reviews

  • Martin Puryear

    McKee Gallery

    When writing on Martin Puryear critics routinely refer to the two years he spent in Sierra Leone as the source of the “primitivist” strain they discern in his work. This may be well-intentioned but it is also racist. Puryear is black, but this does not necessarily give him a privileged access to the primal or the primordial. Nor is there anything primitive about the highly evolved art of West Africa. Furthermore, immediately after his sojourn in Sierra Leone he moved to Stockholm, where he studied the techniques of the world’s most sophisticated woodworkers—techniques of lamination and joinery

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  • Leigh Bowery

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    Every time he got dressed and undressed, every time he posed, coifed, put on makeup, stitched a sequin in place, Leigh Bowery asked, Where does the body end? It does not end with skin, it does not end with a sheath of latex or stacked platforms but perhaps close to there; it does not end with you, although at times perhaps you’d like it to, for another you not to be in your pores surging like acid, the thought of another you in your head headachy, in your mouth wanting such an entry to stop or not.

    Bowery was fond of lumpy obstetric bulges—around the stomach, of course, but also on the cheeks;

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  • George Stoll

    Morris Healy Gallery

    “My world is safe,” prays Julianne Moore in Todd Haynes’ recent movie. The dream of safety, of purity, of replenishment; the alleviation of worry, of second guesses; the banishment of rapid decomposition—it is a dream of home, of order’s comforts, of containment. What makes suburbia beautiful (plenitude, order, stylization, repetition) is what makes it scary (plenitude, order, stylization, repetition). The same may be said of Tupperware, whose elegant design belies the malaise of the leftover, the unused, the refrigerated. Brownie Wise, one of Earl Silas Tupper’s collaborators, helped formulate

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  • Not Vital

    Sperone Westwater

    With work that is simultaneously abstract and representational, mature and childlike, Not Vital mines the depths of our collective unconscious. Though initially his most recent pieces might seem to sit squarely within the Minimalist tradition, they have a personal, often sexual inflection. In his most recent exhibition it became clear that for Vital the process of making art is governed by the search for a primary, universal level of experience and identity. Upon entering the gallery we were presented with the artist’s name in 14 different languages—from Arabic to Wallachian—painted on the wall.

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  • Alberto Savinio

    Paolo Baldacci Gallery

    Alberto Savinio (1891–1952) spent much of his life trying to dodge the shadow cast by his older brother Giorgio de Chirico. Just as the need to establish a separate identity pushed him to adopt another name, so it may have stimulated the distinct singularity of his work in a number of different media. Savinio’s first efforts were as a composer and writer. While his music is no longer played, his remarkable books—fiction, plays, essays—remain highly regarded in Italy, and several have been translated into English. Savinio’s first efforts as a painter, around 1926, show clear evidence of the

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  • Joyce Pensato

    Max Protetch

    Joyce Pensato’s work serves as a reminder that not all painting with cartoon imagery derives from Pop art. Although Donald, Mickey, and the rest of the Disney crew—along with the occasional interloper from more contemporary cartoons, such as Bart Simpson—form the basis of Pensato’s imagery, her paintings and wall drawings are much more closely related to Abstract Expressionism than to the work of Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol. The black and white enamel Pensato uses was very much Jackson Pollock’s medium of choice in 1951–52, and one cannot help but recall the black and white oil of Franz

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  • Igor Mitoraj

    Marisa Del Re Gallery

    In an age when Modernist values have become art-historical clichés, or at least seem less convincing and consequential than they once did, Igor Mitoraj’s classically based sculpture raises a number of intriguing issues. Reaching beyond the anti-classical reductivism of Brancusi, which has itself become classical—so much so that artists such as Carl Andre and Richard Serra have rendered its ideal of radical simplicity decadent and hollow—Mitoraj returns to the sublimity of the Laocoön.

    As the Laocoön makes clear, beauty does not mean loss of passion or agony, but rather its distillation. Ironically,

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  • Michael Spano

    Laurence Miller Gallery

    Michael Spano’s black and white photographs document the wrecks of the bunkers that once formed what was known as the “Atlantic Wall”—Nazi Europe’s line of defense against Allied invasion. At times, Spano zeroes in on a bunker, revealing its peculiarly absurd if still ominous character; at others, he shows a bunker heroically isolated against bleak terrain that stretches to a distant horizon. Clearly, there is something more to these eloquently stark photographs than the urge to document the instruments of war: the bunker becomes a monument to human folly, a metaphor for the futility of civilization

