimalist orientation remains unmistakable.

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  • Sandra Jackman

    Douglas Drake Gallery

    Drawing on sources as diverse as Surrealism, Book Art, and Concrete Poetry, Sandra Jackman’s work combines the presence and spatial complexity of sculpture and the complex syntax and disparate meanings of assemblage. All 17 of these works are built out of book-fragments such as covers, spines, and pages that serve as a point of departure for fantastic excursions that incorporate photo-collage, found objects, drawing, painting, and indecipherable writing.

    The show’s title, “AWAYWITHWORDS,” which subtly thwarts language’s meaning in favor of visual qualities, provides an important clue to Jackman’s

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  • Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Co.

    Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) | Peter Jay Sharp Building

    If you were to ask ten people about art and politics, probably not one would mention dance as vehicle of powerful protest. Yet the first seasons of the ’90s have already witnessed several works that tackle political issues via this unlikely form.

    With Last Supper At Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land, 1990, Bill T. Jones has realized a manifesto for dance protest, demonstrating how movement, music, conversation, text, costume, and set can be combined to rouse an audience to action. Here the audience absorbs political polemics while virtually dancing along with Jones in the aisles. Combining a

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