reviews

  • Focus: R. B. Kitaj

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    There are two paintings in the R. B. Kitaj retrospective that, with hindsight, look uncannily prophetic. One is called Whistler vs. Ruskin (Novella in Terre Verte, Yellow and Red), 1992, and portrays the expatriate American artist and his critical adversary as boxers, after George Bellows. Whistler has knocked a blue-haired Ruskin out of the ring. The other painting is called Against Slander, 1990–91, and concerning it Kitaj remarks, “At the very moment Cézanne was showing in the first Impressionist exhibition, the Hafetz Hayim, across Europe, published . . . his first book (translated as Hold

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  • Andreas Gursky

    303 Gallery

    Did photography “ruin” painting? This question, which achieved its 19th-century crystallization in Baudelaire’s famous complaint in “The Salon of 1859,” has nagged at critical consciousness ever since the advent of the medium. Various theorists from Walter Benjamin to Rosalind Krauss have attempted to unravel the Gordian knot that links painting and photography; none has yet discovered Alexander’s sword.

    In the 19th century, Romantic pictorialists like the Victorian grandes dames Julia Margaret Cameron and Lady Hawarden reveled in the camera’s power to transform real-life objects and people into

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  • Sarah Lucas

    Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

    If nothing else, Sarah Lucas’ sometimes abrasive, invariably funny art puts paid to the myth of British decorum. Delivered with the visual equivalent of a belch, Lucas’ work turns the tables on her American audience, placing the dainty tea cup in the hands of those who espouse the politically correct. Though the “fuck off” quotient that previously afforded her work its Doberman bite may be somewhat diluted in her recent show, this in no way signals that she has surrendered to the protocols of identity politics. Rather, in redirecting attention from the expletive to the sculptural, this latest

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  • Nan Goldin

    Matthew Marks Gallery

    How often I need a gentle reminder that life (art) is going on, not somewhere else but here, at hand. This is what people do is what I thought, this is how they live, reminding me I had and am, you have and are. Life has names like Siobhan, Brian, Millie, Scarpota, French Chris, Gilles, Gotscho, Geno, Amanda, Alf Bold, Ric and Randy, Kee, Inoue, Nyoro, Chisato, Tamika and Cee-lo, David, Dieter, Kiki, Cookie and Vittorio and Max, Suzanne, and Jimmy Paul. There is life and there is beauty, concepts most themselves when becoming one another.

    Art as hymn or ballad to life, only too aware of the brutal

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  • Philip Pearlstein

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Philip Pearlstein is usually regarded as a master realist, a consummate observer who renders the nude with a startling precision that makes it seem peculiarly alien and enigmatic, fresh rather than familiar. But such a reading neglects that he is, in fact, an abstract painter, indeed one of the first to realize that flatness had exhausted itself, and to replace it—or complement it—with the body. In Pearlstein’s hands the figure becomes a rounded surface full of intricate detail that often form a peculiarly weightless, even wry pattern. The complexity of the skin’s surface is not only pictured,

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  • Christopher Wilmarth

    Sidney Janis Gallery

    Like so many Modernists before him, Christopher Wilmarth sought to ground “transcendental” geometrical forms in order to invest them with self-expressive power, while satisfying the less conspicuous, and perhaps deeper, human need for self-transcendence. There are several standard means of infusing what Plato called the eternal intelligibles with affect. The basic ones—establishing an emotionally resonant proportion between discreet geometrical parts, and/or coloring or shading them—have been in use since antiquity. Wilmarth employs these to advantage, but what makes his art distinctive is that,

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  • James Brown

    Leo Castelli

    Reticent yet intensely seductive, the art of James Brown is poised between roughness and refinement, violence and grace. His recent works range from large, tonally subtle mixed-media pieces on stretched canvas, to pencil drawings on sheets of linen folded into rectangles, and brush-drawings on linen in luminous, transparent color. Their status as beautiful art objects is subverted by their formal modesty and their oblique invocation of ritual, which is reminiscent of the totemic motifs woven throughout his work of the ’80s.

    Brown’s occasional use of unstretched linen as a substitute for stretched

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  • Doug Martin

    Charles Cowles Gallery

    Of late, there has been much ado about mapping in Manhattan. Curator Robert Storr mounted his ode to the cartographic at the Museum of Modern Art last fall, prompting a counter-exhibition at the SoHo gallery American Fine Arts. Both shows clearly demonstrated that mapping is more than a means of navigating space, indeed in the hands of an artist it often becomes a quasi-conceptual mode of representation.

