Flashes of Understatement

IN 1952, FOLLOWING HIS FRIEND David Park’s sudden reversion from abstraction to imagery, Elmer Bischoff began painting figures and landscapes in a manner adapted from Abstract Expressionism. Bischoff’s subsequent work in this vein, along with Park’s and Richard Diebenkorn’s, earned the three of them their almost legendary status as founders of socalled Bay Area Figuration, the West Coast’s first important indigenous contribution to modern American art. It is a pleasant surprise to discover, in the modest retrospective of Bischoff’s work now traveling1, how timely, how contemporary, his best paintings of the ’50s and ’60s look today. In fact, they look both timely and dated—dated, not in the pejorative sense of the word, but simply because they are readily recognizable as examples of a superseded style, and perhaps also because they came out of California, a region that the evolutionary

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