reviews

  • Arthur Dove

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Arthur Dove is not—thank God—the kind of artist whose retrospective provokes in a critic the desire either to (a) rehearse a long, drawn-out chronology of the various ebbs and flows in his stylistic development or to (b) mount an argumentative, academic brief for his being an underrated or overrated early American Modernist. The eighty or so modest-size paintings, collages, and drawings at the Whitney Museum are simply—and I mean “simply” in perhaps the most favorable sense I’ve ever used the word—there, on the wall, to be looked at, absorbed, appreciated, enjoyed, and

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  • “The Green Mountain Boys”

    André Emmerich Gallery

    Just in case you’re the last one on the bus, I’m telling you now: formalism is back and better than ever. And I don’t mean the crew of pretty-pretty painters who dabble “playfully” in formalist concerns while studiously disavowing or making fun of the intellectual premises that underwrote Color Field painting, and hence aligning themselves with the kinder, gentler crap that enjoys such vogue in certain quarters of the art world. (It’s worth mentioning that this alignment is not necessarily to the exclusion of those quarters that patronize the mean, scream-at-you aspects of the contemporary scene;

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  • Shahzia Sikander/“Out of India”

    Deitch Projects/Queens Museum of Art

    Shahzia Sikander, a twenty-eight-year-old Pakistani artist currently living in Houston, made a strong impression at the 1997 Whitney Biennial, and even more so in a Drawing Center “Selections” show, with her small-scale works on paper. A number of such works were on display in her first one-person exhibition in New York alongside six executed on a much larger scale: three paintings on canvas, two wall paintings, and a multilayered “tissue-paper collage” of more than thirty sheets pinned to the wall.

    If Sikander’s intention was to avoid being pigeonholed as a miniaturist or intimist on the one

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  • Ingo Meller

    Cheim & Read

    Ingo Meller, I would hazard, is an instinctive colorist who is making an effort to approach color analytically: his empirical methods seem designed to channel his visceral response to materials. His paintings are restricted in their means and modest in appearance, yet highly physical in impact. They are made on pieces of nearly raw linen that have been cut just a bit off the rectangle and affixed directly to the wall like scraps of wallpaper.

    The darkness of the linen—here treated as a color in itself, not a neutral ground—seems to sink into the whiteness of the wall, a last vestige of the old

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  • Mona Hatoum

    New Museum

    What is perhaps most striking about this survey of Mona Hatoum’s work is the way it distinguishes her from her slightly younger peers, the “Young British Artists.” Unlike the parochialism of YBA art-school discourse, in which a mix of ad-savvy sensationalism and schadenfreude presents itself as something hard and daring, Hatoum’s delicate but powerful work is cosmopolitan in the best sense of the term, neither espousing universal humanism nor resting easily with preconceived notions of difference. Hatoum is highly cognizant of art-historical traditions, generous to a fault in acknowledging her

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  • Philip Taaffe

    Peter Blum Gallery

    If Philip Taaffe has gone from appropriating Op art to lifting images of flora and fauna from nineteenth- and twentieth-century books, the overall effect—a splendid array of visual conceits arranged in lush, intriguing patterns—is not much different. While these pictures form an aestheticized alternative to the scientific systems of classification that are his point of departure, Taaffe’s point seems to be that nature, in all its manifestations, is inherently aesthetic, and to make that natural aesthetics as sublimely self-evident as possible.

    Thus the sea creatures in Cancer Ruricola with Starfish

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  • Jene Highstein

    Stark Gallery

    Jene Highstein’s two sculptures, both unique iron castings, have a measured sensibility at once classical and Modernist. As the title of Closed Roman Arch, 1991–92, suggests, their proportions are classical, that is, their scale is given by the human figure. But the surface of this piece, along with that of Kugel, 1991—its title can be translated as “ball,” but also, and perhaps more appropriately here, “bullet” or “shot”—has a texture of rust, conveying a certain melancholy. There is a similar sense of futility in the idea of a closed arch, a gateway made impassable. Highstein is seeking to

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  • Ana Mendietta

    Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

    Ana Mendieta never made big art. She preferred ephemeral means, using her own body as the basis of her work, or turning literally to the ground itself as a medium into which she carved or burned womblike holes or left tracings of her silhouette. Her career spanned just more than a decade, but before her tragic death in 1985 she stood at the epicenter of a movement of women artists who fused their political interests with metaphysical beliefs in an omnipresent female force.

