Peter Plagens

  • Tantric Works

    The relative importance of the show of 18th and 19th century Tantric Works at Eugenia Butler depends on whether art activity is measured by what’s being done or what’s being shown. Although my most constant interests are with the former, these 99 small, hand-done (in look as well as fact), water-base “mystical diagrams” form a substantive, contemplative exhibition which should have some small effect on current art production. The purpose buried in the works is one unfamiliar of late: to evoke God and/or magic, both through, aside from several graceful figurations, the defiant irrational in

  • 557,087: Seattle

    557.087, THE SHOW WHICH Lucy Lippard has organized for the Seattle Art Museum, will be recalled generically as the first sizable (i.e. public institution) exhibition of “concept art,” but it is in fact an amalgam of non-chromatic work running a gamut from late, funky Minimal to a point at which art is replaced, literally, by literature. The show is a bellwether, consolidated enough to necessitate sifting high-grade bullshit Canal Street art-thinking from genuinely dangerous, substantial material. 557.087 (which was, incidentally, the population of Seattle in 1960; the title changes when the

  • The Possibilities of Drawing

    I

    AMERICAN ART, EVEN AT ITS BEST, operates under a heavy dose of draftsmanship and this draftsmanship is, historically, a combination of European Beaux-Arts and the fertile soil of the American outlook. This predisposition has endured all the way from Benjamin West to a “mainstream” artist like Andrew Wyeth (most likely considered, by upper-middle class laymen, the consummate American draftsman); moreover, it encompasses the vanguard. The greatest American art movement, Abstract Expressionism, was, by and large, a re-revolution in drawing and its practitioners were draftsmen. Willem de Kooning,

  • Marsden Hartley Revisited, or, Were We Really Ever There?

    Painting has become definitely masculine at last, mechanistic in its purport.

    —Marsden Hartley

    IN A WAY, IT IS not surprising that Marsden Hartley has left such a twisting, curling, and at times indistinct wake in American art literature. He was, after all, an erratic follower of styles, the painter of such diverse pictures as Portrait of a German Officer, The Lost Felice, Fisherman’s Last Supper and The Wave; he fell easily under influences ranging from a kind of synthetic Impressionism (the “Segatini stitch”), through Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and Dada. He traveled widely and, to make

  • Louis Kahn’s New Museum in Fort Worth

    LOUIS I. KAHN IS BUILDING a new art museum for the Kimbell Art Foundation, in Fort Worth, Texas. That Kahn has been for the past several years “first in professional importance among living American architects,”1 and that the ambitious Kimbell Foundation has Dr. Richard Fargo Brown as Director, make it possible that the Kimbell building, when it opens in 1971, will be the best museum building in the country.

    The Kimbell Art Museum will give Fort Worth, with a projected population of 600,000 by 1970 but only 30 miles from larger Dallas, a three-museum complex: the Kimbell, the Amon Carter Museum

  • Sam Francis Retrospective in Houston

    SAM FRANCIS WAS BORN in San Mateo, California in 1923, and educated in psychology and medicine, at the University of California at Berkeley. During a hitch in the Air Force in World War II, Francis suffered a spinal injury which restricted him to a supine position during several months of recovery. In the hospital, Francis took up painting, his future style taking hold in the view of the world of a man flat on his back (Francis has recounted that seeing the clouds in the sky while being moved on a stretcher was the single biggest influence). After the war, he studied with David Park; in 1947,

  • Jack Stuck’s “Bather’s”

    IN RESPONDING TO JACK STUCK’S recent paintings at Comara Gallery (about thirty-five works, all but a couple paintings), the viewer is tempted to feign distance from the genitalia, because Stuck plays ersatz dead-pan (stiff, rectilinear building-block composition; sparse, jarring employment of means; severe, irritating arabesque backgrounds) which could be an ambush: acknowledge the penises and you’ll hear, “. . . in the eye of the beholder!” Yet Stuck plays around with so many of our orientations (anatomical constructions, foreshortening, illusionistic depth, etc.) that it would be stupid to

  • A Georgia O’Keeffe Retrospective in Texas

    MISS GEORGIA O’KEEFFE IS NOW 78 years old; her first principal exhibition of paintings at one of Alfred Stieglitz’s galleries (Photo Secession) came when she was almost 30, after a kind of apprenticeship, in commercial art and college instruction, to her career as a painter. Stieglitz, who married Miss O’Keeffe in 1924 and who died twenty years ago this summer, has long ago been placed in deserving legend for his consuming struggle, as champion of American art unchained, with our indigenous Philistia. A few of the others in the circle surrounding “291,” “The Intimate Gallery,” and “An American

  • Present-Day Styles and Ready-Made Criticism

    Black was never a color of Death or Terror for me. I think of it as warm—and generative. But color is what you choose to make it.

