reviews

  • Norman Lewis

    The Studio Museum in Harlem

    The poignant yet somewhat quaint announced purpose of “Norman Lewis: Black Paintings, 1946–77” is to explore the artist’s “aesthetic and metaphoric uses of black.” Of the two, “aesthetic” goes down more easily, since Lewis was more or less an Abstract Expressionist and, as with his stylistic brethren, whatever he put down on canvas was there first and foremost for aesthetic reasons—primarily those having to do with how best to make a painting in the middle years of the twentieth century. But of course it’s the “metaphorical” usage that gives the exhibition title its raison d’être, and this is

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  • Albert York

    DAVIS & LANGDALE COMPANY, INC.

    As if you care a damn, there is the geranium green of the leaves, the almost cinnamon tint of the flowers, echoed in the small soft bird’s cap, the forlorn dead leaf, the muted cornflower blue of the pot with darker shadows. Geranium in Blue Pot with Fallen Leaf and Bird, 1982, depicts what its title bluntly announces, but with a seemingly unobtrusive difference. The wood panel of the support shows through along the edges, at the leaves’ curving limits, on the “horizon” between what might be earth and sky or table and wall (and is both earth and sky and table and wall—all almost splintering,

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  • Michael Ashkin

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    For a number of years Michael Ashkin has been producing tabletop tableaux that depict distinctive aspects of the contemporary American landscape: nearly barren postindustrial sites, stretches of desolate highway, and other fringe areas. These precise dioramas comprise terrains fashioned from plaster, cement, dirt, salt, and other substances, and bodies of water of poured Envirotex, a resinlike liquid that hardens to a slightly translucent coat. The occasional car, power line, and spigot might be purchased from hobby shops, and everything is constructed to exacting scale. Ashkin’s style has become

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  • Joan Jonas

    Pat Hearn Gallery

    If it makes any sense to talk about a video loop as having a conclusion, then the last image of the video component of Joan Jonas’ installation My New Theater II (Big Mirror), 1998, must be that of the artist coaxing her dog to jump through a hoop. The shot sends us back twenty—five years to the other large-scale work in this exhibition, Songdelay, 1973 (the show also included photographs, props, and other works). For that 16mm black-and-white film, now transferred to video, Jonas set herself and fourteen other performers to carrying out a number of tasks or exercises, jumping through hoops

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  • Ronald Jones

    Metro Pictures

    The fundamentally literary structure of Ronald Jones’ sculpture has been one of its most fascinating but also most problematic aspects. His work of the late ’80s was often challenged for its dependence on texts by the artist (available at the gallery, but not on display) for allusive resonance. Who but an architectural historian, after all, would have recognized a shape incorporated into one body of work as the footprint of Erich Mendelsohn’s 1933 Columbushaus, a Modernist masterpiece taken over as a Nazi torture center? And yet having the artist decode the reference in the accompanying text

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  • Lasar Segall

    The Jewish Museum

    In 1920, the Expressionist poet and critic Theodor Däubler contrasted the Egyptians, children of the sun, to the Israelites, whose migrations and adaptations he likened to the constantly changing appearance of the moon. Däubler cited this Jewish “racial character” as central to the work of Lasar Segall, as curator Stephanie D’Alessandro notes in the catalogue that accompanied the show. “Still More Distant Journeys: The Artistic Emigrations of Lasar Segall,” the painter's first major retrospective in this country, reevaluated his oeuvre within the various cultural contexts that informed it. Segall

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  • Jean Fautrier

    Michael Werner | New York

    The full measure of Jean Fautrier’s art has never been taken in this country, and it is not clear that it can be, despite a flurry of interest. A recent show, “Black Nudes and Other Early Works”—mostly mid-to-late-’20s pieces that precede Fautrier’s better-known coloristic paintings—offered figures and still lives “consumed by absence,” to use a phrase of Yves Bonnefoy, and American art generally demands that the figure have presence, the more blatant and forceful the better. These figures exist on the threshold of perception, crossing it but not definitively. Nu sur fond noir (Nude on black

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  • Jennifer Reeves

    Stefan Stux Gallery

    Jennifer Reeves’ paintings of nondescript outdoor places convey a sense of returning to an unfamiliar yet subliminally recognized site, experienced as always and yet never truly the same. Or is it a locale so familiar that we've forgotten how unfamiliar it is—like the childhood home we think we remember intimately, until an adult visit reveals it as terra incognita? In the 1997 paintings that bear the title Place (each with a number indicating the order of its creation, and most designated as either “Text” or “Situation”), Reeves gives us the idealized image of Place in all its wish-fulfilling

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  • Robert Greene

    Robert Miller Gallery

    Too many critics have put Robert Greene and his work on a boat bound for Cythera or Arcadia, someplace fantastic, because his paintings seem to embody more than anything else the dreaminess of dreamlands. But while they frequently have an element of anything-is-possible magic, what makes them interesting is their openness to the fleeting moments that make up life: the dazzle of some cute unknown mowing the lawn with his shirt off as you pedal by on your bike, or the superlative beachiness of the late spring evening light, or a dog’s irresistibly pleasing adoration of its master.

    The standard

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  • Jan Groover

    Janet Borden, Inc.

