reviews

  • Lynda Benglis

    Richard Gray Gallery | New York

    This very surprising exhibition marked a decisive change in the tactics and esthetics of Lynda Benglis—presenting what at first seemed to be an artistic about-face. Gone were the opulent and lush wallbound sculptures that have marked her work since the mid ’70s, those metallic rivulets and excrescences that progressively erupted from museum and gallery walls with incredible tactile boldness and irrepressible high spirits. In their place was something much leaner, a sequence of sculptures that reflect a pared-down and desiccating vision, seemingly the residue of the artist’s determination to

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  • Lydia Dona

    Tom Cugliani Gallery

    Entropy disintegrates and is simultaneously regenerated in Lydia Dona’s mappings of the void. Her supercharged explorations of nothingness do not take the form of pure, aggressive negations, nor do they skirt around the impossibility of representing this unpictureable realm. In her theoretical paintings, Dona plunges into the miasma at the center of absolute absence. Without restraint or hesitation, her systematic abstractions give compelling physical form to the unbridgeable gap between cognition and perception, knowledge and experience. The visual shifts, planar slippages, diagrammatic

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  • “The Naturalist Gathers”

    Steingladstone

    In its arrangement of images that span the history of art, and film stills, book illustrations, postcards, and advertisements, “The Naturalist Gathers” presented a genealogy of the process of collecting, ordering, and observing. Devoid of “original” artworks, this fabric of pictures portrayed the world as a chain of mediated representations, illuminating how we organize experience and construct an “archaeology of knowledge.” Composed of materials from curator Douglas Blau’s own collection, this picture gallery within a gallery became something akin to an encyclopedic vanitas, filled with images

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  • Saul Steinberg

    Pace | 32 East 57th Street

    Saul Steinberg’s America is a peculiar place; its buildings tend to be absurdly big, its people absurdly small. Arrogantly abstract freaks, Steinberg’s Americans move mechanically through the country’s streets like wind-up toys, traversing a place where everyone is on the move, travelling fast to nowhere in particular. Steinberg’s America is indeed “nowhere”—an artistic utopia in which the abstract and concrete are one and the same because the balance between them has not been worked out by history. Whether one tilts toward the abstract and artificial or the concrete and natural one is in the

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  • Wilhelm Lehmbruck

    Michael Werner | New York

    Perhaps erroneously and unfairly, one expects to find signs of Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s suicide in his sculptures. His figures, their eyes closed in introspection, seem depressed. In the early female figures (ca. 1910–12) this depressiveness “compromises” the fullness, indeed plenitude, of their bodies, producing a subliminally unbearable contrast. By 1913 the introspection had attenuated the female body, as though melancholy were slowly consuming it, transforming it into pure spirit.

    In three sculptures each entitled Head of Pensive Large Female Figure (all 1913–14), meditation and pain seem to

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  • Agnes Martin

    From the early ’60s to the late ’80s, the grid in Agnes Martin’s work shifts from relative differentiation to relative undifferentiation—to an increasing sense of entropy. Her early grids are constituted by small, obviously handmade marks—confirming the “naturalness” signalled by such titles as Gray Stone II, 1961 and Milk River, 1963—that seem to undermine the axiomative uniformity of the grid, however unassailable it remains. In contrast, the surfaces of the later, untitled grids seem almost inhumanly slick, as though made by a robotic hand. One wonders if the abstract sublime has not turned

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  • Mike Kelley

    It’s gotta be sheer coincidence that Mike Kelley’s exhibition opened the same month that Superman officially died, but the end of an era of a red-white-and-blue super hero couldn’t be a more fitting backdrop to Kelley’s take on another media cliché of masculinity—the suburban handyman. In his do-it-yourself universe, the basement bricoleur sets up shop to custom craft a Primaling Cabinet, an Orgone Shed, a Colema Bench, a Kneading Board and a Torture Table (all works 1992), and other spooky items indispensable to a highly idiosyncratic version of the pursuit of health and happiness. Kelley

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  • Pat Steir

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Pat Steir’s new paintings, exhibited under the Goethean title “Elective Affinities,” continue to rehearse the abstractly generated waterfall imagery that has preoccupied her for the last several years. As before, a vehement, loaded stroke at the top of the canvas allows thinned paint to drip down, evoking falling water, while below some flung splashes à la early Norman Bluhm represent the water’s upward splash. What’s new is that Steir has renounced the grisaille to which this series had been confined in favor of intense—not to say lurid—color. In one sense, however, Steir’s use of color remains

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  • Matthew Weinstein

    Sonnabend Gallery

    Matthew Weinstein’s newest work underlines the curious fact that a young artist does not always develop most propitiously by becoming more “mature.” It is quite possible to progress by means of regression; art must be able to retreat, consciously, to unself-consciousness, however false. Weinstein’s giddy, sexual, sometimes psychedelic new paintings made me realize that his earlier work was trying too hard to be serious and consistent, to create a signature style that in and of itself would communicate some content with an inarguable claim to the viewer’s attention. Recent discussions of “content”

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  • Andres Schön

    Jay Gorney Modern Art

    Andreas Schön’s pantings are constructed from a lattice of straight lines and arcs that form a matrix of intersecting planes. From this abstract arrangement of the two-dimensional canvas, Schön develops a series of landscapes and a series of paintings of drawn window blinds.

