Los Angeles

Frank Stella, Dan Flavin, Don Judd, Robert Irwin and Craig Kauffman

Irving Blum Gallery

From the days when Irving Blum’s hand figured importantly in the exhibitions at the old Ferus Gallery (briefly, before its demise, the Ferus/Pace Gallery), the presentations there were characterized by a consistent economy of works, legible installation and rigorous standards of quality. Accordingly, the opening of the new Irving Blum Gallery has been awaited with high expectation, and in fact almost everything about the present exhibition justifies this optimism. The choice of artists—Stella, Flavin, Judd, Irwin and Kauffman—is unexceptionable; the decision to show only one work by each artist (lately unusual at best for most L.A. galleries) is no less creditable for having precedent. Perhaps best of all is the fact that no effort is made to offer any thematic, stylistic, geographic, chronological, formal or ideological reason why works by these particular artists should be shown together. They reflect purely and simply a desire to present five individually valuable pieces of art.

Stella is represented by a 1967 painting, Cinema de Pepsi I. It is divided into two adjacent squares, one of which is a black, white and grey concentric striped pattern, the other an almost identical configuration in fluorescent orange, red, yellow, blue, purple and green acrylic paint. Both square patterns are disrupted from closed symmetry by the introduction of a complex twist, with short diagonal edges forming triangles in the center: thus the line is activated, suggesting the possibility of entrance into the linear episode; it is as though the line spends itself in the center, but leaves open a potential for further resolution.

Dan Flavin is shown in a work from 1964, an eight-foot yellow neon tube placed against the wall diagonally. Judd’s 1967 modular piece comprises seven rectangular units mounted against the wall to form an overall columnar figuration. Each unit is made of stainless steel on the three outward-facing sides, with dark green plexiglass fitted into the metal frames forming the top and bottom faces. The entire piece is seven feet from top to bottom; each unit is six inches high, spaced at six-inch intervals. This work raises a number of questions about Judd’s polemical and practical esthetic stands over the last two or three years. Although his use of colored plastic here renders the material sense of the work much more utilitarian in spirit than decorative (one regards it similarly to how one might regard a polarized green windshield rather than, say, a deeply tinted shop window), still, a degree and kind of ambiguity creeps in which defeats one’s ability to simply encounter, rather than take measure of, the combined objects. One keeps discovering new angles: the first view is of shiny steel modules; nearer, the horizontal plastic panels come into view; nearer yet, they refract white light in the middle (eye level) and diffuse green light at top and bottom. Thus the discrete repeated entities play on one another in a special manner which goes far beyond a rudimentary gestalt.

Alone on one wall is a work from Craig Kauffman’s earlier 1967 vacuum-formed plexiglass series. It is green, rectangular with rounded corners, with a smaller rectangular protuberance in the center. An obvious dichotomy exists between Kauffman’s conspicuous exploitation of the blatantly opulent quality of colored plastic (though this in itself is far from being his sole objective) and Judd’s specifically pragmatic and restrained handling of the same material.

The choice of a dark pink painting from Robert Irwin’s Ocean Park Series of 1962–63 is oddly disappointing, not because it is an inferior canvas but because one is impatient to see new work by Irwin exhibited publicly in Los Angeles. One does not object to the re-exposure of familiar work just because it is familiar. Nevertheless the painting at hand is less interesting than the other four pieces.

Jane Livingston