Los Angeles

Knud Merrild

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Merrild’s twenty-nine year residence (1923–52) in Los Angeles places him among a rare handful of the area’s contemporary (i.e., pre-World War II) art pioneers, and hence explains the value of this assessment. His activity began in Denmark, was influenced by travels in Europe, and much importance (without supporting evidence) is given to his acquaintance with D. H. Lawrence. This retrospective reveals to a new audience a third-rate reflection of 20th-century art history—Delaunay, Klee, Gleizes, Metzinger, Picabia, Schwitters, and Constructivism, various primitivisms, Dali, Ernst, Miró, and nonobjective automatism—at best, modest and provincial interpretations

From the very first example, a paramount involvement is with technical means, particularly mixed media. Polished and carefully wrought, his works display a craftsman’s concern with finish. Combining materials and working in sequentially built up compositions as in stencils, layers, or varnishings, an underlying standard was the “perfect” wedding of contrasts. This, while adding as much emotional distance from the works as possible. His motifs, vocabulary, and syntax were entirely derivative. The only consistent merit is stylistic change, summed up in a final statement giving to this lifetime of serious intentions, the name “Flux.”

Though the characteristic conditions are apparent, and intuition valued over the intellect, nothing quite prepares us for the Flux paintings from 1941 on. These are small panels upon which spontaneous, tooled, and gravitational effects of liquid paint merge, mix, and settle into oft-times quite pleasing arrangements. Entirely original, they depend heavily on the happy or coached accident whose merit was decided typically by taste rather than involvement. Final judgment should accord Merrild his footnote, and find him dedicated but minor in ambition.

Fidel A. Danieli