reviews

  • Malcolm Morley

    Pace | 32 East 57th Street

    Violence seems to course through Malcolm Morley’s bronze miniatures of tanks, guns, and soldiers, as well as through paintings in which explosive color, congested compositions, and radical shifts in scale veer toward chaos. The seemingly gestural paintings, executed by projecting a grid onto a watercolor sketch and painstakingly transferring the image onto canvas, depict tropical islands where things have run amok. In Gloria, 1990, highly decorated World War I fighter planes careen above a beach where oblivious vacationers frolic in the waves, in a wacky, hallucinatory vision that points to the

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  • Donald Moffett

    Wessel O'Connor / Simon Watson

    As an AIDS activist, Donald Moffett has created or collaborated on numerous graphic campaigns designed to wake up ordinary citizens and unresponsive public figures to this devastating crisis. In the works displayed here, some of which refer indirectly to AIDS and all of which endorse uninhibited homosexual behavior, Moffett continues to exploit the strategy employed by many artists in the ’80s (and subsequently appropriated by the AIDS activists) of combining found images with provocative, often subversive texts, here infused with the artist’s characteristic bad-boy humor.

    At Wessel O’Connor,

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  • Eric Bulatov, Oleg Vassilyev

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    Whatever the sociopolitical import of these paintings as commentary on Russian life, past and present, they are marvels of ironic realism. Oleg Vassilyev employs dissolves and blunt inner frames to isolate and monumentalize photographic details of Russian reality, suggesting the macabre prison Russian society is. Eric Bulatov’s quasi-Impressionist technique and use of glaringly bright colors perversely understates a drab but dangerous social reality. Thus, a menacing image of Lenin on a poster in Farewell, Lenin, 1991, dominates the scene. Indeed, his image has appropriated all its brightness,

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  • Philip Wofford

    Frumkin/Adams Gallery

    Philip Wofford’s paintings seem to exist at the very core of the enactment of the Abstract Expressionist impulse. Irrepressible texture, loosely associated with our unconscious drivenness, has become a kind of hysterical hemorrhaging of energy in his images. Perhaps Green Fuse, 1990—I take it to be an allusion to Dylan Thomas’ famous line about the force “that through the green fuse drives the flower”—makes the point succinctly: painterliness becomes primordial, and its forcefulness seems to mirror that inherent in nature—in our own natures.

    What makes Wofford’s images especially significant—more

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  • Jacques Lipchitz

    The Jewish Museum

    Jacques Lipchitz’s sculpture reflects the difficulties that a conservative, essentially representational artist found himself in when faced with the innovations of Modernism. He initially attempted to reconcile conventional modeling—the human hand intensifying human meaning—with then-unconventional Cubist abstraction, which converted the figure into an ironic suggestion that mocked its human interest and ultimately into a “transcendental” construction that canceled it out altogether. In midcareer, however, Lipchitz fell back on the modeled figure as a humanistic end in itself. He came to see

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  • Jasper Johns

    Leo Castelli Gallery

    The standard line on Jasper Johns’ work of the last decade is that it is more personal—at last the artist reveals himself. As Johns admits, the seeming elision of subjectivity that informed his great early works finally became too hard an act to keep up. In an interview from 1978 he explained, “In my early work I tried to hide my personality, my psychological state, my emotions. This was partly due to my feelings about myself and partly due to my feelings about painting at the time. I sort of stuck to my guns for a while but eventually it seemed like a losing battle. Finally one must simply drop

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  • Myron Stout

    Kent Fine Art / Flynn

    Myron Stout (1908–87) was the exemplary postwar American artists’ artist. He worked small, liked easels, and labored intimately, meticulously, and sometimes at very great length on his drawings and paintings. Henry Geldzahler described him as an “exquisite.”

    Quite a few of Stout’s modest little masterpieces—Shaker-plain abstractions, often in black and white—come with open-ended, epic dates. A painting such as Aegis, 1955–79, for example, which measures a mere 24 by 20 inches and consists of a white, shieldlike form set against a bit of black ground, apparently took Stout 24 years to complete.

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  • Lewis Baltz

    P.S.1 Museum / Castelli Graphics

    Lewis Baltz’s photographs are disquieting in their combination of espoused politics and Minimalist cool. This comes across more clearly in the work in the retrospective at P.S. 1, than it does in the more recent work shown at Castelli Graphics. The works at P.S. I employ a detached Minimalist perspective to depict a world of escalating ecological abuse that one would expect to elicit horror. The images themselves are clear enough; plowed-up topsoil can only hint at its former lushness, and details of tract housing evidence the cost to all those who must pay too dear an ecological (and esthetic)

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  • Nancy Spero

    Josh Baer Gallery

    Nancy Spero represents the historical nightmare that constitutes women’s relationship to culture. Her representations of victims of medieval torture, Nazi sadism, and sexual abuse are hand-printed and collaged onto empty white backgrounds next to pornographic images, prehistoric female running figures, and defiantly vulgar women; it’s the story of power struggles played out on the bodies of women.

    Spero adopts the role of the loud-mouthed raconteur, telling this tale of horror that others would like to ignore. Here, ten pieces combined to form an installation of sorts. Various colored and textured

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  • Colette

    Rempire Gallery / Dorsky Gallery

    Colette’s contribution to feminist esthetics has been underrated. Perhaps this is due, in large measure, to the fact that her frankly narcissistic posture unleashes several traits—self-indulgence, childishness, and seduction—that are anathema to mainstream feminism. At a moment, however, when so much of feminist practice verges on zipless decodings, these transgressions amount to a kind of personal realpolitik.

