Santa Barbara

“Some Paintings to Consider”

The underlying idea of the current exhibition is com­mendable––the problem was to find the artists to fit it. Dr. Thomas W. Leavitt expresses it this way: “(The) modern critical tendency of creating stylistic categories for artists can im­pair individual responses and cause the work of some very significant artists to be undervalued. The eight painters included here (Seymour Boardman, Charles Cajori, Al Held, Matsumi Kani­mitsu, June Lathrop, Knox Martin, John Opper, Richards Ruben) are neither new nor unknown, but their stature has not been generally recognized because they have not become identified with any of the currently publicized movements.”

Now there may very well be many painters, neither new nor unknown whose stature has suffered from the fact that they have been recalcitrant to categorization in critical terms, but one cannot be convinced by this ex­hibition that this is the case with the eight shown; it is more likely a matter of not very good painting.

Certainly Al Held has indeed been identified with “currently publicized movements.” He has been included in Alan Solomon’s “Towards a New Abstraction” at the Jewish Museum, and in Clement Greenberg’s “Post-Painterly Abstraction” at the Los Angeles County Museum. If he is not regarded as being of the stature of, say, Morris Louis, it is because, despite the interesting, brutal quality of his surfaces, he is not as good a painter. On the other ex­treme is June Lathrop, whose catalog entry shows no prior exhibitions at all; it is difficult to either categorize, or undervalue because she is uncategor­ized, an artist whose work has not been shown. Three more artists, Boardman, Ruben and Martin, formerly vestigial Abstract Expressionists, have quite re­cently changed their style of painting and now appear as vestigial field paint­ers. If these artists have not been pub­licized within the context of current movements, it is not for lack of trying.

Of the remaining artists, all four fit convincingly into the well-publicized style of Abstract Expressionism. For Cajori and Kanimitsu, certainly, the question might better be formulated the other way around: are so many foundation grants, prizes, collections and important exhibitions, commensur­ate with the actual stature of these artists?

Whatever the merit of Dr. Leavitt’s thesis, his choice of artists is capricious and his plea for the abandonment of fashion and fad and critical pigeon­holes is misleading. Ultimately, it is the search for quality—innovation, ori­ginality, a degree of excellence by what­ever name, that transcends categories. Its failure here cannot be attributed to neglect. The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful catalog with each artist represented in color, and the presenta­tion is professional.

––John Coplans