reviews

  • “Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life”

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

    Still life. The very term brings a furtive tear to the eye—a tear of nostalgia, perhaps, for all that has disappeared from contemporary art in the way of illusionism, pleasure, and painterly virtuosity. Or perhaps it is the melancholy evoked by the words themselves, for “still life” suggests death or death-in-life, even more literally in the French version of the term, “nature morte” or dead nature.

    In traditional still life, the popular motif of the skull introduces the memento mori into the very fabric of the earthly delights on display. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century specialists in the

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  • Kim MacConnel, Jeff Perrone; Peter Nagy

    Holly Solomon Gallery, Nicole Klagsbrun

    The multiculturalism debate no longer dominates art-world conversations the way it once did. But the conditions that informed it are part of today’s weather, and if we don’t talk about them, well, we don’t talk about global warming either, not at least when we’re running around galleries, unless it’s, like, really hot out. Three recent New York shows raised the issue of intercultural borrowing. The paradox: the strongest of these shows was the one most deeply in dialogue with Western painting.

    Two of the artists, Kim MacConnel and Jeff Perrone, were associated in the ’70s with Pattern and

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  • Helen Levitt

    International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

    Helen Levitt may well be the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time. Even though she had her first solo show at MoMA before she turned thirty, and is now, at age eighty-four, widely recognized as a modern master, much of the current viewing public continues either to undervalue her work or to take it for granted. Even those who claim to know her photographs well will admit they haven’t looked at them closely for years.

    Part of this is due to the way the work has been framed in terms of the institution of art photography. Her first show at MoMA in 1943, “Helen Levitt: Photographs

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  • Saint Clair Cemin

    Robert Miller Gallery

    As always, Saint Clair Cemin was witty and worrisome at once in this recent show of four works. In The Two (all works 1997), biblical Death rides a pale horse, but the prospect of revelation seems murky: the horse, lacking a leg, seems to be crumbling under the rider, who resembles nothing so much as a televangelical cowboy wearing an outsize mask. He is a comic Mexican Day-of-the-Dead figure, at once ridiculously sugarcoated and deathly earnest. In The Three, a sculpture in bronze (which does nothing to hide the awkward, presumably delicate modeling, suggesting a never-to-be-finished work),

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  • Maureen Gallace

    303 Gallery

    Something’s changed in Maureen Gallace’s paintings—changed as subtly as you’d expect of work that’s as soft-spoken and preternaturally mild as hers, but no less decisively for that. The image the paintings convey is the same one they have always insisted on: a house, featureless but inexplicably luminous, nestled in a landscape of eerie peacefulness. I’d always thought of Gallace’s paintings as fundamentally abstract, the house not so much a house as the form of a house, a given shape, a certain geometry—near relative to Albers’ squares as to Morandi’s bottles.

    But in Gallace’s recent work, it

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  • “Tracing Taiwan”

    Drawing Center

    While certain “international” exhibitions might give the impression that a standardized form of conceptual installation art has, like Sherwin Williams paint in the old ad, covered the globe, in “Tracing Taiwan: Contemporary Works on Paper,” curator Alice Yang showed how the intersection of isolation and cosmopolitanism has, at least in this instance, sharpened rather than leveled differences. For her, the contemporary art of Taiwan both “call[s] into question the continuity of the Chinese tradition” and resists “a strictly Western paradigm” in a way that “is both distinctly Taiwanese and distinctly

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  • Juan Uslé

    Cheim & Read

    How does the use of light in photography—a medium that takes the inscription of illumination as its own identity—differ from its wider, deeper, more idiosyncratic application in painting? The question is as old as the camera, and there are as many answers as there are beholders. But despite its constancy (or perhaps because of it) artists still engage the issue, as Juan Uslé’s exhibition of separately conceived but clearly interdependent paintings and photographs attested.

