reviews

  • Sophie Calle

    Castelli Gallery

    Sophie Calle’s exhibition is profoundly skeptical. With insidious understatement, which amounts to a kind of brutalization, works of art, artists, and viewers are shown up or, rather, deflated until they become absurd, even meaningless. It is as if neither artist nor spectator can “really” see works of art, as if they’re for the blind, for indeed there is nothing to see. Calle is a nihilist of the highest intellectual order: a nihilist who does not even believe in what she is engaged in—making art. She shows that the question of what constitutes artmaking is a problem beyond solving—a false

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  • Thomas Struth

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    Whether old and lined with decaying, war-ravaged buildings, as in Scherlstraße, Leipzig, 1991, 1991, or new and lined with the latest apartment houses—tenements in functional disguise—as in Ferdinand-von-Schüll-Straße, Dessau, 1991, 1991, or middle-aged and a partial archaeological record of Wilhelminian architecture, as in Schlosstraße, Wittenberg, 1991, 1991, Thomas Struth’s streets are as gray, deadpan, and uniform as his photographs of them. Even in the three photographs that add a flash of color to this extensive exhibition of the East German scene, the streets are empty and unhaunted—literal

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  • Wolfgang Laib

    Sperone Westwater

    Lit with bare bulbs hanging from its ceiling, Wolfgang Laib’s The Passageway, 1988, inspired a certain amount of awe. One was engulfed by the yellow building blocks made of beeswax—a substance that recurs again and again in Laib’s works, ultimately a sacred, primordial material. (Pollen has been described by Swedish scientist, Leo C. Antes, as a “wonderful biological stimulant with high therapeutic value,” indeed, “the most potent and perfect food on earth.”) Laib’s “house,” as he calls it, has a Minimalist, back-to-basics look, but the basics it returns us to are spiritual as well as geometrical—a

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  • Lee Krasner

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Lee Krasner’s “Umber Paintings,” 1959–62, are somber and sometimes violently gestural. Since they were painted not long after her husband’s death, they have been viewed, almost exclusively, in terms of “tragedy,” “catastrophe,” and “mourning.” It has even been suggested that their restricted coloring is related to the brownish coat of Jackson Pollock’s dog. I do not think this is a helpful way to look at art. There is nothing elegiac about the “Umber Paintings.” Most of them were painted more than three years after Pollock’s death, and in the interval she produced a number of works so brilliant

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  • Isamu Wakabayashi

    Akira Ikeda Gallery | New York

    The language of Isamu Wakabayashi’s sculptures is a familiar one. What these works have to say, specifically, is another matter. Solid and grounded, the expressive capacity of these simple geometric forms is articulated in their elemental materials—sulfur, steel, linen, plaster, wood—wrought to produce archaeological surfaces that appear to have experienced oxidation, corrosion, and decay. Perhaps it is the preponderance of the pale yellow and dangerously toxic sulfur that accounts for the sense of danger emanating from Wakabayashi’s sculptures. Pockmarked with a gridded polka-dot pattern, or

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  • Mary Kelly

    Postmasters

    Mary Kelly’s recent installation, Gloria Patri, 1992, demands that one make a distinction between masculinity and machismo. These categories circulate in her meditations on the pathological male—the thematic of her new, polished-aluminum hardware series. On the one hand, she critiques military society in the form of 6 trophies and 20 discs, the bases of the former etched with macho sound bites from the Persian Gulf War, the latter inscribed with nonsensical montages of mismatched military insignia. On the other hand, the narratives in the five shields address crises of masculinity as the characters

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  • John Walker

    Knoedler & Company

    John Walker’s new paintings seem predicated on esthetic ambition. One can imagine Walker having asked himself, “Can I take a passing visual fancy as slight as something seen behind closed, sleepy eyelids and develop it until it seems to open onto the reach and density of obsession?”

    The panoramic vastness of these paintings makes the conceit plausible, as do Walker’s unprepossessing hues—the pinks and browns of faded postcards from out West—and the two principal figures he takes up each time: 1) a broad smear of pinkish/brownish paint rising like a jet of thick muddy water and falling like the

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  • Marlene McCarty

    Metro Pictures

    Marlene McCarty’s 30 large text-paintings employ four distinct fonts that subtly transform familiar typographies: the flame lettering of heavy metal and tattoos, the fat cartoonish characters of stock and funny cars, the geometrics of ads and bumper stickers, and the cut outs of agit prop and punk. Her stylized letters form vaguely obscene and often aggressive messages that reflect a multiplicity of voices, and are made by heat transfer onto raw canvas. “I iron them on, you know, woman’s work,” McCarty says. And on one level, these works, with their references to Barnett Newman’s zips and other

