Los Angeles

“U.S. Abstract Expressionism” and “20th Century Sculpture by European Masters”

Pasadena Art Museum

It seems to be part of a recent pattern for the Pasadena Art Museum to have as many as eight separate offerings in their modest quarters. This solution seems an admirable one for a small museum: it changes pace from the fuller shows, and allows for some imaginative gallerymanship. Two tasteful selective rooms, both part of the museum’s continuing program in contemporary art, are examples of how much can be conveyed by quality and installation.

The sculpture exhibit seems to be excellent proof that less is more. It consists of small works by Arp, Giacometti, Lipchitz, Kolbe, Ernst, Moore, Picasso, Matisse, Maillol, Lehmbruck and Duchamp (his bottle rack pertly surveys the room from the corner). Each has enough room in which to say his say and the ample, light-filled space around it endows each piece with a gratifying material density. In contrast, the painting exhibit is staged in a cavelike darkness that allows the paintings to “appear” from the walls. Only eight paintings inhabit a large gallery, one work each from eight artists who have had retrospective (or semi-retrospective) shows at the museum. Hassel Smith is represented with a pungent calligraphic statement, Sam Francis with a real Sam Francis, Diebenkorn with an earlier (pre-figurative) work, Tobey with a white writing essay, and Gorky with surprisingly (and happily) harsh color flux behind the linear attack. The Tomlin is a lesser and indecisive painting and Ruben holds his own in this company only because sheer size and visual weight proclaim the earnestness of his intention. Motherwell rounds out the group with an earlier work, dense, with an impasto of earthy, crumbled colors. Each artist survives as an individual because the selection is an intelligent one. It gives the lie to the notion that there is an anonymity inherent in a label called Abstract Expressionism.

An added dividend to the Museum’s use of its facilities is that it allows for periodic showings of the Galka Schemer Collection, with its Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, and Klee masterpieces.

Doug McClellan