    Titled “Luz Aislada” or “Light Isolated,” the show consisted of six paintings and twelve Cibachromes, the latter taken from

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  • Jennifer Bolande

    Baron/Boisanté Editions

    Like all convincing sleight of hand, Jennifer Bolande’s show “Forest Spirits” prompted reflection on the technologies of appearance. In the tradition of classic nature photography, her suite of subtle, computer-assisted prints (published in an edition of eight) was unabashedly pretty, a modest and appealing celebration of the ways in which the camera’s intervention creates “natural” beauty. That in this case an appropriated photograph actually replaces a real-life landscape as the object of representation only serves to remind us that the difference between what the camera does and what digital

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  • Walton Ford

    Kasmin Gallery | 515 27th Street

    Walton Ford’s paintings belie a jewellike presence with a postcolonial politics. Based on nineteenth-century American styles both naive and careful, they seem as if they could have been made back then, as though Ford were looking through those painters’ eyes; yet they have explored scenes that their styles’ originators might well have seen, indeed sometimes must have seen, but did not register as subjects for art. Addressing the ornithological painter John James Audubon, for example, Ford approached him not only as an artist but as a historical figure, and showed what the naturalist’s images

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  • Tony Feher

    D'Amelio Gallery

    So unassuming as to be almost beyond notice, Tony Feher’s show at one of Chelsea’s less spectacularly frosty galleries was actually brimming with small-scale, subtle pleasures. The central piece, initially glimpsed through the gallery window and resembling more than anything else an average-looking chunk of carved marble squatting on the floor, turned out to be merely several stacked Styrofoam forms of the sort used to pack TVs, stereos, and such, like a cheeky, no-budget take on Rachel Whiteread. Another piece consisted of eighteen unlabeled tin cans and eighteen small blocks of wood, arranged

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  • Ernesto Neto

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    Piff, Paff, Poff, Puff—these titles of Ernesto Neto’s 1997 sculptures, onomatopoeic renderings of the sound powdered spices make upon hitting the floor, suggest both a certain light ephemerality and a plosive thud of surprise. Indeed, the assemblage of various piquant puff pieces that constituted the Brazilian artist’s recent New York exhibition explored tensions between a number of states: raw and cooked, seductive and repulsive, transitory and permanent, raised and dropped.

    Neto poured different spices into nylon stockings that he stretched into various shapes. Some of these he pulled diagonally

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  • Bonnie Collura

    Janice Guy

    Everybody knows how the “high-low thing” is supposed to work in art. The only movement is from the bottom up, there’s no descending the ladder. Pick your poison—billboards, graffiti, porn, tchotchkes—at street level, it’s visual blight. But when subjected to art’s miraculous powers of transformation, dross turns to gold. This process is less a mystery than a straightforward colonization. Pressed into the service of a canonical regime, made to speak its language, to reflect its histories and traditions, the once-offending element becomes newly enculturated and art triumphs. But what if art’s

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  • Paloma Pelaez

    David Beitzel Gallery

    In a statement about her first exhibition in New York, Spanish artist Paloma Pelaez mentions her admiration for art of the trecento, Japanese landscapes, Picabia, Max Ernst, Byzantine icons, ornamental textiles. Her works bear this out. In ST, 1995–96, for example, a wrapped figure with a halo (Lazarus?) seems to be rising from a sarcophagus, surrounded by silver crosses. And there are other unacknowledged influences as well, notably Matisse (whose dancers are directly referenced in Adormidera Negra [Black poppy, 1995]), de Chirico and Chagall. While a sense of surreal menace akin to Ernst’s

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  • Richard Stankiewicz

    Zabriskie Gallery

    “Richard Stankiewicz: The 1950s” was the sort of curated gallery exhibit one rarely finds these days: a well-chosen survey of a brief, crucial period in an artist’s career, selected and mounted so convincingly that it actually changed one’s sense of the work’s origins, intentions, and art-historical significance. Stankiewicz’s dealer from the early ’70s until the artist’s death in 1983 presented his sculptures in an atmosphere of subdued elegance that at first seemed at odds with the works, which are compact, slyly animated assemblages of rusty urban iron-and-steel junk. Amid these elegant

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  • Laura Sue Phillips

    Eich Space

    With contemporary abstraction ranging from the sneering insincerity of Damien Hirst’s spin paintings and the earnest circuitry of Peter Halley’s Day-Glo cybernetics to David Reed’s virtuosic lyricisms, it was initially hard to know how to read the hushed, serene work in Laura Sue Phillips’ first one-person show in New York. With titles like “Willow,” “Climbing Vine,” and “Angelic Blue” and a press release that emphasized “color, light, and surface,” it required time and quiet attentiveness to get beyond the suggestion that this work, a group of thirteen relatively small, unprepossessing stripe

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