By Scott H. Gordon

            There are but a handful of gallery or museum shows that have operatic potency; Anselm Keifer at Marian Goodman is one. Called “auszug aus Agypten” (“departure from Egypt”) the show assembled two large works on canvas and sixteen small glopped up photographs on the theme of the Jewish exodus underscoring the miracles that ensued. Kiefer likes Aaron’s rod, which when thrown on the ground transformed into a serpent.
            Kiefer applies shellac, collage and lead to charred and manipulated photographs of the faintest landscapes. In Pillar of Clouds (one of four versions) a bare landscape dotted with clusters of trees, was given a thin wash of shellac, then melted lead was tossed diagonally across the surface.
            Next door at Blum Helman, Donald Sultan, whose last show wasn’t especially surprising, has come into full power with this new work. More lemons, fires, tar and tiles. The most compelling and vibrantly graphic ones around. Still life made heroic.
            David McKee had a group of Philip Guston’s first late figurative paintings (1968-69). The piantings are of centered images that we have come to associate with his later work: heads, hands, sofas. Exquisite and personable, these small works are like an index to Guston’s comic expressionist vocabulary.
            Blacks, browns, and greys predominate in Rothko’s 1969-70 paintings at Pace Gallery. Portraits of languish and desolation even more forbidding than most. Operatic like only the Abstract Expressionists could be.
            At Mary Boone Gallery, Johns and genitals. In David Salle’s My Head, a plywood field holds blue-tipped wooden erections, jutting out over five views of Picasso’d sculptures painted in a scale of        . Superimpsed on these are three crudely drawn figures, including a young girl on her hands and knees, underwear half off. The work sways between figuration and abstraction chairs, stools, primitive carvings and Johnsian references, a wooden ear, a lead panel in low relief. The Bigger Credenza  doesn’t help to neutralize Salle’s sexist tag: divided in two, the left panel includes anonymous forms stuck on a bare canvas, on the right is a grey rendering of a prone nude gazing at the ceiling, legs spread wide as during orgazm. Is this the credenza? A buffet of compliance?
            We’ve seen the kind of sculptures in “The New Sculpture Show” at Now Gallery before, namely at MOMA’s “Primitivism” show. I’m instinctively drawn to Ken Hiratsuka’s stone carvings, single flat snoes each with one maze-like chiseled line, and abstract hieroglyphics. There works do not insist on much besides their unanxiousness. The same holds true of Liz & Val. Their painted, wooden and cardboard boxes combine primal sources, drawings, and post-modernist contingencies in a way that gives these simple ritualistic objects some magic. Using plastic sequins, beads, a green-blue feather boa, miniature sculptures, Christmas lights, and columns, Joan Posluszny’s devotional piece suggests many divinities and beliefs.
            Another group show at the brilliant and beautiful Gracie Mansion. In Guy Augeri’s contribution a twisting figure stands above a blue arch on ochre-stained ground. David Wojnarowicz’s apocalyptic obsessions become even more grafically compelling. In a pink wooden altar sits a loaf of bread and, stiched together with red string, an earth-colored stone, a bound armless figure interwined with wire and batteries, and a braided arch of twigs and barbed wire. Hanging above is a worn sienna cloth. Rhonda Zwillinger is represented by three framed sunsets, tourist attractions the world over, using beads, gold flowers, plastic spikes in orange, red, and blue.
            Worthy of note: Ed Valentine, Avenue B Gallery. Valentine forms his paintings like collages – portraits on grounds of suffused, automatic gestures. Some are drawn, some are weighty with paint, but most have an ironic egde. Standout is Saturn Devouring Her Young, an unflagging materialization of various styles.
             Caren Scarpulla’s 50-ish cartoon art paintings are the B-side Gallery focus on one centralized female figure, Scarpulla’s alter ego. With beehive hairdos and mannequinlike bodies, this everywoman bears scars, bleeds, biomorphic-shaped blood, and wears band-aids like medals of battle. Her breasts are simple triangles, and in some cases three-dimentional pyramids actually project from the canvas.
            Scapulla’s earlier paintings convey her impressions of male/female reletionships primarily by way of dialogue: “God, what a creep,” and “No(yes).” The new paintings have dropped this narrative device. In one of the larger pieces – a Calvary scene in a barren landscape, backed by mountains – two female victims are impaled on crosses behing Scarpulla’s female Christ, a casuality of a male-dominated world. In other works, women push baby carriages, talk among them-selves, drift in a twilight-zone atmosphere, and pose in cliched suburban scenarios, lawns, swimming pools. A strong showing and creditable shift in her new work, Scarpulla maintains her facetious assault, and advancement of autobiographical imagery while simultaneously asserting herself through figure and color.
            The watchword for many shows this past month seems to be classic columns and religious objects. Russell Joseph Buckingham is no exception. Buckingham’s alterpieces take on a plausibility in their presentation. Two vertical canvases rest on low pedestals clothed with drapery. As a substitution for pictoral narratives on the pediment, Buckingham uses poetics in much the same way.