reviews

  • Cy Twombly

    Gagosian Gallery

    What I like about Cy Twombly’s sculptures is the way they subvert all the clichés about his paintings. An original one—if a cliché can be called “original”—is Roland Barthes’ notion that the canvases are a kind of writing manqué; more ordinary is Arthur Danto’s remark that the paintings are “dense with classical allusions” while remaining an “anthology of [abstract expressionist] marks.” Peter Selz contradicts both, maintaining that Twombly’s “scrawls carry no linguistic meaning” but rather “combine decisive gesture and indeterminate action.” I suppose one sees what one is predisposed to see,

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  • John Coplans

    Hasn’t every artist, at some time or another, uttered the undying cliché, “In a way, my work”—whatever its ostensible subject—“is always a kind of self-portrait”? This retrospective of John Coplans’ photographs is indeed called “A Self Portrait.” And yet, while the pictures take their maker’s own body as their exclusive subject, I believe Coplans has earned the right to say, should he wish to, that his work couldn’t be further from self-portraiture. In part this has to do with his refusal of the genre’s primary convention: recording, it seems, every inch of his aging flesh, Coplans has rigorously

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  • Marina Abramovic

    It takes two to tango, but not if you’re Marina Abramovic. Art rarely embodies so intense a solitude as hers can, yet even rarer than its inwardness is its intimate engagement with its viewer—or better, its witness. In “Spirit House,” an exhibition of projected videos all distinguished by concise, emotionally loaded, indelible imagery, it’s the one work that initially seems least consistent with the others that encapsulates Abramovic’s themes. A single bright beam creates a dramatic chevron of light through a darkened room; in and out of this light a seductively dressed woman dances the tango

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  • Nick Waplington

    Nick Waplington has gone out of his way, literally and figuratively, to show he’s no slave to any one style or subject. He followed up his highly successful book Living Room (1991), focusing his modified British snapshot aesthetic on his friends in two working-class families living in the Nottingham council flats, with a book of antiheroic self-portraits in panoramic landscapes, Other Edens (1994), and then added the Living Room sequel, The Wedding (1996). Now comes “Safety in Numbers,” a deluge of images from the First World underground urban youth culture produced in transit from London to

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  • Franz Kline

    Allan Stone Gallery

    A marvelous odyssey was recounted in this exhibition—the story of Franz Kline’s metamorphosis from a hackneyed illustrator, of the Greenwich Village sidewalk-art-show variety, to an Abstract Expressionist working in a grand, swashbuckling scale. The breakthrough works among the seventy on view were a number of brilliant, untitled drawings made on paper cut from a New York City telephone book (although some are studies for paintings, such as Study for “High Street,” 1952, the works can stand on their own). The thick black gestures, sometimes in ink, often in oil and collage, sit on the thin paper

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  • Andreas Gursky

    Matthew Marks Gallery

    Looking at the best of Andreas Gursky’s large-format photographs is like turning back just after the moment of death to gaze at the earth as you float away from it: the landscape you inhabited is as drab as ever, but now it’s possessed by a compositional magic, a serenity and geometry, a tension between animate and inanimate that had gone unnoticed.

    In his recent show, a work entitled Singapore, 1997, best exemplifies this experience. A gray, manmade harbor was shot from on high, as from an ascending hot-air balloon, so that the earth’s curve is perceptible. With nothing to distinguish the scene

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  • Raymond Pettibon

    David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

    An installation of a couple of paintings, a vast mural covering an entire wall, and nearly one hundred pushpinned pen-and-ink drawings of varying sizes that appeared to have been haphazardly torn from sketchbooks, Raymond Pettibon’s recent show overwhelmed the viewer. Beyond the sheer number of images displayed are the texts that form integral parts of the works. With far more to look at and to read than could be absorbed, there was a conspicuous lack of cohesion in the wall-to-wall display. A fragmented stream of consciousness evocative of ’20s modernists such as James Joyce, Alfred Döblin,

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  • Robert Longo

    Metro Pictures

    Robert Longo is the second New York artist I know of (the other being Nancy Chunn) to have lately submitted himself to the same monklike task: the creation of one artwork a day, every day, for a year. Such self-imposed observances evoke a certain rigor and piety that seem novel in the case of Longo, a splashy ’80s art star. As drawings in grisaille—in charcoal, graphite, chalk, and marker on semi-translucent vellum—the works are also modest and grave in palette, and each of them being around two feet in its longest dimension, they are small in size for this artist, who often works at scale and

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  • Josiah McElheny

    In “Non-Decorative Beautiful Objects,” his first solo show in New York, Josiah McElheny carefully placed his astonishingly elegant blown-glass pieces into the rickety frame of art-historical discourse. All too aware of the relegation of his metier to the status of mere craft, McElheny confronts some of the philosophical and historical sources of aesthetic distinction, and, in his modest fashion, blows them away.

