New York

Guggenheim International Exhibition

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York

If one is not too sure what has happened in sculpture since 1960 and if one wants to see an absorbing, if conservative, selection of works by primarily well-known figures, then one ought to stroll down the bright spiral of the Guggenheim. But, granting the beauty of the installation, the Guggenheim International Exhibition, 1967, lacks something essential: a real reason for existing. The headaches involved in mounting a major exhibition of large sculpture by eighty artists of diverse nationality—the crating, unpacking, insuring, installing, cataloging, not to mention internal and external political pressures and emotional blackmail—stupefy the imagination. That Edward F. Fry carried off these jumbo organizational vexations with success goes without saying, so much so that his newly-announced appointment as Associate Curator ought to have been taken as a foregone conclusion. This granted, it’s hard to say who has been served by the exhibition—the museum-going public of New York City? Perhaps, but surely Picasso, Giacometti, Lipchitz, et al., don’t need to be introduced. Of the artists selected, fifty and more are so celebrated as to rank them among the over-exposed. Of the remaining group some twenty do not merit either their present esteem (if any) or space in an admittedly prestigious exhibition. Let us say, generously, that ten works are critically interesting either by way of being by little known artists or through the illumination of hitherto unrecognized aspects of a familiar oeuvre. This portion is small—true—but it still compares favorably with the ratio one normally encounters at these United Nations-like conventions.

The major disclosure of the exhibition was the alcove of three works by the late Burgoyne Diller. Precisely executed in colored formica they displayed a startling topicality and a fine sensitivity with regard to the placement of axially symmetrical cubic volumes. David Smith, strikingly enough, was shown in terms of humorous “throwaway” pieces—Picassoesque and Calderian in feeling by virtue of their buckling bonhomie—although the familiar glistening cuboids stood sentinel outside. Calder was handsomely represented by a mammoth Spiral, a vast toy-like prank, very “dumb” and delightful, a rudimentary monument. Ronald Bladen’s Triangle never looked as good as it does now, completely snagging the down-slope traffic in middle area of the Googie ramp. Jean Ipousteguy is probably the only artist in the world who can get away with great histrionic monuments. Alexander Before Ecbatana is tremendously impressive in a kind of ardent Ypsilanti-production-of-Sophocles way. Edward Krasinski of Poland, one of the few unknowns, presents a modest, anti-material column of color-graduated balls rising on a nylon line. George Segal’s The Billboard is one of his best-looking pieces, much more concerned with design than usual—a white figure painting a prefab “O” blue against a black ground. The scaffolding is fastened to the wall by red hooks. Claes Oldenburg’s Giant Soft Drum Set is another genial satirization of American folkways. Robert Morris’s nine-piece H-unit maze, placed diagrammatically on the circle pattern of the Guggenheim main floor, establishes a repetitive relation to the grids of orthodox Cubism. From the balcony heights it reads as a striking and irascible obstacle course, and is considerably less involved with making an objet de luxe than, say, Don Judd’s similar blue steel “eight modular unit V-Channel piece.” John McCracken’s Love In Italian is a lacquered board, neither elegantly elongated nor a golden mean rectangle, which hints at a recalcitrant uniqueness in its being Too Wide despite its florid lavender sheen. Larry Bell’s Memories of Mike, already handsome in itself, revealed new possibilities for having had light deflected off it that took on the diffused oil-slick coloration of its metal-annealed glass walls.

In accordance with a new ruling, no prizes were given. Instead purchase awards are to be announced in the near future.

While the kinetic, luminous and aural polymorphs which have become an important feature of recent sculpture might lead to the production of highly sensuous objects they tend to be, with rare exceptions, deeply unintelligent (although perhaps difficult to execute) works whose attractions are, even in short runs, rapidly bankrupt and ephemeral. In short, the K-L-A axis is really a kind of color used to perk up a tired mini-structure.

Such misgivings led to apprehension about Howard Wise’s season opener. His tenacious defense of the kinetic and the luminous is a commendable passion, and to judge from the present installation for once the results accord with the dealer’s bias. The K-L-A coloration is given an additional twist in the thermal pictures of Paul Matisse, perhaps of all the Young Artists shown, the most effective.

Matisse’s pictures, steel framed, humorless affairs, present what seems like several layers of heavy viscous fluid suffused with metallic powders which softly erupt in nacreous pearlescent sheens. These ominous iridescences—vaguely grey, blue, flamingoid—slowly shift and flower, responding to changes of temperature, like the sudden heat produced by the laying on of hands. They induce the odd and queasy sensation of feeling bloated.

Robert Pincus-Witten