Al Held

AL HELD THOUGHT BIG and painted accordingly. Never more so than in the last years of his life, which ended this past summer, at the age of seventy-six. Among the scrappiest and most ambitious members of the second-generation Abstract Expressionists, Held was also the first to move decisively beyond AbEx’s attenuating conventions toward a bold, sharply contoured approach that harnessed the muscular gestures of the New York School to space-expanding graphic imagery. A series of works from the early ’60s thus feature massive, enlarged letter forms, of which The Big A, 1962, and The Big N, 1965, show him bearing down on “minimalist” painting as then practiced by Frank Stella and Robert Ryman. With Ryman, Held worked at the Museum of Modern Art in the halcyon days when Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard, and others had jobs as guards, installers, and bookshop and membership salespeople. (

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