San Francisco

Martin Baer, Amy Fleming, Jack Zajac and Harry Crotty

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

Traditional and abstract approaches to painting, traditional and articulated sculpture in old and new materials. In this survey of the career of Martin Baer (1894–1961) the earliest works are mainly of biographical interest, revealing him as a quasi-romanticist who loved travel but lacked the depth of feeling to fully respond to environment. His work in Algeria, for instance, was far more reportorial than inspired. In his later years, while living in California, his style loosened, and his palette became vibrant with high-keyed color. Abandoning his earlier people-watching attitude and involving himself in the life around him, he painted some sensitive canvases of children and octogenarians—and semi-abstracted landscapes. Yet he failed to realize his full potential, and one questions whether he actually contributed enough to art to warrant the current retrospective.

Amy Fleming has been exhibiting in the Bay Area for a long time, making no dramatic splash in the art world, yet her quiet presence is definitely felt. Her dark-toned, moody paintings, textured with flickering brushstrokes like blown leaves, are very pleasant to look at. Mostly derived from landscape for this show.

Jack Zajac’s bronzes, traditional in technique, succeed very well in expressing the human overtones conveyed in the sacrificial goat. Zajac started his art career as a painter, but has since become known as a sculptor, with these tethered, twisting goats becoming something of a signature. They are masterful both in use of material and projection of an idea. Yet Zajac is far too young to start casting in volume. With this series (casts #6) one hopes he will not refute the idea of the masterpiece by continuing the subject until it becomes hackneyed. And that he will break the goat molds—to protect collectors. His drawings in this show are exquisite.

Harry Crotty’s sculptures, some of them articulated after the manner of Robert Howard, are derived from undersea shapes. Skindiving must be a popular sport with local sculptors. Crotty develops some interesting creatures, including one real monster which he calls “Of the Sea, #4,” but why he covers them indiscriminately with a glossy, honey-colored goop which is inconsistent with both shape and movement, is hard to understand. The Legion staff has presented his show to great advantage, helping to rescue it from the monotony of too many, too soon.

Yet another observation is in order here: It is the obligation of a museum to stay awake, to be alive, and if, in this endeavor, its aim is to put the public in touch with current experiments in art, however insufficiently tested, the Legion of Honor certainly succeeded by devoting a gallery to Crotty’s sculptures. Attendance has been high, and the audience vocal.

Elizabeth M. Polley