reviews

  • John Chamberlain

    Dia Center for the Arts

    This show of 15 sculptures, 1991-92, would probably surprise even a die-hard John Chamberlain fan: the pieces look like scaled-down versions of themselves. Ranging from 7 to 90 inches in height, but mostly averaging between 7 and 12 they’re remarkably attractive little objects that would not look out of place in an upscale gift shop. The first of these sculptures was created—at the suggestion of Chamberlain’s old friend Henry Geldzahler—to decorate a box of chocolate truffles.

    There’s nothing not to like in this show. In the past decade, Chamberlain’s work has evolved from something

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  • Robert Irwin

    PACE | 534 West 25th Street

    I often thought of Robert Irwin as the Bobby Fisher of the art world—brilliant artist, at the peak of his professional career, gets a MacArthur grant and is last seen driving his Cadillac into the desert with a volume of Kant on the passenger seat. In fact, Irwin never quite disappeared: with only a handful of installations in the ’80s, however, and a complete exhibition hiatus in the last five years, we just saw too little of him. Maybe that was remedied by his recent installation of three sets of see-through scrim walls that divided the gallery into a series of separate rooms illuminated by

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  • Eugène Leroy

    Michael Werner Gallery/Edward Thorp Gallery

    The surface of Eugène Leroy’s paintings is dense but far from sluggish, claustrophobic and epic in its painterliness, yet peculiarly spacious and lyrical in effect. Overloaded to the point of chaos, it remains uncannily, indeed sublimely harmonious as if it had a powerful life of its own. This surface not only “breathes,” in Clement Greenberg’s famous sense of the word, but breathes vigorously. Indeed, Leroy’s paintings give the lie to Greenberg’s partisan belief that American Abstract Expressionist painting is more spontaneously alive than French Tachism.

    And yet, Leroy’s paintings are not

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  • James Rosenquist

    Gagosian Gallery (21)

    James Rosenquist has always been in a class of his own within Pop art, never quite boarding the Warholian media-imagery bandwagon. While appropriating banal all-American imagery, he combines it in an incongruous way suggestive of a Surrealist esthetic that is particularly reminiscent of René Magritte. That is, Rosenquist’s early pictures—which this exhibition justifiably suggests have become “classic”—reflect neither the slick irony, inadvertent black humor, nor obsession with fame-seeking associated with Pop art; rather, they seem mysterious and unfathomable, even thirty years after they were

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  • David Rabinowitch

    Flynn

    One cannot help but be awed by David Rabinowitch’s seven “Construction of Vision Drawings,” 1969–1978, when they are viewed in the context of Barbara Flynn’s high, narrow, geometrically exquisite gallery. Geometry speaks to geometry, suggesting a new peak of purity, and a fresh sophistication of the void. These drawings look as if it took a long time to ponder each of their few details, from the size of the paper to the placement of the geometrical elements. Rabinowitch’s drawings demonstrate the continued viability—the infinite renewability—of the perfectionist less-is-more esthetic: the less

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  • Robert Greene

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Diana Vreeland and the postwar glory-days of Bazaar and Vogue are to Robert Greene roughly what the court and the commedia dell’arte have become since Watteau—a paradis perdu. Greene’s fêtes galantes are usually full of nimble, affectionate portraits of fashion icons, fellow artists, and friends. In these melancholic romances, a white standard poodle always plays the part of Scapino, while a shifting cast of characters makes cameo appearances, and sets of faintly incestuous twins or even triplets of both sexes stroll about, narcissistically, in supporting roles. Gamine protagonists who suggest

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  • Fred Wilson

    Metro Pictures

    In “Panta Rhei. (A Gallery of Ancient Classical Art),” 1992, a plaster cast of Atlas bent under the weight of a stack of Western art history books. Barely visible beneath the base on which the figure stood was a single volume devoted to African art. As with Fred Wilson’s best work, this seemingly simple, shamelessly didactic sculpture resonates with subtler messages. We all know by now that European and American art historians have stacked the cards heavily in favor of the classical tradition, at the expense of African and Far Eastern cultures. H. W. Janson’s History of Art tops Wilson’s pile—in

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  • Silvia Kolbowski

    Postmasters

    The term “Formalism” continues to suffer from a rather parochial reduction to the status of a code word that refers exclusively to a circumscribed species of painting and sculpture. This conventional usage will not be dislodged easily, even though its companion notion of artistic purity insists by definition on an enforced balkanization of media that is untenable today. Art practices that are conceptual and directed at institutional critique are not exempt from spiraling into the tautological extremities of formalism, especially when the methodological mantles of seminal precursor artists such

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  • Duane Michals

    International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

    In Duane Michals’ Chance Meeting, 1970, two men pass each other in an alley. In the ensuing scenes, one turns to look, only to see the other’s back. Finally, the latter turns back, missing the former’s glance but meeting ours. “The Duane Michals Show,” Michals’ first retrospective in the United States, presented an opportunity to have more than just a “chance meeting” with his camera lens and pen. For Michals, the camera is like a clock: it cannot capture time, but only mark its passage—photography records the path of Xeno’s arrow, approaching infinity but never reaching its mark. The accumulation

