New York

Light: Object and Image

Whitney Museum of American Art

By now it should be clear that among the various artists working in light, several distinct attitudes have emerged, some in deep opposition to others. Had Mr. Robert Doty devoted a few moments of serious contemplation to these different approaches, the hideous embarrassment suffered by the Whitney Museum at the disastrous history of Light: Object and Image might have been avoided. Mr. Doty’s curious catalog notes that, “Because their work was so appropriate to this exhibition, both Douglas Wheeler and James Turrell were invited to participate. However, both later withdrew upon their own volition.” Evidently neither Turrell nor Wheeler found their work as appropriate to Mr. Doty’s context as he did, and it is unfortunate that Mr. Doty is compelled now, as he should have been earlier, to give some thought to the reasons. Similarly, one suspects that had Mr. Doty allowed himself to experience the differences between Dan Flavin’s work and that of Howard Jones, the installation he finally proposed—which resulted in Flavin’s withdrawing his piece because of the sound effects washing over from Mr. Jones’ piece—might never have dawned upon him. If the Whitney has been embarrassed by the spectacle of at least three artists withdrawing from an exhibition because it fails to properly represent their views, the calamity is nevertheless instructive: it serves notice that artists have come to the point where they will not tolerate being thrown together in any fashion at all.

As the show finally limped into the Whitney, it was a ridiculously unbalanced affair, presenting some sixteen works by Stanley Landsman, who has achieved a kind of bland, attractive Surrealism, one by Howard Jones, who has achieved a Las Vegas-style backdrop for Cyd Charisse two by Boyd Mefferd, one by Preston McClanahan, and one by something called USCO, which have achieved virtually nothing.

Philip Leider