reviews

  • Oliver Wasow

    Janet Borden, Inc.

    On the photographic evidence alone, it would scarcely be illogical to infer that Oliver Wasow is the last man on earth. His expertly manipulated, uninhabited color photographs have been compared to Romantic landscape paintings for their sense of sublimity, desolation, and grandeur; but the suggestively postapocalyptic scenes they depict are less landscapes than sites—landscape neutralizes any link between history and a given location (one would never refer to Treblinka as a landscape), while site suggests a place where something definite has transpired (Hiroshima, site of the first atomic bomb

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  • Gary Simmons

    Metro Pictures

    Popular culture has long been one of this country’s leading exports. A designer label for vibrancy, inventiveness, and creativity pressed into double duty as a trademark of freedom and individualism, it is a means of marketing American identity both at home and abroad. Contemporary popular culture is a euphemism not only for youth culture, but for African-American youth culture. While we might feel cozy enough with the sanitized images MTV packages, there remains plenty of surplus anxiety over the radicality of today’s youth, particularly when we notice that we are no longer counted among them.

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  • Andrea Zittel

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    While the old school of formalist sculpture has all but expired for lack of blood, “real-time systems” art has come galloping over the horizon. With a tip of the hat to Jack Burnham and Hans Haacke, recent generations of artists have widened the “systemic” sphere to include forms of narrative grounded not only in a range of social sciences, but in social fictions as well—precisely what gives this version of ’60s redux new relevancy. At the intersection of science and fiction, we have long exercised our cultural option to imaginatively invent a plethora of contemporary futures as a means of

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  • Mel Kendrick

    John Weber Gallery

    The fascination with wood grain has a long Modernist history, from Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch through Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque to Max Ernst and André Masson. Mel Kendrick’s woodblock “relief” drawings (all 1993) are a remarkable contribution to that history, reaffirming one’s sense of the medium as a liminal matrix of visual meaning. More particularly, wood grain signifies the organic—earthy, bodily—root of the creative process. Its appearance is uncanny: it looks irregular, random, and unintelligible, yet also fraught with profound meaning. In fact, it is a precise, decipherable

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  • George Platt Lynes

    Grey Art Gallery

    Collected by the Kinsey Institute as documentation of homosexuality, George Platt Lynes’ photographs enjoy a certain notoriety. But in this survey, which located these images in the context of Lynes’ production as a whole, their dated artiness was more conspicuous than the sexuality they were meant to depict. Indeed, it seemed clear that for Lynes homosexuality had more to do with a certain manner of self-presentation than with a certain kind of sexual act. The intimacy of Lynes’ couples (sometimes triples) is in fact undermined by their dramatic positioning and posturing—the scenes seem more

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  • Carl Andre

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    Can visual art and poetry be one and the same? Displaying 600 pages of writing in vitrines against the gallery walls as though they were drawings certainly frustrates some of the usual desiderata for reading poetry. Carl Andre’s exhibition “Words” consisted of some 600 sheets typed by the artist between 1958 and 1972. The poet’s hand is usually nothing to his poem, and no typeface used to reproduce it is likely to affect the poem’s existence. Though the display of Andre’s poems—as holographic sheets—makes them difficult to read, it does put us in the frame of mind to see them. That they were

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  • Nancy Bowen

    Annina Nosei Gallery

    These days, Louise Bourgeois–inspired sculpture seems ubiquitous, but Nancy Bowen gives a newly sharpened edge to biomorphic sculpture through a finely calibrated use of diverse materials such as glass, clay, bronze, wax, and synthetic hair; witty and pointed extrapolations of form; a cross-pollination of craft traditions with specifically sculptural concerns; but especially through the intensity of her investment in the by now stock thematics of “the body.”

    Typical of Bowen’s concerns and methods is Aural Obsession, 1992–93, one of the largest of the 12 sculptures here (there were also four

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  • Julian Trigo

    Grand Salon

    Julian Trigo’s paintings are more readily thought of as drawings on canvas. This is not only because of the medium used—charcoal on a uniform color ground in each work—but because of the sketchy linear style, and above all the intimate, quasi-pornographic nature of the imagery, which has a richer tradition in drawing than in the more public art of painting.

    Trigo depicts children rapt in somehow innocent yet twisted erotic delvings. This is definitely a pregenital phase—the sex play is all mouths and hands. The sense of personal boundaries breaks down; it becomes hard to say where one body ends

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  • Michael Bergt

    Midtown Payson Galleries

    Michael Bergt’s multifaceted exhibition—panels of egg tempera on gesso, large bronzes, a room full of etchings—aptly demonstrated his enormous technical proficiency. Everything in it looked great from the far side of the room. The work was animated, colorful, highly polished. You immediately sensed its possibilities, and wanted to like it.

