San Francisco

San Francisco

various venues

The Charles Slatkin Gallery in New York City apparently organized the exhibit of “Contemporary French Tapestries” at the California Palace of The Legion of Honor, and, one presumes, bought the original designs from the artists (Léger, Calder, Miró, Ernst, Arp, Picasso, Derain, Klee, etc.) or just copied the designs from artists’ works that are in the public domain. None of the works is approved, with the exception of a Léger which was done with either his supervisory approval or commissioned and approved. The other works, as the information sheet on the museum wall states, may be altered in both size and design to suit the buyer’s wishes. In the ordering of the objects the dealer states “color combinations may be inverted when ordered if, for example, the purchaser prefers to exchange design colors for background colors. State whether ‘as is’ or ‘inverted colors’. Tapestries may be ordered in larger sizes provided the same proportions are kept.” Discussion of such an exhibition is pointless; it is just another of the exhibitions this museum will have to live down.

John Battenberg’s sculpture at the Hansen Galleries is concerned with the iconography of a short period of time, specifically between the years 1914 and 1918, and deals with the flying aces of the period. To understand the feeling of the period or the popular mood of the people (European) one can choose from many books and pictures. Battenberg has chosen to depict the last of the “War Heroes,” the flyers who fought in the skies above the infamous trenches in the war that was to end all wars. These flyers are sculpted in terms of their uniforms—no torsos, limbs or faces, just vestments. Uniform details are treated faithfully, in a Rodinesque style. The poses are jauntily struck as if a comrade were snapping a post-flight photo to send home to the family.

A particularly rewarding exhibit of a select number of major paintings by Hassel Smith was shown at Dilexi Gallery recently. Smith and/or his dealer chose a limited number of his nonfigurative paintings completed between 1959 and 1961. The exhibit, coming on the heels of two other exhibitions of figure paintings shown at Worth Ryder Gallery on the University of California campus at Berkeley and at the Dilexi Gallery, gives the viewer an excellent chance to compare the distinctions and similarities of the two styles.

The uneasiness confronting critical judgment when an artist paints in two manners concurrently really stems from a deep-rooted taboo, bordering on outright superstition. The feedback from the art-consuming elite, including collectors, would-be collectors, curators, art writers, fashion-faddists, etc., has, thank God, not completely squelched the desire among serious artists to execute works completely outside their known styles. If the desire to do so seems perverse to the observer it is much less so to the artist. One of the basic facts of existence for the artist is his anarchistic self-employment. To be free is to use, test and measure one’s freedom as Hassel Smith has done.

The paintings displayed at Dilexi are “classic” Hassel Smith at his best. Their color is predominately tertiary with liberal amounts of tan, gray, pink and flesh tones. The emotional quality is less insouciant than the figure pictures, more aloof, and yet the quick handwriting is there also, covertly mocking the seriousness of the interlocking color and form.

Ron Garrigues’ wood, bronze and lead sculptures on view at Hollis Gallery last month reveal a sensibility completely dedicated to the exposition of pure three-dimensional form in the purest possible manner. By examining and re-examining his artistic means he has arrived at conclusions that are a personal brand of purism where the exact patina is called for and the exact contour is arrived at. To say that Garrigues has excellent taste is indeed correct but more than taste is involved in his work. There is a real dedication to beauty in the most pristine sense that few sculptors today attempt and fewer still achieve. Hopefully, Garrigues will, in the near future, have the opportunity, perhaps through a commission, to execute a large bronze. He certainly is ready.

An artist, upon seeing the Jacques Fabert exhibit at the Arleigh Gallery, commented on the partially clothed female figures, “They’re intimate views of ‘Rosy the Riveter’.” The succinctness of his comment cannot be one-upped by any amount of discourse. The thin coloration of figures has the high-key poster color so sought after by Collier’s Magazine’s art directors in the late thirties and early forties. The drawing of the nude backside, seen from a low angle in the work titled “Six A.M.” is fairly typical of the paintings throughout the exhibit. The figure is drawn in accurately with a pencil with a certain penchant for enlarged and work-gnarled joints; dark-to-light modeling is evident as the paint is thinly applied. The humorous aspect of the work lies in the fact that the painting is so primly done in a deadpan manner and yet the subject matter is often seen in erotic situations.