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  • Justen Ladda

    Jay Gorney Modern Art

    Depending on your perspective, Justen Ladda’s technically virtuosic fusion of a classical image of horsepower with its modern incarnation either simply rehashes the all-too-familiar relationship of art and commodity culture, or attempts to synthesize elements he has been exploring for the last decade. It was precisely perspective that continued to unite Ladda’s earlier efforts—the enormous rendering of the comic-book character the Thing in an abandoned school, 1981, and his many trompe l’oeil recreations of art-historical icons over found objects—with the installation that dominated

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  • Marilyn Lerner

    Robert Morrison Gallery

    As many critics have noticed, Marilyn Lerner’s eccentrically shaped, hard-edged abstract paintings often seem like playful yet exacting conflations of Russian Constructivism and Suprematism, on the one hand, and South Asian art—particularly Tantric—on the other. It’s a rare synthesis—centrifugal dynamism from one source, contemplative metastasis from the other—but one that’s compellingly achieved in her best work.

    An inveterate traveler to Asia, as well as a long-standing admirer of its traditional arts, Lerner, in early 1991, became more actively involved with Asian art by studying Indian gouache

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  • “Putt-Modernism”

    Artists Space Exhibitions

    When 18 artists design holes for a putt-putt golf course, do you simply rent a putter and check your high-falutin’ esthetics at the door? Or do you search for deeper meanings here—a critique of art as leisure activity, a meditation on the putter as phallus or on the hole as lack? Faced with determining whether this was just summer fun or a serious exhibit, your intrepid reviewer gathered the opinions of a number of different putters and presents a selection of their views in lieu of his own.

    Hole 4: Mel Chin, Shelter (par 2). Popularly called the “Gulf War Hole.” You putted into a blown-out bunker

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  • “The Interactive Show”

    Thread Waxing Space

    Was the notion that the viewer completes the artwork ever much more than a rhetorical proposition? For the artists in this show it ceased to be merely rhetorical and actually became a functional proposition. The medium was not a material but, rather, a connection or a conjunction, a medium in the etymological sense of the word, something that happened between a work and a viewer.

    How many times have you gone to an art gallery and wished you could take a few whacks at something with a hammer? Matthew Schlanger’s Lumpy Banger, 1991, invited you to pound a few nails into a block of wood wired for

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  • Beverly Semmes

    SculptureCenter

    Introducing a mutant version of women’s fashion, the “clothes” in Beverly Semmes installation questioned the conventions that have determined the production of women’s clothing and thus the presentation of their bodies. By exaggerating the size and distorting the shapes of female apparel, Semmes surreally reconfigured the normative distinction between the body of the subject and the clothing that both masks and represents it. These sculptures did not merely figure an absent body, they forced us to examine how our perception of it is constructed.

    Tucked away in a closet, Sliced Dress (all works

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  • William H. Johnson

    Studio Museum in Harlem/Whitney Museum of American Art

    Forming a well-thought-out retrospective that included works ranging from 1923 to 1946, these joint exhibitions, organized by the National Museum of American Art, provided the first serious consideration of the African-American painter William Henry Johnson (1901–70) in over 20 years. As art historian Richard J. Powell notes in the accompanying catalogue, Johnson’s relative obscurity is due to a number of factors: his expatriate status in the ’30s, his category-defying eclecticism, and, of course, the pervasive racism that informs the Modernist canon.

    The Studio Museum presented an in-depth look

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  • Hugh Steers

    Richard Anderson

    In his most recent paintings and smaller oil sketches, Hugh Steers chronicles contemporary urban life haunted by the presence of AIDS. Rendered in an increasingly sophisticated, painterly realism, which at once recalls the compositional drama of Caravaggio, the restless color of Pierre Bonnard, and the melancholy economy of Edward Hopper, Steers’ tableaux explore the complexities of living with the fear and reality of AIDS.

    A number of Steers’ smaller works reveal his penchant for the sketchy brushwork and inviting “slice of life” scenes of French Impressionism. These include the poignant Paper

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  • Wallace Putnam

    Luise Ross Gallery

    Putnam’s late work is joyous, stylish, witty, and bright; whatever is portrayed (a field covered in snow, flowers, the beach in high summer) captures moody happiness. It’s deceptively simple, in the way Wallace Stevens can be. You return to the paintings over and over again, astonished at the way they continue to surprise, delighted by their evocation of something other than pure joy. This exhibition of paintings by Wallace Putnam, produced between 1950 and 1978, showed a mature artist, pursuing a distinctive and idiosyncratic style of drawing in paint.

    The best of these paintings are of animals

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  • Darra Keeton

    Art in General

    Darra Keeton’s paintings give lyrical expression to nature, transforming isolated details of landscape into compositions charged with vitality. In the triptych Phrase, 1991, three 15-inch squares are arranged in a horizontal row, each featuring a different, mysterious scene composed of floral and woodsy motifs. These sinewy configurations, enhanced by the gestural treatment of edges and surfaces, create their own internal rhythm, one that reflects both thematic and formal concerns. If the black bulbous shape peering out of the left panel projects a primal energy, the dark clusters in the center

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