John Elderfield

  • Cork: Irish Painting in the 19th Century

    “IRISH ART IN THE 19th century,” an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, medals, photographs, and applied arts at Cork, Ireland, from October 31st through December 29th, is a beautifully presented first glimpse at an (undeservedly) obscure period and a fascinating overview of the Irish contribution to international modernism. Visually most striking was the richness of painting that Irish artists produced. There were no special innovators, but this exhibition served to remind us that quality operates separately from style. Comparable in its own way to the recent German 19th-century show at Yale,

  • Mondrian, Newman, Noland: Two Notes on Changes of Style

    THE TWO UNEQUAL NOTES WHICH COMPRISE this article approach differently the issue of changes of style. The first inquires whether Mondrian’s established drawing style was incompatible with his late ambitions. The second looks at Newman and Noland and asks to what extent Noland’s recent work represents an important break with his earlier position. And if these two parts form a whole it is only because they share the common subject of change. I do not seek to imply any correspondence between Mondrian’s and Noland’s styles—despite certain visible similarities. By way of a preface we need first to

  • Color and Area: New Paintings by Ellsworth Kelly

    ELLSWORTH KELLY’S NEW PAINTINGS maximize one of the necessarily crucial and persistent factors in modern abstract art: the interrelation of color and area. The spareness of Kelly’s art has meant that the “correct” fixing of the dimensions of a color for a specific occasion has always been his basic concern; but here, the workings of scale and shape on color find perhaps their most overt, and hence complete, expression to date. Since his working method has never been a matter of linear moves to fixed solutions, but rather involves treating the same “subject matter” at different focal lengths (

  • The Early Work of Kurt Schwitters

    An object that tells of the loss, destruction, disappearance of objects. Does not speak of itself. Tells of others. Will it include them?

    —Jasper Johns

    IN 1919, KURT SCHWITTERS CHOSE the word “Merz” to describe what he called his “pasted and nailed pictures” because he could not “define them with the older conceptions like Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism or whatever” and because he wished to make them “like a species.”1 This insistence on a generic title reflects Schwitters’ consciousness of having achieved an independent and original status for his art. Schwitters’ historical reputation rests

  • Drawing in Cézanne

    “The Dab Of Color Drawing Out Form Was The Constant Factor, Sureness And Specificity The Hallmark Of His Greatness”

    THE ASTONISHINGLY HIGH level of achievement of the mature Cézanne and the sureness and frankness of his empirical “realizations,” are what impress so much in the exhibition of his works seen recently in Washington and Chicago and opening this month at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This exhibition, assembled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Phillips Collection, gives us, with very few exceptions, Cézanne in undiluted quality: there is very little here to dissuade us from

  • John Walker, Tim Scott, Isaac Witkin, and recent acquisitions at the Museum of Modern Art

    Recent English art, when shown in New York, has too often been found short on toughness or evidencing a softened interpretation of American idioms. Behind these complaints is the idea that it suffers from what has been called (in this journal) European “humanizing qualities” irreconcilable with the sturdy primitivism indigenous to the American tradition. The problem with this point of view is that what might be accepted as a descriptive statement (that differences of nationality and tradition do affect art) is frequently assumed to be a value judgment (that this European “sensibility” inevitably

  • On Constructivism

    “At Basis, Constructivism Was Not So Much A Method Of Artistic Organization As Of Social Regulation.”

    THE DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN RUSSIAN art often seems like a theatrical scenario, so stylized is the impression we have of it. A lot that has reached us appears detached from credibility, surreal, fictive even. Of course, we have the paintings to look at (or some of them), and the designs and plans—these are all concrete enough. But the difficulty isn’t so much there (though I believe we are not yet looking at them hard enough) but in the surrounding ethos. Once you get interested enough in the

  • 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

  • Robyn Denny

    One traditional way of creating a distinguished looking art through sobriety has been to deal with closely related and restrained colors in very simple and clear formats and to make a series of paintings as investigations of a narrowly limited theme: This is a commonplace of modern painting. But that this itself is no guarantee of good painting has equally been proven. It does, however, often seem to guarantee at least some kind of modest honesty of effect, as if we recognize this as a respectable concern even though we can’t always feel happy about the range of results achieved. And I found

  • 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


    . . . 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