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Karen Wilkin: At the Galleries
Partisan Review | 1, 1996

. . . Seven Painters, an ambitious group exhibition at Nicholas Alexander Gallery [NYC], was both an excellent idea and something of a missed opportunity. A selection of works made between 1967 and 1972 by Dan Christensen, Ronald Davis, Ronnie Landfield, William Pettet, Larry Poons, Lawrence Stafford, and Peter Young, the show was a welcome reminder of how fresh, vigorous, and inventive some of the color-driven abstraction of the sixties and early seventies continues to look. These days, when abstract art must be hedged around with irony and built in disclaimers if it is to qualify as noteworthy in modish circles, it is refreshing to confront painting that was made with a wholehearted enthusiasm and a belief that aesthetic experience can be deeply pleasurable without compromising seriousness. Not all of the works in the show have worn equally well, but a significant number looked as unexpected and convincing as they did when they were first shown: a Poons that flirted with incoherence, a Christensen built of radiant whiplash drawing, a Landfield that managed to be personal while rendering homage to Matissse, a Davis that played games with illusionism and materiality.   Why then speak of a missed opportunity? Many of the works included seemed expedient rather than imperative choices. It may have been due to the necessity of having works available for sale in a show in a commercial gallery — and this is a delicate point — it may have been the result of the show's having been selected by one of the exhibiting artists, Ronnie Landfield. The weighting of the show in terms of the numbers of pictures by each participant and, sometimes, in terms of quality, suggested that Landfield had far less restricted access to his own works than to those of his colleagues. Then there's the even more delicate question of who was included — and who excluded — in the first place.   It would be extremely interesting to see a thoughtful exhibition that surveyed the period in question. Seven Painters, while obviously full of good intentions, understandably fell short. This is all the more frustrating because it seems unlikely that any significant institution is going to expand on the idea, given the current preference for Duchamp-inspired, largely conceptual art, rather than for the "Matisse-inspired" visual painting of the artists in Seven Painters and their colleagues. Maybe it's time for a little revisionism? . . .

Karen Wilken

Published in: Partisan Review|1, 1996, Volume LXIII, Number 1  

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