New York

Elmer Bischoff


To think that Elmer Bischoff once seemed to do work worth looking at is to realize how enormously things can change. I am sorry to have to say this: it is not Bischoff who has changed, but circumstances. When he first showed in the Staempfli Gallery he, Park and Diebenkorn were by far the most forceful representatives of a figurative style, because they had the strength that comes from not being wholly alone, because they had been working in this manner longer than anyone else, and because they afforded a kind of escape, a relief from both New York and abstraction. It is altogether fantastic that Bischoff and Park, in particular, seemed really good, but they have not seemed so for quite a while now. If one considers some of Bischoff’s drawings of pairs of nude models—the subject inevitably invites comparison with Pear!stein—one sees what the Bischoffs lack: there is no idea of line, or plane, or space, scarcely even of light and dark—and I mean of what they are, to say nothing of what they might become and what to do with them! Bischoff’s is a style either for those who don’t know how to paint or who do but aren’t sure how they want to go about it, and the bland generalizations of Pène du Bois, with their want not only of detail or individuation, but even of the assertion of some basic shape, seem entirely appropriate to the morass of this work—they are found at several points in the show. The drawings are not of professional calibre. Some of the paintings are, but only three seemed to me to achieve any degree of success: Boats, which is hedonistic in a way that is very much like Wonner, but only at the expense of those more rigorous efforts of the mind that might have turned brushing into art; and Cityscape, 1967, and Buildings, Trees, Path, 1969, to which the inevitable geometry of city buildings gives at least some small measure of coherence. The occasional resemblances to the Diebenkorn of a few years ago are pleasant, but those to Hopper are devastating for Bischoff.

Jerrold Lanes