reviews

  • Yinka Shonibare

    The Studio Museum in Harlem

    A perceptive New York dealer I needn’t name once called a prolific artist I shouldn’t name “too smart to be an artist.” Words, like pictures, can lie, but indications are that Yinka Shonibare and his art are equally and exceedingly smart. Shonibare is that rarity whose stated intentions and lucid analyses actually correspond to and enrich the work on view. All that’s left, it appears, for his increasingly numerous commentators to do is recount the artist’s dual background—he was born and educated in London, where he is based, but raised in Lagos and describe the painting suites, installations,

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  • Francesco Vezzoli

    New Museum

    What’s not to like about a short film featuring Helmut Berger playing Joan Collins playing Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington? The melodramatic scenarios of Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli’s productions take place in environments of luxury and lassitude, settings somehow appropriate to aging divas who, one imagines, whatever the actual conduct of their lives, have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, or even the late afternoon. Not so Vezzoli. Evidently he not only gets out of bed but has no qualms about making doubtless numerous telephone calls in order to get the Valentino couture gowns

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  • Norman Rockwell

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

    Norman Rockwell is not a complicated artist but he is a complicated case. The tides that washed him up at the Guggenheim must have included the democratic currents of the ’60s, which encompassed, in art, the anti-Clement Greenberg, pro- kitsch, fun-loving flow of ideas that eventually liberated audiences to take new kinds of interest and pleasure in vernacular culture. Rockwell is a beneficiary of that moment, but a paradoxical one, being, for many, a glamorizer of the most parochial, conventional,white-bread side of American life. And while the following of demotic trends has led to an academy

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  • Annika Larsson

    Andrea Rosen Gallery

    In her 1974 essay “Fascinating Fascism,” a biting critique of the rehabilitation of Leni Riefenstahl, Susan Sontag outlines how certain elements of fascist aesthetics—notably choreographed domination, pageantry, and an insistent glamorization of death—have entered the vocabulary of contemporary culture. Nearly thirty years later, this diagnosis seems more appropriate than ever. Co-opted for their appeal to powerful, largely latent desires, fascist aesthetics can today be found in both conservative and liberal contexts: eroticized in fashion photography and advertising on the one hand,

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  • Andrea Fraser

    Friedrich Petzel Gallery / P. H. A. G.

    In 1998 Andrea Fraser announced that she would no longer perform as Jane Castleton, the museum docent whose tours had left unsuspecting audiences scratching their heads over the past decade. While her work as Castleton had been based on a misrepresentation of her true status within cultural institutions. Fraser was now going to operate strictly as an artist. Yet after a five year hiatus from showing solo in New York, these concurrent, related gallery appearances demonstrated that her sense or institutional belonging has only grown more complex and ambiguous.

    Two works at P.H.A.G. examined the

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  • Edward Burtynsky

    Charles Cowles Gallery

    Gone are the days of big canvases glutting exhibition spaces, now that photography has largely replaced painting as the medium of choice among contemporary artists. The “new painting” often has little to do with painting itself, of course, except perhaps in terms of scale; indeed, the ubiquity of the photograph almost makes one yearn for fleshy oils on canvas. Edward Burtynsky’s photographs, however, seemed geared to satisfy that yearning. In this small survey of work from the past decade, Burtynsky presented a mini-history of postwar art, complete with references to Abstract Expressionism and

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  • Oliver Herring

    Max Protetch

    The shimmer of Oliver Herring’s signature knitted-Mylar sculptures made over the past decade reflects the influence of Ethyl Eichelberger, the performance artist and transvestite whose career (abruptly ended by his AIDS-related suicide in 1991) inspired Herring to rethink his approach to materials. In a recent interview he observed, “[What] went to the heart of what Ethyl Eichelberger had done . . . [was] making meaningful situations happen through very, very mundane means.”