    The show comprised five mini-installations or projects, each of which elaborated on a real or invented scenario laid out in an accompanying text. In Verzelini’s Acts of Faith, 1996, for

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  • “The Hansa Gallery Revisited”

    Zabriskie Gallery

    “The Hansa Gallery Revisited” celebrated a space founded in the early ’50s as a collaborative effort: a gallery that served not only as a launchpad for artistic talent, but also as a stage for encounters among artists, writers, and critics. The Hansa Gallery was a vital, continually evolving, and sometimes rather chaotic space that showed artists as diverse as George Segal, Jane Wilson, and Lucas Samaras. This tribute limited itself to five artists—three now deceased, two who consulted on the installation of the works.

    Jan Muller’s art grew out of German Expressionism; his love of bright, vivid

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  • Robert Beck

    Susan Inglett Gallery

    Robert Beck’s recent exhibition was a show of fragments, both in the sense that some of the individual pieces were components of larger, thematically based installations, and more important, in that each work comprised one term in an extended network of signification. The ten drawings contain figure numbers and references to sources ranging from a psychoanalytic tract by Lacan to a catalogue of hunting gear; some refer to narratives of the artist’s invention. They were grouped with four Polaroids: an architectural detail, a blank brick wall, a man lying with arm outstretched in a log cabin, and

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  • Trevor Winkfield

    Tibor De Nagy Gallery

    Trevor Winkfield studiously depicts the glyphs of a loopy heraldry. His playfulness contrasts with a set of deeper, mythological concerns, such as the Tiresian transformation suggested by With a Thrust of the Pelvis, I Become Woman!, 1996, in which two figures that look like paper marionettes assembled from clippings of illustrated children’s adventure stories seem snared in a duel involving a pair of two-toned chopsticks. The lower character is using his left hand to grapple with a snake. The torso of the top figure is composed of an orange shield bearing a huge green gem, topped by a ruff of

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  • Marcus Leatherdale

    In Marcus Leatherdale’s scrupulous Indian portraits, he posed his subjects before a dark, unobtrusive canvas that he sets up at markets or in the courtyard of his house in Varanasi (Benares). In all but three of the twenty-five works on view, he used natural light. This neutral staging of all the portraits allows differences in the religious, ethnic, and geographical backgrounds of his subjects to reveal themselves. A portrait of the dwarf Amrit Lal shows him standing on top of a small wooden table, his arms raised in the air, a key hanging from his neck by a lanyard. According to Leatherdale,

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  • Ann Messner

    Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

    Ever hear about the guy who rode an elevator with his back to the doors, causing others getting on to do the same thing? Ann Messner’s performances in the subways—like one in which she exercised on a rowing machine placed in a pedestrian tunnel during rush hour—might seem to belong to the same type of attention-getting spectacle as that psychology experiment–cum–urban legend. Yet Messner’s antics weren't really intended to provoke a reaction. Instead, she used the crowd, the constant flow of people, as an artistic medium—a somewhat malleable mass to be acted upon, within, or against. Her

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  • Paul Ramirez Jonas

    Postmasters

    The desire to lasso “everything” together into a single theoretical corral drives such contemporary scientific concerns as the genome project, chaos theory, and super-string theory. Paul Ramirez Jonas borrows the semiotics of scientific inquiry for a visual language of incomplete pictures and empty gestures that question the validity of an objective, unifying system of knowledge. Referring to scientific manuals and do-it-yourself construction methods, Jonas’ work examines practices intended to improve our knowledge by getting a better view.

    In Top of the World (all works 1997) he creates a walk-in

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  • Bjarne Werner Sørensen

    If the work of the Danish painter Bjarne Werner Sørensen, steeped in formalist painting traditions, appears to pay homage to the likes of Brice Marden and Per Kirkeby, the ambitious Spring till Fall, Faroes, 1996, makes it clear that the painter is after something other than an engagement with art history. This large work consists of 700 photographs—35-millimeter snapshots, really—methodically arranged in rows depicting events, people, and sites in the Faeroe Islands, and, as the title indicates, spanning three seasons. Sørensen spent a good part of his formative years shuttling back and

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  • Robert Wilson

    Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) | Peter Jay Sharp Building

    Loosely based on H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Robert Wilson and Lou Reed’s romantic Time Rocker tells the story of the wayward Dr. Procopious, who takes off on a journey from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century and back again pursued by the young lovers Nick and Priscilla. Constructed of thirty pristine scenes with original music, it is a remarkable demonstration of the power of sound to imprint pictures in the mind, and for pictures to be truly heard. Indeed, the aftereffects of this production may well be its true measure; an instant classic by Reed, “Turning Time Around,” keeps the

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