New York

Hans Hofmann

André Emmerich

At André Emmerich was a small group of paintings by Hans Hofmann, two of them dating from the late forties and the others from the last ten years of the artist’s life. By now Hofmann has been explicated into the ground, but we do not seem to have much to show for all this exegetical effort, and at the risk of appearing anti-intellectual I think that one reason for this is the entirely formalistic nature of the exegeses. In the two earliest paintings in this show (both date from 1947 and are in the artist’s familiar Cubist style) lines are not always the edges of planes, in spite of the derivation of these works, but are often “lines of force.” Hofmann may have been intelligent—but one way in which Hofmann’s work does seem tractable is if one compares his color with Matisse’s, and if one does one must set a firm limit on Hofmann’s lucidity—but his kind of élan vital tended at least to qualify his intelligence, if not to war against it; and during the last few years of his life it often seems as if tension was really the subject of his paintings: I mean those indeterminate grounds with assertive rectangles on them.

I think that until the end the most interesting thing about Hofmann’s work remained its potentiality, not its realizations. He seems to have been wondering what to do about drawing, but he never abandoned it; no doubt his work becomes very “open,” but how open is open if the color is Matisse? Certainly he was unsure whether shape could be color. By that time others were offering resolutions of these dilemmas, but it is a great credit to Hofmann that he remained so astonishingly open-minded at his age; I just wish he had been more articulate, at least in his paintings.

Jerrold Lanes