New York

Chryssa

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

The occasional subtitles from Iphigenia in Aulis—homages to the recent performance of Irene Papas as Clytemnestra here in New York—have nothing to do with the distinct merits of Chryssa’s latest exhibition. It is a pretty sop to the Rag Business to imagine that they do. A Flock of Morning Birds, or Clytemnestra: The First Scream, described as the twisting of Miss Papas’s “body into a shocked S” (Chryssa to Chauncey Howell, Women’s Wear Daily, Feb. 23, 1968) are only fat “S” forms, punkt, and result naturally from her own earlier experimentation. The Gates of Time Square of 1965–66 meant, if nothing else, that one could no longer rescind Chryssa’s often dubious credentials as a major sculptor, even though to my taste, Gates is considerably flawed by a heavy Klinean romanticism.

There is a widely held theory, specious but functional, that, as an artist matures, his work throws off his earlier disposition to over-elaboration and that his artistic majesty is corroborated, so to speak, by a morphological decrescendo from complexity to simplicity. That the theory is so strongly held today is itself only a reflection of current esthetic ploys, but it provides the key which demonstrates the degree to which Chryssa’s new work is, by far, her best. I will not labor the issue. In fact, it provided the theoretical structure onto which Hilton Kramer could pin his able discussion of Chryssa’s work in The New York Times (Feb. 24, 1968). The alphabetical form, Chryssa’s basic motif, has been present from about 1956 when she charitably could only be viewed as a satellite of Jasper Johns. More than ten years later the letter form is still visible but no longer can she be regarded as some chattel of Johns’s. It is visible in various conditions and permutations and is elaborated through a deft and personal use of neon. At this moment the “S” motif is especially pronounced—a helically quixotic form, doubly billowing out from a constant center, but revoking all the while its essential symmetry. Chryssa is working with letter forms which are both “readable” and “unreadable.” Variations on “Y,” for example, are worked in threaded colored neon, like erratic herringbone patterns. But, by far, the “S” forms are the most noteworthy. Stacked one above the other, but not straight-on, these thin horizontals flash deep blue-black and optically blush pink along their glassy surfaces. The interior workings, or, as Diane Waldman called them in her catalog essay on Chryssa, the “brains” of Chryssa’s neon pieces, are now discreetly and admirably worked into craftsmanlike boxes of enormous attractiveness.

Robert Pincus-Witten