    In the background of each photograph in Jan Groover’s “Le Chantier” (Roadwork) series is a brief swath of La France—mildly rolling fields and woods running away to the horizon, compact with scent and air and distinctly Gallic. Certainly the study of agronomy, climate, land use and ownership, history, and more would go a way toward explaining the particularity of these tracts of land, telling just why the images speak so clearly of a warm day in rural northern Europe, but no scholarship is necessary to read that code. At the same time, their Frenchness is discreet: this is a place without landmarks

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  • Paul Shambroom

    Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

    Where was Paul Shambroom when the arms race ended? His photos of nuclear weapons and the places they are stored and deployed enter a decidedly complex discourse about the legacy of cold-war military buildup. From Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove to The Hunt for Red October to recent terrorists-steal-bomb potboilers like Broken Arrow, public understanding of nuclear arms has always been contingent on a mixture of reality- and fantasy-based sources, among them the Pentagon, the news media, and the entertainment industry. We are still reminded regularly that the threat of nuclear conflict is

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  • Laura Letinsky

    Guy McIntyre Gallery

    “Couple”: the word carries a certain ambivalence. Deriving from the Latin copula, meaning “bond” or “link,” it suggests two items of the same kind, but also the thing that joins the two. It can be both a noun and a verb, and, as noun, can be followed by either a singular or plural verb—my dictionary offers the cloying example “The couple are spending their honeymoon (or is spending its honeymoon).” Physics deploys the word in a surprisingly apposite way: “a pair of forces of equal magnitude acting in parallel but opposite directions.”

    Laura Letinsky’s photographs reveal the intimacy and indeterminacy

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  • Renée Cox

    Cristinerose Gallery

    Renée Cox recently introduced gallery-goers to Raje, a superhero played by the artist herself. To borrow a term from the club world she would seem to hail from, Rajé is fierce. With dreads piled high on her head, a skintight synthetic outfit in the colors of the Jamaican and Rastafarian flags, and black rubber thigh-high boots, she shows up in wrong-righting, justice—restoring situations in eleven large Cibachrome prints.

    Chief among the wrongs she battles is racial prejudice. In Taxi (all works 1998), for instance, a Fifty-Foot Woman–sized Rajé crouches over Times Square to halt a speeding

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  • José Gabriel Fernández

    Lombard-Fried Projects

    For the last three years José Gabriel Fernández has been investigating the rituals and conventions of bullfighting, drawing his inspiration in part from writings on the subject by Georges Bataille, André Masson, and Michel Leiris. One’s impression on entering Fernandez’s recent show was that the artist had converted the gallery into a museum exhibition space divided into three areas. The partitioning served to guide the visitor around in a deliberate progression through the complex installation that takes the sport as myth and metaphor.

    The first area is dominated by Anatomía de la suerte (Anatomy

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  • David Bunn

    Brooke Alexander

    Mining what might be described as a poetics of the archive, David Bunn’s current project is a byproduct of the rapid conversion within our culture from printed information into bits of electronic data. His works are built from an increasingly antiquated artifact: the library card catalogue. “Here, There and (Nearly) Everywhere,” his first solo exhibition in New York, grew out of his permanent installation at the newly renovated and computerized Los Angeles Central Library. Having rescued some two million card entries from the shredder, Bunn used them as raw material to cover the walls of the

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  • Scott Lyall

    Greene Naftali Gallery

    The bluntness of the literary citation in Scott Lyall’s Washington Square, 1997, might leave viewers unfamiliar with Henry James’ 1881 novel wondering what fundamental elements they are missing. The book may be fairly common reading, but in borrowing its title, the installation can’t avoid a certain clubby tone, demanding a well-delimited “interpretive community” (to use Stanley Fish’s term). Borrowing from canonical or high—culture sources in contemporary art sometimes masks a not-so-noble attempt to confer an aura of erudition on the work in question. Yet in the eloquent text distributed

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  • Peter Dreher

    Monique Knowlton

    Peter Dreher’s second solo show in New York featured three distinct bodies of work, each comprising paintings of a single subject. Twenty-one small images of a drinking glass belong to his series “Tag um Tag ist Guter Tag” (which roughly translates as “Every day is a good day”); seven large nudes came from a series called “The Naked Ones,” which Dreher began in 1990; and a group of medium—scale (each 17 1/2 by 23 inches) works entitled “The Large Poster in Watercolor” depicted rectangular sections of a single image, a bouquet of spotted pink azaleas bearing the slogan “Einfach so” (Simply

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  • Patty Martori

    D'Amelio Gallery

    As Pieter Brueghel had his peasants and old Dutch Proverbs, Patty Martori has her cigarettes and modern-day angst. Both depicted simple characters acting out parables of the complexities—humorous, surreal, or plain psychotic—of life. In Brueghel’s paintings, the exact meaning of putting out the broom (to party) or of a woman tying a pillow to the devil (she must be a shrew) may now be obscure, but a man shitting on a globe is still a good way to represent a misanthrope. Martori’s eight tableaux, though more contemporary in theme, may also be hard to figure at first; the scenarios in which her

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  • Toland Grinnell

    Basilico Fine Arts

    Nothing if not an ambitious craftsman, Toland Grinnell debuted here in 1995 with an installation and performance piece, Booty, in which he transformed the gallery into a desert isle rendered entirely in vinyl. “Solid,” his recent show, took off on a flight of fancy inspired by the artist’s interest in the Baroque. The old-fashioned museum environment he painstakingly created, though, seems delirious from a case of Surrealism and abounds in hidden scenes, secret levers and compartments, and odd, anthropomorphic details.

    Running along the gallery’s back wall was a huge, empty case lined with mirrored

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  • Howard Schwartzberg

    Momenta Art

    In Howard Schwartzberg’s recent exhibition, paint acquires mass and volume and turns into a “thing,” an entity somewhere between post-Minimalist sculpture and B-movie prop. In Electric Lime (all works 1997), a bathtub’s worth of lime-green latex seems to fill an enormous burlap sack partially affixed to the wall. Expanding over the rim of the bag, the paint has hardened into a level surface suggesting a horizontal monochrome. Against an adjacent wall, a thick cerulean slab with a burlap rind titled A Quarter Cold Blue hugs the baseboards as if trying to make itself as inconspicuous as possible.

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