    In the landscape paintings, based on the plans of actual ancient Aegean sites and on fictional constructs, the transversing lines represent the roadways, furrowed ground, and architectural foundations of ancient lands. Olynth I, 1992, depicts the eroded Hippodamian grid used to plan the Greek town of Olynthus in the 5th

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  • Lois Conner

    Laurence Miller Gallery

    Lois Conner’s panoramic platinum prints of China give us the provinces before mechanization and good roads. Even large cities look provincial. An occasional bicycle and old truck are the most modern things we see, and only the imperial architecture of Beijing and the British imperialist architecture of Shanghai act as historical markers. The rest is gardens, yards, streets, fields, steep buttes, low-lying ancient ruins on empty plateaus, and peasants.

    Using large negatives on platinum-treated paper—which together produce the most finely-graduated scale of grays now available to photographers—Conner

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  • Deborah Kass

    Fiction/Nonfiction

    Call Me Barbra: call me an appropriation, a recasting, a challenge to concepts of ethnicity, gender, and patriarchy—call me the work of Deborah Kass. In the “Jewish Jackie” and “My Elvis” series, both 1992, Kass replaces Warhol’s ’60s iconography with Kass’ woman for the ’90s—Barbra Streisand—seeking to subvert the male gaze with the female.

    At first the gesture comes off as a humorous attempt to turn the male-dominated world of painting around: a commentary on the medium itself—a recasting of the often camp work of a gay artist into a post-Modern, feminist, queer-theoried, wry bit-o’-revenge.

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  • Gotscho

    Grey Art Gallery

    Even before encountering the works in Gotscho’s exhibition “Skins,” the visitor was confronted by his presence. In all the material accompanying this exhibition, the artist presented a single image of himself naked, shorn of all body hair, muscles bulging, triumphantly lifting a barbell over his head in moody semidarkness. This French body-builder, modiste, and artist is often—in hyperbolic Parisian fashion—flatteringly compared to historical giants and mythic figures, but to Americans his most distinguishing feature is a striking resemblance to Mr. Clean.

    This emphasis on surface presentation

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  • Michèle Blondel 

    Elga Wimmer

    For nearly a decade, the French artist Michèle Blondel has been developing the various elements of what has become a unified, installation-oriented, sculptural project. Blondel herself blows precious Baccarat crystal into exquisite phallic and otherwise sexually suggestive forms, and strategically places them in the chapels and choirs of medieval French churches. Hers is less a button-pushing attack on the odious politics of the Church than it is a playful uncovering of the erotic and sadistic underpinnings of Catholic ritual and dogma. Featuring a representative selection of Blondel’s work from

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  • Tony Fitzpatrick

    Bridgewater/Lustberg Gallery

    Self-taught, Chicago-based artist Tony Fitzpatrick began showing in New York’s East Village during the mid ’80s. His small, slate chalkboards, obsessively painted with quirky, cartoonish imagery fit in well there, standing out as raw and original in a sea of second-generation Kenny Scharfs. Fitzpatrick is an auteur of quintessentially American images: his is an often violent, but always astute look at the darker side of American life, rendered with tattoo-parlor frankness and unmistakably Catholic drama and pathos.

    This show offered a range of etchings on chine collé which, although selected from

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  • Ken Butler

    Herron Test-Site

    Superpowers would still be going at it with crossbows or flintlocks if new weapons were developed at the same rate as musical instruments. It is every violinist’s dream to own a Stradivarius made three centuries ago, and even aficionados of the electric guitar prefer Fender Stratocasters made before I was born. But if the history of musical instruments tends to slow to a standstill, Ken Butler’s show of “hybrid instruments” ought to set it moving again by leaps and bounds. Not exactly a musician, a sculptor, or a mad scientist, Butler is more a bricoleur who recycles castaway materials (ironing

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  • Laurie Carlos

    P.S. 122

    Notably small in scale, Laurie Carlos’ theater drew its listeners into a storyteller’s circle, up close, within touching distance of the players. Each character was written and portrayed as if it were a “found” miniature in an air-tight Joseph Cornell box: given just enough detail to suggest the authenticity of autobiography.

    In White Chocolate for my Father, created in collaboration with Urban Bush Women’s artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and musician Don Meissner, Carlos directed seven women (including herself) in an exuberant and fast paced 80-minute work. Close to caricature, each of

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  • Karen Finley

    Amy Lipton Gallery

    Karen Finley’s installation, Written in Sand, 1992, adopted a subtle and dark strategy which eschewed the emphasis on the sheer number of deaths characteristic of the most publicized tributes to the victims of AIDS. Emblematic of those works, Gran Fury’s 1987-88 LED installation stated “One AIDS death every ten minutes”; its latest incarnation reflects the continual increase in those statistics. The AIDS quilt, stitched together from the contributions of thousands who have lost friends and relatives, has grown so large that it can no longer be displayed in one place and is presented in fragments

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  • “Fragile Ecologies”

    Queens Museum of Art

    “Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions,” a traveling exhibition, takes a broad look at activist, environmentally oriented art, placing it within its historical and cultural context. The projects of various artists in diverse environments and situations is a central theme of the show, but “Fragile Ecologies” is also concerned with contemporary artists as agents of change. Frequently the work assembled here to represent artists’ recuperative engagement with sites and communities is slight. The ideas are challenging—even abundant—but the images are eviscerated.

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