New York

Orozco

Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art

The Orozco exhibition at Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art has the unfortunate effect of minimizing the real accomplishments and emphasizing the shortcomings of an artist whose position is at best equivocal. Before treating the works themselves it must be pointed out that the installation aggravates this impression to an inexcusable degree. All difficulties presented by the building aside, the shabby treatment given this show is the latest example of a pernicious slovenliness in presentation which has repeatedly marred temporary exhibitions at the Gallery. One comes to wonder whether the contrast from the T.L.C. lavished on. Mr. Hartford’s Collection is a matter of policy.

To take up the show proper, it consists of works preparatory to a number of the artist’s well-known fresco projects (illustrated occasionally with photographic blow-ups) and reverberations of them in other works. Several groups of illustrations, to Steinback’s The Pearl and a series on Truth for example, offer balance in a different scale. Also, there is a great deal of filler material of striking irrelevance. The most interesting of these show Orozco rummaging through other people’s drawers, as in the two 1946 versions of Negro Dance in Harlem. These exercises in ethno-Leger are not as embarrassing as they might be, since structure provides a pedestal tall enough to elevate even tackiness.

Those in search of untrammeled genius will find it only in the black chalk figure drawings, presumably from the model, which Orozco used in composing his large scale works. These drawings, broad and sure, let us see the artist at his unselfconscious best—in command of the form, observing with the hand on an ample scale while avoiding bombast. Studies for the Speared Man of 1947 and the Woman of a decade earlier are distinguished works full of the dignity and vigor lunged at so clumsily in the small oils and gouaches.

Composition studies for frescoes testify to Orozco’s genuine gift for adapting elaborate programmatic themes to ungrateful architecture. Whatever the quality of the finished cycles, pencil studies attest to inventiveness of a high order in the working drawings for the Dartmouth Murals of 1932–34 and the decorations of the Hospice Cabanes Orphanage in Guadalajara. These examples go quite a way in making comprehensible the esteem Mexican mural painting enjoyed widely up to a generation ago.

It is too bad that this exhibition requires such indulgence from the viewer in order to savor the scanty evidences of Orozco’s undeniable achievements. It is hardly the artist’s fault. Poorly typed extracts from a forthcoming book by Selden Rodman interrupt one’s progress through the rooms at random points.

Dennis Adrian