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

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.

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.

Most intriguing is the exhibition itself, and the manner in which it reveals Ms. Dennison's firm curatorial hand. She has created an ensemble effect that is as clear in its aesthetics and judgments as in its expression of her attitudes. For all the knowledge and analysis that went into its selection, however, this show must ultimately be seen as her subjective -- if shrewd and insightful -- appraisal of what is central to the art of the mid-1980s. As such, it is interesting and valuable, not only becaus e of what the public is given a chance to see, but because it gives us a clearer notion of Dennison's position in relation to today's art. After all, as assistant curator at the Guggenheim, she exercises considerable clout, and it's good to know where she stands.

She has acquitted herself well. One may disagree with some of her choices (I don't), or feel she has expressed too narrow a bias (I do) by focusing almost exclusively on works that are muted and brooding, but she cannot be faulted for the sensitive and intelligent way she has gone about her job. If the title of the show promises more than it can produce -- and doesn't every title of every show of this sort do just that? -- that is not her fault as curator, but the fault of whoever wanted to give the imp ression that a visit to this exhibition would provide full awareness of everything new going on in American art today.

Be forewarned. It won't happen. What will occur, one hopes, will be even more important, however, for there is enough interesting-to-excellent work on display to stimulate, move, or give pleasure to most of those viewing it. I'm only sorry that many of the best pieces are almost impossible to reproduce. There is a large lithograph by G'orny that is a knockout; Innerst's images lose much of their impact in black and white; Kahn's textures are essential to an appreciation of what he is trying

to do; and Nelson's landscapes are so subtle as to defy adequate representation via photography.

At the Guggenheim Museum through Nov. 3. New Orleans gallery in SoHo

The Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans is one of the liveliest and best in the South, with a seven-year reputation for quality and a puckish determination to prove that not all good things in art come from New York. It is understandable, therefore, that it should want to challenge the Big Apple on its home ground in SoHo, and in a manner that would prove that the word ``provincial'' has little, if any, meaning in today's art world.

Its month-long show at Exhibition Space is doing just that. Twenty artists are represented, and this huge gallery is fairly bursting with what they've brought with them. It's an impressive and highly enjoyable exhibition, with a wide variety of styles and a tremendous amount of energy. Particularly outstanding are the contributions of Jim Richard, Ida Kohlmeyer, Barry Bailey, Paul Tarver, and Edward Whiteman.

At Exhibition Space at 112 Greene Street, through Oct. 19.

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