reviews

  • “Ray Johnson: Correspondences”

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Despite the fact that his career spanned nearly fifty years, much of it spent in New York and in contact with the most important artists of his day, Ray Johnson has long been famous for being famously unknown. If at times he resented this contradiction, it was also something he relished, refusing to behave in regular-artist ways. He turned down shows, declined interviews, and refused sales. And even though he produced a few trademark images and techniques (his Ignatz-like bunny heads, his clunky yet precise calligraphy, his rubber stamps), none of his works has passed into the common image bank

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  • Willem de Kooning

    Drawing Center / Matthew Marks Gallery / Mitchell-Innes & Nash / Public Art Fund

    The coincident scheduling of Rothko and Pollock exhibitions in New York this fall provided a great opening for three de Kooning shows, as well as the Public Art Fund’s display of two large sculptures in Central and Bryant Parks. Seeing AbEx “all over” New York, it was obvious that de Kooning alone managed at once to reinvent and to remain himself—to have the second act most American artists don’t get. While the black-and-white enamels of the ’40s and the women and landscapes of the ’50s continue to be classic, the underrated work of the ’60s and ’70s equally challenges and rewards sustained

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  • Ed Ruscha

    Gray | New York

    Ed Ruscha is a great visual wit. The black-and-white bluntness of A Heavy Shower of Screws, 1976, creates the effect of being caught under a downpour of tiny metallic objects, and the letters of Acting Silly, 1974, do seem to act silly, as their comical arrangement in parallel diagonals and funny coloring (reddish-brown stain on white-silk moiré) suggest. The words are visually enacted, as it were.

    In this overview of the artist’s “language” works from the ’60s and ’70s, Ruscha offers a seemingly infinite range of typographies, set against moody, atmospheric fields—at times opaque, at times almost

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  • Gary Simmons

    Metro Pictures

    “Everything,” Michel Foucault once wrote about Magritte’s This Is Not a Pipe, “is solidly anchored within a pedagogic space.” In “The Forest for the Trees,” Gary Simmons’s most recent New York show, the scene was set by four large-scale C-prints installed in the front room of the gallery. A seminar room, a lecture hall, a chemistry auditorium, a large classroom: Each photograph placed the viewer squarely before a typical university space. These classrooms, however, were empty. Moreover, they appeared outmoded—one’s eye settled on the flaking ceiling paint in the seminar room, the missing characters

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  • Josef Sudek

    Salander-O’Reilly Galleries

    In this first of a series of planned exhibitions drawn from the estate of the Czech photographer Josef Sudek (1896–1976), the gallery, in collaboration with curator Anna Fárová, chose to highlight over sixty pigment prints made by the artist between 1947 and 1954. They are all contact prints, laboriously transferred onto small (7 by 9 inches or less) sheets of textured rag paper in golden, rose, and verdant hues. In this process, the images are transposed chemically onto carbon tissue and the pigment is then pressed onto regular paper. In reinterpreting his images in the ’40s and ’50s through

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  • Ross Bleckner

    Lehmann Maupin / Mary Boone Gallery

    The mainstream of today’s taste in abstraction calls for allover patterns rather than, say, a figure/ground dichotomy (too stodgy) or a single-color field (too academic), a highly refined sense of surface, and the kind of untouched-by-hands technique that inspires wonder. People these days like their abstraction impure, for instance, if as an image it echoes some previous stylistic phenomenon (whether emotionally charged or just piquantly quotidian) or suggests an origin in some other medium, like TV or photography. Such associations allow for overtones of nostalgia without breaking the barrier

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  • Stephen Greene

    David Beitzel Gallery

    By virtue of his age, Stephen Greene is often called an Abstract Expressionist, but this selection of fifteen of his paintings from the past forty-five years shows he is nothing of the sort. An abstractionist, yes, at least since the end of the ’50s, but not an expressionist, Greene has never focused on either gestural liberty, ideographic signs, or the allover field. The eighty-four-year-old artist is as unconcerned with the strivings after myth, mysticism, and the sublime that characterized his older contemporaries as he is immune to the repudiation of symbolic, nonvisual meaning typical of

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  • Andrew Masuillo

    Derek Eller Gallery

    Andrew Masullo doesn’t seem to get out much. So slowly and obsessively does he approach the craft of painting that a single canvas might remain in progress for months, even years. For one work, Masullo began by painting hundreds of tiny, glossy, multicolored circles on the canvas. Then, as if he were making a mosaic, he pressed a bit of dried pigment into the center of each one. The results of all that effort are certainly gorgeous to look at.

    The mostly small-scale abstract paintings on view in Masullo’s recent show were remarkable for their arresting colors—orange, lime green, yellow, fuchsia—and

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  • Gelatin

    Spencer Brownstone Gallery

    Gelatin, a cheeky quartet of expert bricoleurs with the mien of Euro pop stars, wowed New Yorkers last summer with their installation “Percutaneous Delights” at P.S. 1. In their most recent Manhattan show, “Suck & Blow,” the Vienna-based artists fashioned an inner membrane of black plastic garbage bags—kind of an inverse Christo job. More environment than installation, the effect was something like walking into the belly of a beast through its ass-end.

    After signing a waiver, viewers stooped a bit to enter a twenty-five-foot-long tunnel—lined with garbage bags whose edges had been melted

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  • “The Direct Eye”

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    With this exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has joined the very short list of major institutions willing to take on the challenge of contextualizing their holdings of work by self-taught artists within an expansive art-historical narrative. A selection of paintings and wall-mounted assemblages compared the work of four self-taught greats—Grandma Moses, Earl Cunningham, Horace Pippin, and Bill Traylor—with fourteen academically trained artists, ranging from Paul Sample to Alison Saar. In revealing the formal and thematic similarities between the two groups, the show staked out a decidedly

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  • Wojtek Ulrich

    Caelum Gallery

    Polish-born Wojtek Ulrich is less a pioneer than a skillful explorer of familiar artistic paths. In his recent show, elaborate sculptural installations with deliberately antiquated materials evoked Miroslaw Balka’s rusted steel-plate sculptures while large color photographs with images derived from classical mythology called to mind the Starn twins’ collaged photographic works (with their references to Roman antiquity) and the aberrant physiognomy often found in the art of the Chapman brothers. Ulrich’s Name, 1996, a set of metal boxes containing images of bound naked people, recalled the almost

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  • Andy Warhol

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    Marilyn Monroe’s 1962 suicide reverberates not only in the serial “Marilyn” paintings Andy Warhol began making days afterward. Her death also echoes through all his movies featuring tinsel-haired Factory angel Edie Sedgwick—ending appropriately enough with Lupe, 1965, in which the drug-addled Superstar imitates the “Seconal suicide” of ’40s star Lupe Velez, eerily anticipating her own Hollywood Babylon-style overdose.

    As spectacularly beautiful as it is a fascinating spectacle, Warhol’s spatially dynamic and dramatically lit film-and-video portrait of Sedgwick, Outer and Inner Space, 1965, is

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  • Christian Boltanski

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

    Throughout his career, Christian Boltanski has used the trappings of the individual—the portrait photograph, the worn coat, the pair of shoes—to memorialize the terrible anonymity of violence, specifically that of the Holocaust. His design for the recent BAM production of Franz Schubert’s masterwork Die Winterreise showcased the artist’s strengths: a sculptural understanding of ghostliness and the ability to temper elegy with just the right amount of existential dread. However, as is frequently the case when artists design for the theater, Boltanski’s production never quite coalesced dramatically.

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