. . 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? . . .
in: Partisan Review|1, 1996, Volume LXIII, Number 1