reviews

  • Focus: “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    In the Whitney the women do not

    come and go

    Talking of Hopper or Rothko

    THE WOMEN WHO CIRCULATE most prominently at the Whitney these days are its daring curators: the ’93 Biennial, spearheaded by Elisabeth Sussman, and “Black Male,” curated by Thelma Golden, are the most visible signs of a change at the museum. Indeed the controversy surrounding such shows has defined the public perception that the museum’s collective mind is set on a revisionary course.

    Do I dare

    Disturb the universe?

    With this question T. S. Eliot turned his anxious doppelgänger J. Alfred Prufrock into an agent of the avant-garde,

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  • Rosemarie Trockel

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    “You want to provoke me? You virtually ask for this.” Thundering verbal abuse, the interrogator kicks her victim to the floor. “You are getting on my nerves, darling. You better watch it. Get up. Let’s try it again. Tell me the name of the best artist.”

    “Sylvie Fleury? You make my blood boil.” “Johns? You damn fool. You are playing with fire.” “Koons? You are risking your life, darling. Do you conspire against me? We are not playing. It’s real. You must be suffering from delusions of grandeur. Be a nice girl and we try this whole thing again. Who is the best artist?”

    “Trockel? You hit the jackpot.

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  • Lucas Samaras

    Pace | 32 East 57th Street

    At one time or another, Lucas Samaras has played Svengali to almost every currently fashionable art practice. His Polaroid images predate the reconstructed narcissism of the current but not-so-new school of photo self-portraitists; his psychedelic, quiltlike “Reconstructions” of the mid ’70s were putting in “more love hours than can ever be repaid,” a decade before Mike Kelly; and the legacy of his particular brand of scato-fetishism can be felt in just about every project that comes under the all-purpose umbrella of “installation art”—whether phobic, abject, or sexually transgressive. Yet

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  • Tony Oursler

    Metro Pictures

    In the midst of a jumble of pieces scattered in the darkly lit space, you could make out someone’s face—registering the kind of abject terror and nascent humiliation usually associated with an infant’s struggle to escape his crib—incarcerated in an oversized, capsulelike object. A tripod-based, miniature projection system faced this chirping visage (that of the artist himself), which stared back at the site of its origin: the video camera beaming the image into/onto the capsule form. Technically deft, Tony Oursler’s Instant Suckling, 1994, also coyly acknowledged the tradition of self-portraiture.

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  • Norman Bluhm

    Ace Gallery

    One of the most curious things about the “second generation” Abstract Expressionists is the need so many of them felt to renounce the very tradition from which they emerged. One could imagine the mature work of Al Held or Alfred Leslie having been made by artists who had never seen or heard of Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. There are exceptions to be sure—Joan Mitchell upheld the tradition, and so has Norman Bluhm. Indeed, though Bluhm’s most recent paintings are as impossible to extrapolate from his works of the ’50s as Held’s or Leslie’s, Bluhm, unlike those artists, has renounced

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  • Richard Diebenkorn

    Knoedler & Company

    The beauty of Richard Diebenkorn’s small paintings of the late ’50s and early ’60s is inseparable from their aura of resignation. Strangely, something about them recalls the late work of Malevich, of Tatlin, of Rodchenko and Stepanova—work Diebenkom could hardly have known—in which, after the wreckage of their utopian Modernisms, those artists returned to what seems a shockingly traditional form of painting. One might call Diebenkorn’s work, like theirs, painting without ambition, or in any case with no ambition in any sphere other than the most intimate one, a sphere in which art could be,

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  • Allan Wexler

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    Allan Wexler’s brilliantly inventive oeuvre, which consists of variations on and mutations of something far older than the novel or the easel painting—domestic architecture—should give hope to anyone suffering from the anxiety of influence. Perhaps the key to Wexler’s inventiveness lies in his description of himself as an architect trapped in an artist’s body. In architecture, the realm of the possible is often fenced in by practical exigencies (everything from the constraints of construction to the demands of clients) that can be swept aside when working on a smaller scale. Thus, in applying

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  • Christian Lemmerz

    DCA Gallery

    In his first New York solo show, Christian Lemmerz delights in injecting death and decay into an otherwise elegant and precise post-Minimalist esthetic. In Body Bag 1 & 2, 1994, two black body bags are labeled “vagina.” Augenzeugen (Lucy) [Eyewitness (Lucy), 1993-94] presents nine fish tanks filled with formaldehyde and pigs’ eyeballs. Embryo (Anal) II is comprised of what looks like a brown fetus pulled out of someone’s asshole. Naturally, such a project produces a certain je ne sais quoi that an accompanying catalogue essay describes as “revulsion,” and the press release deems “Evil.” In a

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  • Robert Beck

    I.C Editions, Inc. / Susan Inglett

    Is it evidence? Is it proof? Read between the lines. In a nation addicted to armchair investigation, it won’t be long before jury duty is something served at home in front of the TV, the verdict reached by pressing either the guilty or not guilty button on the remote control. Reflecting our increasing need to judge for ourselves, Robert Beck’s “true crime series” is part homage to the photo insert found in mass-market, “fact-based” paperbacks and part addition to a growing body of art based on documenting all the grisly details—what might be called “evidentiary art.”

