New York

Richard Diebenkorn

Poindexter Gallery

The very fact that it is a relatively simple matter to distinguish between Richard Diebenkorn’s good and less than good paintings says something, I believe, about the quality of his art. Diebenkorn was, and still is, one of the finest painters in America, and I do not mean to belittle his achievement. The best paintings in his recent exhibition at the Poindexter Gallery were very good indeed, but were good in a relatively familiar way. He seems, in effect, to have been challenged by the quality of some of the best painting of this century, but seems not to have gone beyond the terms that it established. As a result there is something rather safe, albeit mature and very beautiful, about even his best paintings that has to do, I suspect, with Diebenkorn’s unwillingness to challenge his own canons of taste.

Three of Diebenkorn’s abstract paintings from the Ocean Park series seem, to my eye at least, to be much better than the others: Ocean Park Number 16, Number 17 and Number 21. All three were composed with low-key colors, particularly greys and beiges and were not intersected by the wide, white bands that characterized the less successful pictures and light, but very intense, pastel colors—decorator colors. While these two characteristics a re almost Bannard trademarks by this time, it does not obviate the fact that they contribute to the challenge and difficulty of his paintings. The decorator colors, for example, are not simply pastels. They are quite different and far less superficially ingratiating than the colors Kenneth Noland has used in a number of his recent paintings (not that Noland’s paintings are easier; a good deal of their difficulty, not to mention their quality, is concealed by their apparent blandness of color), and they lack the dazzling intensity of hue that has emerged in Jack Bush’s recent paintings (which, unfortunately, have not yet been exhibited in the United States). Bannard’s color is generally light, high-keyed and strident, the kind of colors we normally associate with “fuchsia” and “chartreuse” and “avocado” and, because they are so familiar and which tended to section off the canvases, containing and pushing back the slabs of relatively bright color and in some cases, as in Number 19, creating gaping holes.

The more successful pictures were reminiscent of Matisse, particularly Number 21 which, in color as well as organization, seemed to be an abstract version of The Piano Lesson. Number 17 was probably the most successful, as well as the most original, painting in the show. While this picture contained vestiges of the white bands near the top, it played them off against slabs of greyed-off color in the bottom two thirds of the composition. Perhaps because the white bands were truncated they did not read as “drawing” and, in any event, they did not push back the adjacent color areas. The picture despite its references to de Kooning and to Matisse, could probably hold its own with all but the very best painting being done today.

Terry Fenton