New York

Group Show

O.K. Harris Gallery and Paula Cooper Gallery

The O.K. Harris Gallery, named for a wheeling zoot suiter (and forgotten affirmative locution of the early ’40s), opened spacious, bright quarters in a refurbished castfront below Houston Street. The name of the gallery, as everyone knows, is an undisguised pseudonym for but one of Ivan Karp’s many avatars. Karp’s setting-in on West Broadway after an historically influential run as Leo Castelli’s Uptown associate, attests to the vitality and importance of the whole loft area, which is, after all, where the artists live and work. The move away from the bourgeois stratifications of Madison Avenue had first been made by Paula Cooper, who founded the Park Place Gallery, as I recall, as early as 1964. (The gallery did not survive, but the Minimalism and pictorializing trends in sculpture, which it fostered, remained.) Richard Feigen also established a downtown outpost, but it has not as yet been properly developed—it remains too much a storage depot—possibly because Feigen has been so preoccupied with the installation of his 79th Street gallery. And David Whitney too has opened, if not exactly below Houston Street, then still clearly outside familiar art gallery paths.

For his premiere, Karp has stressed a broad catholicity despite his close identification with Pop sensibility. One finds estheticizing grid structure (Don Lewallen), mammoth hard-edge hinterglasmalerei (Richard Roth), permanent press awning stripes (Richard Kalina) and permutated, photographically based realism: the squeegee screenings of John Clem Clarke, Malcolm Morley’s hand-painted dream picture postcards and Ralph Goings’ obsessively observed, benignly surfaced trucks.

In terms of its upstairs ricketiness and the intelligence of her taste, the Paula Cooper Gallery strikes a more authentic note about the quintessential seediness and outlanderishness of the loft area than does Karp’s more open and handsome enterprise. A three-man show was installed. Gary Dubosen’s Testament 1969, a word chamber in which many people had inscribed a number of the artist’s prose poems, failed to interest me, perhaps because it so closely resembled Alan Kaprow’s 1962 Happening, Words. I was impressed, however, by Lynda Benglis’s tossed and poured latex “mats.” The one executed for the Whitney “Anti-Illusion” show (but never exhibited) was here. The intriguing figure-ground problem (“mat” to floor), the comparative thinness, the sheer intractability, the messy color (often a marbleized murkiness like children’s colored clays after they have been abandoned) affected me sharply. Her more recent compact pieces are Oldenburg-Muffin thick and more careful about keeping the color fresh, even a trifle Day-glo poisonous. The newer pieces also seem comparatively fastidious regarding the possibility of puffy, yet cogent colored overlappings.

The last work by Alan Shields is, in its way, a kind of masterpiece. Resembling no little an hermetic pup tent, WSA John Wilkis Tun is a huge, outscale prism totally sealed in by broad reaches of painted canvas. The color has a washed out, tinted feel akin to stage drops, quite dirty and disorderly except for the clarity of the patterns beneath all the flecking and spotting. Generally the patterns take the form of rainbow sequences which inevitably recall Frank Stella just as the A-frame structure brings Ronald Bladen’s huge Black Triangle of 1966 to mind—a pup tent, if I may phrase it that way (knowing the term runs countercurrent to the non-referential intentions of the work), standing on its ridge. Apart from these obvious affiliations, the work still is a private, even reclusive work. The linear, geometrical traceries across the atmospheres of Shields’ “soaked-off” color contribute to holding these maculated fields as surfaces. The work marks the artist as a person far less derivative than these notes would suggest—if not one already central to the extremely refined considerations of coloristic new sensibility.

Robert Pincus-Witten