reviews

  • Per Kirkeby

    Michael Werner | New York

    Per Kirkeby’s abstract paintings seem to take American nature—Walden and Skowhegan—as their starting point. But “Walden” also suggests “forest” in German, indicating an irony on the part of these works, which mock allusive semblance even as they pursue elusive expressive semblance. The catalogue preface—a passage from Bruce Chatwin, in which Diana Vreeland confuses “Wales” with “whales”—suggests the eloquently chameleonlike character of the paintings. In general, the works constitute a tour de force of gesturalism—in which nature shows the range of her tempers through a seemingly infinite variety

    Read more
  • Bruno Gironcoli

    Ulysses Gallery

    If there’s a single work that succinctly conveys the bizarre complexity of Bruno Gironcoli’s fantasy, it is an untitled piece in which, on a gridlike bedspring, two creatures—one dark and animallike, the other a kind of pinkish embryonic figure—vehemently spear each other. The former uses a snout of sorts, the latter a gestural spurt of white paint, issuing from its mouth like a well-aimed bit of vomit. Over the whole macabre scene an ominous coil of black paint hangs like yet another abstracted dream creature. This nasty little drama is set against a smooth field of iridescent metallic gold

    Read more
  • Gary Hume

    Matthew Marks Gallery

    It is a rare, bracing pleasure to see a bunch of canvases that look as if they had some reason to get up in the morning. The six geometric paintings in this exhibition, Gary Hume’s first solo show in New York, are smart, physically unself-conscious, and direct. Hume, who is 29 and English, uses enamel lacquer paint, and he applies it as if with great, smooth, slurping, dog-tongue licks. He also defines the sharp edges of his vibrant rectangles of color with foam-tape, producing what might be described as a Precisionist’s wet look. These paintings are funny, Ostensibly abstract, each work is

    Read more
  • Alexis Rockman

    Jay Gorney Modern Art

    Alexis Rockman continues to make cheerfully perverse paintings, indulging a taste for purulence and decoration, concupiscence and deformity. What might otherwise be regarded as no more than willful teenage-boy gross-outs become instead strenuously estheticized confections. Scenes of interspecies buggery and pukey rot glow with saturated colors and shimmer with old-masterish varnishes. Rock-man’s precise depictions of kinky sex and icky death might excite the admiration of Frederic Church or Martin Johnson Heade, and his two best paintings—Omission: The Fossil Record and Allosaurus (both

    Read more
  • Kay Rosen

    Feature Inc.

    When asked at one point about his vocation as a writer, Henry James said he wanted to be the one upon whom nothing was lost. Somewhat earlier, according to Hegel, Napoleon had realized the end of history. But if Hegel hadn’t come along to reveal this, Napoleon’s feat would hang unnoticed in the large jaw of eternity, and no one would care because we wouldn’t have Hegel’s consciousness of it. It may he true that consciousness is overrated, but without it power, stupidity, and enjoyment would go totally unrecognized. Of course you can only see the power, stupidity, and jollies of another, but

    Read more
  • “Just Pathetic”

    American Fine Arts

    The pathetic is opposed to the sublime in this show, and according to its own predictions, it fails. The pathetic fails because it cannot stand up to the intensity of the sublime; it is in love with its own failure. “Just Pathetic” tries to show us that today failure becomes, paradoxically, success. Failure is more interesting than success simply because it is more variable and multiple, and the works in this show do, to a great degree, demonstrate this point. Visually, it is a very strong show that includes fine pieces by Georg Herold, Jeffrey Vallance, and Chris Burden.

    This, however, makes

    Read more
  • Bill Traylor

    Gallery Ricco/Maresca Luise Ross Gallery/Hirschl & Adler Modern

    Self-taught, African-American artist Bill Traylor (1854–1947), who lived most of his life in Alabama, first as a slave and then as a farmhand, didn’t begin making art until he was 85 years old. Although he was only active between 1939 and ’42, he produced upwards of 1,500 works, mostly in pencil and poster paint on medium-sized pieces of found cardboard. Various twists of fate kept this corpus out of circulation until 1979, and its slow but steady exposure to art audiences since then has made Traylor a kind of cultural thermometer. In the early ’80s, his stark, silhouetted images of animals,

    Read more
  • Leon Golub

    Josh Baer Gallery

    The synthesis of brutality and beauty in Gigantomachy IV, 1967, a large, roughly painted ensemble of classical nude male warriors closeted in the small back gallery of Leon Golub’s recent “Patriots” exhibition, animates his entire oeuvre. Indeed, these parallel worlds inform his ’90s patriots as much as they do the long line of thugs, mercenaries, assassins, soldiers, and interrogators from which they are descended. The characters change to reflect prevailing wars, crimes, and injustices, but the types portrayed remain more or less constant. Two of the patriots are working-class men, dressed in

    Read more
  • Alfredo Jaar

    New Museum

    In the decade since Alfredo Jaar left his native Chile to live in New York and began to exhibit internationally, his art has explored the relationship between the so-called first and third worlds. Entitled “1 + 1 + 1,” this exhibition, which originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, brings together projects based on Jaar’s extensive research and travel to the gold mines of Serra Pelada, Brazil; a toxic waste dump in the small village of Koko, outside of Lagos, Nigeria; and, more recently, detention centers for Vietnamese refugees, operated by the British Hong Kong government.