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  • Allan Kaprow

    John Gibson Gallery

    “Once, the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid making art of any kind,” wrote Allan Kaprow in a 1966 manifesto, formulating a paradox that has come to pervade his entire oeuvre. The Happenings and Environments through which he made his name in the ’50s and ’60s all attempted to merge art and life, to bring the audience inside the work instead of leaving it standing stupidly around in front of it. Kaprow has never ceased to make works or pen position papers (such as “The Education of the Un-Artist: Part II,” 1972, and “Art Which Can’t Be Art,” 1986) that decry this separation

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  • Kazumi Tanaka

    Kent Gallery

    As if to allay doubts concerning its status as art, kinetic sculpture tends, rather too predictably, either to eschew functionality entirely or to produce some “quirky” effect. Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, bouncing and shaking itself to pieces on a stage at MoMA in 1960, is the Modernist patriarch of a whimsically Luddite line of sculptures—Rebecca Horn’s allegorical contraptions and the war machine that mangled the right hand of its creator, Marc Pauline, number among its many direct descendants.

    The work of Kazumi Tanaka, a young Japanese sculptor, is on the whole no exception. However,

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  • Lincoln Tobier

    Pat Hearn Gallery / Gavin Brown’s Enterprise

    Two concurrent projects by the same artist, one aspiration: to reopen the discussion about the relationship between visual art and the “public” sphere. Lincoln Tobier’s Studies for: (It all comes together in) Ruckus L.A., 1995, at Pat Hearn, and Mini-A.M., 1995, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, represent the most recent articulations of Tobier’s effort to establish new connections between “artistic activity” and diverse sociocultural arenas. These projects may suggest that Tobier subscribes to a canonized set of principles about socially engaged artmaking. However, given that failure is built into

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  • Mary Lucier

    Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

    Through a rich interweaving of different media, Mary Lucier’s Last Rites (Positano), 1995, reconstructed a distant moment of her recently deceased mother’s past. Lucier transformed the gallery into a dramatically lit, cavernous space, and filled it with speakers, video monitors, her mother’s furniture, and photographs. The result was less a testament to the loss of her mother than to the mechanisms of memory itself.

    At the center of Last Rites was a narrative of adventure, romance, and tragedy: Lucier’s mother, Margaret Glosser, an Ohio native, traveled abroad as a young woman, met and fell in

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  • “Art of the Other Mexico”

    El Museo del Barrio

    Dedicated to César Chávez, “Art of the Other Mexico: Sources and Meanings” examined the complexities of bicultural identity through 70 new and recent works by 20 artists. The common denominator here was a focus on the rich traditions of Mexican visual culture: contemporary Chicano experience was explored through the recuperation of Mexican folk, religious, and urban traditions. While in the late ’60s this strategy of cultural reclamation was viewed as a direct form of resistance to the dominant Anglo culture, today such fervid political agendas have been replaced by the more amorphous goals of

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  • Claude Simard

    Jack Shainman Gallery | West 20th Street

    Dominating Claude Simard’s installation, a string of letters cascaded down one wall of the exhibition space. Cut from cotton, stuffed, stitched, and strung like fish on a line, they were hung in so many layers that it was difficult to decipher the individual names they spelled. This overwhelming cacophony was meant to evoke a particular place—a small French Canadian village called Larouche, from which this New York–based artist hails—through the names of its denizens. Simard also portrayed his hometown in photographs of its inhabitants in moments of leisure and of local landmarks, such as the

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  • Melissa Smedley

    Franklin Furnace

    Though Melissa Smedley’s sculptures are clearly the descendants of furry teacups and spidery hat racks, unlike their Dada and Surrealist ancestors, they are neither extravagant nor irreverent. A pragmatist of sorts, Smedley reformulates cast-off objects and clothes, appliances and electronics, for real, albeit quixotic, purposes. Her “recombinant objects,” as she calls them, suggest tools and props, though it is difficult (if pleasurable) to imagine what their uses might be without some sort of demonstration. Hanging from the ceiling in her most recent installation Water Table (all works

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  • Prisoner of Love

    New York Theater Workshop

    On a steeply raked, lime green stage, downtown doyenne Ruth Maleczech, who plays Jean Genet in the theatrical adaptation of his posthumously published Prisoner of Love, 1986, capers beneath a crystal chandelier and a plastic tarpaulin, at the very edge of the stage. This behavior literalizes Genet’s assertion that “a border is where human personality expresses itself most fully.” Appropriate, too, is the haze-filled theater space, blurring lines of sight, conjuring the “faint intoxication” of his last book’s maelstrom of lust and power. Director JoAnne Akalaitis and composer Philip Glass—with

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