Action Figures


Action Figures

Willem de Kooning was a strikingly handsome, physically strong man, and in 1962 Dan Budnik photographed the painter, looking younger than his 58 years, hefting huge stretchers around his Broadway studio. Budnik (born in 1933) was in the studios taking pictures as the heroic age of abstract expressionism began to wane: Here’s David Smith in 1962 leaning on a shovel in snow beside two of his thigh-high brushed-metal pieces, the craggy sculptor as impervious as a gravestone. A 1958 photograph focuses on the upcoming generation and its new formal ideas—a skinny Robert Rauschenberg is dwarfed by a massive floor-to-ceiling painting that exhibits some of the furious brushstrokes of his elders but is also collaged with comic strips and colorful prints of classical art. In contrast to Fred McDarrah’s recent exhibition of many of these same artists, pictured amid the tumultuous clutter of their lives, Budnik’s images feel like formal portraits: Philip Guston’s large head, looming over a red-smeared palette table, resembles one of the cartoonish images of his late paintings; Helen Frankenthaler, striding across her studio in knee-high boots and a leopard coat, flashes a smile as bright as one of her huge stained canvases. A sadder mood is captured in a 1964 shot of Mark Rothko: cigarette dangling, eyes averted from the lens, bald forehead and shoulders framed by one of his large canvases—the painting’s dark surface seems almost a black hole waiting to swallow him up, a foreshadowing of his death six years later, a bloody suicide on the studio floor.

Richard Jackson: ‘The War Room’

High production values and over-the-top tableaux plunge you into a savage theme park: human-size fiberglass ducks bedecked in military uniforms have been attached to compressor hoses and have sprayed each other with paint pumped from their erect steel penises. Add in the baby dolls in buckets and a huge oil-rig-studded geodesic globe and you’ll realize that Jackson has exposed the pathetic pissing match that lies at its heart of all wars.
Yvon Lambert, 550 West 21st, 212-242-3611. Through March 22.

Karen Gunderson

The astonishing technical skill demonstrated in these five-foot-square oil paintings sets the viewer adrift in a stygian sea: thickly painted with stiff bristles, the ridges in the uniformly black pigment (which covers ever inch of the canvases) absorb or reflect light, which shifts like roiling waves with your every movement. But this is no gimmick—the sensuous heft of the materials and the broad, sweeping brushstrokes are inextricably bound to the compositions, which in turn coalesce into the most basic narrative of the sea: its primordial, unceasing, and hypnotic movement.
Clamp Art, 521–531 W 25th, 646-230-0020. Through March 31.

Andreas Gefeller

Using a camera mounted just above head level, Gefeller photographs the ground immediately in front of him, taking four steps before repeating the process over large distances. The individual images are then digitally stitched into faux-aerial shots of complex patterns, such as a racetrack grandstand littered with discarded betting slips, cigarette butts, and racing forms; only the fact that the cups, bottles, and railings appear in varying perspectives exposes the artist’s mosaic method. One five-foot-wide image documents an area large enough to hold a dozen cars—the cracked, stained yellow pavement of this Paris parking lot possesses the engaging texture of an abstract painting. Hasted Hunt, 529 W 20th, 212-627-0006. Through April 14.

Piero Golia

The crowd begins to gather at 10 past the hour. A broom attached to a small motor whirls like a propeller, its bristles making a
tiissscht sound for each second as it sweeps across the concrete floor. The only other object in the large gallery is a spring-loaded steel contraption primed with a stack of clay pigeons, those brittle disks used by skeet shooters. After every 60 broom rotations, a drop of water falls from the ceiling, an ephemeral event stretching out each minute as all eyes watch the brute, mute machine. Viewers are careful not to get between it and the facing wall, which is lightly gouged and discolored, the floor at its base strewn with orange and white shards and dark powder. At exactly 17 minutes after each hour, the anticipatory mood is shattered when a clay pigeon is hurled against the wall and disintegrates in a black cloud, a moment of orchestrated violence so quick you may long for a slo-mo instant replay. But by making time almost irritatingly manifest, Golia’s clever installation demonstrates that its inexorable passage offers no re-dos—a new bird may be in the slot, but the previous one is gone forever. Bortolami Dayan, 510 W 25th, 212-727-2050. Through March 24.

‘The Comics Library Journal— Harvey Kurtzman’

Creator, cover artist, writer, and editor for the original Mad comic book, Kurtzman (1924–93) easily qualifies as one of America’s most influential post-war artists. This compendium of interviews includes plentiful examples of his dynamic style, from early newspaper cartoons through the sinuous, calligraphic flow of his rough comic book layouts to his lavishly painted collaborations with Will Elder on Little Annie Fanny—along with colorful paeans from the likes of R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman. An in-depth analysis of “Big ‘If’!,” a legendary seven-page tale Kurtzman wrote and drew about war’s cruel capriciousness, emphasizes his seamless blend of expressionist graphics with everyman tragedy. Various authors, Fantagraphics, 154 pp., $19.95

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 27, 2007

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