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William T. Wiley installation view, 1981


Ted Wolff visiting the 1981 William T. Wiley exhibition, Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York.

Image courtesy George Adams Gallery archives. 

Critic Ted Wolff visiting the gallery to view the 1981 William T. Wiley exhibition at Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York. Installed behind him, l-r: Magabark, 1981; Bad Balance II: Freedumb and Ridicule, 1981; Still Life for Atlantic, 1981; and to his right, Scam Quentin, 1981.


In December of 1981, the gallery mounted its sixth exhibition of Wiley's work, including new paintings, drawings and sculpture completed since his first retrospective at the Walker Art Center a year prior. Among the many laudatory reviews of the show was Wolff's, for the Christian Science Monitor, where he described it as "not only a delight in itself but [one] that, in its masterful nailing of the wryly humorous and the gently satiric, speaks well for the future of wit and lightness of touch in American art."


The range of Wiley's work at the beginning of the '80s is evident from the image - including watercolors and pencil on paper works alongside large canvases utilizing an equal mix of materials, subjects, and language. Wolff identifies this characteristically Wiley tone as, "formal elegance, a rapier wit, and an iconoclastic attitude that... makes for pictorial excitement and for surprises - and this show is no exception." The drawing Scam Quentin, at the far right (though not clearly visible) is, in Wolff's opinion, "a minor masterpiece evoking the best of Ensor, Redon and Klee, and yet is unmistakingly from the hand and the sensibility of William T. Wiley."


His conclusion: "This excellent show... needs to be visited more than once," advice he himself may be taking at the time this photo was taken.