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Back to Reviews 96


Elisa, 1996

Jennifer, 1996

robert graham  
at gagosian gallery

by Paul H-O 

When one enters the Gagosian Gallery on New 

York's Golden Road of the Arrived, one 

knows the vicarious thrill of being 

immersed in the really fine world of extra 

big money. Very titillating if one goes for 

that kind of thing. The gallery has its own 

elevator that floats you right to the front 

desk with a beautiful functionary to 

provide the proper channels of information. 

Without any attitude she tells you where to 

go. You round the corner in the warm 

austerity of the spacious catacomb to find 

the main gallery bathed in a naturalistic 

sky-light. In the middle of the space are 

the objects for anyone to inspect at their 

leisure. Three exquisitely precise 

extremely nude bronze figurines in quarter-

scale atop pedestals that put the tiny 

babes right in your face. You have just 

entered the Cadillac Classic World of 

Contemporary Art as produced by Robert 


The latest exhibition by Mr. Graham is yet 

another variation of his ongoing theme of 

hyper-real female figure studies done as 

patinated bronze miniatures mounted on 

their own stands. The dynamic threesome 

here is, respectively, standing erect, 

sitting, and lying down in a not-so-

classical pose. His trademark 

perfectionistic rendering of the female 

nude is like, omnipresent, as it has always 

been for the last thirty years. This show 

also includes a series of line etchings on 

paper of, you guessed it, nudes in various 

postures. Mr. Graham is a rock of 

reliability! These drawings are almost 

risky, since the bountiful model is wearing 

just enough clothing to accentuate the 

erotic, such as a wrap-around thing, maybe 

a skirt, around her waist. This elegant 

exhibition is topped with a bonus classic 

standing nude painted white with mascaraed 

eyes and a black headband. Although this is 

an older work, from 1980, it is in fact the 

best piece in the show.

To say this new work, as most of Graham's 

has been for over a decade, is a throwback 

from a bygone era of fine cigar chomping at 

the Century Club is the least toothy curse 

to hurl at the sculpture, or the artist, 

for that matter. Andrea Dworkin would 

sputter spitty invective and Camille Paglia 

might giggle about metacontrol and female 

objectification but it doesn't matter 

because the trend in art is so far away 

from this stuff that it's become an 

interesting case study in how some things 

never change. It's the models! They have 

nice tits and perfect asses. The only hair 

on their heavenly bods is on the head. The 

third reclined nude is spreadeagled at 

tongue-hanging level for all to see. This 

stuff is practically medical. The chill 

factor is the total lack of expression on 

the models' faces, as warm as a hood 

ornament. Every contour and crevice 

photographically rendered down to 

airbrushed perfection. The only other 

museum-sanctioned sculptor to play this 

kind of prank on classic statuary is John 

de Andrea with his 1980s painted replicas 

of naked girls. The critics would seem to 

prefer the transgressive feminist 

sexploitation of photographers like Nan 

Goldin rather than sculptors like Graham, 

who begins with the classic patriarchal 

nude. But this is what I love about art, 

intellectual theory from opposite ends of 

the spectrum but both come up with a shaved 

pussy. The wrap on Robert Graham is that 

his work is at once appalling and 

fascinating because he obviously knows 

better but is unrepentant all the way to 

the bank. Or another perspective might come 

from his wife, Angelica Huston, who when 

asked about her husband's obsessive visual 

approach just said, "Oh, I just thought he 

was a pervert!"

Paul H-O is a New York artist who 

produces and stars in Art TV Gallery Beat, 

appearing on Manhattan Public Access 

Cable Television channel 16, Weds. 12
midnight and Sat. 4:30 p.m.