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  • Isabel Bishop

    Midtown-Payson Galleries

    While by no means a retrospective, this show of selections from Isabel Bishop’s “The Walking Pictures” (a series of paintings ranging from the ’60s to the ’80s) and of drawings and prints, offered a revealing look at Bishop’s vision of 20th-century New York life. Like her fellow student Reginald Marsh at the Art Students’ League, Bishop was determined to use everyday subjects. And like him, she was also attracted to the bustling street scenes of New York. For her focus she chose Union Square which by the late ’20s, with the construction of the subway, had become not only a main transportation

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  • Michael van Ofen

    Rubenstein/Diacono

    It took only a glance at Michael van Ofen’s first exhibition in the U. S. to peg him as one of Gerhard Richter’s former pupils. What identified van Ofen as such wasn’t simply his evident concern with the relation between painting and photography, the slippage between abstraction and representation. More important is the way such essentially formal concerns can be seen as a means of registering the weight of history through reticence and distance, through an “objective,” methodical approach that might just as easily have fallen into solipsism. The paintings in this show (all works untitled, 1992)

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  • Franz West

    David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

    The Dadaists wanted to throw it in the face of bourgeois culture; Piero Manzoni canned it as a consumable, signaling a perversely clean form of capitalist repression; and Joseph Beuys ironically monumentalized it. Enacting a Nietzschean flight into corporeal affirmation/negation, Hermann Nitsch’s and Otto Mühl’s Wiener Aktionismus group’s quasi-Dionysian performances often involved smearing the body with what appear to be its own secretions.

    This complex history of the scatological in art is reflected in the work of Austrian artist, Franz West, specifically in his investment in the art object as

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  • Jimmie Durham

    Nicole Klagsbrun

    Jimmie Durham is a liberating presence in the somewhat constricted moment of multicultural criticism, when, as Edward Said has warned in Culture and Imperialism, 1992, nativism, or an insistence on one’s own ethnicity as a kind of absolute, is in the ascendant. The post-Modern acknowledgement of and respect for cultural and ethnic difference has mutated into a fetishization of selfhood or what Freud called the narcissism of small differences. As identity politics turns bloody in Bosnia, India, and Ireland, difference is running amok. We seem to be entering that grim stage of the world cycle

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  • “I am the Enunciator”

    Thread Waxing Space

    In an interminable catalogue essay, curator Christian Leigh states, “We have an imminent and dire need to look for new ways to exhibit and install exhibitions.” Yet the show in question struck me as all too familiar—a kind of attempt to resuscitate the ’80s long enough to squeeze one last gasp out of them. In the manner of many large, self-consciously post-Modern group shows of recent years, Leigh gathered works that did not seem unified in either form or content.

    Traditionally (and it is already a tradition), this type of exhibition has certain goals. First, it attempts to undermine the Modernist

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  • Kerry James Marshall

    Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street

    Though not a self-taught artist, Kerry James Marshall has chosen to incorporate aspects of outsider art into his practice, placing the flat forms of his simplified figures within a shallow pictorial depth. Marshall’s use of naive art is deceptive, however, because he transforms the cheerfulness and charm we associate with such art into something subversive. As rooted in the tradition of the Blues, as he is grounded in his knowledge of Hollywood’s attitudes toward African-Americans, Marshall uses his knowledge of high art, folk art, and Pop culture to celebrate African-American culture and to

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  • Emil Lukas

    John Post Lee Gallery

    Emil Lukas’ medium is neither painting nor sculpture per se, but stratification. Though he may begin like a painter, with a surface, Emil Lukas compacts materials such as wood, glass, nails, rubber, oatmeal, motor oil, and paint into strata that encompass and surpass traditional modes of art-making. In Folded Collection, 1992, a large, rectangular piece of paper, placed on the floor, is divided into eight separate sections each of which undergoes a different transformative process: some are saturated, front and back, with painted abstractions, others are embroidered with needlepoint stitches

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  • Minnie Evans

    Luise Ross Gallery

    Though honored with a Whitney retrospective as early as 1975, it is only with the current embrace of the cultural “other” that Minnie Evans, an African-American artist from North Carolina, has had a chance to be understood as more than simply an art novelty. Evans belongs to the tradition of religious visionaries that includes James Hampton, J.B. Murray, and Sister Gertrude Morgan, among many others. Her oeuvre—a patchwork of Evangelical Christianity, African-American spiritualism, improvisation, and popular culture—was well represented in this show, which featured works ranging from the ’40s

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  • Mary Klein

    A.I.R. Gallery/Amos Eno Gallery

    Mary Klein’s performance Blue Tongues, 1993, was a wry, Hollywood-fashion-show parody of patriarchal power. A coolly errant sister whose unassuming appearance and pleasant demeanor belie her ability to catch a few philosophers of femininity with their proverbial pants down, Klein set about undressing figures ranging from Freud to Lacan to Krafft-Ebing and even Jesse Helms, rebuking their authority on “normal” female behaviors by revealing it to be as artificial as polyester. Slides detailing images of women from canonical paintings were projected past Klein’s contorted figure on a gauzy scrim,

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