    Read more
  • Jeffrey Wisniewski

    Nordanstad-Skarstedt

    Maybe the art world is hopelessly jaded, maybe entrenched recession malaise has sent us in search of diversions of any sort, maybe the cyclical revival of interest in ’70s-style radical art has opened long-closed doors. Whatever the reason, it’s been a season of stunts and provocations. Jeffrey Wisniewski’s recent dismantling of an entire suburban house in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.. which he then had fed through a portable stump recycler—reducing the entire edifice to wood chips—and transported to a gallery for exhibition, offers the novelty of an outrageous act strategically reinforced as a

    Read more
  • “Neo-Plasticism in America”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    In his introductory essay to a catalogue for a 1940 exhibition at his “Museum of Living Art,” by the same name, A. E. Gallatin invokes the authority of science to support his position that abstract art is both creative and progressive. Gallatin continuously describes and valorizes art in terms of “exploration and experimentation”; what the public beholds in his galleries are not merely works of art but “experiments performed in the artistic laboratory,” Furthermore, the practice of art is less a skill or technique than it is a matter of “research,” wherein artists strive “above all to obtain

    Read more
  • Stuart Davis

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    “Stuart Davis, American Painter”—the title of his first retrospective since 1966—begs the question of just how heavily Davis’ success has leaned on nationalistically biased evaluation. But then doubts of this sort have haunted Davis’ career since he was first exposed to European Modernism at the fateful Armory Show in 1913, a contact that ended his previous commitment to the drab but gutsy Ashcan School realism he had so precociously mastered. Though Davis would go on to produce brash, in-your-face illustrations for The Masses during the teens, his painting of the same period breaks out in a

    Read more
  • Ilse Bing

    Houk Friedman

    Ilse Bing was not born with a camera in her hands. She was not a childhood devotee, like Jacques-Henri Lartigue. She enrolled at the University of Frankfurt to study mathematics, but eventually switched to art history. Bing only seriously picked up the camera in the late ’20s, when she needed research photographs for her dissertation on the 18th-century architect Friedrich Gilly. Soon though, she was publishing photographs in the Frankfurter Illustrierte Zeitung, and in 1930 she moved to Paris, where she spent the next ten years achieving success as both an artist and a commercial photographer.

    Read more
  • Sheila Metzner

    International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

    In Sheila Metzner’s photographs beauty is truly skin-deep. An early black and white picture, Evyan, Kinderhook Creek, 1977, captures her husband’s young daughter skinny-dipping. The real subject of the work, however, is not leisure, play, or family, but wet hair, hard nipples, and goose-bumps. Metzner has described art as “a call to the recognition of surface and beauty as a transforming power,” and it is precisely this fascination with surfaces that has made her work so popular with fashion moguls like Oscar de la Renta and Elizabeth Arden.

    The exhibition begins with works from the late ’70s

    Read more
  • Julio Larraz

    Nohra Haime Gallery

    While there are certain subjects, from Latin American dictators to still-life-like interiors, that recur in Julio Larraz’s paintings, he has long been known for the refreshingly expansive range of thematic concerns he has cultivated.

    Several paintings from earlier shows that continue to linger in my memory include Four Lobsters in a Tub, 1984, a fabulous red picture made eerily poignant by a single claw that peeks over the side of an enormous pot; Mayday, 1987, a symbolic figurative composition featuring an elderly blond woman, in a big black-rimmed sun hat, standing with a group of military men

    Read more
  • Robert Harms

    Klarfeld Perry Gallery

    Robert Harms’ lyrical abstract paintings are almost embarassingly beautiful. His palette (cerulean, bright-white, orange-orange, ultraviolet, acid-yellow, primeval-green) suggests all the naive and concentrated joy of a child with a brand new watercolor set. Harms creates his abstractions from nature: the landscapes of the Hamptons have quite clearly inspired each vision. The titles (Under the Trees, 1991, A Pond in the Woods, 1990) straightforwardly attest to this. Judged on palette or inspiration, then, the work seems far from fashionable and unlikely to surprise. It would seem to lack the

    Read more
  • George Rhoads

    Ruth Siegel Gallery

    One look at George Rhoads’ audio-kinetic sculptures and you know you’re in for the sort of treat a gallery visit rarely affords. These sculptures (some are powered by electricity) feature balls clattering down steel tracks through a series of chutes, loop-the-loops, basins, drums, gongs, and woks. In his first show in 13 years, Rhoads (who had a previous life as an abstract painter) approaches high culture via Hammacher Schlemmer and F. A. O. Schwarz.

    As with the most ingenious toys, these works demonstrate the ability of a closed system to operate both by chance and logic—the path of each ball

    Read more
  • Elizabeth Streb Ringside

    Joyce Theater

    One might think it impossible for a choreographer to inspire physical empathy in the audience, yet, for the first time in my life, I experienced what I can only term sympathy pains while watching Elizabeth Streb Ringside. Dancers hurl themselves against walls and onto the ground fearlessly, percussively, and with what appears to be all their might, while the wincing audience collectively contracts. I’m reminded of Thoreau on Ktaadn, shouting “Contact!,” overwhelmed by the elemental, sheer muscle of nature.

    Streb’s work differs significantly from the contact improvisation of Steve Paxton et al,

    Read more