New York


Marlborough-Gerson Gallery

The summer “Contrasts” show at Marlborough-Gerson was an end-of-the-season potpourri ranging from early Lipchitz and dull Henry Moore bronzes to some fine recent Motherwell collages and new Lee Krasner (Pollock) oils, with random samplings from the gallery’s international roster. Granted, it would be difficult to make a coherent statement about as diverse a group of artists as Marlborough represents, but the distinct feeling was that many of the pieces were leftovers, pulled out of the gallery deepfreeze and arranged to fill up the endless rooms available for use. Consequently, the “contrasts” were felt more in terms of poor versus sometimes interesting installation, or between lesser, large works by some of the older artists, as opposed to a sparse few promising new pieces by a younger generation of British, Italian, and French artists.

Some of the small groupings, however, were more gratifying than the broad view. Conrad Marca-Relli’s collaged canvas, Reclining Figure, (1967) was nicely juxtaposed against his own stainless steel sculpture, a small cruciform piece in which flat interlocking and overlapping plates echoed the shapes of the more expressionistically worked swatches in the two-dimensional work. One of the finer and more subtle examples of the “optical-kinetic” mode on view was a construction by Venezuelan-born J. R. Soto. Plumed Serpent, by Colin Lancely, was an eye-catching, though still largely pictorial combination of painted canvas and polychromed structure. These two served as a welcome, if not overly scintillating foil to the (by now) boring conservatism of mediocre works by Britain’s “oldguard”—Moore, Hepworth, Armitage, and Chadwick.

One of the better installations revealed some unexpected complements in the paintings of Adolph Gottlieb, R. B. Kitaj, and the sculpture of James Wines. Gottlieb’s 1966 Counterpoint, in which three characteristic floating ovoids are suspended over a zone of swirling, vigorous brushstrokes, was set off well by the elements in Wines’s piece of the same year, Cobra. The sculpture’s large somber-hued cement saucers, upturned, and discreetly aggressive, were inset with meticulous steel seams, and balanced amid tarnished snake-like tubings—a formal statement akin to Gottlieb’s orbs, which poise above an intricate groundwork. R. B. Kitaj’s Disciple of Bernstein and Kautsky, a well-known work from 1964, is enveloped by a bulky paratrooper’s gas-mask outfit, a figurative parody of the energetic sinuosity which was used to abstract formal advantage by both Gottlieb and Wines.

Three new collages by Motherwell, traditionally elegant, though composed of ordinary crushed shopping bags and labeled package wrappings, along with several small, yet bold and exquisite Franz Kline sketches were also among the works shown. These fine examples, however, only pointed up the derivative and unoriginal treatment of Frenchman Paul Rebeyrolle’s neighboring Nature Morte (1965), which was a stumbled, patchwork version of what both of the older Americans had already achieved ten years before, with greater imagination and craft. But perhaps, again, many of the works hung were not up to par. One wishes that these large group shows would be more carefully selected and assembled, so that one need not feel at the loose ends of perception and enjoyment.

Emily Wasserman