New York

Whitney Painting Annual

Whitney Museum of American Art

As everyone knows, there are two kinds of Whitney Annual. One year it’s painting and one year it’s sculpture. This year it’s painting, so sculptors like Robert Ryman and Richard Tuttle are rigorously excluded, while painters like Kosuth get to litter the walls with index cards. Lynda Benglis got in all right, though her impasto is a little heavy, but the Whitney doesn’t yet seem to have decided whether the work of, say Lawrence Weiner or Robert Barry is conceptual painting or conceptual sculpture, so they are kept out of both. The problem of Michael Heizer is solved with a master-stroke: a photograph of one of his sculptures is included in the painting Annual. Alan Shields has a painting that’s shaped like a tent, a Trojan Horse stopped at the gates—you’ll find it installed down in the sculpture garden, which is as close as you can get to being half in and half out. Even Rosenquist couldn’t baffle them: he hung two stretched canvases on end, one about six inches above the other, straight out from the wall, like a kind of rudimentary Don Judd. But the Whitney people peeped between, saw canvas and color and knew a painting when they saw one, even if they couldn’t see it.

Still, it isn’t often that one gets to see almost 150 paintings (and index cards and photos and tents) picked completely at random, hung completely at random, and, in many cases, painted completely at random. The “new directions” which are forever “generating” such “creative excitement” among “the younger artists” are here strongly in evidence. The issue, when you come right down to it, is: how to succeed in painting without really trying? 1) Stain? 2) Stripe? 3) Shape? 4) Stain and stripe? 5) Stripe and shape? 6) Shape and stain? 7) Shape and stain and stripe?

It’s hard to be a young artist and not know where to turn! There are also a number of post-Irwin halation paintings, though Robert Irwin is himself not in the exhibition. Maybe he’ll be in the sculpture Annual.

Philip Leider