    Colette’s show at Dorsky focused on the latest wrinkle in her career, while a concurrent show at Rempire covered the entire crinkly fabric of the last 18 years. The photos at Dorsky were

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  • Sue Etkin

    Paul Kasmin Gallery / Massimo Audiello Gallery

    Surely the irony has not escaped notice that when male artists appropriate domestic objects such as pots and pans (Haim Steinbach), slipcovers or a wedding dress (Robert Gober), tapestries (Meyer Vaisman),or crocheted blankets (Mike Kelley), they are credited with engaging the discourse of commodification, whereas the same artifacts have been essentially off-limits to female artists seeking to develop an authoritative voice. If a woman had put a stack of cookware on a Formica shelf, it would undoubtedly be regarded merely as a distaff symbolizing woman’s work and concerns à la ’70s-style “

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  • Matthew McCaslin

    Daniel Newburg Gallery

    The gallery as nonsite. From the empty exhibition space to scatter installations, the performance of a nonsite is less a matter of materials than of timing—an almost baroque prolongation of the moment directly preceding the encounter with art. There are no high stakes in this parlor game of defamiliarization, for the gallery as nonsite can only be a theatrical event concluding in the attainment of art, and we willing players in the recreational sport of pursuit. The miseen-scene that facilitates Matthew McCaslin’s version of the art chase is a construction site. Extension cords and electrical

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  • Thom Merrick

    Pat Hearn Gallery

    Thom Merrick’s formally intriguing, quasi-functional hybrid constructions betray an admiring nod to the antiform experiments of the ’70s, and a more ambivalent one to the commodity-oriented work of the ’80s. While the artist’s vocabulary of industrial materials and manufactured products such as power tools, spare parts, and steel shelves, reveals certain affinities with the former precedent, a tendency toward cultural/commercial specificity points to the latter. Nevertheless, Merrick’s work constitutes neither an exercise in formal reduction nor a conceptual critique of commodification. The two

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  • Ken Graves

    OK Harris

    In 12 small, mixed-media collages, many of which incorporate images culled from popular culture journals dating from the ’30s through the ’50s, Ken Graves throws a monkey wrench into the visual mythmaking machinery that perpetuates the American dream by manipulating the very images that create and sustain it.

    Graves, who is best known as a photographer, turns his sharp but reserved wit on the middle class in all its glory, targeting the paradoxes inherent in bourgeois social ritual. Images documenting such activities as home movies, viewing sports, and ballroom dancing become fodder for Graves’

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  • Cheryl Laemmle

    Terry Dintenfass, Inc.

    The term magical realism has special relevance with respect to the painting of Cheryl Laemmle. Since the early ’80s she has gained respect for her ability to conjure a wondrous realm characterized by psychologically charged atmospheres and filled with fantastic forms. In this show, Laemmle has succeeded in raising the expressive ante by heightening the imaginative intensity of her enigmatic representations.

    The motif of the wooden animal has long been a trademark of Laemmle’s, and here, in Dog With Hand (all works 1990), a hound’s head is displayed mounted on a short red base that suggests a

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  • Bernard and Anna Blume

    Margarete Roeder Gallery

    For more than a decade, the Cologne-based couple Bernhard and Anna Blume have collaborated on performance-based photographic works that take the mores and mishaps of the German petty bourgeoisie as their subject. In one remarkable black and white series entitled “Im Wahnzimmer” (In the room of madness, 1984), a pun on the German word for living room, the Blumes—Bernhard roly-poly in a loud sports coat, Anna blurry in a dowdy patterned dress—try to recover their sense of balance while the cheap furniture and dishes in their apartment fly madly about.

    In the series the Blumes exhibited here entitled

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  • Jeff Perrone

    Sperone Westwater

    Jeff Perrone’s glazed clay tiles mounted directly on the gallery walls, in groups that form geometric configurations—a reverse L, a diamond, an inverted triangle—combine a delicate painterly technique with the exacting science of ceramics. Their coloristic intensity and brilliance is mesmerizing, and though the exhibition is rife with historical allusions to Persian and Indian miniatures, as well as quotations from artists ranging from Delacroix to Frank Stella and Bruce Nauman, the artist’s touch is refreshingly light.

    Perrone’s current show has rendered superfluous previous criticism by ceramists

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  • John Bowman

    Lang & O'Hara Gallery

    Painting on wooden doors, either singly or in pairs, John Bowman apparently finds inspiration in the grain itself. Through insubstantial applications of paint—sometimes just a series of dots—he conjures entire landscapes with a remarkable range of atmospheric qualities. He can do this because the surface itself serves as a portal; the eye travels both across and through these doors, and paint is the handle that opens them up.

    But the real poetry in these “paintings”—and one uses the word cautiously, because at his best Bowman’s touch is very light—is the way the unpainted surface is allowed to

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  • Leigh Behnke

    Fischbach Gallery

    In the oils and watercolors featured in this show, New York artist Leigh Behnke offers provocative investigations of the relationship of seeing and knowing. Employing multiple formats that recall the structure of Renaissance predella panels, she launches a sophisticated assault on the conventions of seeing underlying the pictorial illusionism. Behnke invites us to consider the notion of three dimensionality, supported by the familiar system of fixed perspective and cast light and shadow, as the veritable cornerstone of the Western representational tradition. Her paintings of interiors, suburban

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  • Natalie Bookchin

    Franklin Furnace

    Inspired by a nostalgia for domesticity, Natalie Bookchin’s exhibition, entitled “Playing House,” evokes children’s games as well as traditional handcrafted artifacts, such as embroidered samplers, to relay disquieting messages about violent street crime, drug use, political corruption, and personal deception.

    In False Positive (Daisy) a work that incorporates petals from a flower used in a “he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not” game, 23 brilliant-red rectangles, alternately labeled positive and negative, each frame a petal. Stretched along the wall in a uniform, horizontal row, the arrangement constitutes

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