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Promising artists at Guggenheim. Exhibit comes at a time of wide-ranging change in American art

By Theodore F. Wolff / October 7, 1985

New York

Two things stand out in ``New Horizons in American Art,'' this year's Exxon National Exhibition on view at the Guggenheim Museum here: the genuineness of the talent that assistant curator Lisa Dennison has chosen for inclusion, and the modesty of its scale and ambitions. There is no bombast and there are no irrelevancies. Art is served simply and effectively by the nine artists, and if none can be described as brilliant, all certainly deserve to be viewed as special. Most are in their early 30s and have already achieved some measure of success, although none is as well-known as Mark Innerst, who, at 28, is generally considered one of America's most promising younger painters. The others, Phoebe Adams, Anthony-Peter G'orny, Tobi Kahn, Mark Kloth, Rex Lau, Joan Nelson, Jim Peters, and Irene Pijoan, were also selected by Ms. Dennison after extensive travels throughout the United States visiting galleries and artists' studios.

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This, the seventh in Exxon Corporation's ongoing series of national and international exhibitions, comes at a time when rapid and wide-ranging changes are occurring in American art, and younger artists are freer than they have been in decades to follow their own creative impulses. As Dennison writes in her catalog essay, ``A wide variety of aesthetic attitudes has prevailed throughout the first half of the eighties. Yet the dominant style, Neo-Expressionism, is on the wane. Coming into focus now are oth er forms of expression: Among these, figuration, historicism, appropriation, religious imagery, abstraction and landscape painting all engage the attention of today's painters and sculptors.''

Interestingly enough, four of the artists paint landscapes. Not anything the members of the Hudson River School would acknowledge as such, perhaps, but landscapes nevertheless, and rather effective ones at that. Those by Innerst are tiny, romantic, and appropriated from various sources including television, photographs, and dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. Kahn's are minimal in structure and broodingly primeval in mood, belonging to the tradition of American landscape painting dignifi ed by Ryder, Hartley, and Dove. Lau's are geometric and aggressive, walking a very thin line between realism and abstraction, while Nelson's evoke a world of absences and longings that is ominous in its implications as well as devoid of human beings.

The others work in various styles and media. Adams fashions unique bronze casts of forms that evoke but do not quite resemble simple living things; Kloth creates dramatic environmental installations; Peters produces figure compositions that are at once aggressively physical and dreamlike; and Pijoan combines two- and three-dimensionality and comes up with figurative images that seem both primitive and classical.

My favorites are Innerst and G'orny, with a private salute to the latter for being the one who moves me the most -- both because of his extraordinary graphic sensibility and the provocative nature of his imagery. G'orny is an excellent draftsman and printmaker, who also makes handcrafted books, photographs, and sculpture, but who is primarily a visionary with some interesting things to say.