Roberta Smith
New York Times
February 27th, 2009

John Newman
“Instruments of Argument”
Recent Sculpture

New York Studio School
8 West 8th Street
Greenwich Village
through March 7th

John Newman’s art has improved steadily since the 70’s, even if the going has been slow, and the only way was up. Mr. Newman began as a young man making an old man’s art, exquisite but implicitly academic sculptures in shades of gray that seemed to predate Minimalism.
Over the decades his work has become smaller, livelier and younger, as well as more original, eccentric and precise. It speaks, increasingly, in multiple voices. Each delightful, surprising object in this show offers a circuitous commentary of contrasting forms, colors, materials, techniques, values and cultures. Diversity itself is the content. Ikebana, tourist trinkets, and cabinets of curiosities come to mind, but so do architectural models and Martian plop art.
It’s all here, separate, equal and crazily mixed: art, craft, and decoration: analog and digital; bases, sculpture and painting; male and female; East and West. The scientific demeanor of spirals and helixes is interrupted by sudden jolts of color or Rocco frivolity. Elements in wood, glass, marble, bronze, metal or paper may be found with plastic leaves or a ceramic sphere, smashed and mended.
In “headturners (prop and kiss),” brightly striped spirals seem to leap forth like fat electric currents or colliding tropical fish from two bronze objects that could be exotic bracelets or fancy ice hooks. In “blue ribbon teardrop” a branch of bumpy burl tethers a billowing, ribbonlike helix painted with blue ribbon patterns. They make an odd-couple circle from which dangles a large teardrop of blue glass, like a plumb line.
Mr. Newman’s latest efforts subvert the usual subjugation of parts to wholes and suggest a world of specific objects beyond Donald Judd’s wildest dreams. Each part of each Newman is a whole unto itself, colluding with but strikingly opposed to the larger unit.
It’s more than nice, after all these years, to see in Mr. Newman’s hard-won sculptures a playful brilliance shared by Ken Price, Kathy Butterly and Thomas Nozkowski.