reviews

  • the “1997 Biennial Exhibition”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Several years ago, circa 1990, I attended the opening of a then-fashionable abstract painter, one of whose favored motifs was an Escherian stairway. There seemed to be a lot of repetition going on, and a lot of busy handiwork. The paintings were well received; they sold, and for considerable sums of money (this artist was still “a young artist”). My friends and I didn’t understand them, or rather, we didn’t understand the fuss over them. One of my friends pointed out an art critic known to be very well disposed to this painter’s work and offered to ask him what X’s paintings were about. When he

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  • the Nasher Collection

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    Touted as the greatest collection of twentieth-century sculpture in private hands, the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, now playing at the uptown Guggenheim, has everything from masterpieces of the medium to “chocolate bunnies.” (For those out of the loop, chocolate bunny is an expression of contempt for a work that is not only cast posthumously but drawn from a sur-moulage, a mold taken from the outside of an existing, finished work rather than from a plaster matrix intended for the purpose. The Julio González Woman with a Mirror, handily cast in bronze by the artist’s estate in 1980 from

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  • “The Name of the Place”

    Casey Kaplan

    Laurie Simmons’ photographic scenarios of dolls, dummies, and other miniatures can stand as a kind of iconic template for the moves of a whole generation of artists of the ’80s, but I’m not sure I’ve thought of her work when visiting the shows of certain young artists of the ’90s—Vanessa Beecroft, say, who makes a medium out of model-type women lounging around, or Lisa Yuskavage, who paints way-overinflated babes. Seeing them in “The Name of the Place,” though, which Simmons curated, her work came irresistibly to mind. In fact the show pulled off a neat Freudian trick: if Jocasta rejuvenated

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  • Manuel Alvarez Bravo

    MoMA/Robert Miller/Witkin Gallery/Throckmorton Fine Art

    In the great portrait Frida Kahlo in Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s Studio, 1930s, the painter’s head, with its penetrating, questioning eyes, is twice rhymed elsewhere: in the mirrored ball next to her arm, which (like the mirror in Velasquez’ Las Meninas) gathers, concentrates, and somehow expands the space in the studio, thereby returning it as a distorted reflection; and in the carving on the floor behind her, staring blind-eyed and open-mouthed at nothing. This seems to say that, like any art, photography can encompass the function of the all-gathering yet alienating mirror, or the unseeing yet

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  • Niele Toroni

    Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

    Since 1966, Niele Toroni’s working method—making imprints with a No. 50 brush, repeated at regular intervals across any given support—has remained constant: no alterations, no deviations, no retrospective development. Like his former collaborator Daniel Buren, Toroni’s degree-zero of painting advances only through repetition. Perpetually rehearsing its limits, painting becomes a tool for exposing the medium’s structural logic, its institutional contextualization, its architectural frame. We may feel that we know this story by now, but Toroni persists in telling it, proving us wrong with each

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  • Nancy Chunn

    Ronald Feldman Gallery

    For some time now, one of the more tiresome tics of general-readership art writing has been the accusatory repetition of the word “didactic”—a dismissive code, both smug and defensive, meant to justify the writer’s squeamishness in the face of artworks with discomfiting social content. Unfortunately, since politically oriented art is as subject as any other to rhetorical flaws, there has been plenty of drab and gauche work around with which to tar the rest of what, over the last two decades, has actually been a vital aesthetic current. But lately a number of artists, particularly those old enough

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  • Annette Messager

    Gagosian | 522 West 21st Street

    In a month when valentines seem ubiquitous, Annette Messager presented a visceral antidote to those cheesy emblems of false feeling with her heart-shaped installation Dépendence/lndépendence, 1995–97. Entering through the heart’s shadowy edges, one brushed past hundreds of objects strung on single strands of bright yarn: cloth effigies; items packed into fishnet or plastic bags; framed photographs of body parts and children’s grimacing faces; soft-sculpture limbs, bodily organs, and amorphous shapes; wigs; doll clothes; stockings; mirrors; numbered placards; and other talismans.

    Damp with so much

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  • Not Vital

    Sperone Westwater Barone/Boisanté

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an installation in which the wall became so much more than a neutral backdrop. At Sperone Westwater, Not Vital’s bronze castings of sheep tongues projected from the gallery wall like claws in a horror film. Some turned into fingers, while others were obviously penile. Only the devil knows what polymorphous monster hid behind the wall. In Snowballing the Giraffe, 1997, Vital seemed to have hurled globs of plaster at it, but clearly the creature is more unsavory and bizarre than a giraffe, and the comic snowballs don’t begin to penetrate its lair. The

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  • Joana Rosa

    John Weber

    Doodling is an obsessive activity, yielding images that are transitory, private, open-ended, repetitive—a visual stream of consciousness. “Doodles,” Joana Rosa’s second so-titled show in New York, made witty and graceful use of this fragile art form. Elaborating a strategy familiar to all compulsive fillers of blank space, she chose a few emblematic figures and drew them over and over, seeking to understand exactly how they were made.

