reviews

  • John Wesley

    Jessica Fredericks Gallery

    In the rear of Jessica Fredericks’ semi-basement Chelsea space, there hangs—or hung, during the gallery’s John Wesley miniretrospective this winter—a modest-size painting from 1976 entitled Princess Sacajawea Crossing the Snake. It depicts, in Wesley’s never-varying technique of flat shapes, delicate black outline, and matte, chalky color, a female in a leotard or bathing suit, seen in midair from behind, doing the splits, her arms extended groundward. The background consists of five horizontal bands: pale blue sky at top, then green distant “forest” (its upper edge is ragged, hinting at faraway

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  • “China: 5,000 Years”

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    It isn’t easy to mount a terrible show in which each piece of art is absolutely fantastic. But until one has confronted the reality of “China: 5,000 Years,” one cannot imagine either how good the material or how bad every curatorial decision (assuming that there were some curatorial decisions) could be. There are some successes here: the museum staff have done an able job, for example, with the lighting of the show; and no fair-minded review could skip mention of the handsome display cases made specifically for the exhibition. It’s a shame, though, that “China: 5,000 Years” is incoherent,

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  • Anselm Kiefer

    Gagosian Gallery (21)

    In cold December fragrant chaplets blow,

    And heavy harvests nod beneath the snow.

    A recognized part of growing older and more decrepit is the unpredictable way one’s memory starts (and stops) working. So, at Anselm Kiefer’s recent show, I was at first surprised to find myself recalling lines I last read years ago, from Alexander Pope’s epic satire The Dunciad, particularly since, when I looked at the poem later, I found it just as I remembered it: that is, unlike Kiefer’s work in almost every way. The Dunciad is dazzlingly light, bright, and swift on its linear feet; the Kiefers are emotionally

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  • Richard Tuttle

    Sperone Westwater

    Richard Tuttle has cornered the market in Tuttles. Nobody else can make them because nobody knows what they are. Artists influenced by Tuttle tend to make the kind of work people refer to as “quirky,” but Tuttle is quirky only in his weaker moments, when he is charmingly arbitrary or harmlessly hermetic. More often, his work is recalcitrantly ordinary, and that’s where its enigma resides. A Tuttle is not really a particular kind of object; it’s the concretized aura of an attitude—an autistic, almost infuriating indifference to many of the things other artists (and critics, and viewers) care

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  • Alghiero e Boetti

    Esso Gallery

    The grab-bag nature of the recent show of Alighiero e Boetti’s work, subtitled “postal travels, works on paper, embroideries, documents, and more, 1965–1992,” explains why this exhibition served as an apt tribute to an artist whose presence and work were in many ways elusive, at least for American audiences. Perhaps the most notable work on view, the multiple Dossier Postale, 1970–74, had never been shown in the United States, and the eight wonderfully atmospheric black-and-white portraits of the artist by Paolo Mussat Sartor, the photographic Boswell to his generation of Italian artists,

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  • Eric Fischl

    Gagosian Gallery (21)

    Few artists in recent years have evolved as productive a repertoire of subjects based on the human figure as Eric Fischl’s. In his first solo exhibition of sculpture, Fischl unapologetically celebrated the historical tradition of the figure. Aggressively eschewing what he regards as the impersonal, cynical voice of much contemporary art, the artist used figuration to raise issues—such as the importance of archetypes and the value of ritual and the ceremonial—that evoke the aesthetic and philosophical concerns and convictions of a distant past. His grouping of life-size bronzes conjured all the

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  • Adrian Piper

    Thomas Erben Gallery

    In the summer of 1971, Adrian Piper produced a series of self-portraits, Food for the Spirit, that unfolds around the measured repetition of a single action: standing expressionless before a large mirror, peering into her reflection, she photographed herself in the act of photographing herself. Though her state of dress varies from house clothes to underwear to nothing at all, she always assumes the same pose, clutching her Brownie camera just below her breasts, and positions herself at a similar remove from the mirror.

    As a series (which had never before been shown in its entirety), the photos

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  • Paul Caponigro

    Schmidt Bingham Gallery

    Standing stones—rings, dolmens, menhirs—have been part of the landscape of northwestern Europe as long as several thousand years, for the last thirty or so of which they have been photographed by Paul Caponigro. And also by any number of other people, for they are popular subjects with photography’s equivalent of the Sunday painter. The idea of likening Caponigro’s deeply knowledgeable and masterfully printed images to hobbyist snapshots frightens the timid reviewer, but the fact is that the tradition to which he belongs—the same line as Minor White—embraces “spiritual” and “transcendental”

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  • Y. Z. Kami

    Deitch Projects

    Y. Z. Kami’s installation of sixteen portraits occupied the gallery space with a stately presence. Each painting is three to four feet high by two to three feet wide and depicts the head of its subject. The sitters range in age from their late teens to their seventies; about half are women, half men, and all are shown against a light earth-tone background. Although executed on linen, the paintings’ nubbly, claylike texture suggests fresco. Other writers have noted their relation to Alexandrian portraits, but whereas those works usually indicate facial and bodily features with simple, clear

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  • Tom Butter

    Curt Marcus Gallery

    In his recent show, Tom Butter presented eight works described as kinetic sculptures. But their kinesis was amusingly elusive. Only one actually seemed to earn the name: Night Train (all works 1997), a large steel wheel suspended by a perpendicular column sheathed in fiberglass, revolved just perceptibly.

