reviews

  • Chaim Soutine

    The Jewish Museum

    The popular press has been filled with curmudgeonly harrumphings about the overtly conceptual framework Kenneth Silver and Norman Kleeblatt have imposed on their exposition of Chaim Soutine’s work. Rather than mount a show that traverses his oeuvre chronologically or even thematically, the two curators have structured their presentation of the artist’s career by focusing on its reception. Soutine was first understood, they claim, as a sort of primitive who had lifted himself from the depths of a Lithuanian shtetl and a culture that dishonored imagemaking to express himself on canvas by sheer

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  • Eddie Izzard; “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”

    Westbeth Theatre/Jane Street Theatre

    It is an odd, contradictory New York moment. On the one hand there’s a city government more skillfully puritanical than any in boomer memory (plus, farther off, a Supreme Court that considers the NEA decency statute no infringement on speech). On the other, trannies triumphant.

    Who knows when transvestite stage performance first came to New York (these days, though, I bet you could look it up), and given its earlier blossomings, I’m not even sure it’s reached some new phase. But it’s certainly doing fine. I refer to a pair of simultaneous successes this spring, a stroll apart in the West Village:

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  • Cornelia Parker

    Deitch Projects

    A runner-up for last year’s Turner Prize, the English artist Cornelia Parker has gotten steadily better known in Europe over the past half-dozen years (now in her early forties, she has been exhibiting since 1980), but she had her first solo show here only this spring. As if to make up for lost time, the heart of the New York debut was Mass (Colder Darker Matter), 1997, a work included in the Turner Prize exhibition and so presumably picked to represent the artist at her best. Indeed this sculpture partly remakes a groundbreaking piece for Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, 1991, one

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  • Uta Barth

    Bonakdar Jancou Gallery

    From the beginning of her career, critics have focused on the surface qualities of Uta Barth’s photographs to treat them as a form of nouveau Pictorialism. Aspects of the work are certainly complicit with this reading, notably the indistinct, evanescent imagery and the tactile surfaces of the matte prints, which give the suggestion of looking through a layer of wax. Barth, on the other hand, has presented her work as a conceptually oriented investigation of the nature of perception vis-à-vis the manner in which we make images of the world, and the four large diptychs and one massive triptych

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  • Doris Salcedo

    New Museum

    The three works recently on view from Doris Salcedo’s ongoing series “Unland” develop variations on a single formal premise: one pair of legs has been amputated from each of two plain, unmatched wooden tables; the legless ends of the two tables are joined to form a single, distended, four—legged unit that looks as though it might be held upright only by the equilibrium of the opposing tendencies to fall inward. Each half is impaired, but together they arrive at a kind of precarious mutual support.

    “I can understand that two are man and woman,” Mark Rothko once said, looking at a friend’s

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  • Helen Miranda Wilson

    Jason McCoy Gallery

    How big is the sky? That’s the kind of unfathomable question one only expects of small children, but Helen Miranda Wilson’s recent “Sky” paintings are sophisticated incitements to innocent questions. If they provide an answer, it’s that you can never really know the size of the sky because you only ever see it in fragments. So while the paintings are consistently small in scale (their dimensions vary only between the limits of 6 and 14 3/4, inches), they never miniaturize their subject, as small paintings so often do, because they remind you that the “natural” scale for the depiction of a cloud

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  • Vincent Fecteau

    Feature Inc.

    Studies in the spatial properties of black, white, and gray, in the contemporary relevance of a classical balance of form and content (think Mozart or Aphex Twin), in the sculptural tensions between architecture and art (somehow evading, by precision and looseness, the pedantry of other artists exploring these categories); deft and cagily dumb games played with the actual and the represented (for instance, gray trompe l’oeil crumpled paper collaged onto a flawlessly curved foamcore ramp is torn at its bottom edge to show the rough white fibrousness of the paper): Vincent Fecteau’s sculptures

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  • Adolph Gottlieb

    Knoedler & Company

    It’s easy to forget the painterly energy that went into Adolph Gottlieb’s early pictographs: in these abstract morphemes of meaning, arranged according to eccentric grids and intended to be read as much as seen, one tends to remember the imagery rather than the bravura with which it is painted. A recent exhibit of works from 1941 to 1951 offered an opportunity to revisit their complexities. Red Portrait, 1944, is not only an intricate Picassoid construction—flat planes making up a face that is simultaneously profile and frontal as well as transparent, permeable to the red ground—but a vigorously