    Offering a somewhat different spin on this now well-trodden territory, Doug Martin often paints directly on the maps he selects, teasing the cartographer’s lines into his own territorial vignettes

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  • David Reed

    Max Protetch

    David Reed’s churning ribbons of futuristic color undulate across the surface with cool voluptuousness, as if the paint had been applied with a large serpentine tongue rather than a palette knife. Given such painterly erotics, it makes sense that Reed would come to think himself a “bedroom painter”—a “school” first suggested to him by the way owners of John McLaughlin’s paintings would regularly move them from the living room to the bedroom in order to live with the work most intimately. When someone asked Reed which bedroom he wanted his own painting to occupy, he thought immediately of the

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  • William Anastasi

    Sandra Gering Gallery

    If, as a subject, blindness has been pervasive in contemporary art, it has been nearly as ubiquitous as a method of production. Robert Morris’ “Blind Time,” drawings are perhaps the best-known examples of the pursuit of art through the deliberate denial of vision, a willful and fascinated magnification of the moment of blindness inherent in any originary gesture, as if distending this moment would, paradoxically, make it visible. The earliest and certainly the most sustained explorations of this kind, however, are the “unsighted” paintings and drawings that William Anastasi began back in 1963

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  • Alan Belcher

    Jack Shainman Gallery

    Although Alan Belcher’s work has been visible for more than a decade, it has never attracted a broad audience. Part of this has to do with the critical discourse that surrounded photography during the ’80s, with its limiting, even formalist emphasis on the rather banal notion that the photograph was a mediated image not a window on reality. But some of the blame must also be laid at Belcher’s feet: he has tended to overstate the degree to which a single piece or series can effectively engage both sculptural and photographic issues. Not only have his efforts in this direction often resulted in

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  • Ann Messner

    Bill Maynes Gallery

    Though Ann Messner’s previous work—everyday, no-longer-functional objects and appliances, embedded in wax or wrapped in lead—may have communicated the pathos of the commodity become relic, it seemed cut off from the complexities of subjective expression. The artist’s recent exhibition at this small SoHo venue, marked an abrupt shift in her approach both to materials and to the mechanics of display. No longer playfully extending the tradition of the readymade, Messner, in her most recent show, employed a wide range of media to create a mysterious, moving tableau.

    The central and most arresting

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  • “Bunnies”

    David Nolan Gallery

    Bunnies—unlike the “death of painting,” the “rebirth of abstraction,” or the “return to figuration”—are rarely the conceptual framework for a group show. Bunnies are thought to be cute, huggable, cuddly; even the word, which rhymes with “funny” and “sunny,” connotes something infinitely friendlier, happier, goofier than art, which almost never aspires to cuteness and only infrequently allows itself to be touched, let alone cuddled. In “Bunnies,” the apparent incompatibility between this fuzzy creature and the work of art is embodied by Dieter Roth’s Rabbit, 1975, which insinuates that even shit

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  • Elizabeth Peyton

    Gavin Brown's Enterprise | Downtown

    If her charmingly antiquated paintings are any indication, Elizabeth Peyton harbors a major crush on the late, great Kurt Cobain. Peyton’s neo-Romantic works resonate with the kind of libidinal melancholia—or posthumous-sub-pop-hero-worship—commonly associated with fawning teenagers enamored of their idol’s sexy, nihilistic tendencies. Here, we are discreetly reminded that, pushing tendency into reality, Cobain blew his brains out in his Seattle home last spring.

    While still alive, Kurt might have dwelled somewhat uncomfortably in the heart-shaped box of Courtney’s love, but he ended up in an a

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  • Jacob Lawrence

    Various Venues

    Three recent shows together comprised the first retrospective view of Jacob Lawrence’s work in nearly a decade, offering a welcome reevaluation of his oeuvre. This impressive showing of 118 paintings testified to Lawrence’s ability to communicate with both art-world and non-art-world audiences—a quality that has predictably compromised his place in the still narrowly defined Modernist canon.

    Perhaps Lawrence’s ambiguous position in the history of American art has something to do with the fact that his series “The Migration of the Negro,” 1941, completed when he was just 24, met with a critical

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  • Aharon Gluska

    Robert Mann Gallery

    Aharon Gluska’s early abstract paintings achieved a contradictory beauty by balancing conceptual coolness and gestural expansiveness. These paintings often featured dark grounds from which abstract and geometric shapes seemed to emerge. Over the past five years, Gluska has replaced these shapes with identity photographs of Auschwitz detainees taken by the Nazis, drawn from the archives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

    His recent installation of “photographic paintings” presented these photographs through varying layers of mediation. In some cases, Gluska glued the photographs

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  • Molissa Fenley

    Joyce Theater

    When Molissa Fenley collapsed from a severe knee injury on the opening night of her season at the Joyce Theater and was forced to cancel all remaining shows, she was midway into a solo rendition of her work Bridge of Dreams, 1994, performed just six months earlier by dancers of the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin. Because of the expenses involved in bringing members of the company to New York, Fenley had stoically resolved to present a solo version of this work instead. For those who had seen the Berlin performance of Bridge of Dreams, however, the absence of the other dancers infused her solo

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