New York

Eduardo Paolozzi, Jack Youngerman, and Charles Hinman

Multiple Galleries

Eduardo Paolozzi, Jack Youngerman and Charles Hinman have in common the fact that they all have profited from uncertainties of taste occasioned by specific disturbances of modern style. Paolozzi and Youngerman both established their reputations around 1960, less, it seems clear now, from the actual persuasiveness of their new art than the loss of conviction by the old—though Youngerman had, and has, a certain strength. Hinman, a more recent example, was a beneficiary of both the ignorance which surrounded the evolution of the shaped canvas and the general hysteria which has prevailed in the art world since the advent of Pop art and a new phase of the avant-garde. One explanation of these recurrent lapses of judgment may be the fact that no recent art movement has been definitive enough to discourage probing in other equally limited directions. Thus, all efforts tend at first to be “over-received.” In short, the future of style is still very much in doubt. The three artists under review, then, reflect a tendency of which they are hardly the most flagrant examples.

Of the three Paolozzi is doubtlessly the most prestigious, though not necessarily the best, first, because he is the most naturally monumental of the three and, just as important, he has managed with each exhibition a new incarnation which appears to keep him abreast of his younger, more swinging colleagues in England. Indeed one has to strain to recall that the work which first earned Paolozzi his reputation as a sculptor here, and presumably in England as well, was a kind of Dubuffet grotesque with surfaces encrusted with hundreds of machine parts. His new work is far removed from his usual mechano-anthropomorphism. It shows rather the pressure of the latest fashions in sculpture in both the United States and England. It consists of highly polished and shaped steel and chrome plated forms in saw-tooth, columnar and generally elliptical masses, some fluted, some concave, some just smooth, mounted on either blob-shaped plinths or arc-shaped bases like Euclidean stalagmites. They seem minimal and one, in fact, interpolates a glassy hardness from their high gloss and distorted reflections.

But they are really rather soft. There are no real edges in the work but rather a wasting away, however evenly, of mass, as from erosion. They seem in some instances to have melted into their shapes, an effect probably enhanced by the plating process. This is not accidental. Paolozzi’s sense of the monolith has always been traditional. It has not been recovered from the openness of Cubist sculpture, but remains tied to the physically massive, as does Henry Moore’s. It was from Moore’s tedious humanism that Paolozzi liberated himself through willful barbarization, but at bottom he remains a carver, removed utterly from the residually pictorial feeling for illusion that animates most of the new sculpture. Paolozzi, in his new style, is actually closer, say, to Brancusi than to either David Smith or the British or American minimalists, and stands quite exposed as a practiced pasticheur in his latest exhibition.

In contrast to Paolozzi there have been no great sea changes from exhibition to exhibition in Jack Youngerman’s work since his first New York exhibition in 1958. He still employs large, complex, simply contrasted, essentially graphic shapes. These are now more internally consistent with the hard edges first imposed on them when their mass was actually realized in a controlled but otherwise quite obviously painterly style. The paint is thinner and flatter now; consequently there is a heightening of decorative power. In fact the ascendancy of the decorative element is the most refreshing thing about pictures which otherwise frequently fail to equate figure and ground relationships in abstract terms. Certain shapes become too dominant and an assertive nature-symbolism develops which swamps and therefore trivializes the shallow space induced by flat clear shapes of blue, white, green and orange, even though shallowness is proper and necessary for the important abstractionist intention. The surface is held by the design in only a single work, April Blue White. Elsewhere, unity is defaced by illusion, implemented by the dark and light relationship of areas of flat color. Youngerman has understood Matisse’s line better than he has understood Matisse’s color.

Shape of a more literal kind is the issue of Charles Hinman’s work, and is its only justification. That is, the shaped canvas is a valid, if so far limited, solution to the problem raised by the all but complete reduction of what Michael Fried usefully described as “depicted” shape in traditional abstraction. But Hinman’s shaped surfaces have, from the beginning, always struck me as gratuitous while his color has seemed unrelated to the masses which they adorn. In his new work, there is color on the barely visible sloped backs of what are essentially a sculptural kind of relief rather than a shaped canvas as such. Hinman has exchanged the extruded, even bulbous shapes of prior work for more slab-like masses. The colors in one or two appear to reverse the illusion, or perspective, created by the direction of the planes, but they still do not participate deeply in the structure of the works themselves. And while these are demonstrably more planar than previous works, they are not more pictorial. They lack the specific abiguity (sculpture vs. painting) that the shaped canvas, meaning mainly Frank Stella’s, always resolves in favor of the pictorial. Hinman has no sense of the pictorial frame, therefore there is no sense of breaking into and out of it through a literal shape. Deprived then, of this pictorial latency, they become manifestly just ornamental arrangements of shapes that create no sums greater than their parts.

Sidney Tillim