John Elderfield

  • New Paintings by Ron Davis

    RON DAVIS, NOW THAT he can in no way be regarded as entertaining a West Coast obsession for the simply seductive in surfaces (certain aspects of his work in the past having prompted this concern), and now that his irregular shapes are seasoned by time and never look just radical (those striving for mere radicalism having outdistanced him in this respect), shows himself, in his current show, as the indisputably important painter he is. His eight new works in polyester resin on fiberglass (now thin as decals and literally pasted to the walls) are a significant advance in his investigation of

  • Ernest Trova and Robert Graham

    One recognizes, however, the changes Denny is making in wishing to disentangle himself from his past image, and it could well turn out that these are transitional works and better things are to come. At least we see here an unashamed attempt to deal directly with formal concerns. The same cannot be said of either Ernest Trova at Pace or Robert Graham at Sonnabend, who while seeming at first sight to be about very different things are usefully illuminated by being seen together. For a start, they both derive ultimately from Giacometti, both are basically toy-makers and both are purveyors of

  • The Language of Pre-Abstract Art

    THAT SO IMPRESSIVE EXHIBITION, “Four Americans in Paris,” has rightly drawn attention to the perceptiveness, tenacity, venturesomeness, good eye and good taste of the members of the Stein family in amassing such very good paintings. Inevitably an exhibition of this kind has attracted comment (both in the excellent catalog and outside) more concerned with the milieu than with the art. (Inevitably, because what we are also being asked to look at is the whole relationship of Cubist art to Matisse’s “alternative”—and I too am avoiding that question.) While I don’t at all wish to minimize the socio-art

  • Geometric Abstract Painting and Paris in the Thirties, Part II

    II

    . . . a controllable structure, a solid structure without chance or individual caprice. Without imagination? Yes. Without feeling? Yes, but not without spirit, not without universality and, as I think, not empty.

    —Van Doesburg, 1930

    We are Quakers, whose severely cut clothes are made of damask and cloth of silver.

    —Aldous Huxley, 1930

    IN THE YEARS AROUND 1930 when Mondrian was painting his most minimal works, Van Doesburg had “totally finished with any arrangement or composition guided with sentiment.”17 Art concret of 1930 was the last theoretical manifestation of Van Doesburg’s ever eloquent

  • Geometric Abstract Painting and Paris in the Thirties, Part I

    “IT WON’T DO,” WROTE Theo Van Doesburg in 1925, “it won’t do to use the exterior forms of the new as a recipe, in order to produce decorative or applied arts.”1 But by the early thirties abstraction seemed to have lost its uncompromising character, its equilibrium, and some younger abstract artists were producing what Van Doesburg had mockingly called “quadratic baroque.” Both Van Doesburg and Mondrian had, in fact, recognized that second generation abstractionists ran the risk of borrowing exterior stylistic forms without a full comprehension of their implicit spirit; but the abstract “mannerisms”

  • The Last Work of Kurt Schwitters

    I

    A “HANKERING AFTER THE PRIMITIVE” is how Richard Huelsenbeck has described Schwitters’ work, a wish to get away from “the complicated, overcharged, perspectively seen present.”1 In the last years of his life, spent in the obscurity of the English Lake District, Kurt Schwitters found such an escape from the urban environment which had dominated his German work. His work had always been a kind of running autobiography; that part of it done outside Germany sees a significant attachment to nature which effects the creation of new and different species of objects. Chief of these is the Elterwater