In its eighth exhibition, a group calling itself the “Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art” or S.E.C.A. has come up with a timely and excellent exhibit that could have some far-ranging consequences within the Bay Area art world. The exhibition is titled “Multiple Editions” and was shown at the San Francisco Museum of Art. (See Max Kozloff’s article in the December, 1965 issue of Artforum.) The exhibit of objects that have been made in editions, much like prints, in a series of five, ten, twenty or an infinite number of issues is a phenomenon two S.E.C.A. members found when they arrived in New York, ostensibly to collect a group of paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings for a December exhibit. The disarming results of their mission include such things as two very large Philip Guston silk-screen prints on opaque plastic sheets betraying nothing of the quality of which the artist is capable on paper or on canvas. If the Gustons fail miserably because the artist’s work fails to show on such impersonal material, Warhol’s silk-screened boxes accurately reproduce the quality of the commercial package on its own terms. The arch ironist, Marcel Duchamp, was represented by a facsimile of his early Mona Lisa with mustache, which still brought rage and indignation to many of the vernissage spectators. To be put on is one thing; perhaps they felt put down also. But generally a toy department atmosphere prevailed with only the lack of a fat and jolly red Santa with a Superman cape to complete the picture.

Perhaps the handsomest works in the exhibit were the banners by Nicholas Krushenick, Wayne Thiebaud, Leon Polk Smith, Roy Lichtenstein and Miriam Schapiro. The concept of large felt banners began in New York City months ago during the newspaper strike. The crippling effect upon galleries became immediately evident in low attendance and consequent lack of sales due to the inability to reach customers with the usual advertising methods. An enterprising dealer contacted the Betsy Ross Flag and Banner Company and had the firm copy a painting in felt, which was displayed, flag fashion, from the side of the dealer’s building. The results in advertising terms are hard to judge, but the idea of the banner as a relatively cheap facsimile of the original work of art has stuck firmly in the minds of many dealers and artists.

Fred Reichman’s new work at the Rose Rabow Gallery has veered perceptibly away from the pure nature-scape sparsely inhabited by animals and vegetation balanced against spatial voids. While retaining an exquisitely painted wet-into-wet oil technique he attempts new subjects such as the carefully considered “At the Piano.” A woman seated in front of a piano seems to pause in her pursuit. As in other works Reichman’s studious arrangement of simplified masses against one another avoids calling attention to the total effect. One is reminded of Milton Avery’s masterful paint handling in the almost breathing surfaces Reichman achieves.

Richard Bowman’s exhibit at the same gallery is also a step forward in the development of the artist. His unhappy combination of Bonnardesque space and fluorescent chemical color has been abandoned in favor of a more abstract space configuration. The formerly out-of-control color has at least been harness-broken if not tamed. Bowman has had more experience using this paint and has pioneered its use in a fine art context. The fantastic vulgarity of the hues, particularly the orange and red-violet colors, has been put to better use in these new spatially flatter works. In all, the canvases where the color is uniformly modulated work better than where the surfaces are mosaics of dabbed strokes.

An exhibition at the San Francisco Museum presented by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations is shocking in that there is not one bad painting or sculpture in the entire show. If the person who chose the artists and selected the works is in the religious ranks he has chosen the wrong metier; he or she is vitally needed in the curatorial field. The exhibit is small and includes one work from each of the following artists: Donald Judd, Paul Brach, Helen Frankenthaler, Thomas George, Stephen Greene, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Richard Pousette-Dart, Mark Rothko, Robert Slutzky, Frank Stella and Louise Nevelson.

The exhibit’s title, “Art––An Environment for Faith” predisposes one to think in terms of religious art and/or secular art. The search for an absolute is certainly present in Barnett Newman’s “Onement #3” as it is in Frank Stella’s “Slieve Roe” another in a series of repeated stripes that repeat the delineating boundaries of the shaped support. To reiterate is to reveal and each reiteration is a piece of the whole revelation. Agnes Martin’s six-foot square painting, “The Garden,” functions within the same dynamics as Newman’s and Stella’s pictures. Martin’s accumulation of precisely rendered tiny rectangles with three floating color bars inside each repeats uniformly throughout the entire support.

Richard Pousette-Dart, Stephen Greene, Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko all share a common trait in the way they create a microcosmic universe in each of their works. The formal properties of their pictures are always secondary; one must always come to grips with their very private worlds before one is made aware of how they were made or what colors they are composed of or how they work pictorially. Judd and Nevelson, working three dimensionally, cannot completely avoid the materialism of their medium, wood and black paint in Nevelson’s case, stainless steel and plexiglass in Judd’s. Judd’s piece partially succeeds in becoming anonymous by virtue of simplicity. The piece functions critically because its very lack of position within a sculptural or constructivist idiom makes one aware that it has helped create a new position.

James Monte