    —Clyfford Still

    THE CRITICAL ESTABLISHMENT HAS largely overlooked the formal contribution of Pop; in the rush to assure that history does not again make a fool of journalism, the impact-innovations (imagery, literary content and the role of the artist) have been proclaimed, and the underlayers of color, space, structure, scale and surface have been left unattended. Art News, scrupulously fair to Pop news in spite of its editorial bias toward Abstract Expressionism,

  • Lee Mullican

    Lee Mullican is now a middle-aged painter, traditional (i.e. with a faith in the “magic” of canvas and paint) and academic (a professor at UCLA); exhibitions of his work force the already implied question: is the artist a visionary or a cautionary? Mullican’s general style pumps for the former, that is to say personal, colorful, mystic, optimistic, while his technique, his physical way of making a painting, suggests the latter. The exhibition consists of 29 paintings, from 1965 to 1969, ranging in size from six by nine feet to two by three feet, but the images—a complicated graphic which fills

  • John Chamberlain and Mel Ramos

    John Chamberlain and Mel Ramos, both with shows of individually new work nevertheless firmly planted in their respective grooves, are a polar pair: art as pure play and art as the calculated product of a professional. Chamberlain is the player, the artist who links up the caveman, with a glimmer of an idea lurking in the back of his head, and the contemporary, dedicated, alien, humanist-intellectual. “If this bit of next-to-nothing can’t, by rule, be art,” he seems to say, “then nothing is.” What Chamberlain shows this time are seven crumpled paper-bag sculptures, some unadulterated, others with

  • Tom Holland

    Tom Holland’s eight new paintings (plus one in the office) called the “Malibu Series” are made from sheets of translucent plastic, liberally and loosely painted with predominantly white, black, or an overall mix like a chalky rainbow. The sizes float in the seven-foot-square neighborhood. The pictures present themselves as extended paintings, a two-dimensional, rectangle-based art (Holland is a painter) rather than a flattened, polychromatic sculpture. The complexity of surface is usually two or three units (units = a felt plane, not each separate physical piece), though the basket-weave paintings

  • Judy Gerowitz

    “Rainbow Picket” completes the artist’s first one-man show begun last month and it is a considerable improvement on that initial offering. This relative success is not, however, without qualifications, as Miss Gerowitz has, in the process, changed her sculpture into a big, cheerful kind of painting. “Rainbow Picket” is a series of six volumnar trapezoids, about one foot cubed and ranging from three to fifteen feet in length, and leaning at 45 degree angles against a wall in (left-to-right) decreasing order of size. The segments, made of wood and laminated with canvas, are painted in solid colors,

  • G. Ray Kerciu

    To anyone familiar with the elegant, polemic visual protests of an earlier Kerciu, this collection of a score of paintings and a few odd objects represents a puzzling and strangely depressing transformation. There is no readily perceptible genealogy and, what’s more, the new paintings seem to have been produced with considerably less passion and no more craft than their predecessors. Kerciu has limited himself to advantage in scale and motif––the medium-sized squares and portable horizontal rectangles set well in a small, architecturally deprived gallery and his diamonds, circles, and metamorphosized

  • Non-Objective Paintings and Sculptures

    The show is not quite what it says it is: in addition to the above media there are prints and a strong minority are anything but nonobjective (abstract-ed paintings with indications of grassy knolls, insect life, lunar landscapes and the Pacific Ocean, and with titles like “Hillside” and “Chrysalis”). Then there is the matter of to what end the Association aims its shows; the quaint, neighborhood quality of three-dozen feckless imitations of the merchandise of the commercial houses is lessened when one understands that the intent of the exhibition is to give career impetus to younger talents

  • Robert Harvey

    Robert Harvey’s paintings and a few small drawings carry the paradox of most good, but not overwhelming, shows: that is, the tendency to appear as a conglomeration of slight faults rather than a generally pleasing collection of paintings. Harvey’s pictures are meant to resemble, in a formalistically detached manner, family snapshots taken during the late twenties and early thirties; a faint, brownish patina and white border on each picture indicates the source. The paint application, in thin stains and shallow opaques, gives a flattened chiaroscuro that pushes the images back into the realm of

  • Judith Gerowitz

    The four-part, one-piece (of sculpture) show of Miss Gerowitz is the first half of this young artist’s first one-man exhibition, the second segment to contain another single sculpture executed in separate sections. The premiere portion includes “Sunset Squares,” a set of objects which, in its relative simplicity, almost defies verbal description: “Squares” is composed of four slab rectangles with square holes through the centers, the size of the holes proportioned so as to give each piece of the sculpture a working module (top, bottom and sides) of over one foot cubed. (To those of opposite

  • Norman Zammitt

    What is surprising about these 16 plastic-enamel-acrylic constructions––collectively, a fine exhibition––is not their “newness,” but their embellishment upon the best traditions of plasticism in 20th-century painting––the lessons of Picasso, Mondrian, Pollock and Hofmann, among others. “Surprising” because at first glance these dangerously beautiful boxes give rise to the fear that one is going to be seduced and abandoned by another band of hyper-hygienic, scientifically ethereal sirens from the shores of the avant-garde. Such is not the case, and the credit rests with Zammitt’s refusal to

  • Larry Calcagno

    The show will probably inspire two criticisms: unevenness in style and familiarity about it, being a kind of designy Abstract Expressionism for the most part. The breadth of Mr. Calcagno’s devices have, however, a unity of motive. His thick swatches, stains, changes of scale and constructional maneuverings suggest a consistent formal problem: achieving a balance between plan (composition, in this case) and execution (color). Calcagno’s varying results form something not often seen in these days of chrome-plated package deals: a real artist working with real issues. The failure of the exhibition

  • Robert Watson

    The two dozen paintings by Robert Watson constitute an exhibition which is an utter failure; but opinion is irrelevant, for these paintings were never meant to be subjected to legitimate critical appraisal. Rather, the purpose of the show, to the exclusion of any others, is the transplanting of the merchandise into homes unfulfilled solely by Rocky Mountain Stone facing and striped aluminum awnings.

    Watson furnishes a slew of formula semi-Surrealist landscapes and a few figure-portrait studies. The landscapes are, in execution, content, and formal values, on a par with the wall decorations turned