Friday, May 02, 2008

There's a nice review by Roberta Smith in the NYT today--of Action/Abstraction: Pollock, De Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976 at the Jewish Museum. Smith points out that the show hinges on the rivalry between critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg--and that though Rosenberg managed to change a bit with the times (unlike many of his contemporaries, for example, Rosenberg was able to see the value in Philip Guston's switch from lyrical abstraction to scruffy paintings of cartoonish eyes, shoes, and klansmen), both were eventually left behind by the art world, unable to understand or approve of works that would seem to fulfill their prescriptions for the trajectory of advanced art. Smith sums up the waning of Greenberg's power and judgement this way:

Greenberg more or less squandered his reputation in his relentless promotion of Color Field painting and related sculpture, giving formalism a bad name while writing less and less. His blinkered view is represented by the homogeneity of Helen Frankenthaler’s breakthrough stain painting “Mountains and Sea,” of 1952, as well as works by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Anthony Caro and Anne Truitt.

In this town, of course, it's awfully easy to say too much about the Color School. Yesterday I mentioned Jim Mahoney's piece in AiA...which starts off with a page or so on the Color School Remix, facing another page of images of works by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, et al. (More on that, including some corrections by the author himself, on Philippa's blog.) Jim points out that contemporary DC artists tend to feel ignored and more than a little overshadowed by the movement that ever-so-briefly made DC art matter.

But I tend to find that outside DC, if I bring up the Color School in conversation with artists, they have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll mention Helen Frankenthaler or Gene Davis and they might eventually get a sense of what period of art history I'm referencing...but as a movement, outside of this city, I find that the Color School's a bit of a non-entity. I was talking with an artist last night who recounted just such an experience in Germany. She was asked the inevitable question, "What's DC art like?" and had to first explain what the Color School was--to people who otherwise had a pretty clear picture of the history of postwar abstraction...then she had to follow up with her best guesses as to why anybody working in the present feels the weight of what's regarded by many as an art-historical footnote.

Elsewhere out there: Kriston's got a fascinating, somewhat digressive post on images of the story of Leda and the Swan, featuring references to Keifer, Yeats, and Cy Twombly.


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