New York

Joan Mitchell

Jackson Gallery

Joan Mitchell’s recent paintings at the Martha Jackson Gallery provide an instance of one of those critical hindsights, reluctantly formed, and disagreeable to contemplate. It is one thing to discover that an artist one had not been too fond of in the past reveals an unexpected solidity, enough perhaps to revise one’s previously negative estimate. It is quite another to see in present work a superficiality that retrospectively belies a long-held, and obviously not too perceptive indulgence. Such is my experience with Miss Mitchell’s new show.

This time around, the artist, who has been living for over a decade in Paris, makes fully evident the liabilities—a cavalier thinness of design and a decorativeness of stroke that had always marked the French art informel with which she has chosen to be associated. Her white on white fudging of shape contours, her breezy and brio-esque impasto, are sheer boutique. Once these tactics had impressed me as exhibiting the last genuine exhibition of the action painting vocabulary still possessed by a functioning artist. But these flaccid paintings, in their dark blues, greens, and maroons, profiled against the canvas, laced with trickles, and blurred with smudged whites, show the complete unraveling of the impulse. That gritty or knotty quality in Mitchell’s earlier calligraphy, which once had convinced me of a vestigial intenseness, has degenerated into mannerism. The worst of it is that she leaves the impression that it had been this way all along, or for quite some time. Time’s passage has ravaged the look of this paradoxically bouncy art.

Max Kozloff