New York

Victor Pasmore

Marlborough | Midtown

The career of Victor Pasmore is long, valuable and seriously flawed. Ever since he came into his own, that is when he became an abstract painter in the late 1940s, he has mismatched an Expressionist sensibility to a Precisionist framework. One has hesitated saying it for so long because, however blemished Pasmore’s Purist abstraction is, nonetheless, he has been involved in serious ideas and has made respectable contributions to the hoary Constructivist idiom. The messiness, the biomorphism, the nonchalance was put up with because, after all, it was the conception that mattered—and Pasmore was an idea man. The diffident Expressionist streak which has done so much to compromise Pasmore’s stringent compositions has at last become, of itself, another Victor Pas-more. There are now two of him and they are both exhibiting simultaneously at Marlborough-Gerson. The second Mr. Pasmore, the late-comer, the Mr. Hyde to Pasmore’s Jekyll, is simply too feeble a golem. He is quibbling, discursive, scrubby and embarrassingly in the debt of Paul Klee (not to mention Ben Nicholson). At moments, the first Mr. Pasmore keeps the paintbox clean, slices out a neat sheet of plexiglass, and his pleasant rectangles projecting into space pass muster—in short, he continues the admirable early tradition. The late constructions are handsome affairs, school-masterish, a kind of sample-book Bauhaus but with all challenging—especially as regards light modulation, and a neat vagary from strictly vertical-horizontal configuration. The second Mr. Pasmore however, unlike Klee, has no feeling for proper scale. He sets up formats that are too vast, too grandiloquent for the academism and petty witticism he deals in. Pasmore aims at creating architecture but he succeeds only in magnifying two-dimensional postal cards. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog essay called The Space Within (?) by Dennis Duerden, who would have us believe that Pasmore’s pictures are about music and that his color is used only “to indicate planes and shapes,” but “not to have an emotion.” What cant! Pasmore would love to project a color emotion, as demonstrated by Brown Development, or Blue Development (Jade). The truth is that Pasmore is a draftsman tout court and not a colorist at all. And like so many draftsmen, Pasmore is really a sculptor in a painter’s fleece.

Robert Pincus-Witten