    Rosa’s first figure was a ballerina, clad in toe-shoes and black leotard, a leggy, sinuous creature that might have been lifted from a dancewear catalogue illustrated

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  • Marnie Weber

    Jessica Fredericks Gallery

    Walt Disney meets recovered-memory therapy: the imagineering of trauma would seem to be the subject of “Lost in the Woods,” the first East Coast exhibition by Los Angeles–based artist/musician Marnie Weber. The show included twenty-four photocollages and two video/sculpture installations, and was accompanied by a fourteen-song CD, Cry, for Happy (1996). The disk helps fill in a bit more (not a lot more, mind you) of the underlying narrative, which concerns a girl named Happy who wanders through a forest only fitfully able to distinguish her identity from those of the woods’ various animal

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  • Carol Rama

    Esso Gallery

    This show was the first solo American exhibition by Carol Rama, a cult figure in her native Italy since 1945, when her premiere exhibition at age twenty-seven was immediately shut down by police on the grounds of obscenity. While the work from that show disappeared, a number of drawings on view here dated from the ’30s and early to mid ’40s. The chaotic post-Mussolini period was clearly no friendlier than that of dictatorial order to so monstrous a spirit as Rama’s, who speaks in an interview of her profound desire to “incazzare tutti” (piss everyone off). These early works give a pretty good

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  • Ursula von Rydingsvard

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    The crumbly, blackened edges of Ursula von Rydingsvard’s often monumental cedar sculptures suggest they may be composed of half-burned logs, but in fact they are hacked and chiseled wood rubbed with graphite. It is the sculptor, not fire, that has effected the transformation. Von Rydingsvard’s relation to her materials is subtle and complex, as sustained examination of any of her pieces soon reveals. Most are abstract, and all rely on the curious sculptural technique of chiseling down and reconstructing the wood. Some of the pieces reveal a conceptual engagement: at least one of the works in

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  • Collier Schorr

    303 Gallery

    Like Dan Graham, Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth, and Candida Höfer, all of whom have trafficked, at one time or another, in deadpan images of suburban culture and daily life, Collier Schorr photographs seemingly banal locales, characters, and events. Though cloaked in ordinariness, these images place as much, if not more, emphasis on framing as on what’s inside the frame. Like much conceptual photography, Schorr’s work is based on a strategy of defamiliarization predicated on instrumentalizing means of “seeing differently” which, here, is tantamount to “seeing difference.”

    In her recent installation

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  • Kerri Scharlin

    Wooster Gardens

    Kerri Scharlin considers herself a conceptual artist; in a generous mood, I would concede she’s a rather clever impresario. As creative director of her very own Kerri culture industry, Scharlin has asked her friends to give physical descriptions of herself to police sketch artists; has posed for life-drawing classes; has hired the creator of a Barbie coloring book to do a similar publication with Kerri as protoganist; and has commissioned a battery of feature writers and designers to create glossy-magazine profiles of herself. The results have all been exhibited as her “artwork.” For her most

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  • Dennis Balk

    American Fine Arts

    Charting the points where the outer limits of theoretical physics meets the out-there limits of the metaphysical, Dennis Balk has created objects to go along with a discourse that hovers between real science and a science of the Real. Balk’s drawings on vinyl and Masonite sure look like science: there are computer-generated pictures of electromagnetic anomalies with names like “Houdini knot,” complete with impenetrable commentary, scrawled Magic Marker notations about “appearance frequency,” and plasma fields; there are rows of numbers and graphs where the y-axis equals time and the x-axis equals

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  • Michael Smith and Joshua White

    Lauren Wittels

    In this exhaustively detailed, tragicomic installation, collaborators Michael Smith and Joshua White transformed the gallery into an office and showroom for MUSCO (pronounced “muse-co”), a once-thriving lighting business now headed for Chapter II. As explained in a promotional video running continuously on the “sales floor,” the fictional company supplied equipment for psychedelic light shows in the ’60s, “responded to the needs of the burgeoning disco culture” in the ’70s, then adapted its products to the corporate setting in the ’80s. Sadly, items such as the “loft lamp” and “interior/exterior

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  • “Color Detour”

    apexart

    In critic Faye Hirsch’s curatorial debut “Color Detour”—a group exhibition of paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and sculpture—color is conspicuous by its absence. What remains are its signs, from the literal to the metaphorical. One reads a deep blush into Janice Krasnow’s white canvas, on which is printed in bold letters: “plump and fleshy/roots with pink/streaked buds.” Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s photograph of compatriot Frida Kahlo, famous for appearing in traditional Mexican dress, screams folkloric color even in vintage black and white.

    The show is informed by another absence, the work

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