reviews

  • the Whitney Biennial 1995

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Long before Klaus Kertess was announced as curator of the 1995 Whitney Biennial, the handwriting was on the wall: next time around, it would be a painting show. His appointment confirmed that instead of a multiculti blitzkrieg we would be presented with a show of “sensibility.” The barrage of advance press reported on the studios Kertess visited, what he liked and what he didn’t, and announced time and again his foggy organizing principle: the central role of metaphor in art. After the opening I went out looking for fans of the 1995 Biennial. I didn’t find many. Aside from the usual gripes

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  • the Whitney Biennial 1995: Film and Video

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Founded in 1970, some 40 years after the Whitney Biennial itself, the film-and-video section could easily be called an afterthought or, as another critic recently put it, a “sideshow.” It doesn’t take long to grasp the distinguishing dimensions of the Biennial’s main exhibition as compared to its film-and-video section: one flows, if not overflows, through the entire space of the museum; the other has time on its side, changing its look every other day until June 18. Technically one cannot even visit the film-and-video section: you either flirt with it, checking out whatever program is currently

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  • “Art from Brazil in New York”

    Twenty-five years ago, on the occasion of the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark international exhibition “Information,” Cildo Meireles declared “I am here in this exhibition to defend neither a career nor any nationality,” a sentiment echoed by his fellow artist Hélio Oiticica, who proclaimed “I am not here representing Brazil, or representing anything else.” Today these statements evoke a bygone era of internationalism: the reduction of artistic substance to the trope of “information” implied a logic of universal equivalence in the esthetic realm that promised an easy traversal of political and

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  • Frank Moore

    Sperone Westwater

    In “Days of 1964” the poet James Merrill wrote: “I hoped it would climb when it needed to the heights/Even of degradation, as I for one/Seemed, those days, to be always climbing/Into a world of wild/Flowers, feasting, tears—or was I falling, legs/Buckling, heights, depths/Into a pool of each night’s rain?” Like Merrill, Frank Moore seems to be unsure of when he is rising and when he is falling; hovering tentatively in the same electric, soul-wrenching, longed-for space of pending despair. Moore’s recent work shares the passionate engagement, richness of experience, and technical self-assurance

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  • Allan McCollum

    John Weber Gallery

    Allan McCollum’s latest series, “Natural Copies From the Coal Mines of Central Utah,” 1994–95, is equal parts Jurassic Park, Walter Benjamin, Marcel Duchamp, Claes Oldenburg, Sol LeWitt, and even Franz West. Offering endless recastings of dinosaur tracks that have already undergone a natural casting process, this group of new works can be read as the third installment that began with the artists’ series “Lost Objects,” 1991–, (endless recastings of dinosaur bone fossils) and “The Dog from Pompeii,” 1990–, (endless recastings of that notoriously blackened and contorted canine form ).

    Discovered

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  • Andrea Zittel

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    Andrea Zittel wants to make our lives a little bit more livable, and she’s determined enough to have established an “administrative services” business that promises to enhance our domestic experiences through a marriage of art, design, and architecture. Under the auspices of her pseudocompany “A to Z Administration,” Zittel both manufactures and tests utilitarian/art objects—or “prototypes” as she prefers to call them—within the comforts of her own home, regularly inviting friends over to sample the goods. In a sense, all of her artworks are objects of utility—or is it the other way around?

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  • Melissa Miller

    Holly Solomon

    In Melissa Miller’s apocalyptic allegories, animals articulate psychic states, existential problems, and, more obliquely, environmental issues. At times death triumphs as in Broken Wing, 1986, in which the fate of a white bird is sealed by its threatening surroundings. In the beautifully painted New Skin, 1988, a vital tiger, as yellow as the sun, emerges from the dark body of a doomed deer—an extraordinary image of spontaneous metamorphosis. Again and again we see the same conflict of life and death forces set in an ominous, haunted, fairy-tale landscape, the morbidity and ecstasy reminiscent,

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  • Wassily Kandinsky

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    In the recent show of Wassily Kandinsky’s most “symphonic works”—ten compositions and related sketches and drawings—the group of officially spontaneous works (Nos. I–VI) seemed, somewhat surprisingly, all too constructed and full of faux esprit, while his supposedly most constructed works (Nos. VII–X) read as remarkably spontaneous and spiritual. The former were made when both Kandinsky’s artistic career and the century were still young. After much ambiguous effort, Kandinsky established his identity as the “first abstractionist,”—indeed, abstract expressionist (the term was first applied to

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  • David Diao

    Postmasters

    Failure: no one wants to become one and yet as a theme it is one of the 20th century’s privileged topoi. Long before post-Modernism’s esthetic and ideological valorization of incompletion and irresolution over “organic unity,” high-Modernist literary exemplars mined the rich thematic vein of failure: the narrator’s pathetic failure to quit smoking in Italo Svevo’s The Confessions of Zeno; and the literal failure of the characters to move, buried as they are in sand up to the neck, in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days.

