New York

Hans Hofmann

Emmerich Gallery

The Emmerich Gallery showed a group of Hans Hofmann’s paintings from 1955 to 1964. One painting in particular, Scintillating Red from 1962, possesses a beauty which makes one unsure of how best to cope with an art that is rooted, visibly, in the recent past but which makes itself felt with a freshness that continues to defy the past. One can so easily fail Hofmann by talking a historically of what it is that enthralls, or else subtly devalue his achievement by discussing his work purely in terms of recent history. A painting like Scintillating Red for instance—which consists of a single, explosive red mass over which Hofmann laid two thickly impastoed rectangles of brilliant blue and green—possesses an expansiveness for which one is quite unprepared. This despite the fact that one recognizes, or feels, an intimate familiarity with what it is that Hofmann proposed. The painting, which stands six feet high, makes one think, irresistibly, about what might have happened if Hofmann had had the impulse, as Matisse did in his late years, to move to an altogether larger scale. Yet, ultimately and crucially it is the finite, contained quality of the painting which ensures its success. Ultimately too, and this is of course the crux of Hofmann’s paintings, one experiences the radiance of color through the varying densities of paint, of actual pigment; each color is given a precise identity, not only by its particular saturation and relative area size, but also by the relative thicknesses of paint. It is this, Hofmann’s insistence on the sensuous, tactile quality of paint which, as many have pointed out, so accentuates the finiteness and the object quality of his paintings.

The poignancy to Hofmann’s work is that, by the force of his extraordinary talent, he made a highly personal yet essentially Cubist-based mode of composition so unimaginably vital that its beauty even now seems tantalizingly assimilable. Looking at certain of his late works, with a knowledge of the paintings which are being made today, one is never more aware of the sheer precariousness accompanying the impulse to move away from this kind of perfection.

Jane Harrison Cone