    The residue of her practice, the photographs and video segments that were her chief means of presentation, offers highly

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  • Rodrigo Moynihan

    Robert Miller Gallery

    For much of his career, Rodrigo Moynihan was as likely to produce abstract as figurative painting, never feeling completely at home in either mode. During his last twenty years, however, the artist shifted away from abstraction, explaining that it “cut [me] off from . . . that union with something that made painting easier to do.” It seemed to Moynihan that if an object were “looked at in a dispassionate way . . . the results would be almost as unconscious . . . as in abstract painting.” What he found to look at, however, was not so much objects as light. Among the late paintings recently on

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  • Helen Marden

    Thomas Healy

    While Helen Marden’s watercolors are primarily abstract, they also contain tantalizing suggestions of the hues and forms of nature. In them we can glimpse a fluid, breathing menagerie of hummingbird, jellyfish, devilfish, butterfly, mantis, orchids, kelp, and reeds. The thirty small works, all 10 3/4 by 7 3/4, inches, are so delicate as to suggest that fidelity to their subjects (imaginative or otherwise) requires vulnerability, that to know something is to be at risk.

    If Marden’s watercolors articulate a sense of life’s fragility, her oil paintings hark to its fractious, dissonant aspects. Still

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  • Boris Lurie

    Janos Gat Gallery

    This modest exhibition, Boris Lurie’s first in New York since 1964, provided a unique opportunity to reintroduce and appraise the work of this now-little-known cofounder of the “NO!art” movement, colorful member of the New Left, and cultural anarchist. It comprised a single work, Bleed, 1969: forty photocopies (still an innovative technique of mechanical reproduction at the time) of the artist’s black-and-white photograph of a woman’s cleavage, bulging out of a low-cut dress, with the word “BLEED” pasted over it, and altered with acrylic paint, duct tape, shreds of fabrics, string, and other

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  • Mary Carlson

    Bill Maynes Gallery

    Startlingly fresh, Mary Carlson’s exhibition was a small miracle of the suspension of disbelief: a garden of memory transplanted into real time and space. Spindly trees and weeds carved of wood sprouted from the cement floor. Concrete deer regarded the viewer with wary alertness. Singing with color, nearly forty porcelain birds perched on a shelf (as on a wire) that ran along the perimeter of one room. These, among other sculptures and one drawing, all work from the past two years, were arranged sparsely, leaving the spacious gallery less than wholly transformed, in a state between waking and

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  • Tony Smith/Christopher Willmarth

    Hirschl & Adler Galleries

    Over the past decade, a handful of historians and critics have reexamined Minimalism, investigating the technological, political, and cultural factors that lay behind its hard-edged geometries. They have reevaluated individual careers as well as the nature of a “movement” based solely on visual and stylistic similarities.

    Tony Smith and Christopher Wilmarth were friends and colleagues; Wilmarth worked briefly as Smith’s studio assistant, and he is sometimes referred to as the more well-known artist’s protégé. Yet the works they produced are quite different. Smith has frequently been categorized

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  • Rachel Berwick

    Wooster Gardens

    Rachel Berwick’s may-por-é, 1997, is a streamlined sculptural installation enveloped in an elaborate narrative that addresses the interplay of natural history and science. The objects are inextricably linked to the accompanying textual documentation; both objects and text circulate in larger schemes of assumptions and associations. If this sounds rather Conceptual, it is, and like many Conceptualists Berwick uses language as the basis for her investigation. Her interest, however, is not so much semantic as poetic. She aims not to deconstruct or to educate but to gaze, which makes the work both

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  • Michael Phelan

    Andrew Kreps Gallery

    Michael Phelan’s exhibition “Bel-Aqua” invited us to contemplate a range of products that might best be described as implacably middlebrow: concentric flowerpots, a faux-granite water cooler, and a wall of blue spring-water bottles. These were interspersed in the coolly elegant installation among freestanding structures made of synthetic materials (Styrofoam planks, tubular shelving, plastic two-by-fours) that evoked swimming pools and exercise equipment, all amplifying the aquatic motif.

    Several sculptures incorporate pale turquoise panels reminiscent of John McCracken’s flawless fiberglass

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  • Javier Marin

    Nohra Haime Gallery

    Javier Marin, a thirty-five-year-old sculptor from Mexico City, made his New York gallery debut with a show of fourteen unglazed figurative works that showcase the artist’s taste for eclecticism, expressing a distinctive, playful vision that synthesizes disparate ideals of beauty from a number of cultures. The sculptures—nudes and portrait busts—feature an intriguing mix of characteristics: generally high cheekbones; slanted or almond-shaped eyes; the archaic smiles found on Greek or Egyptian statuary; rounded faces; voluptuous lips; and noses that are sometimes flat, with flared nostrils, and

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  • Improbable Theater

    P.S. 122

    Ghosts, poltergeists, sepulchral spirits—these things (which, of course, are not things) are usually treated with an unabashed seriousness in contemporary performance. Whether in the bloodcurdling incantations of Diamanda Galas or in the bloodless formalism of Robert Wilson, the “ghost” haunts the live body onstage without a smile or a wink. But every performative act is, in essence, a ghost story, a séance, haunted by the absence it labors to make present. In the age of mass-media entertainment, the concept of live-ness has become the raison d’être of theater; exposing it as a sham is treated

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