    In the realm of painting, failure is a no less popular theme, particularly since

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  • Nicola Tyson

    Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

    Nicola Tyson excels at figure studies of the human body—not as it is but as it could be. Like a balloon artist, Tyson twists a basic form into novel arrangements, building an inner pressure that erupts in unexpected evaginations and bulbous erections. Little holes denote misplaced anuses, vestigial urethras, or other orifices of obscure purpose. In Self-Portrait: Early ’70s (all works 1995), a figure—isolated against a flatly painted background that nevertheless suggests the corner of a room—stands with her feet pointed at the viewer and her head at the corner, truncated arms groping blindly

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  • Polly Apfelbaum

    Hirschl & Adler Modern

    Polly Apfelbaum combines a Depression-era resourcefulness with an almost compulsive need to acquire material goods. Her witty, neo-Minimalist works are comprised of sera ps of crushed velvet, snapshots, pieces of felt, and bedsheets worn soft and thin that are dyed, chopped up, and reassembled into quilts or laid out in methodical rows, Victory Garden style. Apfelbaum’s most recent exhibition featured four series of works on paper and three stained-fabric constructions that sit somewhere between painting and sculpture, such as Ashes III, 1993–95, in which petals of velvet, sooty with ink, accrue

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  • Robin Hill

    Lennon, Weinberg

    For this exhibition of new sculptures and drawings, Robin Hill made four thousand casts of paper cups and dyed them ballpoint-pen blue. Unlike Bruce Nauman’s cast of the underside of a chair, Hill’s casts make no attempt to evoke the thing itself through its negative; rather, they chart an open territory. Lined up to create patterns that wheel and spin across the floor, Hill’s uniform units suggest a gargantuan spirograph. There were three sculptures formed from lots of casts, all untitled, taking over most of the floor space. These sculptures were all quite gracious—lots of floor shone through—and

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  • June Leaf

    Edward Thorp Gallery

    What constitutes June Leaf’s genius also makes her something of a throwback or an anomaly, an artist whose work looks back, through that of Giacometti and Picasso, to the primitive impulse to make images. Known primarily as a painter, which is also how she sees herself, Leaf surrounded the paintings exhibited in her most recent show with a broad selection of sculpture from the mid ’70s to the present. Although Leaf’s sculpture began in the ’60s with Joseph Cornell–like boxes—concretizations of ideas whose origins are painterly“ (as Dennis Adrian wrote at the time of Leaf’s 1978 retrospective)—it

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  • Nancy Davidson

    Richard Anderson Fine Arts

    The first thing about Nancy Davidson’s new sculptures is that they are large—not in the way something architectural is large, despite their bigger-than-life scale, but more the way a person can be. Even the relatively smaller pieces, which Davidson calls “ Girl Guides,” 1994–95, have the overfed look of chubby teenagers. If you were to think of abstract Boteros, you’d be on the right track. And as with Botero, the scent of kitsch is in the air. These rotund, anthropomorphic masses, suspended from the ceiling or resting on beanbag-chair “pedestals,” are less threatening than comically seductive.

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  • Maureen Gallace

    Nicole Klagsbrun

    To trace the lineaments of American landscape painting is to open up a thousand vistas, many imaginary or fantastic, some microscopic, and others immeasurable. Maureen Gallace stakes our a humble stretch, an acre or so, with a horizon bounded by low trees, maybe some water in the foreground, and a couple of houses hunkered down in the middle. It’s a deceptively simple formula. Such reductions have been stock in trade for other landscape painters, such as Albert York, who reveal the paradoxical in the simple. Gallace erases from her landscapes all descriptive detail beyond the play of light on

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  • Jennifer Bolande

    John Gibson Gllery

    Jennifer Bolande has built a career from slippery, almost ephemeral visual statements. Though she has always enjoyed spinning out image-puns alongside the vast majority of her more attention-grabbing contemporaries, it’s never been in the service of an easily paraphrasable message about identity or politics, or both. In fact, it isn’t until you “get” her pieces that the peculiarities of her investigation begin to sink in. Bolande probes the sorts of slippages that take place in everyday life: the moment when one thing momentarily overlaps with another and the distinctions between objects, between

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  • Jane Freilicher

    Fischbach Gallery

    There are painters who search constantly for new and surprising subject matter. There are others, like Jane Freilicher, who are content to paint what is close at hand—the view from a studio window, a vase of flowers, a can of paintbrushes, or a glass of cranberry juice. For years Freilicher has been composing subtle and graceful variations on the same few themes, with the result that (for example) the ConEdison tower and the cedars that border her garden in Watermill have assumed the character of dramatis personae in a novel or a memoir one never tires of reading. Paradoxically, the great

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  • G. Daniel Massad

    Tatistcheff & Co. Inc.

    G. Daniel Massad’s still lifes depict strangely beautiful quotidian objects set against seemingly impenetrable black backgrounds, their textures and shapes illuminated by a subtle play of light. Massad, clearly a master of the genre, does not plumb this tradition to suggest the comforts of domesticity, rather, he infuses both his subject matter and what surrounds it with a sense of the weight of history, of the corrosive effects of time. The jagged, well-worn edges of the stone ledges on which his forms rest in works such as Things Left Behind, 1993, Shelter to Grow Ripe, 1994, and I Walk In

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  • Laurie Anderson

    Neil Simon Theater

    In her latest piece, The Nerve Bible, 1995, Laurie Anderson logs into the remotest regions of terra firma and cyberspace, restaging the puckish persona of Home of the Brave, 1985. Broadcasting aphorisms about time, history, and especially mortality, Anderson prances among the simulated girders of her stage set (which at one point resemble an industrial-age Stonehenge) or creates her own mischievous, biomechanical semaphore: she flicks a wrist and we get her voice mail; computers beep, Anderson’s heart beats.

    The title of her piece refers to the human body itself, oddly morphed through Anderson’s

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