Los Angeles

Richard Diebenkorn, Richard Tuttle, Douglas Huebler

LACMA, Nicholas Whilder Gallery, Eugenia Butler Gallery

The new paintings of RICHARD DIEBENKORN shown during the summer at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are one of a series of “mini exhibitions” organized by Maurice Tuchman’s staff, an unpretentious program in which previous exhibitions have included Burgoyne Diller and George Brecht, and future ones will be devoted to Stephan Von Huene and Dan Flavin.

The nine Diebenkorns in the present exhibition are all part of the Ocean Park series, painted in a part of Santa Monica which borders on Venice. All were painted in late 1968 and early 1969 and all are non-representational, Diebenkorn having quit the figure in 1967.

The paintings are at first glance severe and rather highly structural compositions carefully and thoughtfully crafted. They owe a debt to Abstract Expressionism but it is a debt of permissiveness rather than one of technique. Someone, speaking of Diebenkorn’s figurative paintings, wondered, “Why does he paint like Bonnard when he really doesn’t want to paint the figure at all?” and these new paintings seem curiously happier because they are a return to the architectonic first principles which Diebenkorn obviously prefers.

Diebenkorn begins work by first lining the canvas into various geometrical patterns, triangles, crosses, parallelograms, etc., with only an occasional curve to break the straight line formality of structure. Color is layed in thin overlapping washes over this drawing, sometimes reinforcing it, sometimes obscuring it. The color is usually greyed off, and while areas of any canvas may be intense in hue, the general impression is a pastel one. There is much use of putty greys, soft blues, dusty salmons and pinks, relieved by touches of brighter, purer colors.

Several of the paintings tend toward over-complexity of under structure and a resultant surface agitation, but the best of them combine relatively simple drawing with large, slowly shifting areas of color. Ocean Park #18 is a case in point. To the left is a panel of apple green, not too bright, and within the "V” formed by charcoal lines and very pale washes is a pentagonal panel of violet, fading to blue at the top. The right side of the canvas is salmon, with pink at the bottom, bordered at the left by a band of blue. Structure and surface seem at odds with one another however, for the painting, for all its structural drawing, is largely a work of surfaces. The under structure in the right side of the work has been partially obscured to articulate the flat, color washed surfaces. One feels, however, that this device is a little self-conscious.

Miss Gail Scott, Curatorial Assistant at the County Museum, describes Diebenkorn’s use of space (in the catalog essay) not “as a compositional device; rather its use derives directly from the experience of handling space in a literal way, from a naturalistic standpoint.” I must disagree with this view for the Ocean Park paintings are more exercises in surfaces, and spaces—natural or conceptual—hardly seem to be suggested at all. For all their natural influences, the works remain an assemblage of surface elements whose sensitivity is made important by juxtaposition, not by construction.

For all of that, the best of these rather old-fashioned pictures are pleasant to look at, belle peinture, neither vanguard nor reactionary.

RICHARD TUTTLE’S first West Coast exhibition comprises six dyed canvas objects of moderate size but of varying shape, which, in this Spartan installation, are tacked to the walls with clear plastic Moore push pins. The pieces, executed about two years ago, are clearly “hand crafted” and equally clearly defined as limp objects, anti-form in intent perhaps, but not so in fact.

Brought to the gallery wadded into an old leather gladstone bag, these deflated forms can be placed in any location, wall, floor, or draped across furniture. The texture of the stiff duck canvas has been deliberately rumpled and crinkled, in order, it would seem, to deny both the idea of “stretched” canvas, and to articulate the surface. The edges are carefully bound in tapes of the same duck material and the whole dyed an even color. While there is no painting in evidence, there is much of the conspicuous “object” in their form and color. Two of the works tend to resemble infinity signs, and another a pair of pants—two long legs connected by a shorter side. This objectification of the work within an anti-form context causes problems, however, for Tuttle over-complicates his objects to the point where they are seen simply as shapes—external outlines with colored fields.

The best of the six objects in the exhibition is formed like a cubic, three-dimensional “U” seen upside down and from an angle, rather like a parallelogram tilting to the right, with a smaller four sided shape cut from the “bottom” edge. The shape here is interesting enough to suggest certain internal structures, lines, volumes, advances or recessions, without being overly complex. The “pretzels” or infinity signs simply do not permit this sort of internal speculation, being too elaborate, and suggestive of symbols that are well known.

Eugenia Butler’s Gallery becomes increasingly “conceptual” or “impossible” as her exhibitions progress. One has the feeling that the work of all her artists might easily be packed in a retentive mind and removed in toto without altering the gallery in the slightest.

The recent exhibition of DOUGLAS HUEBLER is a case in point. Huebler is an artist who seems to have arrived at various way stations along the vanguard path about half an hour late. Involved with “primary structures” at the time of the Jewish Museum exhibition, he turned more recently to conceptual works, but works which he has executed in such a way as to chronicle his own experiences. The Butler Gallery exhibition consisted of several groups of photographs and written material which documented the photographs arid which constituted, in Huebler’s terms, “the form of the piece.” In addition there were a number of “drawings”: perceptual suggestions typed with a label typewriter and mounted on board, studies designed to be executed in more durable materials by the purchaser.

Huebler’s pieces range in concept from intimate to gigantic but they are all bound together by the fact that they have actually been experienced by him. This sense of experience is important for it gives personality to a form too well known for its depersonalization. Huebler divides his work into location and duration pieces, events in which one or the other stressed. Duration Piece #14, for example, is documented in the following manner: “On October 7, 1968 four markers (styrofoam: 4“ x 4” x 60") were carried off into the Atlantic Ocean off Salisbury, New Hampshire by the outgoing tide. Twelve photographs taken at one minute intervals documented the event and join with this statement to constitute the form of the piece.”

Obviously, the “form” of the piece has floated out to sea; what is left in fact is the residue of documentation, much more interesting, and a much richer source of speculation and fantasy than actually having been present on a cold New England seashore to watch the artist throw some plastic into the ocean.

Huebler’s works seem to invite this sort of empathetic participation and, while the role of empathy, speculation and fantasy by those who experience these works at second hand has been imperfectly explored, I respect Huebler for trying to heighten these qualities. He may be half an hour late, but he brings a certain New England “sensibility” to his concepts and experiences which I enjoy.

Thomas H. Garver