New York

William Bollinger, Ralph Humphrey

Bykert Gallery

Two exhibitions of visual research, though at antipodal extremes, have been held consecutively at the Bykert Gallery. One is of soiling tenacity, the other of glowing hygeia. The first, that of William Bollinger, aligns this young artist with the broad wave of schmutzkunst which now threatens to inundate the next two seasons. This adhesion may seem startling at first as one regarded Bollinger as a confirmed member of the geometric Minimalist team, a view predicated on the narrow extrusions which brought Bollinger into prominence around 1966. The point to keep in mind is that Bollinger’s art, whatever its appearance, has always been intractable and its very fractiousness provides the key by which the present tossing of sweeping compound may be understood as part of a logical evolution. The early aluminum pieces, generally of a serialized structure, were eccentric by virtue of their extreme formats, at once terribly long and very narrow, akin in appearance to aluminum moldings.

After these pieces, which seem classically hard and serene in retrospect, one was struck, at the end of 1967, by sculptures composed of long aluminum pipes and sockets in jerky tong-like formations. These strong units adumbrated issues more tangibly connected with Bollinger’s present scatterings because their chop-sticky forms, which opened and lumbered across the gallery floor, were in great measure permutable, even to the degree that they could be drawn out straight along a single axis. These works were followed by structures laid out of buckling cyclone fencing. Since the rectangle of the tumbled fencing provided an alterable field, these works set the model for the more picturesque and terrestrially allusive sense of the present installation. The floor of the front gallery was divided into two areas, one of which was covered in powdered graphite, an industrial lubricant, and the other half was left bare. The medium—loosely spread and liable to disruption by gusts of wind and incautious footprints—was also the material out of which a set of drawings were smudged in a non-focused grey aeration across the surface of drawing paper. The image was both earthen and cosmic and in this respect made one aware of the single contemporary issue so far which might be said to derive from Dubuffet. I refer to the Texturologies.

The large middle gallery was covered with green sawdust, spread over a ground of spattered grey paint. One tends to relate the resulting colorism to field painting and to Pollock. It may also be viewed as descending from Monet after 1890, perhaps less so in Bollinger’s work than in the distributions of Alan Saret, with whom Bollinger’s present considerations must inevitably be allied. There was one clue in the exhibition which struck a false note. Hovering above the bestrewn floor was a large circular smudge of graphite on the wall. The floor then became literal earth and the disc, however fuzzy and in the wall, became a black sun, that is, a millennial symbol. Certainly symbolic imputations such as that of the Last Judgment were as far removed from Bollinger’s intentions as possible. But still it hung there, hovering at the horizon above a gritty, scattered earth. There were four corners and the earth was flat.

By contrast, Ralph Humphrey creates a luminous cosmos of fragile exhalations, painted on large squares or horizontal rectangles, softly turned at the corner and curved back into the stretcher. Humphrey has come to deal more and more in a Rococo world of sprayed color––angelic pinks, silken yellows, dusty chartreuses. The colors, one might say “atmospheres,” deftly play about loosely aligned linear configurations of a quasi-parallel nature, though the lines are hardly arithmetically parallel in their flow. The wavy lines are also comparatively few and open rather than bunched. They pulsate, slightly thickening and thinning in response to changing “respiratory” pressures. The lines determine the densest plane (by implication) of the canvas as they move through the sprayed atmospheres. Without wishing to suggest that these images are in any sense associational, the color takes on at times an insect like dustiness, a caterpillar like shrillness or even a fire-fly glowing, which at once is both luminous and cool. The result is lovely and prophylactic, though I wonder, granting the development in Humphrey’s work away from a geometric focus, whether the wavy lines will in the future remain a structural necessity.

Robert Pincus-Witten