    Beck’s series is made up of

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  • Jonathan Hammer

    Matthew Marks Gallery

    Pushing the livre deluxe to its luxurious limit, Jonathan Hammer collaborates with artists and writers to create tomes swollen with the uniqueness challenged by the artists’ books of the ’60s and ’70s that, motivated by specific political agendas, were often produced in relatively large quantities as inexpensive alternatives to the limited edition.

    Hammer, a kind of bibliophilic Warhol, gives himself over fully to the role of middleman—spine, hinge—to become artisan and patron saint of volumes so precious they are fittingly, albeit tellingly, encased in vitrines: you could look but neither touch

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  • Kim Dingle

    Jack Tilton Gallery

    Surrounded by teddy bears and lawn geese, chubby baby girls romp against cheery wallpaperlike grounds in Kim Dingle’s series of paintings, “the priss papers,” 1994. But Dingle isn’t after a storybook, nurseryroom atmosphere. These pictures are lushly and pleasurably naughty—a sure sign that somebody has been toying with desire. This is not the work of a well-behaved artist who colors inside the lines. Taking the girlish activity of drawing into the traditionally masculine realm of painting, Dingle’s line is all sensual brushwork. This hybrid of drawing and painting makes for unconventional

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  • Reverend William A. Blayney

    Phyllis Kind Gallery

    The charm of Reverend William A. Blayney’s recent show lay in the contrast between the size of the works (many measure only about a foot square and none approach the scale of much contemporary painting) and their quasi-mythical or religious subject matter—many-headed monsters, saintly knights on horseback, God seated on his throne in heaven. Words and thoughts appear in these pictures as halfdigested ideas or lingering, memorable phrases, the way they do in dreams. You can’t really decide, looking at them, if they’re the work of an exuberant and slightly deranged simpleton, or if Blayney is in

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  • Frank Gerritz

    Stark Gallery

    As the work of Frank Gerritz suggests, it is time to recognize the occult character of geometrical abstraction: to view it as a transition to Constructivism, as stylistic positivism does, is as misleading as to regard it as a symbol of sociopolitical revolution. The “desert” experience Kasimir Malevich claimed his Suprematist square affords is a mystical one. Malevich’s abstract geometry is an intellectually and emotionally accessible yet nonimagistic personification of the absolute, and the luminous field the “alternative,” heavenly space of transcendence in which it exists.

    The paradoxical,

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  • “Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar Era”

    Galerie St. Etienne

    All artists of the Weimar era, Hannah Höch, Käthe Kollwitz, and Jeanne Mammen would seem, on the surface, to have little in common. Kollwitz, a pacifist, posits women as inherently more caring and sensitive to suffering than men; Mammen, a popular illustrator, represents woman as powerful, autonomous, and glamorous; while Höch, the most avant-garde of the three (she was the coinventor of photomontage) suggests that gender, indeed identity, is a social construction.

    Though each artist successfully avoids slipping into stereotypes, a uniform vision of German-ness does inform their work: Kollwitz’s

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  • Charles Spurrier

    Thread Waxing Gallery

    Charles Spurrier adopts the role of artist as mender. He “paints” with the components of a first-aid kit, mapping stitchlike segments of thin black thread and gobs of pigmented petroleum jelly on sheets of translucent tape. His protoplasmic forms, muted variations on the glomming red biomorph in The Blob, 1958, have appeared on gallery walls in billboard-size reliefs.

    In his most recent show, Spurrier displayed smaller-scale, obsessively crafted examples of his tape-and-jelly pieces along with kitschy allover abstractions made of well-chewed bubble gum on board. Some of Spurrier’s vinyl squares

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  • Thornton Dial

    Ricco / Maresca Gallery

    Prior to his simultaneous solo museum shows in 1993, at the New Museum and the Museum of American Folk Art, few outside the relatively insular folk-art world were familiar with the work of Thornton Dial. By the late ’80s, Dial had gained a respectable following for his unique brand of funk assemblage—a homegrown art form that came to be celebrated as emblematic of a Southern, African-American sculptural vernacular. To the horror of folk purists, consistent patronage has allowed Dial to explore media not generally available to a self-taught artist in rural Alabama. Since 1990, he has moved from

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  • Gwenn Thomas

    Black + Greenberg

    When seen from a distance, Gwenn Thomas’ black and white grids on stretched linen might be mistaken for geometric abstract paintings, but upon closer examination it becomes clear that these grids have been pointedly mediated along photographic lines. Squares of material (paper, packing tape, and cardboard) in black, white, and gray have been laid out in rectangular grids on an off-white ground, photographed, probably enlarged, and then printed on linen treated with photoemulsion. Thomas stretched the linen over bars and hung the pieces without framing them. The resulting pictures are ethereal

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  • Pina Bausch

    brooklyn academy of music

    At first, constructing a narrative around Pina Bausch’s Two Cigarettes in the Dark, 1985, seems the only way to make sense of this grueling work. One could describe the set as an indoor pavilion at a zoo (exotic flora and fauna in one showcase, desert plants and sand in another, and tanks of goldfish in a third, all of which make up the back and side walls of the stage) and one could view the male and female dancers on stage as specimens for a study of human behavior, but developing such a scenario risks rationalizing the unrelenting cruelty to women in this technically splendid production. Men

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