reviews

  • Edward Ruscha

    Leo Castelli Gallery

    Big, handsome and inscrutable, this exhibition of Edward Ruscha's recent work extends his esthetic of blankness, continuing, as Peter Plagens notes, to “illustrate without illustration, to criticize without criticism” (whatever that means). Much has been written about the trenchant ironies of his Oklahoma origins and subsequent residence in Hollywood, and the ways in which the mute, implacable density and porousness of his practice nimbly deflect critical jargon. In his text works from the ’70s, using spinach, egg yolk, blood, or juice as his medium, he subtly and indirectly mocked the pristine,

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  • Robert Barry

    Holly Solomon Gallery

    Robert Barry’s first projection piece in over ten years consists of grainy, circular, black and white photographs of friends, family, and associates interspersed with colored words and circular shapes. While the fragmented and rambling narratives of his word works, reminiscent of concrete poetry, have become increasingly psychologically suggestive over the years, Not Intended, 1991, takes the plunge into unabashed autobiography. Until now the voice has never been clearly identified; we remember Barry’s insistence that “language can be used to indicate the situation where art exists” and have

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  • Cosima von Bonin

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    As gestures of appropriation generally strike a rather flat note these days, one might well wonder what is at stake in Cosima von Bonin’s first U.S. exhibition—an odd assortment of nondescript objects, paintings, photographs, drawings, posters, and letters. None of these items was made by the artist; they were produced especially for this show, by friends within the Cologne art world, including Heimo Zobernig, Diedrich Diederichsen, Michael Krebber, and Martin Kippenberger.

    A short film by the artist, entitled The Merry Pilgrimage, 1991, suggests that despite the exhibition’s deceptive veneer,

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  • Sam Francis

    Gagosian Gallery

    Sam Francis is one of those famous but not so famous artists of the ’50s and ’60s; he might merit one or two passing slides in a lecture course on postwar American art, but he’s hardly a likely subject for an essay question on the final exam. Comfortable neither in the Abstract Expressionist nor in the postpainterly camps, Francis’ work doesn’t offer much to get worked up over; there are no ideologies to contest or defend, save that which would affirm the value of unadulterated painterly free play. Otiose and complacent, his painterly distensions relax on the wall. The effect is kind of nice,

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  • William Wilson

    Allan Stone Gallery

    One effect of our shopworn and frayed post-Modernity has been to inculcate a cavalier attitude toward the art of the past, ostensibly for the purpose of depriving it of oppressive and authoritarian power. The monuments of the past are commonly subjected to relentless and almost mechanical rituals of demystification. And yet this demystifying approach oddly confirms the provisional success of Modernism’s passionately wished-for break from the ruins of the past. Indeed, it is as if the Modernists actually pulled it off, as our memory sometimes seems to extend no further back than, maybe, to Manet.

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  • Joan Brown

    Frumkin/Adams Gallery

    Joan Brown’s self-portraits from the period 1970–83 are vivid, vastly enjoyable images of a woman who seems not so much to age (however gracefully) as to flower into states of psychic flamboyance before one’s eyes. In Homage to Akhenaton, 1983, the most recent work in this show, painted when the artist was turning 45, Brown stands proudly in the foreground, a flaming red-haired, green-eyed herald for the sun deity. The god’s profile appears in the forms of the artist’s dangle-earrings and necklace, and is further evoked by a riot of Egyptoid background patterning that includes the well-defined

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  • Robert Yarber

    Lieberman & Saul Gallery

    It is common knowledge that photography today has all but replaced the sketch as a preparatory medium for painters. Even abstract painters refer to photographs in order to zero in on chromatic or compositional qualities relevant to his or her painterly concerns—Stephen Mueller, for example, who paints large stained dispersions, takes Polaroids. Among figurative artists, the dependence on everything from slide projections to photographic prints is even more common. Some, such as Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter, manage to make painting itself look like a photochemical process. Others, like Billy

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  • Maura Sheehan

    Arnold Herstand & Company

    In Maura Sheehan’s installation Trade Winds, 1991, the sweet scent of sugar, a cool breeze, and views of tropical islands and open beaches transform the spectator into a tourist. Sheehan rolls out a black velvet carpet, inviting us to kick off our city shoes; pours brown and white sugar around the periphery of the room, and completes the balmy effect with ocean views displayed in faux windows and a large rotating fan.

    Trade Winds utilizes the gallery exhibition space like a large diorama punctuated with cartographic symbols. A nod at Joseph Cornell’s earlier piece of the same title, Sheehan’s

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  • Anne Truitt

    André Emmerich Gallery

    Anne Truitt is probably best known for her published journals. Daybook, 1982, and Turn, 1986. Although her first solo exhibit took place in 1963, her relationship to the pivotal contemporary art movements of Minimalism, Color Field painting, and Pop art remains elusive. This may be due, in part, to her infrequent exhibitions in New York; she has shown only five times since 1969. With a group of 16 works that survey 30 years of her career, this exhibition attempts to bolster Truitt’s critical and historical position in the canon of contemporary art.

    The installation begins chronologically with

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  • Tina Barney

    Janet Borden, Inc.