    A light touch, however, set the piece into smooth, sure rotation, and it turned out that all but two pieces, Two States and Dive, could be activated by a bit of manipulation (though some had such a limited range that they seemed barely to jiggle). Observatory, for instance, consists of a rounded,

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  • John Brill

    Kent Gallery

    Several generations after the pictorialist aesthetic, which first asserted photography’s claim to the status of art, was banished by straight photography’s insistence on the objective rendering of form and the unmanipulated shot, blurry, evanescent images have resurfaced as a major mode of picture making. John Brill’s recent series “ennui” constitutes a self-conscious attempt at a contemporary pictorialism. The photographer has said that this body of work “continues and takes to the extreme my exploration of the subjective and equivocal nature of meaning. . . . Eschewing and ultimately freed

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  • “The Cottingley Fairies and Other Apparitions”

    Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

    If the birth of photography was the result of an illicit affair between science and art, the question of custody has never been settled. Supposedly objective in their relation to the phenomenal world, photographs are often taken as reliable evidence, but as Fox Talbot recognized at the birth of the medium, they are “evidence of a novel kind”—a volatile mixture of fact and fiction in which subjectivity is the catalyst for belief.

    This smartly curated show essayed the turbulent relation between photography and belief, juxtaposing vernacular, often anonymous late-nineteenth-century “spirit photographs”

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  • Andrea Vizzini

    Marisa Del Re Gallery

    It’s a slaughter of the innocents! In his new paintings, Andrea Vizzini rounds up some of the greats of art history without much pretense of due process. In Copertura (Cover-up), 1989, Albrecht Dürer’s glorious self-portrait as an elegant young Venetian is hidden behind a frame that’s bolted like a prison door. It’s been reproduced on a fragment of canvas, the colors leeched, and casually attached to a board as though it were an old pinup. In an untitled 1996–97 painting, a real pinup, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, suffers a similar fate. The goddess’ lower half is covered by a huge white triangle,

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  • Ruth Pastine/Frederick Holland

    Deven Golden Fine Art

    In a recent joint exhibit with Ruth Pastine, Frederick Holland presented two white tables of darkish bronze sculptures. Half a dozen pieces were arrayed on a circular table with a small hole cut out of its center, while the other table, in the shape of a Greek cross, held one sculpture on each of its four arms. The bronzes are intimate in scale, complexly textured, and variously shaped (some are elliptical, others circular or gourdlike). Some appear to be solid, while others have openings that suggest vessels. All are marked by various combinations of patterning—grooves, ridges, slits, or

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  • Sylvie Fleury

    Postmasters

    It takes a fine eye to appreciate the sleek, silver gleam of a Gucci stiletto putting pedal to the metal of a Plymouth Satellite, a fine eye to grasp the importance of makeup, shopping, and anything pink. It takes a discerning mind to know that Gucci gleam and pink makeup may be more interesting and important than so much of what anyone means when applying the word “art.” Sylvie Fleury has that mind, that eye. Her Gucci Satellite (all works 1997), a video monitor encased in a furry green moon, plays a tape of the artist from the knee down, wearing the Gucci shoe, and driving, driving, driving,

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  • Giles Lyon

    Alexandre de Folin

    Giles Lyon’s new paintings combine high seriousness of purpose with a playfully cryptic use of material. They absorb a profusion of sources—from Pollock’s allover drips, Warhol’s “found” abstractions modeled on Rorschach inkblots, and Taaffe’s decorative motifs to Japanese animation and Dr. Seuss illustrations—into an intensely nervous stylistic mélange reminiscent of Texas Funk. Another realm of influences derives from Lyon’s interest in the sciences, particularly epidemiology and cell pathology; he once imagined a career as an illustrator for biology books. But no earnest clinicality precludes

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  • Eric Wolf

    Jessica Fredericks Gallery

    Applying the reductive rigor of black-and-white abstraction to scenes from nature, mostly in upstate New York, Eric Wolf’s open-air landscape paintings look more like mazes or optical illusions in some kind of puzzle or pages from a pristine coloring book than anything from the Hudson River School. Moreover, the views offered in the seven paintings in this show weren’t picturesque, majestic, or sublime, but mysterious in a rather banal way. The roiling masses in Cloud Painting and Cloud Painting II (all works 1997) are replete with the kind of weird partial images—ears, shoulders, scrunched

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  • Jud Nelson

    Fischbach Gallery

    Jud Nelson is part Pop prankster, part Renaissance master, with a good dose of Minimalist strategist thrown in. With HOLOS, an ongoing series of sculptures he began in 1971, Nelson nods to both antiquity and technology. In Greek, holos means “whole” or “total”; it’s the root of the word “hologram,” or perfect three-dimensional illusion. Nelson’s title simultaneously refers to both ideal form and its artificially generated analogue.

    Carved in stone or white polystyrene, the HOLOS are minutely rendered replicas of the most trivial items: tea bags, Wonder bread, sink stoppers, folding chairs,

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