Art: Sculptural One-Liners

Charles Ray's conceptual works project a portrait of the artist as smart, nerdy and passive-aggressive

It's compensation: as the water drains out of the pond of contemporary art, as the belief in everlasting invention that was hard-wired into American expectations during the 1960s dwindles, small bass and medium carp are treated as potential Moby Dicks. Witness the California artist Charles Ray, 45, whose mid-career retrospective, curated by Paul Schimmel of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, recently opened at New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art.

The catalog is somewhat hyperbolic--at one point Schimmel actually manages to compare a sculpture of eight naked effigies of Ray sprawling around in a masturbatory group grope to...

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