Critics’ Picks

Simon Hantaï, Blancs, 1973-74, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 84 5/8".

New York

Simon Hantaï

Kasmin Gallery | 293 Tenth Avenue
293 Tenth Avenue
October 22–December 5

Simon Hantaï’s “Blancs,” created between 1973 and ’74 and on view for the first time in New York, are paragons of AbEx virtue. The six-, seven-, and eight-foot-tall paintings exemplify the Hungarian-born painter’s pliage method, which consisted of applying layers of paint to an variously folded and scrunched canvas, then unfurling it to reveal a messy arrangement of colorful polygons and untouched primer. After losing interest in Surrealism—his first adoptive camp—and its attachment to figuration and the psyche, Hantaï committed the majority of his career to pliage. Emphatic about its reliance on process, he rejoiced at the paint’s secret activity, unguided by the artist’s hand and depicting only itself.

While many of the painter’s pliage paintings are monochrome, shards of tropical hues scatter across the “Blancs”’ expanses of canvas. The fragments are superimposed onto layers of creamy, off-white primer, which also bear the marks of the pliage process—faint ridges and creases stretch in every direction, creating another field on an entirely different plane. There are even fewer traces of the artist’s intention at this altitude. Time seems frozen.

Despite the abundance of aleatory elements, Hantaï has shepherded them into masterful compositions of shape and color. The “Blancs”’ geography of positive space is either dense and chaotic or decidedly bare. These configurations seem to abide by the physics of three-dimensional objects, like pieces of broken dishware scattered across a floor. Several other resemblances appear and disappear (jungle foliage, a South Pacific archipelago, your child’s summer-camp tie-dye T-shirt) and wink at intelligent design.