    The people in Tina Barney’s photos look like evil twins of the people in Ralph Lauren ads. The Lauren ads sell exclusion by merchandizing WASP style as something you have to be born into, implicitly canceling out any consumer who has to buy his or her way in. What Ralph Lauren presents as scenes of plenitude Barney exposes as scenes of zombitude. While they’re not exactly sinister, they are testimony to the discreet vacuousness of the upper-middle-class WASP subject. Barney uses blandness as a weapon against itself. Oddness creeps around the edges, and pulls us in. In one sporty and cosmic image,

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  • Eileen Cowin

    Jayne H. Baum Gallery

    In her earlier photographic tableaux, Eileen Cowin cast herself and members of her family in domestic dramas that suggest frozen moments from upscale soap operas. Here she extends that interest, tracing a sort of family tree of melodramatic narratives. In an installation that filled half the gallery, long bands of black and white images, suggesting enlarged strips of movie film, circled the room; emerging from black backgrounds, the images in each band borrowed the ominous lighting, ambiguous themes, and radical spatial shifts and focus changes of film noir. Featured were such staples of noir

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  • Andrew Young

    David Beitzel Gallery

    Andrew Young’s paintings are full of fascinating surface and color. Decorative and ancient looking, gestural and still, glazed and eruptive, organic and chemical, they’re all about formal elegance and painterly poise. Indeed, both his handling and his palette (saffron, licorice, burnt orange, and cinnamon) are so sophisticated as to seem almost jaded.

    How odd, to encounter abstractions reminiscent of Robert Motherwell, preserved under layers of faux-quattrocento glaze. Odder still when one considers the way these paintings meld abstract imagery with representational elements reminiscent of

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  • Gillian Jagger

    Anita Shapolsky Gallery

    Gillian Jagger’s lead forms—marvels of raw, proliferating texture—hang like flayed carcasses or sit like creatures freshly mutated from the earth. Yet none of these metaphors are adequate to the horrendous physicality of Jagger’s sculptural objects. Speaking of the derivation of her work from natural surface, Jagger remarks: “All things in nature . . . resemble each other in their folding, tearing, cracking, wrinkling kind of way, and in this way humans and animals resemble trees and rocks.” The crumbling of our skin, in other words, reminds us of our kinship with nature, asserts its eternal,

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  • Romare Bearden

    The Studio Museum in Harlem

    With this memorial retrospective, Romare Bearden clearly emerges as a major American artist, of the order of Stuart Davis. That is, like Davis, Bearden assimilates Modernist modes to his own ends. While Bearden ostensibly deals with black life—initially rural and eventually urban—themes of universal consequence pervade his art. Images of woman, for example, recur throughout his oeuvre, not only in the remarkable “Conjur Women” series of 1964 but to more pointedly erotic ends in paintings such as Madame’s White Bird, 1975 and Storvyille, 1979. Similarly, Bearden’s use of Modernist fragmentation,

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  • Pepón Osorio

    El Museo del Barrio

    Although Pepón Osorio has been making art for 15 years, this retrospective shows only his work from 1985 to the present. In this seven-year period, Osorio—who is a black Puerto Rican—has engaged in an ongoing dialogue with his own non-European cultural heritages, rather than with European-derived art history.

    Osorio’s investigation of culturally contextualized identity takes the form of mixed-media constructions, installations, and dance performances. The dialectic between individual and cultural identity that has consistently informed Osorio’s oeuvre is most evident in the works based on the

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  • Bernarda Bryson Shahn

    Midtown Payson Galleries

    This well-rounded retrospective of Bernarda Bryson Shahn’s work highlighted the range of her accomplishments, including prints, drawings, illustrations, and paintings. Beginning with Crash, a lithograph from 1929 depicting two buildings in the throes of upheaval, which might be taken as a metaphorical comment on the Depression, the show covered more than six decades of work. Whether Bryson Shahn depicted snippets of contemporary American life or ancient myths, the results were characteristically wry and thought provoking.

    For this artist, the worlds of art and literature are as inextricably bound

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  • Anne Deleporte

    Simon Watson

    Anne Deleporte’s work converts a simple image into a symbol for the nightmare of state control that we find ourselves increasingly diminished by even in first world countries. The process of getting a passport involves, of course, having one’s picture taken. In Paris, where Deleporte lives, a photograph of the applicant’s face is cropped down to the tightest perimeter, cutting off the neck, hair, and sometimes part of the outer ears. In the end, what you end up with is a picture that eliminates much of what we normally depend upon to identify the individual.

    Deleporte does not exhibit these

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  • Rudolf Stingel

    Daniel Newburg Gallery

    Rudolf Stingel takes potshots at Minimalism, using the strategies of its historical sidekick, Conceptualism, to point out its pretenses. Creating works that are conspicuously unmarketable and unesthetic, if not just plain ugly, Stingel comments humorously on a movement that produced some of the smuggest, most boring work in the history of art.

    Among Stingel’s past offerings is a booklet with a crossing-guard orange cover that provides instructions on how to make a Minimalist painting. Mimicking the grayed-out photographs of how-to manuals with their enumerated items (electric mixer, compressed

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  • Ad Reinhardt

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    As it has been a quarter of a century since we last had the opportunity to view such a concentration of Ad Reinhardt’s work, this retrospective of the paintings of this celebrated iconoclast could not have been anticipated more optimistically. The curators unfortunately did not rise to the occasion: what we got was a replay of the fairly conventional story of Reinhardt-the-painter, with little more than lip-service paid the larger and more important story of Reinhardt-the-artist.

    Ad Reinhardt idealized his abstract art in scores of texts written over a period of more than two decades, culminating

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  • Norman Bluhm

    Washburn Gallery

    This exhibition, entitled “Norman Bluhm Paintings 1960–65,” not only examines a distinct period in the artist’s career, it affords a fresh view of a moment in post-war American art history, which has been so codified as to render many artists working then almost invisible. As these large canvases attest, Bluhm remains (along with Joan Mitchell) one of the few artists of his generation to have continually grappled with the Abstract Expressionist legacy. Influenced by both Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock (he saw a show of Pollock’s in 1951 ), Bluhm made his first mature abstractions—allover

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