    Bergt’s paintings have such an unearthly beauty—the details and skyscapes of Northern Renaissance altarpieces, lovely colors, odd architectural and structural details—that they seem to promise a new vision, some strange conjunction of social realism and

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  • Lorna Simpson

    Josh Baer Gallery

    Treading the murky waters between (self)objectification and narcissism, Lorna Simpson offers something like an in absentia presence within the realm of the picture. The camera is there to be stubbornly refused, like the violative gaze of a stranger. Yet it is the artist who has set herself up as that stranger, unwilling to complete the gesture of (self)portraiture, an unwillingness reinforced by the cropped-out face and the overlays of text that seem designed to recode the body under observation. The image/text interplay seems to propose the following admonition: You cannot name me, and therefore

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  • Ante-America

    Queens Museum

    Ante-America,” translated in the catalogue as “Regarding America,” is a group show of Latin American art curated by Gerardo Mosquera, Rachel Weiss, and Carolina Ponce de Leon; it originated in Bogotá, Colombia and is currently at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Alongside the more ambitious show at the Museum of Modern Art, “Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century,” and the related show, “Space of Time: Contemporary Art from the Americas,” at the Americas Society, it offered New York an extraordinary opportunity to attempt to come to terms with a cultural presence that to white

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  • Erika Rothenberg And Tracy Tynan

    P.P.O.W

    Art has often moved in and out of, or otherwise engaged with, the real world. Such work, by positioning itself outside the gallery or manipulating “nonart” material within conventional spaces, acquires an edge by threatening the admittedly fine line we draw between fiction and reality, art and life. Acting like scientists, anthropologists, private detectives, or journalists, artists like Hans Haacke haul in artifacts from the real world as “evidence,” which they analyze and interpret to argue specific points. Working in the same vein, Erika Rothenberg and Tracy Tynan created an installation

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  • Dona Nelson

    Michael Klein, Inc.

    Dona Nelson’s recent show of anxious, cloth-sculpted and poured-enamel abstractions was as dislocating as it was inviting. Subterranean moods bubbled up through loosely strung muslin forms, dividing and multiplying acrylic surfaces in dramatic sweeps of dead-black and green or blinding-white enamel. As the title of one piece, Greedy Winter, 1993, might suggest, Nelson’s paintings threaten to swallow themselves along with the viewer’s eye. Their odd compositions make havoc of natural order in a disjunctive combination of art and artisanship, undermining the works’ meditative beauty with anarchistic

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  • Larry Mantello

    José Freire Fine Art

    As you grow older, Christmas begins to give you the same vague feeling of disappointment that you get the first time you run into your favorite celebrity in the bathroom. There’s no more Santa, holidays aren’t holy, and for anyone who has suffered through some brand of academic Marxism, you can’t even enjoy the yuletide extravaganza of consumerism without feeling like you’re perpetuating class oppression. Blissfully unaffected by all of this, Larry Mantello makes art that never grew up: his sculptural assemblages of mall-style commodities, many of which are thematized according to holidays and

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  • Willie Birch

    SculptureCenter

    A native of New Orleans and a resident of Brooklyn, Willie Birch has focused primarily on telling the story of black urban life through sophisticated visual portraits and fables. His figurative, brightly colored narrative paintings and papier-mâché sculptures are informed by folk and funk in equal measure. But in his recent installation, entitled Spirit House, 1993, Birch set his sights on three African-American traditions of the rural South: the yard show, the shotgun shack, and the bottle tree. Lining the perimeter of the central room with a variety of empty bottles and dried flowers, he

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  • Martha Meyer Erlebacher

    Fischbach Gallery

    While Martha Mayer Erlebacher has certainly studied the history of art, and has looked hard at the rich tradition of allegorical painting, she is neither a neo-Classicist nor a rigid adherent of any theory of contemporary narrative painting. Instead she is guided in her treatment of form and content by a firm belief that, as she has said on occasion, “the human experience is the proper subject matter of art.”

    Erlebacher, unlike some of her contemporaries, allows herself to vary her technique. Compared with her meticulous applications of a few years ago, the brushwork employed here was relatively

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  • Gerhard Richter

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    Sometimes I have lunch at a burrito joint near my house. In the bathroom, there is a small oblong painting, sort of a thrift-store abstraction, bearing an appropriately indecipherable signature that looks like it could be “Starck.” Painted on fiberboard, or a similar industrial-looking material, and screwed into the wall at each of its four corners, its surface and means of support could be compared to those of a Robert Ryman. But with its wedges of too-bright, acidulous red and yellow, it really looks like an unwitting parody of a Gerhard Richter abstraction. The composition is roughly unified

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