    For the last ten years Herring has been coming up with new ways to do just that. In Raft, 1994, for instance, in which

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  • Simon Starling

    Casey Kaplan

    Simon Starling’s recent installation looked back at the modernist attempt to dissolve the barriers between art and the environment while recasting modernism itself as a cage. A well-orchestrated hybrid of disciplines and references, the work fell into the categories of painting, sculpture, industrial design, architecture, and music without fitting into any of these.

    The show, titled “Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA,” was arranged in two parts. Hanging at eye level near the entrance were three lamps with stacked red, white, blue, and green metal shades, based on Paul Henningsen’s ’50s pendant

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  • Nancy Burson

    Grey Art Gallery

    Nancy Burson has devoted the past two decades to the human face, not so much to learn from it as to learn what it cannot tell us. This midcareer survey, “Seeing and Believing: The Art of Nancy Burson” (co-organized with the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston), includes more than one hundred photographs as well as drawings and interactive computer stations (at which you can see various modified versions of yourself—merged with another face, as a different race or age, or with various physical anomalies). The show opened with a selection of the early-’80s composite

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  • Saint Clair Cemin

    Cheim & Read | Upper East Side

    Saint Clair Cemin’s recent show was a marvel of visual wit, acknowledging and playfully disturbing the conventions of sculpture with a mischievous humor that verges on madness. From a distance Three Graces (all works 2002) looks like Expressionist fantasy, but its odd bulges and whimsical conjunctions suggest a certain ironic license with the female figure as well as the ancient theme of the title. Breasts and bellies proliferate, evoking the artist’s wild vision of the female body in all its plenitude. By his own testimony, Cemin’s new works are inspired by his wife’s pregnancy and daughter’s

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  • Artur Nikodem

    Robert Mann Gallery

    At a time when Chelsea is filled with wall-size, color-saturated photographs pursuing “the painting of modem life,” there is something perversely appealing about a show of minuscule black-and-white photographs made by a painter. Known for his Tyrolean landscapes, agrarian scenes, portraits, and nudes, modernist Artur Nikodem was influenced in his native Austria by the Vienna Secession and Art Nouveau; he studied in Munich and Florence and lived briefly in Paris, where he was especially drawn to the work of Manet and Cézanne. From 1914 to 1930, Nikodem tested photographic equipment for a dealer

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  • Jennifer Dalton

    Plus Ultra

    In her latest exhibition, “A Task No One Assigned,” Jennifer Dalton responded to a comment by New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl characterizing art production as unmandated or self-commissioned effort. “What makes these exercises art?” Schjeldahl wrote of “Paradise Now,” a group show at Exit Art in New York in 2000. “Well, what else might they reasonably be? They involve real work that is really gratuitous . . . [and] that’s distinction enough.” Dalton, quoting him in the press release, has accepted his dictates as both permission granted and gauntlet thrown down. The three interlinked works

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  • Zak Smith

    Fredericks & Freiser Gallery

    The early word on Zak Smith was that he’s some kid whose paintings had been “discovered” by the art world. Smith’s recent debut, “20 Eyes in My Head,” bore out the preliminary description of the scrappy young painter with an eye (or twenty?) trained on his immediate surroundings—friends, apartment, possessions—rather than the tradition of painting, or even the lineage of punk rock, the other form of expression with which he’s aligned himself.

    Girls figure largely in Smith’s universe. Jena with Sunkist and Sunkist-Colored Shirt, 2000, shows a sparky club kid gazing eagerly at the viewer.

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  • Richard Ballard

    Rosenberg + Kaufman Fine Art, Ltd.

    The oeuvre of Richard Ballad, a Paris-based British artist who’s spent considerable time in New York, can be read as a progression from lyric figurative expressionism to a pared-down, even brooding exploration of mostly natural forms. The tenor of his later paintings is hermetic, reflective of a meditative bent that comes to inhabit Ballard’s aesthetic in as passionate a manner as natural forms inhabit his early work. The thirty-seven watercolors in this retrospective of his paintings from the past two decades fall into six series. he earliest are airy and Matissian. Odalisque in a Dream, 1981,

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