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  • Robert Grosvenor

    Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

    Alternately ugly and gemlike, intellectual and dumb; both stubbornly formalist and uncannily fake—Robert Grosvenor’s recent sculpture is seductive in its paradoxes. Throughout his career, Grosvenor, who had his first solo exhibition in 1965, has rejected the orthodoxies of Minimalism in favor of a considerably less rationalist language that aligned him more closely with post-Minimalists like Jackie Winsor. But compared to Winsor (never mind Donald Judd or Joel Shapiro), Grosvenor seems to have managed—deliberately or otherwise—to avoid consolidating a recognizable style or “handle.” Indeed, it

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  • David Smith

    Matthew Marks Gallery / Gagosian Gallery

    In commenting on his 1950 sculpture The Letter, composed of four stacked rows of indecipherable welded-steel ideographs, David Smith explained that the work derived from a section in Finnegans Wake in which a hen scratches up a letter. Asked whether he thought of drawing in terms of writing, Smith replied that, after reading Joyce, he no longer differentiated between the two. That Smith forged a pictorial—and verbal—vocabulary for sculpture is one of his well-known achievements. This hybridization underlies much of the artist’s oeuvre: Smith conflated the otherwise distinct categories of sculpture

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  • Ralph Eugene Meatyard

    Howard Greenberg Gallery

    When Beaumont Newhall compiled the later editions of his canonical History of Photography, he left Ralph Eugene Meatyard out of the picture. Working against an aesthetic orthodoxy that valued naturalism and formal consistency above all else, Meatyard, who died in 1972. at age forty-seven, used the most shameless of contrivances and displayed a reckless willingness to explore the shadowy, subjective side of photography. It is this disregard for “straight” photographic conventions that has made Meatyard’s work relevant to artists as diverse as Cindy Sherman (who cited him as one of only a few

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  • Sidney Tillim

    Trans Hudson Gallery

    The colors of Sidney Tillim’s recent abstract acrylics invite some distasteful associations: muddy drabs, the chalky mauves and pinks of flavored antacids, black, and tacky-decor shades of blue (powder and baby), purple and silver, and burnt sienna. Their melanges of awkward square, triangular, and rhomboidal forms are arranged chockablock like some tattered, mildewed board game thrown out during a move. Strips of cheap plasterboard nailed to the stretcher frame some of the paintings (in Hopperland, 1997, the nails protrude through the canvas’ surface). On the evidence of these abstractions,

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  • Herman de Vries

    Susan Inglett Gallery

    Art is a form of social therapy for herman de vries, who believes that organic materials contain redemptive potency, à la Joseph Beuys. For de vries, who was trained as a botanist before turning to art in the ’50s, plants are the locus of meaning, offering healing through contemplation of their pattern, texture, aroma, and shape. His visual style is elegant and pared down, and his assembled flora are certainly beautiful. The question is, Can an inheritor of Beuysian shamanism using formal strategies of such simplicity hope to compete against stunning advances in both technology and apathy, at

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  • Mary Esch

    Bronwyn Keenan Gallery

    Confronted with the human figure, a lot of artists anxiously adopt a defensively kitschy style. Sean Landers depicts himself and others as apes, Lisa Yuskavage unapologetically sexualizes her subjects, and Nicole Eisenman beats a path down the low road of scatology. The results are what we’ve come to appreciate as “bad painting,” painting that confounds technical acumen with a determined weirdness. This is the stance taken by Minneapolis artist Mary Esch, whose slightly exaggerated, cartoony painting and enigmatic vocabulary subvert familiar aesthetic categories—portraiture, illustration,

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  • Amy Sillman

    Casey Kaplan

    Amy Sillman’s most recent paintings, like her earlier work, are awhirl with loopy, lambent imagery. At the same time, they have confidently opened up into Color Field–like expanses, and the result is a disarmingly playful reinvention of the sublime. Though often linked, by the artist herself and by critics, to Surrealism, Sillman’s work is too painterly, too often motivated by nuances of pentimenti and washes for that connection to be very meaningful, especially given the rhapsodic sweep of the new paintings.

    As in the case of Francesco Clemente, who is clearly an influence on Sillman, the uncanny

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  • Rebecca Quaytman

    Spencer Brownstone Gallery

    Like a three-dimensional CD-Rom that substituted walking and looking for pointing and clicking, Rebecca Quaytman's exhibition abounded in links among and cross-references between the works, a line of hard-edged abstractions interspersed with photographs silkscreened onto wood panels. With its artworks, images of artworks, and images of people viewing artworks, the show was a sort of sustained inquiry on the subject of looking.

    Quaytman is particularly attentive to how the gallery space influences the way we read what's on view. Near the entrance, the viewer found a blue monochrome, Going Here,

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